Are you sure you should be doing that?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Interlude

On holiday for a week. Best wishes to you all.

Aussie humour



At first I was prepared to believe that an Australian politican could be this aggressive, but despite Web-spread assurances that it's genuine, it come from this series.

Doing the rounds: explaining the world with cows

I think the main thing learned here is that, as Oscar Wilde said, when good Americans die they go to Paris.

The World Explained with Cows

DEMOCRAT You have two cows.Your neighbor has none.You feel guilty for being successful. Barbara Streisand sings for you.

REPUBLICAN You have two cows.Your neighbor has none.So?

SOCIALIST You have two cows.The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage his cow.

COMMUNIST You have two cows.The government seizes both and provides you with milk.You wait in line for hours to get it.It is expensive and sour.

CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE You have two cows.You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.

DEMOCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE You have two cows.The government taxes you to the point you have to sell both to support a man in a foreign country who has only one cow, which was a gift from your government.

BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE You have two cows.The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, and then pours the milk down the drain.

AMERICAN CORPORATION You have two cows.You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one.You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows.You are surprised when one cow drops dead. You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have down sized and are reducing expenses.Your stock's price goes up.

FRENCH CORPORATION You have two cows.You go on strike because you want three cows.You go to lunch and drink wine.Life is good.

JAPANESE CORPORATION You have two cows.You redesign them so they are one tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains. Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

GERMAN CORPORATION You have two cows.You engineer them so they are all blond, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

ITALIAN CORPORATION You have two cows but you don't know where they are. While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.You break for lunch.Life is good.

RUSSIAN CORPORATION You have two cows.You have some vodka.You count them and learn you have five cows.You have some more vodka.You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

TALIBAN CORPORATION You have all the cows in Afghanistan, which are two.You don't milk them because you cannot touch any creature's private parts.Then you kill them and claim a U.S. bomb blew them up while they were in the hospital.

IRAQI CORPORATION You have two cows.They go into hiding.They send radio tapes of their mooing.

POLISH CORPORATION You have two bulls.Employees are regularly maimed and killed attempting to milk them.

FLORIDA CORPORATION You have a black cow and a brown cow.Everyone votes for the best looking one.Some of the people who like the brown one best, vote for the black one.Some people vote for both. Some people vote for neither.Some people can't figure out how to vote at all.Finally, a bunch of guys from out-of-state tell you which is the best looking cow.

CALIFORNIAN You have a cow and a bull.The bull is depressed.It has spent its life living a lie.It goes away for two weeks and comes back after a taxpayer-paid sex-change operation. You now have two cows.One makes milk; the other doesn't.You try to sell the transgender cow, but its lawyer sues you for discrimination.You lose in court.You sell the milk-generating cow to pay the damages. You now have one rich, transgender, non-milk-producing cow.You change your business to beef. PETA pickets your farm.Jesse Jackson makes a speech in your driveway.Cruz Bustamante calls for higher farm taxes to help "working cows". Hillary Clinton calls for the nationalization of 1/7 of your farm "for the children."The legislature passes a law giving your farm to Mexico.The L.A. Times quotes five anonymous cows claiming you groped their teats. You declare bankruptcy and shut down all operations and the cow starves to death.The L.A. Times' analysis shows your business failure is Bush's fault.

htp: my wife's American cousin. GOK where it started, though.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A credible, horrible warning

In a fearsome, plain-speaking guide to the long-standing debt problem, Karl Denninger explains why he believes we are now in dire crisis. If the insolvent continue to be bailed out with money that the government itself must borrow from elsewhere, the American government's own credit will be destroyed. And non-Americans are in an even worse plight, in fact may trigger the explosion:

We may be days away from an international credit incident originating outside of the United States. Foreign nations, banks, and businesses have "levered up", or taken more risk, than we have. They too have chosen to lie.

This will hammer the stockmarket:

You have already seen nearly half of your money disappear.
You could see another half disappear - within days.

This is an implication of the graph I did on Sunday (see below), looking at the Dow adjusted for CPI inflation since 1928. A return to 4,500 points would seem to be reversion to the long-term norm - but to have it happen all at once, from its peak last October, is a scary prospect.


UPDATE

Tyler concurs, with respect to the UK economy, because of our dependence on income from financial services and associated services:

"Brown's boom was built on a group of industries that are now facing an Almighty bust..."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Throw the grenade, or put it in your pocket?

I was educated in the wrong things. Karl Denninger explains - in a way I struggle to understand fully - how the US government's schemes to support the banks must ultimately be financed by Treasury bonds on such a scale as to seriously damage their credit rating and pump up interest rates to a ruinous level.

This is a consequence of avoiding taking the right action, i.e. finding out who's insolvent and letting them go bust. I still remember Henry Paulson's panicky look when Congress threw out the bailout bill the first time.

Once you've pulled the pin out of a grenade, you can throw it, or you can hang on to it. Madly, it looks as though the government is following the latter course, and hopes to be able to handle the consequences.

UPDATE

Relevant to the above is Wat's resume of public debt history in the UK since World War II, showing how important it is NOT to get into debt, to fight inflation and control the finances.

A reason not to invest in pensions?

Argentina appears to be planning to seize private pension funds. Who is to say that, in extremis, it couldn't happen here? They're already taking tax on the dividends that were tax-free until 1997.

The Great Theft begins

I comment on The Great Depression of 2006:

Once inflation gets going it'll be Alice in Wonderland, I think. Real wages have to come down in relation to earnings in competitor countries, and house prices have to come down with respect to wages.

So whatever the nominal value, I think we in the West shall see a real depreciation in both houses and the stockmarket, plus a real decline in earnings relative to both consumer prices and foreign labour.

Am I wrong?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Do-it-yourself Dow prediction

I've battled Windows Vista to produce the above graph, which takes the Dow at the beginning of October each year from 1928 on and adjusts it for CPI.

The red dot is where we were on Friday; some are saying it could hit 6,000 or 4,000, also indicated (adjusted for CPI as at the end of September 2008).

The question is, how much of the fantastic gain of the past 20 years or so will be undone, and over what period? Where would you say we "ought" to be? (Not that Mr Market cares, obviously.)


Connect up the lows of the early 30s and the 70s and extend the line, and you get what? An implied 2,500 or so. Connect up the highs of 1929 and the 50s and extend the line, and you end up about where we were at the start of this month, nudging 11,000.


"Faites vos jeux, Mesdames et Messieurs." Too rich for me, I think.

UPDATE

Karl Denninger is now talking about the S&P 500 falling to 500 points, a level it first broke above in March 1995; this would mean a further c. 50% drop from its close on Friday.

And he gives his reasons (plausible to me) why the American economy is in worse shape to overcome the setback, than it was in the 1930s.

A note on abortion

We tried to watch a bit of "Sex and the City" last night, just to see why it's talked about. This episode was "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda". The friends were, by turns, lying and boasting about their abortions. Apparently a baby wasn't in someone's "plan"; it's not as though these nitwits had any plans worth considering - for example, evidently they didn't plan to have a condom in their handbag. I've never seen a programme so louche and vapid. What can its makers think of us all?

I pass over the religious objections to abortion, and the arguments (to my mind, wholly specious and self-serving) about the humanity of the unborn. Do please spare me the hate mail.

But why is the political class so keen on it? And on the experimentation that continually encroaches on the right of human beings to live? (Don't tell me it will cure cancer and all the other things that make us mortal.)

Is it a financially-motivated plan to murder the poor, the deformed and the sick in their mother's wombs, so that they will not live to become benefit dependant and/or petty criminals? Is it about money? Has money become more real, more valid, than the people who earn and spend it?

Don't think it'll work anyway. A while back, I saw an interview with some serial shagger who didn't give a fig for any of his girlfriends, but there's one instinct he still retained. Remarking on his last, he said, "At least I got a kid out of her."

Abortion is a bloody and chaotic approach to sexuality and relationships. This study aims to correct some of the misunderstandings on the subject by both "conservative" and "liberals", and tends to support the greater use of contraception.

Will that work?

Are we headed for the Red Pond?


How do we get out of this?

I'm trying to understand the situation, and it's worrying that many experts freely admit they don't understand, either. Here is the simplified picture I'm building up:

Democratically-elected governments wanted their voters to get back the feelgood factor after the tech bubble burst and the stockmarket pretty much halved. So they undid the belts round the banks' waists and said, go eat.

The banks went at it like labradors at a full plate of Gravy Train, and got very fat on lending far too much money, with very few questions asked. Houses doubled in value and became the new stockmarket.

Then the bust, because whatever you treat like an investment will behave like one. Except houses are unlike shares: if you lose all your money on them you have nowhere to live, and this will make the losers very angry and vengeful. Also, housing is illiquid, which is bad news for banks, who can't put bricks and fridges in their vaults. And if the banks go bust their richer depositors (some of them Party contributors?) will get very upset, also the businesses that hold their balances in cash. This last is very important: a small fraction of bank accounts holds the majority of uninsured cash.

So now the "rescue". Billions - hundreds of billions - poured into the system. Who will pay the bill?
  • Not the shareholders, since (in most cases) we didn't let the banks collapse.

  • Not the majority of retail depositors - they have votes, and enough education to make trouble.

  • Not the poor - they have nothing, and are more likely to vote for whoever keeps paying their benefits. That's if they vote at all, but non-voters will become very interested in democracy if their money runs out.

  • Not the seriously rich - they have most of their personal wealth safely outside this thieving country and if annoyed, will not only move out but close businesses that employ many voters, which will dump smelly stuff on the heads of the Government and leave a big tax hole to boot.
I can see only two classes of juicy victims: taxpayers, and people who have saved up money.

Very few people understand that the combination of income tax plus National Insurance and employer's NI, is effectively a marginal tax rate on income of over 40% on all but the worst-paid. Raising direct taxation much more will only increase the incentive to give up work altogether, or to lay off employees. And there's only so much benefit to be gained by shipping-in zillions of low-paid foreign immigrants to replace them - that dodge is getting to be a public embarrassment, politically as well as economically.

Indirect taxation tends to be regressive, hitting the poorer worse (as a proportion of their income) - which implies a need to increase their benefits. Not impossible - there's a plan afoot for an extra levy on power bills, to finance heating costs for the poor. Doing it in this roundabout way preserves the illusion that we are a lower-tax economy, and appeals to the sneaky, surreptitious personality of the man currently running the country. There will be other subtle and economically suspect ways to raise tax, and Gordon Brown thought up many during his incumbency as Chancellor of the Exchequer - which, I think, has not yet ended.

And then there's the attack on savers. Means-testing is a good one, yielding a very high effective tax rate. Last time I looked, the combination of minimum income guarantee and savings credit for pensioners worked out to a 40% tax on poor pensioners who'd increased their pension income by voluntary savings.

Inflation is a fruity possibility. The government is going to have to borrow staggering amounts in coming years, to pay for the current bailout and future mass unemployment, so if the returns on its bonds can be lower than inflation it'll help the public finances a bit.

But who's got the money to sub our kleptomaniac Government? Maybe they won't bother to ask the people to trust them any more; maybe they'll just ask the Developing World to buy-in with their sovereign wealth funds. In other words, sell the country, piecemeal.

Isn't that what's happening? The younger generation will be taxed and worked half to death, the older ones will find they're not as wealthy as the illusory boom led them to believe, and meanwhile the New Pan-European Bureau-Aristocracy is selling us all to foreign powers and foreign businessmen, who do not have to answer to the electorate?

I must study the Highland Clearances, and the Flight of the Earls.

Stating the obvious

Recession is here, warns Item Club

UPDATE: Britain surrounded by water. More on the main news bulletin, next.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Goldman Suchs

Read, and hang your head.

Are trade deficits a good thing?

This is from a professional academic economist in America. Is he correct? Should we cheer up?

Here's a letter that I sent recently to the Washington Times:

In "Other economic numbers need attention" (Oct. 16), William Hawkins assumes that every dollar increase in America's trade deficit is a dollar increase in Americans’ debt. Not so. If Mr. Hawkins pays for a new car with $20,000 cash and then observes the car dealer stuffing that cash into a mattress, Mr. Hawkins's trade deficit with that dealer rises by $20,000 while his debt to that dealer rises by exactly $0.

More fundamentally, the trade deficit means that foreigners invest in the U.S. rather than spend all of their dollars on U.S. exports. If Mr. Hawkins mistakenly thinks such investments to be undesirable, I have good news for him: as Uncle Sam meddles much more aggressively in capital markets, foreign investors will be scared away. America will then be much more likely to run trade surpluses - just as it did for nine out of ten years of the greatly depressed 1930s.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux

Dow 4,000?

We think we will see 10-12% unemployment, a 4-5% decline in GDP, and the equity markets could drop at least 70% from peak to trough.

J. Kyle Bass of Hayman Advisors, 14 October 2008. (htp: "Dearieme")

This source reckons LIBOR is out of sight, not because of counterparty worries, but because banks simply haven't got the money to lend.

Less pessimistically - just - George Slezak (quoted on Jesse) thinks the Dow could possibly go as low as 6,000.

Financial self-education

Watch Paul Grignon's "Money as Debt" video:

... and see here for Chris Martenson's online "Crash Course" (a condensed version of his "end of Money" seminar).

(htp: Yoyomo)

If these teach you anything, please pass them on!

The importance of correctly predicting liquidity movements


A hedge fund manager (Andrew Lahde) says farewell to the industry (extracts):

Recently, on the front page of Section C of the Wall Street Journal, a hedge fund manager who was also closing up shop (a $300 million fund), was quoted as saying, “What I have learned about the hedge fund business is that I hate it.” I could not agree more with that statement. I was in this game for the money. The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy, only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

I will no longer manage money for other people or institutions. I have enough of my own wealth to manage. Some people, who think they have arrived at a reasonable estimate of my net worth, might be surprised that I would call it quits with such a small war chest. That is fine; I am content with my rewards. Moreover, I will let others try to amass nine, ten or eleven figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck. Appointments back to back, booked solid for the next three months, they look forward to their two week vacation in January during which they will likely be glued to their Blackberries or other such devices. What is the point? ... Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life.

...I truly do not have a strong opinion about any market right now, other than to say that things will continue to get worse for some time, probably years. I am content sitting on the sidelines and waiting. After all, sitting and waiting is how we made money from the subprime debacle. I now have time to repair my health, which was destroyed by the stress I layered onto myself over the past two years, as well as my entire life – where I had to compete for spaces in universities and graduate schools, jobs and assets under management – with those who had all the advantages (rich parents) that I did not. May meritocracy be part of a new form of government, which needs to be established.

On the issue of the U.S. Government, I would like to make a modest proposal. First, I point out the obvious flaws, whereby legislation was repeatedly brought forth to Congress over the past eight years, which would have reigned in the predatory lending practices of now mostly defunctinstitutions. These institutions regularly filled the coffers of both parties in return for voting down all of this legislation designed to protect the common citizen. This is an outrage, yet no one seems to know or care about it. Since Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith passed, I would argue that there has been a dearth of worthy philosophers in this country, at least ones focused on improving government. Capitalism worked for two hundred years, but times change, and systems become corrupt. George Soros, a man of staggering wealth, has stated that he would like to be remembered as a philosopher. My suggestion is that this great man start and sponsor a forum for great minds to come together to create a new system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest, while at the same time creating rewards great enough to attract the best and brightest minds to serve in government roles without having to rely on corruption to further their interests or lifestyles. This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly. I believe there is an answer, but for now the system is clearly broken...

(htp: Michael Panzner)

All the Earth's water and air (by Adam Nieman)




Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We're back to last Thursday

The Dow has closed at 8,577.91, 733.08 off its start today. My amateur trend-drawing suggests that it's now back into its midstream; but then there's often an overshoot.

However, for those who do have money and also a long view, maybe it's not a bad price.

Deflation hasn't happened yet; interest rates to rise, eventually

Jesse argues that we're not yet in a deflation, technically speaking; it's "the transfer of wealth from one asset class to another". So the money is merely changing pockets.

But after that, he expects (as I suggested yesterday) gold to rise sharply: "the move in gold will obtain explosive momentum from which a major rally leg will occur as the banks lose control." The euro, too, he thinks; and oil will stay high. So he concludes that when the pent-up liquidity starts to flow in the system, the US will have to raise interest rates to prevent a relative decline in the dollar.

A future case for impeachment?

The threats:

htp: Karl Denninger

The result:

At least $125bn is to go to nine of America's largest banks, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, in exchange for capital under the rescue plan.

The power:

(9) TROUBLED ASSETS-

The term `troubled assets' means--

(A) residential or commercial mortgages and any securities, obligations, or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages, that in each case was originated or issued on or before March 14, 2008, the purchase of which the Secretary determines promotes financial market stability; and

(B) any other financial instrument that the Secretary, after consultation with the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, determines the purchase of which is necessary to promote financial market stability, but only upon transmittal of such determination, in writing, to the appropriate committees of Congress.

...not "prior approval", you'll note. For those that think they understand law, here is the full text of the genetically-modified bill as enacted on 3rd October 2008.

And here's an intriguing clause in Section 119:

(2) LIMITATIONS ON EQUITABLE RELIEF.—

(A) INJUNCTION.—No injunction or other form of equitable relief shall be issued against the Secretary for actions pursuant to section 101, 102, 106, and 109, other than to remedy a violation of the Constitution.

Excuse my ignorance, but is this a watered-down version of the infamous "non-reviewable" Paulosn proposal ("Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.")?

A lesson from 1721

The South Sea Bubble ended in the imprisonment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Aislabie:

The South Sea Company had been built on high expectations which it could never fulfil, and it collapsed in August 1720. An investigation by Parliament found that Aislabie had been given £20,000 of company stock in exchange for his promotion of the scheme. He resigned the Exchequer in January 1721, and in March was found guilty by the Commons of the "most notorious, dangerous and infamous corruption". He was expelled from the House, removed from the Privy Council, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Aislabie was replaced by Robert Walpole, who became in effect Britain's first modern-style Prime Minister - who earlier had spent six months in the Tower in 1712, as a result of unjust impeachment by his political enemies.

Now, who will be properly prosecuted and properly punished for a man-made disaster that has undermined the world's banking system?

More dire warnings

Karl Denninger is predicting a bond and currency crash in the US if banks aren't forced to disclose exactly what they do and don't have, so we can let the insolvent go down and release the liquidity into the right channels.

I hope the right path is taken, because my brother lives there.

By the way, in body language terms I read Hank Paulson as a hell of a bully. He looks like a totalitarian danger to me.

Rally? The smart money's been moving out for a long time

Read Michael Panzner here. Reminds me of when Jimmy Goldsmith sold all his holdings on the Paris Bourse in the Summer of 1987, and recently how Warren Buffett was reported to be holding massive amounts of cash.

Now Buffett has bought $5 billion of Goldman - but as preferred stock with a 10% dividend (and with warrants representing an instant capital gain from day one); and Philip Green is buying £2 billion of Baugur's debt. Note that these wise men are NOT buying stock market ordinary shares: they are betting on a sure thing, pretty much.

I think bear market rallies are when the pros sell to the amateurs. When the amateurs realise the pros have gone, and there are no more bigger fools, the panic proper starts. And then the pros are there, waiting for the bottom prices. I think this is what is behind legs 4 and 5 of the Elliott Wave.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A note on gold

Some commentators on the gold market predicted that the price would come down, or at least be restrained, because leveraged speculators would have to sell assets to raise money to clear some of their borrowing.

As the credit market continues to remain tight and the prospects of quick killings made on the back of increasingly-expensive borrowed money become less plausible, watch for the gold price to bottom-out (I read one claim yesterday that this has already happened). Then when continued liquidity injections from governments start to work their way into prices, my guess is that gold will make a steeper and steadier rise, as it becomes not a find-a-bigger-fool speculation but a flight to security, away from devaluing currency.

I may soon get back in myself, with some of my small savings.

And yes, I did indeed start drawing my "cash stash" yesterday, and plan to take more out today. Can anyone believe the blanket guarantees for deposits at banks, especially under the present economic and monetary conditions? You think disasters can't happen, but as a young woman my mother suddenly found herself fleeing the country alone, with two horses. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Cassandra couldn't run Troy

Thanks to Michael Panzner at Financial Armageddon, we can read for free an interview with 70-year-old money manager Jeremy Grantham. Grantham points out that business is run by managers, not by Old Testament prophets, and so he philosophises that crises will recur.

He also believes that this one isn't over yet:

The terrible thing -- after all this pain -- is that the U.S. equity market is not even cheap... it started from such a high level in 2000 that it still has not yet worked its way down to trend, although it is getting close. But the really bad news is that great bubbles in history always overcorrected. So although the fair value of the S&P today may be about 1025, typically bubbles overcorrect by quite a bit, possibly by 20%. That is very discouraging.

My 26 June guess at the trend for the Dow was c. 7,000 - 10,000:

If that means a midpoint of 8,500 and the overcorrection is 20%, then the momentary low point could be around 6,800, which at least suggests that the gap between my two red lines is approximately correct.

Friday's lowest point during the day was 7,773.71, still 10% away from the theorised minimum; and the Dow closed at 8,451.19. Yesterday it remained above the latter figure throughout, and rose to 9,387.61.

In short, Grantham must be reading this as a bear market rally, and it's not very silly to think that the Dow could come back to 7,000 at some point.

Good luck to the day traders, I haven't the nerve and speed to try to make a fortune on the bucking-bronco stage of the market.

Monday, October 13, 2008

All clear

Dow up 936, FTSE up 324: so it's all okay again. Isn't it?

Except here in the UK, the Prime Minister wants banks to carry on lending like they did last year. Is there a touch of madness in this?

Surreal. That's the feeling.

I see Mish has the same feeling.

Dow falls are only at interim stage


Jesse relays a couple of charts from Steve Williams at CyclePro, and adds one of his own. As I read it, the implication of the CyclePro charting is that the end-point for the Dow at the bottom of the bear market could be around half its present value, in a process that might take 8-10 years.

Jesse's chart relates the Dow to the price of gold, and the implication of his is a drop of some 60% - but that could be achieved by a rise in gold, as well as a fall in the Dow.

Perhaps it is time for us to be making quiet, regular withdrawals from the cashpoint and building up a stash of truly instant-access cash. I shall start today.
And when inflation hits?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Derivatives blowup may hit insurance and car makers

This blog looks at the implications of failed investment bank Lehman's call on their "insurance" in the form of derivatives contracts. If everyone can handle the the cash call when it comes, good; if not, maybe a domino effect - one failure unbalancing another in a chain reaction. In particular, will hedge funds , who tend to play with borrowed money, be able to honour their contracts, or will they be the weak link in the chain?

Next up, says "George Washington", are the insurance and auto companies. It seems Standard & Poor's fear these could be the last days for GM and Ford.

I'm given to understand that players in derivatives usually balance their position with bets both ways; but they tend to be big bets. It's like a seesaw with an elephant at each end: if one elephant steps off, or turns out to be a baby compared to the other... What's the chances of $55 trillion of derivatives being well-balanced at all points?
So there are good reasons to think that next week is going to be more exciting than most of us would wish. Friday's Dow volatility may be repeated.

Banking crisis part of a deep strategy?

On Financial Sense, F. William Engdahl speculates that asset-backed securities ("toxic waste" mortgage packages) were sold to European banks in order to poison their wells and leave the world banking system dependent on the USA - and an elite group of American bankers.

One startling fact cited in this conspiracy theory, is that the office responsible for overseeing Credit Default Swaps had its staffing reduced from 100 to... ONE person. Giving evidence to Congress, the Chief Accountant of the Securities & Exchange Commission said "... there has been a systematic gutting, or whatever you want to call it, of the agency and its capability through cutting back of staff."

Oh dear, I thought conspiracy theories were for nutcases. Maybe I'm wrong.

Every picture tells a story

This is a measure of monetary inflation. Increases here will eventually work their way into prices and wages. An explanation is offered here. Note that there has been nothing close to the highlighted "spike" in the last 25 years.

"An inflationary holocaust" - Jim Rogers

TBRRob posts a very useful YouTube interview with big investor Jim Rogers (the best analyses come from people who back their own judgments with their own money).

Despite the recent strengthening of the dollar, he is buying Japanese yen and Swiss francs; and commodities (especially agriculture), because they lead the way out of recession and their fundamentals are (he says) sound.

In the interview, he is challenged on his inflationary hypothesis: surely we are seeing "deleveraging" (reduction in borrowing) and don't we need more money in the system to deal with the liquidity crisis? Rogers cites past history and sticks to his guns

I think it was Marc Faber's comments that first helped me understand why all this public-money-throwing isn't going to help. It's NOT a liquidity crisis: liquidity is what has caused the problems (and anticipating the movement of the money tides is what has helped Faber grow his funds!).

It's a SOLVENCY crisis. If all your possessions are worth less than your total debts, borrowing more money will not help. So when the government creates massive extra funds for you to use, you will not wish to use them. And if your fellows are in the same position, you certainly won't wish to lend them any money you still have.

When you are insolvent, there are two ways out. One is to declare bankruptcy, in which case the money invested in you is lost and so excess liquidity goes down the drain. Good, though it's also painful (personal fortunes lost, people laid off).

The other way is to be unbelievably lucky, and have someone else pay-off your debts. When the government chooses to do the latter for the banks, it has to get the funds from somewhere, and ultimately that is the citizen/loyal subject. In this case, the liquidity is still in the system, and there is no drain to take it away. Sooner or later, it leaks out into the general economy and prices rise, because there is more cash to bid for the usual limited amount of goods and services.

(Or the government increases taxes, and uses the extra to pay-off debt. Nice idea, but increasing taxes slows the economy and creates more benefit dependants, which requires more taxes even as less revenue is coming in because business is suffering because people now have less spending money because taxes are higher, and...)

So there are two problems created: inflation, and moral hazard - the people who have been bought out in this undeserved way have no incentive to change their habits.

You may think that it's only a temporary problem and the government will recoup its investment when things get back to normal. The trouble is, "normal" means house prices dropping to about half what they were worth last year, because they doubled for no good reason in the five-year period before that. In the long term, I understand, houses are priced at 3 times income, not 6 times as during the recent period of monetary inflation.

So either the value of the excess credit is destroyed by bankuptcy, or by inflating away the money saved by more prudent people. Either the guilty (or foolish) suffer, or the innocent.

And here's another either/or: either we go this process again and again, or banks are prevented in future from increasing the money supply in the way they just did.

And the guilty must be punished.

A message to Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens seems to me one of the few independently-minded journalists in the mainstream media. One of the pieces in the MoS (and his blog) today reflects on the damage caused by BBC blabbermouth financial commentator Robert Peston and whether the credit crunch could have been anticipated. Hitchens says, in passing, that although he himself had bad feelings about our Roaring-Twenties-type economy, no-one really knew what would happen.

Rarely for me, I completely disagree with him, and think that if he turned his mind to this subject he might be influential enough to help some greatly-needed changes happen. So I comment:

Re your Peston piece and "The truth is, nobody really knew":

Sadly, this state of affairs was in fact VERY well-anticipated. As an independent financial adviser, I repeatedly relayed warnings via my newsletters to clients about the increasing debt in the USA, starting a decade ago. On 20 October 1999 I attended a breakfast meeting given by an investment company to drum up business, and a rep stated that the Dow was 50% overvalued. This confirmed me in the intuitive feeling I had long had, that a collapse was imminent. I feared the consequences so much that I put my business on the back burner and returned to teaching, which is something not lightly to be done, you will understand.

The stockmarket collapse began on the first trading day in 2000. Jerkily, the FTSE went down to less that half its 1999 peak by March 2003, at which point I thought lessons might have been learned and we could start to invest with confidence; but then (and you can see the BoE statistics online) the rate of increase of the money supply was allowed to soar by an extra 5% per annum. The investment bubble had turned into a banking bubble, which led to the horrendous property price instability that now threatens the financial system itself. The government is deeply implicated, since its regulators allowed banking reserves to be pared back (this is part of how you increase the money supply) so that when a crisis occurred, the lifeboats weren't there.

I repeat, very clear warnings have been sounded for a very long time by respected investment experts, mostly from the USA as the average Brit has very little understanding of money since we are rarely allowed to make or keep much of it. So I began a blog, in May last year, to learn more myself and to sound Cassandra-type warnings to any who would listen.

Bankers, politicians and economists knew very well, or ought to have known, the consequences, and the worst result of the present debacle is that it is likely that none of them will face Enron-style prosecution and punishment. They and/or their successors will therefore do it all over again, to their enormous gain and our near-ruin, as they have done periodically for centuries. Unless the perpetrators are punished in a way that will be remembered for generations, this moral hazard will continue to be a profound threat to our financial security and social stability.

You have written an excellent book on the mutilation of the British police, and I can promise you that the basics of finance are nothing like as complex as the professional fraudsters of the investment and banking community would like you to believe. I do really wish and hope that you will turn your investigative and communication skills to an analysis of what really went wrong with our Western economies.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NEWS: Gold CAN back all the world's money

... says Mike Hewitt in this article. Looking at gold in all its forms and relating it to the world's money that actually circulates (as opposed to all the money on the account books), he arrives at an estimated price of $738 per ounce.

That's not so far off the long-term median price of gold, adjusted for inflation - see below for some attempts to describe that relationship.

Maybe it could work.





Refuge, flight, battle rejoined, victory, retribution

Brad Setser looks at a flood of demand for US Treasuries and suspects that it's central banks shifting into the securest dollar asset they can find; and away from other dollar-denominated assets.

The first comment on the same post says that the next stage is a run on the dollar.

Continuing the Tolkien fantasy theme, one recalls the flight to Helm's Deep, and the eventual breach. Ultimately, though at a cost, the good side wins, of course (Denninger explains today how we can face the mess and clean it up).
Time to revisit Michael Panzner's "Financial Armageddon" - reviewed here in May of last year.
If he's right - and he's been right so far - it's first cash, then out of cash. But there's not enough gold to act as the world's currency (unless a horrific amount of wealth is permanently destroyed), and if we start up a new fiat currency, the moral criminals of the banking class will play the game all over again.
I note that Max Hastings in the Daily Mail calls for bankers to be "named and shamed"; this is milksop stuff. Yet they're still going to get billions in bonuses this year! Why does the Proceeds of Crime Bill not apply? Heavy, heavy fines, so that generations of bankers and traders will remember and hesitate. How about the last 5 years' bonuses, as a benchmark? Punitur quia peccatum est ("punishment is to be inflicted, because a crime has been committed").
But even that's not enough. What about the political class that opened the financial sluices to alleviate the discomfort of 2002-2003? And did it several times before, too? (See Jesse today on Greenspan's bubbles.) How do we mete out condign punishment to those greedy for power, as well as those for money?
I repeat, this is a crisis of democracy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guessing the low points

I looked at trends in the Dow earlier this year and guessed that the Dow's low might be 7,000. Now, Mish reports that Nouriel Roubini is saying the same.

The FTSE is currently hovering around 4,000, which is lower than the line I drew in June. But then, the line passed through, not under, the lowest negative spike in 2003. I seem to recall Wolfie predicting 4,000 in one of his comments here recently; well done, old chap.

It's not about money; it's about democracy

It's the interconnectedness that's pulling us all down: the centralisation of money and power has made us vulnerable. As I said in December:

I think the themes of diversity, dispersion and disconnection will grow in importance over the coming years, in politics and economics. As with some mutually dependent Amazonian flowers and insects, efficiency and specialisation will have to be balanced against flexibility and long-term survival.

Life on Earth has survived because it is not like a clock. Mechanistic systems must fail sometime, and the larger they are, the greater the damage they will cause.
After all this is over, we will need to refresh democracy and its controls on those who seek power, in whatever form. Bertrand Russell's book "Power" suggested that it comes in three forms - political, financial and religious, if I recall - and the American Constitution was devised to bell these cats; except, it seems, insufficient attention was given to the potential of money to destroy the community.

Still air in the balloon

The FTSE ended 2007 at 6,456.90. Back in August, I constructed a rough RPI-related graph from 1984 onwards, and to get back to the equivalent of 1984 in real terms, the index would have to drop to around 3,000: at the end of that year the FTSE closed at 1,181.10. We forget how far we've come.


More falls


Elliot Wave again

Like Robert McHugh, "Mish" also follows the Elliot Wave theory:

In Elliott Wave terms the index is in an impulsive wave 3 down. At some point there will be a corrective wave 4 up, with still more down to follow in wave 5. A lower low can be expected.

Back to Kondratieff

Some people are now revisiting Kondratieff''s theory of economic cycles. Seems to fit winter, at the moment. The above image is modified from this source: smart fellows.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A question

What would have happened if the UK had not followed suit with monetary inflation over the past 5 or 6 years?

Would prudence have been rewarded, or would a Protestant adherence to the right course of action have been punished by falling exports and unemployment? In a global trading system, when one major player makes a mess of their money, must others do the same or be sorry?

Can the world be run on the principles of the efficient-market purists, or is there an advantage to the first to break ranks? Are monetarists doomed to merely understand what is going on, incapable of preventing it?

Hope

Brad Setser sees hope in the correction:

I increasingly suspect that one consequence of United States and Europe’s recent financial crisis will be a smaller deficit in both regions, and a smaller surplus in the emerging world.

Robert McHugh was right!

15 months ago, Robert McHugh predicted this:

[The Dow] can be expected to drop to about the start of the pattern, at a minimum, meaning into the 9,000s over the intermediate-term... It is looking increasing likely to us that world central banks will choose hyperinflation rather than nominal decline in stock indices, which will force precious metals prices to rise sharply.

In gold-price terms, McHugh's Dow prediction came true on January 22 this year. Now it's come true in nominal terms, too (9,153.22 at 13:04 ET today) (UPDATE: 8.731.87 at 15:41).

It seems McHugh is an adherent of the Elliot Wave principle. Wikipedia gives a criticism of the theory:

The premise that markets unfold in recognizable patterns contradicts the efficient market hypothesis, which says that prices cannot be predicted from market data such as moving averages and volume. By this reasoning, if successful market forecasts were possible, investors would buy (or sell) when the method predicted a price increase (or decrease), to the point that prices would rise (or fall) immediately, thus destroying the profitability and predictive power of the method. In efficient markets, knowledge of the Elliott wave principle among investors would lead to the disappearance of the very patterns they tried to anticipate, rendering the method, and all forms of technical analysis, useless.

I think one could riposte that events have demonstrated that the efficient market does not exist.

A big figure

Hard on the heels of the $700 billion US bailout bill comes the UK's £400 billion rescue plan.

Oddly, this latter figure, in dollar terms, is very similar to the one approved by Congress - a little over $692 billion at today's retail conversion rates (and even closer in wholesale terms).

But the really interesting thing is the difference is in its relationship to the size of the population of the country, and the GDP:


Marc Faber recently said that the US needed $5 trillion to resolve the crisis, i.e. 7 times more than the amount approved by Congress. Britain's bailout fund is proportionately 7 times greater, and so, crippling cost to the taxpayer aside, maybe it could work.

And it has political implications. The average Brit is so innumerate that he doesn't know how to calculate 75% of 100, so don't expect him to understand that it wasn't simply "the banks" to blame, but the relaxation of Government monetary controls. Don't discount the possibility that, however undeservedly, Gordon Brown may win the next election.

End of the dollar as the world's reserve currency?

See the comment in Brad Setser's blog - Brazil and Argentina are already finding other ways to pay each other, Russia may deal in euros... if no-one wants the dollar after Jesse's predicted devaluation, it may go from devalued to almost worthless.

But what will countries do, that export to the USA? Devalue their own currencies? Or demand payment in euros? Or oil contracts? Even Setser admits to struggling to understand what's going on.

Jesse also comments on a report that the Gulf States may diversify into gold.

Dow: 6th anniversary of its 2002 low


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Currency devaluation time?

Jesse reckons there's going to be a massive (30 - 40%) devaluation of the US dollar, in order to swindle foreign creditors.

Are there any currency experts out there who can tell me whether the UK won't race to do the same? Will the Yen and the Renminbi be forced upwards, relatively speaking? Should we be buying dried food etc instead of holding cash?

FTSE prediction: poll results

Thanks to all those who took part in the poll for the forecast value of the FTSE by the end of December. The median line is on 4,500.

This is what I guessed in June and repeated on Monday. Below that at the moment, but I'm still hoping that it'll settle back to the simplified trend I suggested. I prefer to be a sun bear, not a grizzly.

Are we there yet, Dad?


Stop blaming the Americans

The political formula here in the UK is "We'll do anything that's necessary" and "the sub-prime problem started in the USA." Misleading nonsense.

The Americans may have sold packaged mortgages, but our institutions here didn't have to buy stuff they didn't have the competence to analyze.

And we didn't have to have 6x earnings, LTV100%+, self-certification or a rush into buy-to-let.

This disaster is home-grown.

Crisis

Karl Denninger is sounding absolutely dire warnings about the market (Dow 4,000) and the economy; recently Jim from San Marcos said Dow 2,000 (and I do so hope he's completely wrong). This getting well into the worst fantasies of the Cassandras and we must hope that our apparently ignorant political class wises up fast.

Just a thought...

Who would now take financial advice from bancassurers?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gold set to leap?


Jesse repeats the theory that the gold price is being held down at a time when we would expect it to soar. Presumably the stratagems will fail at some point. (Update: he's now tipping a spike, maybe doubling the current price.)

But as I said to clients long ago, whatever you treat as an investment will behave like one. We did it to houses, and see the result now; so investing in gold in the hope that you'll be able to sell on the spike, is a risky strategy. Buying in at a reasonable price, hoping simply to preserve your wealth; that's a different story.
CLARIFICATION
As I said quite a while ago, if you try to draw a line to get a notion of an "average" gold price, adjusted for inflation, where would you draw it? The current price, if you look at the graph above, would already seem to be above the median, presumably factoring-in concerns about the economy and currencies. My best guess, the last time, was about $650/ounce. Now there may be some opportunity for fast-handed speculators, but at the present price level I'm not that tempted, because I'm no Marc Faber.
UPDATE
iTulip quotes the FT to show that the rich are piling-in to physical gold, a Faber recommendation, presumably to preserve wealth - the analysis is that governments will enter into competitive currency depreciation.
Nice to have so much wealth left after buying all you need.

FTSE and Dow predictions revisited

The FTSE is standing (if that's the right word) at 4,732 (13:50 BST, 08:50 ET). It seems to be edging towards the region I guessed at on 26 June this year. It had closed the day before at 5,666.10 and I said this:

I suggested on Wednesday that the market may already have lost much of its bubble, considered in real terms, and here below is my simple attempt at chartism.

What I've done is to draw two purple lines, one connecting the lows in the mid-80s/early 90s, and the other the highs in the same period. I've chosen that time-frame because it's before the silliness of the late 90s, and it does also include a period when the UK economy was in the doldrums.

Using these parameters, the late 90s and early 00s were well above trend, whereas last year's highs only just peeped above the upper line and the current value is hovering a little above the centre of the hi-lo wedge.

The implications are that the next low, if it comes soon, shouldn't be worse than around 4,500, and by 2010 (when I'm guessing the tide will turn) the bracket would be in the 4,700 - 7,000 bracket, with a midpoint of c. 5,850.

Taking the market at close yesterday and extrapolating to that 5,850 midpoint, would imply a future return (ignoring dividends) over the next 16 months, of c. 2.5% p.a. - not nearly as good as cash, especially in an ISA. On the same assumptions, to achieve an ex-dividend return of 6% p.a. would require entry into the market at c. 5,400.

On this tentative line of reasoning, we should be looking for a re-entry opportunity somewhere in the 4,500 - 5,400 level, say 5,000. Shall we wait for the next shoe to drop?

How bearish are you? Too much so? See the poll in the sidebar.

By the way, I did a similar exercise for the Dow the next day and it suggested to me that the range should be 7,000 - 10,000.

UPDATE

I'm in good company:

Mr Lenhoff [chief strategist at Brewin Dolphin] predicted that the FTSE 100 could settle between 4,500 and 4,600: "In this bearish phase the market has given up more than 50pc of the bull market gain, we are back where we were in early 2004. One of the key retraceable levels is thought to be two-thirds of a bull-market gain, which would be between 4,500 and 4,600. The market looks like it wants to give up the gain."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Utter stupidity

A silly gloat here, about China being dragged down when the overspending stops.

When will the experts understand that Chindia will have the tools and skilled workers to rebuild their fortune, AFTER the Crash? Why on Earth has the East been subsidising the improvident West for so long, if not as part of a plan to extract all the means of production it could?

Do the experts not realize we have been in a state of economic warfare for years?

How to force the UK Government to give 100% guarantee on your deposits

... Transfer all your money to National Savings and Investments.

Their guarantee:

"Backed by HM Treasury
100% secure


National Savings and Investments is backed by HM Treasury, so any money you invest with us is 100% secure."

The Easy Access Savings Account can take up to £2 million per person. In all, depending on your age, NS&I could take more than £6 million per head.

If enough people know about this, and act on it, only Northern Rock will be run-proof. HMG will have to provide an "Irish guarantee". Unless, of course, the Chancellor suddenly welches on government credit, and that really would be the end; or closes the door to new NS&I deposits.

Total retail deposits in the UK are now around £1.17 trillion, of which nearly half is not covered even by the £50,000 deposit protection limit that came into force on October 3rd. So if everybody takes appropriate action, NS&I (and/or Northern Rock) should expect an influx of about £468 billion pounds.

Funds invested in NS&I stood at £84.8bn in 2007/08. A full-scale "flight to safety" would entail an abrupt 550% increase in their deposits.

Get in while you can?

But not into Ireland:


However, experts are already raising questions over the Irish scheme, and asking how much protection it really affords. Adrian Coles, the director general of the Building Societies Association, said savers should write to the Irish Embassy to ask them how they intended to guarantee UK savings, and how they would obtain enough sterling in the event of a bank failing.

"Has the Irish government quantified the potentially huge liabilities it is taking on by guaranteeing sterling deposits in Britain, where household cash savings amount to £1.1 trillion?" he said.

"Savers should beware that, if they switch accounts to take up this guarantee, they are effectively betting on the Irish government's ability to buy sufficient sterling in the foreign exchange markets.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Chinese and US mortgage-backed securities

... and while we're discussing the potential in backing the horses that China bought into:

New York Times, 4 September 2008:

China’s central bank is in a bind.

It has been on a buying binge in the United States over the last seven years, snapping up roughly $1 trillion worth of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The $1.7 Billion Payday: How Bill Gross Made a Killing on the Bailout - Seeking Alpha (14 September 2008)

... The upshot is, Treasury Secretary Paulson was happy to make an example out of equity investors like Miller, who knew they were taking a big risk in pursuit of a big return.
But no way, no how was Paulson about to blow out the holdings of one of America’s top creditors (China).


By some estimates, China has now amassed as much as $1.6 trillion in foreign reserves, with more than two-thirds of that parked in U.S. debt instruments (agency debt, treasury bonds and so on). Burn those guys in a bailout plan? You’ve got to be kidding. Fiscally speaking, that would be like shooting ourselves in the foot with a machine gun.

So Gross had a pretty good lock on the situation. He knew it was sharp to align his interests with China’s. And to further ensure a positive outcome, the Bond King took every opportunity by ranting and raving from his soapbox -- a mighty big soap box -- about how government should be on the lookout for mortgage holders, and how letting mortgage owners suffer would be a travesty.

When news came out that the Fannie and Freddie debt holders would indeed be kept whole (as China demanded and Gross knew would happen), the value of those debt holdings soared, giving Gross a $1.7 billion pop in the value of his fund.

Business Week, 27 Sept 2008 (via Fox44 website)

"Perfect" Bond Asset Class?

Bill Larkin, portfolio manager for fixed income at Cabot Money Management in Salem, Mass., advises people to stay away from Fannie and Freddie debt except for shorter-dated maturities, since the agencies' fate remains to be seen. If they become part of the government, investors will win, whereas if they are broken into pieces, investors will lose because the debt will be much less liquid. He recommends other government agency debt such as that issued by the Federal Home Loan Bank or Ginnie Mae. He also suggests people buy these bonds to hold until maturity instead of buying them to trade them.

Aha!

I said in the previous post that I remembered some US official flying to China last year to flog mortgage-backed securities to them. Found it (13 July 2007) on Bloomberg:

... U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson is in Beijing to persuade the Chinese central bank to buy more securities from Ginnie Mae, a corporation under HUD that guarantees $417 billion in federally insured, fixed-rate mortgages.

... Ginnie Mae is ``in a better position than most'' to offer mortgage products because, unlike Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it provides the full backing of the U.S. government, Jackson said. Mortgage securities offer China's central bank better returns than U.S. Treasury bonds at the same level of credit risk, he said.

Now the chickens are flying back to roost.

Snap! And crackle...


On Thursday, I noted that, in the last 12 months, America has paid over $400 billion in interest payments on "the debt", AND increased the debt outstanding by around $1 trillion, making a total of $1.45 trillion. (I know I'm adding apples and oranges, but both elements are burdensome obligations.)

Now, noting the drop on the Dow and the cost of rider-bribes to the bailout bill, Karl Denninger is at the fruit-summing game:

Bailout Bill $700 billion
Additional Pork $150 billion
Dow (-484) in 3 hours $600 billion
Total carnage to you, The Taxpayer $1.45 trillion

The government is feeding the woodworms. Mish is convinced that deflation is inevitable ("There has never been hyperinflation in history with falling home prices.")
So you'd be forgiven for thinking, "What's the point in destroying even more money on this bonfire? Cut out and burn the rotten wood first, then rebuild the house."
Not so easy. The situation is especially bad because it's spilling over into international relations. Some American official (I forget who) flew over to China last year to get the Chinese to buy into mortgage-backed securities. Did the US really think a powerful partner would allow itself to be cheated when the package turned out to be rotten? (And didn't the Chinese know that, anyway? Isn't it possible they bought the rubbish because they were confident they could force the US Government to make good on it?)


I would almost say, buy into the packages the Chinese bought; but I expect there are ways to make the Chinese the preferred creditors and stiff everybody else.

Remember that Denninger has been saying recently, buy a good home safe and get your cash out of the bank? Let's see how unreasonable his doomster position turns out to be.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Well, you got what they wanted


The Saviour Bill is passed, and with a sigh of relief, the Dow... DROPS 157 points, as the dealers begin to realize that 200m American taxpayers have shelled-out $3,500 each for nothing at all. Look at the "panic" on Monday when the Bill was thrown out, and the "joy" now.


Financial white-water dead ahead

Jesse reports on an FT article from Wednesday, which suggests that the "hurry-up-and-give-us-$700bn" is to do with the need to renew credit default insurances on Fannie, Freddie and Lehman this month - the first two immediately after this weekend.

Maybe I was right, then, when I thought I saw panic in Hank Paulson's demeanour the other night, as he responded to Congress' rejection of the bailout proposals.

Oh, and London Banker reflects bleakly: "The crash in equities will still happen."

US debt-to-GDP, 1940 - onwards

Belatedly, it occurred to me that it could be more useful to see the progress of the debt burden in terms of national earnings. This is from Steve McGourty and is updated as of 21st September.

I'm not sure how much comfort we can take from the fact that the blue line was slightly higher in the mid-1990s, and far higher in the '40s. I suppose it depends on what you think may happen to the GDP part.

US debt outstanding, Fiscal Years 1950 - 2008

Figures are in billions of US dollars.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

US debts vs. other expenditure - 2006

Here's the importance of debt, compared to other Federal and local State expenditure.

I've taken the interest on the debt for the fiscal year 2006, plus the amount by which total debt increased in the 12 months ending Dec 29, 2006. That's because the outstanding debt is increasing even faster than the amount of interest being paid.

(Figures are in billions of US dollars.)


By way of comparison, I also give below two figures - the increase in debt plus interest paid for 2006, and then for 2008. In the latter case, the increase in debt is that from 30 Sep 2007 to 12 months later, and the interest is the latest available as per here.

In other words, if America had no such debts, she would have $1.45 trillion more per year to spend on other things.

Interest, plus rolling-up more debt, now equates to some 30% of all non-debt-servicing costs of the States and Federal Government.

Existing debts and the Bailout Bill

Treasury debt information

$431,270,863,309.37

That's America's "Interest on the debt outstanding" for the fiscal year 2008 - not ended.

20 years ago, it was $214,145,028,847.73.

Zgirl's "Better than nothing" blog explains why deflation would cripple the American government, so money has to keep pouring in and we have to hope that foreign creditors (including the equally busted Brits, it seems) continue to buy-in US Treasury securities.

How to come down from this perilous height?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

If this is the pitch, the answer is "No".

I've just watched Democrat Senator Harry Reid try to sell the revised bailout bill, live on BBC News 24. He may have unfortunate body language, and until this minute I knew nothing about him; but I wouldn't buy a certified gold bar from him for an obviously forged red cent.

He refers to a major insurance company allegedly under threat, and a hypothetical example of a local Nevada bank safeguarded by increased deposit insurance. And as I've been typing this, I've been hearing Senator Hillary Clinton enunciating, in her hectoring, braying, bored voice, all the good reasons why "I" want this, that and the other and so should you.

Maybe they're just the world's worst salespeople, but I don't buy. Sorry.

Your prediction?

Experts and interested amateurs: please give us your best guess at the value by end 2008 - see sidebar.

So you think the USA has problems?

"European banks are generally more levered than their U.S. counterparts."

Paul Kedrosky (htp: Jesse)

UPDATE: the Daily Telegraph concurs.

The $700 billion is to appease foreign investors?

I said in August that I thought powerful foreign creditors would refuse to be cheated, and now Karl Denninger tells us that the $700 billion bailout is to compensate these parties.

And that probably doesn't mean us Brits, either.

More from iTulip

Eric Janszen gives us his take on the brouhaha:

This iTulip post describes the process whereby the current deflation may suddenly turn into inflation.

This one warns against Bill-bashing for its own sake, which may be cutting off your nose to spite your face - something must be done, he says, because the market does NOT self-correct. I would suggest that it might, if the government and banks hadn't "intervened" long ago to create a fiat currency. Once that's happened, we're playing the game for the benefit of bankers and politicians, and by their rules.

And the solution?

Anyone who saw Brian Cox as Titus Andronicus at the Swan in Stratford in 1987, can never forget it. I remember seeing a girl in the audience with her mouth hanging open, paralysed, as Titus stunned us with his almost gloating description of his suffering. And what a master Shakespeare was, understanding that when emotion is heightened, it is also complex.

TITUS Ha, ha, ha!

MARCUS Why dost thou laugh? It fits not with this hour.

TITUS Why, I have not another tear to shed.

Humour can also unblock the mind to work creatively in a disaster. But there is also the "We're doomed, I tell ye!" John Laurie type who only cheers up when it's as bad as he always said it would be. Watch out for them, because unconsciously, they may steer events to match their temper.

iTulip explains succinctly, below, the problem caused by the house price crash. For me, though, it's a reminder of how wonderful the old cartoons are.