Category Archives: Stocks and Business

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.

Despite Sony’s Denial, PS3 Price Cut Inevitable

Slimmer, Sleaker PS2 now $99.99

Slimmer, Sleaker PS2 now $99.99

Sony Corporation (NYSE: SNE) today announced that starting tomorrow, April 1, Playstation 2 will be available for $99.99. Playstation 2 is not only the best-selling console ever, with over 140 million units sold by mid 2008, but it is also the fastest-selling console as well, reaching 100 million units sold within 5 years and 9 months.

I remember when the word Playstation first started to become a household name. Nintendo and Sega had been the dominant players in the video game industry for decades, and there was a ton of doubt surrounding whether Sony, which had been dominant in overall electronics retail, had the ability to compete with the “big boys” in the video game wars, without having enough industry experience and know how. Aside from the stiff competition, it is well-known that the hardware side of video gaming is typically a losing endeavor for the companies that produce the consoles, as it costs more for the company to produce them than the price they receive at sale. However, large profit margins made on software sales, combined with much more significant volume of game sales, more than makes up for the losses experienced on hardware. But at that time, there was also talk of problems with coding on the software end of Sony’s new venture, which only added to mounting skepticism over the new console’s fate.

Even after the overwhelming success of Playstation, and its variant PSone – which combined, was the first console to ever reach sales of 100 million units, – Sony faced the same skepticism when rumors of their plans for the second generation, Playstation 2 console, hit the press. Launched at the turn of the century in the year 2000, Playstation 2, as mentioned, is now the fastest selling console ever, reaching 100 million units sold in almost half the time it took for the original Playstation to hit that mark.

With todays announcement regarding not just the price cut, but also the deep bench of more than 100+ titles slated to be added to its game arsenal just this year, it’s no surprise that almost 10 years later, Playstation 2 is showing no signs of slowing down in popularity. Aside from that, Director of Hardware Marketing, John Koller, is quoted in this article as having stated, “We don’t intend on discarding the system any time soon.” Meanwhile, direct competitors, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo GameCube – both released a year after Playstation 2 – were discontinued in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Based on all that, I’d say Sony has certainly proven the naysayers wrong regarding their ability to enter and dominate the video game industry, or perhaps even any sub-industry within consumer electronics, without having gleamed prior industry experience or know how.

Sony’s newest generation console, Playstation 3, however, has sorely lagged behind its predecessors in terms of sales volume and popularity, mostly due to it having the highest price point of all the newest game systems at $399.99.

Special Edition Gun Metal Grey 40GB PS3 Metal Gear Solid 4 Bundle

Special Edition Gun Metal Grey 40GB PS3 Metal Gear Solid 4 Bundle

With the price of the PS2 being cut today, along with Sony’s recent weaker-than-expected earnings announcement, all in the midst of the current economic recession, some serious pressure has been mounting for a big drop in the price of the PS3. Most argue that a $50-$100 price cut would make the PS3 much more competitive with current console-sales leaders, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360. Despite absolute denial of the corporation’s willingness to do so, recent news of technological advances within the industry, like the rumor-heavy OnLive service set to launch soon, as well as rising popularity of the other competing consoles, I’d say a PS3 price cut this year is inevitable. With unemployment looking to continue rising, which means more and more parents staying home with their children, Nintendo Wii, which is the cheapest and is widely accepted as the most family and socially oriented of all the current systems, may have an opportunity to take a significant amount of market share away from Sony during the upcoming summer months, when kids are out school and playing video games more than ever. If Sony remains stubborn on price throughout the summer, I have no doubt that an ’09 Christmas price cut could be the company’s last option in an effort to keep PS3 competitive with Wii and Xbox 360. If that were to happen, I think the war over which console is best, Wii, 360, or PS3, would come to an abrupt end with a nice three-peat for Sony. Power to the Players!

The Power of A Dollar

What a ride it’s been for the past couple of weeks. There have been a number of measures taken by the Fed, the Treasury, the Administration, and Congress to prop up our nation’s economy. There has been even more criticism from all angles. I myself am even skeptical of many of the recent moves made by our Government in response to this crisis. Despite that, the big picture for investors is this: more money being pumped into this market to stabilize it, along with a few “better-than-expected” economic indicators showing that at the very least the decline is subsiding, certainly creates a nice environment for making some solid profits!

Here are the numbers:

On Monday March 9th, the low on the Dow Jones was 6440 according to yahoo.finance.

A little over two weeks later, on Thursday March 26th, the Dow hit a high of 7969.

That’s a move of 23.7% from trough to peak, in just over a payment cycle!

Hypothetically, if you invested $100 in a stock that moved directly in-line with the market, that $100 was worth $123.70…on Thursday, March 26th…at the peak of the day.

Of course, unless you sold at that very moment, it would now be worth less, but still roughly $116 today, with the market around 7500. Not bad.

Now, here’s the kicker. I bet there are a lot of investors that were sitting on some nice profits this past Friday, when a slew of reports hit the news regarding negative sentiment for upcoming earnings and economic indicators for the first quarter of ’09, along with some very public “infighting” at AIG, all stirred the pot of selling pressure. I took profits on some of my investments, but I bet there is an extremely large number of investors out there that didn’t. Even with today’s blood-letting of 254 points on the Dow, there are still a ton of investors that are still up 16% on investments made within the last few weeks, but still will not sell anytime soon. They would rather let those profits disappear in the hope or belief that given time, the investment will give them another opportunity to net an even higher return.

My philosophy is, if you believe the stock will not only go up again (after it moves lower from where it is now), but that it will rise higher than this previous peak on the next go round, why not book the profits you have, (16%) and then buy back in when you think this current downward move is coming to an end? Following my philosophy and still using the $100 hypothetical from earlier, you would have $116 after selling your investment today. If over the next 2 weeks, the market went back to 6500-6440 (to test the “bottom”) and you got back into your hypothetical investment (which in our example moves directly in-line with the market), now you’d be reinvesting $116 instead of just holding the original $100. If, following that re-investment, the market and your stock proceeded to make the same move upward, (another 23.7%,) back to these past highs, well then at that point, your original $100 that you booked profits on and reinvested at $116, is now worth about $143…so far! The guy that held on the whole time and never sold for the re-buy on the dip, he’s back to his original $100 being worth $123.70…if he sells tomorrow.

Some might say that this philosophy would be akin to trying to “time the market” and “no one can accurately time the market over the short term.” This is a statement I wholeheartedly disagree with. On a very basic level, if this were true, then a logical conclusion might also be that no one could accurately make money in the market since doing so directly involves timing. No matter what direction the general market is moving, all good situations have bad times. If you get in at a bad time, you’re done. Therefore, timing is the most important thing when it comes to making any investment. The intent behind any and all research done and reports read about investments is to determine whether or not it is the right time to buy, sell, or continuing holding the asset. To say you can’t “time” the market accurately demonstrates a defeatist attitude, which typically leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy of most investors not making money with their market ventures despite their best efforts, but if it were true, it would also mean that any and all research done on investments is all for naught since it won’t help anyone “time the market accurately.” Obviously, this is not true, so the former must not be true either.

In order to be a successful investor, especially now, you need to know, understand, and believe that not only is it possible to “time the market” over the short-term, it is fairly easy. Let me say that again, because it goes against everything that the perceived “Wall Street wizards” want you to believe and have told you since the markets were created. It is easy to time the market over the short-term! Money managers have lied to us from the beginning of finance and commerce about this fact for a simple reason. If society and therefore the investment community actually knew how easy it was to track, follow, and predict the movements of your investments, they wouldn’t need investment advisors and those guys wouldn’t make any money. They wouldn’t even have jobs. We need to believe that it is hard to make money in the markets in order for us to believe that we will not be able to do it without their help. That way, they can charge us just for talking to them, no matter how good or bad their advice!

What do you actually pay your investment advisor for? Being a former registered representative, I know exactly what it is, and what your advisor wants you to believe it is, and let me tell you, those are two very different things. He wants you to believe you pay him mainly for his speed and availability of financial information, and for the resources his organization may boast having access to, such as analysis, which he wants you to believe you certainly cannot do on your own without the “training,” “experience,” and “expertise” he or his colleagues may possess. Well, if the current state of our economy is the result of their “training, experience, and expertise,” I think it’s fairly safe to say we certainly could have lost our own money – and probably would have had a lot more fun doing it our way at that.

No, what you actually pay a broker for is simply to gain access to the markets. Your broker is in direct competition with TD Ameritrade (my personal choice,) Etrade, and all the other onlinebrokerage companies, because with online firms, you pay a low flat-rate commission per transaction, and have general access to the same information your broker holds over your head as “unattainable, unless you’re on Wall Street.” There are also extra informational services offered through most online trading firms that can be earned through consistent trading, or you can pay for it. Regardless, the only real way for you to get your money from your bank account and into shares of a company that trades on the market is by going through an investment or brokerage firm. Either you make your own trades, or you pay someone else at the firm to manage your portfolio, and do all the work that goes along with it, for you. It should be obvious now that since brokers get paid by charging you a commission, whether you make money or not, they have an inherent incentive in not doing all the work that goes along with managing your money.

First, let me preface this by stating that in order to be confident on your own ability to do anything, you must educate yourself  as much as humanly possible in the intricacies of that arena. In order to be confident in your own ability to time the market and make investment decisions without the direct, commission-generating assistance of a broker, you first need to know what makes the market move. Economic indicators, like GDP or monthly unemployment stats, legislative action from the Government, such as Healthcare reform, or tax changes, Interest rate changes from the Federal Reserve, all of these events can have a serious impact on the market. If the news is, or the numbers are in line with what most investors are expecting, the impact is usually positive, and if things happen unexpectedly, the move usually goes whichever way the unexpected news favors. Over time, watching and observing the markets, and watching closely during these times and around these events -among many, many others – you should notice certain patterns begin to emerge. Once you are able to recognize a pattern, making a prediction becomes a lot easier.

The next thing you need to know is how the overall moves in the market can affect the moves experienced in your investments. Do your investments tend to move with the market or against it? Once you know if your assets move with or against the market, you need to determine if they move more, less, or as dramatic as the market moves. (In stocks and finance, this relationship is quantified as the “beta value,” and measures a stock’s volatility in relation to the overall market. A thorough understanding of the underlying information that lies within this single number is essential to being able to accurately predict the short-term or long-term direction of your investments.)

Now once you know what moves the market, and how those moves in the overall market will impact the moves of your investments, you need to know what events that are not specific to the overall market will also have the affect of moving your stocks in any one direction. Earnings announcements, contracts, buyouts, law suits and litigation, all of these and more are big events that are stock-specific, and can have a dramatic impact on where your investments are headed. Not only that, there is an inherent pattern of movement within each stock that is directly linked to the frequency of these events. That pattern can be seen by looking at the stocks chart. Each reversal in movement, every time the stock turns upward after moving down, and vice versa, can pretty much be attributed to either a single occurrence of some event, or a cumulative result from the combination of a few. Good earnings send a flat or down stock upward. Law suits tend to be like cinder blocks wrapped around the ankles of previously rising stocks. A company receives a large unexpected contract, the stock is going up, especially during the next earnings announcement, because that’s when that large unexpected income should hit the balance sheets.

These are just a few small examples of events that occur within stocks, (stock -specific events) that will either send the price significantly higher or lower. Since the legitimacy of that statement for each individual will depend on their definition of the phrase “significantly higher or lower,” I would consider it to be $1 or 2.5% or more in any direction, whichever is greater. A move of $1 is equal to 100% to 2.5% on anything trading between $1 and $40 per share. It’s exactly 2% or less on investments of $50 or more. (That’s the power of a dollar!)

Now that you know what moves the market, what moves your stocks, and you’ve been watching for patterns of how deep the impact on your investments can be based on the occurrence of these events, you need to know how predictions about the market are made in the first place. Tracking various indicators on the chart of a particular investment – volume, moving averages, relative strength, etc. – is the science known as Technical Analysis, and is one way financial “professionals” try to make predictions about the overall markets as well as specific investments. Looking at a company’s balance sheet and analyzing their debt situation, growth numbers over the past and projections for the future, operating and profit margins, etc. and using this company finance data to predict how a company will perform in the overall market is known as Fundamental Analysis. Many people think that these two disciplines clash, and choose to utilize mainly one or the other. I think that’s the hugest, most costly mistake many investors and investment managers make.

In order to successfully make money with your investments, you must maintain excellent awareness of both the technicals and fundamentals, and the changes that occur therein, of any and all investments you make. Why dismiss an entire discipline of information that may certainly prove itself to be valuable when it comes to making money? Knowing and tracking the events that give you an indication of the fundamentals of our economy, combined with the knowledge of those same events and indicators within the specific company’s you are looking at for investments, you will be much more confident and able to analyze information quickly and accurately as it is received, and much more confident in your ability to fire your broker and do this on your own, if you haven’t already. Stay on top of the news, watch the charts, you can even utilize virtual stock trading websites online to test your predictions and trade with fake money to see what would happen without actually risking your own liquidity. Keep learning about the various events and occurrences that can significantly move the markets and your stocks. There are millions of them, so discern which are most important and why. Constantly seek out information that will help you find out how this behemoth system of market finance operates, and always keep building your financial knowledge database. It may sound like a lot of information and may seem daunting to digest it all, but really, how hard is reading and watching? If investors were much more involved in informing themselves, and took more control of their own market-education, a crisis like this, (perhaps even Bernie Madoff), might have been avoided, or at least could have been more mild. Information is Power.

*This post is aimed at investors and anyone that already has funds committed to market investments. Investing in financial products should not be done without thorough research of the markets and products in which you are interested in investing, and at least the consultation of a true professional that you know and trust. As a rule of thumb, take everything you hear or read about the markets or investing with a grain of salt, as most statements about making money in finance will be material conditionals.