Streetwise Professor

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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June 29, 2021

Betting on Time Inconsistency: Glencore Will Profit When Reality Intrudes on Renewables Reveries

Filed under: Climate Change,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:01 pm

In his swan song at Glencore, the soon to retire Ivan Glasenberg doubled down on coal:

In what’s likely to be the final deal announced by outgoing Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg, Glencore agreed to buy stakes owned by BHP Group and Anglo American Plc in the Cerrejon thermal coal mine for about $588 million, subject to purchase price adjustments.

Glencore is filling a void left by two mining giants:

The sale completes Anglo’s retreat from thermal coal and extends similar efforts by BHP, amid investor pressure. However, Glencore has committed to run its coal mines for another 30 years, potentially allowing it to profit as rivals retreat. It’s already the biggest shipper of the fuel, and gaining full control of Cerrejon gives the company even more exposure just as prices trade at the highest level in years, buoyed by strong demand as the global economy rebounds.

In my opinion, this is a very canny contrarian bet. The panicked flight from coal by the Anglos and BHPs and others of the world is directly attributable to political and policy pressure. Hydrocarbons bad. Renewables good. Hydrocarbon companies are evil. You will be punished you carbon spewing bastards! Your CEOs will be snubbed by righteous people. Oh Noes!

But these policies are predicated on a collective delusion about renewables. Bloomberg can preach all it wants about how renewables are as efficient as conventional generation, but the fact is and will remain that dispatchable, reliable, continuous conventional generation, producing power from cheaply stored chemical energy, will remain much cheaper that non-dispatchable, intermittent, unreliable renewables that will have to rely on expensive battery storage. Bloomberg’s “levelized cost” metric is total bullshit because it leaves out all of the costs associated with reliability, transmission, and intermittency–details, details!

Renewables will never be able to handle current electricity demand at reasonable cost, but policymakers in the grip of the delusion are adding to electricity demand by forcing the electrification of other energy consumption, including transportation and home heating and cooking.

And it is almost certain that Glasenberg recognizes these delusions for what they are, and knows that in five to ten years time reality will rear its ugly head–recognition of reality can be postponed, but not forever. And Glasenberg recognizes when that reckoning comes, and electricity costs spike and reliability plunges, countries around the world will come begging for dependable electricity sources. And thus, they will come begging to Glencore for its coal.

The payoff will be all the bigger because Anglo, BHP, and others will not invest, leaving a capacity void. Price will rise to ration the limited supply.

Current government energy policies around the world are not time consistent. Political coercion to achieve a utopian outcome will result in more costly and less reliable energy that will not be politically sustainable. Ivan Glasenberg recognizes that time inconsistency, and as his parting gift to Glencore’s shareholders–and the world, frankly, when it comes to his senses–is an investment that will pay off handsomely when reality intrudes on renewables reveries.

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June 23, 2021

I Never Did Acid in the 70s, But I’m Experiencing Flashbacks Anyways

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Financial crisis,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 7:18 pm

I grew up in the 70s. I never did acid then (or ever!), but man am I experiencing flashbacks. Feckless progressive Democrat presidents. (Though Carter, while an idiot, was at least compos mentis, which is more than can be said of Señor Senile Joe Biden.) Crime. (I’m betting on a comeback of the Charles Bronson revenge and Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry genres.) All in all, the 70s sucked, and I am not nostalgically hoping for a reprise–I’m dreading it actually.

One of the things that sucked worst was inflation. The 1970s were the inflation decade (although it peaked in 1980-1981). In recent months, the price level measured by the CPI, PPI, and GDP deflator has been up substantially. CPI, for example, is up about 4.5 percent on a year-on-year basis. This has raised concerns about a return of 70s-style inflation. Are these concerns justified?

The jury is out, but there is reason for concern.

First, it is important to distinguish between one time changes in the price level and inflation. Inflation is a long term upward trend in the price level, rather than a single stair-step jump in the price level.

The impact of the pandemic (or, more accurately, the draconian policy response to the pandemic) has created the conditions for a one-time step up in the price level. The economic recovery from the pandemic is a positive aggregate demand shock. Moreover, it has occurred against the backdrop of constrained supply conditions that resulted from the pandemic. Upward shifts in supply and demand lead to a higher price level, ceteris paribus.

One would think that these are effectively one-time shocks–hopefully the pandemic is a one-time thing, and therefore the recovery from it is too. Furthermore, supply conditions should ease. (We are already seeing that in some sectors, such as lumber, though not in others, such as semiconductors. Policy, namely paying people not to work in some states, may impede the easing of supply conditions). Thus, one would expect that this is one time, and at least partially transitory, jump in the price level rather than inflation qua inflation.

That said, there are reasons for concern. Most notably, the fiscal diarrhea in the US, and the willingness of the Fed to finance (i.e., monetize) that spending is freighted with inflationary potential.

In the post-Financial Crisis era, the Fed mitigated the inflationary impact of QE and other expansive monetary policies by paying interest on reserves. So the inflationary threat that I worried about in 2009 (and asked Ben Bernanke about) never materialized. But that’s no reason for complacency. We dodged a bullet once, but that doesn’t mean we will always do so. Massive deficit spending accommodated by the monetary authority is highly likely to result in inflation, sooner or later. (I am inclined to favor Thomas Sargent’s fiscal theory of the price level.).

Part of the reason that inflation didn’t occur post-2008 was that money velocity plunged. Part of this was due to the Fed paying interest on reserves, which led banks to hold them (lend them to the Fed in effect) rather than lend them to private individuals and firms. But expectations, and the self-fulfilling nature thereof with respect to inflation, likely played a role too. In the gloomy aftermath of 2008 people expected low inflation (or even deflation), which made them more willing to hold rather than spend money balances–which results in low inflation, thereby validating the expectations and perpetuating the equilibrium.

But expectations are fickle things, and as a result there can be multiple equilibria. Fed board members have strenuously argued that the recent spurt in prices is a one-time stair step phenomenon, not the harbinger of inflation. But if the spurt results in an upward shift in inflationary expectations by the hoi polloi, people will be less willing to hold money balances at the existing price level, so they will try to reduce (i.e., spend) them, which leads to inflation–thereby validating the expectations.

Thus, it’s not so much what the Fed believe that matters. It’s about what you and me and other individuals and firms believe. Combine a negative fiscal picture with a surge in prices and it’s quite possible that inflation expectations soon will no longer be “anchored” at low levels, but will surge to higher levels, which would result in inflation no longer being anchored at low levels.

So although I think that the recent surge in the price level is of the one-time variety, that doesn’t mean everyone will think the same way. And if everyone doesn’t think the same way we may see a 70s rerun. The dire fiscal picture contributes to such worries.

When the subject of inflation comes up, as Dr. Commodities I’m often asked whether commodities are a good hedge. Intuitively it makes sense that they should be, but historically, they have not been. Commodity prices are much more volatile than the price level, and not that highly correlated. That is, relative prices move around a lot even when the price level trends upwards.

I think that availability bias is a big reason why people focus on commodity prices–they are readily observable, on a second-by-second basis, because they are actively traded on liquid markets. Other goods and services, not so much. But just because we can see them easily doesn’t mean that they are reliable beacons for the price level overall, or changes therein.

This brings to mind why we should really fear a return of 70s-style inflation (or worse, heaven forfend).

When sitting in (the great) Sherwin Rosen’s Econ 302 course at Chicago on a cold morning in February, 1982, I was startled when Sherwin’s normal rather droning delivery was interrupted by him shouting and pounding his right fist into his left palm: “And that’s the problem with inflation. IT FUCKS UP RELATIVE PRICES!!!!”

Some prices are stickier than others, meaning that inflation pressures can impact some goods and services more and sooner than others–thereby causing changes in relative prices.

This is a bad thing–and why Sherwin dropped the F-bomb about it–because relative prices guide resource allocation. If you fuck up relative prices, as inflation does, you interfere with resource allocation, leading to lower incomes and growth. Inflation has adverse real consequences.

So we should definitely fear an acid flashback to 70s inflation. And although I do not believe the recent surge in prices is a harbinger thereof, I think that there is a material risk that we may all experience such a flashback–even if you didn’t grow up in the 70s.

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June 10, 2021

Bad Day At BlackRock?

Filed under: Economics,Financial crisis,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 6:16 pm

There has been something of a kerfuffle recently over the large scale purchases of single family homes by the likes of BlackRock and other institutional investors like pension funds. The criticism is somewhat redolent of the Occupy days, because it unites many on the left with some on the populist right, like J.D. Vance:

Understanding should come before judgment. So let’s try to figure out what is going on here. I don’t have a definitive answer, but my strong sense is that this phenomenon is ultimately a consequence of the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, and the various policy responses to it.

One thing is clear is that the initial foray of institutional investors was a response to the Crisis. And no wonder. Massive amounts of single family homes were in foreclosure, and the biggest fire sale in American real estate history was underway. And in fire sales, those with “dry powder”–cash rich investors relatively undamaged by the crisis that sparks the sales–go bargain hunting. In 2009-2010, the bargains were in residential real estate, especially single family houses. And the “real money” investors like BlackRock and pension funds were best positioned to grab those bargains.

Here it is almost certain that the activities of BlackRock et al did elevate real estate prices. And a good thing, too, for the problem at the time was not that housing prices were too high, but too low. Without bargain hunters (or vultures, if you wish) housing prices would have been even lower, more homeowners would have been underwater, more of them would have been foreclosed, etc. Of course BlackRock et al were not doing this out of charity, but to make a buck. But they were responding to price signals and their actions almost certainly mitigated a horrible situation.

But as the WSJ article linked above notes, institutional investment in the housing sector has persisted after the fire sales ended–especially in places like Houston, Atlanta, and Nashville. This is characterized as a reach for yield strategy on the part of the institutional investors. The yield on rental property is apparently attractive relative to alternative investments. And no surprise: have you looked at bond yields recently? Like in the last 12 years? Is it any wonder that investors like pension funds (especially government funds that are hugely under water) are desperate for assets that generate a stream of cash flows at attractive rates?

But high yield suggests that prices are low in some sense, rather than high. (Price is in the denominator of the return calculation.) “Bubble” real estate markets are characterized by extremely low rental yields, not high ones.

Look at this another way. People are choosing to pay rent, rather than buy and make mortgage payments and forego income on the investment of a down payment amount. Why? Why are they paying rents that generate a high return for the housing owner, rather than buying homes and capturing that return themselves?

My answers will be somewhat speculative, but now the question is the important thing. Many individuals are choosing not to buy, and to pay rent instead. The rents that they are willing to pay are driven by the stream of benefits that they get from living in a single family home. Why don’t they outbid BlackRock or some state pension fund and pay a price that capitalizes that stream of benefits?

Note that there are clear advantages to occupiers owning. The Atlantic article linked earlier discusses the frictions associated with renting. Well, renter-landlord relations have been fraught always and everywhere. Rental contracts are not “complete”–they leave a lot of grey areas that give rise to conflict between owner and renter, and to opportunism by both. Those wasteful activities can be eliminated by having those who live in a home own it. That in and of itself should give individuals a bidding advantage over institutions when buying homes. Cut out the middleman and you cut out the transaction costs inherent in the landlord-tenant relationship.

So then what gives? Now for the speculation, which again revolves around the fallout from the Financial Crisis.

First, the leading diagnosis of the cause of the Financial Crisis was that it was too easy to get a mortgage. In response to this, post-Crisis legislation and regulation tightened up the home financing market. A lot. You can argue that the tightening was justified. You can argue that it went too far. But regardless, restrictions on the ability of individuals to finance a home purchase, or regulations that made it more expensive to do this, shifted the balance away from purchasing towards renting.

Indeed, if the likes of Elizabeth Warren were intellectually consistent (yeah I’m a comedian, I know), they should see the increased presence of Wall Street on Elm Street as a good thing, because it means that their endeavors to prevent another housing “bubble” have worked.

Second, the Financial Crisis took a severe toll on the balance sheets and creditworthiness of many individuals. Although these problems have dissipated, they haven’t disappeared. Combined with the more restrictive access to credit, these creditworthiness/balance sheet effects impede the ability of individuals to capture the high returns of home ownership, and they cannot compete on price with institutional investors who do not face such impediments.

Third–and this is perhaps the most speculative point of all–the Financial Crisis and the follow on Foreclosure Crisis arguably had an impact on the preferences of individuals, especially Millennials and Gen-Zs. Post-Crisis home ownership seemed less like a dream–it had a potential dark side. So many in those cohorts prefer to pay rent and give a high return to institutional investors and deal with the hassles of a landlord rather than buy and face the risk of financial ruin.

Fed policy may also play a role. It clearly has depressed returns on conventional fixed income investments–and has done so by design. That has made institutional investors look at non-traditional investments. But Fed policy alone can’t explain why yields on housing investments apparently haven’t fallen to the level of the low yields on bonds. There must be some other factor impeding the rise of housing prices to reduce the yields that the institutional investors are apparently capturing by buying and renting out single family homes. That brings us back to a search for factors (like those just discussed) that prevent individuals from outbidding institutional investors to capture the stream of returns from housing ownership (and to eliminate the costs that arise when the home occupier is not the owner).

In turn, this means that inquiry into this issue should focus on whether post-Crisis, there are excessive restrictions and costs imposed on individuals looking to finance home purchases. That is, are the post-2008 laws and regulations designed to prevent a recurrence of the housing boom too restrictive?

I don’t have an answer to that question, but again, posing the right question is where you have to start.

My provisional conclusion now is that institutional investors are doing what they do: responding to price signals in order to maximize risk adjusted returns. They are responding to incentives. To evaluate what is going on, it is necessary to evaluate whether those incentives have been distorted by ill-conceived policies.

Of course, these policies were not created in a vacuum. They are the result of a political process that includes lobbying and rent seeking by institutional investors, among others. They have an incentive to harm potential competitors in the housing market. So any inquiry should also focus on whether these institutional investors have helped rig the game against individuals by pressing for the imposition of unwarranted restrictions on home financing. If so, censorious judgment would be warranted.

So is burgeoning institutional ownership of single family housing a 2020s version of Bad Day at Black Rock? A 2020s film noir? I don’t know. But I have the questions and some provisional answers.

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June 9, 2021

GiGi’s Back!: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Filed under: Clearing,Economics,Exchanges,HFT,Regulation — cpirrong @ 2:45 pm

One of the few compensations I get from a Biden administration is that I have an opportunity to kick around Gary Gensler–“GiGi” to those in the know–again. Apparently feeling his way in his first few months as Chairman of the SEC, Gensler has been relatively quiet, but today he unburdened himself with deep thoughts about stock market structure. If you didn’t notice, “deep” was sarcasm. His opinions are actually trite and shallow, and betray a failure to ask penetrating questions. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Not that he doesn’t have questions. About payment for order flow (“PFOF”) for instance:

Payment for order flow raises a number of important questions. Do broker-dealers have inherent conflicts of interest? If so, are customers getting best execution in the context of that conflict? Are broker-dealers incentivized to encourage customers to trade more frequently than is in those customers’ best interest?

But he misses the big question: why is payment for order flow such a big deal in the first place?

Relatedly, Gensler expresses concern about what traders do in the dark:

First, as evidenced in January, nearly half of the trading interest in the equity market either is in dark pools or is internalized by wholesalers. Dark pools and wholesalers are not reflected in the NBBO. Moreover, the NBBO is also only as good as the market itself. Thus, under the segmentation of the current market, nearly half of trading along with a significant portion of retail market orders happens away from the lit markets. I believe this may affect the width of the bid-ask spread.

Which begs the question: why is “nearly half of the trading interest in the equity market either is in dark pools or is internalized by wholesalers”?

Until you answer these big questions, studying the ancillary ones like his regarding PFOF an NBBO is a waste of time.

The economics are actually very straightforward. In competitive markets, customers who impose different costs on suppliers will pay different prices. This is “price discrimination” of a sort, but not price discrimination based on an exploitation of market power and differences in customer demand elasticities: it is price differentiation based on differences is cost.

Retail order flow is cheaper to intermediate than institutional order flow. Some institutional order flow is cheaper to intermediate than other such flows. Competitive pressures will find ways to ensure flows that are cheaper to intermediate pay lower prices. PFOF, dark pools, etc., are all means of segmenting order flow based on cost.

Trying to restrict cost-based price differences by banning or restricting certain practices will lead clever intermediaries to find other ways to differentiate based on cost. This has always been so, since time immemorial.

In essence, Gensler and many other critics of US market structure want to impose uniform pricing that doesn’t reflect cost differences. This would be, in essence, a massive scheme of cross subsidies. Ironically, the retail traders for whom Gensler exhibits such touching concern would actually be the losers here.

Cross subsidy schemes are inherently unstable. There are tremendous competitive pressures to circumvent them. As the history of virtually every regulated sector (e.g., transportation, communications) has demonstrated for decades, and even centuries.

From a positive political economy perspective, the appeal of such cross subsidy schemes to regulators is great. As Sam Peltzman pointed out in his amazing 1976 JLE piece “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation,” regulators systematically attempt to suppress cost-based price differences in order to redistribute rents to gain political support. The main impetus for deregulation is innovation that exploits gains from trade from circumventing cross subsidy schemes–deregulation in banking (Regulation Q) and telecoms are great examples of this.

So who would the beneficiaries of this cross-subsidization scheme be? Two major SEC constituencies–exchanges, and large institutional traders.

In other words, all this chin pulling about PFOF and dark markets is politics as usual. Furthermore, it is politics as usual in the cynical sense that the supposed beneficiaries of regulatory concern (retail traders) are the ones who will be shtupped.

Gensler also expressed dismay at the concentration in the PFOF market: yeah, he’s looking at you, Kenneth. Getting the frequency?

Although Gensler’s systemic risk concern might have some justification, he still fails to ask the foundational question: why is it concentrated? He doesn’t ask, so he doesn’t answer, instead saying: “Market concentration can deter healthy competition and limit innovation.”

Well, concentration can also be the result of healthy competition and innovation (h/t the great Harold Demsetz). Until we understand the existing concentration we can’t understand whether it’s a bug or feature, and hence what the appropriate policy response is.

Gensler implicitly analogizes say Citadel to Facebook or Google, which harvest customer data and can exploit network effects which drives concentration. The analogy seems very strained here. Retail order flow is cheap to service because it is uninformed. Citadel (or other purchasers of order flow) isn’t learning something about consumers that it can use to target ads at them or the like. The main thing it is learning is what sources of order flow are uninformed, and which are informed–so it can avoid paying to service the latter.

Again, before plunging ahead, it’s best to understand what are the potential agglomeration economies of servicing order flow.

Gensler returns to one of his favorite subjects–clearing–at the end of his talk. He advocates reducing settlement time from T+2: “I believe shortening the standard settlement cycle could reduce costs and risks in our markets.”

This is a conventional–and superficial–view that suggests that when it comes to clearing, Gensler is like the Bourbons: he’s learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.

As I wrote at the peak of the GameStop frenzy (which may repeat with AMC or some other meme stock), shortening the settlement cycle involves serious trade-offs. Moreover, it is by no means clear that it would reduce costs or reduce risks. The main impact would be to shift costs, and transform risks in ways that are not necessarily beneficial. Again, shortening the settlement cycle involves a substitution of liquidity risk for credit risk–just as central clearing does generally, a point which Gensler was clueless about in 2010 and is evidently equally clueless about a decade later.

So GiGi hasn’t really changed. He is sill offering nostrums based on superficial diagnoses. He fails to ask the most fundamental questions–the Chesterton’s Fence questions. That is, understand why things are they way they are before proposing to change them.

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