More on the trading tax

Fellow collegiants Jay and the incomparable Cassandra carp in the comments of the previous post about, well, many things, but mainly about Baruch’s distrust of a trading tax. Their key points in favour of the tax are, I think:

  1. the financial sector is too big and needs to be shrunk and simplified, which is also Krugman’s key idea. A trading tax would be a step in the right direction
  2. there is a way to distinguish, mostly to do with timeframe, between “speculation” and “investment”. Generally two legs, sorry, speculation is Bad, leveraged speculation in highly liquid markets even worse and responsible for lots of the financial crisis. However, “informed and active” investment is Good; a trading tax would restrain one and leave the other unrestrained.

 If I’ve misunderstood something or left something out, let me know.

Firstly, I am very interested as to how we can possibly know how big the financial sector should be. Jay and Cassandra might answer “I don’t know exactly, but I just know it’s too big”. They might argue we expect too much of them; the sizing of any particularly important industry should be above anyone’s pay grade, let alone the responsibility of a couple of commenters on an obscure 3rd rate econo-blog.

Yes, well but that’s the point. We’ve largely done away with the type of industrial planning that pulled western economies out of the devastation of WW2, the period of MITI in Italy, the Marshall Plan, the last time we had an economic regime where people actually decided how big certain industrial sectors should be. That type of dirigisme worked in conditions of relative simplicity, where there were fewer moving parts to an economy, trade was restricted to controllable flows between large trading blocs, and exchange rates were stable. For most of the postwar period the financial sector of most economies was small, and mainly boring. In the UK, for example,  it was the preserve of a class of people drawn from the chinless children of an addled aristocracy. They really did wear bowler hats. Their tasks were simple enough for them to perform even after polishing off a litre of claret every lunchtime and leaving the office at 4pm.

I would argue the explosion in financial innovation and the size of the financial sector coincided with the increase in the overall complexity of the global economy from the early1980s on. Bretton Woods had broken down; there were extreme fluctuations in interest rates and costs of capital; the rise of Japan and other emerging markets were destabilising settled industries in Europe and the US; new technologies were creating new working practices and business models.  I am not saying a supersized financial system was the cause of this increase in dynamism and complexity. But what if it was a response?

Looking at where we are since 2000, we have a global economy which has made a step change again in complexity and dynamism.  Things have globalised to the extent that concepts of imports and exports have lost their meaning. Our economic system is optimised, primed to work at an extremely high level of just-in-time delivery. New business models pop into existence overnight, and destroy old ones — they demand and create capital and wealth at an unprecedented rate. And it’s largely great for everyone; most of us are richer. Literally billions of people have seen their living standards improve this decade. It’s been an exciting time to be alive.

This is an unpopular thought, but here goes: what if the current financial system is actually rightsized for our economy? Sized specifically to provide  the greater degree of economic dynamism we have come to expect, and on a much more massive geographic scale? Might there not be a price to pay in shrinking it?

Now let’s try look at the second debating point of my commenters and distinguish between “speculation” and “investment.” I still don’t understand the difference. But I don’t think anyone does; I am not sure there is a qualitative difference. Cassandra introduces the concept of (allocative) “efficiency” in the sense (correct me if I am wrong) that the hardworking “investor” with his longer-term timeframe performs a useful societal function in allocating capital to where it is needed. Short term specs, on this reading, do not.

I think this is wrong; speculative traders probably have as much or more allocative efficiency as the investment-minded ones. They have more money, for one thing, but more importantly even the highest frequency High Frequency Trader is actually tracking the portfolio decisions made by actual investors. Even Raj, at the height of his powers, was effectively allocating capital to companies which were showing better earnings. He just had the earnings release a bit before everyone else. Most short term specs, whether technical, quant or flow-driven, are really piggy-backing on investors; they basically buy the same stocks and amplify their decisions. Qualitatively, as I say, there’s no real difference, except they are either lazier or smarter than fundamentalists like me. Probably both; I bet they get home before 7pm. Is there a difference in holding period? Generally yes. But today I entered and exited a position in a tech stock in the space of 40 minutes. In fact it was a mistake. But I don’t feel bad about it. Do you think I should?

Cassie thinks it was the leveraged specs who blew us up in the crisis. No way. It was the leveraged investors. Those guys buying subprime weren’t in it for the quick buck; they were going to hold them for as long as they could borrow overnight at 5% and earn 7% on the bonds, ie as long as the then-current interest rate regime was going to last. Holding periods were measured in years. In the end were barely able to trade the stuff. That was the problem. As Jay puts it, “in less liquid markets, shareholders act more like owners” — they acted like owners, all right, and look where it got them, and us.

Look, a smallish trading tax may not make all that much of a difference, really. Financial markets will survive, and a tax will likely end up making a good few investment bankers richer than they would have been, when they come up with a way of avoiding it. There’s actually a trading tax in place in the UK already. It’s called Stamp Duty. I don’t know how much it is because I have never paid it on any of my UK trades, we use something called CFDs to avoid it. Everyone does this except low volume retail investors: Stamp Duty has thus merely become another way the little guy gets screwed. I am not sure this was the intention of its inventors.

But if you think discouraging speculation in liquid equity or forex markets is going to somehow prevent another crisis, think again. The root causes of our difficulties lay in a combination of too much easy money feeding a boom in illiquid debt securities, held for investment. A trading tax would do, and would have done, nothing to prevent any of those conditions from prevailing again.

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Compromising my values every day, for you.

Right now active investors and speculators are about as popular as genital herpes. This is unfortunate because I, Baruch, am one of them.

Examples of this anti-speculator animus are everywhere. Paul Krugman has long had in mind the creation of a special level of hell for “Masters of the Universe”, as he calls us, not kindly, in his excellent Return of Depression Economics. He thinks I’m “socially useless”, if not dangerous, and wants to have a special tax levied on me. Alice Schroeder, author of the latest Warren Buffett biography (how clever of her to realise that another biography of Warren Buffet was what the world needed!), has a very maximalist interpretation of securities law. She believes it’s impossible “to make a living on Wall Street without compromising your values,” and goes so far to suggest that when it comes to investing, “It’s hard to make a living legally.” Felix Salmon, sworn enemy of active investing, links to a largely incomprehensible blogpost from profs Fama and French which suggests investing in mutual funds is like buying an index fund but you pay more fees, ie it is a bad idea and thus “alpha-peddlers,” people like me, are snake oil salesmen. AllAboutAlpha (HT Abnormal) put it best last month in an apposite post about the emergence “of a very quiet yet growing subset of individuals who believe that alpha still exists, but that getting it isn’t, dare they say, legal.”

Summing it all up, the charge sheet goes as follows: 

  • institutional investors like me are unable to deliver things we claim we are able to deliver, viz outperformance, alpha, whatever you want to call it.
  • As such my activities make no contribution to society and perform no useful function. In fact we are positively dangerous, and our widespread use of illegal information makes us unethical to boot.
  • Society would benefit much more if retirement savings were invested in index funds, which contain all the upside of equity investing but at lower cost, and meanwhile the rest of us who foolishly insist on trading for a living should be taxed. 

A lot of this stems from the traditional malice and envy of those who “review”  for those who “do”. We can’t do much about that. But there are intellectual assumptions behind some of it which are worthwhile tackling. In my opinion it all boils down to the hoary chestnut of the strength, or weakness, of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. The critics above share a belief in a strong form of EMH, which precludes investors from making returns which persist, and drives the less scrupulous to cheat in order to fulful their promises. Alice Schroeder puts it like this:

There is only so much alpha — that excess return above a baseline average — to be had in an efficient market. The incentive to create some artificial alpha one way or another is very high. Those who bend the rules successfully post good numbers, which adds to pressure on other Wall Streeters to push the gray boundaries of legal information flow.

What I do NOT propose to do here is get into the statistical nitty gritty of whether a strong or weak EMH is provable or improvable by positive hedge- or mutual fund returns, or their absence. I don’t quite know how to do it, and it’s deathly boring anyway. What we can do instead is weigh the intellectual coherence of the charge sheet. Is a financial system re-engineered to discourage speculation a good thing? Would it work? What would it be like?

This is what Baruch thinks: these objections to active investing are not at all coherent: firstly, we really don’t want a truly efficient market — it would be a disaster. Secondly, any restraint on speculation would endanger proper investment. The two are inextricably intertwined. Thirdly, index investing is not a truly scaleable strategy; if all of us do it, it will stop working. Let’s go through each of these points in turn.

Continue reading “Compromising my values every day, for you.”

$1.3 million lost in blatant but failed attempt at insider trading?

The blogosphere made the catch! The Interweb protects the rest of us from evil doers! The world is ablaze with the news that prior to the 3Com buyout announced by HP last week, there was an unusual amount of volume in the $5 november call in 3Com. We’re all pretty sensitised to insider trading at the moment, and so this looks as clear cut and beautiful a case of  evil-doers caught with their hands in the till as we are likely to see in our time on earth. As Tyler Durden puts it:

This is so blatant it is sufficiently stupid that even the SEC will presumably catch the perpetrator. Here’s to hoping the trader ends up being Galleon’s Raj Raj buying options from his E-Trade account while on bail. Of course, we fully expect any prosecution case against the perpetrator to fall apart at the seams courtesy of a completely inept legal team at the SEC and the Justice Department.

Oh really? Before the Zero Hedge folks get the pitchforks out, let’s stop and think a bit. Let us be splitters, and not lumpers, and we might see that would be quite reasonable for the SEC and DoJ not to prosecute anyone at all. Using the principle of Occam’s Razor, they may well tend to conclude that no insider trading took place. At least not in the options, the underlying or common may be a different matter.

Let’s get technical here. In the case of the unusual volume in the 3Com options, you should know that incredibly unusual volumes in options is not terribly unusual, if you follow me. It is in fact the case that the volume of a particular option resides, as Taleb would have it, in Extremistan. It is subject to many many days of low and limited trading, and very few days of extremely high volume, orders of magnitude above the norm, where most of the total volume traded in the life of the option takes place.  This occurs most notably in the final month of the option’s life. This is so because people are more likely to buy a particular option when its intrinsic value (the portion of the option price described by the difference of the strike and underlying prices and its volatility) is highest in proportion to its time value and its total value. This is when you get the most “bang for your buck”, as Baruch puts it — roughly 2 weeks before expiry, the option is in its prime, near its most efficient for hedging and speculative purposes.

That’s what people use options for, mostly. Hedging, and speculating. Options are excellent as a way of profiting moderately, or reducing losses, in conditions of risk and uncertainty. As a way of playing a dead cert, however, options are pretty crap. Had someone concrete knowledge of the 3Com deal, it would be far more efficient to buy the stock. The most important of the “Greeks”, as options dudes call the panoply of statistics surrounding options, is “delta”, the rate of change in the value of the option relative to the value of the shares (it’s a function of volatility, time to expiry, a whole lot of stuff, don’t trouble your head), and this is always less than one. 3Com options buyers made far less money on the takeover by buying options than they would if they had bought the stock.

Assume the 4,000 Novs and the same in Dec calls that day came from a single buyer. S/he bought an economic interest in 800,000 COMS underlying. Purchased at 65c and 85c, both calls popped post the announcement to $2.50. Hooray, a profit of $1.4m. But trading the underlying, buying at $5.611 would have given $1.52m profit. The other thing favouring the underlying as the vessel for insider speculation was that it was so much more liquid than the options. Buying 800,000 COMS would have been a drop in the lake of the volume that day, which saw 22m shares change hands. It would also have been much, much less conspicuous, and we wouldn’t even have a story. These were pretty stupid inside traders, indeed, who not just left money on the table by playing the options, but drew extra attention to themselves by doing so.

Though of course, if you want to insist on the inside trading thesis, you can always posit insiders with limited funds who couldn’t afford 800k underlying shares. So the DoJ in its inquiries should be able to exclude institutional investors. Or at least competent ones. But come on; is it the simplest explanation? Or is it actually a stretch?

Perhaps it was insider trading, but we have to posit incompetent and poor insiders for the thesis to work, and while possible this seems less likely than other explanations. A less complex interpretation for the COMS trade is that shorts, not long insiders betting on a takeover, got spooked and decided to hedge. Over 10m shares of COMS were shorted at the end of October, a proportion which might have remained stable into the takeover. Rumours fly about all the time, and 3Com has been known to be a takeover target since like forever. A 20% to 50% gap move in a big short can seriously spoil your day, if not your year, and a call position is an excellent way to hedge, to take the sting out, to make an existential 50% loss into, say, a merely unpleasant 10% one. When COMS has cancelled a roadshow, you’re seeing weirdly high volumes and a breakout, it’s actually pretty prudent for a short to hedge a bit with calls against a takeover.  

This sort of trade, moreover, happens all the time. Just this Friday, PALM November $12.50 option volume went through the roof; never mind a measly 4,000 contracts, they traded 21,000 on the day. The occasion was the the ridiculous suggestion, no doubt assiduously spread by inscrupulous holders eager to get out with some honour, that Nokia would be taking them over that weekend. The volume can probably be explained by the fact that PALM is probably the most shorted tech stock around at the moment, and more likely than not it was this lot, not numpty spanners who actually believed this crap, who bought most of the calls to cover their arses just in case. It would have been evidence of insider trading, of course, had there been an actual takeover at the end of it, and no doubt we would all be tut-tutting about the state of the markets today and how it’s all stacked against the little guy.

As it is, there wasn’t. At least there hasn’t been yet. And the owners of the options, who bought at 65c (they last traded at 23c) have until friday for the takeover to happen, after which the options will expire worthless with PALM at its current price. That will be $1.3m down the tubes. If that was money for speculation, it would have been painful for all but the biggest fund. If it was merely shorts paying up for insurance against getting their faces ripped off it would be more than bearable. You tend not, after all, really want your hedge to be making you money.

“To speculate,” the prophet said, “is human. But to hedge is divine.” The game is not just stacked against the little guy, it’s stacked against everyone, which is why some cheat. At least the little guy probably has a day job. It’s not wrong to be aware of what is probably widespread insider trading in stockmarkets today. But it’s probably very important to aim for the real evil-doers, the ones who pay executives to “get the quarter”, who know exactly what the company is going to print to the decimal point, and who have covered the tracks of their entry in a way specifically designed not to be noticed. We should get these guys, they suck, and Baruch can only applaud the FBI for the way they have handled the Galleon case. But we do need to stop and think before we throw premature accusations that may get innocent hedgers into hot water and don’t help anyone to make the game fairer.

Inside Men

Crikey. Looks like they’re going after Stevie Cohen now. For context, SAC Capital is the leading hedge fund of our time. They get to charge not 1 and 20, not 2 and 20, but 3 and FIFTY to their punters. And like La Gavroche, they get to decide who gets in; most of the funds are closed, with waiting lists up the wazoo. They’ve done this through nothing but creating consistent, (suspiciously?) persistent, 20% plus returns a year for god knows how long. SAC is the “smart money” you would follow if you knew where it was going; Baruch has known traders do that, no questions asked. And why? Because you just reason that they know something; they always do. How ominous that sounds now.

If SAC goes down like Galleon did it’s a much much bigger deal. I don’t mean the trading impact on the market, although there might be some — SAC is a rapid-fire trading house and will likely be positioned in mostly highly liquid securities. What I mean by a bigger deal is in an Ivan Boesky sort of way, a Drexel Burnham Lambert, a Defining Moment of Wall Street Greed sort of thing. A number of awful mini-series will be made about it. It may even turn out to be worse than that.

It’s clear too, the other half of the vast conspiracy (should it be proven to exist, of course) lies among technology stock executives, at least among those high enough up the chain to know the numbers. So far, at least, executives at IBM, Intel, 3Com, Atheros, and Polycom are supposed to involved. This is a highly representative list, across many tech subsectors and market caps. It’s not unreasonable to think staff at other companies are going to be indicted. Galleon’s original investors seem to have been tech executives who used to talk to Raj when he was a sell-side analyst, ie his sources, his informal “channel checkers”. Even if no brown envelopes changed hands initially, secretly advising a fund you have invested in p.a. on sensitive stuff doesn’t seem a stretch on the part of the executives, especially if it took place before RegFD. The relationships may have then become formalised, secrets in exchange for cash — is it unreasonable to imagine that the original conflict of interest sowed the seeds of the greater, and more obvious crime later on. If I was one of the Feds working the case I would view identifiying the early and later investors in Galleon as an avenue of enquiry rich, shall we say, in possibility.

Now it’s not just Galleon involved, but a horde of satellite hedgies with obscure names, and some of the managers who have started to cooperate with the authorities seem to have worked at SAC. “People familiar with the matter” (ie most likely the prosecutors themselves) have told the WSJ that SAC are the ones they’re gunning for. Given the size of the target, the prosecutor who can pull off this one is, on past form, a dead cert to be mayor of NYC, or at least state governor, and eventually will have the chance to become a cross-dressing presidential candidate.

If indictments are really going to be sent out, a number of half-formed thoughts spring to Baruch’s mind:

  1. this is grist to the mill of the “you can’t make money in the stock market crowd”, the Felix Salmons of this world* who would have us all invest in index funds and ETFs. This is terrible, not just for people like me who depend on belief that a small number of gifted investors are capable of consistent, though not necessarily persistent, returns. No, it also, reductio ad absurdiwhatever, will make the stockmarket less liable to make any distinctions between companies whether they be good ones or bad ones — the very life force of capitalism itself
  2. highly successful “fundamentalist” hedge funds may now have to spend as much time excusing suspiciously excellent performance, just as more unfortunate ones have had to traditionally spend time explaining away bad returns. In many cases this may be difficult, as the successful ones no doubt touted their “informational edge” as a way of getting the investors in in the first place.
  3. because of this I can’t decide whether this is good for us honest fundamental investors, or bad. At worst, the boundaries of what we consider ethically and legally acceptable may stray. What we could call the “brown envelope” investment strategies are clearly not kosher, but what about ones where legitmate “homework” brings about the same result? How exactly is a sell-side channel check, communicated to a limited number of paying clients, conceptually different? Insider trading as a concept does not have hard edges, and innocents may get caught up in the net, or much worse, be encouraged to stop doing any digging at all. Maybe investors will conclude that all the fundamental investment strategies are at risk, and eschew the class altogether in a “kill them all, god will know his own” sort of way. At best, however, the money invested in dodgy funds may find a home with more honest practitioners, and, much more to be hoped for, fund investors themselves may reset unrealistic expectations for consistency of returns. Larger drawdowns will become more acceptable, as will greater volatility in monthly and quarterly track records. In other words, expectations will become more in line with what the real world actually doles out.

* of course, Felix Salmon has many other opinions, some of which are even correct.

Where’s the iPorn?

Baruch is slowly coming to terms with the ghastly truth. Apple is closing down everyone else in the smartphone market, and it seems that nothing can stop it.

For over 10 years the mainly European giants of wireless, the operators, equipment and handsets makers, touted the bright sunlit uplands of our 3G mobile internet future their products would lead us to. Well, they didn’t. Total fail. Handset makers never got their act together, never worked out how to make it easy to use the interwebs. Meanness, fear and general hopelessness meant operators never spent the capex; making fat margins, no-one wanted to rock the boat. Equipment makers were slow to release the fastest network upgrades. Everyone was culpable in their inaction, and until about 2 years ago it looked like we were never going to get anything like what we had been promised in the powerpoint presentations.

But now we are there; look around you at all the people browsing the web on touch screens, using mobile apps, downloading music and watching video. It took an outsider, the least Spinozist company in the world, and an (overpriced) PC maker to boot to make it happen. We have to face facts: the mobile internet has been created, and is now owned and controlled by, Apple, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Those who know Baruch will realise how nauseating it is for him to write that.

Now read on to find out why all this is in fact a Bad Thing:

Continue reading “Where’s the iPorn?”

Krugman expects you not to expect anything

Baruch has to join the paean of praise for (all via Abnormal) Paul Krugman’s NYT piece, How Did Economists Get it So Wrong. He’s going to object to bits of it in a second, but first let’s puff it up. It’s fantastic, a great summing up of the state of the art of the dismal science (sic) that is macro-economics, includes a proper skewering of some hapless midwesterners, and a set of prescription for the future that Baruch can only applaud; writing of where macro-economists need to go now, Krugman concludes:

First, they have to face up to the inconvenient reality that financial markets fall far short of perfection, that they are subject to extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds. Second, they have to admit — and this will be very hard for the people who giggled and whispered over Keynes — that Keynesian economics remains the best framework we have for making sense of recessions and depressions. Third, they’ll have to do their best to incorporate the realities of finance into macroeconomics.

As a broad strategic outline, or a description of the destination we need to get to, it’s great.

But, but, but. Here comes the quibble: 2 problems need to be overcome on the way, and this might make the project a little/even more difficult than most of us think it is. Economics may remain a dismal pseudoscience for a long while to come. Continue reading “Krugman expects you not to expect anything”

Spend it quickly.

Baruch was pondering the apparent excesses of the Chinese stimulus package today, and stumbled on what may be a most interesting hypothesis. Possibly, if he is right, the most important investing insight for the next 10 years.

The Chinese stimulus quite incredibly big; $600 billion is 15% of Chinese GDP. But it is being more than matched by “private investment”; for every dollar spent by the government on a project, 3 are being lent by the banks, either willingly or unwillingly. So unlike the US trillion dollar package, it is hugely leveraged. Did you know they will be spending $146 billion over 3 years on their 3G wireless rollout? Bet you didn’t. That’s a lot of money. But it was a dry, contextless datapoint until today, when Baruch found out what that level of network spend actually means: just 1 of the 3 wireless operators there, China Unicom, will be building 125,000 base stations in year one of the rollout. This might bore you but hear me out. That’s more 3G base stations than all the operators in Western Europe have rolled out in the 9 years since the 3G wireless standard has been in existence.

The majority of phones sold in the past 3 years in Europe have been 3G enabled, and Baruch imagines that 60%-70% of EU wireless subscribers are at least partly on 3G networks. That must be like 150-200 million people, and it isn’t like you get a weak signal over here. OK not all of them are heavy data users but this is changing rapidly. That’s more network capacity than Unicom 3G subscribers could possibly want until like, 2014-15, given the rosiest takeup scenario; true, there may be many more Chinese people than there are Western Europeans, but right now there are precisely zero “proper” 3G subscribers in China, ie those that aren’t on operator sponsored trials. This is future-proofing a network taken to an absurd degree. There is no way that this can possibly make any financial sense, in the way we currently understand capital budgeting.

And it struck Baruch; these guys are in a hurry.

Think about it. China and the US are locked in an embrace I discussed here a couple of months ago. China Inc owns the biggest pool of USD assets outside the US that the world has ever seen. It is their nest egg stored away for a rainy day, the reward of 10-15 years of saving and hardscrabble labour, making widgets and assembling them into finished goods for largely American consumers. For their part, American consumers desperately needed someone to backstop their addiction to buying stuff, someone who would lend them the money. It was vendor financing on a epic scale. And while the US consumer junkies needed their fix, their Chinese “pusher man” formed an economy dedicated to supplying it.

This created a mutual co-dependency, which is sadly no longer viable. The Americans now are desperate to reflate their currency and thereby their economy, while the Chinese are equally keen to diversify out of their dollar assets into something else. The problem, the prisoner’s dilemma, is that in doing so each would hurt the other. The US, on losing its lender of penultimate resort, would see their bond yields balloon, potentially choking off any recovery, whereas if the US successfully inflated their debt away, the Chinese would see their nest egg devalued; they would be the neighbours beggared. The more vulnerable partner in the embrace has to be China, however. Inflation is the time honoured tool of the borrower state to weasel out of paying debts; the temptation is eventually irresistible. The US economy is likely more flexible than the Chinese, and likely to better withstand the shock of the breakup better. Finally, the chinese government fears unrest and revolution more than any US administration; there’s many a precedent of the officials deemed responsible losing more than their jobs when things go wrong.

So the Chinese know they have the weak hand. They have a lot of money right now that may well be worth less, far less, in possibly an undefined period of time. It’s a version of the problem faced by Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions, but on a galactic scale. Baruch will call it the “Brewster’s Trillions” dilemma (OK, it only bears a very vague similarity to the movie, but I love the clip). And like Brewster, like any sane person would do, Chinese are going to spend it before it goes away, but unlike Brewster, they hope they’ll end up with at least something of value at the end of it.

That’s why they are investing more than they could conceivably need, for example, on a 3G network which under current plans will be simply the very best in the world, and the most under-utilised — a 6 lane superhighway to every town in a country currently without cars (if you see what I mean). That’s why the previously successful rural subsidy for electronic goods, ostensibly in the name of rural development, is now being duplicated in the big cities where there isn’t any developmental need for it except to goose demand. It’s why the latest plan for renewable energy involved a 2000% increase in the production of solar energy in China from 1-2 gigawatts today, to like, 20 in I forget howevermany number of years (or is it 20 to 200? I don’t remember, but a gigawatt is a lot, I think), a plan that dwarves any other national energy proposal in any other country, on technology that for most people just isn’t efficient enough to justify without subsidy. It isn’t a waste, in their mind; it would be a waste not to use it while they have it, to try and turn it into something worthwhile and lasting.

Money just became very cheap in China; their inflation expectations have clearly skyrocketed and it is about to shift from the global lender of last resort to the global consumer of last resort. And as we all know, its consumer expectations of inflation that matter more than the actual expansion of the money supply in an inflationary environment. Previously a deflationist, Baruch wasn’t sure about where he stood on the inflation-deflation debate, but given all of this he may have just become a radical inflationista.