June 16: Daily Contrarian Reads

Doug Kass’ Must Read: Not Even The Algo Creators Know What Is Going On

Think about that. The creators have no knowledge of what their creations are thinking or what kind of inputs the machines are thinking about and how decisions about that are being made. The machines are inscrutable and, most terrifyingly important, UNPREDICTABLE. We are not telling these AIs how to make decisions. The machines are figuring out how to decide to “make a profit” on their own and subject to no enforceable constraint. The resulting risk of “flash crashes” — to lump all sudden and unexpected behaviors into a catchphrase — is unknowable but probably much greater than anyone even dreams. The machines have no fear of flash crashes or any other kind of crash. Such crashes might even serve their purpose of “making a profit.” Be forewarned as last Friday’s Nasdaq schmeissing may be a walk in the park compared to what may happen in the future…..

Calm Down! Despite War Party Fearmongering—- US Is Not Best By Grave Dangers

Americans are constantly bombarded with exaggerated claims about the threat from terrorism and immigration, a nuclear North Korea, the Iranian menace, China, Russia, and all manner of perils to world order. Yet the truth is that America faces no major national security threats from abroad. In fact, a much more proximate threat Americans face comes from Washington, when policies intended to chase after inflated threats waste money, undermine civil liberties, and subvert the rule of law. When it comes to terrorism and immigration, for example, the fact is that neither poses a significant threat to Americans. Research shows that immigrants commit less crime on average than American citizens do, and your chance of being killed by a Muslim terrorist is about 1 in 6 million. That’s way less than your chances of being struck by lightning.

What Happens When the Machines Start Selling?

The infamous FAANG stocks – Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google’s parent Alphabet – along with other “tech” stocks have been getting “hammered,” to use a term that for now exaggerates their “plight.” The FAANG stocks are down between 1.7% and 2.5% at the moment and between 5.5% and 11% since their peak on June 8. Given how far these stocks have soared over the past few years, this selloff is just a barely visible dip.But fundamental analysis has long been helpless in explaining the surge in stocks. The shares of Amazon now sport a Price-Earnings ratio of 180, when classic fundamental analyses might lose interest at a PE ratio of 18 for the profit-challenged growth company that has been around for over two decades. For them, the stock price might have to come down 90% before it makes sense.

Folly On Steroids—Trumps Gives Generals Full-On Blank Check To Increase Troops In Afghanistan

Currently, 8,400 or so U.S. troops are there, along with 5,000 NATO troops. The running tally of U.S. dead for this seemingly endless mission is over 2,000, not to mention Afghan civilians, over 3,000 of whom died in fighting in just 2016. This is a war whose only U.S.-security appropriate goal—destroying the active ability to use the country as a fomenter of terror attacks on the U.S.—was accomplished months after it began, way back in 2001. Although our goals in Afghanistan are unclear and our means to achieve them have not yet been demonstrated, Trump is now in line with the GOP establishment as represented by Sens. John McCain (Ariz) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) in wanting to ramp it up again. Trump has presided over troop increases in Syria and Iraq as well, despite running occasionally on rhetoric opposed to feckless interventions abroad.

GM Extends Plant Shutdowns As Toxic Trifecta For Auto Loans Fuels Carmageddon

In yet another unsurprising headline, The Wall Street Journal reports that GM will extend the typical summer shutdown at certain U.S. factories to deal with slumping sales and bloated inventory, a sign the industry’s hot streak is grinding to a halt. The No. 1 U.S. auto maker in terms of sales will idle its Chevrolet Malibu factory near Kansas City for five weeks starting in late June, Vicky Hale, president of the United Auto Workers Local 31, said. Job cuts will be needed if GM is forced to slow assembly-line speeds when those workers return. Additional downtime is also slated in Lordstown, Ohio, a small-car factory already stung by deep layoffs related to a pullback in demand for passenger cars. A GM spokesman declined to comment on specific plans.

Don’t Be Fooled By HINCO—Happy Consumers In Name Only

That was what the 4.3% unemployment rate was supposed to mean. In all past periods of “full employment”, a low rate suggested plentiful work as well as rising wages; the beautiful combination that delivers a truly happy consumer spending that good fortune in US as well as global goods and services. Today, we have happy consumers in name only (HCINO?); they claim a high degree of confidence on surveys, but act contrary to that recommendation. If demand consists of both willingness as well as ability, consumer confidence suggests a willingness leaving us to question ability.

Anbang Rout Turns China’s Stock Giants From Heroes to Zero

Investors in China’s largest companies have had a dizzying ride, with a rapid surge to a 21-month high unraveling almost as quickly as it began, as big caps tumbled the most this year. Insulated from a market selloff spurred by angst over deleveraging in May, China’s equity behemoths are now in the firing line. The saga surrounding Anbang Insurance Group Co. triggered a slump Wednesday in the SSE 50 Index, a gauge tracking some of the country’s biggest companies. It lost another 0.6 percent today, while small caps rallied to a four-week high.

Canary In the Lumberyards—-Homebuilder Sentiment Vs. Sales At Prior Pre-Crash Peaks

The past two times Homebuilder Sentiment hit a bubblicious 70 were at the peak of the tech & credit/housing bubbles. Historical divergence between ecstatic HB Sentiment and lethargic builder housing demand…..

Praying Again To The False God of ‘Global Growth’

One of the more troubling aspects of mainstream commentary in 2014 was its blandness. Statements were made with a purpose but also purposefully avoiding specifics. It was common to hear or read “the economy is improving” without being shown why or how in convincing fashion. After suffering a second bout of weakness in 2012 and 2013, unexpected of course, everyone simply believed those words because why not…..Global growth” was a talisman for being unable to explain just why it was “supposed” to get better after being wrong about weakness year after year. In so many ways, 2014 has repeated again in 2017. That includes, somehow, global growth. Mario Draghi on April 27…..

Laughable Baloney—–The Latest Claims Of Russian Election Tampering

How big a crisis is this? Washington’s Blog asked Bill Binney, the NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, who served as the senior technical director within the agency, who managed six thousand NSA employees, the 36-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency and the NSA’s best-ever analyst and code-breaker, who mapped out the Soviet command-and-control structure before anyone else knew how……