Saturday, October 31, 2009

Your Duck is Dead; cost of medical care

A woman brought a very limp duck into a veterinary surgeon.

As she laid her pet on the table, the vet pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the bird’s chest.

After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, “I’m sorry, your duck, Cuddles, has passed away.”

The distressed woman wailed, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure. Your duck is dead,” replied the vet.

“How can you be so sure?” she protested. “I mean you haven’t done any testing on him or anything. He might just be in a coma or something.”

The vet rolled his eyes, turned around, and left the room.

He returned a few minutes later with a black Labrador Retriever.

As the duck’s owner looked on in amazement, the dog stood on his hind legs, put his front paws on the examination table and sniffed the duck from top to bottom. He then looked up at the vet with sad eyes and shook his head.

The vet patted the dog on the head and took it out of the room.

A few minutes later he returned with a cat. The cat jumped on the table and also delicately sniffed the bird from head to foot. The cat sat back on its haunches, shook its head, meowed softly, and strolled out of the room.

The vet looked at the woman and said, “I’m sorry, but as I said, this is most definitely, 100% certifiably, a dead duck.”

The vet turned to his computer terminal, hit a few keys, and produced a bill, which he handed to the woman.

The duck’s owner, still in shock, took the bill. “$150!” she cried, “$150 just to tell me my duck is dead!”

The vet shrugged, “I’m sorry. If you had just taken my word for it, the bill would have been $20, but with the Lab Report and the Cat Scan, it’s now $150.”

Weekly Wrap 10/30/09

Last week we discussed the volatility in U.S. equity markets, and that not only continued this week it became more aggressive. But unlike the prior week's modest moves, the major averages closed sharply lower this week as the dollar rebounded against the other major currencies. The S&P 500 lost 4%.

Once again the declines were broad-based as all ten sectors in the index ended lower, led by Materials (-7.1%) and Financials (-6.9%).

The dollar was the biggest, if not the only, catalyst this week. In fact, the charts of the major indices are almost exact inverses of the U.S. Dollar Index (DXY). A weak dollar benefits the economy as it boosts exports, and investors are trading stocks based on the moves in the currency.

For example, equities attempted to rebound at the open Monday, but the attempt stalled and a spike higher in the DXY late that morning led to a spike lower in the major indices.

The volatility really came through in the last three sessions of the week.

A third day of gains in the DXY on Wednesday led to sharp declines in equities.

Then a reversal in the greenback and modestly better-than-expected GDP figure on Thursday helped equities regain the prior day's declines. The Advance reading for third quarter GDP came in at 3.5%, its first gain in four quarters, slightly better than the 3.2% consensus.

But those gains were short-lived as a resumption in the dollar rally on Friday led to the major indices making fresh week lows.

Third quarter earnings season did continue this week, but there were fewer big names so they took a backseat. For the most part companies continued to beat on the bottom lines, but top line figures and guidance were mixed.

Another rounds of longer-term Treasury auctions also took a back seat -- $123 billion in 5-year TIPS and 2-, 5- and 7-year Notes -- as they no longer seem to have as direct an influence on the equity markets.

Looking ahead to next week, third quarter earnings season will wind down with even fewer big names on the calendar. The dollar will most likely remain in focus until the end of the week, when the always highly-anticipated Nonfarm Payrolls figure is released for October.

Index Started Week Ended Week Change % Change YTD %
DJIA 9972.18 9712.73 -259.45 -2.6 10.7
Nasdaq 2154.47 2045.11 -109.36 -5.1 29.7
S&P 500 1079.60 1036.19 -43.41 -4.0 14.7
Russell 2000 600.86 562.77 -38.09 -6.3 12.7

Friday, October 30, 2009


1 WITCH. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
2 WITCH. Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin'd.
3 WITCH. Harpier cries:—'tis time! 'tis time!
1 WITCH. Round about the caldron go; In the poison'd entrails throw.— Toad, that under cold stone, Days and nights has thirty-one; Swelter'd venom sleeping got, Boil thou first i' the charmed pot!
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt, and toe of frog, Wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,— For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
3 WITCH. Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf; Witches' mummy; maw and gulf Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark; Root of hemlock digg'd i the dark; Liver of blaspheming Jew; Gall of goat, and slips of yew Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse; Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips; Finger of birth-strangled babe Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,— Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger's chaudron, For the ingrediants of our caldron.
ALL. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
2 WITCH. Cool it with a baboon's blood, Then the charm is firm and good.

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quotable: For Missing the Unmissable

For Missing the Unmissable
Bernanke, the most passionate cheerleader of Greenspan’s follies, is picked as his replacement, partly, it seems, for his belief that U.S. house prices would never decline and that at their peak in late 2005 they largely just reflected the unusual strength of the U.S. economy. As well as missing on his very own this 3-sigma (100-year) event in housing, he was completely clueless as to the potential disastrous interactions among lower house prices, new opaque financial instruments, heroically increased mortgages, lower lending standards, and internationally networked distribution. For these accumulated benefits to society, he was reappointed! So, yes, after the fashion of his mentor, he was lavish with help as the bubble burst. And how can we so quickly forget the very painful consequences of the previous lavishing after the 2000 bubble? Rewarding Bernanke is like reappointing the Titanic’s captain for facilitating an orderly disembarkation of the sinking ship (let’s pretend that happened) while ignoring the fact that he had charged recklessly through dark and dangerous waters.
The Other Teflon Men
Larry Summers, with a Financial Times bully pulpit, had done little bullying and blown no warning whistles of impending doom back in 2006 and 2007. And, famously, in earlier years as Treasury Secretary he had encouraged (I hope inadvertently) wild and reckless financial behavior by helping to beat back attempts to regulate some of the new and most dangerous instruments. Timothy Geithner, in turn, sat in the very engine room of the USS Disaster and helped steer her onto the rocks. And there are several others (discussed in the 4Q 2008 Letter). You know who you are. All promoted!
Jeremy Grantham