Monday, December 28, 2009

Lies or Official Statistics- Take your pick

Check out this blog, from which I have taken an extract. Governments world over are notorious for manipulation of statistics. In India, the RBI and the Ministry routinely indulge in this.
However, what seems to matter is the first impact of such announcements. They seem to be self-fulfilling, in the sense, that revisions do not bother the financial world. So may be, to that extent, the governments are doing a proper job by telling lies. Incredible Shrinking Third Quarter U.S. GDP Figures
December 24th, 2009
Goto comments
Leave a comment It was with triumphant fanfare that the Obama administration initially announced that the Q3 results for the U.S. economy showed a robust 3.5% annualized growth, signalling and end to the Great Recession. Predictably, the Dow Jones index soared. Then, somewhat latter, a revised number came in from the Bureau of Economic Analysis; the Q3 GDP growth was a much more modest 2.8%, indicative of a sluggish recovery, at best. But even that is not the end of the story.

A second revision has now been released from the BEA, and it is even more anaemic, a mere 2.2 %. God only knows what another revision might reveal. However, even if the 2.2% positive growth figure holds, it must be recognized that is it based on gimmickry such as the infamous “Cash for Clunkers” program, which merely pushed demand for automobiles forward, in the process artificially inflating the Q3 number. As much as 1.45% of the 2.2% growth came from increased automotive sales due to this boondoggle. Subtract gimmicks and the vast level of increased government spending based on adding substantially to the national debt from the equation, and it becomes clear that the real economy of the United States is still in recession

Moneylife : SEBI is waking up to complete takeovers

Moneylife : SEBI is waking up to complete takeovers

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A good read-- On ethics & Wall street money

Well said by Alice Schroeder, who wrote the tome on Warren Buffet.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of brokers, stock exchange wars and trouble in getting early to work

The stock broking in India is a cottage industry. It is an unorganized sector, with no common interests except that of making money. Each one has a different play. About a dozen large ones are the only ones that can be viewed as a broking house, akin to what is prevalent abroad.

The bulk of them have no business to be in this business. Many of them use the platform for proprietary trading. Many of them ‘rent’ out terminals to punters for intraday trading. Most of them employ an army of arbitrageurs, who keep skimming the inefficiency in the market to make money. If they were to pay a brokerage charge on this, the business would disappear. The myth used to explain their existence is that they create liquidity. I beg to disagree. The liquidity to the market is given by the promoters. It is no secret that most promoters have undisclosed ‘promoter holdings’ which is used as an inventory to make a market. They operate through a clutch of ‘house brokers’ who create circular trades in the stocks. They are the ones who let the arbitrageurs come in and make a living. These market makers are not only funded with the promoter stocks but they also arrange money by pledging these shares. They are the vital link between the promoter and the buyer / seller.

It is no secret that the key drivers of the Indian markets are the FII investors. Without the market makers, there is no way they can transact the volumes that they presently trade in. When they buy, the market makers step in and provide the supply. Depending on the action by other large holders of stocks and their trades, the market maker optimizes the price. When there is a bullish trend, the market maker creams the buyer. Similarly, when there is a one sided selling, no one has bothered to find out or report who the buyer is. The focus has always been on the glamour boys (FII, Institutions etc). At these times, the market maker crashes the price and absorbs the selling. It helps if some other buyers step in.

Of course, with the spread of institutional investors (mutual funds, insurance companies etc) the market makers role is made easier. Often, they will have to ‘push’ inventory by creating research reports. And since the market maker is a promoter link, he is able to offer some information edge and create a demand.

Let us look at the volumes. On any given day, the average volume is supposed to be Rs.100,000 crore. But this is a wrong number. Of this anything from 75 to 90 percent is the value of stocks traded in the F&O segment. If we exclude this, the actual volume is around Rs.10,000 to 20,000 crore. And of this, a substantial part relates to buying that has been done by arbitrageurs who have bought for cash and sold in the F&O. So, the actual trading volume is a much lower figure.

If the markets were really liquid, we would never witness any stock that is ‘locked in to a circuit’. Let us accept it. Barring a few stocks, liquidity is a myth. How many companies can say that they have a lakh of shareholders, with each holding at least 1000 shares? This is not a fancy number, but used to be one of the requirements for a company to get a listing on the NYSE!

The main fault in our industry lies in the fact that the entry price in to the broking industry is abysmally low. In the old days, I understand that Rs.5,000/- used to be sufficient. I also recall a sum of Rs.50.000/- for ‘professional’ category! I cannot imagine that any broker who cannot write a cheque for at least Rs.10 crore without running to a bank or a lender should be in this industry. To put it in perspective, the BSE has so many old members, who will perhaps not fulfill even the present day minimal requirement of net worth for being eligible to be a broker. A brokerage firm has to have enough liquidity to be in business. To be a full service broker they should be able to offer margin financing to clients also.

The recent move by the exchanges to start business at 9 am, has been met with lot of ‘objections’ from the fraternity. Let us look at them:

i) Operational Issues

Back office capabilities are today at a primitive level, except in the dozen odd large brokerages. The small ones survive on outsourced bullock cart systems, which are created by bucket shops. This needs investment of a large order. The other related issue is one of extension in working hours. This is unavoidable and the solution is to either have two shifts. Merely paying people higher, will not resolve the issue of fatigue. If systems are robust, why does the back-office have to come in two hours early? Also, if trading halts at 330 pm., ideally the back office should be able to wind down in an hour. Unfortunately, here the stock exchanges are the culprit. The day end prices are not frozen till 6 30 pm! I have seen mutual fund back offices waiting only to get that number. In today’s computerized world, why can not the closing prices be frozen by 345 pm? If this is done, then the back office can shut down by 5 pm or so, which is acceptable even if they have to start at 8 am. I have seen operations in Malaysia, in 1990’s, where the markets would start at 8 am and close at 2 pm. Even there, the staff would vacate the office by 5 pm. There is also some work which starts later and continues beyond the scheduled close. Surely, a shift system can handle this.

ii) Banking issues

This is another primitive area. Brokerages have clients who live on credit. Margins are not paid and the broker has to wait two days to get a cheque which again takes another two days to get cleared. This goes back to my argument about the low financial entry barrier. The other thing is that the brokers have hit themselves in the face with their price wars. Brokerages of one paise etc are going round. If they make the minimum brokerage to, say, Rs.100/- per trade or 0.50% in respect of cash business, their viability would be better. In F&O, they trade for their clients without taking margins. Why? I have seen large foreign banks trade in F&O and not pay margins. Brokers would take this business if they could arrange finance. Suppose the exchanges make it unlawful (with severe penalties), then this need would not arise. Giving credit to a speculator is like giving champagne to an inebriated person. The crux of the problem is that giving financial accommodation to clients has become a way of getting more business. One fine day, one client defaults and the entire month’s commission income gets wiped out.

iii) Commuting etc

Assuming that the most affected city is Mumbai, I actually see this move to start early, as a positive. Coming to work at 8 or 830 am means ducking the peak hour traffic and if you can close down by 5 pm, your quality of life will surely be better. Let the exchanges put their house in terms of giving their feeds to the brokers by 4 pm and this is a workable proposition. In the old days, the stock markets would open at 11 am. Only when the NSE came in, did the timings move up. Surely, the two exchanges have started a war of one-upmanship without any tangible benefit. If they expect arbitrageurs to generate more trading volumes they are on the right track. Investors and traders are not going to increase their trades. And my heart goes out to the army of arbitrageurs and the quant traders, who sit at their desks without a break. It is essential that the exchanges think about a lunch break, like is the practice in Japan and some Eastern Markets.

iv) Banking

India has lazy banking. Most banks have very relaxed banking hours. With everything getting technology driven, it is high time banking became a round the clock activity. We do not need physical banks to remain open to help the brokers or investors to trade. Maybe the nationalized banks can never get there, but all one needs is a few branches to do this.

v) Profiteering and the exchanges

And finally, BSE vs NSE. The BSE is a crony club that has robbed every customer blind, in the past. Only after the NSE stepped in, did the system stop the theft by the brokers. As regards NSE, one hopes it does not get complacent. Neither exchange should be run on a ‘for profit’ basis. Unfortunately, by selling stakes at ridiculous valuations, the exchanges have clearly indicated that they are out to screw the investors. If they have to satisfy investors, then they will only think of ways to increase revenue. That should NOT be the role of a stock exchange.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Andhra, Telengana, Marathwada, Vidharba, Neverland et other states of India

The gentleman from AP (TRC?) seems to have pulled a nice con job with the so called fast unto death. Speedy recovery and now a willingness to wait another 4 years! Wonder why this sudden change of heart.
Of course, this helped me to reinforce several things;
1. Corporate governance be damned. Sonia is the CEO for this country. She took the call, without any semblance for corproate governance. Her view was to cede in to the demand, damn the legislative process for splitting a state. How can one individual decide on such a thing, no newspaper or tv anchor questioned.
2. Now the demand for separate states is going to be a daily tamasha. All elections henceforth will carry 'promises' by traitors like the andhra guy to have a separate state.
3. The andhra guy seemed smart enough. His family is already in to the politics business. The media was addressed by son, daughter et al. He sure knows his onions and seems to have enough legit businesses that can be a platform for explaining future wealth!
4. None of the political parties have any balls to take a stand. Best example is the gentleman called Chandrababu Naidu who first supported and then opposed!
5. No one actually bothers to ask our PM about anything. Whether media or someone else. All things are decided by the Lady in command.
6. Media does not question if a polical party boss (Sonia) who is a mere MP can be the main person to enjoy all privileges reserved for heads of state. I do not know enough of the laws to be certain about it, but strikes me as another slap in the face for corporate governance.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moneylife : Osian Art Fund: Art of a scam?

Moneylife : Osian Art Fund: Art of a scam?

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Barclays Bank gets away scot free!

My previous post about how India has a legal system, but an utterly useless one (useful one, I guess, if you can manipulate the end game)is proved by what SEBI has done(?) to Barclays Bank, which deliberately screwed up data and accomodated people it should not through the notorious and obnoxious P Note route in to Indian markets.
SEBI's actions reminds me of my childhood, when my mother would admonish me by saying " Please do not do it in future". How can SEBI let go of an offender like Barclays? Who took the call? Why? What did SEBI get in return?
Interestingly, all the money through the culpable PNotes, were invested in to R Com (Reliance COmmunications of the ADAG Group). Is that why there is no punishment?
SEBI has to explain this.
This was a great opportunity to tell Barclays that it can no longer deal in Indian capital markets in any capacity. Broker, Investor or Investment Banker.
The guys at Barclays must be laughing their guts out at the rap on the knuckle delivered by SEBI.

Moneylife : SEBI board cannot quash order against NSDL: ex-CJI

Moneylife : SEBI board cannot quash order against NSDL: ex-CJI

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two hoots for the law- This is India

SEBI chief still hanging in there, in spite of the pithy comments from Justice Verma about the way the SEBI Board is being used to scuttle investigations in to the IPO scandal, where NSDL played and key role. The then head of NSDL is now the SEBI Chief.
Similarly, we have a report about half a dozen companies that have violated the FCCB guidelines regarding end use of money. The RBI permits the proceeds of FCCB to be used in certain specific ways only. Right or wrong or downright stupid, this is the law of the land. Violation does not seem to matter.
RBI will 'fine' the company and leave it at that. Shareholders suffer.
What about the directors of the company? Nothing. The law should be changed to make sure that all the directors of such a company are barred from ever being a company director again, in addition to them being personally made to cough up the fine or face imprisonment in lieu.
The legal system in India abets the crook. So, if you think something is not legally permissible, have no worries. The government has a tariff for doing wrong. It is called a 'fine'. And we have plea bargaining. All it involves is some payment and some grease..

Andhra - The wedge in to India

In 1952, a 'gentleman' by the monikker of Potti Sreeramulu succeeded in rabble rousing and dividing India on linguistic lines. The then PM, Mr Nehru had no courage to take these people on. This set the rot and the Congress started using this tool of taking sides with rabble rousers, minorities et all and brand it as 'secular".

We are now at the cross roads again. Telengana agitation is one which will decide whether India will remain united for some more time or we will see a 100 states bloom in a few years. Telengana is only the beginning. Soon we will have other fights, whether it is in Karnataka or Maharashtra or Bengal or Rajasthan.
Congress has always found it advantageous to divide people by race, caste and every possible way to pretend to be 'secular' and take the easy way out of crises.
When Potti wanted Andhra, he also wanted Madras to be the capital of Andhra. Then as a compromise, Kurnool was chosen. Hyderabad was later. Now, Telengana will want Hyderabad as capital!! That time, a Nehru put the first wedge in dividing India. Today, a family member, thru a proxy PM will put the wedge that will sub divide India!!

Let the Pottis of the world immolate themselves or fast unto or beyond death. So many traitors to India less.

Government & its employees- Both rob you .. Mera Bharat Mahaan

Income tax is official theft, by taking away money from one pocket and giving it to another in the name of social equalisation. Now, what is left of your taxes is stolen by the employees!!
Truly, the government employees deserve to be hanged to death. Inspite of being paid so well, having pensions, prime land allotment at bargain prices, etc , they still rob you blind.
There is absolutely no hope for this crooked country.

And now, tax refund diversion racket!
Published on Apr 08, 2009
NEW DELHI: If you are a tax payer awaiting refunds at the end of the financial year, here's a shocker.

Tax authorities in New Delhi suspect money meant for refunds to have been diverted to some fake accounts.

As many as 10 complaints have been filed by the tax authorities with the Delhi Police against some data-entry operators who are suspected to have diverted money meant for refunds last year, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

The FIRs, filed with the Indraprastha Estate Police Station, near the headquarters of the Income-Tax Department, Delhi, named the operators hired by the department for processing returns in the capital.

In the last financial year, refunds of Rs 41,419 crore were issued, while in the previous year those totalled Rs 40,701 crore.

In Delhi alone, in 2008-09 refunds of Rs 9,459 crore were given against Rs 7,673 crore in 2007-08.

When contacted, a spokesperson of the Central Board of
Direct Taxes told PTI that these instances would not affect
the refunds and asserted that the computer systems of the
Income-Tax department have not been hacked by outsiders.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dirty names from recent history

Names confined to the pages of history. One or two were bankers to governments. One was a "thundering herd".. Each one bit the dust as greed overcame propriety, ethics, reason and fairness.

Lehman Brothers Dresdner Kleinwort
Bear Stearns ABN AMRO
Merrill Lynch Salomon Brothers
Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette
Barings Bankers Trust
SG Warburg Swiss Bank Corporation
Drexel Burnham Lambert
First National Bank of Chicago
Barclays De Zoete Wedd AG Edwards
Hill Samuel Yamachi Securities
Paine Webber Philips & Drew
Wachovia Morgan Grenfell
James Capel Kidder Peabody
Chemical Bank Robert Fleming
Manufacturers Hanover Trust
Greenwich NatWst Hambros
EF Hutton Dillon Read

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

India GDP Q2

Spectacular numbers. The key to this growth is the services industry numbers, which need to be checked out. In particular, the 'Social Spending' numbers that the govt includes as part of its GDP growth, is suspect. Suspect not because it does not exist but because it is counted twice. The money spent by the Government on Schemes like NREGA go to individuals, who spend it on goods and services. We are counting input and output all over again!
Albeit this small cover up, the numbers have caught most freaking 'economists' with their pants down. Shows the hazards of trying to second guess the government statistical division.
Now, with this high growth, the central bank is less tempted to tinker with its liberal policy (more write offs, lax accounting policies, easy money etc).
With the next two quarters also likely to show decent numbers, except agri, which actually should be negative for the full year, India could have a GDP growth in excess of 6.5% for FY 2009-10.
Shows the strength of the domestic consumer, who is neither shy nor reluctant.

All animals are equal.. Some are more equal

As per this report, some Anil Ambani (ADAG Group) companies have apparently violated the Central Bank guidelines regarding 'end use' of ECB raised overseas.
The stock markets ignored this news completely. ADAG group has clout and size and will get away with this, with a rap on the knuckles at worst.
And, penalty if any, will be paid by the company and NOT by the directors, who can go on with life as usual. Of course, if it was a small unknown company, the Central Bank would have put it out to dry.
In India,like in the US, white collar crime is a mere transgression. This being a RBI issue, there would be a 'prescribed' penalty. In short, when the law prescribes a financial penalty, the interpretation is that the penalty is merely the price for the violation!
Wonder why media bothers to report this at all.