Friday, September 23, 2016

23/9/16: The Future of Work: Uncharted Policy Waters

My presentation on economic and social challenges of the emerging Gig-economy (contingent workforce) from earlier this year:

23/9/16: Two Major Partnerships for AID:Tech

AID:Tech CEO, Joseph Thompson presented at the Techstars Demo Day earlier this week.

Here is the video of his excellent talk about AID:Tech-powered technology promise to the aid and development sector: delivered in front of some 600 top European technology VCs and business development specialists.

As a part of the Demo Day, AID:Tech also made two new partnerships announcements. Details are here:

As a board member and an adviser to the company, I am proud of what the team led by Joseph have been able to achieve within a span of just few months. The importance of blockchain-based solutions in providing greater efficiencies, better security and higher degree of transparency to payments in the international aid and development area is matched by the blockchain potential to revolutionise  key development sub-sectors of micro-lending and micro-insurance. AID:Tech are clearly positioned to lead fintech innovation in these market niches.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

21/9/16: BOJ New (non) Bazuka

21/9/16: Apple Tax Case: Not the Rate, the Loopholes

My column for the Village covering the Apple Tax fiasco:

As it says on the 'tin' - the problem with Apple Tax is not the rate of corporate taxation set in law in Ireland (the 12.5% 'red line' rate), and not tax competition, nor the benign nature of tax exemptions that Ireland bestows on all companies, including the MNCs. The problem is that these competitive aspects of the Irish regime are simply not enough for the likes of Apple, which pursued and obtained access to exemptions that any ordinary company operating in Ireland cannot avail of.

Hence, the red herring of the arguments that the EU Competition ruling is an attack on Irish tax rate. It is, instead, a challenge to the asymmetric preferences granted in the past (and still in use during the ongoing phase-out period) to a handful of MNCs over and above domestic companies. Lest we forget, for decades, Irish State had no qualms operating an openly discriminatory taxation regime that treated foreign investment-backed companies differently from domestic companies. Lest we omit considering the present, Irish State still has no qualms taxing human capital of its residents at rates far in excess of those applying to physical and financial capital. Lest we fail to think about it, Irish State has no qualms asymmetrically allocating the burden of the crisis to Irish people over and above our banks, foreign investors, foreign bondholders and vulture funds.

I am one of the most vocal advocates of low (benign) taxation, flat tax, competitive regulatory regimes (coupled with robust enforcement) and other means for improving the functioning of the private markets. Always been one and remain. I support real investment in the economy, both foreign and domestic and believe in a level playing field for entrepreneurs and enterprises, alike. But, folks, the debate around Apple Tax is not about 12.5% tax rate and Ireland's tax autonomy, but about asymmetric nature of privilege.

22/9/16: The most important charts in the world... BusinessInsider

BusinessInsider published their new set of "The most important charts in the world from the brightest minds on Wall Street" :

My - as always contrarian and, hence, somewhat optimistic - contribution here:

21/9/16: BOJ & Fed: Surprises at the End of Policy Line?

My comment for Portugal's Expresso on Bank of Japan and U.S. Fed rate setting meetings (comment prior to both):

English version:

With Bank of Japan clearly running out of assets to buy to sustain its continued efforts to further ease money supply, the Bank’s September 20th meeting is likely to be more significant from the markets perspective than the Fed’s. Back in July, Bank of Japan initiated a comprehensive review of its current policy measures. This move was based on two key pressures faced by Tokyo: the complete lack of monetary policy effectiveness and the shortages of assets eligible for BOJ purchases, still remaining in the markets.

My suspicion is that BOJ is likely to go for the reversal of the Fed’s Operation Twist, buying - as Washington did in 1961 and 2011 - shorter maturity bonds. In 2011, the Fed opted to buy longer-term debt and selling short term bonds. The Fed objective back then was to flatten the yield curve. Bank of Japan today is more desperate to see steepening in maturity curve instead. Paired with deeper foray into negative deposit rates territory, such an Inverse Twist move is probably the likeliest outrun of the current BOJ policy debate, with both policy changes carrying a probability of around 60-70 percent for September 20th meeting. On a longer odds side, expansion of volumes of purchases of bonds (doing more of the same option) for BOJ, in my opinion carries a probability of just 30-40 percent.

BOJ announcement of new policies is potentially more important to the global markets than the Fed’s, in the short run, because BOJ policy options are pretty much similar to those of the ECB, and because Tokyo faces a greater urgency to move this time around. Across the bonds markets, in recent months, there has been an increasing sense that ultra-aggressive monetary policies (those led by BOJ and ECB) have lost their effectiveness just at the time when the central bankers are rapidly running out of option to produce further monetary stimulus without engaging in an outright helicopter money creation. At the same time, as monetary policy effectiveness declined, markets reliance on central banks pumping more and more liquidity into the global financial system is rising as economic fundamentals stubbornly refusing to support current markets valuations in both equities and bonds.

Fed’s rate setting meeting, coming hours after Bank of Japan’s one, will be less predictable and has the capacity to take markets off guard. Prevailing market consensus is that the Fed will simply amplify its extremely moderate hawkish position, signalling once again the growing consensus toward a rate rise after the November Presidential election. In my view, this is the most probable outrun with a probability of around 75 percent. However, given the signs of strengthening economy over 3Q 2016, and the early indications of improving inflationary outlook on foot of August figures, the Fed might surprise with a 25 bps hike in base rates - a low probability (roughly 25%) event. On the ‘hold policy’ side, there has been some disappointing recent economic releases, with a decline in retail sales, flat producer prices inflation and a large drop in industrial production. These, alongside the political cycle, weigh heavily on the probability of a rate hike this week.

The key to the September rates outlook and the markets dynamics will be the twin combination of BOJ and Fed moves. Dovish Fed, alongside further aggressive expansion of Japan’s monetary policy will serve as a forward signal for the ECB to boost its own asset purchasing programme. This is a more likely outcome of Wednesday news flow, given the conditions in the domestic economies and in the global trade environment. Any surprises on the side of the Fed or BOJ deviating from dovish stands will likely be interpreted by the markets as a trigger for bonds sell-off and will also be negative for share prices.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

19/9/16: Survivorship Bias Primers

Not formally a case study, but worth flagging early on, especially in the context of our Business Statistics MBAG 8541A course discussion of the weighted averages and stock markets indices.

A major problem with historical data is the presence of survivorship bias that distorts historical averages, unless we weigh companies entering the index by volumes. Even then, there are some issues arising.

Here are few links providing a primer on survivorship bias (we will discuss this in more depth on the class, of course):

19/9/16: Big Data Biases?

A very interesting, and broad (compared to our more statistics-specific discussions in MBAG 8541A) topic is touched in this book: The basic point is: data analytics (from basic descriptive statistics, to inferential statistics, to econometrics and bid data analysis) is subject to all the normal human biases the analysts might possess. The problem, however, is that big data now leads the charge toward behaviour and choice automation.

The book review focuses on ethical dimensions of this problem. There is also a remedial cost dimension - with automated behaviour based on biased algorithms, corrective action cannot take place ex ante automated choice, but only either ex ante analysis (via restricting algorithms) or ex post the algorithm-enabled action takes place. Which, of course, magnifies the costs associated with controlling for biases.

One way or the other - the concept of biased algorithmic models certainly presents some food for thought!

Monday, September 19, 2016

19/9/16: US Median Income Statistics: Losing One's Head in Cheerful Releases

In our Business Statistics MBAG 8541A course, we have been discussing one of the key aspects of descriptive statistics reporting encountered in media, business and official releases: the role that multiple statistics reported on the same subject can have in driving false or misleading interpretation of the underlying environment.

While publishing various metrics for similar / adjoining data is generally fine (in fact, it is a better practice for statistical releases), it is down to the media and analysts to choose which numbers are better suited to describe specific phenomena.

In a recent case, reporting of a range of metrics for U.S. median incomes for 2015 has produced quite a confusion.

Here are some links that explain:

So, as noted on many occasions in our class: if you torture data long enough, it will confess... but as with all forced confessions, the answer you get will bear no robust connection to reality...

19/9/16: FocusEconomics: The Italian Dilemma

Good post from FocusEconomics on the saga of Italian banking crisis:

And an infographic from the same on the scale of the Italian banking woes:
Click to enlarge

It is worth noting that in the Italian banking case, asset quality crisis (NPLs etc) and compressed bonds returns (yield-related income decline due to ECB QE) are coinciding with elevated macroeconomic risks, as noted by the Tier-3 ranking for Italy in Euromoney Country Risk surveys:

Saturday, September 17, 2016

17/9/16: The Mudslide Cometh for Your Ladder

One chart that really says it all when it comes to the fortunes of the Euro area economy:

And, courtesy of these monetary acrobatics, we now have private corporates issuing debt at negative yields, nominal yields...

The train wreck of monetarist absurdity is now so far out on the wobbly bridge of economic systems devoid of productivity growth, consumer demand growth and capex demand that even the vultures have taken into the skies in anticipation of some juicy carrion. With $16 trillion (at the end of August) in sovereign debt yielding negative and with corporates now being paid to borrow, the idea of the savings-investment link - the fundamental basis of the economy - makes about as much sense today as voodoo does in medicine. Even WSJ noted as much:

Which brings us to the simple point of action: don't buy bonds. Don't buy stocks. Hold defensive assets in stable proportions: gold, silver, land, fishing rights... anything other than the fundamentals-free paper.

As I recently quipped to an asset manager I used to work with:

"A mudslide off this mountain of debt will have to happen in order to correct the excesses built up in recent years. There is too much liquidity mass built into the markets devoid of investment demand, and too weak of an economy holding it. Everywhere. By fundamental metrics of value-added growth and organic demand expansion potential, every economy is simply sick. There is no productivity growth. There is no EPS growth, even with declining S down to waves of buy-outs. There is debt growth, with no capex & no EPS growth to underwrite that debt. There is a global banking system running totally on fumes pumped into it at an ever increasing rate by the Central Banks through direct monetary policies and by indirect means (regulatory shenanigans of ever-shifting capital and assets quality revisions). There is no trade growth. There is no market growth for trade. Neither supply side, nor demand side can hold much more, and countries, like the U.S., have run out of ability to find new lines of credit to inflate their economies. Students - kids! - are now so deep in debt before they even start working, they can't afford rents, let alone homes. Housing shortages & rents inflation are out of control. GenZ and GenY cannot afford renting and paying for groceries, and everyone is pretending that the ‘shared economy’ is a form of salvation when it really is a sign that people can’t pay for that second bedroom and need roommates to cover basic bills. Amidst all of that: 1% is riding high and dragging with it 10% that are public sector ‘heroes’ while bribing the 15% that are the elderly and don't give a damn about the future as long as they can afford their prescriptions. Take kids out of the equation, and the outright net recipients of subsidies and supports, and you have 25-30% of the total population who are carrying all the burden for the rest and are being crushed under debt, taxes and jobs markets that provide shit-for-wages careers. Happy times! Buy S&P. Buy penny stocks. Buy bonds. Buy sovereign debt. Buy risk-free Treasuries… Buy, Buy, Buy we hear from the sell-side. Because if you do not 'buy' you will miss the 'ladder'... Sounds familiar, folks? Right on... just as 2007 battle cry 'Buy Anglo shares' or 2005 call to 'Buy Romanian apartments' because, you know... who wants to miss 'The Ladder'?.."