Man Who Delivered Gift-Wrapped Horseshit To Steven Mnuchin Compares Himself to Jesus

An LA County psychologist who thinks President Trump’s tax bill stinks to high heaven, compared himself to Jesus after admitting he delivered a gift-wrapped box of horseshit as a Christmas present to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Robby Strong told AL.com he dropped off the box of horse manure at Mnuchin’s house as an ‘act of political theater’ to hammer home the point that ‘Republicans have done nothing for the American worker.’
Boldly taking the Christ-analogy to a place it has never gone before, Strong told SoCal radio station 89.3 KPCC that “what I did, I would like to compare to what Jesus did when he went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers, who were exploiting the people financially in the name of religion.”
‘In the long run, if we don’t do stuff like this, what are we going to have left?’ Robby told KPCC. ‘I feel like that’s what the GOP has done to the American people,’ added the man who, bizarrely, is a psychologist with the LA Department of Mental Health.
Things start to make much more sense, however, once we learn that Strong claims he was an organizer for the Occupy LA movement; predictably he sides with critics of the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul who say it favors corporations and the wealthy, CBS Los Angeles reported.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

The Glory Days for US High-End Real Estate Are Over

The ‘aspirational’ asking prices in the super high-end housing market used to fly in the glory days of 2015, but they aren’t flying anymore. Craziness is slowly leaching out of that end of the market. What does this say about the overall housing market? And are the home-price numbers we get from the real estate industry inflated to promote ever higher home prices?


This post was published at Wolf Street by Wolf Richter ‘ Dec 25, 2017.

Is Holiday Gift-Giving Just A Big Waste?

Is Christmas bad for the economy? Do gifts destroy value? Are they a drag on the economy, as many economists suggest?
In ‘The economist’s guide to gift-giving’ at FT, Tim Harford collects the research of these economists who say that ‘Gifts typically destroy value. The total deadweight loss of Christmas in the US alone was $12bn.’
They say that givers pay more than the most the recipient is willing to pay for the gifted item.1 This difference in their willingness to pay is interpreted as a waste.
The same economists and authors point out all of the bad gifts. Many times, gifts aren’t even used or enjoyed by the recipient, only to end up in the attic for a few years and then sold at a yard sale or donated to the local thrift store. From the FT article:
If you give someone a jumper that doesn’t fit, a book they’ve already read or a box of chocolates when they’re on a diet, this is a waste of valuable resources. Fossil fuels have been burnt, tedious hours have been worked, trees have been felled, all to produce products that were unwanted. The same resources could have been devoted, instead, to goods that people actually do value.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on Dec 25, 2017.

How Opaque Healthcare Pricing Mechanisms Rip Off Consumers

‘I’ve been pounding the table about location-based pricing for years. Now we have hard data.’
Wolf here: Michael Gorback, M. D., who has authored a number of articles for Wolf Street on how opaque pricing in the US healthcare system inflates costs, has been a strong advocate of price transparency. He told me he is ‘one of the very few (only?) pain specialists who accept uninsured patients and publish their cash fee schedule.’
A ‘cash fee schedule’ is essentially a price list. It’s the norm in just about every industry, except in healthcare, where opaque pricing dominates – to the detriment of consumers.
By Michael Gorback, M. D., at the Center for Pain Relief in Houston, TX: Imagine you’re out shopping for a new car. You stop by Dealership A and get an offer of $35,000. You decide to do some comparison-shopping and head over to Dealership B. Their price is $39,000. You show them the offer from Dealership A. The trusty salesman says you should buy the car from him at the higher price because his store has a higher overhead. ‘Look at the fancy furniture in our showroom,’ he says. ‘The chairs are really comfortable in the waiting area and we offer espresso and cappuccino. Our rent is also much higher.’
This is the logic behind higher prices for outpatient procedures done at a hospital as opposed to an ambulatory surgery center or office setting. I discussed this phenomenon on Wolf Street back in 2014.

This post was published at Wolf Street on Dec 25, 2017.

EURUSD Flash Crashes Amid Low Liquidity

‘Twas the morning of Xmas and all through the markets, not a human creature was stirring…but it appears the machines took major advantage of the low liquidity…
Around 730amET, it seems the algos went on a deep stop hunt, flash-crashing EURUSD by four big figures, taking out the November 7th low stops – all the way back to the lowest print since mid July.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

The Economic Lessons of Bethlehem

At the heart of the Christmas story rests some important lessons concerning free enterprise, government, and the role of wealth in society.
Let’s begin with one of the most famous phrases: ‘There’s no room at the inn.’ This phrase is often invoked as if it were a cruel and heartless dismissal of the tired travelers Joseph and Mary. Many renditions of the story conjure up images of the couple going from inn to inn only to have the owner barking at them to go away and slamming the door.
In fact, the inns were full to overflowing in the entire Holy Land because of the Roman emperor’s decree that everyone be counted and taxed. Inns are private businesses, and customers are their lifeblood. There would have been no reason to turn away this man of royal lineage and his beautiful, expecting bride. In any case, the second chapter of St. Luke doesn’t say that they were continually rejected at place after place. It tells of the charity of a single inn owner, perhaps the first person they encountered, who, after all, was a businessman. His inn was full, but he offered them what he had: the stable. There is no mention that the innkeeper charged the couple even one copper coin, though given his rights as a property owner, he certainly could have.

This post was published at Mises Canada on DECEMBER 25, 2017.

Citi’s “What If?” Scenarios: Part 2

Yesterday we published the first set of 7 “What If” scenarios that didn’t make it into the Citi Credit team’s (already rather gloomy) year-ahead forecast. Because while Citi’s “base case” was clearly bearish (our summary can be found here), what was left unsaid was even more unsettling, if not troubling. As the bank’s credit team wrote “what about the outcomes that didn’t quite make it into our base case? The scenarios that aren’t central, but which aren’t entirely implausible either – both bullish and bearish.” Citi then listed the following 7 scenarios in the first part of its quasi-forecast:
idiosyncratic risk is returning to credit? European corporates get more aggressive? global growth & commodity prices disappoint? inflation accelerates as output gaps close? the US yield curve inverts? central bank tapering really is a non-event? the market doesn’t like the choice of ECB successor?” A full discussion of the above scenarios was posted yesterday.
Today, we follow up with part 2, or the second set of 7 hypothetical questions for 2018, which shifts away from economics and finance, and focuses on politics and Europe. As Citi’s credit team writes “you tend to worry less about your leaky roof when the sun is shining. And at the moment the cyclical economic upturn is beaming across Europe. Yet there are clouds which might conceivably hold moisture – or as our economists have put it: political risk is not dead in Europe.”

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

Mises Explains The Santa Claus Principle

From “The Exhaustion of the Reserve Fund” in Human Action, Chapter XXXVI by Ludwig von Mises:
The idea underlying all interventionist policies is that the higher income and wealth of the more affluent part of the population is a fund which can be freely used for the improvement of the conditions of the less prosperous. The essence of the interventionist policy is to take from one group to give to another. It is confiscation and distribution. Every measure is ultimately justified by declaring that it is fair to curb the rich for the benefit of the poor.
In the field of public finance progressive taxation of incomes and estates is the most characteristic manifestation of this doctrine. Tax the rich and spend the revenue for the improvement of the condition of the poor, is the principle of contemporary budgets. In the field of industrial relations shortening the hours of work, raising wages, and a thousand other measures are recommended under the assumption that they favor the employee and burden the employer. Every issue of government and community affairs is dealt with exclusively from the point of view of this principle.
An illustrative example is provided by the methods applied in the operation of nationalized and municipalized enterprises. These enterprises very often result in financial failure; their accounts regularly show losses burdening the state or the city treasury. It is of no use to investigate whether the deficits are due to the notorious inefficiency of the public conduct of business enterprises or, at least partly, to the inadequacy of the prices at which the commodities or services are sold to the customers. What matters more is the fact that the taxpayers must cover these deficits. The interventionists fully approve of this arrangement. They passionately reject the two other possible solutions: selling the enterprises to private entrepreneurs or raising the prices charged to the customers to such a height that no further deficit remains. The first of these proposals is in their eyes manifestly reactionary because the inevitable trend of history is toward more and more socialization. The second is deemed “antisocial” because it places a heavier load upon the consuming masses. It is fairer to make the taxpayers, i.e., the wealthy citizens, bear the burden. Their ability to pay is greater than that of the average people riding the nationalized railroads and the municipalized subways, trolleys, and busses. To ask that such public utilities should be self-supporting, is, say the interventionists, a relic of the old-fashioned ideas of orthodox finance. One might as well aim at making the roads and the public schools self-supporting.

This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on December 25, 2017.

Chinese Stocks Spooked By Apple iPhone X Forecast Cut, Nikkei Boosted By BOJ Hopes

With most global markets closed for Christmas, the only overnight action was in Asia, which saw Chinese equities fall with tech stocks and names linked to Apple the worst performers after a report that Apple cut forecast iPhone X sales forecasts, while property firms surged on speculation of coming consolidation. As a result, after opening higher, the Shanghai Composite Index closed 0.5% lower on the day, the blue-chip CSI 300 Index fell 0.3%, the Shenzhen Composite Index retreated 0.9%, while the ChiNext small-cap and tech Index dropped 1.3%. The PBOC’s refusal to conduct a reverse repo for the second day did not boost the market mood.
The biggest Asian losers were Apple suppliers after the Taipei-based Economic Daily News reported that Apple has cut its sales forecast for the iPhone X by 40% from 50 million in Q1 to only 30 million. The report also noted that Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant stopped recruiting workers. Following the news, Apple supplier Lens Technology Co. dropped 8.4% to be among worst performers on the ChiNext measure; Shenzhen Sunway Communication Co. -2.2%, Luxshare Precision Industry and GoerTek both dropped at least 4%. As the table below shows, it was a sea of red for Apple suppliers.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 25, 2017.

Mystery Buyer Of ‘Most Expensive Apartment In Asia’ Revealed

A month ago, we highlighted a disturbing new record in the Hong Kong real-estate market – a market that received a ranking of ‘high’ from Algebris Investment’s Alberto Gallo in his annual ranking of the world’s biggest asset bubbles.
According to a report in the South China Morning Post, the record price per square foot for a residence in Hong Kong was obliterated when a mystery buyer purchased two apartments in ‘The Peak’ – an exclusive district.
At 132,000 Hong Kong dollars per square foot, the purchases made them the two most expensive apartments in Asia in terms of square footage. In total, the mystery buyer spent an astonishing 1.16 billion Hong Kong dollars (nearly $200 million) on the two apartments.

This post was published at Zero Hedge on Dec 24, 2017.