On today’s episode of Trend Following Radio Michael Covel interviews Jim Rickards. Jim was front and center during the 1998 LTCM blow-up. He was a partner and general counsel for Long Term Capital Management. Following their blowup, he was principal negotiator in the 1998 bailout of LTCM by the Federal Reserve. He has had a bird’s eye view of some of the most interesting events in the economy over the last 20 years.
Michael and Jim dive right into the sequence of events that lead to the devaluation of the Thai Baht in May of 1997. Jim then goes into the chronology of events that took place leading to the fall of Long Term Capital Management. He makes clear that LTCM had some of the brightest brains in finance working for them at the time, including Nobel Prize winners and a vast number of PhD’s from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. Jim summarizes the events prompting Russia to default on their debt which let loose a sequence of events leading to LTCM losing four billion dollars in one month. Wall Street cared not for the four billion LTCM loss but because they had over 1 trillion dollars of derivatives contracts tied to LTCM positions. Many thought all of Wall Street would have been taken down if LTCM went down. That was when the Fed intervened and organized a bailout.
Jim goes on to talk about the changes that took place and the lessons that were learned from the fall of LTCM. He says the three lessons that should have been taken away from the crisis were; derivatives are dangerous, leverage is dangerous and getting banks involved is dangerous. The changes started with repealing Glass Steagall in 1999, rewriting laws so they could do “swaps” on everything, and then in 2006 the SEC changed leverage rules on brokers. So in short regulators ended up doing the complete opposite of what they should have learned from LTCM. Michael asks the question, “Why were the same people who were saying that the economy was great till the day it crashed, the same people that were responsible for fixing it?” Jim says policy makers never see bubbles. He gives two possible explanations for why policy makers act as they do; conspiracy or complete incompetence. He believes it is more incompetence rather than a conspiracy and goes on to explain why.
Michael and Jim then dive into “models”. If you have the wrong models you will get the wrong results every time. Michael notes that the right models are rooted in behavioral finance. Jim notes that the Fed does not use behavioral economics. Jim talks about the three elements that his model is based on: behavioral finance, complexity theory and inverse probability. He goes into great depth on what all of those models are and gives real life examples for them.