Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wall Street -- They Make the Rules, so You Lose

[Original March 18, 2008; updates inserted into the original -- a Congressional Hearing is going on today, 11/16-17, 2009 that is supporting things I post here.]

"It is very difficult for inaccurate mark to model valuations to remain a secret," Hintz said. "And if I get my marks wrong, everything else is messed up in the firm. They may want to play games with valuations, but doing so would mean everything else was wrong too." [Brad Hintz, an analyst at Bernstein Research and former chief financial officer at Lehman.
Above is from article by Alistair Barr, MarketWatch 7:57 PM ET Sep 7, 2007]

This comment is about how banks and investment firms [Lehman, Bear Stearns and others] value their assets and debts. It is figured not just by putting the values into a spreadsheet as you and I do for household finances, letting the income from every source balance against every bill, and hoping that there is money left in the bank at the end of the week. Institutions are allowed to estimate the risk of a debt and hedge the value {like saying I loaned a friend 500 dollars, but the chance he won't pay it back is really small, so I'll put only $100 into the 'out-lays' column} so the true debt is not on the books. Now if I get paid, all is fine - and maybe I list it as "extra income"; but if I don't get paid back, the loss is suddenly FIVE TIMES what was on the books.

Another way they do this is, when they BUY a company, they will falsely overvalue it, using a procedure called "good will accounting" -- the company has $1B in buildings, products, and all other "hard assets", but they will place an extra value of 20% to 200% on the company based on "valued employees", "expected contracts", and many other guesses and will even add in "brand name recognition" [isn't the name, the company, what they are buying?].

And there lies the crutch of the problem - American [and world-wide?] companies don't have to put the real value of anything into the account ledgers, so they can make themselves look more profitable than they really are - until some one calls their bluff. [Umm, the collapse of Sept 2008, which was 'predicted' by the above quote.]

They also divide up companies to sell off the "unproductive" parts, and load them with debt from the parent company. They do this so that the parent will look healthy, but it almost assures that the new entity will fold - putting it on you to back it up through bankruptcy procedures. [See SPE's, etc -- this is how Enron and others "looked good".]

Cost of Stamps -- P.O. Losing $$ -- A Solution

[First written Oct. 2007]

I admit that I think the price of stamps going up again is outrageous.

HOWEVER - Face it - under 50 cents to send a note or card across the country is a FANTASTIC PRICE.

How often, other than junk mail, do you get wanted mail? 3 days? 4 days a week? Personally, I am down to monthly bills in the mail of: 1 credit card, electric, water, phone, 2 investment reports, cable. SEVEN items that regularly come to me; and I send out only 6 (some are being paid online) including the mortgage. [Update Nov 09 -- I send out NONE for bills because I do all online now - and nearly everything is "auto-paid" so I can never worry about being late on a payment.]

And I don't even have to go to the post office for stamps, saving gas money, because they will DELIVER them with your mail!

But there is that perception that the cost is too high, and here is how to make the increases slow, then maybe STOP for about 10 years: STOP HOME & BUSINESS DELIVERY OF 6 DAYS A WEEK.

There is NO REASONABLE ARGUMENT that I can see being made to support the current delivery/pickup system. The cost to the system - salary, benefits, gasoline, maintenance, and other factors - is going to demand that the price of stamps go to nearly a dollar by 2010. Who among you wants to pay that? So why do you think we should keep delivery people running all over every county in this huge country even if they have nothing to bring to you, or you have nothing for them to take? [[Update Jan 2010 - we have not hit $1 yet, but maybe because they are still in deficit spending mode.]]

But it is VERY reasonable to reduce delivery to 3 days a week (and in 10-20 years that will need to drop to 2 days a week or less) to each area. No, I don't mean deliver to even-numbered houses, then odd-numbered houses (except that doing it that way MAY make sense in densely populated city areas). I am talking about sectioning cities and counties into the present routes but maybe delivering to those in the south end Mo-We-Fr and the north Tu-Th-Sa so the same roads are not covered on consecutive days.

The Postal Employees Union will complain, but let me kill that argument before they can make it. The beauty of my plan is they simply stop hiring, and let attrition whittle down the workforce. So they really have no case.
[Update Nov 09 - they are supposedly letting people go already.]

Companies sending out bills may complain that they have schedules that have been made over decades and that they can't change those billing dates. Hogwash - let me kill that argument before they can make it. There is no real problem with putting in a piece of SW code that compares a billing address with a pickup/delivery date so the billing company can adjust the sending or receiving date. They also can put a box on the bill for you to check that says "accept this check but wait until the last day to charge against my bank account". Something like that can be done without the huge expense that the companies will CLAIM it will cost - reality is that programs are changed every few months, so the modifications could be done over the next couple of years as the change is debated in Congress. The BANK could offer this change too - if you can't do on-line banking, you could still tell them what day to pay each bill, but this could be MUCH more difficult.

People will say that they always send out bills only a day or so before it is due because they won't get the money in the bank until then. Not really a problem - they give you many days to send the money in, and if you must wait until the last day then either adjust your standards for when to pay what, or remember that dropping it in the box outside your house will not really affect the timing of their endorsing and charging against your account all that much.

The change MUST HAPPEN - now we just need to say WHEN.

From - http://mchugh.house.gov/pr2004/020304_PostalPanel2MA.html
 [[ This is 2004 info. These people may have change jobs now, so look up who is on the panels now ]]

The House Government Reform Committee’s Special Panel on Postal Reform and Oversight is charged with helping reform the outdated postal system, currently facing about $90 billion in liabilities and obligations and in the midst of the biggest overhaul since it became an independent government entity under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.
The panel is chaired by Rep. John M. McHugh (R-NY), and working closely with the Administration to enact postal reform. Rep. McHugh and the panel report directly to Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, making postal reform a full committee priority.
Other Committee members appointed to the panel are: Reps. Dan Burton (R-IN) Edward L. Schrock (R-VA), Candice Miller (R-MI), Tim Murphy (R-PA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Major R. Owens (D-NY), Edolphus Towns (D-NY) Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), and Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO).