"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taco Bell Meat, the US Budget Deficit, and The Invisible Hand Of The SEC

Let's start right off with Yum! Brands getting sued. The Beasley Allen law firm has initiated a consumer rights class action lawsuit against Taco Bell Corporation (a subsidiary of Yum! Brands), challenging "Taco Bell's practice of representing to consumers that its restaurants serve 'seasoned ground beef' or 'seasoned beef' filling in its products".Apparently, the "seasoned ground beef" is actually only around 35% beef. The other 65% is: "water, isolated oat product[1], salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin, soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder (processed with alkali), silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate and potassium lactate."
In less entertaining news, the CBO has projected that the US budget deficit will hit $1.48 trillion in fiscal 2011, up from the $1.07 trillion estimate they made back in August. Most of it is driven by the fact that their August projections assumed that the Bush-era tax rates would expire at the end of 2010 (as originally planned). In actual dollars that is an all-time record. As a percentage of GDP (9.8%) it missed the 10% of GDP that the budget deficit hit last year.
Adam Smith is currently experiencing the not-so-invisible hand of the market right now. He is the latest and 18th person to plead guilty in the Galleon insider trading case. You'll be glad to know that he has also apologized[2] for what he did. "I knew what I was doing was wrong," he said, hoping his performance will be sincere enough to keep him from getting 20 years in prison, "and am forever remorseful about this terrible mistake.'[3] Also, most likely in hopes of not doing hard time, he is "cooperating with prosecutors"[4]
[1] Say what now? "Isolated oat product" is, according to the specification sheet for RightFiber Oat Fiber, "a fine fiber product made from oat hulls". In other words, it's the nearly undigestible part of the oat that is removed after harvesting. Very similar to the psyllium seed husks used by Metamucil and other laxatives, although (obviously) from a different plant. So if you're one of the people who has to run to the bathroom after running for the border, now you know why.
[2] The current trend in crime. Do a bunch of illegal things. Get caught. Apologize. Maybe go into rehab as well.
[3] Mistake? I do not think this word means what you think it means, Mr. Smith. Mistake can mean "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc." or "a misunderstanding or misconception". You might be able to use material non-public information once or twice by mistake, although I'm skeptical that any associated person of a hedge fund could really claim "mistake" in regards to that. You really can't use material non-public information for a period of six years, allowing your boss to rack up $45 million in proceeds from illegal trades, by mistake.
[4] Translation: narking on Raj Rajaratnam for all he's worth, trying to reduce his sentence as much as possible.

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