The wealth management industry will likely find itself pleased today, as many may sense victory in the long battle against the DOL’s fiduciary rule. The SEC has just released its own proposal for a new fiduciary rule, and the rule looks favorable. The new rule would place less onerous restrictions on brokers and advisors. It will not ban any single conflict of interest, but would place a responsibility to disclose certain conflicts of interest to clients and take steps to mitigate their effects. The rule does not contain a specific provision allowing clients to sue their brokers for misbehavior. The SEC would also disallow the use of blurred titles, such as “financial advisor”. The SEC approved the rule by a 4-1 vote and it will now have an official comment period.
FINSUM: The one dissenting vote blasted the rule as a continuation of the status quo. To be honest, the proposal sounds quite favorable to the industry and we were not expecting such a mild rule. We think Congress will likely come down hard on the SEC. This is far from a done deal.
Those close to Michael Cohen and the situation say that the lawyer seems poised to turn on his friend, Donald Trump, if put under pressure by investigators. At least that is what long-time Trump legal advisor, Jay Goldberg, is telling the president. Goldberg was a former prosecutor who has advised Trump since the 1990s. Trump reportedly called Goldberg asking for advice, and the Wall Street Journal quotes Goldberg as saying “On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen ‘isn’t even a 1,’”. He explained that if Goldberg were faced with criminal charges, he would tell all.
FINSUM: So it looks like Goldberg is going to tell all, but what nobody knows is how much of value he might really have to say.
This was supposed to be the year when stockpickers would finally have their way, grabbing control of the fund management market away from passive ETFs as correlation fell away and analysis of individual stocks paid off. So much for that. No sooner than investors imagined a different market, correlation has returned in a big way. Correlation has once again surged, and markets are moving more in-sync than they have at any time since the stock market crash of 1987.
FINSUM: The rise of passive investment vehicles seems relentless, and the one thing that seemed like it might get in its way has evaporated. In many ways the rise of correlation makes sense though, as when the market worries about macro issues, stocks tend to move in the same direction.
One of the world’s most respected economists has just explained something all investors need to hear—why a trade war with China is impossible to avoid. Stiglitz says that so long as the US does not accept China’s right to develop its economy, there will be no meaningful agreement. Because of the path China is on, and the US’ position—led by Trump—no durable trade deal can be achieved. Fundamentally, the US does not accept that China is a “developing country”, rather it sees it as a large and mature nation, and this conflict will keep any serious deal from getting done.
FINSUM: There may be a short-term deal to save public face, but the US and China seemed destined to square off on trade for the foreseeable future.
Worries are rising that the Vix index may be getting manipulated. This week, the Vix surged 10% just moments before an auction which sets the price of derivatives, which has led many to cry foul. What is so odd about the move is that it occurred despite no corresponding move in the S&P 500, which the Vix is supposed to reflect. Apparently what moved the market was a massive purchase of options betting that the S&P 500 would fall 50% in the next month. The bet is so improbable that it appears it was placed solely to send the volatility index soaring.
FINSUM: This sounds like standard manipulation. Buy a large amount of cheap out of the money options and try to profit on the rise in the Vix. They need to look at the make up of the index, as a $2.1m options purchase should not send the Vix soaring 10%.