Vol. 6 No.1 Armageddon – out of the ashes

Note: This is the first of TB’s blogs for 2020. That wasn’t his intention but a lot has been happening personally. First, we decided to sell our condo in Dec. 2019, and have moved to a beautiful, luxury apartment, in Edina, MN. Of course, we will miss our lakeside home of the past nine years but there were several reasons for the move. We are only 20 minutes away so we will be there frequently.

Until 2019, TB had another website here (traderbill.com) but as a result of his retirement is no longer active. We are in a great crisis, one that not only affects the wine industry but everything in our lives, so, rather than re-opening the financial blog, both will be here as the financial markets affect every aspect of the wine business as with everything we do!

This first blog is about how we got here, and begins with the financial markets. The next will add in observations TB has made of various sectors of the economy. TB welcomes any and all comments.

Thanks for reading and hope you find it useful,

TB

TB is not a seer…or a genius… but for his own sanity he is resurrecting Trader Bill and perhaps creating a dialogue with his friends and former followers (not in the disciple sense…just following the blog!). Whatever it takes to get us through this crisis, one of the worst mankind has endured…and as the late Walter Cronkite used to say, “you are there.”

Crisis, panic, fear, lack of consistent leadership, denial, and loathing are just some of the adjectives that have crossed old TB’s mind. No, this isn’t his first rodeo, and perhaps that is why he, as a former bond geek for 45 years – yes, back in the last century. When he was in San Francisco, he loved going to hear Ed Yardeni speak. Ed would open up with some of the above adjectives and then gaze around the room silently. Then, a slight smile would emerge and he would say, “now that we have identified where all the bond guys are seated (they were the only ones smiling), we can begin.” Followed by laughter of course.

I bring this up as I have always admired Ed’s thinking. He only made one wrong call that I can recall: doom following y2k! But was he wrong…or did he act as a stimulus to thinkers to solve the problem?

You see, Dr. (not Mister) Ed’s premise was based on computers and the degree to which businesses used COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), developed in 1959 and based on the work of Grace Hopper. TB is old enough that in a finance class he took at UCLA in 1969, he can recall putting data, punching it in to IBM cards , stacking them , and feeding them into the hopper for input into a mainframe somewhere on the campus. Due to storage and ease of programming the year was simply two digits with the first two ‘19’ already in the computer. It was probably assumed (remember assume makes an ass of u and me!), that long before the year 2000, a new system would be in place but it wasn’t and thousands of COBOL programmers would be obsolete.

Soooo…back to Dr. Ed. He produced scenarios for different industries and one of them was railroads where all scheduling and locating of rail cars was done on computer. Where would those cars be on 1/1/2000? Lost, that’s where, and the entire economy would come to a halt due to this and other forms of commerce…including banking, stock exchanges, etc.

So was Ed wrong? No, but he underestimated (or did he bring it to their attention), that business would rehire thousands of COBOL programmers to take on the gargantuan job of fixing the coding. TB knows this because Kim Fawcett, wife of his partner in bonds, was recalled, and told  him about it. Unfortunately for them, they were let go again after solving the problem. They were heroes – except for Dr. Ed and his followers as y2k came without a hitch…globally, as far as we know. It is even entirely possible that Ed’s proclamation of the problem saved the global economy trillions of dollars. Ed’s  insightful thinking is still available at yardeniresearch.com.

In the mid-19‘70’s, small (computer) calculators came onto the scene. One of the most significant was Compucorp’s (later acquired by Monroe) Bond Trader and selling for around $1,500! This eliminated calculating bond prices by hand using a Basis Book, but was extremely time consuming. It meant when bids were due on a new bond offering, the data fed into the computer and could be stale due to an unexpected event…a Fed rate cut for example. By the way, COBOL-based computers are still in use today, primarily in the banking system and other areas finance such as insurance.

By the early 1980’s Microsoft had proposed to IBM that they combine and make small computers, but in what was perhaps the biggest blunder IBM ever made, the Bill Gates/Paul Allen proposal was rejected, and shortly thereafter Steve Jobs introduced the Apple computer which by no means was portable, but could be used on a desktop…the rest is history. How many desktops made by Microsoft or Apple are there today (although Apple now makes laptops and tablets exclusively) vs mainframe computers? How many, Watson? By the way, the first Apple desktop was auctioned off in 2014 for $905,000 and others are now in the $500,000 range…that for a clunky, slow by today’s standards, computing system?

The point is that the world was incapable of preventing the Bubonic Plague, and of preventing the Spanish Flu of 1917, but was able to ‘react to’ and limit the effects of the Hong Kong Flu and all the subsequent ones (while not curing Ebola, limiting its spread)– until now – to limit the effects thanks to inoculations. Even those are hit or miss, however, as scientists try to predict which strain will be the prevalent one each year. In 2020, they missed but still lessened the effects, and may even safe lives from COVID-19 – one can hope, that’s all we have but remember the phrase: “there are no atheists in foxholes.”

Lastly, as a Rotarian, TB became aware of the extent to which Bill Gates. whose father was a Rotarian, has teamed up to eradicate Polio nearly worldwide. TB can’t help but think of the damage that has been done by people – especially American politicians and evangelicals who have shunned science, many for their own benefit, to try to make vaccinations voluntary throughout the U.S., a pity. Today, even as the price of oil implodes, President Trump is relaxing emissions requirements for automakers? What kind of wisdom is that?  Beats the hell out of TB, as well as why 40% of so of American voters still approve him. (NOTE: that is the last political comment TB will be making in this series except as it pertains to markets and the overall economy.

Tomorrow: thoughts on the markets (finally!)

Thanks for reading and God Bless Dr. Fauci,

Trader Bill

©Traderbill.com 2020

 

 

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traderbill

How did Trader Bill originate? It was conceived by me as a way of providing information summaries of global financial markets so that friends and associates could bring themselves up to speed on events and changing market conditions upon their arrival at work. In addition, it provides information on speakers and economic releases that day with consensus estimates and level of last release so that the reader is prepared to react, or knows how the market might react upon the release of information. Who is Trader Bill? Initially any reference to me was as ‘i’. This is to remove the aura of ego and to suggest that i am but a humble reporter, albeit with 35 years of investment experience. Investments are demanding of ego, however, or one would not feel that he was qualified to manage someone else’s money in the first instance. Therefore i needed an ‘alter-ego’. Like Winchell and Mahoney, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and especially Trader Vic and Mai Tai’s! Why Trader Vic? Because he was a likeable man who delivered pleasure to his customers and knew exactly what their desires were. The reason for the alter ego became obvious once I introduced Trader Bill into my commentaries: people started asking what Trader Bill thought. They had never asked me what I thought before, but suddenly they wanted to know what TB thought! Now mind you they KNEW that I was Trader Bill but for some reason he became bigger than life. Maybe it was the small ‘I’? What does Trader Bill try to do?His goal is to educate from his years of experience. Consider that most of the traders and people managing investments weren’t even around in 1987 for the crash! Consider that Graham and Dodd, and even Warren Buffet are not relevant to them, too old hat. Their historical perceptions of markets and fundamentals (earnings, price/earnings ratios, bonds, debt service coverage) are irrelevant in this fast moving world. This is the NEW ECONOMY, or is it? How did your style originate?Years ago i found that i had a knack and talent for writing. In addition, i developed an ability to analyze market news about 15 years ago. It took the Crash of ‘87. Prior to that i was just listening to what others said about the economy. But bond yields had been soaring in ‘87 yet the stock market just kept hitting new highs. That was when i began to learn about markets. i have both a dry and witty sense of humor (some call it inane!). Therefore i attempt to make even the worst news somewhat amusing: whether it is the absurdity of an economic release, or the comments of a CEO. This is trading desk humor (or gallows humor). It isn’t politically correct but it does ease tension. Ironically, it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (in the Navy they say: it’s always darkest before it’s pitch black!), that allows you to be more objective in your analysis, as bad as a situation is there will still be a tomorrow! You will see that i practice three-dot journalism, a style made famous by San Francisco reporter Herb Caen, whom i idolized. At least to me it is effective. What is so special about your analysis?Frankly, i don’t know that it is special, but at least it beats “the market closed down today on profit taking.” What i do know is that most of what you read is spat out without considering whether or not it is rational, like the above statement. Is it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that is the key to what is different about my analysis: it is meant to make you think. Is Dan Rather right or is Trader Bill right? If it causes you to stop and think about it, regardless of whether you agree, i win! Because THAT is my goal…not to have you think i am a guru, got that? Bet you never heard that ANYWHERE before in my business! Instead they want you to think just how smart they are but remember in this business if you are right 60% of the time you ARE a genius! Another thing that is different is when i am wrong on an analysis i will tell you, not hope you forget what i said. So now you have the tools to do what the speculators and hedge funds do: challenge authority, and if you make money it is because YOU did it not me. i was just a tool, your flunky to do the grunt work and let you decide…course you could be wrong too but at least you looked at the big picture. But the goal is also to have fun! This shouldn’t be a business of hushed tones and grim faces. It is a living, breathing thing and nowhere else in the world do you have the odds as much in your favor as here. Just beware of the guy who wants to put his arm around you and tell you he is your friend. So there you have it. I hope you select me as one of your sources for market information. If you do I promise to work my best for your financial success. Trader Bill

4 thoughts on “Vol. 6 No.1 Armageddon – out of the ashes”

  1. Thanks, Warreen…just trying to muddle through. I don’t have the answers but if I can just give people some things to think about …perhaps…

    Like

  2. Good comments on Yardeni. He was one guy whose comments I always looked forward to. I got in the businesss just as bond tables were on their way out and the Compucorp took their place. Can’t tell you the number of times I struggled to make last minute changes to a new underwriting in the Muni bond world. The software programs that followed were a much needed invention for the business. Keep the comments coming.

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