Keith Fitz-Gerald

Election 2012: Forget Bailouts, We Need a Shakeout

The markets rallied Monday on news that global leaders favor additional stimulus. The hope is that additional spending will induce growth and put the world back on track.

Don’t hold your breath.

Big government robs the economy of wealth, strips it of initiative and further undermines our recovery.

So why, then, do our leaders continue to throw good money after bad?

Try this on for size.

In 1958, a man named Cyril Northcote Parkinson published a series of essays in book form called Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress. In it, he postulated a mathematical equation that describes how bureaucracies expand over time and why.

I don’t know if he had a wicked sense of humor or a dramatic flair for irony but the equation at the core of his argument relied on something he termed the “coefficient of inefficiency.”

The coefficient of inefficiency says the size of a committee or government decision-making body is determined by the point at which it becomes completely inefficient or irrelevant. Or both – hence the name.

Parkinson determined that the minimal effective size for a decision-making body is about five people, and the optimal size is somewhere between three and 20.

Last time I checked, we had 548 people inside the beltway – 535 voting members of Congress, nine Supreme Court justices, one president, one vice president, one treasurer and one Fed chairman – who are responsible for making decisions on behalf of 330 million citizens.

Combine that with nearly 2.8 million total Federal employees (excluding our military) and we’re waaaaay beyond anything even remotely resembling workable decision making.

Now here’s the thing. Parkinson also observed that bureaucracies grew by about 5%-7% a year, “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”

In other words, the larger bureaucracies become, the more ineffective they get even if additional people are hired to do work that doesn’t exist.

And to think, all this time I thought our government ran on the Peter Principle!

Parkinson attributed this to two things:

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If I Owned Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) Stock, I’d Be Pissed

It’s no wonder Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) investors are pissed. I would be too if I owned Yahoo – but I don’t.

Why not?

Maybe it’s the four CEOs in five years, the botched sale to Microsoft in 2008, or a Chief Executive Officer who can’t be bothered to verify his own credentials in SEC filings.

Or maybe it’s the dysfunctional board of directors and the erosion of massive amounts of shareholder value over the years.

Add it all up and you have an unmitigated disaster on your hands.

Activist shareholder Daniel Loeb, who owns 5.8% of the company through his hedge fund, Third Point, LLC, has every right to be angry and vocal about it.

The way I see things, Yahoo is following what I call the Christopher Columbus School of Management: it has no idea where it’s going, has no idea where it’s been and has no idea what to do when it arrives.

The Search for an Identity at Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO)

Yahoo was ostensibly a search engine in the beginning. The latest outgoing CEO, Scott Thompson, had been trying to rebuild the beleaguered Silicon Valley company into one more reflection of his own strengths in data personalization as opposed to the bloated advertising-driven business it has become.

Whether or not Thompson would have succeeded is now a moot point. Incoming interim CEO Ross Levinsohn has an advertising background. Talk about a conundrum.

Here’s the thing…

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Five with Fitz: What I See When I Look Over the Horizon

When you’ve been working the markets as long as I have, you learn that the biggest dangers are always found in a place just over the horizon.

It’s why I spend my time hunting for stories, news items and opinions that in the old days were considered far “below the fold.”

Invariably, what I am looking for is the stuff that everybody else has missed.

Because I believe that’s where the real information is — especially when it comes to uncovering profitable opportunities others don’t yet see or understand.

It’s the story behind the story that interests me. To find it, you need to go beyond the headline news.

In that spirit, here’s my take on five things that I’m thinking about right now.

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Stock Market Volatility: How to Beat the Market at its Own Game

Many investors are convinced the market is stacked against them. It is…. but not for the reasons you might think. Dismal returns actually have very little to do with super computers, research, insider information or access to the trading floor. The real issue comes down to something very simple – the difference between how individuals and professionals approach stock market volatility. Most investors head for the hills when volatility rises.
Successful traders, on the other hand, embrace it because they know stock market volatility represents an opportunity.

Is JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM) Setting Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL) Up For a Crash?

The devil is in the details.

That’s what I thought when I read that Delta Airlines (NYSE: DAL) may be hopping into bed with JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM).

According to various reports, Delta is in talks to purchase the idled “Trainer” refinery facility in Philadelphia with assistance from JPMorgan Chase as its financier.

On the surface, the deal seems to make perfect sense. Jet fuel is very expensive.

Delivering jet fuel to New York Harbor would have cost you $1.94 a gallon five years ago. Today it’s $3.12, or 60.82% higher according to Bloomberg.

Owning a refinery would be a good way to lock up supplies and keep fuel costs down in today’s world.

It’s so smart I’d watch for United, British Airlines and Lufthansa to do the same in short order. Perhaps even the regional carriers will get in on the action at some point, too.

All are “route heavy” on the Eastern U.S. seaboard where many refineries have to pay for more expensive imported Brent crude because they can’t access less expensive West Texas blends or alternatives coming from North Dakota shale fields.

But what the frack?

Ordinarily, airlines would simply hedge price increases like this in the futures markets.

So there must be something else at work that would make Delta and presumably other carriers so desperate they’re willing to enter the refinery business. After all, it’s a tough business — even for oil companies.

Two thoughts come to mind specifically about Delta: a) its geographic concentration, and b) its credit rating, which stinks, may be so bad the airline can’t cost effectively hedge in the open markets.

Few people realize this but several major oil companies, including Sunoco, Hess Corp, Valero and ConocoPhillips — just to name a few — are planning to close, idle or otherwise shut down refineries on the east coast.

That would remove 51% of U.S. East Coast refinery capacity from the equation by some accounts.

This means that delivering fuel into the northeast corridor’s airports is going to become especially problematic and more expensive.

In that sense, one could argue that Delta is taking prudent steps to secure its own supplies while building in defenses against higher prices ahead.

I can’t find fault with that given that every penny increase per gallon costs Delta $40 million more on an annualized basis, according to Bloomberg. I would be thinking along the same lines.

But I don’t “buy” it even though the airline spent $11.8 billion on fuel last year and understandably wants to save money.

Here’s where it gets interesting (and I get suspicious).

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Is Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN) the Next Enron?

Is Groupon the next Enron? … No. It’s worse.
Before the company even went public, there were signs that internal financial controls weren’t up to snuff.
Now I’m hearing refrains of “three blind mice” as “defrauded” investors line up to have their day in court. You might as well say the “dog ate my homework.” It’s not like no one knew this was coming. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made management redo Groupon’s financial statements and accounting practices not once, but twice before the company’s January 2011 initial public offering (IPO).

The first time involved including the cost of marketing in operating income – duh. The second was to force the company to deduct merchant payments from revenues – double duh!

Both are basic accounting principles.

If you spent $2 to gain $1 in orders you have to report that as a $1 loss if you’re dealing with cold, hard cash. Also, if you have $1 in merchant payments, you can’t count that as $2 in revenues, unless apparently you work at Groupon and love accrual accounting.

It’s not like Groupon execs can claim they didn’t know.

It’s abundantly clear to me that the “company” has very little, if any, understanding of REG FD and securities litigation.

(REG FD, in case you are not familiar with it, is short for Regulation Fair Disclosure which the SEC adopted Aug. 15, 2000. REG FD is intended to eliminate selective disclosure of material non-public information.)

But I have a hunch they’re going to find out the hard way.

Groupon’s “Material Weakness”

When the SEC came knocking again on April 2nd the company was forced to restate its Q4 financials. That summarily reduced Groupon’s revenue by $14 million and profits – assuming there were any to begin with – by $22.6 million.

In an official statement, Ernst & Young, the company’s primary auditor, noted “material weakness” with regard to the company’s internal controls. Investors simply noted that they’d better get going while the going was good.

Groupon’s share price tumbled 16.87% Monday alone and is down 55% from its peak.

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Here is What’s Wrong With Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)

If you have a mortgage with Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) and want to refinance, don’t bother.

You are not worth the bank’s time. Or at least I wasn’t.

That’s what I learned first-hand last week when I called Bank of America to refinance a home mortgage I’ve had with them for years.

My jaw practically hit the floor when Alejandro from BofA’s mortgage department told me this over the phone.

“Because of excessively high demand,” Alejandro said, “we can’t accept your refinancing application. But we can take a reservation and have an agent call you in 90 to 120 days.”

Huh?…You can’t be serious.

I really have to wait three or four months to even apply for a lower interest rate when I’ve been an existing customer for years?

Yeah, I bet, I thought to myself…

They’ll call me when interest rates are much higher or when BofA works its way through its part of the $25 billion robo-signing settlement reached over its abuses in the foreclosure process.

Of course, all of this is after BofA received $45 billion in taxpayer bailout funding.

And after they reportedly shifted the risks associated with $75 trillion in derivatives from its investment banking and trading units to BofA’s depository arm, a unit flush with FDIC-insured deposits.

But that is another story for another day.

How Bank of America Treats its Customers

Suspecting something wasn’t quite right, I made a second call to BofA to inquire about a new loan.

Not ten minutes later I was put through immediately to an underwriter who was all too happy to help a new, unknown prospect – a.k.a. me – take on more debt. Imagine that.

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How Banks Are Using Your Money to Create the Next Crash

In 2008, reckless credit default swaps nearly obliterated the global economy. Now comes the next crisis – rehypothecated assets.

It’s a complicated, fancy term in the global banking complex. Yet it’s one you need to know.

And if you understand it, you will get the scope of the risks we currently face – and it’s way bigger than just Greece.

So follow with me on this one. I guarantee that you’ll be outraged and amazed – and better educated. You’ll also be in a better position to protect your assets at the end of this article, where I’ll give you three important action steps to take. So follow along…

Their Profits on Your Money

Few people know this, but there’s a process through which banks and trading houses are leveraging your money to increase their profits – just like they did in the run-up to the last financial crisis. Only this time, things may be worse, as hard as that is to imagine.

Consider: In 2007 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that this form of “leverage” accounted for more than half of the total activity in the “shadow” banking system , which equates to a potential problem that would put this insidious little practice on the order of $5 trillion to $10 trillion range. And this is in addition to the bailouts and money printing that’s happened so far.

Wall Street would have you believe this figure has gone down in recent years as regulators and customers alike expressed outrage that their assets were being used in ways beyond regulation and completely off the balance sheet. But I have a hard time believing that.

Wall Street is addicted to leverage and, when given the opportunity to self-police, has rarely, if ever, taken actions that would threaten profits.

Further, what I am about to share with you is one of main the reasons why Europe is in such deep trouble and why our banking system will get hammered if the European Union (EU) goes down.

And w hat makes this so disgusting – take a deep breath – is that it’s our money that’s at stake. Regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and their overseas equivalents are not only letting big banks get away with what I am about to describe, but have made it an integral part of the present banking system.

Worse, central bankers condone it.

As you might expect, the concept behind this malfeasance is complicated. But it’s key to understanding the financial crisis and to avoiding a possible global recession in 2012 and beyond.

What we’re talking about is something called “rehypothecation.”

Most people have never heard the term, but trust me, you will shortly. Let me explain what this is, and why you need to know about it. Then, I’ll offer three ideas to trade around it.

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