October 2nd, 2012 Alex Jurshevski
The Maginot Line, named after the French Minister of War AndrÃ© Maginot, was a military defensive construct consisting of a deep line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casements, machine gun posts, and other defenses, which France constructed along its borders with Germany and Italy, during the interwar period between WWI and WWII.
Military experts extolled the Maginot Line as a work of genius, believing at that time that it rendered France impregnable against invasion from Germany. In the event, while the fortifications successfully acted to dissuade direct attack, they were completely ineffective from a strategic military standpoint. This obvious defect was laid bare at the beginning of WWII when the German Blitzkrieg easily outflanked the Maginot Line by moving through the Ardennes forest and Holland, completely sweeping past the heavily defended fortifications and conquering France in less than six weeks. Although constructed at huge public expense and using the best minds and materials available at the time, the Maginot Line has heretofore become emblematic of any plan or announced remedial strategy that people hope will prove effective but instead fails miserably.
When Lehman Brothers was sent to the knackerâ€™s yard by its street rivals at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley following closed door sessions with Government officials during the summer of 2008, the Best Minds on Wall Street and Constitution Avenue thought that they were protected from the fallout of a mega credit event by their risk management models and counterparty legal arrangements that included margin requirements, collateral postings and mark-to-market protocols. In fact with all major counterparty banks in place and able to continue functioning as market participants, the effect of the mega crash could have been contained, minimized and worked out. Before Dick Fuld and his management team was sent to the proverbial gibbet, the preponderance of derivatives contracts and exotic securities positions could have been settled out in a reasonably orderly fashion over time. However, with Lehman out of the way, the â€œnettingâ€ of derivatives and other exposures between institutions could no longer take place and someone had to step in to buy up the toxic waste that resulted from the abrupt halt to the â€œpass the hot potato gameâ€. With Lehman out of the loop, the toxic waste had to end up on â€œsomeoneâ€™sâ€ book.
The consequential effects of the secondary detonations in the securities and derivatives markets in the US following the demise of Lehman unleashed a wave of re-rating of sovereign risk which fell primarily onto the Europeans, who more than a decade ago had abandoned their treaty-bound commitments to fiscal probity and restraint in order to consummate a flawed monetary union riddled with institutional shortcomings and massive governance problems. â€œSomeoneâ€ had to prop up Government Finance in the Euro-zone in order to give the pretence that things were still manageable or all of the banks there would have gone down the gurgler.
The â€œsomeone with the hot potatoâ€ in the US is the Fed which since the event has been mainly concerned with somehow papering over the losses, minimizing them, and possibly inflating them away. In Europe, the â€œsomeoneâ€ is the ECB which has under the prodding of its client institutions been stretching out the remediation process in order to dragoon the taxpayers of the various Euro-zone countries to shoulder the load of bailing out greedy banks and their profligate government clients.
The story of the Global Financial Crash is far from over. Nothing has been solved; and as we have repeatedly stated in our interactions with the public through speaking engagements, or on TV, or in the press, the policies that have been implemented so far have simply narrowed the degrees of freedom for future policy steps while at the same time increasing the likelihood of negative unexpected consequences being visited on markets (potentially with a heretofore unseen ferocity).
There are therefore still a few more chapters to play out in this unfolding narrative.
The present chapter opened around three weeks ago when, after a sleepy summer where nothing much happened, ECB President Draghi announced that he was going to do â€œwhatever it takesâ€ to save the Euro-zone and support the bond markets of all the deadbeat Euro-countries through central bank purchases of bonds (something that only a year ago had been definitively ruled out). At the time, most pundits fell into line and proclaimed that this â€œbrilliantâ€ move had effectively ended the crisis and all risk assets rallied sharply.
Since then, reality has set in. In fact, Draghi can no more proclaim to have unlimited resources to solve Euro-Crisis that he can claim to be able to solve world hunger. As we have said repeatedly in the past the democratic fact is that voters in the affluent Euro-core are not going to go for what these solutions imply. Moreover as the ECB expands its balance sheet â€œwithout limitâ€ the credit quality declines and the risk profile of the ECB shareholders correspondingly increases. The expansion at Europeâ€™s Central Bank is off-set with a deterioration of the national credit quality of the nations so that the entire construct sets itself up for the possibility of being further downgraded. We pointed this obvious flaw in this strategy out on the air around a year ago.
To complicate matters further, most securities analysts have been paring back earnings forecasts and published data has turned rather negative. In fact over 80% of the world’s manufacturing capacity is now in contraction.
On this side of the pond we were treated to Dr Bernanke going â€œAll-inâ€ with his open-ended commitment to print money through QE3 (an event that we have been predicting since QE1 was announced ). Without belaboring all of the issues, we have with Mr Bernankeâ€™s implied claims that he knows better that the markets what interest rates should be and how capital and lending flows need to be directed at a particular point in time; let us just examine a small example of his fatal conceit that we have drawn from the speech he gave yesterday in Indianapolis.
â€œThe securities that the Fed purchases in the conduct of monetary policy are held in our portfolio and earn interest. â€¦â€¦. Ultimately, the securities held by the Fed will mature or will be sold back into the market. So the odds are high that the purchase programs that the Fed has undertaken in support of the recovery will end up reducing, not increasing, the federal debt, both through the interest earnings we send the Treasury and because a stronger economy tends to lead to higher tax revenues and reduced government spending.(Page 7)â€
While Dr Bernanke so glibly proclaims that â€œthe securities held by the Fed will mature or will be sold back into the marketâ€ as if this operation was some kind of benign voodoo magic with no real-world consequence, we would ask the good Doctor what will happen to the issuing institutions whose securities are â€œmaturingâ€ on the Fedâ€™s books? Wonâ€™t these notes have to be re-financed to support asset positions or ongoing activities at the borrowing institution? Who will conveniently show up to buy this re-issued paper in the amounts that the Fed has so done in the past, and, more importantly, at what price?
This is debt management 101.
In deference to the esteemed Fed Chairman, we will only ask one more question that flows from this fantastical description of his policy: If this is the magic bullet, and printing money actually reduces debt painlessly as you so describe, then why have we ever bothered with trying to do things any other way?
Now, after having read his speech yesterday and having managed to regain cognitive equilibrium, we offer on sober reflection that the ECB and Fed policy announcements boil down to acts of desperation that are now, so shortly after being introduced, becoming obvious to the markets. Market participants know that all they have to do is wait for the cracks to appear before pouncing and bleeding the central bank players for significant trading profits.
The bottom line thus is that all Draghi and Bernanke did with their â€œBig Bazookaâ€ announcements is buy some time, much in the same way that the French Military planners bought some time in constructing the Maginot Line before the German Military planners found a way to beat it. The only question is, “How much time have they bought?” Our expectation is that within a few short months, the ECB and Fed policies will again fail to prove equal to the task. Unfortunately the two biggest central bank players in the world have gone â€œAll-inâ€ on a policy which amounts to an ill-advised high stakes game of poker with the markets. There can be no retreat now.
This is the worst position a gambler can be in because it exposes their strategy to significant event risks and unanticipated outcomes.
The next card that is dealt could in fact blow the hand that they are jointly holding completely out of the water.
Postscript: A little known fact is that the Maginot Line and the Federal Reserve Building in Washington DC were both completed in the same year: 1937, during a period in history when failed financial policies and regional hostilities were driving the world towards catastrophe. In the just two short years following, there ensued an outbreak of general hostilities that led to WWII which brought with it global privation, outbreaks of disease, the directed mass extermination of ethnic groups, the mentally challenged and LGB populations; the first detonation of nuclear devices over heavily populated areas, the forced resettlement of hundreds of millions of people and the death of tens of millions.
April 19th, 2012 Alex Jurshevski
â€œThere is a sucker born every minuteâ€ PT Barnum
Recent events in Toronto must be causingÂ David Pecaut, to spin in his grave.
Over the past few months the legislative agenda at City Hall has imploded, throwing the political process into turmoil and imperiling the budgetary and planning imperatives. This ongoing political circus was temporarily upstaged by the Donald Trump circus, which moved into town briefly last week for the grand opening of the Trump Hotel and Condo Tower; a garish and undersold property development at the corner of Bay and Adelaide.
We then were treated to a story in Torontoâ€™s tabloids about the owner of the Bunny Ranch bordello in Nevada declaring his intentions to expand his business into Canada.Â Â Sixty-five year old, Dennis Hof, together with his business partner and pneumatically-gifted paramour, Cami Parker (twenty-five), told the papers in part that his establishment aimed for Toronto, will allow patrons to â€œdress up as Captain Kirk and play with Princess Leia.â€ Perhaps. But to me the thought of someone more than ten years older than me calling a woman that is younger than my oldest daughter, his â€œgirlfriendâ€ leaves me more than a little weirded out. Isnâ€™t the general rule for these type of age-difference relationships â€œhalf your age plus seven yearsâ€?
No matter, the trailer park theme moved into absolute top gear when the issue of allowing Casinos into the City was again raised by a number of City councillors. Coincidentally, one of the casino supporters was past brothel-booster Giorgio Mammoliti who said that â€œSingle mothers could hit the jackpotâ€ with a Toronto Casino. Appearing as a guest on Mayor Rob Fordâ€™s Newstalk 1010 show, Mammoliti floated the idea that a casino in Toronto could create â€œ10,000 jobsâ€ for residents. The idea appeared to get additional legs when â€œopinion surveysâ€ of dubious provenance were trotted out to demonstrate that a small majority of Torontonians were in favor of the casino idea. Some councillors have even gone so far as to advocate extending tax breaks to Casino operators in order to attract them to Toronto.
The reasons why local politicians want to expand gambling as a form of industrial and jobs initiative is understandable on one level: Any new initiative which brings with it the allure of thousands of new jobs, expanded tax revenues and economic development can give the appearance of economic salvation. However, the degree to which this motivation is being exploited by gambling interests and their supporters and to where this could lead if the issue was left un-evaluated on its true merits is a serious matter that should concern all Canadians, and not only those residing in Toronto and environs.
Until recently, most research on the effects of gambling on local economies was conducted by special interests friendly to the gambling industry; or, in more brazen cases, by the very people and gaming companies in search of new places to exploit people through the legalized gambling mechanism. In fact, in 1999 the United States published a very comprehensive study of legalized betting in the United States. The Gambling Impact Study called for more research into what was then the largely unexplored area of the social and economic costs of legalized gambling.
Since then, a large body of evidence and data-based research has been established on the basis of years of experience with legalized gambling in the US, Canada and elsewhere which addresses in detail what the social costs and second order effects are, and why it is important not to just consider the jobs and spending parts of the equation in isolation.
For example, with the exception of the cluster services associated with gambling, casinos tend to put pressure on surrounding businesses. In Atlantic City and elsewhere, small business owners testified to the loss of their businesses when casinos came to town. As evidence of this impact, few businesses can be found more than a few blocks from the Atlantic City boardwalk. Many of the â€œlocalâ€ businesses remaining are pawnshops, cash-for-gold stores and discount outlets. One witness noted that, â€œin 1978 [the year the first casino opened], there were 311 taverns and restaurants in Atlantic City. Nineteen years later, only 66 remained, despite the promise that gaming would be good for the cityâ€™s own.â€
In another example, bankruptcies in Iowa increased at a rate significantly above the national average in the years following the introduction of casinos. Nine of the 12 Iowa counties with the highest bankruptcy rates in the state had gambling facilities in or directly adjacent to them. After gambling was legalized in South Dakota, gambling become one of the leading causes of business and personal bankruptcies.
Data from other US states is consistent with this general profile and the bankruptcy phenomenon also prevails in Canada, as these pictures of downtown Niagara Falls which were taken after the Casinos moved in, will attest.
According to the US National Research Council, â€œAs access to money becomes more limited, gamblers often resort to crime in order to pay debts, appease bookies, maintain appearances, and garner more money to gamble.â€ In Maryland, a report by the Attorney Generalâ€™s Office stated: â€œ[c]asinos would bring a substantial increase in crime to our State. There would be more violent crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime. Casinos would bring us exactly what we do not need: a lot more of all kinds of crime.â€ Another study found that gambling behavior was significantly associated with multiple drug and alcohol use.
In a Canadian study casinos were positively associated with both rate of theft and robbery. And a recent RCMP investigation conducted in British Columbia found legalized and other forms of gambling intimately connected with gangs, the Mafia, money laundering, prostitution, drug addiction, robbery and extortion.
Obviously law enforcement costs escalate in these situations
Once gambling enters a community, it has been established that the community undergoes many changes one of which is that local government becomes â€œa dependent partner in the business of gambling.â€ Politicians end up being beholden to the gambling industry whether explicitly or implicitly. In recognition of the problem of corruption, in some US states, it is now illegal for officials to accept contributions from gambling interests.
Individuals with gambling problems constitute a very high percentage of the homeless population. The Atlantic City Rescue Mission reported to the Commission that 22 percent of its clients are homeless due to a gambling problem. A survey of homeless service providers in Chicago found that 33 percent considered gambling a contributing factor in the homelessness of people in their program. Other data also substantiate this link. In a survey of 1,100 clients at dozens of Rescue Missions across the United States, 18 percent cited gambling as a cause of their homelessness. Interviews with more than 7,000 homeless individuals in Las Vegas revealed that 20 percent reported a gambling problem.
But what about these high-paying Gambling jobs?
The reality is that there arenâ€™t many â€œhigh-payingâ€ jobs. After the initial fillip to the economy provided by the construction of the facilities, casinos are far more eager to place slot machines into the building rather than to hire and train thousands of dealers and other casino employees. This is because each slot machine can bring in $100,000 per year of revenue and doesnâ€™t demand a sick day, benefits or overtime and needs only the occasional dusting for maintenance. Casino workers pay averages around $24-30,000, not â€œhigh-payingâ€ by any stretch.
Moreover, recent Canadian research has shown that Ontario casino workers are at exceptionally high risk for developing gambling problems and the attendant side effects. Employees’ gambling behaviors were found to relate to various workplace influences and employment variables. Casino employees in Ontario interviewed in the study exhibited problem gambling rates over three times greater than those of the general Canadian population.
Gambling Addiction has been recognized as a clinical psychological disorder. Today, millions of families suffer from the effects of problem and pathological gambling. As with other addictive disorders, those who suffer from problem or pathological gambling engage in behavior that is destructive to themselves, their families, their work, and even their communities. This includes depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, homelessness, and suicide, in addition to the individual economic problems discussed previously. While the impact of these problems on the future of our communities and the next generation is indeterminable, it is clearly much larger than zero.
If you are a single Mom, do you now still crave those jobs as Mammoliti suggests you should?
The Bottom line
Unfortunately, this is not where this sobering news ends. Research in the US indicates that for every dollar legalized gambling contributes in taxes, it usually costs the taxpayers at least three dollars. These costs to taxpayers are reflected in: (1) infrastructure costs, (2) relatively high regulatory costs, (3) expenses to the criminal justice system, and (4) large social-welfare costs. Another researcher, Professor Grinols, found that Casino gambling in the US causes up to $289 in social costs for every $46 of economic benefit. Put differently, Grinols said, â€œThe costs of problem and pathological gambling are comparable to the value of the lost output of an additional recession in the economy every four years.â€
Accordingly, several US state legislators have called for at least partially internalizing these external costs by taxing all legalized gambling activities at extremely punitive rates.
It is for all of the reasons enumerated above that Putinâ€™s Russia outlawed gambling and casinos in 2009.
But arenâ€™t Singapore and Nevada big success stories?
If there are all of these costs and negative externalities why is Singapore still a prosperous city-state with two mega-casinos located within its borders? Simple, this is because only foreigners can patronize casinos for free. Citizens and permanent residents must pay a $70 entrance fee or a $1400 annual pass to enter a casino. The hefty admission price, which is collected by the government, â€œdiscourages impulse gambling,â€ a Singapore official explained. To fill the casinos, promoters ferry in high-stakes gamblers, known as â€œwhales,â€ from neighboring countries.
Nevada is also unique. Roughly 85 percent of Nevadaâ€™s gambling revenues come from out-of state tourists. Thus, Nevada receives the economic benefits of the dollars lost to gambling, while the attendant social and economic impacts of unaffordable gambling losses are inflicted on the families and communities in the states and countries from which those individuals come. Every gambling venue in Canada is far more reliant on spending by citizens in a far more concentrated geographic area and so would never be able to position itself to reap this kind of benefit unless it imposed Singapore-type disincentives on the local population (in which the case the known costs would still be inflicted on someone else, and more importantly the fundamental rationale gambling interests have for locating the Casinos in Canadian cities would evaporate)
A â€œdestination gambling meccaâ€ was never any part of David Pecautâ€™s vision for Toronto and it is hard to see how it is a part of any rational â€œvisionâ€ for the city or for Canada now or at any time in the future either. The promised benefits do not exist in the magnitudes advertised and are in any event significantly outweighed by the expected costs. Moreover, the predictable second-order effects of casino activity as described in the research are positively nightmarish.
Torontonians and all Canadians should not allow themselves to be buffaloed into a rash and unwise decision on this matter by the large-scale gambling interests and any venal, shallow-thinking facilitators that they might be connected with, and who are in positions of decision-making authority.
The facts are out there and it is time to consider them seriously.
Alex Jurshevski was intimately involved with the GBP 1500 MM acquisition of UK gaming company William Hill Bookmakers by Nomura International in 1997 and, far from being puritanical on the issue of wagering, is an avid poker, blackjack, bridge, backgammon and snooker player.
If anyone wants a full bibliography of the research material on which the forgoing article is based beyond the hyperlinks provided above, then please drop us a line.