Why does an institution of higher learning have $35 billion in its back pocket anyway? Why has it become customary for universities to spend only a small fraction of their interest income - and not even the endowment funds themselves - for daily operations? Why do American taxpayers continue to subsidize schools that increasingly operate like for-profit companies - and less like tax-exempt educational foundations that are charged with educating the next generation?My question is slightly different—why do I have to pay tax on investment income, while Harvard and Yale don't?
Monday, December 31, 2007
From the December 31, 1892 issue of Punch:
Bulls and Bears. City Men: "Well, come, you are better off than I am," said the City Man. "If I hadn't now and again to appear before the Registrar in the Bankruptcy Court, I don't know what I should do with my time! I am stone broke. That's about it—stone broke! Knocked out of the 'House,' and without a scrap of credit: I am done for!"
And it was agreed that none of them had any prospects. Then they separated, or rather, were on the eve of separating.
"By the way—fancy forgetting to do it!" said one of them.
And then they rectified the omission, and wished one another, "A Happy New Year!"
We learned "liquidtiy" and "risk" don't mean what many of us thought they meant.
The transition from cash to credit has been so pervasive as to go unmentioned – until this year's "liquidity crisis." Henry Kaufman called attention to the New Financial Order in a WSJ op-ed:
In the decades that followed World War II, liquidity was by and large an asset-based concept. For business corporations, it meant the size of cash and very liquid assets, the maturity of receivables, the turnover of inventory, and the relationship of these assets to total liabilities. For households, liquidity primarily meant the maturity of financial assets being held for contingencies along with funds that reliably would be available later in life. In contrast, firms and households today often blur the distinction between liquidity and credit availability. When thinking about liquid assets, present and future, it is now commonplace to think in terms of access to liabilities.That's why this year's meltdown is now more accurately called a "credit crisis."
Wall Street took pride in its ability to assess, measure and manage risk. Wall Street not only failed, it didn't know what it was up against. In an earlier post, we referred you to a John Bogle's talk containing an instructive quotation from the late University of Chicago economist Frank H. Knight:
. . . uncertainty must be taken in a sense radically distinct from the familiar notion of Risk, from which it has never been properly separated. The term “risk,” as loosely used in everyday speech and in economic discussion, really covers two things which . . . are categorically different. The essential fact is that “risk” means in some cases a quantity susceptible of measurement, while at other times it is something distinctly not of this character. A measurable uncertainty, or “risk” proper, is so far different from an immeasurable one that it is not in effect an uncertainty at all.Wall Street believed measurable risk was divisible. If packages of risky loans were sold to hundreds of investors, no one investor could run more than a modest risk of loss. Turned out that real risk–uncertainty –is viral. The more you spread it around, the more there is.* * *The facts of life in this regard are in a superficial sense obtrusively obvious and are a matter of common observation. It is a world of change in which we live, and a world of uncertainty.
In a recent Washington Post column, Robert Samuelson described the 2007 crisis this way:
Since 1980, America's financial system has changed dramatically in ways that are now arousing widespread anxieties. Many loans once made directly by banks are "securitized": packaged into bondlike securities and sold to investors (pension funds, investment houses, hedge funds and banks themselves). There's been an explosion of bewildering financial instruments -- currency swaps, interest-rate swaps and other "derivatives" -- that are used for hedging and speculative trading.Will the new year bring high-net-worth investors who are more reluctant to borrow from their private bankers?
Until recently, the transformation seemed a splendid success. Credit markets had broadened; risk was being spread to a larger spectrum of investors. So it was said. This was an illusion.
Today's Wall Street Journal sees a "flight to simplicity." Will investors amateur and professional turn from complexity to the simple comforts of stocks and bonds?
We'll find out in the new year.
There are known unknowns.
That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know.
But there are also unknown unknowns.
There are things we don't know we don't know.
– Donald Rumsfeld
Friday, December 28, 2007
According to Investor Timing and Fund Distribution Channels, a study sponsored by the Zero Alpha Group, investors in load funds fare especially poorly.
We find that investors who transact through investment professionals using conventional distribution arrangements experience substantially poorer timing performance than investors who purchase pure no-load funds. Investors in all three principal load-carrying retail share classes (A, B, and C) significantly underperform a buy-and-hold strategy. Among all load funds, Class B investors suffer from the poorest cash flow timing, underperforming a buy-and-hold strategy by 2.28 percentage points annually,The study was co-authored by Mercer Bullard, a securities law professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law; Geoff Friesen, assistant professor of finance at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Travis Sapp, assistant professor of finance at Iowa State.
Perhaps the most intriguing finding, highlighted by The Wall Street Journal, is that Index-Fund Tortoises Are Long-Term Winners. "Investors in no-load (that is, no-commission) index funds actually beat the returns of the funds they hold by 0.42 percentage point annually."
How can investors in a fund that matches the market return wind up with a return four-tenths of a percent higher? Must be that they not only buy and hold but also tend to invest new money regularly.
If you put $500 per month or $3,000 per annum into an index fund, year after year, you are dollar-cost averaging. That is, you cannot avoid buying more shares when the market is down, fewer when the market is up.
Just don't listen to those hot tips on sector rotation from brokers or registered investment advisers.
* Form 8863, Education Credits.
* Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits.
* Form 1040A's Schedule 2, Child and Dependent Care Expenses for Form 1040A Filers.
* Form 8396, Mortgage Interest Credit.
* Form 8859, District of Columbia First-Time Homebuyer Credit.
These Forms have difficult interactions with the AMT that will take the extra time to program. An estimated 13 million taxpayers will be affected. Almost none of them will be "rich."
Thursday, December 27, 2007
WITHOUT trust, there can be no free-market capitalism. Capitalism took root in Europe when wealthy families had excess income to invest, and they entrusted their money to managers who would treat their funds with due care.Where Bogle's concern is with the overcharging and underserving of individual investors, Stein criticizes investment banks for selling mortgage derivatives they didn't even understand themselves. Or if they did understand, as in at least one case, they shorted the same stuff they were selling.
Such standards of care required that those handling someone else’s money behave with extreme rigor and honesty. The standards, which came to be known as fiduciary duty, were the same duty a court required of, say, a trustee dealing with the property of a widow or a child.
"Today," writes Stein, "in the midst of the mortgage mess, we see people breaching their fiduciary duty and getting away with it."
Is the world of finance really sinking as low as Bogle and Stein fear?
Monday, December 24, 2007
Here and there on the wild investment frontier, stock prices have doubled in 2007, as The Wall Street Journal notes here.
Long overlooked by all but the most intrepid investors, frontier markets are attracting increasing attention in spite of their small size and often patchy infrastructure. In terms of geography, they are a diverse bunch, ranging from quasideveloped markets in Eastern Europe, to oil exporters in the Persian Gulf, to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.Half a century ago, Brooks Brothers had Paul Brown sketch this Christmas scene from our own, early-1800s frontier. The inspiration, no doubt, was the immense popularity of a Disney mini-series, Davy Crockett.
Bigger and better-known developing markets such as India and China are famous for their rapid economic growth, but a similar process is also unfolding in many out-of-the-way markets. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, are projected to grow 6.8% in 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund, while Kazakhstan is set to expand by nearly 8%. Booming commodity prices, growing investment, and efforts to rein in debt have contributed to the rosier picture.
Good luck, frontier investors. Keep your powder dry, and watch out for bears.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
OK. But I can still deduct the loss I realize in my taxable portfolio if I immediately repurchase the security through my Roth IRA, right?
Wrong, says the IRS. You can read the IRS reasoning here.
Friday, December 21, 2007
To curry favor, Federated threw great parties during trust conferences. The one I remember best, in Washington, D. C., featured an orchestra of angels – well, they had wings – and a performance by the Capitol Steps.
My wife and I have loved that merry band of Capitol Hill pranksters ever since.
Sadly, today's Washington Post reports that Capitol Steps co-founder Bill Strauss died December 18th at age 60, after years of battling pancreatic cancer.
Strauss was a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law, with a Master's from the Kennedy School of Government, who wound up working on the staff of Senator Charles Percy. At a Christmas party in 1981, he and other Senate staffers performed some silly songs. The rest is . . . The Capitol Steps.
At a tribute to Strauss on the Steps web site, you can hear a sampling of songs, including two classic Christmas numbers.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The New Money favors hands-on philanthropy. Where the Old Money might merely underwrite a new gym at his or her college, Andre Agassi has launched his own school, Agassi Prep. Tiger Woods' tournament win last Sunday generated another million dollars plus for his Learning Centers, in which he takes justifiable pride.
If a member of the New Money considers supporting good works not organized personally, he or she wants to know the funds will be spent efficiently. The New York Times profiles two ex-hedgies who quit their jobs and now work for walking-around money in order to facilitate that effort:
As hedge-fund analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld made six-figure incomes deciding which companies to invest in. Now they are doing the same thing with charities, for a lot less pay.You can sample of new-wave style of their venture on The GiveWell Blog.
Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld, both 26, are the founders and sole employees of GiveWell, which studies charities in particular fields and ranks them on their effectiveness. GiveWell is supported by a charity they created, the Clear Fund, which makes grants to charities they recommend in their research.
Their efforts are shaking up the field of philanthropy, generating the kind of buzz more typically devoted to Bill Gates and Warren E. Buffett, as charities ponder what, if anything, their rigorous approach to evaluation means for the future.
Note that the temporary AMT patch will be a bit higher for the 2007 tax year than it was in 2006: $44,350 singles, $66,250 marrieds filing joint. So once again we haven't failed to inflation-adjust the AMT exemption, we only failed to do the right thing on a permanent basis.
Same time, next year?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I would rather see the people not hit by the AMT [and] then come back and fight again for pay-go and to close the loopholes and pay for the AMT probably with the extenders.That's the comment by Charles Rangel after the Senate rejected by 48 - 46 an attempt to attach his "paid for" AMT patch as an amendment to the omnibus spending bill. He's now willing to drop the pay-go requirement for the one-year extension, and would bring it back for next year's round. Reportedly it's the "blue dog" conservative Democrats in the House who are now resisting this change of course.
Congress was hoping to start Christmas vacation tomorrow. There's not much time to get this AMT mess solved for the 2007 tax year. But they must enjoy it, or they would simply eliminate this tax anachronism.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
You can read more about the whimsical price index here.
Partridge prices held steady, but expensive corn heated up the price of geese. Gold rings shot up more than 20%.
Monday, December 17, 2007
In any event, the IRS valued the transfers over two years at $105 million (I'm guessing that figure is close to the current value of the trusts). Accordingly, they would like $65 million in additional gift tax payments. Topfer is resisting with a Tax Court suit. I'm looking forward to reading that decision.
Somehow I suspect that Mr. Topfer won't be joining Warren Buffett in arguing for a retention of the federal estate and gift tax systems.
Hat tip to Professor Beyer.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Jim Gust commented that he hadn't realized they could generate mortgage loans that fast. It does seem amazing, but cursory research suggests that "they" sure could.
From an IMF study a few years ago (emphasis added):
The size of the U.S. mortgage and agency debt market has grown rapidly in recent years to surpass that of U.S. treasury securities . . . . At the end of March 2003, securities directly issued by U.S. government-sponsored agencies (including, but not limited to, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) totaled $2.4 trillion and mortgage-backed securities issued by the agencies totaled $3.2 trillion. The total of these two amounts was 161 percent of the size of outstanding U.S. treasury securities, compared with 73 percent as recently as 1996.Graphic from a NY Times story last March (click for larger image):
Could all this shaky debt mean recession? Several observers offer their views in today's NY Times. Here are two:
Economist Laura Tyson
The resetting of interest rates on more than 2 million subprime loans will prompt a large number of foreclosures, perhaps a million a year in both 2008 and 2009. These huge waves of foreclosures will depress the price of residential real estate still further. Plummeting real estate values and escalating foreclosures will cause further losses on mortgage-related securities and will further burden American consumers already dealing with higher energy prices and substantial debt.
Given the dampening effects of these developments on both consumption and investment spending, it is increasingly likely that the economy will slip into recession next year. The Federal Reserve should continue to cut interest rates and to experiment with new ways to pump liquidity into the financial system.
Though deficient in the powers of foresight and observation, economists do believe they know how to treat an economy on the brink of recession, as this one seems to be. They administer what non-economists know as the “hair of the dog that bit you.”Grant points out that occasional economic corrections are good for us, even if we hate the taste of the medicine.
But booms not only precede busts, they also cause them. Bargain-basement interest rates are a potent stimulant. Borrowing more than they might at higher rates, people stretch. Businesses stock up on labor, machinery and buildings. Consumers buy cars and houses — houses, especially, these past five years. The G.D.P. takes flight.
Then unwelcome facts intrude. Easy money, it seems, was an illusion. Society was not so rich as it seemed. The prosperous future for which people had collectively prepared is slow to arrive. The inflation rate picks up. Supposedly creditworthy consumers and businesses turn out to be risky. They were creditworthy only so long as lenders were willing to advance them more and more funds at those ever-so-affordable low rates.
Who knows? In a couple of years, stocks may be bargains. And young couples may be able to afford starter homes.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Once again, remind me why this deserves to be a tax-free enterprise?
The White House has threatened a veto, but more importantly the bill seems unlikely to gain much traction in the Senate, given the 88-5 expression last week that a simpler plan of one-year relief is the better way to go. That bill was also nearly blocked by Senate Republicans, until Max Baucus issued a blistering press release on the consequences of their failure to take yes for an answer. The press release made crystal that Republicans would get—and deserve—all of the blame for the increased AMT if they didn't drop their intransigence. So they did.
Where will the blame fall now? House Democrats are trying to deflect the blame back to Republicans with assertions that they are being "fiscally responsible" by incorporating a tax increase into their plan.
By the way, everyone seems to agree that the extenders part of the bill is dead for the rest of this year.
Average asset growth in the first nine months of 2007 increased to 7 percent compared to 6 percent in the first half of the year.
For the same time periods, average income growth slowed to 8 percent, down by 2 percentage points . However, median income growth remained at 10 percent suggesting that over half of all institutions are still seeing income rise faster than assets. Median asset growth was 7 percent.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
According to Tax Notes, there was supposed to be a vote last night, but I don't see any sign that it happened. There are also rumors that the AMT patch legislation might get coupled to Medicare legislation to make a Senate filibuster harder for Republicans to sustain.
In all my years of observing the tax legislative process, I've never seen anything like this.
Meanwhile, the IRS has announced that its usual date to start processing returns, January 15, will be pushed well into February. There had been hope that non-AMT returns could be processed on time, but IRS lacks any systems or processes to identify and separate such returns. I think that the delay warning assumes an AMT patch is enacted—if time runs out, and we impose the AMT on another 25 million taxpayers in coastal states, there shouldn't be any reason for IRS delay. But their announcement is ambiguous on that point. They may have halted reprogramming the computers until they know which tax rules will apply.
Even though the start date could be delayed, IRS has rejected the idea of extending the April 15 filing deadline. That means returning processing time will be severely compressed.
They are hoping that a big increase in electronic filings will help to bail them out.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Journal looks on the bright side: Nations we've flooded with dollars now have something (banks) to buy with them.
The Times, in this table, shows that UBS at least lost less (so far) than Citi (so far).
Still, the $13.8 billion lost by UBS is no small sum. Multi-billion-dollar losses have become common, and we'll be seeing more of them, but even taken individually, they are enormous.
Imagine, please, that you are given $13.8 billion. You head straight for Vegas, determined to lose your vast fortune at the rate of $1 million a day. Seven days a week, week after week, month after month, year after year, you lose a million every day.
How long will it take you to lose all $13.8 billion? Twenty years? Thirty years?
Even longer! More than a third of a century will pass until, sometime in 2045, you finally go broke.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Now Wells Fargo wants to get into the act as well. This link leads to their press release about their survey, but you'll have to call or e-mail if you want to see the actual report.
I was intrigued by the fact that in their "wealth life cycle analysis," Wells came up with categories essentially identical to Merrill Anderson's Wealth Management Article Library:
The study uniquely categorized HNW individuals into four distinct groups based on their stage in the wealth lifecycle. These stages are Building, Managing, Preserving and Transferring.Great minds think alike.
His ability to be wrong about the direction of an individual stock was uncanny, even to him. At first, he didn’t understand why his customers didn’t fire him, but soon he came to take their inertia for granted. "It was amazing, the gullibility of the investor," he says. "When you got a new customer, all you needed to do was get three trades out of him. Because one of them is going to work. But you have to get the second one done before the first one goes bad."Ebenezeer Scrooge saw the light after visits from the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas yet to come.
It wasn't exactly the career he’d hoped for. Once, he confessed to his boss his misgivings about the performance of his customers' portfolios. His boss told him point-blank, "Blaine, you're confused about your job." A fellow broker added, "Your job is to turn your clients' net worth into your own." Blaine wrote that down in his journal.
Blaine Lourd's conversion came via The Rolling Stones.
Hey, whatever works!
If you have finished your holiday shopping and have time to spare, read his story.
Mr. Rogerson, 51, the father of two girls and two boys, has them off to an early start. Six years ago, when they ranged in age from 5 to 15, he and his wife decided to entrust them with $5,000 each year. The children were to invest the money, which would be used for the family’s summer vacation. If the fund prospered, they might “go to Disney World,” he said. “If it stayed flat, we would go around the country and visit family members,” he added. “If the investment fell, there was always a camping trip.”Presumably, Mr. Rogerson was teaching his kids how not to invest. (Surely he wouldn't have gambled a BNY Mellon client's money on stocks as a short-term investment.) With luck, they have learned that equities should be held for the long term.* * *Mr. Rogerson turned his kids into investing guinea pigs in 2001 — a bad year for the domestic stock market, as it turned out. “The kids knew nothing,” he recalled. “They bought stocks like Apple and Hasbro and all these penny stocks at high-tech and toy companies. Their pile went down from $5,000 to $2,000.” That year, he said, “we went camping.”
During the second year, the children were so nervous about “putting Mom and Dad back in a tent again that they eventually put all the money in money market accounts,” he said. “They made $50,” he added. “That year we drove down to Florida to visit family. “Since we were six people, we stayed at Holiday Inns along the way. We spent the money on motels, food and entertainment. My father lived in Daytona and my wife’s mother lives in Naples. Along the way, the kids made decisions about what kinds of restaurants we could go to.”
By the third year, the investing bug had bitten, and the children wondered, “How do we invest so maybe we can do something more fantastic?” he said. They had stocks that were more conservative: a diversified portfolio that included large-capitalization stocks. They also had fixed-income investments like bonds. The young investors earned $600 on their $5,000 that year, and the family rented a catamaran and went boating near Mystic, Conn. (choosing it over Disney World).
Example: Look what would have happened if the family had skipped its 2001 vacation and held onto the shares of Apple:
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Holiday season coincides with the open enrollment period for Medicare prescription drug coverage, and regulators are warning that an increasing number of unscrupulous insurance agents also view it as open season for preying on older adults.Most popular scam: Selling Medicare Advantage programs disguised as regular prescription-drug programs.
The wrongdoing, among other activities, involves violating federal regulations against door-to-door selling of coverage and the forging of signatures. "It's the wild, wild West out there," says Mary Jo Hudson, director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.
Like the subprime-mortgage brokers of yesteryear, drug swindlers have visions of the Good Life dancing in their heads: "Critics say that driving the unscrupulous sales practices are commission structures that favor promoting one plan over another no matter what the needs of an applicant. Insurance companies also hold contests to push their products that promise salespeople prizes like trips to Las Vegas."
Friday, December 07, 2007
Ways and Means Chairman Rangel has offered to modify the offsets in the House bill, to eliminate most but not all of the changes that will affect hedge fund managers (the "prevailing party" in the Senate, apparently). If Rangel wanted to do some horse trading, he should have started the process earlier than November.
All eyes now turn to the House, and to the Democratic leadership.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
To put this into perspective, the increase alone in AMT collections slated for next year is nearly $50 billion. That's 23 million taxpayers paying an extra of $2,000 each. The entire federal estate tax, on the other hand, will raise a scant $21 billion.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Reid told reporters that the Senate would take up a temporary AMT patch and so-called extenders package "as soon as we can," and added there were "a lot of balancing balls." Reid also took issue with what he characterized as GOP obstructionism and blamed the delay in action on AMT relief on the Republicans' "57 filibusters."I'm sorry, but I don't see how earlier filibusters on other legislation caused the House Ways and Means Committee to delay beginning work on the AMT patch until November. That was rank irresponsibility, and no one has called them on it, or apparently will. Congress has put itself in a box on this, because they will want credit for handing out a tax cut when what they are really doing is preventing a tax increase, one that will fall hardest in the bluest states.
Here's a bit of refreshing common sense about the AMT:
"I think most Republicans would like to repeal the whole thing, period, without paying for it. Why would you want to have to raise taxes on somebody else in order to discontinue a kind of phantom levy that we've been preventing from going into effect every year anyway and never intend to collect?"That's from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Too bad he didn't exhibit that same common sense when he was in the majority.
UPDATE: The Senate will evidently be in session until December 21. Republicans are predicting that an AMT patch without offsets will pass in the Senate, which means it has to go back for passage in the House, or there has to be a Conference to iron out differences.
Monday, December 03, 2007
A question for the class-conscious: Does the emergence of this phenomenon break down class barriers, or reinforce them by helping the rich to more fully isolate themselves?
What's more, while the sites claim to be exclusive, they're opening their doors wider and wider to please advertisers and investors, who often prefer quantity over quality. And the sites can't ensure that all their members are what they say they are, despite verification systems from fellow members and the sites themselves. All this has rankled some members, who say the sites have become simply well-dressed Facebooks.
A question for trust marketers: Any way we can break into the sites?