Monday, August 28, 2017

Fiscal Stimulus and Global Imbalances

 The Federal Reserve 2017 Jackson Hole Symposium had what I found to be two particularly interesting papers.  The Auerback-Gorodnichenko paper "Fiscal Stimulus and Fiscal Sustainability" which finds that fiscal stimulus in a weak economy, even in countries with high debt, can improve fiscal sustainability.  Jason Furman's remarks on the paper with many charts was very good.  For those of us who have long maintained that fiscal stimulus designed to put people to work, improve needed infrastructure, and stimulate growth in the national economy -- not wasteful political favoritism or handouts to large financial institutions and the rich and rentiers --  are necessary to effectively recover from deep economic recessions and depressions, this is a welcome paper.

Menzie Chinn's paper  "The Once and Future Global Imbalances?  Interpreting the Post-Crisis Record" which documents fiscal policy can and has had a noticeable influence on current account balances.  Chinn had additional remarks with graphs.  Maurice Obstfeld, chief economist at the IMF, also provides remarks detailing the differing economic viewpoints on global imbalances and the problems with resolving the debate.

Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen's speech on financial stability was very subdued and reassuring, particularly in her defense of bank regulations, which many have taken as a subtle rebuke of the current Administration's desire to reduce and/or remove regulations on banks, despite the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.

Here are all the papers, speeches, and remarks at the Symposium.

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Do ETFs Negatively Impact Portfolios?

In a recent paper studying ETF investors using data from a large German brokerage,the authors found that ETFs do not improve portfolios with the ETF portion of a portfolio underperforming the non-ETF portion of the portfolio by -1.16% and investors using ETFs used all investment products sub-optimally.  All investors in the study had refused free financial advice and were self-directed investors.  Poor timing in buying and selling accounted for .77% of the underperformance.   When compared to a market portfolio buy and hold strategy, the majority of the underperformance was due to security selection behavior. (See tables VII and VIII in the paper.)  The study found no investor distinct group benefited from, or increased diversification with, ETF use.  When trading costs were included with gross returns, the results were worse.

The authors suggest that it would be better to invest in a buy and hold strategy with a low cost diversified market investment.

This means, in my opinion, that the self-directed investor approaching or in early retirement should look for a low Beta (1.00 or lower) and a high Sharpe Ratio (the higher the better) market investment as well as review cost and performance through the years.  An investor with a long time horizon might include Alpha (the higher the better) in the criteria.  There are several that should pop up on an ETF criteria screen for deeper analysis.  If you have a fiduciary, fee only, financial financial advisor, there might be more portfolio options in a buy and hold strategy which is allowed to slowly grow.

The study concluded: "We find that the portfolio performance of individual users relative to non-users of ETFs slightly worsens after ETF use. The loss comes mostly from buying ETFs at the “wrong” times rather than choosing the ex-ante “wrong” ETFs. Therefore, adopting a buy-and-hold strategy is more important than selecting better ETFs. The benefits from a buy-and-hold strategy are twofold. First, as our analysis reveals, a buy-and-hold strategy would prevent investors from trading ETFs at “wrong” points in time. Second, the positive effects on gross performance are amplified for net performance as trading costs in buy-and-hold strategies are naturally lower.

"Our paper thus points out that the wonderful innovation of passive ETFs, with its enormous potential to act as a low cost and liquid vehicle for diversification, may not help individual investors to enhance their portfolio performance if they actively abuse passive ETFs by buying and selling them at “wrong” times. Ironically, the low cost and high liquidity of these ETFs seem to encourage their trading, and this aggravates an individual’s temptation to engage in some sort of timing. Our finding should make regulators, consumer protection agencies, companies with 401k plans, and financial economists more cautious when recommending ETF use. From a policy perspective, therefore, promoting savings on well-diversified ETFs that simultaneously limit the potential to actively trade in them might be beneficial to individual investors." 

This is the fifth post is a series on ETFs.  The fourth post, which has links to the first three in its first paragraph, on synthetic ETFs can be found here.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Daily Research Links for Week #383 (July 10-17, 2017)

For several years I have privately provided, from time to time, my The Pursuit of Financial Happiness™ Daily Research links on economic, finance, and investment issues and news to select individuals.

I am now working on The Pursuit of Financial Happiness™ Daily Research links Week #389.  Week #383 is twelve (12) pages long and can now be found publicly available at this website link.  Links are in original language untranslated, some contain videos, some are pdf documents, some are long reads and/or studies, most are period current but can contain related research from different periods on specific issues.  The links do not imply I agree or disagree with the content.  They are linked because they are worth reading and considering.  I use them to provide macro information, which I use as a Registered Investment Advisor, on what is going on in the United States and the world, particularly Europe and China.  The Research Daily links do not provide any comment.  Advice is available to United States citizens and residents.  Consulting is available to anyone.

We are now preparing to offer the Daily Research links on a subscription basis.  This will involve adding an international payment system and activating The Pursuit of Financial Happiness™ website to house the Daily Research links archive (for first four weeks Daily Research links are available to subscribers only) for the public and Daily Research links for subscribers only for four weeks, as well as other past research on specific topics.  We are also prepared to offer podcasts as we have time and a worthy topic.

If you have an interest in receiving The Pursuit of Financial Happiness™ Daily Research links by email at least six days a week (sometimes more often) by email.  You can contact me at

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Monday, August 14, 2017

How Risky Are Synthetic ETFs?

This is the fourth in a series of posts on ETFs with the first three focusing on potential liquidity problems in a financial crisis which was in response to a Noah Smith column, order completion in a rapidly down trending market, and difficulties of ETF market makers.

In 2012, Morningstar did an extensive global study of synthetic ETFs which is a good starting point to understanding the risks in synthetic ETFs. 

Synthetic ETFs do not track an index.  They use swaps with counter-party risk and/or futures contracts which are more difficult and expensive to manage.  They are usually commodities ETFs or

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The CFP Board's Duplicitous Fiduciary Standard

Here is a very good article on the duplicitous CFP proposed fiduciary standard which is really just a marketing tool to protect the millions of dollars in annual revenue on CFP courses, study materials, and testing fees.

I have written extensively on the need of a true fiduciary standard.  In fact, my "Beware"  blog post was linked by Abnormal Returns and Dan Solin.   I have refrained from criticizing the professional designations and organizations, but they are unavoidably a major part of the problem.  I started looking at the CFP in the 1980's when it was two competing organizations (which later merged) and have done so through the subsequent years and every time I looked at the CFP they had an ethical

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Steve Keen's Behavioral Economics Lectures

My firm conviction that education through lectures is epistemologically inefficient but cost efficient, however poor the results, does not limit my openness to critically read or listen to different viewpoints, however new or old, accepted or not accepted.  It is important to understand other positions and ideas in order to know why you agree or disagree.

I first ran across Keen's 2009 lectures on behavioral economics years ago and found them interesting, but I refrained from linking to them, because one lecture was missing and I had hoped it would be

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What Does the Seattle Minimum Wage Study Teach Us Followup

 On August 5th, I wrote a post on the Seattle minimum wage study data and methodological problems in response to a editorial in the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register newspaper.

Here is a new critical analysis published at EconoFact entitled: "What Does the Seattle Experience

Mark Thoma's Econometrics Lectures

Although educational study after study have found that students do not retain subject material, after presenting acceptable regurgitation qualifying as a passing mastering of the subject material as opposed to smaller discussion classes which require oral and written participation in which questioning is a fundamental element in the development of a critical thinking process, colleges and universities find lecture courses extremely cost effective.  You can see the result in the varying quality of professional expertise and competence.

Having said that, Mark Thoma has a series of videos of his whole econometrics course (19 lectures),

Monday, August 7, 2017

Douglas L. Campbell on "Breaking Badly: The Currency Union Effect on Trade"

Douglas Campbell has written a very interesting paper on the effects currency unions have on trade in which the analysis of the data comes to different conclusions than current economic literature.  He explains the paper in his blog post and his concerns that the paper will never be published, because he is going up against big names in the profession.  Basically, his paper tests whether omitted variables in past studies affect the analysis of a large data set.  He looks at each major currency union including the eurozone and appropriate control groups and finds according to the papers abstract: "As several European countries debate entering, or exiting, the Euro, a key policy question is how much currency

Sunday, August 6, 2017

J. W. Mason on "What Recovery?"

I believe J. W. Mason's recent Monetary Policy Report for the Roosevelt Institute entitled "What Recovery?" is a very important paper on employment, wages, productivity and GDP growth.  It should be read by as many people as possible.

The Executive Summary reads:"This paper critically examines the widely held view that the U.S. economy is today operating at close to potential. The paper makes five core arguments. First, GDP

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Seattle Minimum Wage Study Data and Methodologoical Problems

 Today, the State Journal-Register published a Guest Column editorial which cited a recent Seattle minimum wage study, which can actually be found in full at NBER via the link.  The Guest Column is a typical ideological, propaganda mish mash advocating against any raising of the minimum wage ($7.25 nationally, $8.25 in Illinois), which, if the national minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, would be $10.10, which is less than a living wage for one adult in Springfield, Illinois (Sangamon County), which is a relatively inexpensive metropolitan area, as can be seen with this Living Wage calculator from MIT (choose state then county).

While the University of Washington study has stirred attention and deserves consideration, it has also been the subject of critical economic analysis which has raised serious data limitation and