Monday, March 23, 2009

Name of the Year

If you're a fan of completely mental names, and I know you are, head on over to the Name of the Year contest.  It's the only form of March Madness that can actually be controlled by you.  From Moonlit Wang to Crystal Methany, 64 of the most deserving actual names of actual people are here for you to pit in a battle royale against each other.  May the most deserving completely mental name win!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wow. Just Wow.

I've done a fair amount of travel in my time, not as much as a lot of people, but a fair amount.  I've even been to Italy and experienced the ridiculousness of Rome's airport (for example, you go through security, then you go through it again to get to a satellite terminal.  If, when you get there, you find out that there is no food or shopping, you can always go back to the main terminal...and go back through security), but this is absolutely insane.  I can say one thing with 100% confidence: after hearing this story, it would take nothing short of an act of God to get me to fly Alitalia.  That includes flights on Delta, AirFrance, et al that are codeshares on Alitalia aircraft.  Of course, if Delta gifted me some insane amount of miles (I'm thinking north of 100,000) I might do it, but I don't know that I would for a free flight.  Let me excerpt just a few of the myriad misfortunes he had:
...I had no idea, though, that I had purchased my ticket from the worst airline company in the world – Italy’s national carrier Alitalia – and that a two-hour layover in Rome would turn into an ordeal that lasted longer than a week...
...Our flight was delayed again another three hours, and the man and woman and the flight counter put on their coats and walked away...
...So what did he do? He put on his coat and walked off the job. Hundreds of furious paying passengers booed and hissed as he left...
...She looked at me, then looked away without even acknowledging that I had said anything...
...She nodded, appeared slightly embarrassed, and walked away without saying a word...
...Suddenly the man who was processing our tickets stood up, put on his coat, and walked off the job, without handing us boarding passes and without saying a word...
I don't want to excerpt too much because it's really a story that should be read in its entirety.  Afterwards you'll feel significantly better about the relative competence of US airlines, despite all the ridiculous fees and occasional delays you face.  At the end of the day, at least they will get you from point A to point B and/or compensate you for your inconvenience.

Slip of the tongue

I was talking with one of my political friends today and she was talking about the latest economic proposals and she said "with the latest proposals from Obamanous..." which got me wondering why that hadn't caught on yet.
It's a nice play on words, even though I really hope that he can turn it around. His current poliies don't give me a lot of hope, but it would be good for everyone if be succeeded.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Presidential Fluffery

I still think that we should give President Obama the benefit of the doubt in general, but he is making it hard.  From his relatively inept (shall we say Bushian) handling of the stimulus bill and bailout to his righteous furor over what Wall Street is doing and kowtowing to labor unions, he's not looking like an FDR or Reagan at this point in time.  That could change of course, but who knows what the next several years will bring. 
One thing I do know is that the President isn't too busy to sit down with ESPN and dissect his bracket.  By all means, be angry about what AIG is giving its employees with some of the bailout money you provided, but if you are going to employ your bully pulpet in that manner, you might want to pull the beam from your eye first.  Mr. Obama's supposed to be making sure that the taxpayer doesn't get shafted from the trillions in bailout money flowing through the system, so it seems like a better use of that interview with ESPN might have been to get on the horn with James Dimon or somebody from Treasury and figure out what's going on today. 
I agree completely that he should be able to relax and enjoy himself, but he's doing precisely what AIG is doing - being an idiot about the use of his time.  He opens himself up to a whole host of attacks because in this time of want and woe, the last thing the American people want to see is a Commander in Chief who is rolling up his fill out his NCAA bracket.  By all means, fill it out, have fun, enjoy yourself - but don't do it in public while unemployment is worse than it's been in over a decade. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

JJ Abrams' Star Trek

Have you seen the latest Star Trek trailer?  I thought that it looked good before, but not necessarily a top tier movie for the summer (like Wolverine, Transformers, and Terminator), but this trailer [dramatic pause] changes everything.  I don't know if it's the music, the scenes, or what, but this vaults Star Trek right to the top of my must see movie list for the summer.  Abrams has a pretty good track record on the whole, and while I'm one of the 5 people on the planet not into Lost, I hope to catch up one of these days.  Take a gander:

Friday, March 06, 2009

It Depends

The Salt Lake Tribune had a great article today about a man who goes around the greater Salt Lake County area dropping his pants to show children his Elmo diaper.  This isn't a joke - take a look at the article here
It's not illegal, or he'd be arrested, but I would say that it's completely mental.  Has anybody experienced this before?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Saving the Market from Itself

I am not someone who presumes to be smart enough to know how to fix the absolute disaster that is our economy.  I know a thing or two about investing, I know more than that about how to live well within your means.  At the same time, this sounds like great advice, (from The Market Ticker) in a very easy to understand analogy:

I buy a CDS [credit-default swap] on GE (a few weeks ago) for a couple hundred basis points ($200,000 per $10 million)
The SELLER of that CDS protects against possibly having to pay by shorting whatever he can against that short credit position.  This means he buys PUTs, he shorts the common, he does whatever he needs to in order to lay off that risk.  He does this because if GE goes bankrupt their stock would presumably go to zero; therefore, if he has a potential $10 million exposure on the CDS he will short $10 million face value of the common stock, or buy enough PUTs to pay him $10 million if the stock goes to zero.
The PUT writer (assuming he buys PUTs), being a market-maker, will in turn short the common to lay off the risk as well.
This hammers the stock price which then reflects into the pricing models for the CDS, driving them higher.
This cycle repeats; unfortunately credit rating models include market cap as one of their inputs, which causes a credit downgrade (eventually.)
That in turn adds more pressure.
This cycle is repeated until the company is destroyed.
Why is this not a problem with options and straight short sales?
Because with both straight short sales and PUT purchases the short side is required to post margin every night, and if the price goes the wrong way they get an immediate margin call and are required to buy that position back at a loss.  That in turn puts pressure UPWARDS on share price and arrests the slide.
As such the people selling short (whether stock or listed options) do not dare short in unlimited amounts, because if they get caught on the wrong side of a squeeze they are dead.
The enforcement of risk against the people betting on a bankruptcy through regulated instruments puts a natural limit on their activity and prevents an unwarranted "death spiral".
But in the CDS world there is no mark-to-market margin supervision, because there is no central counterparty supervising exposure and demanding it.
As a consequence it is only the counterparty and the written document that can demand collateral posting and usually that is either on an infrequent schedule (monthly, quarterly, annually or on an "event") or in some cases not at all provided the writer maintains some specific credit rating criteria themselves!
Without nightly margin supervision on CDS short positions these vehicles have turned into the means to launch monstrous focused attacks on specific companies; the buyer has limited risk and virtually unlimited reward.
This is exactly like me buying fire insurance on your house, and in addition I can name the amount of insurance I want to buy, even exceeding the house's value!
How nervous will you get if I buy $10 million in "fire insurance" against your $100,000 bungalow and then start stacking up gasoline cans in my driveway?
As a direct and proximate cause of this ability to distort the market it becomes possible to create self-fulfilling prophecies almost on demand, with the people doing it profiting handsomely - at the expense of American workers and otherwise-sound companies.
I heard the same kind of outcry after the initial implosion of Lehman Bros with regard to naked short selling, and I have to agree.  I know people want to insure the heck out of whatever phantom product they have, but at the expense of taking down healthy companies and the economy? 

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How To Make a Clown Even More Creepy

I saw this over at Cafe Society's list of the 10 worst fast food commercials, and I have to agree. I've only been exposed to the current obnoxiously ketchup and mustard colored Ronald McDonald, but the garbage covered, Willard Scott acted clown makes our current version look like Brad Pitt.  If you never want to have your kids go to McDonalds, just show them this cross between a clown and Oscar the Grouch, and you should be okay.