The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a very stupid measure of the stock market for at least two reasons, which are (1) it is an average of only 30 big stocks and (2) it is weighted by share price, an entirely arbitrary number, rather than market cap or equal weighting or anything at all sensible. Was Mr. Dow an idiot? Probably not? He was just a guy inventing indices in 1896, when computers couldn’t fit in your pocket and were pulled by horses.1 Back then, to get a stock market average, some schmuck had to actually go look at a ticker tape for each stock price and then do the averaging on a … I’m gonna say an abacus? (Slide rule? HP 12C?) So “add up 30 stock prices and divide by 30″ seemed like a good plan; “take the float-adjusted market-cap-weighted average of 500 stock prices” did not. You can’t really fault Mr. Dow for the choices he made at the time he made them.
It is now 117 years later and nobody really uses the Dow anymore except, like, everybody, but people do use the S&P 500 index, which has the advantage that it’s a reasonable enough index of the thing it is an index of. But as with the Dow, a certain sense of “ooh the clerk is working so hard to calculate all these averages” still clings to the S&P, even though that’s obviously false. The clerk is a computer and it’s so bored calculating stock indices that it’s mining bitcoins on the side just to feel something.
I think that has something to do with this CBOE vs. International Securities Exchange dispute over S&P 500 (and DJIA!) index options. The CBOE lists such options; the ISE doesn’t but wants to. So the CME and McGraw-Hill, which together own the S&P 500 index, and the CBOE, which licenses it for options trading, sued in Illinois courts and got an injunction saying nobody else could use the index to list options. And today the CBOE finally totally won its case when the Supreme Court refused to hear it, leaving the Illinois court’s injunction in place, and thus leaving CBOE with a monopoly over derivatives on the S&P 500.2 Here’s CBOE’s gloating.
There’s no opinion from the Supreme Court and there’s a lot of goofball copyright preemption law involved; the Illinois court decided the case not on (federal) copyright law, but on … I dunno, this: Read more »
There’s a small cause-and-effect mystery in the interaction between share prices and share buybacks. On the one hand, when a company buys back stock, that should make the remaining shares more valuable, on reasoning both fundamental-ish (EPS is up!) and technical-ish (more buyers than sellers!). On the other hand, issuers seem to view their own shares as Veblen goods: the higher the price, the more they want to buy.1 So it’s a little hard to know whether the market is reaching record highs (in part) because companies are spending record amounts of money buying back their stock, or vice versa. The first explanation mostly makes sense, and the second mostly doesn’t, which is a good argument for the second being right.
The first explanation is more popular though. Today the Journal noted that “U.S. companies are showering investors with a record windfall in the form of dividends and share buybacks, helping to propel the stock market’s rally,” and FT Alphaville and others have been talking about de-equitization, as well as the declining attractiveness of listed public equity. So have I, come to think of it.
One possibly relevant question you could ask is: how much is the market shrinking? That seems susceptible to various sorts of answers, as well as various possibly relevant time periods. As it happens, tomorrow marks the four-year anniversary of the market’s hitting a 15-year low, so mazel tov everyone on that. Here’s perhaps a place to start measuring U.S. equity market shrinkage over those four years:
The OCC report on bank derivative activities is rarely what you would call a laugh riot but I enjoyed that the 2Q2012 one released today gives the London Whale a belated sad trombone:
Commercial banks and savings associations reported trading revenue of $2.0 billion in the second quarter of 2012, 69 percent lower than the first quarter of 2012, and 73 percent lower than in the second quarter of 2011, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported today in the OCC’s Quarterly Report on Bank Trading and Derivatives Activities.
“Trading revenues were weak in the second quarter,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, Deputy Comptroller for Credit and Market Risk. “While both normal seasonal weakness and reduced client demand played a role, it was clearly the highly-publicized losses at JPMorgan Chase that caused the sharp drop in trading revenues.” Mr. Pfinsgraff noted that JPMorgan Chase reported a $3.7 billion loss from credit trading activities, causing the bank to report an aggregate $420 million trading loss for the quarter.
How big a deal Whaledemort is depends on your denominator: compared to JPMorgan’s assets, or even its revenues, he’s a drop in the ocean, but his misadventures in credit derivatives did wipe out two-thirds of all derivative trading revenues among all US banks. And he’s a good enough excuse to talk about a random assortment of other credit-derivative-trading things from the last few days. First is a neat Bloomberg article (appears to be terminal-only now) about CDX NA HY 19: Read more »
Forget the Case Shiller Index. Baltic Dry Index? Old news. Hemline analysis? Forget it. For real, serious metrics you have to think out of the box (so to speak). You have to consider the plight, for instance, of Latvian hookers. Yes we are serious. So is Bloomberg.
When the economy starts to lift itself out of this recession, what will be the leading indicator that tells us we have turned the corner?
Some people track the price of shipping to gauge the health of global trade. Others look at the supply of freshly minted money pouring out of central banks. A few will say that signs of life in the housing markets are evidence of a recovery.
Forget them all. The one lesson we can draw from the global credit crisis is that all the traditional ways of measuring the state of the economy are about as useful as a bottle of suntan lotion in a snowstorm.
So here are two benchmarks we should all be monitoring more closely: extramarital affairs and the price of Latvian hookers. Both are telling us that there is still plenty of trouble ahead.