Streetwise Professor

December 4, 2021

Fuck (Normal, Politicized, Faucist) “Science®”

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 2:44 pm

One of the most disgusting tropes in the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing and ongoing) controversy over COVID policy is the resort to ritual incantations of “science.” This is epitomized by Fauci’s recent declaration that “le science c’est moi.” If you disagree with him, you are anti-science, because he represents science.

This is a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) squared: you can’t challenge Fauci’s authority because he is cloaked in the authority of science. Fauci rivals Louis XIV in his grandiosity.

The science fetishists should read about the sociology of science, and in particular Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It is a dense work that makes many penetrating observations, but the crucial concept he identifies is “normal science.” That is, he emphasizes the institutional context of science, and the incentives facing those who identify as scientists, and are widely recognized as such.

The basic idea is that in the aftermath of scientific revolutions, a “paradigm” emerges that represents the conventional wisdom, and that most scientists are working within that paradigm. Moreover, they are heavily invested in it and would suffer a massive loss in their human capital if that paradigm were to be displaced. Thus, even as contradictory evidence accumulates, the science community resists. It does not act as the scientific methodology dictates, that is, by rejecting or revising theories that fail empirical test. Instead, the community attacks the apostates and repeatedly appeals to its authority to thwart attacks on the ruling paradigm even as contrary evidence accumulates. It doubles down on the paradigm whenever contrary evidence emerges.

This is why most scientific revolutions come from rank outsiders. People who are not invested in, and protected by the existing system. People who have little to lose by pointing out that emperor has no clothes.

My favorite example of this is ulcers. An obscure Australian doctor hypothesized that a common bacteria caused ulcers. The response of the scientific community–and the pharmaceutical industry that profited greatly from ulcer medications–was furious. He was ridiculed and marginalized. But eventually, in a triumph of true science, his hypothesis was confirmed by the data, and the normal science hypothesis was displaced.

Thus, rather than genuflecting to the scientific community (which arrogantly identifies itself with Science), one should always treat it with skepticism. Indeed, the more strident the insistence that someone or some group represents Science the more skeptical you should be. Their stridence reveals that they are afraid, very afraid, that their paradigm is under credible assault.

True scientists are open minded. Normal scientists are close minded. Arrogant defensiveness is symptomatic of normal science under credible threat. A reasonable inference to be drawn from haughty invocations of Science in response to questions is that the science is indeed questionable.

The Kuhnian institutional/sociological forces that warp scientific inquiry are made far, far worse when a scientific issue intersects politics. This is especially true given the gargantuan role of government funding of science: the guardians of the paradigm control who gets the grants. And this is especially especially true when there are strong commercial incentives for supporting the paradigm–such as medications that are justified by the paradigm.

All of these factors are at work in COVID. The illness has been hijacked by governments and shadow governments to justify imposition of measures that deprive billions of people basic liberties and to extend the power of those governments far beyond what would have been imaginable even two years ago:

Sadly, it has come to the point where invocations of Science are the hallmark of charlatans and governments and shadow governments that want to control you. This is especially true with respect to COVID “vaccines.” (I use quotation marks because what are being touted as vaccines are very different from traditional vaccines, a fact that is itself suggestive of propaganda and bait-and-switch tactics.).

As I have noted before, the externality argument for these medications is rejected even by government authorities that advocate widespread, and indeed mandatory, vaccination. Even putting that aside, I dare you to name any other medical treatment in the FDA era that would be approved, let alone allowed to remain on the market, in the face of such dubious evidence of efficacy and such widespread indications of serious–and fatal–side effects. (The best proof of the lack of efficacy is the recent official insistence on “boosters.”).

There is no evidence that trade-offs are being evaluated rigorously–scientifically. Indeed, any suggestion that this be done is furiously attacked by government “scientists” and their government funded apparatchiks. This is most glaringly obvious in the case of children. The vast bulk of scientific evidence shows that children and young adults are at little risk of serious illness from COVID, and are not major vectors of spread. So the benefit of vaccinating them is approximately zero. There are plausibly risks of vaccinating them–this is especially true of young adults.

But governments around the world are currently proceeding to force giving children and young adults these shots.

And if you object, on scientific grounds, you are assailed as being an anti-science know nothing.

Science has been perverted in the name of fighting COVID. Sadly, the outcome of this will not be to improve the reputation of science, or to discredit “normal” politicized science: it will be to undermine the authority of true science. Those who proclaim most arrogantly in the name of science–Anthony Fauci most notable among them–are in fact science’s greatest enemies.

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November 26, 2021

Boris’ Big Short

Filed under: Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 8:09 pm

Due to the immovable object of price caps and the irresistible force of spiking natural gas and power costs, about 20 retail energy suppliers in the UK have gone toes up. Most of these have been addressed using what is called the Supplier of Last Resort (SoLR) mechanism, whereby customers of the failed firm are transferred to another supplier. (SoL sounds about right!) This mechanism effectively socializes losses:

Energy suppliers that rescue customers via the supplier of last resort can recoup their costs through an industry levy that is funded by bills.

Although the foregoing suggests that all UK energy consumers share in the costs, energy market regulator Ofgem suggests that the customers of failed firms may bear some of the costs:

Could bills go up?

When we appoint a new supplier using the Supplier of Last Resort process, we try to get the best possible deal for customers.

Suppliers we appoint will likely put you on a special ‘deemed’ contract when they take on your supply. This means a contract you haven’t chosen. A deemed contract could cost more than your old tariff, so your bills could go up. However, they are covered by the energy price cap Ofgem sets, which ensures you get a fair price if you are put on one. 

When contacted by the new supplier, it’s best to ask to be put on their cheapest tariff or shop around if you want to. You won’t be charged exit fees. This is a challenging time in the market and we know that there may not be many tariffs available when shopping around right now.

Deemed contracts can cost more because the supplier takes on more risk. For example, they might have to buy extra wholesale energy at short notice for new customers. So they charge more to cover these costs.

Up to last week, all the failures had been dealt with using this mechanism. But the failure of Bulb (Dim Bulb?) was evidently too big for Ofgem to deal with using the SoL mechanism. Instead, it resorted to a “Special Administration Regime” which basically nationalizes Bulb. This regime permits the government to “make grants and loans to the company in administration and may also give guarantees for any sum borrowed while it is in administration.”

That is, SAR is essentially a bailout/nationalization of losses and risk.

Ofgem notes:

The energy price cap, which sets a maximum price for customers on standard default tariffs, will remain in place to protect millions of people from the sudden increases in global gas prices. 

(Aside: It is impossible to protect millions of people from the sudden increase in global gas prices. It is only possible to determine–based on political mechanisms–which millions pay and how much. So this statement is typical government bullshit.)

Thus, given the price cap and the fact that Bulb is now owned by the UK government, Boris now has a big short position in natural gas. So how is he going to manage it?

I have heard that the government approached Vitol, which told them to fuck off. So . . . what next?

The company still has to procure energy at market prices and sell them at fixed prices. Since the government is now the residual claimant, it has a short exposure and can take this exposure on the balance sheet, as it were, and essentially run a naked short.

Or it can try to hedge by buying gas forward. But this is not a trivial problem. This is not a position of fixed size that faces only price risk that could be hedged using fixed quantities of swaps/forwards/futures. There is volumetric risk as well: cold weather increases both the price of gas and the amount of gas that must be supplied. A sophisticated hedge would involve both forward fixed price purchases and weather derivatives. Or through the purchase of a sophisticated structured product that has payoffs that depend on both volumetric and price variables.

I’m guessing that the government is not into sophistication, or frankly, capable of it. As a result, it is likely to be at a severe disadvantage in negotiating a price on a structured product or weather derivatives or long dated forwards.

It is also likely sweating out the hedger’s hindsight dilemma. If it doesn’t hedge and prices spike it will catch hell because of the large losses passed on to taxpayers. But if it hedges and prices don’t spike or in fact decline, it will catch hell too: you idiots overpaid!!!! Both of these judgments are based on hindsight, but even though hedging decisions should be evaluated ex ante on the basis of how they effect risk, inevitably they are evaluated ex post based on how they pan out.

Consider California in the aftermath of its 2000-2001 electricity crisis. It entered into long term contracts at what retrospectively was the height of the crisis, and thus paid higher prices than it would have had it procured on a short term basis. Of course, California attempted to recover by suing the contract sellers, claiming it was a nefarious manipulative scheme. Alas, it succeeded to some degree.

The best solution would be to do what clearinghouses do when a big member collapses–auction off the positions. This is what NYMEX did when the hedge fund Amaranth collapsed due to natural gas futures and swap losses in 2006: JP Morgan and Citadel assumed the positions in exchange for consideration. Similarly, when Lehman collapsed in 2008, the CME auctioned off its futures portfolio.

Even in these situations, however, there is always controversy about whether the price is right. Assertions that the buyers of Lehman’s futures positions received a windfall (i.e., bought on the cheap) led to litigation (filed by the Lehman bankruptcy trustee) and considerable controversy. (Here’s my take on the issue.)

Note that the factors mentioned above mean that the pricing in any putative auction of Bulb obligations is likely to be more discounted, and thus subject to more controversy, than the Lehman positions. As in the Lehman case, the positions will be auctioned in a stressed market. Moreover, as noted above, the exposures are far more complex and difficult to manage than Lehman’s rather vanilla (though large) futures positions. That complexity will bring a discount. Furthermore, apropos California circa 2001, the bidders realize that they are subject to government attempts to clawback any gains that result ex post due to favorable fundamentals (e.g., an unexpectedly warm winter). That is, the bidders may fear that the government will actually acquire a long option position, and hence they will be short an option: if prices spike, the auction “winner” will bear the brunt, but if they don’t the government will claim that it was exploited and over payed.

That is, unless the government can credibly commit to adhering scrupulously to the results of the auction, the auction may well fail to attract any bidders.

NB: credible commitment is not one of most modern governments’ strong suits. (This is likely one of the reasons Vitol told the government to bugger off. It realized that it was assuming a totally skewed position–heads they lose, tails they don’t win.).

According to the FT article linked above (amazingly factual and informative for a current day FT article, BTW) the government rejected two offers to assume the Bulb portfolio. I surmise that the bids were discounted heavily to reflect the factors mentioned above and Ofgem accordingly rejected them.

So I’m guessing the government will wear the risk. Perhaps it will try to manage it–and do it badly. Or more likely it will just let it ride. Maybe it will bet on Covid, thinking that the new variant or the new variant after that or the new variant after that will cause governments (stupidly) to lockdown again and crater economic activity and hence gas demand.

I note that Bulb might not be the end of the story. As noted above, the price caps remain in force, meaning that other suppliers may fail in the future–including those that have already gone through the SoL process. The government would be the ones SoL then. That is, the government not only has the Bulb liability–it has a big contingent liability that could dwarf Bulb.

Ofgem has already hinted at this:

In a letter to Kwarteng justifying the decision to pursue a special administration for Bulb, published on Wednesday, Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley said the supplier of last resort mechanism was already “under considerable” strain from managing the failure of 20-plus other energy companies in recent months.

So Boris’s already big short could get bigger.

And perversely, it could influence government policy on COVID. Doing something (like lockdowns) that would crush energy demand would benefit its short energy position (existing and contingent). Talk about moral hazard.

Good luck with that Boris! Or should I say, good luck with that, Limeys?

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November 21, 2021

Sisyphus Does Energy Policy

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 4:39 pm

For well over twenty years in my various energy pricing and policy classes I have pointed out that every energy price spike leads to accusations of manipulation and gouging and a call for an FTC investigation . . . which is always announced with great fanfare but never finds anything–something that is announced sotto voce, if announced at all.

And lo and behold, right on cue, due to the rise in energy prices in recent months Biden (or more likely, Howdy Joe’s ventriloquists) has asked the FTC to investigate rising gasoline prices:

President Biden called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil-and-gas companies are participating in illegal conduct aimed at keeping gasoline prices high, in the latest effort by the White House to respond to public concerns about costs for everything from fuel to groceries.

Sisyphus would understand the drill. “Time to roll the price gouging rock up the hill again.”

And for the most idiotic, demented hot take, let’s turn to Lizzie Warren, speaking on Joy Reid’s show (talk about a singularity of stupid*):

Recall, this is about a change in prices. So if the change in prices is due to gouging by oil companies, it would have to be due a change in gouging behavior. (I think even Joy and Lizzie should be able to follow this, it’s so basic: but maybe I’m too generous.)

But let’s follow that thread. It would imply that until recently, oil companies were not exploiting the opportunity to “double their profits” by price gouging.

So what happened? Did one day a few months ago the CEO’s of Chevron and ExxonMobil et al have a V8 moment, and slap themselves on the forehead and say “Wow! I could have doubled my profits by jacking up prices!”

So if they could screw consumers at a whim by jacking up prices why did they let oil prices go to single digits in 2020? Why does the urge to gouge seem to wax and wane?

This is so incandescently stupid. But I guess I should consider the sources, and remember that this sort of incandescent stupidity spikes every time oil prices do.

If the FTC exhibits the integrity it has in the past, this investigation will end the way all the others have, with a whisper not a bang, stating that fundamentals are the driver. But there is no guarantee that the current FTC will indeed exhibit such integrity, given how degraded government institutions have become (not that they were ever paragons, but everything is relative). Political imperatives and narratives, not realities, rule the day.

* Lizzie was dean of Harvard Law School, and a professor of law there. Joy Reid went to Harvard. God save us from Harvard.

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November 7, 2021

You Can’t Spell “Cryptocurrency” Without “Crypt”

Filed under: Cryptocurrency,Exchanges,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 7:25 pm

The libertarian/anarchist roots of cryptocurrency, especially Bitcoin, are well known. The supposed allure is that crypto would allow individuals to transact without requiring on state issued fiat currencies (which are subject to various government controls and monitoring) or state-sanctioned financial institutions. Crypto is in theory anonymous, decentralized, and peer-to-peer, outside of the purview or control of the state. A way to Go Galt, virtually.

In the early days of crypto, which of course are not that long ago, I expressed extreme skepticism about that vision. It could be realized only if crypto remained unimportant and utilized by few: if it were ever to become close to realizing the vision on a broad scale, it would be a threat to governments and they would intervene to control it, neuter it, co-opt it, or destroy it.

There’s an irony here. If you believe the ideological argument for crypto–that it is justified as a means of escaping a tyrannical government-sanctioned and controlled financial system–you also have to understand that governments would not permit crypto to survive as the true believers desire it to.

And we are at that point. Crypto has flourished in the last several years. Not surprisingly, governments are moving to crack down on it.

China–again not surprisingly–was the first to attack crypto in a systematic way, implementing a blanket ban on crypto transactions. But other governments are not far behind, including the US.

Indeed, perhaps you didn’t know this, but the marvelous “infrastructure” bill just passed by the House includes a provision mandating reporting of crypto transactions. The language is unsurprisingly murky, but the intent is quite clear: to bring crypto into the view of the federal government’s Panopticon, especially its tax Panopticon.

In both China and the US the regulatory/legal attack is focused on intermediaries (e.g., exchanges, brokers) that facilitate transactions. In theory, true peer-to-peer transactions (e.g., transactions between anonymous wallets) can be used to circumvent this, but the very fact that intermediation has proved so integral to the operation of the crypto market (which is in itself a refutation of the anarchist vision, as I pointed out in a post about Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin) demonstrates that the regulations will seriously compromise the ability of crypto to achieve that vision. Moreover, this is just a first step, but one which strongly indicates intent: if non-intermediated transactions flourish, governments will devise means to bring them to heel too.

There’s also something else to keep an eye on: central bank digital currency. It is no coincidence, comrades, that the first country to crack down on non-government crypto–China–is also in the lead in implementing–mandating, actually–a government digital currency.

Private crypto is a competitor to government digital money. Governments don’t like competition. So they do their best to destroy it. Furthermore, the Chinese government truly desires to create an actual Panopticon that permits monitoring, rewarding, and punishing all aspects of individual behavior. Government digital currency greatly advances that objective, and private digital currency impedes it. So to advance the former China destroys the latter.

Governments world wide have cognitive dissonance when it comes to cash. On the one hand, it provides a source of revenue–seigniorage. On the other hand, it provides a way to circumvent the tax system as a way of generating revenue–and of monitoring and controlling behavior. Government digital currency allows states to resolve that dilemma. They can have their revenue cake and eat your privacy too.

China is open and unapologetic about its social credit system and its view that government digital currency will allow it to extend and deepen the operation of that system. Other governments are not so blatant, but there have been discussions in the US and Europe and elsewhere about not just the adoption of central bank digital currency, but how that system could be used to compel desired behavior.

A retired Swiss banker friend once held up a 100 CHF note to me and said: “when I hold this, I feel free.” Well, that’s a feature to him, but a bug to governments. When you “hold” government digital currency, you will not be free. Its use can be monitored. It can be wiped out at the speed of light if you use it in a way that offends governments–or if you do other things that offend governments. Think that social credit can’t come to the US? If so, you are a trusting fool. Especially since government digital currency incredibly leverages the power of a social credit system.

In other words, government digital currency is a major step to the implementation of a dystopian Panopticon. Destroying, or at least severely hobbling, non-government digital currency is a crucial first step to the successful introduction of government digital currency. So this provision buried in the “infrastructure” bill, along with other strong signals from the Treasury, OCC, SEC, CFTC, and Congress of an intent to throttle private crypto should be viewed with alarm, and not just if you are a believer in the crypto dream.

There’s another thought that comes to mind, more speculative, but one that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Namely, that what we are seeing is a huge bait-and-switch. Bitcoin’s origins are incredibly murky. Its creation myth is an anarchist one–which makes it very appealing to those who value freedom and independence, and bridle at government coercion and control. What better way to identify and ensnare such people–who are an anathema to control-obsessed governments–than creating cryptocurrency with an anarchist creation story?

And even if governments did not create the bait, they are certainly not above exploiting an emergent phenomenon (if that’s what crypto really is) to advance their anti-liberty agenda. Crypto has gained a cachet in large part because of its anti-authoritarian aura. Once attracted to crypto by this aura, people are much more vulnerable to being seduced into the use of government crypto, with the loss of freedom that implies.

The poem The Spider and the Fly comes to mind.

But although these speculations would have important implications if proven true, in many ways they are beside the point. The point is that governments are turning the screws on anarcho-crypto and moving to create fiat-crypto. These actions are complementary, and bring closer the day in which fiat-crypto will supplant the fiat currency you can hold in your hand. And when that day comes, freedom will be on its death bed, if not dead already.

Remember, you can’t spell “cryptocurrency” without “crypt.”

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October 22, 2021

Back, Back, Back–And It’s Outta Here!

Filed under: China,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Manipulation,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:06 pm

No, this is not a post about baseball, with an outfielder running to the wall only to watch a home run soar over his head. It’s about the copper market, where backwardation (a positive difference between the price for immediate delivery–“cash”–and a futures price) has soared, and inventories have gone yard.

The peak of the frenzy was Tuesday of this week, when at one point the cash-threes backwardation on the London Metal Exchange (LME) soared to $1050/tonne (them’s metric tons, y’all).

That was apparently an intraday price, because the official PM cash-threes back on that day was a mere $382.

The LME is unique in that it trades contracts for specific dates, and so there is a “tom-nex” spread too: the difference between the price for delivery tomorrow, and the price for delivery the day after that. Last Friday, this “daily back” reached $175/tonne–meaning copper delivered Monday was worth $175 more than copper delivered Tuesday. The tom-nex remained over $100 on Monday and Tuesday.

Backwardation on COMEX copper has also jumped recently. Here’s the October 21-January 22 spread(HGV1-HGF2).

Meanwhile, inventories have plummeted, declining to a mere 14,500 tonnes on Tuesday, down from around 250,000 MT in late-August:

So what’s going on? Let me first consider a fundamentals-based story.

The spreads between futures with different maturities for a storable commodity send signals on how to allocate resources over time. When demand is high/supply is low today relative to what is expected in the future, it is optimal to draw down inventories, and prices move away from “full carry” (i.e., spreads that cover the cost of carrying inventory) to incentivize this drawdown. With extreme (but expected to be fleeting) temporal imbalances, it can be optimal to consume all inventories and meet future demand out of future production (because future demand is expected to be lower or supply higher than at present). These extreme temporal imbalances lead to large backwardations to punish storage.

As an aside, that’s why this statement in a Reuters article is incorrect:

Backwardation is supposed to attract metal but this week’s deliveries into LME warehouses have so far amounted to a meagre 9,775 tonnes despite the biggest incentive in the market’s history.

No! Backwardation punishes stockholding–it’s an incentive to move stuff out to be consumed today rather than hold it into the future when it is anticipated to be more abundant.

In some respects, what is going on in copper is similar to what happened in lumber, which I wrote about some months ago. The lumber market went into a huge back due to tight fundamentals and inventories were low.

The good news here is that these price signals indicate that the extreme imbalance is expected to be temporary: copper is scarce today relative to what is expected to be the case some months from now. That’s pretty much what happened in lumber.

So why the temporary scarcity (relative to expected future scarcity)? One plausible explanation is energy prices, which are high now going into the high-demand winter season in the Northern Hemisphere. Due to supply responses that can occur in a period of months but also the seasonal decline in heating and power related energy demand, these prices are likely to fall. Metals refining is energy intensive, so such a rise in energy prices pushes up the metals supply curve today relative to what’s expected in the future: this can produce exactly what we’re seeing in copper, and is also becoming evident in zinc, nickel, and aluminum.

China is of paramount importance in metals refining, so the artificial shortage of power there (caused by price controls and high fuel prices) is exacerbating this problem. Power cutbacks to intensive energy consumers are exacerbating the short term supply disruption.

This points out how the world is hostage to Chinese policy–and Chinese policy mistakes. China has become so important in this area not because it sits atop large, cheap supplies of ores. Low labor costs made it cheaper to locate refining there, even taking into account transport costs. But also, Chinese subsidies of various sorts–financial suppression that makes capital cheap and subsidized power prices–have attracted arguably excessive amounts of capital to metals refining there. And add to that the relative indifference of China to pollution–and metals refining can pollute the air, the water, and the earth: lower environmental standards lead to lower costs and a great incentive to locate production in China.

The fallout from a concentration of metals refining capacity in China is reverberating around the world right now. Not just copper but a variety of metals are going haywire because of the energy-driven supply disruptions in China. Magnesium is just another example.

The former is a fundamentals-based story (albeit one in which central planning has distorted the fundamentals). Is this all that is going on?

Corners can also cause soaring backwardations. The LME was sufficiently concerned about the situation in the market to impose a limit on the amount of daily backwardation to .5 percent of the cash price (which is still a 180 percent annual rate boys and girls). The cash-threes backwardation has fallen by almost two-thirds (to $116/MT today) in the days since.

Fingers have been pointed at Trafigura for loading out large amounts of inventory, thereby exacerbating the tightness. Trafigura says it did so to meet obligations to customers. This would be consistent with the fundamentals story.

But . . .

It is not unknown for firms with large inventory holdings to remove them from the LME to create an “artificial” tightness, or to provide a cover story for a corner. Moreover, if a single firm owns enough inventory to be able to deplete stocks materially on its own, it doesn’t take too large a paper position for it to have a literal corner. Or even if one firm hasn’t cornered, a small number of firms with large physical and paper positions can have a nice little oligopoly that allows them to exercise market power, of which large backwardations are a symptom–and a source of profit. Think of how much money the holder of a large prompt position could make rolling that over at $100+ per day, day after day.

Put differently, fundamental tightness can create market power, and the exercise of this market power can greatly exacerbate backwardations.

The sharp drop in the cash-threes back after the LME intervened lends some plausibility to this explanation. However, a definitive diagnosis requires a deep dive into who was doing what that is not possible based on currently available public information. I am just laying out possibilities here.

Exercising market power in a tight market is sometimes referred to as a “natural corner” and has given some firms that have exercised market power a “get out of jail free” card in the United States.

I’ve just completed a paper on “natural squeezes” that critiques this flaw in US manipulation law. I’ll post it soon.

But when all is said and done, what is going on in copper now is possibly such a natural squeeze: a temporary tight supply and demand situation exploited to exercise market power. Maybe someday we’ll find out.

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October 2, 2021

Today’s 70s Acid Flashback: Energy Crisis Edition

Filed under: Commodities,Derivatives,Economics,Energy,History,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 1:15 pm

Back oh-so-long ago, during the California electricity crisis and its aftermath, I would say that California wanted to deregulate its power market in the worst way, and succeeded. (Wanting to keep up my ESG score, I recycled this line to describe Gibbering Joe’s Afghanistan exit.)

The main design failure of California’s restructuring (a more accurate description than deregulation) of its power market was that it capped retail prices for the two largest utilities in the state (SoCal Edison and PG&E) while requiring them to acquire power at market-determined wholesale spot prices. (San Diego Gas and Electric had met criteria to allow it to enter into long term forward purchase contracts and as I recall was not subject to the same retail price cap.). Thus, SCE and PG&E were massively short wholesale (spot) power. When those prices spiked, due mainly to fundamental factors, the utilities hemorrhaged cash and hurtled towards bankruptcy. Their financial distress led to further dislocations in the California market (and the western US power markets generally).

The world is currently undergoing what is being called an “energy crisis,” focused on power markets, and their inputs, mainly natural gas and coal. There are two parts to this “crisis,” one fundamentally driven, the other driven by ill-conceived regulatory and political factors redolent of California circa 1999-2001.

The most pronounced indicator of the fundamental-driven stress is the price of liquified natural gas (LNG), which has reached dizzying heights.

That price spike is in early “shoulder” months, boys and girls. Lord knows what the peak demand months have in store.

And that’s the nub of the problem: storage.

Historically, natural gas has been a “spikey” commodity. The shale boom mitigated spikeness in US natural gas prices, but periodic price spikes are an inherent feature of storable commodities. The truly motivated can read about it in my book, but the CliffsNotes version is this. It is optimal for inventories to run out periodically: if inventories were never exhausted, some of the commodity would never be consumed, which makes no sense. So “stockouts” will occur periodically. When they do, it is impossible to accommodate demand increases or supply declines by drawing down on inventory. Instead, prices bear the entire burden of adjusting to a demand shock (for example). Thus, periodically stocks will be tight, and when they are, a demand increase causes prices to rise dramatically (because inventories can’t cushion the blow).

The cover illustration in my book, based on a purely theoretical model of a storable commodity market, illustrates the point. Note the periodic spikes.

That is, price spikes are inherent in storable commodities.

The magnitude of the price spikes is amplified by the nature of natural gas production and consumption. Both demand and supply are extremely inelastic. The inelasticity effects optimal storage decisions, but when natty inventory constraints bind, inelasticity means that price impacts of shocks are extreme.

This is why going short natural gas (or shorting the calendar spread especially in the winter) is referred to as a “widow maker” trade.

There are lots of widows out there today. In essence, a hard winter of 2020/2021 depleted stocks. The 2020 COVID demand collapse and subsequent price crash (JKM traded at $2.20/mmBTU in May 2020) cratered drilling, constraining current supply (as wells drilled then would have been producing now) making it difficult to build stocks. Warm summer weather in 2021 drained stocks and impeded stock build. Outages in Norwegian production, and a wind drought in the UK (which required greater utilization of gas generation) stoked demand. Stocks are now at historically low levels, setting the stage for even bigger spikes this winter.

The gas market–due to LNG–is now international, meaning that shocks in any region impact prices around the world. Asia (especially China) and Europe are now playing tug of war for gas, and prices are spiking in both places.

Since gas and coal are substitutes, the price spike in gas is resulting in a price spike in coal:

Oil can also be used to generate power, although this has become relatively rare in recent years. However, the spikes in gas and coal are making fuel switching to oil more attractive, and additional gas/coal price spikes in the winter will likely result in more use of oil in electricity generation, which will put upward pressure on oil prices too.

This is all fundamentals driven, and exactly what occurs periodically in storable commodities. There’s nothing really that can be done about it, policy wise. But that won’t stop governments from trying.

You’ve no doubt read of energy “shortages” in recent days and weeks. Well, low supplies and high prices are not a “shortage” per se. A true shortage is a failure for a market to clear, resulting in queueing for the good. That is, a shortage occurs when the price is kept to low, leading to a gap between the quantity demanded and the quantity supplied.

Think gasoline lines in the US in the 1970s.

That’s where regulation comes in. Various regulations, adopted for political economy reasons, create shortages and the other dysfunctions currently observed in world energy markets.

Take China. The authorities have implemented power rationing. The reason commonly given is a “coal shortage.” Yes, coal prices are high in China (and the world), but that doesn’t create a true shortage. What has? Power prices are capped. The big increase in input costs (both coal and LNG) mean that Chinese generators can’t sell profitably, so they restrict output, leading to a true shortage.

What this means is that the shadow price of power–the price that market participants would be willing to pay for an additional megawatt–is (a) above the regulated price, and (b) above the market clearing price. Consumption would be higher in the absence of the price cap.

High coal prices do not reflect a “shortage”, properly defined. Yes, they represent constrained supplies, but that is not a shortage.

And do not forget that China’s coal supply constraints (and high prices) are in large part a result of their brilliant central planners. China imposed quotas on coal production some years back. The reason was–wait for it–coal prices were too low. Now the government is winking at the quotas in order to encourage production–because prices are too high.

India is another country where the Californiaesque capped power price/uncapped input price problem is rearing its ugly head.

France is going to cap gas and power retail prices, but make suppliers whole (though how it will do so remains unstated as of now). Compensating suppliers (effectively having the government pay the difference between marginal cost and the capped price) will prevent true shortages, but will have the perverse effect of exacerbating the spikes in gas and coal prices because at the capped price consumers will not internalize the true scarcity of fuel, and will overconsume.

The UK is experiencing another echo of California. Several of its retail gas suppliers have imploded because they are required to sell at a capped price and chose to cover their sales commitments by purchasing wholesale spot. The price cap made no sense: competition among retail suppliers would have kept prices in line. Adding the price cap just put the competitive retailers at risk of bankruptcy. (Admittedly, such can occur when retail prices are not capped if retailers offer fixed prices to consumers and don’t hedge, as occurred in Texas this last winter. But price caps make that outcome more likely.)

The UK is also suffering a true shortage of gasoline–excuse me, petrol–a la the US in the 1970s. A true shortage, because there are lines:

Scarcity of truck drivers to distribute fuel is at the root of the problem. But that can’t lead to a true shortage–lower supplies and higher prices yes, but not a shortage with people waiting in line. So what gives?

Apparently there was an information cascade about impending shortages, which led to a panicked run for gas stations. This evidently started with a leak (probably politically motivated) of cabinet deliberations.

A sudden demand increase of this magnitude can lead to true shortages–queueing–if prices do not rise to clear the market. This raises the question of why petrol sellers didn’t increase prices. I’m not aware of formal caps, but I surmise that fear of allegations of “gouging” led retailers to choose to allow customers to pay the high price implicitly (through the time cost of sitting in line) rather than raise price to reflect the sudden (and perhaps contrived) scarcity.

For storable commodities like natural gas, coal, and refined petroleum products, price spikes can last for some time. That’s what we are experiencing today: it’s just one of those spikes like on the cover of my book that happen in commodity markets. Given that we are going into a peak demand season with constrained supplies, the prospect for a continuing spike–and indeed, a higher spike–is very real indeed.

Governments can’t change this fundamental reality. Market prices are sending a signal about underlying conditions. Governments don’t like the message the prices are sending, and will try to do something about it. Alas, their knee-jerk response–to shoot the messenger by capping prices–will make things worse, not better. But because governments can’t help themselves, look for many 1970s energy market flashbacks in the coming months.

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September 10, 2021

If You Believe “The Worse, the Better” Joe Biden Is the President You’ve Been Waiting For

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:35 pm

In my next-to-last post I said Joe Biden gave the worse speech by any president in my lifetime. In his relentless pursuit of perfection, Biden excelled himself and gave an even worse speech yesterday.

Afghanistan last week, COVID yesterday.

As with the Afghanistan speech, the COVID speech was wretched both in terms of atmospherics and substance. The speech dripped with condescension and disdain for large numbers of Americans, notably those who are not vaccinated. (Implicit in most attacks on the unvaccinated is that they are white MAGA Neanderthals: in fact, Biden’s and the Democrats’ most important constituency, low income blacks, are disproportionately represented: why aren’t Biden and his party tarred as racists?)

One line in particular was disgusting: “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin.” Our patience? Our patience? Who are you? Just who the fuck are you that your patience matters fuck all?

And who is this we/our? You royalty now Joe? Or are you speaking on behalf of those actually pulling the strings.

Biden made two main arguments: it’s hard to decide which is more idiotic and insulting.

The first is that the unvaccinated pose a threat to the vaccinated: “We’re going to protect vaccinated workers from unvaccinated co-workers.”

Well, it looks like Dumb and Dumber have a new partner–Dumbest:

Image

The externality argument for mandated vaccinations has always been extremely weak. (Not surprisingly, alas, many economists have pushed this lazy argument because too many economists thinking about externalities is lazy in general.) As Coase pointed out long ago, it takes at least two to have an externality, and it is neither obvious nor relevant who “causes” it. The optimal assignment of a property right (and in the case of vaccination policy, what is involved is property rights in one’s person) depends on who is the least cost avoider.

With vaccines, if you are at high risk of COVID, and/or petrified of it, and/or think that the risk of vaccine is low, you can avoid COVID by becoming vaccinated yourself at lower cost than requiring someone who, for example, perceives the vaccine risk to be higher or incurs some other cost to take it (e.g., a religious objection) to be vaccinated. You can protect yourself at low cost: why force someone else to protect you at high cost?

So vaccinate yourself, and don’t force anyone else to do it–or demand the government force anyone else to do it.

But that argument is really moot now. Biden’s mandate is driven by the Delta variant, and Biden’s own CDC–you know, the experts whom we are supposed to defer to–says that vaccination doesn’t reduce the risk of transmission (though it does reduce the risk of serious illness–supposedly, although experience in Israel and elsewhere is casting doubt on that).

(One aside. This speech and the policies expressed were cast specifically as being a response to Delta. If you follow the data, you will see Delta has crested and is declining rapidly: even the NYT admits as such. As well as representing an unwarranted and unjust exercise of power, this policy is cynical: the administration will take credit for the decline in Delta even though it will have nothing to do with it.)

Further, there is the issue which has been raised by very esteemed (or at least once-esteemed) scientists (e.g., Nobel winner Luc Montagnier, but not just him) that the vaccines have spillover effects. Namely, it is hypothesized, and there is some evidence to support, that the vaccines accelerate mutation and in particular mutations that evade the vaccines. Meaning that there could be negative externality not from avoiding vaccination, but from being vaccinated.

As for the other costs that Biden mentions, namely the higher risk of serious illness and death among the unvaccinated, well that’s internalized: people willingly run the risk, and pay the consequences.

Biden’s other argument was “keeping our children safe and our schools open.” “For the children” is the last refuge of the modern (leftist) scoundrel. There is massive evidence–far more definitive than just about anything related to COVID–that children are at extremely low risk of either contracting or communicating COVID.

So hey, teacher, leave those kids alone.

It is particularly disgusting to see children used as Trojan horses for oppressive government policies given the massive harm that has been inflicted on them by governments at every level, most notably by denying them more than a year of education, as well as isolating them socially.

Not only are vaccine mandates a policy monstrosity, the means by which Biden is attempting to implement them are constitutionally monstrous. He has issued an executive order instructing OSHA to issue an emergency rule requiring all those firms employing more than 100 to make employment conditional on vaccination. As an emergency rule, this will be rushed through without the normal procedural safeguards the can sometimes prevent the promulgation of misguided and destructive policies. Moreover, doing this at the federal level by executive–something Biden said during the campaign he would not do and which his execrable flack Psaki said he could not do as recently as 23 July–runs roughshod over the Constitution and federalism.

But that was then. This is now. The even more execrable White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, called the OSHA gambit “the ultimate work-around.” Funny I remember the oath of office being about protecting and defending the Constitution, not “working around” it.

Why do we even have a Congress? That’s a serious question. Why do we have states? Another serious question.

Many parts of the country are strongly opposed to his. Many governors in states in those parts of the country have vowed to fight. To which Biden said: “If they will not help, if those governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way.”

What powers would those be? Just how, pray tell, can the president get governors “out of the way”? A drone strike? (You know, like the one that killed an Afghan who had helped Americans and his children?)

I’ve said before, and I will say it again: we are hurtling towards a constitutional crisis. Vaccine mandates are bad on the merits, and even worse when rammed down our throats while throwing constitutional and federal principles to the winds.

Not only has Biden given the worst presidential speeches of my lifetime, he has cemented his place as the worst, most destructive president of my lifetime, supplanting–by a mile–the loathsome LBJ. Alas, LBJ’s deficiencies became acute when he was entering the last year of his first full term (and his fifth year in office). Biden’s are manifest mere months after his inauguration. And his abject failings, and stubborn, disdainful refusal to brook any objection, are fanning the flames of civil conflict that could make the Vietnam protests look tame by comparison.

I have considered whether we have reached a stage where “the worse, the better” is a reasonable position. If one does indeed believe that, these are the times for you, and Joe Biden is the president for you.

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August 6, 2021

Dr. Walensky Blowed Up the Case For Vaccine Mandates Real Good

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:29 pm

The whirling COVID dervishes have taken another spin:

Did you catch that? The “anymore” part?

The “anymore” sticks out like a sore thumb. That implies that once upon a time vax could prevent transmission, but now it can’t. So . . . . what has changed to make vax suddenly ineffective against transmission?

I’m guessing “nothing.” If it can’t prevent transmission now (although it can mitigate symptoms), it didn’t before now.

So why the lie? No doubt to try to explain away the turn in the CDC’s mask recommendation. Before: vax, no mask! Now, vax–mask! Because transmission!

Dr. Walensky apparently doesn’t realize that she has now just totally blown up the rationale for vaccine mandates, or any social coercion for vaccination. (Or maybe she does, but figures that she’ll just come up with another BS rationale later in order to spin her way out of this.)

Specifically, if vaccination does not affect transmission, there is no “externality” from not being vaxxed. Your impact on others is exactly the same, vaxxed or not. Which implies that the benefits of vaccination are fully internalized, specifically, by reducing the severity of symptoms and the risk of death that you incur. Your decision to get vaxxed, or not, has zero impact on anybody else: the risk you pose to others is independent of your decision. Which means that getting vaxxed should be a completely personal choice even under a strict utilitarian calculus.

It should also be noted that if the vax protects one against severe adverse consequences of infection, the externality argument is weak anyways. Under this hypothetical, you can protect yourself against others by getting vaccinated, so you shouldn’t care what they do. You decide to assume the risk, or not. Either way, others are not imposing an external cost on you, so (a) you shouldn’t care what they do, and (b) you have no business or right demanding that they get vaccinated.

The externality argument is also weak (of course) if the vaccine doesn’t work.

To emphasize: the CDC, before whom we are supposed to cower in unquestioning obeisance, has just decreed that there is no justification whatsoever to mandate, coerce, or even suggest that you get vaccinated in order to protect others. But, no doubt, Dr. Walensky, the rest of the CDC, and the administration, will continue to demand, shrilly, that you get vaccinated, and will inch–or lunge–towards imposing mandates. The only justification for this is absolute paternalism, or (similarly) a belief that your body and soul belong to the state, and not to you.

Arguendo ad externality should always be viewed with skepticism in any event (as any close student of Coase should recognize): the concept is frequently sloppily invoked to justify various coercive policies. But here, there is not even an externality fig leaf for a mandate–by the CDC’s own admission.

Too bad John Candy has passed on. Otherwise he could host another Farm Film Report Celebrity Blow Up, starring Rochelle Walensky. It would have been a good’n.

She did it! She blowed it up good! Real good!

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August 4, 2021

Your Property Is Unsafe Because the Executive Never Sleeps

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:35 pm

Sometime 19th century judge Gideon John Tucker opined: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Mr. Tucker’s opinion is sadly out of date. Now those things are not safe as long as the executive is in session–which is always.

If you’ve been like Rip Van Winkle, and haven’t noticed this, well the “Biden” administration has given you a wakeup call. The CDC–well known regulator of real estate markets–has extended its moratorium on evictions, for 90 percent of the country anyways. Because Covid.

Isn’t everything?

The Supreme Court has already indicated that this is flatly unconstitutional absent Congressional legislation. Which it clearly is. Though the Supreme Court should go further. Any Congressional legislation remotely similar to the CDC ukase should also be held unconstitutional under the 5th Amendment, which states that no person shall be “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Preventing someone from evicting them from his/her property is clearly depriving that person of his/her property. The defining feature of property is the right to exclude others from the use thereof. If you can’t keep others from using it, it ain’t yours.

Ironic, no, from a government that is ruthlessly pursuing those who trespassed on the Capitol on 6 January?

The CDC is not providing due process–this is a blanket ban. The CDC is not providing compensation. Any “law” that mimics the features of the CDC order would be a blatant infringement on 5th Amendment rights.

The justification for this given by the CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky (one of the lying Walenskys?) is utterly appalling: “This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads.”

Gee, I missed the “right thing to do” clause in the Constitution. I also missed the “congregate settings Covid” exception to the 5th.

It is particularly nauseating to hear this bilge from the “our sacred democracy” crowd. If unilateral expropriation of property with zero process whatsoever, and no compensation whatsoever, is the hallmark of “our sacred democracy” I say hard pass to democracy. Give me autocracy. Autocracy is functionally the same, but doesn’t add the insults of virtue signaling and preening hypocrisy to the injury of theft.

Biden and Walensky essentially caved to the leftist extreme in the Democratic Party, with the utterly loathsome Rep. Cori Bush (D(uh), MO) leading the charge. Go to Twitter to see the “rationale” advanced by the supporters of this. To summarize: Proudhon said it first (“property is theft,” so stealing it back is fine):

One of my followers asked how could someone so stupid get 480,000 followers. I said

Speaking of stupid, Maxine Waters got in the act, ironically channeling Andrew Jackson (or at least a possibly apocryphal statement attributed to him):

“Who is going to stop them?” That is, “the Supreme Court has made its ruling: now let it enforce it.”

Under the CDC/Biden theory, there are no checks on the government’s authority whatsoever. Say the magic word–“COVID”–and anything is possible.

Which, by the way, is precisely why the ruling class is so hell bent on perpetuating the Covid scare. And which is why, when (if) Covid fades away, another “emergency” will be ginned up to take its place.

To the extent that he is conscious, Biden consciously acknowledged that this action is unconstitutional. But he obviously doesn’t care. Or, he cares more about protecting his political flank than about respecting his oath of office.

The purpose of the compensation clause is to force government to put its money where its mouth is: if a rental unit is more valuable in the hands of its current occupant, who is (allegedly) unable to pay, then go through the political process of appropriating money to pay the property owner to allow said occupant to continue to reside there. The idea is to approximate the outcome of voluntary arms length transactions when some transactions cost (e.g., holdup problems) make such voluntary transactions prohibitively expensive. A compensation requirement, properly implemented, helps ensure that property is allocated to its highest value use.

This process is imperfect, but at least it allows for some element of accountability for those who vote for it. Allow a government to take valuable property, without compensation, without process, and by an agency completely insulated from electoral accountability, and you will see it take and take and take and take. Because it pays no price. When someone pays no price, it consumes to satiation. And governments are never satiated.

Today it’s Covid. Tomorrow it will be something else. Legislature in session or no, your property will be unsafe as long as a bureaucrat can conjure up an “emergency” to justify taking it.

Forget the rule of law. We live under the rule of the lawless.

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July 29, 2021

Timmy!’s Back!

Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner–better known as Timmy! to loooooongtime readers of this blog–is back, this time as Chair of the Group of 30 Working Group on Treasury Market Liquidity. The Working Group was tasked with addressing periodic seizures in the Treasury securities market, most notoriously during the onset of the Covid crisis in March 2020–something I wrote about here.

This is a tale of two reports: the diagnosis is spot on, the prescription pathetic.

The report recognizes that

the root cause of the increasing frequency of episodes of Treasury market dysfunction under stress is that the
aggregate amount of capital allocated to market-making by bank-affiliated dealers has not kept pace with the very rapid growth of marketable Treasury debt outstanding

In other words, supply of bank market making services has declined, and demand for market making services has gone up. What could go wrong, right?

Moreover, the report recognizes the supply side root cause of the root cause: post-Financial Crisis regulations, and in particular the Supplemental Leverage Ratio, or SLR:

Post-global financial crisis reforms have ensured that banks have adequate capital, even under stress, but certain provisions may be discouraging market-making in U.S. Treasury securities and Treasury repos, both in normal times and especially under stress. The most significant of those provisions is the Basel III leverage ratio, which in theUnited States is called the Supplementary Leverage Ratio (SLR) because all banks in the United States (not just internationally active banks) are subject to an additional “Tier 1”leverage ratio.

Obviously fiscal diarrhea has caused a flood of Treasury issuance that from time to time clogs the Treasury market plumbing, but that’s not something the plumber can fix. The plumber can put in bigger pipes, so of course the report recommends wholesale changes in the constraints on market making, the SLR in particular, right? Right?

Not really. Recommendation 6–SIX, mind you–is “think about doing something about SLR sometime”:

Banking regulators should review how market intermediation is treated in existing regulation, with a view to identifying provisions that could be modified to avoid disincentivizing market intermediation, without weakening overall resilience of the banking system. In particular, U.S. banking regulators should take steps to ensure that risk-insensitive leverage ratios function as backstops to risk-based capital requirements rather than constraints that bind frequently.

Wow. That’s sure a stirring call to action! Review with a view to. Like Scarlett O’Hara.

Rather than addressing either of what itself acknowledges are the two primary problems, the report recommends . . . wait for it . . . more central clearing of the Treasury market. Timothy Geithner, man with a hammer, looking for nails.

Clearing cash Treasuries will almost certainly have a trivial effect on market making capacity. The settlement cycle in Treasuries is already one day–something that is aspirational (don’t ask me why) in the stock market. That already limits significantly the counterparty credit risk in the market (and it’s not clear that counterparty credit risk is a serious impediment on market making, especially since it existed before the recent dislocations in the Treasury market, and therefore is unlikely to have been a major contributor to them).

The report recognizes this: “Counterparty credit risks on trades in U.S. Treasury securities are not as large as those in other U.S. financial markets, because the contractual settlement cycle for U.S. Treasury securities is shorter (usually one day) and Treasury security prices generally are less volatile than other securities prices.” Geithner (and most of the rest of the policymaking establishment) were wrong about clearing being a panacea in the swap markets: it’s far less likely to make a material difference in the market for cash Treasuries.

The failure to learn over the past decade plus is clear (no pun intended!) from the report’s list of supposed benefits of clearing, which include

reduction of counterparty credit and liquidity risks through netting of counterparty exposures and application of margin requirements and other risk mitigants, the creation of additional market-making capacity at all dealers as a result of recognition of the reduction of exposures achieved though multilateral netting

As I wrote extensively in 2008 and the years following, netting does not reduce counterparty credit risk or exposures: it reallocates them. Moreover, as I’ve also been on about for more than a fifth of my adult life (and I’m not young!), “margin requirements” create their own problems. In particular, as the report notes, as is the case in most crises the March 2020 Treasury crisis sparked a liquidity crisis–liquidity not in terms of the depth of Treasury markets (though that was an issue) but liquidity in terms of a large increase in the demand for cash. Margin requirements would likely exacerbate that, although the incremental effect is hard to determine given that existing bilateral exposures may be margined (something the report does not discuss). As seen in the GameStop fiasco, a big increase in margins in part driven by the central counterparty (ironically the DTCC, the parent of the FICC which the report wants to be the clearinghouse for its expanded clearing of Treasuries) was a major cause of disruptions. For the report to ignore altogether this issue is inexcusable.

Relatedly, the report touches only briefly on the role of basis trades in the events of March 2020. As I showed in the article linked above, these were a major contributor to the dislocations. And why? Precisely because of margin calls on futures.

Thus, the report fails to analyze completely its main recommendation, and in fact its recommendation is based on not just an incomplete but a faulty understanding of the implications of clearing (notably its mistaken beliefs about the benefits of netting). That is, just like in the aftermath of 2008, supposed solutions to systemic risk are based on decidedly non-systemic analyses.

Instead, shrinking from the core issue, the report focuses on a peripheral issue, and does not analyze that properly. Clearing! Yeah, that’s the ticket! Good for whatever ails ya!

In sum, meet the new Timmy! Same as the old Timmy!

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