Nov

23

 1. Walking east across 56th Street from 9th to 6th Avenues the other day, at 5:15 pm, I noted 50 cars parked there, with drivers in the drivers seat waiting, slumbering… It wasn't an invasion of the body snatchers. Just people waiting for the 'no parking till 6 pm' to pass. They save 15 bucks for the night at the cost of an hour or so, valuing their time at less than $15 an hour. I wonder what the implicit price of time is in various cities now as a function of the recent diminution in wealth and loss of jobs.

Along the same lines, I recently received an offer from Icon which has a few hundred parking lots in NYC to park one's car on a monthly basis for $220 a month with "further discounts available" if you call. This might be a good way for the city and others to save money through obvious substitutions.

Fifteen dollars after tax translates to $22 or more pre-tax depending on the bracket. Moreover snoozing or reading have their own value, so the $15 could also be interpreted as the marginal difference in comfort between reading/napping in one's car versus doing the same in another environment. Nonetheless, the point remains: whether these people have anywhere better to be. Such Millhonian observations are enlightening and a reminder of the complexity of the economic system in which even the smallest actors are constantly performing economic calculations, the results of which feed into larger calculations.

I hope these people are reading some mentally enriching material, or at least taking power-naps or meditating, or somehow increasing their human capital, and that this is not complete deadweight loss.

2. At x pm every day, an announcement is made. The market moves to a level. The move is attributed to the announcement. The question is whether the move would have occurred regardless of the announcement. Also, whether the announcement was planned to make the move. For example, at 3:02 on 11/21, an announcement that the new Treasury Secretary was appointed occurred and the market moved up 6% in 59 minutes. Similarly at 3:10 last Friday, the announcement from the current Secretary that he believed everything was under control. The market set a new high and then dropped 6% in 50 minutes. We know that the news follows the price. Also, that the news is often now as "new" as we believe. The proverb comes to mind "the ____ will do what he can do." Also, the ephemeral nature of the news and those who know about it in advance. Is it fate or chance when such moves occur? And does the market do what it's going to do regardless? How would one approach this question and its tests and what insights can be drawn from such a traverse?

3. "The Game" between Harvard and Yale was won 10-0 with Yale limited to 90 yards. Yale previously had allowed just 95 points through 9 games. If the market can't be predicted, let us at least use the market to predict other things. Scores in baseball are always lower during bear markets. That's well known. Can we expect the same in basketball and such others as "What time is it, Mr. Fox?" and does the well documented predictive relation between low scores in baseball still continue to predict the market as previously enumerated in Practical Speculation?

4. Sometimes the kind of language used is a signal of vast underlying unearthed issues and problems. Times of crisis provide many nice examples of these and here a few which should be quantified and tested. In talking about his meeting with the former head of the investment bank who seamlessly moved to the chair of Treasury, the head of the now bankrupt investment bank said, "Our brand with the Treasury is very good." A Canadian central banker said about his meetings with senior bank executives, "If you were having a meeting with a central banker such as I and the conversation drifted to opera or the ski slopes at Davos or some such social setting, I think that's an issue." In discussing his tenure as consultant the former Treasury Secretary who seamlessly moved to consultant of the troubled bank, said  "When you have a risk book…, you can't earn more unless you risk more," and he according to others asked to "bulk up" the book. Others involved said that, "as long as you grow revenues you can grow bonuses," and apparently the risk manager and the risk taker in CDOs were once stranded together on a "boat on a lake that ran out of gas" on a fly fishing trip. (That's not exactly language but it recalls the similar incident of the server CEO who was stranded on a boat with his assistant during a survival exercise before the comparable plummet in his stock after they bought an interest in a company he owned for 1000 times revenues or so). In talking about the risk controls, a former president of the troubled bank said "our reputation with the public and the regulators must be an asset." These are paraphrases just to set the ball rolling, and I would be interested in other telltale uses of language that reveal deep truths below the surface.

Gregory van Kipnis replies:

You can not read too much into the fact that 60 cars are waiting for the "No Parking" period to expire so they could park overnight for free. I live in that neighborhood and such a sight has been seen every night for seven years. Perhaps if you knew if there was an increase in the number of cars that didn't get one of those spots you might have a hardship barometer.

Much more revealing, however, is that two weeks ago everyone who parked on the street got a flyer on his windshield, saying he could park for $211 per month, guaranteed for one year, at an undisclosed garage, just call (212) xxx-xxxx. That's a $150-200 per month saving over the prevailing monthly rate in the neighborhood, and was being offered by one of the leading garage chains. I took the deal and wound up in a better garage than the one I left.

It appears that in anticipation of reduced demand for parking and an increase in space capacity, one of the garage chains is trying to cannibalize as much business as possible from the other chain operators, and lock them in for a year with the low teaser rates. After a year they start jacking up the monthly rate by $25 a clip every few months. The assumption must be that the frictional costs of searching for a cheaper deal and adapting to a new location will be high enough to retain most of the new customers while they transition them up to full market rates.

I haven't see parking rate warfare since 9/11/01.

Kim Zussman ponders point 2:

One thing news-related market moves can do is reveal a hidden question or tension. The big jump on Geithner (along with the post-election slump) suggests there was worry about if/how BHO would address the crisis.

I wonder what would have happened had he tapped Volcker? Maybe the same.

Recall the big up open when they caught the other Hussein; then an all-day decline.

It seldom makes sense, which is one reason it's so frustrating to ask logic to predict. If the market were logical, the logical would be rich. If the market were a puzzle, the clever would be rich. If the market were a symphony, Mozart would not have died poor.

There are enough stars to make a thousand constellations, and by design enough movement in the market to keep people believing in a rhyme or reason.

Andrew Moe replies:

A MoeUnderneath the belly of the beast, we had options expiration on Friday, and it seemed that the 750 strike was running the table for much of the day, creating extreme gains for those on one side of the trade and extreme losses for their counter-parties. Just days before, these levels seemed unthinkable, so emotions were running high on both sides. At 3pm, the market seized upon the Geithner news to speed directly to the 800 strike, delivering comeuppance and salvation in one swift blow. I believe this move was in the can all afternoon as the mistress alternately teased and taunted before finally making a decision as to what news would carry the banner for the advance.


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