Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cautionary Words from Leon Black

Leon Black, of Apollo Asset Management, quoted in Barron's last month (registration or subscription may be required):
"It's almost biblical. There is a time to reap and there's a time to sow," Leon Black, chairman and chief executive of Apollo Global Management declared to the Milken Institute's global conference in Los Angeles, alluding to that same Scriptural passage. "We are harvesting," he added pointedly.
That is, the private-equity giant is a net seller because things simply can't get much better. "We think it's a fabulous environment to be selling," he says, noting Apollo has sold about $13 billion in assets in the past 15 months. "We're selling everything that's not nailed down. And if we're not selling, we're refinancing."
That's because there has never been such a good time to borrow -- which is raising warning flags for Black. "The financing market is as good as we have ever seen it. It's back to 2007 levels. There is no institutional memory," he observed, referring to the peak of the last credit bubble.
Black worked for Drexel Burnham Lambert, back in the bad ol' days. Black is bright and has a privileged view of the market for bank loans, especially for buyouts.

I don't think that everything literally should be sold, and he doesn't seem to be saying exactly that, but it's more of a seller's market than a buyer's market, and that it is a good time to tidy up a portfolio. Of course, for as long as the Fed chooses, cash will not be keeping up with inflation.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Nice to be Getting Back to Normal (Not)

From the WSJ today:
Investors are once again clamoring for a risky investment blamed for helping unleash the financial crisis: the synthetic CDO.

In a sign of how hard Wall Street is trying to satisfy voracious demand for higher returns amid rock-bottom interest rates, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley bankers in London are moving to assemble so-called synthetic collateralized debt obligations.
Again! Full story here (registration required). Article is titled "One of Wall Street's Riskiest Bets Returns."

This reminds me of a passage in Charles Kindleberger's excellent book, Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, which first came out in 1978. (Just another light summer read.) He writes,
The paradox is equivalent to the prisoner's dilemma. Central banks should act one way (lending freely) to halt the panic, but another (leaving the market to its own devices) to improve the chances of preventing future panics. Actuality inevitably dominates contingency. Today wins over tomorrow. (Fourth edition, p. 164)
Unfortunately, all medicine, even necessary medicine, has side effects. I do not envy the decisions that the Federal Reserve is faced with making, but with junk bond yields near record lows and CDOs returning, the sooner we can end q.e. and ultra-low interest rates, the better.