Monday, June 26, 2017

The Stock Market is Disappearing Before Our Eyes

Sometimes you know what's happening but still need reminding that it's HAPPENING. This chart comes from Jason Zweig's WSJ column($), Stock Picking Is Dying Because There Are No More Stocks to Pick.

Zweig's column draws upon a revealing Credit Suisse report. Welcome to a world where mutual funds and accredited investors invest freely in billion-dollar companies without going near the stock market. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

“Fearless Girl” Wins Fame and Awards

Photo: AP
At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on the Riviera, where the frozen rosé slushies flow like, well, slushies, State Street Global's "Fearless Girl" has won several awards for confronting Wall Street's bull.

State Street commissioned the sculpture to nudge publicly-traded companies toward enlisting more women for their boards of directors. 

In these contentious times, State Street's ploy was sure to draw critics. They're outnumbered by "Fearless Girl" fans. Even the bull, who has been hanging around since the 20th century, is probably happy to have company. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

We hate taxes. The Internal Revenue Code is our punishment

Every four years. it seems, a fringe presidential candidate jumps on the same populist platform: “Abolish the IRS!”

We Americans hate and despise taxes. Yet we know we can’t get rid of them. So we dream of doing away with the tax collector.

The punishment for our tax hatred? An incredibly convoluted Internal Revenue Code. Thousands and thousands of rules and sub-rules and exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions. Our federal income tax is infinitely more complicated than it ought to be.

Instead of a rational system, we have a tax code made monstrous by Congress. Yet every time Congress adds another complication it is merely doing our bidding, as summed up by Russell Long: ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax that other fellow behind the tree.”

Could we have a less hateful tax code? Yes. In A Fine Mess T. R. Reid points out that fiscal engineers around the world have determined the most tolerable tax system: BBLR. Broad base, low rate. Some describe the ideal as a modest tax on income, broadly defined, plus a consumption tax such as a VAT.

Whoa! If you think Americans hate the income tax, try mentioning a Value Added Tax. The levy offers no escape. If the purchase of a Tesla is subject to a VAT, every Tesla buyer has to pay it – you, me, the fellow behind the tree, the neighborhood drug dealer, everybody!

Yet a VAT could be almost likable in terms of fairness. And a simple, broad-based income tax would make filing tax returns child’s play.

Within living memory, Congress has attempted serious tax reform only once, in 1986. Even that effort produced nothing like a truly simple BBLR system. Could our hatred of our current tax mess ever lead to full-fledged reform? Seems like an impossible dream.

As Theodore Roosevelt once observed, “Americans learn only from catastrophe and not from experience."

Monday, June 12, 2017

What $150 Million Will Buy

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” (1962)
To raise money for a philanthropic fund aimed at shrinking the alarmingly high percentage of Americans who spend time in prison, the president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art has sold her prized Lichtenstein for $150 million ($165 million including fees).

The buyer: Steven A. Cohen, the once-and-future hedge fund tycoon. After scraping past insider-trading charges but being temporarily sidelined from the hedge fund business, Cohen's next masterpiece will be a new, $20-billion hedge fund to be launched next year.