Explaining Southern California's economy

The investors' view on the Federal Reserve's interest rate decision

Ben Bernanke

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Will continued low interest rates lead to inflation? Some money managers don't think so.

The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee announcement Wednesday wasn't a big surprise on the interest-rate front. The Fed has stated it intends to keep short-term rates low for the foreseeable future, in an effort to stimulate the economy and push investors into riskier assets, like stocks. A continued low-interest rate environment will also continue to bolster the housing market, where mortgage rates are at historic lows.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the rest of the FOMC annouced that they will keep rates low until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent. It will also continue to buy up mortgage-backed securities, at roughly the same rate it has been (so-called "Quantitive Easing," installment 3, or "QE3").

[UPDATE: I slightly misinterpreted what the Fed is doing on the bond-buying side. It's also worth noting that the Fed is now saying that it will keep interest rates low until unemployment hits a specified level. This is a policy departure from saying that rates will stay low until the economy improves. But anyway, bond-buying: the Fed is going to double what it's doing in the QE front and change "Operation Twist" into an extension of QE3. The older aspect of QE will still involve buying MBS. But the additions to QE3 will entail buying long-term U.S. Treasuries without selling short-term bonds. This is important as it means the Fed will be adding $85 billion per month to its balance sheet — under Operation Twist, it hadn't grown much, which was viewed as an way to "sterilize" against inflation. Former Dallas Fed President Bob McTeer has a good post about the FOMC decision at Forbes.]

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Why Ron Paul and Mark Spitznagel will not go quietly into the Republican night

Ron Paul Begins Final Campaign Swing Through Iowa Before Caucus

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Ron Paul speaks during a campaign event. He plans to go to the Republican National Convention in Tampa and be placed on the nominating ballot.

Mitt Romney may be the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, but Texas congressman Ron Paul never planned to go away quietly before the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August — and neither did one of his staunchest supporters, L.A. hedge fund investor Mark Spitznagel.

It’s partly Spitznagel’s doing that Paul held out for delegates at one of the campaign's final acts, the Nebraska state Republican Party Convention, which took place a week and half ago, more than a month after the state's primary. (Paul failed to gain a plurality, dooming his chances at speaking in Tampa.) All along, the hedge funder helped keep Paul in the race, both by raising money and by providing the campaign with intellectual oomph.

Spitznagel, who runs Universa Investments, which he founded in 2007, lives in Bel Air and operates out of an office in Santa Monica. Why is the Michigan native so far out west, anyway? After all, hedge funds are supposed to be in Connecticut. Or at the very least, Manhattan. That wasn't Spitznagel's scene. "I wanted to get out of that groupthink of Wall Street," he said on the phone recently. "Everyone there is crammed into a handful of blocks." But it's perhaps more than just the non-NYC quality of L.A. that has made it a comfortable place for Spitznagel. 

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Paul Krugman says Ben Bernanke has become Locutus of Borg

Locutus of Fed

Resistance to Fed policy is futile, Professor Krugman.

Over the weekend, we got a preview of Paul Krugman's new book, which has the not-very-subtle title "End this Depression Now!" Yep, that's an exclamation point, perhaps the first ever in the title of a book by a Nobel Prize winner. And yep, Krugman doesn't think we're in a recession. He's calling it a Depression, and yes, I've dutifully capitalized that scary word. 

The excerpt appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the pages of which Krugman has taken to from time to time when he wants to lay out a more involved argument than the column inches he's allotted on the NYT's op-ed page will allow. It also appeared just a few days before the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee met to decide on the direction of U.S. monetary policy. 

Bernanke effectively hired Krugman, when Bernanke ran the economics department at Princeton. And Krugman clearly thinks that Princeton Bernanke was a much different economics guy than Chairman Ben. And when I say "much different," what I mean is that Krugman has no qualms about going out on a very long limb here. Like far enough to bring out the "Star Trek" comparisons.

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Meet Mark Spitznagel, Ron Paul's L.A. hedge-fund guy

Ron Paul Continues Iowa Campaign Tour

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LE MARS, IA - DECEMBER 30: Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Rep Ron Paul (R-TX) speaks during a town hall meeting at the Le Mars Convention Center on December 30, 2011 in Le Mars, Iowa.

Ron Paul — Republican presidential candidate, GOP congressman from Texas, father of Sen. Rand Paul, libertarian, and dogged foe of the Federal Reserve — is touching down in Los Angeles on March 20 for a fundraiser. If you think Paul, with his desire to return the U.S. to the gold standard (bimetalism, actually, using gold and silver) and his tendency to subject Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to lengthy disquisitions on inflation, is a litle bit different, just wait until you get a dose of the guy who's hosting this Bel Air shindig, at the former residence of Jennifer Lopez.

He's Mark Spitznagel, a very successful hedge-fund manager whose Universa Investments is based in Santa Monica. There are hedge-fund managers and there are hedge fund managers. Spitznagel is definitely in the latter category. He plies his trade in an exotic corner of the industry, making huge bets on statistically improbable events, now colloquially known as "black swans," after the 2007 book of the that title by Nassim Taleb.

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Ron Paul v. Ben Bernanke: Is that a silver dollar in your pocket?

The most entertaining episode from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee this morning came — Surprise! — when Texas Republican and GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul launched into one of his patented long-winded spiels about the evils of the Fed, the senselessness of fiat currencies, and the value of "real" money: silver and gold.

Bernanke took it all in stride. The video above doesn't have reaction shots that are quite as good as this shorter broadcast from ABC, so check them both out. You have to hand it to Bernanke, he seems to enjoy the roastings he gets from Paul, in strange sort of way. And he fires back, ever so gently, at Paul's allegations that we're experiencing 9 percent inflation (according to older pricing measures) when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says it's only around 4. (They've been here before.)

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