Just My 2 Cents on Being Unemployed

Hello all and my apologies for such a long hiatus. If you have read About the Rabidwhole, than you can see that my life’s work, as it is for all I hope, is to set myself up to be able to live independent of The Clock, the Rat-race, a J.O.B – (which BTW on Wall Street means: Just Over Broke,) – but whatever euphemism you have for working day after day to the toot of someone else’s horn, that is exactly what I’m trying to avoid. There have been some nice developments in many areas which I am extremely thankful for, and just like a garden or even a newborn baby, Inspired Thought must be cultivated, nurtured, and most importantly actively engaged.

Along those same lines, while people are still losing their jobs as the Financial Earthquake continues to send aftershocks through different industries and markets throughout the world, more and more people are in position to actually look at themselves and see past their own résumés. More and more people are putting those Arts degrees to better use in their communities or at home and on the internet, than they were in the Customer Service Department, or in the stockroom, or at the front desk. More and more people are remembering forgotten skills, likes, and hobbies from their childhood or teenage years. Indeed, getting fired from your j.o.b. is quite liberating.

First of all, no matter what job you have, if you’re working for an hourly wage, the only way you make more money is to give up more hours, more time, more of Your Life to your company. All the while, that time that you are giving up allows your “bosses” to keep more and more of their time, do more and more with their lives, while you put more and more money straight into their pockets. This leads to the type of situation you see all the time, where you are working for someone whom you feel is an absolute and utter moron, and you are flabbergasted at how this company even stays in business with someone like this on the payroll, let alone in a managerial or even executive position. Well, he doesn’t have to be smart; he just needs to be smart enough to hire YOU. You’re a hard worker, he’s a lazy ass. You anticipate problems and solutions, he creates them. So, it only makes sense that the more you are there – working, slaving to The Clock trying to make your money – the less he’s there fucking shit up, and the more the business thrives. What does he get? A boatload of money (maybe even a boat.) What do you get? Time and a half…maybe a raise after 5 or 6 years, or even worse, you get overlooked for that raise…and stay in the same position. Not feelin’ it.

I say all this to say, that I know there is a mass of individuals out there that think just like this, that have presumably been recently alleviated of the aforementioned burden in the form of a pink slip. And even with all the complaining, it can be a bit daunting being unemployed for the first time in a long time. So, as someone with more than a few gaps in my own résumé, as well as someone who is independent/business-minded, here’s my 2 cents regarding what to do with that newly acquired time.

Newly Acquired Life is how that time should be perceived. Ever go to the park during your “lunch break” and see people there seemingly with no care in the world, and no job, so you wonder how they make money, or if they don’t, how the hell can they be so care free in the park at 2 in the afternoon on a Wednesday? Now you can be one of those people, and let me tell you, it feels great. FYI, right after you don’t have a j.o.b. anymore is of course the best time to take this “carefree” time in the park or walking around your neighborhood, whatever you choose to do. Theoretically, you will have some savings to be able to hold you over without a job for at least a little while, before bills and creditors, make you anxious about receiving income, so you can just enjoy the relaxing feeling of freedom.

You Don’t Need A J.O.B to create income. Living in NYC, every year there’s some article in the Post or in the Daily News about some panhandler on the trains that makes $100,000 a year asking people for change. I’m not saying go out and be a bum for a living, I’m simply saying that your own innovation and creativity can bring you more money than a traditional job working for someone else, even if it’s in a great industry. I know a lot of people in the IT industry – web programmers and developers, systems architects and engineers, even just kids that have always messed with electronics taking things apart and putting it back together – that were working for great companies and organizations, making $80,$90K a year. Now they’re doing their own thing, running their own sole proprietorships making money for no one else but themselves, and loving it!

But you don’t have to be an IT guru or even work in IT either, or any other already-lucrative industry to be successful making money independently. I know people that were working in stockrooms a year ago that are now getting grants for their own artistic or community oriented programs, former cashiers that are now selling their own homemade wares, or art, or doing hair out of their apartments, or writing ebooks, that are making just as much if not more than they were when they had their previous “occupations.”

The bottom line is, there are a million and one ways to make money, and bring in income independently and be able to make a good living, spending your time and your Life the way you decide. Do you knit? do you garden and know how to grow fresh fruit and vegetables? do you paint? do you sew? can you repair electronics? do you do photography? etc., etc., etc.

Don’t Sit Still! You get stuck like that. Period.

Remember, Education Never Stops! I don’t know anyone that knows everything. There’s always something you could be learning. Current events, worldly issues, a different culture, welding, woodcutting, carpentry, sculpture, dance, Economics, accounting, book keeping; how many things can you learn that might give you a feeling of pleasure and accomplishment in some way or help you run a business?

 

Finally, here are 3 resources, among millions, on the internet that I think are pretty phenomenal for finding jobs, or projects if you will, that can become great sources of income, or at least help you get a job in an industry interests you more than the one from which you may have just come, or the one you are in (if you still have a job, but perhaps feel the “heat” coming.)

Etsy.com. Already a pretty popular site, but if you don’t already know, this is a site where if you make a lot of your own jewelry, clothes, blankets, artwork, anything that you can make – even pastries and other baked goods that are good to travel through the mail – you can sell it to a much larger audience on this site.

Elance.com. This website is like an online supermarket of freelance jobs. Writing jobs, art jobs, all types of IT jobs, even online secretarial jobs, (they’re called virtual secretaries and I still don’t know too much about it, but I’m certainly trying to learn more.) Ever wonder how certain ads on sites like craigslist get posted over and over and over again? It’s because someone is willing to pay you to do it. For someone like myself, with writing and artistic talent, that hasn’t been published anywhere, you can get small jobs, make some cash, and work on building your portfolio. That goes for music artists as well, as there are music jobs on the site too. How the site works seems a little complicated at first, but if you’re as serious as I am about making a living independently and making your own time, your own life, it’s certainly an option worth exploring.

Twitter.com. Now, I know a lot of people are going to be turned off to the rest of this post just for having to hear about twitter again. There’s not much left, so bear with me, but I used to be that way too…until I actually signed up. I won’t even get into the reason I signed up for twitter, but once I was in, I have to admit I was hooked, and I still am. Let’s just say you live in Alaska and you’re looking for another j.o.b. because as it happens to all of us, you need that paycheck. You can log into twitter and search “[Your city] Alaska jobs,” and voila, anyone on twitter that has posted a link to a job in Alaska (i.e., AnchrageJobAds or JobsAnchorage) comes up in your search. Not only do you now have a list of jobs in your area, but each post is time-stamped so you know when it was posted. Search the industry in which you work and your area, or the industry in which you’d like to work, and see what you get. (Just put in “Jobs” and see what you get.)

I have to point out that aside from all this job info, twitter really is an unbelievable resource for being on top of the latest information in many different arenas. If news stories like the bombings in Indonesia are breaking faster on twitter than through any other mode of receiving information, consider what else it is possible to be on top of before most other people, like a job opening, by being on twitter. That’s all I’m gonna say about it.

 

At the end of the day, and at the end of my Life, I don’t want to look back and see almost half of all the hours that make up my time spent on this Earth were spent lining some jerk-off’s pockets, while I stressed myself out to be “just making it,” and can only afford to leave my family and kids just over broke savings.

 

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass

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Required Reading for All Investors

President Obama just finished speaking about the economy from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV. Very positive, uplifting, well-laid speech – something we can finally say about our President again. If you don’t know how the markets have been responding to our President, then you probably don’t know what’s been going on in the markets in general. This post would be a novel if i tried to go over just what’s happened this week, and Monday was a Holiday. So, thankfully here’s an article that kind of sums everything up nicely and in such a simple manner, my 10 year old little brother might be able to beat the average investment manager after seeing this. I like how the article was published kind of in tandem with The President’s speech today. Enjoy!

Oh, just in case you didn’t know, the 20-day simple moving average on the Nasdaq crossed over the 200 yesterday. Let’s see if that GDP number on Friday can help the Dow and S&P catch up. Happy Trading.

Great pic from The Huffington Post

Great pic from The Huffington Post

A PlayStation 3 Price Cut Looming!?! Who Could Have Foreseen This?

You heard it here first, ladies and gentleman! My previous post on March 31st of this year, Despite Sony’s Denial, PS3 Price Cut Inevitable, says it all. Here’s a quick recap:

March 30th: Sony executives cut the price of the PS2 but adamantly denied that they would even think about cutting the price of the PS3, despite economic conditions.

In response, I said that unemployment would keep rising. As a result, more parents would be home with their kids, Nintendo Wii would become even more popular – it’s already the most popular of the 3 consoles due to its social and family oriented platform and games – which would continue to put pressure on Sony and PS3. As such, a price cut for the PS3 would be announced by Christmas time at the absolute the latest.

Mario gets a new life

Fast forward to the NPD report released late yesterday evening regarding video-game sales for the month of April. Now, sales of just about everything got hit, especially hardware and console sales, but just take a look at the numbers. According to the report, Nintendo Wii sold roughly 340,000 units, which is just under twice as many as the 175,000 Xbox 360’s that sold in April. But it’s almost 3 times as many units sold as the 127,000 PlayStation 3’s! So what do Sony execs announce today? Price cuts may be coming.

Oh how quick Sony changes its tune when sentiment about this economic “rally” we’ve been having turns just a bit sour. Keep in mind, on March 31st, the markets, stocks, and economic indicators had all been moving in the right direction, (finally!) for 3 weeks straight. And the stock price – my goodness! – Sony (NYSE: SNE) had gone from as low as $15.64 on March 9th to as high as $21.35 on March 30th, the day they made their emphatic denial regarding a price cut. I mean I get it, you know, regaining 36% in your stock in 3 weeks, that’ll make you feel a little arrogant, a little powerful. I get it. But now that rally is flattening out, and today’s reversal by the electronics powerhouse is quite possibly the purest lesson anyone in business can learn about the hubris of success.

When you’re on top, plan for the dips and don’t get cocky! When things look dismal, keep your head because that’s when fortunes are made. Looks like Sony had a problem with the former, while Nintendo’s been focused on the latter. Despite, the 43% drop in sales on a month-over-month basis, Nintendo Wii was still the number one selling system, and the top four selling games in April…all made by Nintendo. Seems as though their strategy of focusing on the social and personal aspects of usage that a player can get out of the Nintendo Wii console is working in bringing Nintendo out of eternal adolescence and into adulthood, as Nintendo products and games have been widely known to be void of extreme and graphic violence, and catering mostly to the younger generation of gamers.

The new Nintendo, all growed up, certainly doesn’t seem shy anymore when it comes to blood, guts, and gore, just take a look at the recently released MadWorld. Just to give you a sense of it, you have to enter your birthdate into this GameStop website link before you can watch a video of or even about the game. (I love it!) I have to admit, I was and still am a diehard PS3 fan, or “fanboy,” or whatever you want to call it, but even I broke down a few weeks ago, and added to Nintendo’s sales numbers when I got my own Wii along with MadWorld, and a few other games and accessories. I know, I know, for hardcore PS3 players and advocates, this is akin to joining the Dead Rabbits” while living in the Five Points, but I have a pre-teen little brother that I look after often, and a girlfriend that used to complain about video games, but couldn’t stop playing Mario Galaxy at Best Buy, even after we were done with our purchases.

Nintendo Wii + games and accessories = $400.

Playing Mario Kart with your girlfriend and little brother for hours while reminiscing about your childhood – when you looked like you were having a seizure, jumping and moving with the 64-bit characters of the original NES or Sega Genesis (when it certainly didn’t help move the characters the way it does with a Wii) = priceless!

Don’t get me wrong, I still love and play games on my PS3. But right now, Wii definitely has the “1-Up” in my household. However, for those that want and don’t have a PlayStation 3 due to its high price, it’s certainly looking more like a price cut of at least $100 could be here by Summer’s end. Maybe even Sony will try to create some of its own “fireworks” for the Fourth of July…

Mario hits a homerun!

Mario hits a homerun!

“This is Big Business. This is the American Way!”

I got a list of people...If Im going down, Im taking a whole lot of people with me!

"...I got a list of people! If I'm going down, I'm taking a whole lot of people with me!"

Ken Lewis just can’t seem to get his act together. At least Vikram Pandit, head of Citigroup (NYSE: C) – which is arguably in similar to worse position as Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) – has had the sense to stay out of the newspapers for a while, keep his head down, and at least keep up the appearance that he’s trying to grind it out and do things right this time. Lewis on the other hand, from his standoffish demeanor during the most recent hearings in front of the Finance Committee, to his initial claims of pure ignorance regarding the Merrill Lynch bonuses and balance sheet situations, to the current controversy, where his new defense about Merrill is “the Government made me do it and made me keep it ‘hush hush.'” (Get the Full Story here as reported by The Wall Street Journal Online.)

To quote Jack McCoy in cross-examination in one episode (or one hundred episodes) of Law & Order, “Were you lying then, or are you lying now?!?”

I think it’s safe to say that many are “skeptical” about the absolute truth of Lewis’ statements, but it’s not hard to believe that Paulson and Bernanke at the Treasury and the Fed may have had a hand in how things played out, and certainly are responsible for the way some of this information has come out, which is sloppily, and non-desirable-press inducing. At the very least, Lewis has deflected some of the spotlight for the moment, and has thrown two of the most prominent figures in this entire “recovery” process directly under the wheels of the Political “Straight-Talk Express.”

Regardless of whether you think it was a good or a bad move on his part, this scenario is very similar to what those from “the inner city” or “the hood” might call “snitching.” That being the case, I would think that many from “the hood” would consider what Ken Lewis has just done as being a “bitch-ass-move.” I tend to agree with that, but feel it’s also noteworthy to point out that corporate rules are obviously different from “hood” rules. No matter what, usually when there’s a crime to be sorted out with multiple suspects, the one that talks first usually gets the best deal. From that perspective, Lewis’ move is a smart one, and Paulson and Bernanke would be idiots for not revealing this information themselves, before Lewis, especially since they’re government officials which would potentially have shielded them from the prospect of “wrongdoing” on their parts being that they would have been the ones doing their jobs by reporting it. Add to that, the fact that Paulson (before) and Bernanke (now) can be considered the “cops” of the TARP/TALF/PPIP framing and administration, and it can be argued that although Lewis was snitching, he was snitching  on cops, so for that, he would get a pass from the orginal bitch-ass nature of his snitching actions.

At the end of the day, I’m not too moved by the story itself. Bernanke’s already been on record as having been against the Merrill-Bank of America deal, but not feeling as though there was much of an alternative if Lehman is any indication of what could have happened. Paulson was always a shady looking character in my eyes from the beginning, and he’s part of the Wall Street wrecking crew anyway, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Paulson,  after setting up the deal and seeing that there would be these types of problems, told Lewis to blame it all on him. Think about it. John McCain had already made his “economy is fundamentally sound” comment in the face of the Lehman collapse, so Paulson had a pretty damn good indication right there that he probably wasn’t going to be Treasury Secretary for much longer. If that’s the case, he could be pretty safe telling Lewis “hey, blame this bonus and balance sheet stuff on me if things get really tough. It won’t be me that has to give that speech. I won’t even have to say anything about it at all. That’ll be on the new guy.”

Now I’m not suggesting that Bernanke is completely innocent in all this. He’s at least partly responsible for the ugly, sloppy way this information and the details of these deals have come to light, and that may be being generous as well. Ultimately though, Bernanke has come across as being more up front and forthcoming, therefore more credible than either of the other two characters involved in this headline grabber. Net net, this is a losing situation for Lewis. He reveals more of his own character flaws (another euphemism) in this scenario than anything. More and more, as the story unfolded yesterday afternoon, the whole thing reminded me of a scene in a fairly old movie – many from “the hood” would consider it a hood-classic – New Jack City.

Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) runs the murderously bloody CMB, a drug-dealing organization, holding a Central Harlem Housing Project and its resident’s hostage as its base of operations. After being caught by rogue cops, and witnesses of the organizations dealings step forward, the following court scene occurs. (*Spoiler Alert*)The magic of this clip comes when Nino himself takes the stand, explains his reasoning, and then pulls a move that proceeds to turn the trial into a media circus. Sound familiar? I’ve  transcribed my own Ken Lewis translation below the clip. Once the judge calls for “order in the court,” that’s a good point to stop the video and read the translation. Then continue to watch the end…if of course you don’t mind spoiling it and somehow haven’t seen this instant classic already.

Ken Lewis:

“This thing is bigger than Ken Lewis. This is Big Business. This is the American Way!…I wanted to get out [of the deal with Merrill Lynch]. They threatened to [take my job.]”

NY A.G. Andrew Cuomo:

“Who are you talking about [Mr. Lewis]? What They?”

Ken Lewis:

They!Look at [them! Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke!] That’s right, the educated brother[s] from the bank[s! They’re] the real heads of [BAC], the brains behind the whole thing! I told you, this thing is bigger than [Ken Lewis], and I got a list of people! If I’m going down, I’m taking a whole lot of people with me!”

 

If the end of the movie is any indication of what could happen to Ken Lewis, I’d say the days in his current position at the helm of Bank of America are numbered.

Campos vs. Asensio: More on Short-Selling and The Uptick Rule

This past Tuesday afternoon, April 7, Bloomberg News featured two prominent figures in the world of finance to discuss and debate the SEC’s proposed reinstatement of the traditional uptick rule, or the imposition of a modified version. It sure was a showdown in the world of market regulation. Here’s the recap and analysis…

 

In the Blue Corner arguing in favor of the uptick rule, we have Roel “Jor-El” Campos -Former SEC Commissioner, and advocate of more regulation in the area of naked short-selling.

In the Red Corner arguing against the uptick rule (and, it turns out, any and all short-selling restrictions of any kind) we have Manuel “Lex Luthor” Asensio – Managing Director of New York based Hedge fund, Millrock, (and best Lex Luthor look alike I’ve ever seen!)

 

Slightly resembles Campos, No?

Slightly resembles Campos, No?

Campos does a great job of actually explaining what the uptick rule is and, later in the interview, the difference between legal short-selling and illegal “naked” short-selling. In case you missed it, the uptick rule or uptick “test” would mean “that a short sale [order] cannot be executed [in the market] unless there is some evidence…[by either] a price test or a bid test…as to whether the stock is rising.” Essentially, this means that stocks can only be shorted when they are actually going up at the moment you place the short sale order. He also explains that the uptick rule is a bit of “Chicken soup,” meaning it’ll make the activists and congressional members that have pressured the SEC about it feel a little bit better about the prospect of abusive short-selling being less prevalent in the markets. However, with the markets as computerized as they are today, and with more advancements on the way, it’s still very easy for savvy, sophisticated, investors to “manipulate the tape” – create the appearance that a stock is experiencing buying or selling pressure by placing strategic large orders on the order book – and still get away with the type of dubious activity that the uptick rule is essentially looking to at least hinder. So, Campos actually even concedes to what he also believes as fact, that even restoring the uptick rule or something like it really won’t do much in the way of stopping illegal short-selling activity.

In response, however, Asensio starts off throwing wild accusations at Campos. He references a letter Campos wrote supporting the regulation of short-selling by imposing the uptick rule or some modified version, which was supported by many “main street companies.” Asensio says these companies that Campos represents are “very questionable companies…that should be the targets of the investigations themselves.” He then calls for more deregulation of the markets in regard to short-selling, stating “there is no economic reason why America should cause and force short-sellers to borrow stock.” He tries to make all short-sellers look like they are all some kind of investment superheroes that short stocks purely for the purposes of stopping price manipulation on the upside and to discover true price parity, or the true value of a stock. He even advocates for the legislation of whistleblower protection for members of public companies that are sued by those companies for blowing the whistle, and tries the old guilt-by-association tactic of trying to say Campos “represents” these types of companies. This guy is some piece of work, but if you keep an eye out for the signs and read between the lines, it’s very easy to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Asensios a dead ringer!

Asensio's a dead ringer!

First of all, I’ve been searching for this supposed letter by Campos, which is supported by these “questionable companies,” and I haven’t been able to come up with much. The two that are fairly recent and deal most directly with the issue at hand that I did locate, can be found by clicking the links in this sentence. But neither really mentions nor is endorsed by any public companies…unless Asensio was talking about the companies through which the letters were published? That doesn’t make much sense either though. So, what underhanded, “questionable” organizations is he talking about? To be honest, I don’t even think he knows what companies he’s trying to implicate by saying that. His entire performance is nothing more than the typical cloak and dagger tactics you would expect from a perfidious, villainous, Lex Luthor-ian salesman, especially now, and especially in the finance industry. Is it really a wonder why we are in the mess we are in right now with guys like this running hedge funds?

Secondly, the calmly arrogant demeanor that Asensio maintains throughout the interview is simply an extension of this surreptitiously evil mind trying to maintain this bogus façade of nobility and humility, trying to lure the viewer into seeing it his way, or at least see that he is perhaps much more credible than he obviously is in reality. Saying that short-sellers shouldn’t have to borrow any stock at all and should be able to sell shares at will with absolutely no regard for the downside and the possibility of that trade going against them, is just like saying buyers shouldn’t be forced to actually pay for the stock they buy, and should be able to buy at will. If this were truly allowed to happen, the current economic recession would feel like utopia compared to the economic situation we would be in as a nation if Joe the Plumber and his band of brothers could actually participate in the market without having to actually pay for any trades that went against them. The market would have dropped to 0 if these were the rules for investing, because once the market started to drop from 14,000+ in October 2007, no one would have paid for their trades! Anyone that pretty much bought stock from then through November 20th 2008 – some until March 9th of this year – has been losing money on that trade every day since they bought it! Why the fuck would you pay a trade they were down in by 2, 5, or 10% by settlement, especially if they didn’t have to? NOBODY!

Finally, it’s obvious that borrowing is what got not just us but the entire globe into this trouble in the first place. The fact that on many stocks, mostly very volatile ones, the extent to which you have to “borrow” (to cover for settlement) is as high as 75-80%, is a means of keeping that same type of out of control leverage that was prevalent in other markets and helped get us into this, away from these markets. All trades are based on ifs, and if that trade goes against you, you’ll be glad that the higher requirements saved you from getting crushed on the entire position, because you “were forced to protect” 75-80% of that highly speculative position. Now you’re only getting crushed on 20-25% of it, but at least you’re still in business. It’s tragic when going the wrong way on one trade in Volkswagen could cause a short-seller to take his life, so I’d say this type of protection is critical on all investments, but especially on ones that are tremendously high in speculation.

The uptick rule is like warning labels on cigarette boxes. Shorting, like smoking, is the other side of a 2 sided coin. Buyer’s, like non-smoker’s, and proponents of selling (smoking) restrictions. Non-smoker’s recognize the health risks that smoking poses to the overall community, as buyers recognize that deflating prices, by shorting stocks, brings the overall economy down thereby threatening the economic health of the overall community,  along with the markets. Regardless, shorter’s are gonna short, and smokers and gonna smoke. The uptick rule, like a warning label, simply makes it a little less attractive to do it, and has been proven to have the overall effect of discouraging an action (naked short-selling and smoking) that has proven to at least inject more potential for unhealthy activity.

At the end of the day, it is clear that this was a very poor attempt by Manuel Asensio at trying to maintain the shroud of secrecy around what short-selling actually is and the market manipulation that can and does occur due to abusive naked short-selling. He does great job looking like one of the most diabolically evil genius’ of all comic book history, but is too transparent with his chicanery to truly pull off the full impersonation. In my eyes, Gene Hackman will always be the best Lex Luthor!

The one and only...

The one and only...

A General Explanation of Short Selling, Naked Short Selling, and Illegal Naked Short Selling

What does it mean to sell short?

Selling a stock short is the exact opposite of buying a stock. When you buy stock, it is typically because you think the stock is rising and you will therefore be able to sell that stock at a later date and at a higher price, profiting from the difference between your low purchase price and subsequent high sale price. When selling a stock short, you still profit in this same way, accept the “order of operations” is reversed. Instead of achieving the low purchase price first, by buying, you “open” or begin a short sale transaction by achieving your high sale price first. You do this by selling shares of a stock that you do not actually own. Why would you sell shares of a stock you don’t own? Well instead of believing that this particular stock is going up, you believe the stock is going to go down.

Strictly as a hypothetical: maybe Google (NYSE:GOOG) at $400 per share is too high a price in your eyes. At that point, you would want to sell shares of GOOG while it’s trading at or around $400. If you are correct, and the overall investment community agrees that $400 is a high price for Google, the stock will be sold off, and go down. In order to “close” or end your short sale transaction with profits, you would have to buy shares of GOOG at the lower price, say when Google is at $320 per share, making your profit (the difference between your high sale price and subsequent low purchase price) $80 per share or roughly 20%. (This example reflects no personal bias on the share price of Google now or at $400 per share, and is purely for argument’s sake.)

Image from the Washington Post

Image from the Washington Post

Many people argue that short selling as a whole should be illegal, because in essence you are betting on a stock falling, which of course is never a good sign for the people working at that company and the prospect of their continued progress. As such, making money from a drop in that stock is akin to benefitting from the suffering of other people. Despite the social and moral implications of this view, there’s nothing illegal about it, and at the end of the day, that is how life goes. People profit from the misery of others all the time. Charles Darwin isn’t heralded for being a nice guy that was interested in science. “Survival of the Fittest” plays out in all environments no matter how large or small. Short-selling is simply the opposite side of a two headed coin. At some point, all stocks trade at a market price that is higher than the company’s true valuation. Short-selling is a function of the markets that helps in achieving parity between these two prices when sentiment around a stock and its share price might be inflated or unjustified.

Settlement

The problem with short-selling, lies within the timeframe allotted for settling a short sale transaction, and failure to do so. When buying equities, the average timeframe between the actual date of your purchase, (Trade Date) and the actual settlement of that purchase transaction, (Settlement Date) is 3 business days. This is denoted as T+3. (*This timeframe can fluctuate depending on the markets in which the equities are purchased or the type of equities in question. Money market mutual funds and options on equities settle T+1) So, when you buy stock, you have 3 days to settle the trade and put the money in your trading account if it’s not already there.

However, when shorting stock, you need to deliver the shares, not cash, to the buyer on the other end of your sale, in order to settle the transaction. Since a short-seller doesn’t own the shares being sold, they need to borrow those shares from a third party, which I will get to very shortly. The borrowed shares will go to the buyer on the other end of the short sale transaction on Settlement Date, (T+3). Although this will settle the short sale, it doesn’t “close,” or end, the short-sellers obligations in this transaction. At a later date, hopefully after the stock has dropped, the short-seller can buy the shares at the lower price, and replace the previously borrowed shares thereby covering or closing the trade, with the short-seller pocketing the difference and having no other obligations.

Borrowing

Because borrowing is inherently involved with any short transaction, all shorting is done using “Margin“, which is a whole other beast in itself. Basically, using “margin” is borrowing – usually from the brokerage firm where your account is held – an amount of money that is up to the equivalent of what you deposited in the account. So, if you have $10,000 cash in an account, you could use margin, and leverage that money 100% to give yourself $20,000 worth of buying power – $10,000 borrowed from the brokerage firm against your $10,000 in collateral.

As an aside, let me just say that in my opinion, no individual investor should ever use margin, ever! It’s the equivalent of buying stock with your credit card, or with a bookie the way you place sports bets, and that’s certainly high on the list of the dumbest things anyone could ever do.

However, since short sellers are using margin, they don’t always have to borrow 100% of the amount of shares they sold short in order to settle, or deliver, on the short sale transaction. 50% could be backed by the investors’ money (and shares that the bank bought backed by that money), while the other 50% could be backed by margin (shares the bank bought with their own money, but lent to you on margin). For example, if you have a total short position of $10,000 worth of stock, $5000 worth of shares must have either already been borrowed, or the cash to make that purchase must be sitting and ready in your account, while the other $5000 worth is paid for with margin against your $5000. This satisfies the average margin requirements, and gives you the full amount of shares being sold short which goes to the buyer on the other end of the transaction, for settlement. However, you still owe the bank “replacement shares” for the shares they borrowed on your behalf to settle the short sale. The time frame you have to essentially “replace” those borrowed shares with the bank is known as the “Days to Cover.”

Covering and Closing

Buyers have 3 days, on average, to come up with the cash as collateral for their purchases. Short-sellers have the same amount of time to deliver borrowed shares as collateral for their sales. How long does a short seller have to replace those borrowed shares that were used as collateral for their short sales? More complications: The timeframe for “covering,” or closing, a short-sale is determined by dividing the average daily volume of a stock, by the amount of short interest on that stock. For example, if there are 20,000,000 shares of XYZ Inc. being sold short, and the average daily volume of XYZ Inc. is 1,000,000, then a short-seller has 20 “days to cover,” (20,000,000/1,000,000.) This is just an example, as short interest and average daily volume can vary dramatically on all stocks, so some stocks afford 40 days to cover, while others only afford 5. It is more important to understand the relationship between the three values. The lower average volume is in comparison to short interest, the more days you will have to cover a short sale. But the more time you have to cover, the more time the stock has to run against you, which would cause a “short squeeze.” So, short-sellers seek to short companies that allow fewer days to cover rather than more.

Naked Short Selling

When an investor sells shares short without borrowing the shares first, it is a “naked” short sale. The seller does not have the collateral, (the shares,) to satisfy the sale, nor does he have any guarantee that the shares will be available by settlement date, and is therefore “naked.” Sometimes there are not a lot of shares available for borrowing, which can happen with illiquid stocks. Other times, there aren’t too many “lenders,” or lending institutions from which you (or more likely your brokerage firm on behalf of you) can borrow the shares. If the shares are not borrowed, or your short sale is not “covered” by settlement date, this would cause a “failure to deliver” (FTD). Failures to deliver occur all the time, on both the buy-side and the sell-side, but aren’t extremely prevalent as a whole. Maybe, in an illiquid market, it took a few more days to locate all of the shares to borrow in order to satisfy your entire position. Maybe it took a little more time overall to locate an institution where borrowing was even available. (*It should also be mentioned that there are various extensions that both buyers and sellers can receive if they do not have sufficient collateral by settlement date. But just like being late with your credit card payments, it is a “red flag” against you if you take an extension, and there is a limited number you are allowed to take before you are “cut off,” and restricted in some way.)

Just because an FTD occurs doesn’t mean that it was due to illegal naked short selling, it doesn’t even mean it was due to selling at all. But, FTD’s can be a sign that there could be a “problem”, a manipulation going on in some way, and yet, aside from it being electronically generated in a “failure to deliver” report that some intern at the SEC most likely glances over or completely overlooks, nothing really happens. The short position remains open and legitimate, as if it actually had been settled, until the time that the short seller actually decides to deliver the shares, or covers the transaction by buying the shares in the market.

So, if I was an underhanded individual looking to profit from illegal naked short-selling, the mindset would be: “What are the chances of this stock dropping, and my being able to cover this short sale without ever borrowing the shares? What if the stock keeps dropping and I keep adding to my short position, thereby increasing short interest, and continually extending the amount of time I have to ‘cover,’ all the while forgetting about ‘delivery on settlement’ altogether? Well then as long as I continue to maintain a good, large-sized short position, and the stock keeps dropping, I can potentially forget about ever having to borrow shares for settlement, and just focus on covering when the stock actually begins to show some sign of life and real upward momentum. The SEC doesn’t even really do anything about FTD’s anyway.”

“Illegal” or “Abusive” Naked Short Selling

Thinking in the manner described above is what leads to the type of naked short-selling that is illegal, where the seller has no intention of ever delivering the shares to the buyer at the time of settlement. The fear is that short-sellers – specifically institutions like hedge funds that specialize in shorting stocks and have enough cash behind them to manipulate, say a low-priced, low volume stock – could continually short a company, no matter how good or even flat the stock may be performing, inundating the tape with sell orders, and driving the stock price down hard and fast. When short sellers fail to deliver, it creates a set of “phantom shares” that are hypothetically being sold, but of course these phantom shares won’t be really sold short until “the money changes hands,” or in this case until the shares change hands, and those transactions actually settle. Until then, the shares being sold short, that haven’t actually been delivered upon settlement, are in a type of market-purgatory where they are neither sold nor bought. (Think of the train station Neo is trapped in at the beginning of the movie, Matrix Revolutions. That is where these shares are.)

Nonetheless, the real perception, which you could get by simply reading the tape of course, or paying attention to the increases you would see in short-interest, is that these phantom shares, are actually being sold! “Sell” orders are going off! That puts real selling pressure on the stock, dropping the price like a text book falling from the Empire State Building. If buyers come in with heavy volume and the stock should happen to rise, bucking the short-selling trend, abusive short-sellers will only add and add to their short positions, and put more selling pressure on the stock, exponentially engorging the lot of phantom shares, with no regard for settlement whatsoever!

 

The SEC’s dilemma comes in the form of regulating this type of illegal naked short-selling without hindering or penalizing those short-sellers that follow the rules, settle on time, cover on time, and are not abusive. Even if an investor or investment firm had one or two FTD’s on their record, if these infractions were spread throughout a reasonable amount of time, it could be reasonably overlooked with nothing more than a warning. In the technologically advanced world we live in, compared to when these rules were originally conceived, matching an actual short-sale to an actual buyer to then record an actual failure to deliver is very hard, thus conducting this activity illegally while slipping under the radar is much easier. Electronically recording failures to deliver is probably pretty easy, but it still requires human intelligence, desire, and expertise, aside from time and manpower, to comb through that information to see which FTD’s actually came from naked short-selling, and then continue to track, follow up and report progress on, or penalize them as they occur, until the time they all finally settle.

The uptick rule and various other proposals being discussed by Congress and other Financial Authorities right now are the market tools with which we as a society are most familiar with using in the dissuasion of illegal naked short selling. Regardless of what critics of the uptick rule might say, the mechanism can at least temper the downward pressure a stock can experience when being bombarded with heavy short interest. Even with the uptick rule in place, the old adage that stocks “sure drop a lot faster than they rise,” still rings true, so short-sellers should still be able to prosper with some sort of uptick rule or circuit breaker in place, as they did during the 70 years prior to 2007 when the uptick rule was abolished. I would hope that regardless of one’s personal position on the provisions recently adopted by the SEC regarding the uptick rule, that it is easy to see that without such a mechanism in place, acting as sort of a filter for legitimate market activity on the short side, bad practices would be harder to punish and even differentiate from best practices, or just okay practices that follow the rules by the bare minimum.

American Sheep, and British Bulldogs

So it’s April Fools Day, and as soon as we woke up this morning, the joke was on us. Today, the U.S. Department of Justice, more specifically newly appointed Attorney General, Eric Holder, has decided “in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment” against recent 7-time convicted felon, ex-Senatorial Representative for Alaska, Ted “Tubes” Stevens. (Great nickname! Click to find out where it comes from) Justice? This must be a joke, right?

Wrong! [Full story as reported by Nina Totenberg of NPR here.]

 Apparently, the blame for this falls completely on the backs of the U.S. prosecutors in the case, as constant delays in Stevens’ sentencing were caused by numerous charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The genius prosecutors that were working for the DOJ and won the conviction case, did so by “concealing evidence that would have helped Stevens’ defense team,” according to FBI special agent, Chad Joy, who was also working on the case. This past February, Politico.com reported on this story and the DOJ’s decision to remove this prosecution team, led by chief prosecutor, Brenda Morris, and DOJ head of Public Integrity, William Welch. The two, along with two other lawyers from the Department of Justice, were held in contempt by the judge, Hon. Emmet Sullivan, “for failure to comply with his orders,” John Bresnahan writes.

This clip explains the circumstances of the current situation with the Stevens case, based on a great scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny. When Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Joe Pesci) learns from his girlfriend, Mona Lisa Vito, (Marisa Tomei) – I love those names! – that although he may think that he convinced the prosecutor to share the files he had about the case, it’s written in a law book (that Vinny apparently neglected to read fully) that it’s illegal for the prosecutor not to share his files about the case. “It’s called disclosure, Dickhead!” Classic movie! I certainly suggest seeing it, if by some crazy circumstance you haven’t already. However, this scene in contrast with the announcement today by A.G. Eric Holder, shows why even though after watching the movie, one may not like the character of the prosecutor, D.A. Jim Trotter, III (Lane Smith,) at least he still has a great amount of integrity due to his unwillingness to use any real lowdown, dirty tactics, so he and Vinny could have a fair fight between litigators. Unfortunately, the government appointed public officials running this real life and very controversial case couldn’t muster up quite as much honor or integrity.

 

Now the entire case is dismissed, and the 7, count ‘em, 7 felony convictions that “Tubes” should be awaiting sentencing for, are as void as a Wachovia Bank Card. In legal terms, this case is stated as “People v. Stevens,” but that is contrary to the reality of the role of each player. “People” in this phrase, actually refers to “The Government,” and “Tubes” is actually a representative of the masses that make up overall society, also known as “The People,” so the way it’s stated, the names and roles are reversed. In order for the legal terminology to make logical sense, the correct phrasing should really be “Government v. Stevens”. Looking at it this way, would you say that today’s action is a case of “The People,” (Stevens) winning over “The Government,” or did “The Government” win over “The People”?

On the surface it would certainly seem as if the former is true, and “The People” beat “The Government.” But when you get down into the specifics of what make this such a controversial case, Stevens himself is a government official and therefore really a representative of “The Government”, not “The People,” and his actions in this case embody the essence of the very corruption that is currently ravaging our Government from within. His conviction and a harsh sentencing would have been a clear signal to the other crooked, corrupt government officials out there – and they are numerous – that they should probably clean up their acts, or risk the same fate. Now that Stevens went through trial, and was proven guilty, and proven guilty of seven felony counts at that…he’s gonna get off with not even a slap on the wrist!

 

It is obvious why this will rightfully anger many, but what provokes more anger for me is the lack of a true response from the masses, The People, of this country so loud that our government has no choice but to hold Stevens accountable, despite whatever missteps may have taken place during the trial. Give him his right to a re-trial. At least that way, we would get another shot at doing things right and actually have a chance at making the convictions stick this time around. At least then we wouldn’t be doing what we normally do, which is sweeping the corruption under the rug and trying to hide it as quickly as possible, so as not to awaken the sleeping Giant embodied in the power of the outraged and unified masses. By dismissing the case entirely, the Department of Justice, and Eric Holder, have all but guaranteed that old Teddy “Tubes” may never be held accountable for his crimes. What’s more important, however, is that this dramatically increases the perceived sense of safety from prosecution that government officials may feel if they decide to continue this type of unethical, immoral, illegal activity.

Now, although there seems to be a buzz about it online, (as there is with everything) I feel more of an overwhelming sense of the indifference of The People about not just this, but everything these actions taken by the DOJ represent; Billions of tax-payer dollars going to the very banks and institutions that got us and the rest of the world into this global mess, bailouts for Wall Street but not Main Street, corporate slavery and unequal compensation, one hand washes the other, look-the-other-way, good-old-boy politics as usual no matter how illegal, and all other despicable business and political practices that have gone unchecked and unregulated for too long…And it’s all been coming straight from the top of our society, our own U.S. Government, for years!

“You lead from the front. If [a regulator] is not aggressive and competent [in attacking and investigating violations] the organization cannot succeed. Everything comes from the top.”
-Harry Markopolos, 2/4/09. House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing on Madoff Investigation (video)

I’m sure that some of the more left-leaning media heads will be ranting and raving along these similar lines as myself on their shows tonight, and I’m sure FixedNews, (as Keith Olbermann likes to say) probably won’t even report on it, or they’ll celebrate it and try to sell it to you as the superficial victory of “The People” winning over “The Government,” mentioned earlier. But at the end of the day, by next week, this whole thing won’t even be an afterthought. And by next month, there won’t even be any sign of it in the headlines. The whole story will be lost to the Black Hole of American Indifference, where United States Representatives who are caught blatantly violating the very laws and ethics they are sworn to uphold, can get off easily and become a celebrity or a columnist, making more money and enjoying more fame than they ever did previously.

 I’m sure that even Dick Fuld, especially since it turns out that he didn’t actually get punched in the face, is still living in the lap of luxury right now, when compared to the rest of the country!

 

Meanwhile, across the pond, “The People” of London have dubbed today “Financial Fools Day”, and have taken to the streets, fucking shit up, to demonstrate their outrage with the current state of their economy and government. Parliament, police officers, and especially bankers out there are all scared to death right now of what “The People” will do next.

“What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

-Thomas Jefferson

Viva La Resistance!