Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Weird stuff in high frequency markets

On the left is a graph from a really neat paper, "Low-Latency Trading" by Joel Hasbrouck and Gideon Saar (2011). You're looking at the flow of "messages"--limit orders placed or canceled--on the NASDAQ.  The x axis is time, modulo 10 seconds. So, you're looking at the typical flow of messages over any 10 second time interval.

As you can see, there is a big crush of messages on the top of the second, which rapidly tails off in the milliseconds following the even second. There is a second surge between 500 and 600 milliseconds.

Evidently, lots of computer programs reach out and look at the markets once per second, or once per half second. The programs clocks are tightly synchronized to the exchange's clock, so if you program a computer "go look once per second," it's likely to go look exactly on the second (or half second). The result is a flurry of activity on the even second.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hope for Europe

A provocative Wall Street Journal OpEd by Donald Luskin and Lorcan Kelly gives me hope for Europe.

No, I'm not talking about Greece, and the latest bailout deal. That's more of the usual charade. But in the end Greece is small. Europe can bail Greece out if they feel like it; or let it default.Or let it rot, which seems where they are headed. 

Italy and Spain are where the real issue lies. Italy and Spain are too big to bail.

Taylor on Lehman and TARP

John Taylor took the trouble to respond to Paul Krugman's latest outrage on the sources of the financial crisis.  Taylor's post -- along with the deeper analysis he points to -- is well worth reading.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fed Independence 2025

Headline: The Fed just  forced mortgage servicers  that got caught submitting "documents that were not properly notarized," among other sins, to cough up money towards principal reduction, for people unaffected by the notarization scandal, as well as to fund "nonprofit housing counseling organizations" and other policy objectives. 

Deeper question: What will the Fed look like in 2025? How long can it stay independent as it takes on more and more power, and uses that power for these kinds of political policy actions?

Act 1:  Three recent news items add up to a scary picture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Where your money goes

Two nice graphs from the New York Times 

Comment: Now, could we please stop talking about how we need more taxes to pay for roads and bridges or to help the poor? The main function of our government is to write checks to middle-class and wealthy voters. And that's the reason its finances are in the toilet.

This means Elizabeth Warren, for example, who said a factory owner needs to pay more taxes because "you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for." Answer: you paid for that long ago. That's not where the money is going.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wallison on financial regulation

Peter Wallison has an important Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last week (AEI link) titled "Dodd-Frank and the Myth of Interconnectedness"

The chain of bankruptcies is one of the central myths of the financial crisis. A owes money to B,  B owes money to C, C owes money to D. If A fails, it wil result in a chain of bankruptcies where B, C,  and D fail too.

As Peter points out, it simply did not happen. We had a run, not a chain of bankruptcies.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Real Trouble With the Birth-Control Mandate

(This is a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. If you don't subscribe, there is a pdf on my webpage.)

When the administration affirmed last month that church-affiliated employers must buy health insurance that covers birth control, the outcry was instant. Critics complained that certain institutions should be exempt as a matter of religious freedom. Although the ruling was meant to be final, presidential advisers said this week that the administration might look for a compromise.

Critics are missing the larger point. Why should the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decree that any of us must pay for "insurance" that covers contraceptives?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Taylor's graphs

John Taylor wrote a very nice blog post, "Reassessing the recovery". He made two graphs, reproduced here. On the top you see the current recession and recovery. On the bottom you see the typical pattern, exemplified by the biggest previous postwar recession in 1982.

We usually bounce back to the trend line. Now, we're not.

The difference betwen "levels" and "growth rates" accounts for a lot of confusion in popular discussions. "Recessions" are pretty much defined as times in which GDP is declining -- negative growth rates, the level is going down. GDP stopped going down in early 2009.

Yet, as many commentators point out, if the recession is over, why does it feel so glum out there? Answer: because prosperity is measured in levels. Employment responsds to levels. 

The big macroeconoimc question for our time is this: Just why are we stuck at a much lower level? What do we need to do to get back to the trend line? Or is that trend line illusory?

There are two stories -- and I use that word advisedly.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Sargent on debt and defaults

Tom Sargent's Wall Street Journal oped is well worth reading closely. It's a very short summary of his Nobel prize speech

As readers of this blog will probably know, I think Europe should stop bailing out bondholders of Greek and other debt. (See the Euro collection and Euro tags to the right.)

"What about Alexander Hamilton?" has always been a nagging doubt.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Negative stimulus, 1946

I ran across a fascinating article, "A Post-Mortem on Transition Predictions of National Product,"  in the 1946 Journal of Political Economy, by Lawrence Klein. Klein, who would go on to create the main macroeconomic forecasting models and a Nobel Prize, was  confronting one of the first great failures of Keynesian economics: