In previous blogs we have discussed appropriate debt levels for nonfinancial companies and for large banks.  What about for the individual household?  Sometimes, households are ‘credit-constrained’ in that they cannot find borrowers to lend them their desired amounts.  In economic booms, like the housing boom that preceded the 2007-2008 crisis, lending standards tend to soften… Read more

Previously published on April 14, 2016 on  Most commentary on California’s decision to increase the state minimum wage to $15 over time is either along the lines of it being a boon to minimum-wage workers and their families or a disaster for California’s economy.  Neither is accurate.  Different regions sill see different outcomes.  Central… Read more

Large banks (think of Wells Fargo, Citicorp, JP Morgan and Bank of America) today hold equity capital roughly equal to about ten percent of total assets.  Inverting that ratio we get assets to equity of ten times or leverage as commonly defined (debt divided by equity, instead of assets divided by equity) of nine times. … Read more

By Bill Watkins – Previously Published in the Pacific Coast Business Times In popular culture, there are “good” industries and “evil” industries. Oil has held the most hated position of the evil list for generations and is likely to hold it until there is no more oil. Farming, once solidly on the good list, is… Read more

In a recent made-for-TV movie actor Richard Dreyfuss plays hedge fund manager Bernie Madoff, creator of one of the all-time great Ponzi Schemes. A Ponzi Scheme, named after an Italian crook of the early 20th century, is a fraud in which a proprietor (like Bernie) accepts money from investors based on a claim to be… Read more

Previously published on February 13, 2016 on   It is an article of faith among California’s political class that insufficient higher educational opportunities are a constraint on California’s economic and job growth.  Just about every California economic development document includes a discussion of California’s desperate need for more college graduates. Unfortunately, the facts disagree with… Read more

Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the Big Short is a movie about several hedge fund managers who identified cracks in the mortgage market in 2005-2007 and attempted to bet on a collapse in the market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). In particular these managers noted that underwriting standards on mortgage… Read more

Written by Bill Watkins Previously published January 19, 2016 at Every now and then, something happens to cause California’s comfortable establishment to celebrate the state’s economy.  Recent budget surpluses and jobs data have provided several opportunities, never mind that these are hardly summary statistics.  They don’t tell the complete story. The celebrants conveniently ignore… Read more

What is the right amount of debt for a particular borrower? This depends on the borrower.  Are we talking about a corporation, a bank, a household, a government entity, or an investment fund?  At a very high level, it seems that some debt can be beneficial, while too much debt can be detrimental.  Sort of… Read more

At the ASSA economics conference on Sunday, I attended a session on the equilibrium real (inflation adjusted) interest rate.  This topic was being discussed in particular as a metric relating to sluggish U.S. economic growth since the Great Recession. First, some presenters documented empirically that real interest rates since 1860 has had episodes, some of… Read more

Houston, we have liftoff!  That is not what Fed chair Janet Yellen said, but we can say that the Dow closed up 224 points at the end of trading today.  The Fed had telegraphed this move, markets had priced it in, and this market reaction is consistent. I am pleased with this move, as I… Read more

Asset management is an extremely competitive industry that offers extraordinary wealth building opportunities to those managers who are successful in generating market beating returns, or at least in bringing in large amounts of assets to manage. This opportunity draws lots of really smart people to the business. The problem is that the average performance of… Read more

We have shown in prior blogs how do-it-yourself investors can achieve reasonable investment returns through the use of low-cost highly diversified passively managed funds. How can non-do-it-yourselfers obtain these same benefits? There are financial advisors who specialize in these services, but often not at an acceptable level of cost. Recently, a marriage of technology and… Read more

Previously published on October 29, 2015 on   California has a long history of boom and bust cycles, but over the past 25 years or so, California’s cycles appear to be becoming more volatile, with increasing frequency, higher highs, and lower lows.  The fast-moving business cycle may not provide the time necessary for many… Read more

John Cochrane is professor of finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and is an expert on the theory of asset pricing. You can take (or audit) his free online course through Coursera. In this course he starts out by briefly summarizing the state of the art in asset management… Read more