How to violate the PAC non-coordination rule

NBC News:
The super PACs supporting Ted Cruz are offering $1.5 million to veterans charities if Donald Trump agrees to debate Cruz one-on-one before the Iowa caucus, heightening the stakes around Cruz's proposal just five days before the Iowa caucus.

"Not only would this be a heck of a debate, but it would also be a terrific opportunity to generate millions of dollars for the veterans," the donors backing the pro-Cruz "Keep the Promise" entities said in a joint statement on Wednesday night.

Cruz laid out a specific proposal to Trump at a rally in West Des Moines on Wednesday evening, telling the crowd his campaign has reserved a venue in Sioux City, Iowa, for 8 p.m. local time on Saturday night. He said 800 seats are available for Iowans — and Trump can choose to do what he likes with half of them.
Kinda makes a mockery of the whole "independent expenditure" thing, doesn't it?


Economics is hard

San Diego Reader:
“Rent control is normally used in locations that experience rental rates much higher than market rate,” [Imperial Beach city manager Andy] Hall added. “That is not to say the City Council may not try to look at some method of rent control, it just may be very challenging until rents rise above market value which is something we need to carefully monitor.”


MorOn.org feels the Bern

MorOn.org, the group formed to support Bill Clinton after he committed perjury and obstruction of justice, has endorsed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

It's a big endorsement from a major Democratic grassroots organization. Though their fundraising has dropped since the Bush Derangement Syndrome years, they still raised and spent more than $10 million last election cycle.  And they have a huge e-mail list.

Good for them.


Math is Hard, Part Deux

George Mason University Professor Alex Tabarrok on the expected value of playing tonight's Powerball:
The instant payout is about $496 million so that makes the expected value 496*1/292.2=$1.70. We also have to adjust for the possibility that more than one person wins the prize. [...] with so many people playing it wouldn’t be surprising if two people had the same number–I give it at least 25%. So that knocks your winnings down to $372 million in expectation.
In a word, no.

Approximately 300 million tickets have been sold for this draw, and there are 292 million possible combinations. That means that on average, at least one winning ticket has already been sold (could be zero, could be two or three, but one is the most likely outcome).

Tabarrok's error is that he is looking at the likelihood of two winners in general. Which is a very different question than "Assuming I have the winning combination, what is the likelihood that zero of the other 300 million tickets are winners?" The two events are independent; my having the winning numbers does not reduce the chances of the other 300 million tickets winning. The odds that if you won, you'd have to share the prize are well over 50%, not 25%.

For related ruminations on the other big multi-state lottery game, Mega Millions, see here.


Math is Hard

ABC News:
Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University, said there's no trick to playing the lottery, but your tiny odds of winning are a bit better if you let the computer pick rather than choosing yourself. That's because when people use birthdates or other favorite figures, they generally choose numbers 31 or below. That ignores the fact that there are 69 numbered balls.


Update from the latest community re-organized by Obama

“We are helpless and not being able to do anything against this deliberate destruction to the oil installations. NOC urges all faithful and honorable people of this homeland to hurry to rescue what is left from our resources before it is too late.”

That’s from Libya’s National Oil Corp and as you might have guessed, it references the seizure of state oil assets by Islamic State, whose influence in the country has grown over the past year amid the power vacuum the West created by engineering the demise of Moammar Qaddafi.
Heckuva job, Barry!


The Little Short

"The successful man is the one who had the chance and took it." - Roger Babson

I watched The Big Short recently. Having read the Michael Lewis book, and having lived through the rise and fall of the housing bubble, I can attest that the movie does justice both to the book and to history. And the filmmakers manage to make the discussion of complicated financial instruments understandable in an entertaining way, without dumbing it down.

The main takeaway from the movie is that Wall Street is rigged. The big guys will always get bailed out, and the rest of us will always get stuck footing the bill. Wall Street controls the levers of power in Congress, the Administration, and the Federal Reserve. This should not be a controversial proposition to anyone who has been paying attention the last 6 1/2 years.

But the movie (like the book perhaps, it's been a while since I read it) departs from reality when it depicts its handful of protagonists as the only ones who saw the housing crash coming. Many people saw the housing crash coming. Even I shorted Countrywide (repeatedly) and Impac Mortgage. I got my tip reading the now-defunct I am Facing Foreclosure blog by Casey Serin, an unemployed 24-year-old who had obtained financing from banks to buy at least seven houses. When I saw the promissory note that Countrywide took from this broke deadbeat in lieu of foreclosure, I knew we were on to something. Others learned, or should have learned, about the housing bubble by clues like that in the film when strippers were buying multiple properties all over Florida with little or no money down. Even mainstream publications like The Economist were writing about the housing bubble well before the subprime hit the fan. I went on to have great fun with the local Countrywide office.

What set The Big Short's big winners apart from others who saw the housing bubble was capital and leverage. The heroes of the film, Dr. Michael Burry and Steve Eisman (Mark Baum / Steve Carell in the movie), were already managing hundreds of millions or more when they made their mortgage bets. The two hedge fund startup kids Jamie and Charlie who the film claimed to have started with $110,000 and turned it into $30 million? Not so much. Jamie is really James Mai, who started Cornwall Capital to manage his father's considerable fortune earned as a pioneer of leveraged buyouts on Wall Street.

In addition to capital, what made the Big Short so big was leverage. Punters like us can short a stock, and make 100% if it goes bankrupt. Or we can buy put options, which might pay off a little richer if we get the timing right. But the big Wall Street guys had access to credit default swaps which gave them leverage to the crash that individual speculators can only dream of. Instruments like these are accessible to those with the "ISDA" agreement that Jamie and Charlie were so desperate to get in the film.

So yes, congratulations to those who were in the right place at the right time, with the right capital and leverage, and made the trade of a lifetime.

The rest of us will have to be content with the psychic rewards of the occasional well-executed Little Short.

Happy Super Tuesday!