Thursday, April 20, 2017

One more example of Crooked Capitalism: Whatever Corporations/CEOs say about H1-B/L1 visas, it is nothing but money/fat bonuses for them!

(Disclaimer: I am in USA but I was never on H1B or any work visa)

I answered a question on Quora related to H1B visas few months ago. Now as President Trump has signed an Executive Order to make changes in this controversial visa program, I want to post my views on my blog. I am also going to post my thoughts on what I hear from people when they talk about this visa program and American workers.
  1. I personally think H1B visas program in 2010s is nothing but a glaring example of corporate greed at the expense of the nation, and the residents. This is a twisted version of Crooked Capitalism. Let me list what good will happen if Trump really curtails this program. Remember, we are no more in 1990 when the technology revolution had started with popularization of Internet, eCommerce,  Networking, ERP systems, Java and last but not the least- Y2k fears of meltdown of US economy. In those years, there was a clear gap in demand and supply of these skills. All those technologies were new and there were not enough people with right skills. So H1B was a great solution. However, we are no more in 1990s! We are now in 2017. I don't think H1B is as critical as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and all big corporations want us to believe! They cry about shortage of skills in USA and common people would believe it. Do you know what cutting edge technologies they use these days? Do you really believe that there are no local resources available? Maybe, 5% of what they do is cutting edge but most other stuff they do is regular DBA work, networking, routing, publishing, writing programs, maintaining and managing systems, internal business applications. Even for those 5% involved in cutting edge technologies, I am sure, for most, the skills are available at the right price.

    Do you know what has happened to people who have come on H1B over last two decades? This program has accumulated 2 million skilled workers since them. Most of the workers who came temporarily to bridge the talent deficit have permanently settled here. IT booms have settled. IT as an industry has more or less settled down. I don't think we need to keep adding H1B forever. Current economics does not justify it. Now, I also think, it is not only citizens are suffering due to side effect of H1B visa program but these early H1Bers who have made USA their home are also at risk if H1B visa holders keep coming in.
  2. I believe that the nexus of politicians and wall street (read as CEOs) has probably let this program over-run its useful life. They still want us to believe that the growth and innovation engine of US economy runs on talent brought out from some struggling, poor, developing or underdeveloped countries.

  3. When someone says US workers do not have the skill, he forgets one important thing: a 4 year college degree in USA takes around 100k of debt ;) Unlike parents’ funding and availability of cheap education for most H1B candidates in their home countries, very few in USA have luxury of parents’ funding their college or willingness to assume such a large debt when you are earning $10 an hour during high school years ;)
  4. When they say US workers are not smart, or hardworking, they forget that these same people made this USA one of the best nations. Do you think USA rose from dirt over two centuries by miracle? It was because of hard work, vision and smartness of the population. It is not a pure stroke of luck that USA is the most prosperous and sought after country on the planet and that USD has reason from 5–6 to 67 INRs/$ ;)
  5. When someone says American workers are lazy, they forget to define what a life means. Life is not something that is centered around money or material. Life needs to be a balance between work and family/passion/hobby. For many H1Bs/newcomers, life’s only objective/passion, in the beginning, is to get USA green card and then Citizenship. Then, the objective is to make and save money and accumulate material/show pieces (big houses, fancy cars and spelling bee winner kids ;) ). If some local chooses to climb mountains, or go work in peace corps or be a photographer, don’t assume he is lazy. Probably all newcomers/H1Bs want to do the same too but before that, they want to be rich ;) Many of them are trading life/time for money.
  6. With restrictions on H1Bs, USA will become a better place to live. The racial divide we worry about will turn for a bit better. There is no denying that foreign YOUNG chaps are taking jobs of many middle aged locals. More locals hate immigrant workers who have taken up their jobs than Muslims IMO.
  7. The economic divide between USA and other countries, like India, will get narrower if H1B is curtailed. Most youngsters come to USA because of attractive currency conversion rate that makes earning in INR in USA look very attractive. Countries like India get deprived of benefit of some smart people who leave her for personal betterment. It is a pity many of new comers, maybe unknowingly, choose to join the rat race of money and material then following their passion, or choosing to make an impact on others . Some of them do wonders for NASA or Google in USA but the poor in India and in the world overall are deprived of their talent.

    H1B is a misused racket by US CEOs for their selfish gains. It is only a way to reduce some expenses on the income statement. Don’t take me wrong, there are some jobs for which local talent is scarce but what most of us do here can be easily found locally- the only difference is new H1Bs can mow the IT field lawns at half the price of market rates.

I know some of you may not like my views. If you are an H1B wishing to come to USA, let me tell you one thing. If you don’t get H1B, do not feel bad. It is not end of the world. India is growing rapidly too. (After coming to USA for studies, I did go back to India and lived there for 7 years. I did create living for 100 plus families. Why am I back here in USA? I can write all that but it is not relevant to the topic or our discussion so please spare me with counter attacks). If you have not done your math, let me tell you that it is not that rosy anymore here in the USA. Rents, insurances, expenses, magnitude of taxes are high. If you lose a job for a year, the mortgage payments and health insurance can break your back and your savings of years. Last but not least, do not forget that if H1B continues and if you lose your job when you are in 40s, 50s, you would have to choose to work at 70% of the salary your last job offered! This is not about you or I. This is all about Crooked Capitalism!
(Disclaimer: I am in USA but I was never on H1B or any work visa. Also, this article is not about you or I. It is more to highlight how Capitalism around us is getting more and more Crooked day by day!!)

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Are Hedge Fund managers any good? Buffett's challenge of $500000. Summary in Buffett's words

Who makes the most money in the USA? Probably CEOs and Hedge Fund managers. Probably more 'smart' individuals have made more money on Wall Street than using their brains in inventing products or setting up real businesses employing hundreds or thousands of employees.
Now, do you know how smart these smarty pants are? Actually, majority of them are no smart. It is generally a hype and propaganda. They take in millions of dollars in profits by charging 2/20%! Don't take my words or opinions on this but see what Warren Buffett actually proved in his famous $500000 bet in 2007-2008! I found this very interesting piece while reading his famous letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. It is a long letter on the link below. You should read it if you invest in stocks. However if you are too busy, read the Copy and Paste of his write up below:

Now, to my bet and its history. In Berkshire’s 2005 annual report, I argued that active investment management by professionals – in aggregate – would over a period of years underperform the returns achieved by rank amateurs who simply sat still. I explained that the massive fees levied by a variety of “helpers” would leave their clients – again in aggregate – worse off than if the amateurs simply invested in an unmanaged low-cost index fund. (See pages 114 - 115 for a reprint of the argument as I originally stated it in the 2005 report.)

Subsequently, I publicly offered to wager $500,000 that no investment pro could select a set of at least five hedge funds – wildly-popular and high-fee investing vehicles – that would over an extended period match the performance of an unmanaged S&P-500 index fund charging only token fees. I suggested a ten-year bet and named a low-cost Vanguard S&P fund as my contender. I then sat back and waited expectantly for a parade of fund managers – who could include their own fund as one of the five – to come forth and defend their occupation. After all, these managers urged others to bet billions on their abilities. Why should they fear putting a little of their own money on the line?

What followed was the sound of silence. Though there are thousands of professional investment managers who have amassed staggering fortunes by touting their stock-selecting prowess, only one man – Ted Seides – stepped up to my challenge. Ted was a co-manager of Protégé Partners, an asset manager that had raised money from limited partners to form a fund-of-funds – in other words, a fund that invests in multiple hedge funds. I hadn’t known Ted before our wager, but I like him and admire his willingness to put his money where his mouth was. He has been both straight-forward with me and meticulous in supplying all the data that both he and I have needed to monitor the bet.

For Protégé Partners’ side of our ten-year bet, Ted picked five funds-of-funds whose results were to be averaged and compared against my Vanguard S&P index fund. The five he selected had invested their money in more than 100 hedge funds, which meant that the overall performance of the funds-of-funds would not be distorted by the good or poor results of a single manager.

Each fund-of-funds, of course, operated with a layer of fees that sat above the fees charged by the hedge funds in which it had invested. In this doubling-up arrangement, the larger fees were levied by the underlying hedge funds; each of the fund-of-funds imposed an additional fee for its presumed skills in selecting hedge-fund managers.

Here are the results for the first nine years of the bet – figures leaving no doubt that Girls Inc. of Omaha, the charitable beneficiary I designated to get any bet winnings I earned, will be the organization eagerly opening the mail next January.

Footnote: Under my agreement with Protégé Partners, the names of these funds-of-funds have never been publicly disclosed. I, however, see their annual audits.

The compounded annual increase to date for the index fund is 7.1%, which is a return that could easily prove typical for the stock market over time. That’s an important fact: A particularly weak nine years for the market over the lifetime of this bet would have probably helped the relative performance of the hedge funds, because many hold large “short” positions. Conversely, nine years of exceptionally high returns from stocks would have provided a tailwind for index funds.

Instead we operated in what I would call a “neutral” environment. In it, the five funds-of-funds delivered, through 2016, an average of only 2.2%, compounded annually. That means $1 million invested in those funds would have gained $220,000. The index fund would meanwhile have gained $854,000.

22 Bear in mind that every one of the 100-plus managers of the underlying hedge funds had a huge financial incentive to do his or her best. Moreover, the five funds-of-funds managers that Ted selected were similarly incentivized to select the best hedge-fund managers possible because the five were entitled to performance fees based on the results of the underlying funds.

I’m certain that in almost all cases the managers at both levels were honest and intelligent people. But the results for their investors were dismal – really dismal. And, alas, the huge fixed fees charged by all of the funds and funds-of-funds involved – fees that were totally unwarranted by performance – were such that their managers were showered with compensation over the nine years that have passed. As Gordon Gekko might have put it: “Fees never sleep.”

The underlying hedge-fund managers in our bet received payments from their limited partners that likely averaged a bit under the prevailing hedge-fund standard of “2 and 20,” meaning a 2% annual fixed fee, payable even when losses are huge, and 20% of profits with no clawback (if good years were followed by bad ones). Under this lopsided arrangement, a hedge fund operator’s ability to simply pile up assets under management has made many of these managers extraordinarily rich, even as their investments have performed poorly.

Still, we’re not through with fees. Remember, there were the fund-of-funds managers to be fed as well. These managers received an additional fixed amount that was usually set at 1% of assets. Then, despite the terrible overall record of the five funds-of-funds, some experienced a few good years and collected “performance” fees. Consequently, I estimate that over the nine-year period roughly 60% – gulp! – of all gains achieved by the five funds-of-funds were diverted to the two levels of managers. That was their misbegotten reward for accomplishing something far short of what their many hundreds of limited partners could have effortlessly – and with virtually no cost – achieved on their own.

In my opinion, the disappointing results for hedge-fund investors that this bet exposed are almost certain to recur in the future. I laid out my reasons for that belief in a statement that was posted on the Long Bets website when the bet commenced (and that is still posted there).

Here is what I asserted:

Over a ten-year period commencing on January 1, 2008, and ending on December 31, 2017, the S&P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses.

A lot of very smart people set out to do better than average in securities markets. Call them active investors.

Their opposites, passive investors, will by definition do about average. In aggregate their positions will more or less approximate those of an index fund. Therefore, the balance of the universe—the active investors—must do about average as well. However, these investors will incur far greater costs. So, on balance, their aggregate results after these costs will be worse than those of the passive investors.

Costs skyrocket when large annual fees, large performance fees, and active trading costs are all added to the active investor’s equation. Funds of hedge funds accentuate this cost problem because their fees are superimposed on the large fees charged by the hedge funds in which the funds of funds are invested.

A number of smart people are involved in running hedge funds. But to a great extent their efforts are self-neutralizing, and their IQ will not overcome the costs they impose on investors. Investors, on average and over time, will do better with a low-cost index fund than with a group of funds of funds.

So that was my argument – and now let me put it into a simple equation. If Group A (active investors) and Group B (do-nothing investors) comprise the total investing universe, and B is destined to achieve average results before costs, so, too, must A. Whichever group has the lower costs will win. (The academic in me requires me to mention that there is a very minor point – not worth detailing – that slightly modifies this formulation.) And if Group A has exorbitant costs, its shortfall will be substantial.

There are, of course, some skilled individuals who are highly likely to out-perform the S&P over long stretches. In my lifetime, though, I’ve identified – early on – only ten or so professionals that I expected would accomplish this feat.

There are no doubt many hundreds of people – perhaps thousands – whom I have never met and whose abilities would equal those of the people I’ve identified. The job, after all, is not impossible. The problem simply is that the great majority of managers who attempt to over-perform will fail. The probability is also very high that the person soliciting your funds will not be the exception who does well. Bill Ruane – a truly wonderful human being and a man whom I identified 60 years ago as almost certain to deliver superior investment returns over the long haul – said it well: “In investment management, the progression is from the innovators to the imitators to the swarming incompetents.”

Further complicating the search for the rare high-fee manager who is worth his or her pay is the fact that some investment professionals, just as some amateurs, will be lucky over short periods. If 1,000 managers make a market prediction at the beginning of a year, it’s very likely that the calls of at least one will be correct for nine consecutive years. Of course, 1,000 monkeys would be just as likely to produce a seemingly all-wise prophet. But there would remain a difference: The lucky monkey would not find people standing in line to invest with him.

Finally, there are three connected realities that cause investing success to breed failure. First, a good record quickly attracts a torrent of money. Second, huge sums invariably act as an anchor on investment performance: What is easy with millions, struggles with billions (sob!). Third, most managers will nevertheless seek new money because of their personal equation – namely, the more funds they have under management, the more their fees.

These three points are hardly new ground for me: In January 1966, when I was managing $44 million, I wrote my limited partners: “I feel substantially greater size is more likely to harm future results than to help them. This might not be true for my own personal results, but it is likely to be true for your results. Therefore, . . . I intend to admit no additional partners to BPL. I have notified Susie that if we have any more children, it is up to her to find some other partnership for them.”

The bottom line: When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Prop 47 - Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act- how capitalism played out to save some dollars but resulted in making neighborhoods more unsafe!!

Proposition 47, also known by its ballot title Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute, was a referendum passed by voters in the state of California on November 4, 2014. The measure was also referred to by its supporters as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.[2] It recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized.

What a brilliant way to name a Prop to get votes! Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act- I am sure the name would make most common citizens to vote Yes on it! Who doesn't want neighborhood and schools to be safe? The bill was proposed to reduce overcrowding of prisons by converting many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors. This included shoplifting, writing bad checks, and drug possession. The measure made offenses involving less than $950 as misdemeanor. The measure probably helped California state save 100 million plus dollars. So far so good, right? Not really.

1) Have you recently noticed that most cities and neighborhoods in California are having more and more bad incidents? Let me warn you that if you read news about crime statistics and if that made you believe that the crime is going down in your town, think twice! What was a felony earlier, it is only a misdemeanor now! All frauds, shop-liftings, stealing, robberies that are for amount less than $950 are no more a felony! This would not get reflected in crime/arrest statistics now ;)

2) I heard two police/detectives speak in a meeting. They said that due to Prop 47, 'crimes' have actually gone up! There are many incidents of minor stealing, car break-ins, thefts and robbery and they are done by repeat offenders. Most of them know that the police can't do much if the amount is less than $950! They know that it is not going to result in to an arrest or prison now. Many times, there are criminals who would laugh at police. Once police gives them a ticket (that is all they can do for crimes involving less than $950!), they are on to a next crime.

As per the Washington Post: .....police departments and prosecutors refer to as the “unintended effects”: Robberies up 23 percent in San Francisco. Property theft up 11 percent in Los Angeles. Certain categories of crime rising 20 percent in Lake Tahoe, 36 percent in La Mirada, 22 percent in Chico and 68percent in Desert Hot Springs.

Well, I was writing this and stubled upon this post by Washington Post.. Why not read the post yourself?
It’s too early to know how much crime can be attributed to Prop 47, police chiefs caution, but what they do know is that instead of arresting criminals and removing them from the streets, their officers have been dealing with the same offenders again and again. Caught in possession of drugs? That usually means a misdemeanor citation under Prop 47, or essentially a ticket. Caught stealing something worth less than $950? That means a ticket, too. Caught using some of that $950 to buy more drugs? Another citation.
“It’s a slap on the wrist the first time and the third time and the 30th time, so it’s a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Shelley Zimmerman, who became San Diego’s police chief in March 2014. “We’re catching and releasing the same people over and over.”
Officers have begun calling those people “frequent fliers,” offenders who knew the specifics of Prop 47 and how to use it to their advantage. There was the thief in San Bernardino County who had been caught shoplifting with his calculator, which he said he used to make sure he never stole the equivalent of $950 or more. There was the “Hoover Heister” in Riverside, who was arrested for stealing vacuum cleaners and other appliances 13 different times over the course of three months, each misdemeanor charge followed by his quick release.
There was also the known gang member near Palm Springs who had been caught with a stolen gun valued at $625 and then reacted incredulously when the arresting officer explained that he would not be taken to jail but instead written a citation. “But I had a gun. What is wrong with this country?” the offender said, according to the police report.
And then, in San Diego, there was Rabenberg, who just weeks after being released because of Prop 47 was caught breaking the law again.
He was arrested for possession of meth on Jan. 2 and released from jail Jan. 3.
He was arrested for having drug paraphernalia on Feb. 6 and issued a citation.
He was arrested again for having drugs on Feb. 19. And then again on March 1. And then again on March 8. And then again on April 1.
By April 26, he had been arrested for six misdemeanors in less than four months and been released all six times, so he was free to occupy a table outside Starbucks when a man named Kevin Zempko arrived to have coffee with his wife. Zempko sat at a table next to Rabenberg, who was picking apart the seams of his coat and dumping the contents of his pockets onto the table: some nickels, two $1 bills, a few scraps of paper, a dingy plastic cup and a lighter. Zempko watched for a few seconds and concluded that Rabenberg was probably a vagrant and an addict. “I just felt bad for him,” he said.
Rabenberg noticed Zempko looking his way and began to stare back, mumbling, gesturing, standing up and now pulling something new from the pocket of his coat. It was a small wooden steak knife. Rabenberg slammed it down on the table. He picked it up again, jabbed at the air and started moving with the knife toward Zempko, who stood up and placed a chair between them.
Zempko had been in the Marine Corps for 11 years, trained to recognize a threat, and he escaped into the Starbucks and warned other customers. The manager called the police. Another Starbucks employee tried to pacify Rabenberg with a free cup of coffee. By the time two police officers arrived, Rabenberg seemed mostly confused and tired. “Disoriented” was how a police report described him. The officers handcuffed Rabenberg and placed him in the back of their police car.
“What will happen to him?” Zempko asked, because now the threat had passed and what he felt most was concern for Rabenberg, even guilt.
“He needs help,” Zempko told the officers, and they asked for his phone number and said they would call as part of their investigation. For a few days, Zempko waited and wondered: If they asked him to testify, would he push for leniency or a strict sentence? Which would be better for the city? Which would be better for Rabenberg?
But the police never called. The arrest had been for possession of drugs and brandishing a deadly weapon — both misdemeanors. Rabenberg was booked into jail and released three days later.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Crooked Capitalism- Greed, fraud at its best (worst, I mean) in a capitalist society. Have you heard about GBSN (Great Basin Scientific In) stock?

Probably most of us know about stocks and stock markets. It is one place which offers possibility to get rich without any hard work.
Let us imagine about a stock. Over two years, its price has changed between $460,800,000  and $0.0008 over just two and a half years! No, I have not made any mistake with zeros or decimal points in the numbers! Great Basin Scientific Inc (NASD Stock Symbol GBSN) has actually fluctuated between these two numbers. See the chart below! Actually, the price movement is in the opposite direction! The company stock has gone through multiple reverse splits and if you adjust price of the original stock for every split, the day the stock GSBN first traded, it was $460,800,000! Almost half a billion! Do you know that is the price of the stock today? It is not even a penny!!! It is traded at $.0008! That means, you can buy 10,000 stocks of GBSN today for 8 pennies!!!

GBSN stock price history

Reverse Split history: GBSN
Dec 28, 2016 1: 300 sharesSep 16, 2016 1:80 shares
March 31, 2016. This was a 1 for 35 
December 14, 2015 1:60 shares

Do you know what these reverse splits mean? If you had 50,400,000 stock on day#1, you would be left with 1 stock today!! The power of multiplications LOL!
This numbers are insane. They are even more crazy when you find the value of that stock is $.0008 today! Didn't I say you can buy 10,000 stocks today for 8 pennies! And now the biggest shock of this one of the most crooked games in capitalist society! The 8 pennies you spend today to buy 10000 stocks of GBSN are worth 504,000,000,000 original stocks!!! That is like you had 504 billion stocks in GBSN on the day it traded! Can you imagine who much money investors would have lost in this game?

Now in this whole game who made money? Not investors. I don't think any investor would have made even a penny. Maybe some lucky traders made some money. However most money was made by -the founders, the management, the companies (which are most likely related entities) which bought convertible bonds of GBSN!
Here is how much pay the executives take home (as per Yahoo Finance)
GBSN executives

How is this possible? As long as there are investors who like to buy cheap, penny stocks, or stocks based on tips by vested interested or tips by strangers on various message boards, there are always fraudsters who are out there to cheat them.

If you are curious about such scams work, please see the details below! Don't forget to read the readers' comments too at the bottom of the page!