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Mark's Market Blog

4-6-14: Obamacare is closed. Well, almost.

By Mark Lawrence

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The market rotation continued, with tech stocks like Amazon down 4% to 6%. Meanwhile the S&P has continued to be relatively flat. I don't expect this to last much longer - in a week or two the markets should break out of this range one way or another. Stocks dropped precipitously on Friday; I expect a rebound in the next day or two. The economy continues to sluggishly improve, there's no immediate reason for a big correction. But then corrections don't always have an immediate reason. I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks, so you'll just have to trust that the world doesn't crash in my absence. I have an appointment with a Harley and several two lane highways.

S&P 500 October 10 2013 to April 4 2014

Monday, March 31st. The putative "last day" to sign up for Obamacare. If you're not signed up by midnight you can't get insurance until 2015. And the Obamacare website is down for maintenance. But not to worry: if you need cheap insurance, you just sign up before April 15th and check the box saying that you had started your application before April 1. No one will check, it's "honor system." The web site is an unmitigated $700m disaster, the only people signing up are poor and old, and the deadlines and requirements keep changing. One of the core foundations of our legal system is that the law should only change slowly so that people can reasonably know the requirements.

Japan has been printing money like mad trying to end their 25 year long economic hangover. But this week they're raising consumption taxes - an interesting decision for a country trying to spur consumption. The last time they did this, in 1997, they crashed into a recession.

Obamacare has signed up about 6 million; unfortunately about 80% of them are getting subsidies, leading to bad projections about insurance costs next year. To put that 6 million in perspective, in the same October - April time frame 3 million signed up for medicaid. We were told that Obamacare would help control medical costs; it's hard to see how you sign up nearly 8 million people for nearly free medical insurance and that controls costs.

Obamacare has been an epic disaster for the democrats. In 2010 republicans won control of 56 out of 100 state houses, and controlled the redistricting process for 210 house districts to 44 controlled by democrats. Republicans were prepared for this with a huge redistricting plan they called REDMAP, Redistricting Majority Project. The result: in 2012 democrats got 1.4 million more votes than republicans, but republicans maintained a 33 seat advantage in the house. This will last until the 2020 census. How does it work? It's surprisingly easy. Democrats are concentrated in the cities, so new districts were drawn around cities where democrats have complete control, often with 80% or more of the vote. Then the remaining districts in the suburbs and country were drawn to spread out republicans more thinly, giving them small advantages in lots of districts. In 2012 Obama won 26 districts with more than 80% of the vote, Romney won only one such district, in the Texas panhandle. So we have democrat candidates from urban districts that are heavily minority; those candidates favor increasing the minimum wage, subsidizing health care and reforming immigration laws. And we have republican candidates from rural areas that favor defense over welfare and fences over citizenship. This is one of the reasons the house has become so very partisan.

Last week I talked about the .001 percenters - here's a nice graphic.

Beating swords into plowshares: As the UK becomes more and more secular, they have fewer and fewer church goers. So people are buying up the empty churches and converting them to pubs: a huge bar, tables, stools and slot-machines stand in place of the pews. Other churches have become a climbing center in the city of Manchester; a circus school in Bristol, where trapezes hang from the rafters; a supermarket; a library; an art gallery; apartments; luxury homes; a Sikh temple.

Walmart owns 6,500 trucks and 55,000 trailers. So they're very interested in improving truck efficiency - interested enough that they fund R&D efforts. Here's their latest prototype. Advanced aerodynamics for 20% less drag, turbine engine, electric hybrid, center seating for the driver, and carbon fiber trailer.

Just ten days after taking the job, Brendan Eich has resigned as CEO of Mozilla. In 2008, Eich donated $1,000 to California's Proposition 8 campaign that sought to make same-sex marriage illegal in the state. Developers of Mozilla's Firefox browser, the gay community, vocal Mozilla employees and Firefox users took to blogs and Twitter to express outrage over Eich's appointment, calling for his resignation. Eich has been with the organization since the beginning -- he co-founded the Mozilla Foundation in 1998. Mozilla owns the popular browser Firefox and is known for promoting open source software. "Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech," said Mitchell Baker, Mozilla's executive chairwoman in a blog post announcing the resignation. "Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard." We were told gay marriage was about equality and tolerance; turns out tolerance is a one-way road.

I've been asked by a couple readers to speak further on global warming, or climate change, or whatever it is Algore and Hillery are all worked up about. There have been no significant temperature changes in the last 15 years. The result? It's no longer "global warming," it's now "climate change," and I still owe reparations to lots of 3rd world people because I drive a car. The UN has just published a "proof" that global warming will stop the growth of food yields just as 3rd world population peaks. Some say the temperature is flat-lined because the oceans are sucking up the heat. Whatever. 15 years ago the cities were getting the hottest the fastest, and this was evidence. Now the cities aren't changing and that's to be expected apparently. Personally I have just the opposite concern: we've seen a couple winters now with truly exceptional snow; two years ago there was snow in Ankara Turkey - think Los Angeles. This year the entire US east of the Rockies was snow-locked for three months. As the arctic and north atlantic and north pacific warm up it puts more water into the atmosphere and causes larger winter storms. Then the water level drops from the increased precipitation and most warm water comes in from the south to fill in. Furthermore the evidence is that ice ages come on *really* fast. The evidence is that for the last several million years the earth has been in an ice age for about 100,000 years at a time, then a 10,000 year interlude like the one we're in. About 11,000 years into it. I'm more worried about a new ice age than some little islets in the pacific getting swamped. Anyway, for those of you who think I will burn in some liberal hell for being a climate change skeptic, here's some light reading. Apparently I will one day owe reparations to Martians, Jovians and Plutonians. My car is also heating up their worlds. BTW, I drive a Prius to it's extremely likely that you will owe even larger reparations than I. Note that my links are not to UN pages, but to NASA and MIT pages.

There is a new birth control option in town, currently undergoing clinical trials, that's effective, reversible, cheap, and lasts for 10-15 years after just one treatment. Vasalgel is painlessly injected into the man's vas deferens under local anesthetic, blocking the plumbing that delivers sperm. The procedure is likened to a No-Scalpel vasectomy, and can be completed in 15 minutes. The procedure is easily undone with another injection that dissolves the blockage. In my father's generation the slogan was "The most expensive sex you will ever have is free sex." Perhaps that won't necessarily be true for my sons, who will perhaps soon have an option to take control of their own reproductive rights.

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