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Reinventing the Financial System

By Marc Rubinstein | June 15, 2021 | 4 Comments

If you’re like me, you’ve been put off from digging deeper into DeFi by the terrible signal-to-noise ratio of anything crypto-related on the interwebs. That’s why I found this DeFi primer (using Maker DAO as a specific example) by ET contributor and banking analyst Marc Rubinstein to be so fantastic.

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Headline Risk

The average American news consumer is exposed to far more headline text on news websites, social media apps and content aggregation sites than they are to the prose of the articles themselves. It should be no surprise, then, that more Fiat News and Missionary behavior exists in headlines than almost anywhere else. It typically gets a pass because, well, the whole job of a headline writer is to summarize what an article is about. But that’s precisely the task that lends itself so perfectly to telling us how we should think about the article. What’s important? What should our conclusions be? How should we feel about it?

I’ll give a free subscription to our free newsletter if you can find the fiat news language in this gem of a headline to a CNN news article.

Here are the companies rushing workers back to the office — and the ones that aren’t [CNN]

Aside from the general observation to take care in our content consumption habits, remember that it is the constant barrage of articles – and headlines – like this that reinforces our belief that the missionaries of the “Work From Home Forever!” narratives are dominating the field, at least in the Narrative war.

— Rusty Guinn | June 22, 2021 | 9:58 am

“Yay, Stock Buybacks!”

h/t @SouthernValue95 for the brilliant memework!

I saw this work of art on Twitter today, referring to Dropbox management using stock buybacks to sterilize their outrageous stock-based comp, and it made my day.

The Epsilon Theory notes I wrote about stock buybacks in 2019 are the most controversial thing we have ever published. They generated more anger, more arguments and more cold shoulders from the mainstream finance community than anything else we’ve done. Here’s my position:

When stock buybacks are used to sterilize stock-based comp (i.e., a company gives managers stock with one hand and buys it back from them with the other hand), no money is “returned to shareholders”. This is true whether or not management actually sells its shares into the buyback program.

Stock buybacks only “return cash to shareholders” to the degree that the buyback program reduces the sharecount. To the degree the buyback program does not reduce the sharecount, but simply sterilizes new issuance to management, it is purely a transfer of wealth from shareholders to management.

As the kids would say, it’s just math.

I think you would be AMAZED at the proportion of stock buyback programs that go towards sterilizing stock-based comp. I certainly was. I think it’s the greatest transfer of wealth in human history.

Not to founders. Not to entrepreneurs. Not to risk-takers.

Nope … to managers. To asset-gatherers. To fee-takers. To rent-seekers. To rakes.

Yep, Jamie Dimon is the rake. But then so is every S&P 500 management team. So is every Wall Street management team. That I’m aware of, at least. It’s the water in which we swim.

“Yay, Stock Buybacks!”

It’s amazing how many people get very angry at me when I say this.

Anyhoo … in addition to The Rake, here are the notes that started all the fuss.

— Ben Hunt | June 15, 2021 | 4:04 pm

“Yay, Environment!”

In Epsilon Theory-speak, we use “Yay, Good-Thing!” as shorthand for a Narrative that takes a linguistic construction that we all agree is a Good Thing (something like “capitalism” or “freedom” or “democracy”) and turns it into a behaviorally powerfully argument for something that is decidedly not that Good Thing, but can be painted with other behaviorally powerful words into something that sorta kinda looks like that Good Thing if you squint really hard and you say the behaviorally powerful words loudly enough.

In rhetorical construction, “Yay, Good Thing!” is a variation on begging the question (in the correct way of understanding that phrase, where the conclusion is assumed in the proposition), or if you’re in marketing or sales you would recognize this as a variation of the assumptive close. The typically-but-not-always unspoken corollary to the “Yay, Good Thing!” narrative construction is “You’re not against Good Thing, are you?”, which is the linguistic stick to the “Yay, Good Thing!” carrot.

Socrates would call “Yay, Good Thing!” sophistry, and he hated the Sophists with a deep and abiding passion. Same. In the modern world, the Sophists are powerful government and corporate interests (aka the Nudging State or the Nudging Oligarchy if we’re going to continue in Epsilon Theory-speak), and the “Yay, Good Thing!” construction is their go-to narrative weapon in the Forever War of stripping away our autonomy of mind.

If you want to read more about our take on “Yay, Good Thing!” narratives, here’s the Epsilon Theory note that started all that.

Anyhoo … I was thinking about “Yay, Good Thing!” today because of how the “Yay, Environment!” implementation of this narrative device is being used to shape the politics of two issues that we’ve been writing a lot about recently: work and crypto.

“Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of work.

It’s a very powerful narrative thread. It’s a big reason why “Remote work is here to stay!” is winning this narrative war, and you are going to see a lot more “Yay, Environment!” rationalizations for remote work policies in the future.

Similarly, “Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary narrative threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of Bitcoin.

Here’s the latest, from Elizabeth Warren, but you’re no doubt familiar with Elon Musk’s oeuvre here, as well.

And yes, this construction of “Yay, Environment!” does indeed speak the usually silent part – “You’re not against the Environment, are you?” – out loud. And yes, you’re going to be seeing A LOT more of this narrative. Not because it’s right. Not because it’s wrong. But because it WORKS.

It’s all just another weapon in the ongoing narrative war for Wall Street control and US Treasury visibility over Bitcoin.

— Ben Hunt | June 10, 2021 | 9:24 am

Fiat News in Action

It wasn’t enough for ProPublica to do actual news reporting by publishing these tax records.

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

No, they had to tell you how to think about their news reporting.

They had to turn news into Fiat News by constructing a metric of “true tax rate” based on unrealized capital gains, because … you know … the actual true tax rate just wasn’t damning enough for ProPublica’s purposes.

To capture the financial reality of the richest Americans, ProPublica undertook an analysis that has never been done before. We compared how much in taxes the 25 richest Americans paid each year to how much Forbes estimated their wealth grew in that same time period.

We’re going to call this their true tax rate.

What is Fiat News? It’s the presentation of opinion as fact. It’s an interpretation of factual events projected with the same authority as the factual events themselves.

Fiat News (in this case the opinion that wealth in the form of unrealized capital gains should be taxed) is to hard news (in this case the tax filings of the very wealthy) what fiat currencies are to hard currencies.

We write a lot about Fiat News. Here’s the money quote from the note that started it all, Fiat Money, Fiat News:

There’s really no such thing as “real money”, i.e., gold and silver as a medium for exchange or a store of value, in existence in the world today. That used to be the meaning of gold, but those days are long gone. Today fiat money completely and utterly dominates all global commerce and exchange. Why? Because it supports the existential aims of government: taxation (sovereignty), price control (stability), and liquidity provision (growth). Without the invention of fiat money, global GDP today would be at … I dunno, maybe mid-18th century levels? Something around there, I’d guess.

Fiat news serves exactly the same existential aims of government, just in a less overt (but more powerful for being hidden) fashion. There’s just too much at stake for status quo regimes, what with modern referenda like Brexit and national elections like we just experienced in the U.S. and are forthcoming this year throughout Europe, for regime institutions to do anything other than double-down in their embrace and promulgation of fiat news.

Ten years from now we will be awash in “news” to a degree that we can hardly imagine today. That’s what happened with fiat money, and that’s what I think happens with fiat news.

The exponential growth in fiat news is still ahead of us, not behind us.

Gresham’s Law: bad money drives good money out of circulation.

Hunt’s Law: fiat news drives hard news out of circulation.

— Ben Hunt | June 8, 2021 | 9:42 am

A Disturbance in the Force

Yesterday, one of Softbank’s largest portfolio companies – Katerra – filed for bankruptcy.

Katerra was at the heart of the relationship between Softbank and Greensill, and I think it’s the most viable path by which the Greensill fraud and financial crimes can be shown to be Softbank fraud and financial crimes.

You can read our full take on Greensill and Softbank here …

… but the skinny is this:

in 2019, Softbank put ~$3 billion into Greensill, turning it into the Vision Fund’s private bank. In 2020, Greensill lent Softbank portfolio company Katerra $435 million. When Katerra ran into trouble, Greensill wrote off the $435 million loan in exchange for 5% of common equity. LOL. A $435 million senior secured loan – which had been packaged and sold to Credit Suisse – was exchanged for a 5% equity position in a bankrupt company.

Credit Suisse has announced that they are filing suit against Softbank over this and all of the other Softbank/Greensill shenanigans. And in the WSJ article describing the Katerra bankruptcy filing, you can see how Softbank is going to try and spin this (all caps mine).

When Katerra ran into financial difficulties last year, Greensill forgave the loan. 

SoftBank, in turn, invested $440 million into Greensill, EXPECTING THE MONEY TO GO TO CREDIT SUISSE’S INVESTORS.

Instead, Greensill put the proceeds of the SoftBank investment in a bank it owned in Bremen, Germany, according to a bankruptcy administrator’s report. The report said Greensill had used money it received from SoftBank, including the $440 million, to boost its bank’s capital position and fund Greensill’s overall operations.

The Softbank defense is going to be that their back door pay-off to Greensill for forgiving the Katerra loan was really intended to be a back door pay-off for Credit Suisse, but that rascal Lex just kept the money. Who knew!

As always, the best way to rob a bank is to own a bank.

— Ben Hunt | June 7, 2021 | 11:41 am

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Why Am I Reading This Now? 04.08.24

Recent major media stories that feel to us like they’re part of a larger narrativ‌e campaign.



Why Am I Reading This Now? 03.18.24

Recent major media stories that feel to us like they’re part of a larger narrativ‌e campaign.



Recent Notes

Breaking News #22: Israel, Meme Stocks and the Rising Risks Across the Globe

By Harper Hunt | May 23, 2024

Risks are rising on a variety of fronts across the world. And market players are positioning themselves to profit before they are realized. In this episode of Breaking News, we take a tour of some of the major issues we face in the current challenging environment. We discuss the peculiar announcement by Ireland, Norway, and Spain recognizing the Palestinian state, the potential for total war in the Middle East, Rick Rieder’s suggestion for interest rate cuts and the return of Roaring Kitty and the GameStop saga. We also cover President Biden’s questionable housing proposal, and the lessons we can learn from Conan O’Brien’s appearance on the YouTube show Hot Ones.

When You Destroy the Tools of Creativity

By Kyla Scanlon | May 14, 2024

We are in an age of tremendous uncertainty. Trust has evaporated. But agency, the individual expression of trust, has evaporated, too. 

Before we can rebuild trust in institutions, we have to start by rebuilding agency in ourselves. 

The Intentional Investor #4: Bogumil Baranowski

By Harper Hunt | May 14, 2024

In this episode of The Intentional Investor, host Matt Zeigler is joined by Bogumil Baranowski to discuss the power of investing with a multi-generational mindset. Baranowski shares his personal journey from growing up in communist Poland to discovering the transformative potential of free market economies and property rights. We also discuss the importance of viewing wealth as a tree that can be planted, nurtured, and enjoyed by future generations and explore the value of community, education, and personal experiences in shaping one’s perspective on investing and life.

How To Win At Story: Conan’s Hot Ones Masterclass

By Matt Zeigler | May 9, 2024

Please, let’s have a laugh at Conan on Hot Ones, but let’s also think this out together:

How do you win at story?

I’ve got 10 rules to try and help. And, using plenty of examples from the show, let’s see if we can’t get just a little bit better at the stories we tell ourselves too.  

Breaking News #21: Donald Trump and the Story the Media Isn’t Telling

By Harper Hunt | May 9, 2024

In this episode of Breaking News, we explore a range of topics, from the lack of media coverage surrounding the billions of dollars funneled to Donald Trump through his social media company, to the pervasiveness of gambling and speculation in our society. We discuss the embedded wage-price inflationary environment and its potential impact on our fragile, optimized systems. Additionally, we delve into the creative process behind Kelly Clarkson’s hit song “Since U Been Gone” and how it relates to the construction of pop stars, media stories, and political narratives.

The Story that Changes The World

By Tom_Morgan | May 1, 2024

The ‘monomyth’ or Hero’s Journey isn’t just a script for movies. It’s also the script of our society and our individual lives.

If we let it.

The Intentional Investor #3: Howard Lindzon

By Harper Hunt | April 30, 2024

In this episode of The Intentional Investor, host Matt Ziegler interviews Howard Lindzon, the founder and CEO of StockTwits. Lindzon shares his journey from aspiring comedian to stockbroker, entrepreneur, and investor, highlighting the importance of mentorship, tight networks, and adaptability in the ever-changing landscape of business and technology. The conversation covers Lindzon’s early investments in companies like Robinhood and eToro, the evolution of social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube, and the lessons he’s learned from navigating bull and bear markets.

Fidelity Reminds ETF Industry It Doesn’t Have To Care

By Dave Nadig | April 25, 2024

Free is a good price. It’s how we got Fortnite, and Radio, and a terrible internet. People hate paying for things.

That’s what Fidelity was counting on when they decided to make a stink about 9 ETF issuers not signing their revenue sharing deal.

And they’ll win. They always win.

Breaking News #20: Hot Ones and Phony Wars

By Harper Hunt | April 25, 2024

In this episode of Breaking News, we examine the recent situation with NPR and how it relates to the concept of fiat news. We also delve into the current state of tensions between Iran and Israel and why we may see a ‘phony war” in the coming months. Additionally, we examine the underwhelming sales of Tesla’s Cybertruck and the broader decline of the EV narrative. We also have a dumb question about expansion of NATO and a Cultish Corner on Conan O’Brien’s masterful appearance on the show “Hot Ones”.

The Intentional Investor #2: Justin Castelli

By Harper Hunt | April 23, 2024

In this episode of the Intentional Investor, Matt Zeigler and Justin Castelli explore the intersection of life and investing, discussing the importance of aligning your financial plan with your personal values and vision. Justin shares his unique perspective on setting goals versus having a vision, emphasizing the significance of investing in experiences, relationships, and intellectual property rather than solely focusing on traditional financial metrics. The two discuss the role of financial advisors in helping clients live authentically and the potential for an abundance mindset within the financial system. Justin also touches on his aspirations to support others through creative ventures and the generational wisdom he hopes to pass down to his children.

Cursed Knowledge #28: Casual Gambling in Videogames

By Harper Hunt | April 18, 2024

Gambling is a big deal. And everyone’s got an opinion one way or another. It’s had a pretty insane increase over the last few years. But what happens when Gambling becomes gambling? When it stops being a grand event and is instead a much more insidious and, well, casual thing. Spoiler Alert. Nothing good. It’s now showing up everywhere. From sports, to finance, to politics, to videogames. It’s rarely obvious gambling, and that’s what we need to be worried about.

The Intentional Investor #1: Ben Hunt

By Harper Hunt | April 16, 2024

In this episode of The Intentional Investor, Matt Ziegler has a wide-ranging conversation with Ben Hunt, discussing Ben’s journey from academia to finance and the pivotal moments that shaped his career. Ben shares his lifelong fascination with games, puzzles, and cracking codes, which eventually led him to the world of investing. They delve into Ben’s experiences in academia, the lessons he learned from starting a software company, and his realization that fundamentals and value in investing are ultimately driven by narratives and game theory. Ben also discusses the genesis of Epsilon Theory, and his ongoing quest to find structure in unstructured data and stories. Throughout the conversation, they explore the interconnectedness of human, intellectual, social, and financial capital in shaping one’s life and career.

IT’S. ABOUT. THE. MONEY.

By Ben Hunt | April 11, 2024

If you were a smart guy like MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor and you thought a stagflationary tsunami of enormous proportion was going to wash over the US economy regardless of who wins in November, what would you be doing right now?

I think you might be doing whatever you can to get liquid in the global reserve currency without spooking the marks.

Breaking News #19: Number Go Up For November

By Harper Hunt | April 11, 2024

In this episode we discuss how the upcoming November election is shaping the current political and economic landscape. We discuss why inflation, the stock market and the war in the Middle East are all being viewed through a political lens as the election approaches and those with a vested interest seek to influence its outcome . We also discuss the prevalence of conspiracy theories, the erosion of trust in institutions, and the importance of curiosity in a left brain focused world.

I Think The Gun Helps

By Rusty Guinn | April 10, 2024

Our kids are being rewired.

The data implicating the smartphone-based childhood are compelling but not conclusive – and may never be.

So how should governments, communities, schools and families decide what to do?

Breaking News #18: The Rise of the Raccoons

By Harper Hunt | March 28, 2024

As anyone who has ever left their trash lid loose would know, raccoons have a tendency to come in and clean up the leftovers. And they make a huge mess while they do it. That isn’t the only place they exist, though. Raccoons also exist in the financial world, the self help world and a lot of other places. They come in and take what is leftover from what would otherwise be positive innovations and make a mess of them for their own benefit. In this episode, we take a detailed look at raccoons. We look at the tactics they use and how all of us can better spot them before they do their damage. We also discuss the danger of carved out inflation metrics, whether fundamental investing is dead, what steam boat operators have to do with finding your true self and a lot more.

Bitcoin Endgames & The New Hyper-Agents

By Dave Nadig | March 19, 2024

If the HODLers are right, they’re also the new Elites.

Not in a “my thumbdrive will make me the Duke of West Hartford in this post-apocalyptic hellscape” sort of way, but in ugly-but-mainstream scenarios with ugly-but-mainstream power/wealth transfers.

Breaking News #17: The Rise of Financial Nihilism

By Harper Hunt | March 14, 2024

Younger generations today feel like they don’t have a chance. Whether it be rising home prices or income and wealth inequality, they feel that they are starting with a significant disadvantage relative to older generations. One of the responses to this has been to resort to more aggressive gambling when it comes to their investments and their lives. Whether it be sports gambling or investing in riskier investments, some have sought to overcome their starting position by making risky bets. In this episode, we take a deep dive into this idea of financial nihilism and look at its real world implications. We also discuss Elon Musk’s treason allegations against Joe Biden and also look at the amazing behind the scenes story of the creation of the song “We Are the World.”

And You Wonder Why Bitcoin and Gold are at Record Highs

By Ben Hunt | March 12, 2024

The Fed’s inflation-fighting credibility is shot and everyone in Washington and on Wall Street is in the bag for nominal growth, ie Number Go Up on EVERYTHING, through the November election.

After that … well, as Louis XV so aptly put it: après moi, le déluge.

Wheeee!

Financial Nihilism

By Travis Kling | March 12, 2024

The Boomers have all the money. The American Dream of upward mobility is dead for you. That is Financial Nihilism.

So if you’re on the wrong end of this, what do you do about it?

You gamble. You f**king gamble.