Investment Acumen

Investment managers at Harvard and the State of Hawaii—and a potful of others—have made big bets [sic] on the low volatility of the stock and bond markets and on the apparent permanence of that low volatility.

After interest rates collapsed on the heels of the financial crisis, they [pension funds, endowments, and family offices] ran into challenges paying pensioners and filling university budgets, and added riskier bets on hedge funds and venture capital in the hopes of winning better returns.

Don’t Pay It

The Federal National Mortgage Association, Fannie Mae, the government-run (never mind that it’s supposedly only government-sponsored, it began life as a government agency, it was set out on its own and failed, and now it’s under Federal Housing Finance Agency management regulation) mortgage securitizor, is failing again.  And now this agency wants a taxpayer bailout.

Fannie said Wednesday its regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, would seek a fresh taxpayer infusion of $3.7 billion from the Treasury Department as a result of the loss [of $6.5 billion in the last quarter alone]….

A New Insurance Plan

Idaho has one.  Blue Cross of Idaho says it’s going to take advantage of newly issued State regulations to start marketing a plan that won’t meet Obamacare requirements, and they’re going to sell the plan alongside its existing Obamacare-compliant plans.

The Idaho Department of Insurance last month became the first state regulator to say it would let insurers begin offering “state-based plans” for consumers that involved practices generally banned for individual insurance under the ACA, including tying premium rates to enrollees’ pre-existing health conditions.

In particular,

A New Welfare Trap

This one is in the offing at the State level, and comes as a result of the punitive tax for not buying health coverage was repealed last December.

At least nine states are considering their own versions of a requirement that residents must have health insurance….

And

Maryland lawmakers are pursuing a plan to replace the ACA mandate, which requires most people to pay a penalty if they don’t have coverage. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, are publicly considering similar ideas.

Martin Feldstein Thinks the Markets are Headed for a Fall

He’s right, to an extent.  The Price-Earnings ratio for aggregated publicly owned businesses is at historic highs.  His reasoning centers on four factors: the Fed’s raising of its benchmark interest rates, which will make money cost more for businesses; the Fed’s reducing its own government bond holdings, which will contribute to upward pressure on interest rates generally; the Federal government’s needing to borrow to cover its still enormous deficits; and heretofore easy money has made the labor market too tight.

However.

“Insurance” Costs

My Medicare-aged wife broke her wrist, which necessitated surgery, and our health plan provider sent us an accounting of the costs involved.  Following are the high points of those costs.  It’s necessary to emphasize that the surgery is relatively routine following a wrist “fracture,” since the wrist is little different from a sack of pig’s knuckles, and where the arm bones, the ulna and radius join the wrist is more of an abutment than a joining.  The “fracture” was more of a slight jumbling of those pig’s knuckles and small breaks of the ends of the ulna and radius; the surgery was to rearrange the knuckles and repair the fractures with a plate and some bolts.  Really quite routine and minor (save the post-op pain and the long recovery time and discomfort); that emphasizes the nature of the costs.

Spotify and Crony Capitalism

Spotify AB wants to do an initial stock offering, an IPO, on the New York Stock Exchange, and the company wants to do it without benefit of bank underwriters.  Oddly, the NYSE has to ask the SEC for permission to amend its own rules to allow this.  Even more strange, the SEC is dithering over granting that permission—to allow the private enterprise, the NYSE, to conduct its own business as it sees fit, and more proximately, to allow the private enterprise, Spotify, to conduct its business as it sees fit.  The SEC is claiming, with a straight face, that it has until the middle of February to make up its mind.

The Question is a Non Sequitur

John McKinnon and Brent Kendall, in their Wall Street Journal piece, asked Is FTC Up to the Task of Internet Regulation?

His piece is about the split between what the FCC (the erstwhile “regulator” of the Internet, courtesy of the Obama administration) and the FTC are qualified to regulate.

The question is a bit of a non sequitur, though. The Internet is merely a transport medium, and it needs very little regulation. The FTC is fully up to the task of regulating (ideally with a similarly light touch) trade, which is independent of the medium—highway, railroad, snail mail, or electronic—over which the traded products are transported.

Disappearing Insurance

First it was health insurance, dysfunctional as it was, being replaced by the health coverage plan welfare program known as Obamacare.  Now auto insurance is under attack.

New York financial regulators have banned the use of education and occupation as factors in setting auto-insurance premiums….

Never mind that these are useful, if imperfect by themselves, correlates with driving skill and so of insurance risk. The companies accepting the risk transfer by selling a policy don’t get to know that information, they don’t get to assess the level of risk being accepted.  They can’t charge an accurate premium.  That hurts the driver as much or more than it does the insurer.

“major distortive impact on international trade”

That’s the claim of European nations–Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK—as they worry about the drop in corporate tax rates that the House and Senate bills propose.

Well, of course.  They also don’t like the highly competitive tax rates applied by Ireland and Luxembourg and routinely excoriate those nations for having the temerity of competing via tax treatment for business.  While the nations bleat about double taxation and how European businesses operating in the US would be at a tax disadvantage compared to US companies operating in the US, here’s the nub of the thing: