Tag Archives: Regulatory Reform

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...

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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.

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.

Buy The Dips, Sell The Rallies: What’s in Store For Markets This Week?

See the video at CBSNews.com

See the interview at CBSNews.com

The markets have certainly had a pretty nice run over the last week, and looked as if they wanted to go higher. With the G-20 Meeting this past weekend, a precursor to the Meeting on April 2, culminating in a statement dedicated to “decisive, coordinated and comprehensive action…whatever action is necessary until growth is restored,” I’d say that governments around the world are a lot more focused on attacking the crisis, instead of standing still like a deer in head lights.

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, in his inteview on 60 Minutes this weekend, gave us much more insight than usual into his perspective on the Federal Reserve’s response to the crisis so far, as well as his outlook on the economy moving forward. Right off the bat, Bernanke adds exponentially to the positive sentiment dominating the markets right now when he says that he thinks “we’ll see the recession coming to an end prob’ly this year, we’ll see recovery beginning next year, and it’ll pick up steam over time.”

Even though the market took a little break today from the gains posted the previous 4 sessions, things certainly seem poised for a nice little rally, whether it be a “Bear market rally” or not. However, the question remains, as always, how far will it go, and how long will it last? To answer that, first it’s important to know what’s coming up this week

Indeed, aside from the reading on the Consumer Price Index this Wednesday, and a few important economic indicators on Thursday, there does not seem to be anything too significant on the horizon until roughly the end of March/beginning of April. The House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing today regarding the suspension of mark-to-market accounting rules could certainly be the positive catalyst the banking sector needs in order to continue its move to the upside, and right now whatever’s good for the banks, is good for the market. We’ve even gotten to the point where flat quarterly numbers, or flat monthly retail sales, are positive enough to lead to few more green days, simply because flat isn’t down, and that’s great right now.

Still, the slightest hint of negativity could send the Dow right back down to the 6500 level, and I don’t see anything equally positive enough to push the Dow sustainably back to or beyond 8000. I highly doubt we’ll even get that high before retesting the recent lows. As such, it is important for all investors to understand that if you didn’t get positioned for this “rally” by now, you might be in danger of “buying at the top.” Wait for the next dip. Another shoe could drop, and another bank could need another loan at any moment. The market will always provide an opportunity to get in on a rally somewhere. Those that were able to get favorably postitioned last week or prior, and are currently sitting on some profits, my suggestion would be to take those profits off the table at the first sign of selling pressure. Now, again, I’m no guru, I’m no “expert,” and nothing on this site constitutes a recommendation to buy or sell anything nor to take any action in the financial markets whatsoever. However, as a former stockbroker with the responsibility of making money for over 100 high net worth clients at one time, I am 100% certain that those investors with profits to take will not be happy seeing those profits evaporate if something, anything, causes the market to tumble farther than it did today. As one cliche I constantly heard as a broker goes, “A bird in the hand beats two in the bush!”

Manipulation of Law Over Morals and Ethics

In his Senate hearing on his decade long quest for justice, Harry Markopolos seized the opportunity to reveal himself as a true patriot, populist, and Authentic American Hero in his sweeping indictment of the joke of a financial regulatory system that has exposed itself in the wake of this economic crisis. In a modern day “David vs. Goliath,” tale, Mr. Markopolos told Congress how he and a handful of industry executives and insiders were in affect committing career (and possibly literal) suicide in attempting to go after not just the monster now known today as Bernard Madoff, but the entire financial regulatory Gestapo that controls the wealth of our great nation

If nothing else is apparent from the findings of Harry Markopolos and his league of extraordinary gentleman, it should be that the “Wild West” nature by which the SEC, the NASD, and FINRA (“Regulators! Mount up!”) operates, in collusion with the very organizations they are charged with regulating, is by far the greatest factor in the systemic risk chained to the ankle of our economy as our society sinks deeper into these uncharted waters. Rep. Alan Grayson of the 8th District of Florida, has an excellent exchange with Mr. Markopolos during the Senate hearing, when he essentially poses to Harry to explain the concept of “capture.” “It’s basically when the regulator is in bed with the industry they proport to regulate and do not regulate the industry. In fact, they consider the industry the clients, not the public citizens,” Markopolos explains.

There it is ladies and gentleman. All the complicated mathmatical calculations, financial products, swaps, CDO’s, derivatives trading and analysis, risk models, connections between housing, banking, and insurance industries, and Main Street companies like Robin’s Book Store in Philadelphia, and The Republic Windows and Doors Company out in Chicago…forget about all of that, it’s just the details. Too many Americans, and too much of society is not educated enough to even wrap their heads around the bare bones of how these devastating events shape our current stance, let alone the details. However, the current season of 24 on Fox makes at least the concept of capture easy to understand and easy to explain. If you’ve been watching, you know Jack Bauer (Markopolos) and the old CTU team is working “Palin”/”rogue” right now, because they know that the current threat to America(fraud) goes all the way up to those with power(the regulators) in the President’s Cabinet(SEC,NASD,FINRA, etc.). Even the bad guys at the top don’t know the identities of the other bad guys on their level or above, so that the entire atmosphere is steeped in suspicion of everyone’s intents and a “cover-your-own-ass” mentality. Now, applying this to our Regulatory situation, Markopolos, like Bauer and Tony, had been “whisteblowing” and shedding light on the threat, the fruad, for years. But after being ignored time after time, it’s no surprise that he figured the very process set up for handling the threat, the regulatory system, was clogged and cluttered with individuals who were either too stupid, young, and naive to see a threat themselves, or so caught up in the status quo – that Markopolos himself attributes to a “code of silence” among industry insiders and regulators alike – that being charged with the responsibility of making sure this type of fraud doesn’t happen, although it might feel nice for the soul, does not amount to a good enough paycheck for them to take that responsibility seriously.

When asked what other organizations could be charged with participating in “capture,” Markopolos is quick to name the FDA along with the SEC. He suggests incentivizing the compensation structure of the regulatory bodies, and making it similar to that of the financial industry. With this type of structure, the philosophy is that anyone working for the regulators will not allow themselves to be stopped or hindered, and will run over people that present themselves as barriers in their investigations of fraud like a “bulldozer,” if they knew their paychecks might get a nice boost. Regulators like Meaghan Cheung, the New York Division SEC Branch Chief, might have paid attention to the chief executive of midsize, Boston based, Equity-Derivatives trading business when he walked through her door in 2000, with volumes of provocative information revealing what has become the largest and longest fraud scheme in American History…so far.

Markopolos also offered his insight in the arena of human intelligence gathering, which the workers at the regulators sorely lacked. “When they [the regulators] come in to inspect a firm, they are led to conference room, they meet the compliance staff, and they are fed controlled pieces of paper. That’s what they do, they inspect pieces of paper, because they’re too untrained to realize what to look for on the financial end. All they’re looking for is the pieces of paper.” He goes on to say that if they actually probed the company’s, and spoke with the various workers, traders, executives, and salesmen, and asked them, “Do you see anything fraudulent going on? Is there anything going on here I should know about?” then that would have, and still would go a long way towards accomplishing what the SEC was created to accomplish. As far as Markopolis is concerned, the SEC did not ask these questions nor make any real attempt at gathering any information on questionable companies, “because they were afraid the answer[s] would be ‘Yes.'” That would have meant more mountains of work for the regulators, which brings us back to their incentive and motivation…not enough. Combine that with the fact that Bernard Madoff, as a former chairman of the entire NASDAQ Stock exchange and the amount of respect and power gleamed in the “white swan” public view by holding that powerful a position within the industry, and there is almost no incentive for any one regulator to investigate anything other than how they themselves can capitalize somehow, and join the club. It’s that same view of power that “sophisticated investors” scammed by Madoff allowed to lull them into such a sense of safety in the very idea of having their money managed by a man with such financial clout, that they didn’t feel they had to pay attention to or investigate how they were making such high returns, so consistently, even though the investments they were making were labelled as “high risk” investments.  This obliviousness and drunken greed is an attitude that pervades American society, and it is the “systemic risk” that we as a society must fully recognize and deal with if we are going to have any chance of passing this planet on to future generations.

Harry Markopolos, and others like him (Pat Tillman, Dalton Fury, Robert Baer –  real men that have put their lives on the line to defend the fabric of this nation’s security and safety, so that we can rise and sleep soundly “under the blanket of the very freedom that [they] provide,”) represents what is best in the Spirit of America. It is not only that they, and countless others who remain nameless, have put themselves in harms for us, but that they have excercised their own freedom in informing us what happened, and been through serious ordeals just in trying to do that. They are the real John McClain’s, Jack Bauer’s, and Solid Snake’s, that have worked within the system and gotten so fed up with the amount of “friendly fire” they’ve received in the form of inaction and outright stonewalling by the very agencies and governments for which they’ve worked, that they’ve realized they can’t trust anyone, and have to “go rogue” on their quests to safeguard us, the American public, from real terror.

And that very real terror that we are currently experiencing is coming from within. It is being perpetrated on us by the very leaders that are sworn to protect us. It is “capture” at the highest order, and it is the embrace of greed based politics and principles that is the only thing that has trickled down to the public like a cancerous disease. We have to wake up and let our government know, the way we did this November, that enough is enough. We have to maintain the interest, and continue to grow the amount of involvement we have, in simply knowing exactly what our elected officials are doing and how they are “representing” us. Remember, just because a guy gets elected, it doesn’t automatically make him a good leader. Let’s make sure we are electing proven leaders, and not admitted sex offenders, like some of our current officials, who shall remain nameless and should stay out of controversy if they don’t want people bringing up their previous sexual indiscretions.

 

Lastly, let’s wake up and realize the reality that taxes are extremely difficult for even tax professionals to get right all of the time. The media is spending too much time talking about the current Administration Appointees and their tax records from 2001. Who cares? Taxes are like parking tickets. There are those who deliberately take advantage of the fact that it’s a parking ticket, therefore a minor infraction, doesn’t have to be paid immediately, and so they don’t mind getting them and therefore keep getting them. Then it spirals out of control as they “forget” to pay the tickets, and before they know it, they’re getting their car towed and they owe the local government a lot of money. Now, the tax equivalent of a person or a public official that exhibits this behavior would probably be Senator Ted Stevens. He was indicted for using his position and accepting bribes among other things, but basically, had he reported these “gifts” he received from these “questionable” people or organizations on his taxes – either as personal spending or what have you – things could have been totally different for this now tarnished elder of the Senate. (Not saying that would have been the moral thing to do, but if you’re gonna accept bribes, wouldn’t you at least try to cover your tracks as best as possible, or slow down the process of your capture in any way?)

Then there are those who when they get parking tickets, it’s few and far between, so since it’s not as routine for them as for the previous example, it’s understandable that they might forget to make a payment for that ticket. To round it all out, there are of course those people that pay a parking ticket as soon as they get it, no matter how frequent an occurrence, but the group in the middle, the understandably forgetful group, is the group I would place most people in with parking tickets and taxes. We screw up on our own taxes from time to time, forget this rule and that, (or more likely don’t know it in the first place) and sometimes it’s in our favor, and sometimes not, but there’s no deliberate manipulation of any tax code involved in how we go about doing our taxes. It’s unfortunate that Tom Daschle had to withdraw from the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services, although I think it was the noble thing to do to take one for Team Obama. I place him in this group of understandably forgetful tax infraction holders. I myself owed New York City taxes after I thought I was done for 2008, but my accountant screwed up on the city taxes. Does that make me any more or less trustworthy that I chose to go to the same accountant I have for 3 years with no problems to get my taxes done? I think not. I have a friend that found out, also in last year’s tax season, that he was owed about $10,000 more in deductible income. Does that make him or his tax professional business or tax guru’s that have a leg up on the entire franchise? I think not. More likely, it means that single tax professional he went to on that very day was a more focused, harder worker than average. But it means nothing about the character or the integrity of my friend, the person that went to that professional for a service. Wake up people, please!