Snakes and Ropes
I dined last night at the Harvard Club with a Europe-based fund manager, Guy Spier, who runs the Aquamarine Fund out of Zurich. We were overlooked by a portrait of Mary I. Bunting, who was president of my college when it still existed and an independent part of Harvard. Nathan Pusey looked down on us too.
Guy quoted an Arab proverb: “If a man has been bitten by a snake, in every coiled rope he sees a snake.” Guy was trying to say that the current fear of another Lehman Brothers bank failure is irrational, particularly when focused on a French banking major, Société Générale.
Guy reminded us that the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are both being run by French nationals. And that there are strong precedents for the French government to intervene to recapitalize French banks.
And of course France is a central not a marginal player in the Euro group, so it can call upon the nasty Nordics and Germany for help beating back the short sellers.
Guy operates a value fund aiming to buy shares at below their true value, a sort of Swiss Graham-Dodd-Buffett style of investing. He likes companies with a margin of safety or a lot of cash, but also is looking for ones with good prospects for growth or recovery. Unusually, there are no institutional investors in his fund which exists in two models, for US-investors, and in an offshore version, but both investing the exact same way.The last institution which had invested in Aquamarine, the Zurich Rothschild Bank, withdrew in August, much to Guy's relief. He prefers retail clients.
Guy is generally optimistic arguing that US rail shipments are rising in a sign of economic growth, and that the US housing market overhand will probably clear in about 6 months. He also thinks unemployment will begin to slide whatever Congress decides to do about the latest Obama package.
More for paid subscribers follows from France, Spain, Mexico, Israel, and India. I have no idea why the font changed after paragraph 2, but suspect it's related to my putting the accents into the French bank's name. But we are www.global-investing.com and will live up to the requirments of being global.
Self Fulfilling Prophets
Beware of self-fulfilling prophets.Today the target of bank shorts is French major banks. Despite measures to quickly raise capital, the shorts are in control and they expect the Greek debt crisis will require new fund-raising and government capital injections in les banques. When the price of defaults rises because of rumors and fears, they quickly become self-fulfilling. The entire euro-zone is affected and the common currency is down.
Stephane Deo and his team of economists at UBS write about the costs of a euro breakup:
“Under the current structure and with the current membership, the Euro does not work. Either the current structure will have to change, or the current membership will have to change.
“Our base case with an overwhelming probability is that the Euro moves slowly (and painfully) towards some kind of fiscal integration. The risk case, of break-up, is considerably more costly and close to zero probability. Countries cannot be expelled, but sovereign states could choose to secede. However, popular discussion of the break-up option considerably underestimates the consequences of such a move.
“The cost of a weak country leaving the Euro is significant. Consequences include sovereign default, corporate default, collapse of the banking system and collapse of international trade. There is little prospect of devaluation offering much assistance.
“We estimate that a weak Euro country leaving the Euro would incur a cost of around 9,500-11,500 euros per person in the exiting country during the first year. That cost would then probably amount to 3,000 to 4,000 euros per person per year over subsequent years. That equates to a range of 40% to 50% of GDP in the first year.
“Were a stronger country such as Germany to leave the Euro, the consequences would include corporate default, recapitalisation of the banking system and collapse of international trade. If Germany were to leave, we believe the cost to be around 6,000 to 8,000 euros for every German adult and child in the first year, and a range of 3,500 to 4,500 euros per person per year thereafter. That is the equivalent of 20% to 25% of GDP in the first year.
“In comparison, the cost of bailing out Greece, Ireland and Portugal entirely in the wake of the default of those countries would be a little over 1,000 euros per person, in a single hit.
“The economic cost is, in many ways, the least of the concerns investors should have about a break-up. “Fragmentation of the Euro would incur political costs. Europe’s “soft power” influence internationally would cease (as the concept of “Europe” as an integrated polity becomes meaningless). It is also worth observing that almost no modern fiat currency monetary unions have broken up without some form of authoritarian or military government, or civil war.
“To quote Keynes, 'Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency.' If a country has gone to the extreme of reversing the introduction of the Euro, it is at least plausible that centrifugal forces will seek to break the country apart. If some geographic regions or ethnic or linguistic groups wish to remain within the Euro, demands for a break-up of the country may ensue. It is certainly worth noting that several countries of the Euro area have histories of internal division – Belgium, Italy and Spain being amongst the most obvious.”
Britain is going ahead with tough bank Vickers Commission regulations to "ring fence" retail banking from investment banking and require that banks boost their capitalization. But not just yet. The reforms could cost between GBP 4 bn and 7 bn to bring banks' core capital to 10% and their primary capital to absorb losses to 17-20% depending on size. These are only matched by rules in Switzerland.
Chancellor of the Exchequeur George Osborne plans to fast-track the new legislation proposed by Vickers (formally the Independent Commission on Banking). But the government will let British banks meet these capital requirements slowly. Or to quote St. Augustine, “let me be chaste, just not yet.”
The international regulations negotiated by member countries of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) will only come into force in 2019. They require banks to hold a minimum of 7% in quality capital, or a likely 9.5% for the biggest banks which are "too big to fail".
Today JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said the 9.5% capitalization rule which would apply to JPM is "anti-American" and called on the US to quit the BIS. Meanwhile the Volcker rule, like the British ring-fence intended to stop banks from doing proprietary trading putting depositors' money at risk, is in trouble because it will increase the cost of bank capital. This in turn would raise the cost of loans and hurt the recovery. The critics blame excessive bank regulation under Dodd-Frank laws being given teeth by regulators for the financial crisis.
And I thought it was caused by trend-following careless bankers.
A Vancouver BC reader sent this note on how to sign up more readers:
"I just read Forbes' Aug. edition (poolside, in indian summer). It is devoted to innovators. Top of the list is salesforce.com - but Global Investing picks come in at 4, 11, 13, 27, 30, 37, and 39. Then let the paid subscribers see who they are." So to read on, subscribe:
Under the Tables Posted
I invest in the same market as everyone else and with the global collapse my portfolio is suffering. This week we will cash out of one of my long-shot hopes and put the money into safe yielding shares. Details are for paid subscribers only.
What Is To Be Done?
We start with a reprint of the article I posted after 9/11 ten years ago:
When they asked the Abbé Sieyès what he had done during the French Revolution, he replied: “Moi, j’ai survécu”, meaning, me, I survived. For those who do not know New York City well, my home and office are about as far from the crashed towers as possible while still being in central Manhattan.
I am a member of Central Synagogue, on Lexington Avenue and 55th Street, well away from the horror. A mere 36 hours before the 9/11 attack, the glorious Moorish building was re-dedicated following an accidental fire 3 years ago while the building was being retrofitted with air-conditioning. Among those present at the re-consecration ceremony were Cardinal Egan, the archbishop of New York; Governor George Patacki; and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. These were the same men who a day and a half later were to show such strength in dealing with the crisis.
Cardinal Egan, then a mere archbishop from Connecticut, happened to be dining in the neighborhood the night Central Synagogue caught fire. At the rededication ceremony, he recalled that all but one of the scrolls of the Torah had been removed from the building during the work. One was left in its place in the Ark at the front of the synagogue. When the fire broke out, Rabbi Peter Rubinstein entered the building with the firemen to remove the scroll. Cardinal Egan reminded us what he had said on that night. “You got what was most important.”
What is most important, the Cardinal reminded his audience on the streets of midtown Manhattan, was faith.
The firemen were honored at the synagogue in a special ceremony for having responded so promptly, and for having saved the shell of the building and the residences around. Two of the most experienced of the firefighters who had been honored were among the first identified dead in the World Trade Center, Peter Ganci and William Feehan. And ten of the men from my local firehouse on 51st St. are missing and presumed dead.
The night after crashes, the Central Synagogue faithful gathered again, for a special service mourning the victims of the World Trade Center attack. There were about 250 of us. As Jews do in times of crisis, we recited Psalms. And before the mishaberach prayers for healing were recited, the congregation were asked to tell about those wounded and sick whom they were praying for.
The names were far too few. But three members of the synagogue told of how they had gotten out of the World Trade Center towers. “As we were climbing down the stairs, the firemen were climbing up,” said one man. They were doing their duty, and they died doing it.
A native New Yorker, I come from Inwood, at the northern end of Manhattan, and was raised trilingual, in English, French, and German, in this neighborhood settled by German-Jewish refugees. From Inwood, my mother was able to commute to Wall Street in less than a half hour. When the subway system is repaired we will be able to do it again. Nearby was northern border of Manhattan, a little-known body of water which still bears a name left by the Dutch: Spuyten Duyvel Creek. It runs between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. The name has a message for us now: “in spite of the Devil” or “to spite the devil”.
Anatole Kaletsky writes in The Times (London):
"Construction normally powers the early stages of recovery and is the only part of the US economy whose weakness is truly exceptional today. Two years ago such weakness was inevitable because housing was still recovering from the bubble. But today US house prices are cheaper in relation to personal incomes than at any time in postwar history and the glut of new properties has been eliminated by the biggest collapse on record in new building.
"Meanwhile, the decay of America’s physical infrastructure [provides] ample opportunities for profitable investment in roads, bridges, airports if only Mr Obama engaged with US business and finance to mobilise the enormous excess private savings at present flooding unproductively into government bonds.
"Conditions in the US housing market could be transformed if the President were to learn from four strands of policy in the rest of the world. First and most important, he could begin to reform America’s antiquated, inefficient, and dysfunctional system of government-run mortgage finance. The US is the only country in the world where government policies encourage homeowners to take out mortgages with interest rates that are fixed, very expensively, for 15 or 30 years. "When interest rates fall, the only way that homeowners can benefit is by paying off their old mortgages and taking out new ones — an expensive procedure and impossible for people whose homes have fallen in value, leaving them with negative equity. This distortion [means] low interest rates have much less stimulative impact than in economies with variable mortgage rates.
"A cost-free policy [for] stimulus would be to move many households from fixed-interest mortgages [at] up to 7%t to British-style adjustable rate loans [at 2-3%]. The President could do this without new legislation by issuing executive instructions to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises that guarantee almost all new mortgages, to refinance existing fixed-rate loans even for borrowers with negative equity.
"Second, Fannie and Freddie could be ordered to stop dumping foreclosed homes, undermining prices, and be required to retain ownership of these houses and rent them out, with zero-interest financing provided by the Federal Reserve.
"Third, the President could announce an emergency initiative to revise US bankruptcy law, which currently allows borrowers to walk away from their loans without filing for bankruptcy. Laws in almost every other country threaten borrowers with bankruptcy if they stop paying their mortgages but allow bankruptcy judges to ease mortgage terms.
"Turning to infrastructure, Mr Obama could create the world’s largest privatisation programme. Highways, bridges, airports, sanitation, water and postal services, long privatised in Europe, are mostly still government-owned in America. For example, 89% of US households are served by public water utilities, compared with only 10% in France and Britain. "Public-private partnerships to rebuild schools and state hospitals are almost unknown. The quid pro quo would have to be robust monopoly regulation based on the successful systems established for privatised utilities in other advanced economies."
Another reform idea from Gregory Mocek of law firm Cadwalader, Wickensham & Taft LLP is to halt the over-regulation planned for commodity swaps and derivatives under the Dodd Frank regulations in preparation. Mr. Mocek, who spoke at a NY derivatives conference I attended Thursday, formerly worked at and eventually headed the Commodity Futures Trading Corp.until 1998. Then all regulators of the swap market (the Fed, the SEC, the US Treasury, and the CFTC) were against trying to regulate the market used to hedge the risk in commodities and financial instruments businesses use.
The CFTC is due to vote next month on rules to stop speculation in 28 commodities under the Dodd Frank law, which does not only regulate banks, and was cobbled together after the financial crisis. New rule “paperwork is as high as the Empire State Building” Mocek claims. There are 9 final, 2 proposed, and 10,000 trader comments on the reporting and documentation rules under consideration. And market distorting exceptions ranging from excluding agricultural commodities to favor cash-settled rather than physically delivered commodities also are still in eing considered.
If these strict regulations become reality, the US commodity markets which have been run from Chicago since the late 19th century, will move offshore.
Since he was like my husband a Balliol man, I knew and liked Md. Senator Paul Sarbanes when we lived in Washington, but despite his Greek immigrant heritage and British education, which should have given him global insights, Sarbanes produced a monster for international markets in the Sarbanes-Oxley Law passed in 2002. Let us not do this again.
Adam Carr of ICAP plc writes from Australia on why the markets are down today:
"The OECD captured the view of many overnight when the chief economist stated (while downgrading global forecasts) that 'one would say that growth is stagnating'. This isn’t a view I adhere to (although I am worried by toxic sentiment).
"Overall these comments are right up there with the Fed’s assessment that inflation has moderated, when if you actually look at US inflation indicators, on any measure inflation has accelerated. At the very least this talk of stagnating growth is premature and wildly exaggerated. We’ve seen some indicators slow, sure, but in the main it is the sentiment indicators, the confidence indicators that have slumped.
"The critical issue is whether sentiment improves, not something that can be forecast. Certainly if sentiment remains this bad growth may stagnate. This time last year we were talking about a double dip recession. We saw a similar run of downward growth revisions but the pessimism came to nothing and sentiment improved. We didn’t have that double dip and no this had nothing to do with QE2. The economic data was already accelerating prior to that. While it’s a little more serious this year, I don’t think it wise to be overly concerned about the run of downward growth revisions we’ve seen. There is nothing to say they won’t be revised up should sentiment turn. And if sentiment turns, a big if, growth will not stagnate. For what it’s worth the OECD suggest that G7 growth will be at 1.6% (annualised in Q3 2011 and 0.2% in Q4). US growth is forecast at 1.1% and 0.4%, while average growth in Germany, France, and Italy is expected at 1.4% in Q3 and then -0.4% in Q4. These are very pessimistic. If sentiment turns, growth outcomes will be substantially higher than what the OECD present[s]. To be fair they note a very high degree of uncertainty in making these forecasts.
"Where I do agree with the OECD is that “the policy imperative is to rebuild confidence”. The problem is differing views as to what would restore confidence. Bernanke and Geithner reckon that more fiscal and monetary stimulus is required, which I think is just ridiculous given everything that has gone on. The OECD and the ECB in contrast suggest that further fiscal consolidation is required - something much more sensible given concerns over sovereign debt. I’m sure everyone would love it if European politicians could just get there [sic] act together."
More from Canada and China today, a slow-news day.
Derailed Third Rail
The former Third Rail in American politics, social security, because if you touch it you die, is no longer such a political threat after last night's Republican party presentations. (They were not a debate because there wasn't any cross-examinations between participants, only with the moderator.)
Rick Perry started out in life as a Democrat and I think he is the Obama Administration's secret weapon. Just because he is articulately self-righteous and right-wing does not make him right. There are many problems with the retirement pension program but there are far more problems with the retirement medical program, Medicare. I think Social Security can be repaired with goodwill, by raising the retirement age, and cutting benefits for those with enough money to retire without them.
Medicare is worse. It kicks in at 65 even if the recipient is still in the workforce. It is not allowed to limit with a formulary the medicines which may be reimbursed, giving the drug companies a carte blanche, unlike the drug benefits of Medicaid (for the poor) and for the Veterans Administration. This was a sop to the pharmaceutical makers by the George W. Bush Administration, which also generated the huge deficits we all worry about. I would not call it a Ponzi Scheme, but Medicare does need heavy reforms. It is much closer to the brink that the pension plan.
More for paid subscribers from Britain, Spain, Australia, India, Argentina, Switzerland, Finland, and New Jersey.
Decline of the West?
Is the West in decline? Is awful August going to be inevitably followed by septic September?
Yesterday it looked like yes. Stocks fell with the DJIA off 307 points at one point before a recovery to only 101 points down, minus 0.9% to 11,139. Nine of the S&P 500’s 10 industry sectors dived with financials the worst, off 1.4%, and oil and gas, industrials, and telecom all down 1.1% or more. The S&P 500 finished off 0.7% at 1165.
Today Asian and European bourses headed higher. Asia got mojo from reports that Beijing may relax its monetary policy over the next several months. Australia’s Q2 GDP beat consensus forecasts, at 1.2% growth after revised Q1's minus 0.9%. Forecasts for Q2 were for 0.9-1% growth. The Shanghai Composite ended up 2%, the Hang Seng 1.7%, the Nikkei 2%, and the S&P/ASX 200 2.7%.
Dann European shares were boosted when Germany’s constitutional court rejected challenges to German participation in the financial rescue program for Greece and the European Financial Stability Fund, a victory for Chancellor Merkel after her electoral defeat. With conditions, this ruling by the red-robed justices reduced uncertainty over the eurozone’s rescue efforts. Later PM Berlusconi won a vote of confidence over his in-again off-again revamped package in the Italian Senate. Italian 10-year yields traded 12 basis points lower this morning at 5.37%.
Emerging details of President Obama’s $300 bn plan to boost employment levels have also improved sentiment. Thurday’s evening speech before a joint Congressional session is expected to reveal a $300 bn jobs-boosting package of tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and aid to state and local governments. Congress's low approval ratings after the calamitous debt ceiling debate may encourage both parties to do something for jobs and stop finger-pointing and obstruction. Or so I hope. The Administration also plans a market-oriented attempt to tackle the housing overhang, details of which will be forthcoming.
So Wall Street rose too.
By pegging its franc at 1.20 to the euro, the Swiss Central Bank has started up a huge printing press under the Matterhorn to print Swiss francs. (As there are no other serious francs, the name is an anachronism.) The newly-printed Swissies will be used to buy euros, to stop SFr appreciation which makes it impossible for Switzerland to profitably export Nescafe coffee, chocolate, Swatches, cheese with holes in it, financial services.
Zurich reader GS (not David Goldman the financial writer who "channels" Oswald Spengler) writes from the purlieus of Bahnhofplatz where he works: "Optimism is cowardice", quoting the original Spengler. His comment is formally about my upbeat note yesterday. He is in Switzerland where the government has started to print money to buy any euro costing more than Sfr1.20. This may help export industries, but buying all euros on offer risks triggering whopping inflation, so optimism is hard.
GS is downbeat because while his currency instantly dropped 8.8% against the dollar, the Swiss bourse went up less than half as fast, by 4%. So Swiss do not believe the printing press solution adopted by their CB, which didn't work 40 years ago, will not work now. (In the 1970s the Swiss pegged their currency to what later became the euro, the Deutsche Mark.) Inflation higher than the Alps awaits again.
Meanwhile the U.S. slipped from 4th to 5th place in competitiveness according to a survey of 15,000 business executives and examination of economic data by the World Economic Forum. I have been skeptical about the WEF since it fired my college buddy Maria Livanos Cattaui, and this ranking is pure PR. The USA is penalized for its deficits and government deadlock. Number 1 was WEF's base, Switzerland, apparently competitive enough to not require any exchange rate adjustment, followed by Singapore, Sweden, and Finland. The USA was rated No. 1 last in 2008.
Martin Ferera argues that Canada is being ignored among the competitive leaders, writing:
“In Canada we didn't have any more shovel-ready programs than the US, but at least we got some value for our stimulus dollars. Some old infrastructure was replaced (the Tories made sure more spending was in their MPs' constituencies) and owners got a tax credit for fixing up their homes, and we also had silly cash for clunkers. But the home improvement grant helped keep the building trades ticking over and kept spending official and not under the table so the government collected sales tax on building materials and services rendered.
“It's interesting, surveying major developed countries, (UK, France, Germany, Italy, US, Japan, Australia, and Spain) that all have very weak governments lacking in leadership. Canada is almost the only exception.
"Even Singapore could be heading into recession. The new Chilean right-wing President is making a right royal mess. Do you think Obamacare is going to help or prevent job creation? Do you think it will keep medical costs down? Do you think there will be a zero cost of company compliance? Why have small companies been allowed not to implement it?
"If extending unemployment pay will help the economy (undoutedlty it helps individuals), then it makes perfect sense to double the amount. Try getting that through Congress!
“US free trade agreements with Korea and Colombia are atrophying in Obama's in-tray. Meantime, Canadian wheat farmers have stolen a march on US counterparts by taking charge of Colombia's import needs. We just signed an FTA. Thank you, Washington.
“The UK made the politically expedient but silly decision to keep the top tax rate at 50% which won't add much to the coffers and also bumped up VAT from 17.5% to 20% (starting in 2011)! That is going to help the economy grow? And how much is pushed underground to avoid that 20%? They kept a whole ton of subsidies for wind farms which despite massive investment still only produce around 2-3% of total energy on a good day. Meanwhile, investment is still needed for conventional generators to provide back-up for those non-windy days.
“The solution is to invest in conventional power, but introduce carbon taxes to encourage efficiencies, depending on how it is done. Here in BC a carbon tax seems to work quite well, introduced with a corresponding reduction in personal tax rates. Canada's fate is so closely tied to US economy, there's not a whole lot we can do.
“Despite it all, I too think the US will eventually sort out its mess.”
More from Finland, Israel, Singapore, Spain, Norway, France, and Switzerland for paid subscribers. Join them for your portfolio's sake.
Not a Bull Exactly, But Certainly No Bear
I am not a bull exactly, but certainly no bear. After Labor Day we go back to school and, I hope, to work. Today I will do some prognostication.
I forecast a spate of fiercely sentimental articles will report on 9/11 ten years later. In fact I will publish a reprint of my original 9/11 article myself later this week. But that is the easy one. Here are some harder questions to answer:
What is going on with the stock market and where are we headed? I tend to be on the optimistic side (along with Adam Carr in Australia) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the chart pattern of the recovery from the absolute August pits seems to show a series of higher lows. That pattern, in the Dow Jones US and Global averages, and also in the Nasdaq, could be preparing us for a new collapse in index stock prices. But historically, a set of higher lows tends to produce better share prices going forward.
The second bit of consolation is that there is more correlation between markets and asset classes than usual. Only two foreign markets are up (in dollars) this year—outliers Thailand and Indonesia. All asset classes seem to have fallen together, with the exception of gold. Such uniform gloom is normally the mark of a turning point in the charts.
Finally, I do not think the unemployment numbers are caused by political uncertainty or some kind of fear that the Administration is anti-business. Nor are they caused by fear of inflation. Awful jobless numbers are caused by insufficient demand, joblessness feeding on itself, and by mortgages being under-water. Without demand, there can be no capital expenditure, no hiring.
Where will demand come from? Exports are off because other economies are also in the dumps. The rich are shopping, cars are being sold, but the Main St. consumer is hoarding cash and paying down his credit cards. Just throwing money at the system doesn't work as we have seen with quantitative easing.
My hope is that we will get from Pres. Obama this week a focused plan to get America working again, based on filling real needs, like recovery from the floods after Irene, rebuilding our schools, roads, and bridges. Firing the USPO workers to cut Saturday deliveries and close small-town post offices is sheer idiocy in the present situation.
My hope is that Obama will rise to the occasion and take a peg from New Deal programs. I went to PS 152 Manhattan, one of the thousands of elementary schools all built to the same design by the New Deal. It also built the Tennessee Valley Authority power system. Every government program to put people to work is NOT a boondoggle. With care and computers we can control how the money is spent better than FDR's Administration.
So what do you do now, you may well wonder? Don't sell out of the market is the first rule. In my entire lifetime (which does not go back to the New Deal, contrary to rumor) it has never made sense to sell out and put your money under the bed. This is less sensible now with such low yields.
The second rule however is to keep cash to hand for bargains as we pull out of the funk-induced lows. I have a pile of gold proceeds because I cut my shares of a gold ETF by 25%. Of course it was too soon. I might have made another couple of hundred dollars based on today's blow-out. But the argument for gold as an alternative to supposedly inflationary moves in major markets is nonsense. At this stage gold mining shares are a better buy than the yellow metal itself.
There are two other forecasts below for paid subscribers only. One is about the way what Gen. Joe Shaefer calls “banksters” affect markets. The other is about oil, also based on what fund manager Joe has to say. Our articles are abut companies from Spain (not really), India, Norway, Britain, and France.
The tables showing our performance have been updated and posted on the website. You may sign in at www.global-investing.com and then click to "performance" right under our masthead. If you are a pre-subscriber, you can then view our closed positions. If you are a paid subscriber, you have access to all three of our tables adding closed positions, stock and bond performance; and closed-end and exchange-traded fund performance.
There will be no issue on Monday because it is a public holiday in the US and Canada. We observe market holidays.
With everyone recalling the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center of 9/11, I rcall that I saw the first attack on the WTC complex, on a Friday afternoon, Feb. 26, 1993. We were on a train across the Hudson River from downtown Manhattan en route to Princeton, where a colloquium on French mathematician André Weil, father of our friend Sylvie and brother of Simone, was to be held at the Institute for Advanced Studies. From New Jersey, we saw a huge tower of black smoke from a huge murderous truck bomb which had been detonated in the underground parking garage of the North Tower. The scheme of those terrorists was that it would collapse into the South Tower and take them both down. Their calculations were off but 7 people were killed.
Less than a dozen years later, another terrorist team succeeded in taking down the Twin Towers using airplanes instead of trucks. This time they killed 3982 people including fund manager David Alger whom I knew from Harvard (where we both majored in history).