Please drink, gamble and fornicate responsibly

Saturday, February 28, 2009

And now, the bad news

The top five U.K. banks have $10 trillion of assets and their GDP is only $2.13 trillion. The whole country could fall into the ocean. The top five U.S. banks represent only about 60 percent of GDP by comparison.

The One Percenters

The "real Dow", i.e. nominal value divided by the CPI inflation index, was about 14.6 in October 1928 and is now at c. 33.5.

This means that, over the past 80 years and in real terms, the Dow has grown by a tiny shade over 1% per annum, compound.

True, there have also been dividends; but the "get rich quick on the market" idea seems to be a form of riverboat gambling, winners taking from losers.

The biggest winners being the fund managers - so very few of whom even manage to beat the index, long-term, in their own sectors.

Perspective

(Values at 01 Oct 1928 = 1)

"There must be some way out of here,"
Said the joker to the thief.
"There's too much confusion here,
I can't get no relief.
Businessmen they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them know along the line
What any of this is worth."

"No reason to get excited,"
The thief he kindly spoke.
"There are many here among us
Who think that life is but a joke...

- Bob Dylan

Does the tree of liberty need watering?

How Britain became a police state

Here is an extract (presentation altered to make visually clearer the catalogue of the State's crimes against liberty) from Philip Pullman's recent article on freedom in the UK - strangely, suspiciously, perhaps tragically and symptomatically, censored from the Internet by The Times:

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as:

the Protection from Harassment Act (1997)
the Crime and Disorder Act (1998)
the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000)
the Terrorism Act (2000)
the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001)
the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001)
the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002)
the Criminal Justice Act (2003)
the Extradition Act (2003)
the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003)
the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004)
the Civil Contingencies Act (2004)
the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005)
the Inquiries Act (2005)
the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005)

... not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

For the full article, saved from the memory hole by alert patriots and lovers of liberty, please see here.

By what damning irony is it, that The Times itself should have published this noble extract on June 10, 1788:

THE PROGRESS OF LIBERTY IN ENGLAND
From Mr Pratt’s Poem on Humanity

MARK by what gradual steps Britannia rose;
As the small acorn to a forest grows;
By what variety of adverse fate,
Terrors of war, and anarchies of state,
What direful griefs by foreign fury bred,
Rivers of blood, and mountains of the dead;
She passed advent’rous, e’er her wrongs were o’er,
Complete her triumphs, and confirm’d her pow’r.
When but to look, was treason to the State
And the King’s nod, like thund’ring Jove’s, was fate.
[...]
Thus, in the earliest hour of Britain’s morn,
A Briton’s hate of tyranny was born!
Abhorrence sacred, to repel the hand,
That dares to wrong the charter of the land:
Our sturdy ancestors, tho’ oft subdu’d,
But breach’d from war, and strait the charge renew’d;
Now dres’d as victims, now as pris’ners bound,
The blood of heroes deluging the ground.
In each extreme our brave fore-fathers prove,
Their native courage and their country’s love;
Fierce for hereditary claims they fight,
And ev’n till death maintain a Briton’s right.

Hence rose our liberties, a common cause
To these succeed, their best support, the laws;
Bonds, conflicts, murders, massacres ensu’d,
And many a Saxon, Danish sword embrued
In English blood, and many a Monarch’s life,
And many a Monk’s, submitted to the strife,
E’er Laws were form’d, as now sublime they stand,
The shield, the spear, and buckler of the land.


No wonder they have all but abolished the teaching of English history and literature, as we once knew it.

What are the odds?

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Next To Go?

Consumerism, if it doesn't define the US, certainly describes it. The marketing that it spawns drives our political campaigns and pays for most sports, newspapers, magazines, radio, television and internet sites.

Advertisements try to convince us to buy products and services that we don't need, or undo brand loyalty to increase market share.

I am fairly sure that, as disposable income dries up, the dirty secret at the heart of the marketing sector will kill or cripple it.

The secret: It probably doesn't work!

I have been reading some mathematical papers on marketing. It is well-known that new marketing campaigns lead to increased sales, but only for a while. When this data is discussed, two factors are not considered:

1. The cost of the campaign itself is not factored into the increased sales.
2. There is no attempt made to check how much of the increased business is simply consumers buying earlier than they would have otherwise.

Since the manufacturers relies on marketing firms for their research, and the latter have a vested interest in the results, it is no surprise that these slip under the radar.

In other words, the sector is a huge bubble which, unlike investment or housing, has absolutely nothing backing it up!

Niall Ferguson's rivers-of-blood prophecy

Read Niall Ferguson as edited by Jesse - he talks straight.

About the only bit I don't quite agree with, is the ending - the note of hope is blasted too early in this battle. We are not going to stay in 1995, I'm quite confident about that; and one of the causes/consequences will be capital flight from/strike in America.

E.g.: "China, concerned about their U.S. reserves being devalued by U.S. monetary policy, is exchanging their holdings for long-term oil contracts from countries all over the world, locking in oil prices at exceptional levels, like the $11.40/barrel estimate for the Russian deal."

The elite, and foreign investors, will take care of what's left of their billions. Wealth will flee from inflation and taxation. Somewhere around the world will appear a new Liechtenstein.

Maybe in the calmer end of the Arab Street. Let's see American tax authorities try to lay down the law there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Still a bear, for now

A letter to the Spectator (unpublished), posted here on 2nd November 2008. We seem to be edging towards the "unsurprising", though the market may give a leap of denial before then:

Sir:

Your leader (“Riders On The Storm”, 1 November) suggests that current investor sentiment is “excessively negative”. That depends upon one’s historical perspective, in both directions.

A reversion to the mean (over the last generation) for UK house prices would be some 3.5 times household income, which on 2007 figures would imply average valuations around £120,000. Turning to shares, the progress of the Dow over the past 80 years (adjusted for consumer prices) indicates that a return to 6,000 points should be unsurprising, and a low of 4,000 not impossible.

But in addition to the business cycle and recurrent bubbles, there are deep linear changes at work. While maintaining the Western consumer in his fantasy of idle wealth, the East has been building up its human and physical industrial resources. We are focussing on the present recession, but not what the world will look like afterwards. When Asia has sufficiently developed its domestic demand, it will lose its enthusiasm for US Treasury debt, and the credit markets will tear at our economies with higher interest rates. Already, the search is well under way for an alternative to the US dollar as a world trading currency; and foreign investors, sovereign wealth funds and oil-rich governments are building up holdings in our bellwether businesses (e.g. Barclays Bank), thus converting imbalance into equity and exporting our future dividends.

Besides, the Dow and FTSE companies derive an increasing proportion of their income from abroad, so stock indices no longer reflect national prosperity. Real wages have stalled, and seem set to decline against a background of rising inflation and global competition; this, plus an interest rate correction, might strengthen the downward trend for house prices.

In short, successive governments have failed to repair our economic structure, and bear market rallies notwithstanding, I think we must eventually recalibrate our measures of normality.

Darwin's Bicentennial

The 'balance of Nature' is a misleading phrase. It is not a Disney-esque harmony, but the sweaty struggle of wrestlers, with efficiency of predation competing with that of procreation. A small change in environment, or the introduction of a new disease or species can lead to rapid extinction.

If an ecological niche opens, or gains resources, there is an explosion of varieties. When resources are abundant and predators scarce, even the weaker ones can thrive for a while. This explains the fat, waddling dodo.

The Industrial Revolution, and the Agricultural one that came before it, were the product of a few minds, and the sweat of many. They drove the move to more cities, which meant larger companies and bigger government. This widened the niche for a parasitic class of people who produce nothing, but are sometimes necessary. We call them consultants, middle managers, investment specialists (sorry Sackerson!), marketing gurus, guidance and life coaches, and the like.

With no predators, and a virtually infinite supply of resources (they print the money!), this class grew like a cancer. We have now reached the point that it consumes most of what we produce, and the system is shutting down. Since the typical politician or bureaucrat is of this class, the obvious answer is to give them more. Hence the Bush stimulus package.

I could be wrong, but I think that we are simply postponing the inevitable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dow update

Adjusted for CPI inflation, the Dow is now back to where it was in December 1995.

This is still above the peak of the previous long cycle, ending in January 1966 - and still over 4 times higher than the low of July 1982. We only think of it as catastrophic because we got used to more recent, wildly inflated valuations.

I'm still hoping that the end position will be no worse than 4,000 points - a drop of 45% from today's close.

Theft by inflation has begun already

The UK Debt Management Office website shows that a UK Treasury bond offering 5% annual interest is, because of its current traded price, actually yielding 2.522793%.

But the risk of default, almost as high as Italy's government debt and far higher than even the USA's, is (as Jesse quotes) currently priced at 1.63%. (The market currently prices the risk of USA default at 1%.)

So after insuring for risk, 5-year UK sovereign debt earns you less than 0.893%.

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index*, now runs at 3%. In other words, a "safe" government bond loses you more than 2% a year.

And that's before inflation really gets going.
_____________________________________

*The Retail Price Index is a different measure of inflation, which takes into account mortgage costs. So after recent savage cuts in the bank rate, currently RPI should be negative. But wait until the private capital credit strike leads to higher interest rates, and judge.

How long will the bear market last?

Jesse quotes this comparison of the current bear market with three previous ones, mixing stats for the Dow and the S&P 500:

But taking similar periods for the Dow only, adjusting for CPI inflation, and adding the long period from 1966 to 1982, we get this:

I'd suggest we should look at when the recent bubble really burst - end 1999, then desperately disguised by monetary inflation from 2002/03 onwards; if that's right, we have maybe another 6 years to go through.

The shapes of these two lines do sort of rhyme, don't they? And if so, looking at where the end of the red line is, maybe a bear market rally is now due, like the c. '75 - '76 mini-recovery.
End point in real terms this time, my guess, is the equivalent of 4,000 points today. However, there are features unique to the present situation, especially the size of debts, the loss of much of the West's manufacturing base, and the interconnectedness of modern world markets and economies.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cash (equivalent) and gold - iTulip

Our primary concern at this stage is no longer our readers' portfolios but their ability to weather a US dollar crisis if one erupts. In response, we are increasing our gold allocation to 30% and moving all Treasury holdings to the very shortest maturities, to three month Treasury bills, until we see indications that conditions are stabilizing. We encourage you to engage with the community to actively discuss strategies that are appropriate for you.

The rest is here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good luck, right action

Reportedly, George Soros doesn't see the bottom of the market yet. We judge by recent experience and think ourselves hard done by, yet look at the following chart, which takes the Dow and adjusts it for inflation:

All that has happened is that the illusory gains of the last 12 years, more than accounted for by extra debt taken on in that time, have now unwound. Yet we're still nowhere near where we were in 1987, which (if you were around then) we thought of as an exciting time for investment. To get back to that peaklet in real terms, the Dow would have to drop below 5,000 points.

But to return to the low point of the recession that preceded it - around July 1982 - the Dow would have to break down below 1,800. Even then, that miserable score is a big advance on the low of 50 years before that (July 1932: CPI-adjusted Dow would equate to c. 833 points).

Karl Denninger has said recently that he sees 2,000 points as a possibility; I've suggested a low of c. 4,000, because in these 40-year cycles, each peak and each low has been higher than in the previous cycle.

However, seeing how unbelievably high the Dow went in recent years (way above anything that could have been extrapolated from the highs of 1929 and 1965!), maybe a correspondingly low low is not out of the question.

So why am I planning to set up a new brokerage on my own? Why don't I send a copy of this blog to all my clients, together with news of my retirement from the industry and a valedictory "Good luck, because you're going to need it"? (Actually, I have repeatedly advertised this blog to clients; I only wish the viewing stats could show me that they all read it.)

The Mogambo Guru has taken to signing off his rants with a sarcastic "Wheee! This investing stuff is easy!" - he recommends gold, silver and oil. Over on Financial Sense a couple of days ago, Martin Goldberg opines, "The important question for most investors is whether to be in cash or gold" (cash for now, he thinks). Marc Faber has long been saying that we are entering a long bull market in commodities, and has just said he thinks an ounce of gold will one day be worth more than the Dow.

What they're really talking about is inflation. Debt, which is fixed in nominal terms, becomes cruelly heavier as the assets pledged against it become worth less and less. The pain will get so bad that the government will crack, as it always does, and debauch the currency. Holding cash just now is great, for those lucky enough to have it; but if Robin Hood can't confiscate it through taxation, he'll bleed it white by printing lots more fiat currency for himself (and the people who keep voting for him), so sucking real value out of your money. If you can't face investing, be prepared to spend like a sailor on shore leave when inflation hits town.

My clients generally aren't traders. In the same interview cited above, Faber said:

Recently I bought some U.S. stocks for the first time in a long time. If you buy Intel , Cisco , Yahoo! , Oracle and Microsoft , you will do much better in the next 10 years than you would with Treasuries. These stocks will double and even triple -- before going to zero.

That's not for my clients - they like the idea of the double and triple (who doesn't?), but not enough to risk the "going to zero".

That said, investment - including in commodities - is going to be part of their fight back against the attempt to take away everything they've saved. Inflationary periods do sap the real value of shares, they hit cash even worse. Look at the position of the man who invested in the (dollar-denominated) Dow from the start of 2008 up till last Friday's seeming debacle, compared with the poor chap who "played safe" and held good old British pounds:

The picture will change when the dollar dives, of course; though maybe the pound will dive along with it. To hold what you have, you'll have to keep on your feet, balancing the relative merits of currencies and asset classes. For me and most of my clients, it won't be about getting rich; it'll be about not getting robbed.

I'd have been happier with a world where money kept its value, and I'm not alone. The blogosphere is now crowded with people who have their own schemes for a fair and just economic world. But none of these ideal arrangements will enter into reality. There's too much to be made out of destroying it, by a handful of traders, and the politicians - and the bankers who will eventually employ the politicians when they leave office. We must take, not the right action, but the appropriate action.

Good luck, because you're going to need it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can we do it?

We live in an era in which every one of us needs massive amounts of technology just to survive, and lots more to stay as comfortable as we are. Yet, paradoxically, there is a great deal of denigration in the UK and US for mathematics, science and engineering and the people who have skills in those areas, which discourages many from those fields of study. It is to the point where there are sometimes two jobs per graduate.

Can we make the cultural shift to nurture and reward those people, or are we doomed to drop backwards?

Yet another conversation with a wealthy parent (she pushes papers, he is a corporate lawyer) does not give me much hope. All the ones that I have talked to assume that we need such specialists, who will be someone else's children, but their own will go to college, graduate in non-technical fields, and then have successful high-paying careers. I cannot make these parents understand that we have run out of the wealth to get the technology from elsewhere, so we have to make it here. Without a manufacturing base, those nice parasitic managerial and service jobs just won't exist.

Or perhaps I'm wrong, and should have gone into accounting, instead of mathematics teaching and engineering research.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where is Paul Moore's bonus?

Paul Moore, former head of risk management at HBOS (which, by the way, has just cratered its new owner, Lloyds Bank), was sacked in 2005 by Sir James Crosby, allegedly for warning about the bank's excessive lending.

Whistleblowers generally suffer for speaking out. Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, there is no limit for compensation paid by industrial tribunals in whistleblower cases; but I should very much like to know what is the average paid out under such circumstances, and the most that has ever been paid.

Mr Moore has received "substantial damages" but was also gagged, so I regard whatever he was paid, as merely a recompense for his silence. I doubt whether the damages come anywhere close to the "compensation" paid to some greedy, corrupt and incompetent senior executives at top banking and financial firms; and I think it should.

The OFT has introduced a scheme to award up to £100k for cartel-breaking snitches. Big, fat, hairy deal: five bankers spent £44,000 on wine alone on a single evening in 2001.

Maybe demobureaucracy doesn't work; maybe we should go back to old-fashioned kingship. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the King goes about his camp in disguise before the crucial battle:

KING HENRY V: I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.

WILLIAMS: Ay, he said so, to make us fight cheerfully: but when our throats are cut, he may be ransomed, and we ne'er the wiser.

KING HENRY V: If I live to see it, I will never trust his word after.

WILLIAMS: You pay him then. That's a perilous shot out of an elder-gun, that a poor and private displeasure can do against a monarch! you may as well go about to turn the sun to ice with fanning in his face with a peacock's feather.

After the battle, the King calls a trembling Williams out of the ranks and reveals himself as the anonymous interlocutor of the night before; but instead of dealing with his frankly-spoken subject as one might expect of a ruthless Plantagenet monarch, he returns Williams' challenge-glove, filled with gold coin from the royal treasury.

And how might King Solomon have adjudicated a dispute between a CEO and his erstwhile employee? Is it not possible that, in some cases, he would have taken years of earnings from one and passed it directly to the other? Where are the mega-bonuses for those who risk their careers to defend their firm, its shareholders and the general public?

Should we leave the EU?


Is this a fair picture of our relationship with the Far East and Europe? If so, what happens if we disconnect from "ever-closer union?" Wouldn't they just throw away the straw and drink straight out of the glass?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The middle class world view


Confusion

America gets het up about a mother of 14, but feeds over 160 million cats and dogs daily. I must say, Nadya Suleman's website is a work of art, though.

Let them eat dirt

It begins, but so much sooner than I expected.

A panicky middle class moves from worrying about its bank account, to railing against those richer and stronger than itself, to turning on those poorer or weaker than itself. Then it seeks to connect the two:

"However you slice it this is ridiculous. FOURTEEN children as a single parent? Assuming she has medical "insurance" from somewhere, exactly how does a desire to have as many kids as humanly possible entitle her to this sort of abuse of that insurance? If she doesn't have insurance, who's footing the bill? And how do you possibly go out and earn a living while raising fourteen kids?

This is what the nation is up against.

This is why California is broke."


"...there are two Americas. A poor America on socialism and a wealthy America on capitalism...

A vast sea of perhaps well intentioned government programs, all initially set into motion in the 1960's, that were going to lift the nation's poor out of poverty.

A benevolent Uncle Sam welcomed mostly poor black Americans onto the government plantation. Those who accepted the invitation switched mindsets from "How do I take care of myself?" to "What do I have to do to stay on the plantation?""

"Because society no longer believes that it's appropriate to let these children die because of the gross irresponsibility of the mother, the only humane way to prevent this sort of stuff from happening again is to require sterilization of anyone who would receive food stamps or other sorts of welfare. "

Long ago, bailouts were unheard of; failure meant starvation, perhaps death. Consider the caveman: Ug's tribal chief couldn't afford to say, "It OK Ug no kill deer this week. It not Ug's fault. Tribe will bail out Ug."

If he wants his tribe to stick around, the chief must say, "Ug no kill deer: Ug family starve."

(For a moment, one has a vision: Ug family no starve; Ug family kill, eat Virginian economics professor.)

But the tendency... We must punish the wicked rich, correct the feckless poor, do something about the swelling ranks of the disabled, and then we'll all be jolly, prosperous and middle class. Without the bad, sad and mad, everyone would be happy. Patriotic citizens must form a united front... The communists are a deadly threat, and must be firmly suppressed... It's for the working man and the national good that we must for a while band together, almost as though we were socialists...



The clouds were boiling red and yellow over the Alps. Standing on the balcony of the Leader's retreat, the party gazed awestruck. A woman said to Him, "Das bedeutet blut, blut, und mehr blut." The Leader paled, trembled violently and said, "Wenn das sein musss, dann lass es sein."

So proud and lofty is some sort of sin
Which many take delight and pleasure in
Whose conversation God doth much dislike
And yet He shakes His sword before He strike

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Symmetry; asymmetry

"China’s January surplus ($39.1b) is roughly the same size as the United States’ December deficit ($39.9b). It is reasonable to think it will roughly match the United States January deficit as well.

The extreme symmetry captures something real. Deficits and surpluses are shrinking globally now that the price of oil is at levels that roughly cover the oil exporters imports. Right now China’s (growing) surplus is clearly the main counterpart to the United States’ (shrinking) deficit" - Brad Setser

"I believe there is a greater than 25pc chance of a departure from the Eurozone given the social and economic behaviours of some countries within it" - John Moulton on the UK and the Euro.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crime and punishment

Congressman Michael E. Capuano does his job today, flaying the banks (htp: Jesse). I tried to email congratulations to him, but I haven't got a Massachusetts zip code.

And Karl Denninger also:

If the law enforcement agencies in this nation do not start prosecuting the fraudsters in our banking and investment industry that caused this economic collapse (and "token prosecutions" like Madoff will not cut it), and our lawmakers (and President) do not stand up darn soon and call for this prosecutorial action in public there is a very real risk that a repeat of those sordid affairs will soon arrive...
This much is clear to me - high-dollar white-collar crimes, certainly those with an impact greater in aggregate than we currently value a single human life (which various estimates put somewhere between $5 and $50 million each) are deserving of punishment equivalent to murder, meaning either (depending on state law) life imprisonment without possibility of parole or a sentence of death.
We need to put this change into the law as a deterrent against such acts in the future.

They're coming round to my point of view, as expressed e.g. here.

Remember

It was the strength forged in fighting his personal Black Dog, that Churchill lent to us when we most needed it. And the poem he quotes in this broadcast has that mingling of suffering, determination and joyous tears. I give Clough's text in full after the link.

Churchill's War Time Speeches.

A Difficult Time.

'Westward, Look, the Land is Bright'

BBC London

27th April 1941


Say not the Struggle Naught availeth

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke conceal'd,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light;
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
But westward, look, the land is bright!

Arthur Hugh Clough

Deflation, inflation, distress

The Contrarian Investor gives a lucid explanation of the potential consequences of deflation.

In Australia (as in the UK, as I think I showed here), the nation owes more money than it has in savings, so it depends on foreign investment.

If interest rates fall, foreign capital will go away to where it can earn more. This reduces the demand for our currency and makes it cheaper. So goods we sell to foreigners get cheaper, and things they sell us get more expensive. They buy more from us, we buy less from them (or they have to cut their prices so we can afford their stuff). More money comes into our economy; all well again.

Except...
  • What if , thanks to decades of spending lots without earning much (and borrowing the difference), we no longer make things foreigners want?
Then we become "distressed gentlemen". As the money runs low, we run up accounts at the tailor and the wine merchant, and write IOUs which we hope will not be presented to us soon. Maybe we begin to cut a few luxuries, but old habits die hard, not to mention ingrained addictions.
  • What if they sell us things we can't do without, and won't cut their prices?
The money runs out. Unless we are Royalty, and too dangerous to dun, eventually the bailiffs must arrive. In the modern world, the sovereign wealth funds, perhaps.

What can they take? In Australia, there are mineral deposits the Chinese will want, thinks the Contrarian Investor. Here in the UK, maybe some remaining profitable businesses and valuable technical expertise, maybe patents and secret technologies. And it's not only the Chinese that have been lending us their surpluses. We have other creditors.

Then, as the laden carts depart and the keys of the mansion are handed to the new owners, the decayed gentry become vagrants and vagabonds.

Unless we are too dangerous to dun. Perhaps America is; can we be so? And what if our creditors are not certain of our might? Uncertainty can trigger inappropriate actions. There is a Chinese saying, I believe: fear a weak enemy. Catastrophe can be avoided, but unless our leaders are tough with us now, we will learn a harder way later.

But if the master has become poor, what of his servants?

What if, like me, you're not one whose power and social status protects him from the worst effects? Do you believe that democratic societies can do the right thing? If not, this is a time for individuals to make their own quiet plans and preparations.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The, er, credit, er, crunch


No wonder most of us have difficulty understanding the financial equivalent of the matter-antimatter drive powering the USS Enterprise. You'd think lending would have decreased, wouldn't you? Smoke and mirrors...

September 15, 2008: the secret bank run and corralito

According to Paul Kedrosky (htp: Tim Iacono), Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke scared the wits out of Congress with references to a potential $5.5 trillion electronic cash withdrawal from the US banking system, which would have led immediately to economic and political Armageddon. Electronic money accounts were closed down to stop the flight and collapse.

I said a month later that Paulson looked like a bully. But when Congress threw out the first bailout plan, he had also looked scared-angry, turning his head this way and that, like a bull throwing off dogs.

Perhaps the scare story was true. Perhaps not. Shame it took the ex-head of Goldman to drive the Bill through. I assume that rescuing the banks also rescued much of his personal $500 million wealth.

It's time for us to leave off discussing the affairs of the Gods, and return to our own interests. We ordinary mortals don't have the luxury of that kind of money transaction facility. If the system had gone down, presumably it would have taken our little all with it. And is anyone so brave as to say that it's been fixed?

Be prepared; don't be panicked (as it seems Congress was), but take what sensible precautions you can.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Denninger: deflation

Belatedly, I refer you to Karl Denninger's end-year review and forecast. He sees continuing deflation, and makes a number of other plausible and worrisome predictions - scroll to the end of his post for the horrid gallery of prognostications.

In short:

...rallies are to be sold, cash is to be raised and prudence is to be practiced in your own personal financial affairs. Don't get creative in all things finance, get stingy and prudent. Your personal financial survival could well depend on it.

So instead of staring at the low interest on your cash balance, think of the real capital appreciation of your money as measured by what big-ticket items it will buy. And for once, the government can't easily tax your capital gain.

You may also want to hold more cash away from a bank ("Round #2 of severe bank instability gets served up on us in the second half of 2009").

And maybe diversify your currency holdings:

The Dollar will not collapse. This is not because we're in great shape or will truly recover, it is because the rest of the world is in worse shape than we are... The rest of the world is literally on the precipice of a full-on collapse. European banks are more-levered and less-transparent than our banks as just one example... I see the potential for the pound and euro to both reach par with the dollar.

I think Denninger on the one hand, and Faber/Janszen on the other, may both be correct. It's a matter of timing - deflation now, debasement of the currency later. Because nominal debt gets relatively bigger as assets and incomes decline in value, something will have to give.

Satire

A very clever essay from the rec.gambling.poker newsgroup:

The Amazing Stimulus Package.

Join us for an enjoyable night of illusion brought to you by Uncle Sam the Magnificent and Fed the Enabler. Sit back, relax while this magical duo performs feats of magic so astounding that they will have you reaching for your wallet, even while knowing neither of them ever left the stage.

Their world famous "Creating Money Out of Thin Air" will have you rubbing your eyes with amazement. Watch closely as they transfer that "Created Money" to the Wall Street elite, third world dictators, and ultimately out of the pockets of the audience. Try not to be caught as they captivate the audience with the hypnotizing phrase "Too large to fail". Try to follow their logic as they magically convince you and most of the rest of the audience that spending your future earnings today will turn their bumbled (or was it intentioned?) handling of the economy from crisis to stability.

Marvel as they nightly obfuscate their positions and purposes while they plunge the world economy into recession, and then depression.

You'll be astonished when they reward each and every member of the audience Gift cards, checks, or direct deposits worth many times their ticket price. You'll leave the auditorium scratching your head wondering how they can continually perform these feats of magic and financially return to continue the show night after night.

But most important be sure to buy tickets for their closing night. You won't want to miss their amazing final show as they make your money shrink and disappear right before your eyes, making even most wealthy people poor as they create a two class economic structure composed of the super rich and the poor. Watch as they finally render the U.S. Constitution a worthless piece of paper while magically converting hundreds of millions of American citizens to citizens of the WORLD with little resistance from a weakened, powerless middle class.

Robert Ladd

Blowing bubbles

Nobody has made economic depression and its consequences seem so inevitable and at the same time so colourful and even attractive, as Jim in San Marcos.

It's a shame that I was counting on my State pension to eke out retirement income. Looks like many of us will be using Hamburger Helper instead.

Denninger demystifies "the Fed"

You tend to get a clear and concise explanation from somebody, when they either blow their cool or are in a hurry to get somewhere else. Here, in a very crisp and useful post, Karl Denninger blows away the conspiracy theories surrounding the Federal Reserve.

He explain that his beef with them is that they are acting ultra vires (very damagingly), and notes that there is, unfortunately, no statutory penalty for their doing so. The caning will, he thinks, have to be administered by the bond market instead.

Some, like Eric Janszen of iTulip, would say that's exactly what the government intends.

Is it officially permissible to be a Christian? Or indeed, anything?

Here in the Daily Mail is a sample of the hoo-ha about nurse Caroline Petrie, who was suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient. (She also used to leave a mildly evangelical Christian pamphlet.) The patient says, "I have Christian beliefs myself, but it could perhaps be upsetting for some other people if they have different beliefs or thought that she meant they looked in such a bad way that they needed praying for."

Both parties seem reasonable and decent. What's worrying is what happens when officialdom gets involved, as the rest of the story shows.

But I'd love to see a Philadelphia lawyer let loose on the "Nursing and Midwifery Council code" (full text here) which Mrs Petrie is deemed to have breached. By implication, this code regulates not merely conduct, but opinions and even religious faith.

The code commands nurses to "Be open and honest, act with integrity" and straightaway gives a very contentious clarification of the term "integrity": "You must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity." The managers at the health organisation for which Mrs Petrie works clearly understand "equality and diversity" to cover religions. The logic of this is that Jews, Muslims and Christians (among others) cannot work as nurses - for note the word "personal" in that order. It may be that atheists would also be precluded.

All this results from two things: the State getting too big for its boots; and in attempting to govern every aspect of our lives has delegated insanely wide-ranging powers to quangos, who make and apply rules with a whim of iron. The professions and semi-professions - doctors, teachers, nurses and so on* - all have their own little councils to terrorise them. Such prodnosing easily magnifies a "storm in a teacup" into an issue that could affect your job, wealth, family life and physical liberty.

We need a Constitution to limit the powers of would-be tyrants, even if they are now soft-handed, well-dressed ones. Resist the Red Armani Choir.
_______________________
* ... even foster parents.

Janszen, Faber: hyperinflation is government policy

(Graph reproduced by iTulip from NowAndFutures.com)

In an extended "Titanic" analogy, Eric Janszen describes what he sees as the government's response to the crisis: "send rescue", "boil the ocean" and if terrified investors refuse to relinquish the security of Treasury bonds, "sink the rafts" by devaluing the currency. Around the world, he sees a policy of inflation and even hyper-inflation. So does chipper doomster Marc Faber, who now thinks we must eventually have 200% inflation in the USA. 1974 - 82, here we come again?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Inflation bubbling up

Richard Daughty, aka The Mogambo Guru, comments on the sharp rise in raw materials prices.

Further to my recent post on whether gold is overpriced, it's worth pointing out that gold can remain for long periods above trend. Those who mock new buyers of gold may have overlooked this.

UPDATE

Marc Faber: "If I look at government debt in the US, and debt in general, I think the only way they will not default physically on their debt is to inflate." (htp: Michael Panzner)

Murphy: raise interest rates!

A striking article by Robert Murphy on Mises today, about the earlier Depression of 1920-21, and how raising interest rates was the painful, but quick way out.

"... the high rates of the 1920–1921 depression had certainly been painful, but they had cleaned the rot out of the structure of production very thoroughly....Going into 1923, the capital structure in the United States was a lean, mean, producing machine."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Personal choices

I have always been a great believer in personal choice, as I defended in the recent discussion on drug use.

Sometimes, however, I feel a surge of the draconian autocrat that comes from the Prussian part of my ancestry.

Such is the case today: Nadya Suleman, the mother of the octuplets born this week, is already the mother of six other children. She is unmarried, unemployed, and on disability for a back injury at work 10 years ago. In spite of all of those problems, and the fragile state of the US economy, she found a doctor willing to implant another 6 embryos in her womb (2 split later).

Investment Trust success stories

The Telegraph lists 20 ITs that have increased dividends annually for at least the last 20 years.

One factor helping these companies, says the article, is that they are permitted to keep up to 15% as cash in reserve. How much would you, now, be keeping in reserve?

A warning for world-improvers

There are so many proposals to improve the world, and such a short supply of humility and plain, ordinary fear of change. Take spelling, for example, and read this logically-refined paragraph:

Kontinuing cis proses, year after year, we would eventuali hav a reali sensibl writen langug. By 1975, wi ventyur tu sei, cer wud bi no mor uv ces teribli trublsum difikultis, wic no tu leters usd to indikeit ce seim nois, and laikwais no tui noises riten wic ce seim leter. Even Mr. Yaw,wi beliv, wud be hapi in ce nog cat his drims fainali keim tru.

For the whole thing, click here. (There are other versions doing the rounds, since the idea is so good.) (htp: Paddington)

Agreement is not the same as 50:50 compromise

For a technical discussion of how we should adjust our opinions scientifically in debate with others, see Overcoming Bias. This follows an earlier post on the impossibility of disagreeing unless you (rather unreasonably) assume the other person is somehow misinformed, wrong-headed or stupid.

It does look very valuable, though I'd be grateful for a clearer explanation, notwithstanding the participants evidently think they've already given it.

There's a story about Einstein from his time at Princeton. In the lecture room, he discussed his ideas in free-ranging talks, which were so revolutionary and complex that the students begged him to put some formulae on the board so they could follow him properly. He promised he would, and next time gave another dense, extempore peroration, at the end of which he said, "It's as easy as two and two make four". He then walked to the board and wrote "2 + 2 = 4". That's mathematicians for you.

Stimulus

(htp: QandO)

Go drugs!

Gary Becker thinks we should legalize and tax drugs. Look at how this approach has decimated alcohol and tobacco usage, for example.

And the joys to be had from drugs! As the Moroccan saying goes,"A pipe of khif before breakfast is worth a hundred camels in the courtyard." Though I think the Devils' Dictionary needs updating: we need slogans like, "A six-pack of wife-beater in the morning is worth a hundred business calls", "Sixty a day is worth death before sixty", "Dropping a tab is worth the risk of grinning at the backs of your hands for the rest of your life."

So what's it to be, Falstaff or the pain-in-the-mule Puritans?

I think it's to do with work. In the old days, the ordinary person couldn't afford (financially or otherwise) to be almost constantly intoxicated; now, most of us are richer than Roman Emperors: central heating, carpets, hot water, ice cream, multimedia entertainment 24/7, no starvation if you don't work. Once, the Tree of Idleness was for the few surviving old men, who were past it; now, while we still have The Energy of Slaves (ie. machines and fossil fuels) to do the hard stuff for us, we don't know what to do with ourselves.

Freedom makes you fall apart.

What goes up

Todd Harrison of Minyanville is predicting a big stockmarket rally soon (htp: Kirk Report). Others (Elliott Wave followers, for example) have suggested this will happen, but as part of a longer pattern of overall decline. In other words, a "bear market rally".

My feeling? This is (a) a market for bold day traders, and (b) an opportunity for some less adventurous types to cash-out at a less dismal price than they've been offered recently. In fact, I think this situational psychology is part of the process that will help limit the rise and confirm the downward trend.

Restoration, not revolt

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," says Lord Darlington in Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan. That perfectly describes the man who doesn't understand inflation.

Inflation is The Mogambo Guru's bete noire, and he gives us another comedy riff on that today. His principal cure for it is gold, the stock in trade of another ranter, Jim Willie, who sees the price of the yellow metal breaking out in various currencies (it's soared in sterling, for example).

Both men habitually connect gold, the US Constitution and the decayed professional morals of the politico-judicial elite, and try to stimulate the people to restore the old, good order. In short, they are prophets, and there's plenty more out there at this time.

For it is a sign of societal stress that ranters, dreamers and revolutionaries begin to drag out their soap boxes and declaim to passers-by. We had it in the Old Testament, the English Civil War, the American Revolutionary War and most other times that the world was turned upside down.

If buttercups buzzed after the bee
If boats were on land, churches on sea
If ponies rode men and grass ate the cows
And cats should be chased to holes by the mouse
If the mammas sold their babies to the gypsies for half a crown
Summer were spring and the t’other way round
Then all the world would be upside down


There is a difference between civil war, and the revolt of colonies from their distant parent. Having said that, the crisis is now cracking the cement between the States and the Federal Government, as we see in New Hampshire and elsewhere. America, remember history and avoid secessionary talk.

The results of revolution are rarely pretty. Norman Cohn's famous book , about the horrifying aftermath of prophet episodes in the Middle Ages, shows that once the mix is brought to the boil, it becomes very volatile. The outcome is often not what the prophet expected; and always, the people suffer. Rather than overthrow our rulers, it would be far better (if possible) to make them see the danger to us all of continuing their course, and have them turn back.

But can they see it? Do they know the difference between price and value? Will they permit the theft of real wealth by inflation? Or is it, worse still, their intention?

The best we can hope for, is that our leaders are not cynics, and so do not need correction from dangerous idealists.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stock market could halve again - more evidence

I've been following this alarming idea recently. Now Russell Napier chips in, citing Tobin's Q as a measure to predict a further 55% stockmarket decline within the next five years (htp: Financial Sense).

I had a look at Tobin's Q last April. Are we coming to some gloomy consensus - except for Karl Denninger, who fears it could be worse?

Learned fools

Forbes suggests that college education can be financially ruinous. The association of education with wealth only works when both are in limited supply, otherwise the Hedge Schools would have made Irish peasants rich. A silk hat does not make you a Bradford millionaire.

A doctor friend often used to quote some factoid that if the average doctor had left school at 16 and become employed in some capacity suited to his abilities, his hard-studying medical counterpart would never catch up in terms of total lifetime income earned.

I've heard it said that after the Revolution, the French trained thousands more lawyers, in order to devalue the profession.

Man to the plough;
Wife to the cow;
Girl to the yarn;
Boy to the barn;
And your rent will be netted.


Man tally-ho;
Miss piano;
Wife silk and satin;
Boy Greek and Latin;
And you'll all be Gazetted.

Global monetary inflation and the threat to peace

Last week, I suggested that we could be entering an era of competitive currency devaluation. Now, Mish sees it happening in Russia, Mexico, Indonesia - and hints of intervention in Japan. The Canadian National Post predicts a drop in the US dollar, too (htp: Jesse).

Can the Euro -already strained by member countries moving in different directions - take this pressure? A friend told me recently of an old restaurant incident involving people he knew, where first one "did a runner", then another, so that the last man left at the table was stuck with the whole bill. This is a game that punishes the virtuous.

Gold is supposed to be a haven in such conditions, but is already above its long-term post-1971 trend, as I show here. So the bold investor might buy in now, knowing it's high but hoping it'll go higher (or fearing that other things will go lower still). Others say silver, or oil, or agricultural land. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

These are tricky times. As in revolutions generally, it's hard to see which faction will be victorious, but loss, injustice and confusion are certain: "we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night."

This may seem over-dramatic; but when money ceases to be dependable and deadly dull, everything else becomes much too exciting. If the middle classes suddenly find their savings wiped out by inflation, their assets generally devalued and their businesses and employment under threat, watch out.

Civil liberties in Britain further eroded

Taking a photograph of a public servant, even if it's to record his wrongdoing, is to be illegal. That's if the photograph is 'likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism'. How could you prove it wasn't?

Nazi comparisons are horrid cliches; yet my mother watched Nazism take hold as she grew up in rural East Prussia. Tyranny advances step by step, and one of its most useful allies is a natural disinclination to believe where it is heading.

Another ally of the tyrant is woolly language used in law - the freedom of the individual is in the precision of the language that grants powers to his incomparably mightier government.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I made the Gongol list!

In at 79.

Though I'll be recommending some worthier sites and so I guess I'm going down - for now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Shoot the B******s

A piece by the columnist and Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/opinion/02krugman.html?_r=1&em

To me, it gives a strong argument for temporary state ownership.

Shares: why bother?

The Contrarian Investor raises an issue I've been pondering recently: in today's financial climate, are stocks and shares old hat? They're only a market in what companies are willing to let the public invest.

If I were a rich entrepreneur who'd been smart enough to get into cash a year or two ago, I'd be looking to take my company back into private ownership, or buy another for a suitcaseful. Who wants to be told what to do by shareholders with bees in their bonnets, institutional investors looking to maximise profits like, NOW, and other goons? It's like being in a three-legged race with the fat kid.

Venture capital - is that the place to be?

Monday, February 02, 2009

IN- vs. DE- and an upcoming opportunity

Jesse echoes my hunch: deflation now, inflation soon-ish, with high interest rates for a bit. At that latter point, get your annuity and /or bonds, and benefits as rates subside. A guess, but it's comforting to see wise owls coming to the same conclusion.

You now have our investment gameplan for what is likely to be the rest of Jesse's life.

No, no "Jesse"; live long and prosper.

Number crunching - fractional reserve banking

Supposedly, banks lend 10 times (or more) what they have on deposit. Yet in June last year, it was estimated that total UK consumer borrowing (mortgages, loans and credit cards) stood at £1.444 trillion, and in October savings and deposits reportedly totalled £1.17 trillion - a ratio of c. 1.2 to 1.

By contrast, total U.S. household debt at the beginning of last year was estimated at $14.4 trillion, and in October the Mises Institute reckoned the True Money Supply to be $5.5 trillion, a ratio of around 2.6 to 1.

On the face of it, the American consumer is in twice as dire a state as his British counterpart.

I expect that's an oversimplification - but simplicity is in very short supply. I'd like to understand more, but I can't find reliable, user-friendly data on where all the money and debt is. There's far too much secrecy, complexity and obfuscation in this business.

Gold overpriced?

Gold's price since President Nixon closed the gold window on Aug 15, 1971 has been generally higher than in the era up to then, but still very variable. If we adjust it for inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the USA, and take September 1971 as being a "1", the mean and median values since then are of the order of 2.8 - 2.9.

Currently the gold/CPI ratio is about 4, which is somewhat above trend, though nowhere near the spikes of the early 80s. So I'd regard gold's price as a bit high for getting in now, unless you're speculating, which is not my game. But if you got in 9 years ago, well done, and I guess you'll want to hold for some time yet.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

British jobs for foreign workers

Wanted:

738 foreign (EEC domiciled) labourers, for casual work in comfortable and extremely well-appointed factory premises. Existing postholders need not apply.

Why has this contract become available?

We are seeking workers who will perform their duties solely for the official remuneration offered, without the payment of additional incentives from third parties, such as "consultancy fees" etc. The management feels that it is important to make a fresh start in order to establish a new working culture, without contamination from previous elements.

Duties

Reading and revising proposed laws. A good command of English is essential; it is therefore expected that applicants will have been educated abroad.

Legal revisions must be conducted solely and entirely on the merits of each case, for the benefit of the nation as a whole, without fear or favour.

Days worked per year / holidays

This varies, but in 2007-2008 the number of days the factory was open was 148.

Hours of work

From the following start times until 10 - 11 p.m., but sometimes later and occasionally throughout the night:

Mondays and Tuesdays from 2.30pm
Wednesdays from 3pm
Thursdays from 11am
some Fridays (10 in 2008 - 2009); on these days, from 10am

On average, 6 hours 46 minutes per session (in 2007-2008).

Thus, hours worked per year = c. 1,002, equivalent to less than 21 weeks at the EU maximum of 48 hours/week.

BUT adjusted for average attendance figures (see below), actual time worked per worker in 2007-2008 was the equivalent of 11 weeks 2 days per year.

Sick leave
N/A. But attendance is voluntary, and average attendance in the last 3 years was c. 54%.
Minimum attendance by the workforce as a whole is 3 workers per shift (30 on days when the product is due to roll off the assembly line).

Job security

Extremely good. Under current terms, workers cannot relinquish their position once appointed, even if they wish to; but they may take indefinite leave of absence without notice or permission. One current worker has stayed away from the workplace since 2001.

Pay

£335.50 per shift, plus other expenses.

Outside employment when not in attendance at the factory is permitted, provided that it has no bearing or influence whatever on the worker's primary duties at Lawmaking plc.

Important note

Applicants must be prepared to endure some initial unpopularity from protectionist malcontents (many apparently disguised as Santa Claus), but may be assured of the full protection of the law.

Davos: inaugural address

Sorry, I keep getting it confused with Davros. One has a plan to take over the world with the aid of heavily-protected, ultra-aggressive, lunatic invertebrates, and the other...

DIY? GSI, say I.

Doing the rounds on the Internet...

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the
freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to it.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, 'Oh sh*t '

ELECTRIC HAND DRILL: Normally used for spinning pop rivets in their holes until you die of old age.

SKILL SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS: Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely forsetting various flammable objects in your workshop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub out of which you want to remove a bearing race.

TABLE SAW: A large stationary power tool commonly used to launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new brake shoes, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

BAND SAW: A large stationary power saw primarily used by most shops to cut good aluminum sheet into smaller pieces that more easily fit into the trash can after you cut on the inside of the line instead of the outside edge.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the maximum tensile strength of everything you forgot to disconnect.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids or for opening old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splashing oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads.

STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER: A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws and butchering your palms.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to make hoses too short.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent the object we are trying to hit.

UTILITY KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund cheques, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only while in use.

DAMM-IT TOOL: Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling 'DAMM-IT' at the top of your lungs. It is also, most often, the next tool that you will need.

Laptop computer for sale, perfect condition: $10

This report says it's coming. (htp: Upside Trader)

UPDATE: Not so - think $100!

Michael Panzner interview

Some salient points in Michael's answers:

  • The crisis could continue for another decade;
  • investors will have to tread carefully and consider the risk of dealing with others;
  • dividend yields could increase 2 - 4 times (suggesting that current stock prices could halve or quarter);
  • after some more deleveraging during this year, it may be useful to accumulate precious metals
Read it all here; htp: Abnormal Returns

Also linked on AN is a story about Warren Buffett's firm insuring third parties against a long-term market drop. Berkshire Hathaway has taken $4 billion in bets; are they right? Or are they right only in the sense that nominal prices will hold, while inflation will mask the real reduction in value?

U.S. Bankruptcy Map

(source; htp: footnoted.org)

The banking crisis: did we have a choice?

Could any of the leading nations have retained their moral fibre during the monetary inflation of the last decade and more? Wouldn't prudent, restrained lenders have lost out to foreign sellers of "liar" and "fog a mirror" loans? Wouldn't the currency have risen and crippled exports? Could considerations like this form part of the "don't shoot me" defence of our busted banks and discredited politicians?

Or would it have been a trial by fire, where the virtuous are rewarded at the end? Denninger: "It is also increasingly clear that there are literally hundreds of midsize and smaller banks that are perfectly fine. They did not lever up, they did not write a bunch of crap commercial or residential construction paper that cannot be serviced and they most certainly did not drink the KoolAid of securitized synthetic garbage debt. Even in bad economic times traditional banking is a very profitable business - so long as you lend money to people who can pay you back or you have sufficient collateral so that if they default you don't lose your shirt."

In which case, the original offence of reckless finance has been compounded by the failure to punish it. The bailouts whisk away the deserved reward of the good, and teach a hugely damaging lesson to all onlookers: you can Get Away With It.

Of course, you can't - or rather society can't, though individuals will. And when injustice finally falls, it will take down with it many of the good, the poor and the powerless.