Wednesday, April 29, 2009
My pay/pension's inflation-protected, so I'll be all right... won't I?
It's us or Them - and inflation's coming
A self-deprecating blogger styled "The Anecdotal Economist" suggests a fight back in the form of switching your savings and borrowings away from these enemies of the people.
htp: Jesse, who has joined the Angry Brigade and whose regularly changed sidebar links for reading ("Matière à Réflexion") are a treasure trove.
Meanwhile, John Williams of Shadowstats says:
We will see inflation levels not seen in our lifetime by as early as the end of this year. Eventually we will see liabilities of $65 trillion – more than four times U.S. GDP, more than global GDP. There will be a hyper inflation where the dollar becomes worthless, where the paper is worth more as wall paper than as currency.
htp: Michael Panzner, who also is a great pre-reader for us. Michael says he's switched swides to the inflation believers, but he's too modest - he himself predicted deflation followed by inflation in "Financial Armageddon".
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Deflation? You're joking!
I still think we're in a sort of re-run of the 70s. Cash will be forced out of accounts and into the market, where it will still lose value, but nothing like as badly as if left rotting in banks and building societies. The Great Theft is on its way.
If you follow Marc Faber, you'll know that he's currently suggesting holding half your wad as cash, since the bubble hasn't really burst yet; but other than that, he's thinking 10% gold and 40% in a combination of resource and emerging market stocks.
The world's average per capita income is $8k - $9k; as globalisation continues the levelling-out process, the East will never be as rich as we once were, but they'll be less poor. For us, on the other hand, this may be the last chance to put something away for our future.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Life goes on!
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
'Swhat I think...
But before then, I think we have a date with Mr Stockmarket Crunch. I just don't know when that date is.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Time for a Little Socialism?
In support of that argument, the often-quoted figure is that the top 10% of earners pay 40% of the taxes. That sounds unfair, doesn't it?
According to the IRS, in 2005, the top 10% of earners had 48.5% of the income. The top 1% had 21% of all income.
In other words, the top 10% earned about 8.5 times the average of the bottom 90%, the top 1% earned 26.3 times the average of the other 99%.
In addition, when calculating the taxes per dollar earned, using the conservatives' own figures, the lower 90% pays at a rate which is 1.4 times that of the top 10%.
Still not the truth
"... when FASB suspended mark-to-market accounting rules recently, major international banks were allowed to re-value some of their derivative products closer to their notional value on their books to pad their balance sheets. Due to this change in accounting law, I can almost guarantee you that before market open Friday, Citigroup will announce better than expected financial results as they carried huge amounts of illiquid mortgages and financial derivatives on their balance sheets."
I fear that many major banks may be thoroughly ruined, and until the lying stops, effective action cannot be taken.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Straws in the wind, the flight of birds
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The deflationary bust
Professor Antal E. Fekete revisits his deflationary theory: we have passed a crucial point in debt accumulation. From now (actually, from 2006, he says) onward, the more politicians attempt to stimulate it with debt, the faster the economy will shrink. Gold, the machine's "governor" that set limits to debt, was decoupled from the system a century ago - it got in the way of war financing.
Stephen Tetreault says if there's a rise in stocks, sell: "I do not see a positive bullish catalyst in the making as we head into the earnings sector other than a potential short squeeze, relief rally that should which should be sold into." He notes that deflation means those that can, are paying down debt, but also lenders are widening the margins between the interest they pay and the interest they charge, which gives further impetus to deflation.
Tony Allison says, sooner or later energy is going to cost more. He's thinking about the right point to speculate, the rest of us should consider the effect of higher energy costs on family budgets, and therefore on how reduced disposable income will be allocated.
Captain Hook foresees a time when "the public finally gives up the ghost on stocks in general, correspondingly they will fully embrace the likelihood of deflation, which will trigger a temporary collapse in commodity prices, led by their paper representations." He thinks this will be the time when physical gold will win; I wonder whether that is so, when most of us are so dependent on an electronic system. We're not farmers, selling corn and cattle to each other; the machine cannot be allowed to stop. That's why I think there will be, for a time, a switch to currency inflation; then perhaps a rerun of the early Eighties, as someone public-spirited in public life takes unpopular action to prevent the dive into the abyss.
For E. M. Forster's extraordinarily accurate vision of the future, written in 1909, please click the last link above. Telephone, TV, a populace paralysed by lethargy and wealth in its bedrooms...
How much is left in the banking system?
This information is a year out of date - more, in the case of credit unions. I wonder where we are now? Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports that US housing has dropped 29% from peak. Is the system, as some say, basically bust?
Kill the old
Now the FT comments on how longevity (plus the old's passion for killing the unborn and preventing conception) is going to ruin us. We think the young are selfish, and don't dare glance at their elders, who imagine they can quit their jobs in the prime of life and live like kings on the backs of their progeny and remoter descendants - or such few of them as the old permit to survive.
As Mark Steyn puts it:
“Over the next decade,” Frau Merkel pointed out, “we will undergo a massive demographic change, and, therefore, borrowing is a greater burden for the future than in a country with a much more continuously growing population, as in the United States of America.”
Translation: America can rack up multi-trillion-dollar deficits and stick it to its kids and grandkids. But in Europe there are no kids and grandkids to stick it to—just upside- down family trees: in Germany, Spain and Italy, four grandparents have two children have one grandchild. The Financial Times noted last week that the demographic death spiral is a far greater threat to fiscal solvency than the present economic downturn. And yet, despite Germany, Japan and Russia already being in net population decline, the G20 had not a word to say about it.
That bill's going to come in, and Herod himself can't prevent it. In fact, he caused it.
The market is going to tank
But I read this piece in the Grumbler.
Picture it. You are a rich broker - floated your company in May 2007 (how's that for timing?). Predicting good times ahead, you... sell £47m of your shares.
You say it's for "private projects", and throw the Mail journalist a tidbit about your beloved foopball club. The Mail journalist writing down your copy at least thinks to ask you how much of this cash will go towards the new stadium. You "decline to say".
Meanwhile, Charles Hugh Smith describes (April 18) the thinking that has led him to punt on a financial bear fund.
Straws in the wind, I'm thinking.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Will we ever learn?
The technology that enables 7 billion of us to survive, and provides creature comforts to those in the industrialized world, is due to a tiny percentage of talented and creative scientists, together with a core of engineers who adapted and refined the results, and a larger number who actually produce the products that we use.
Despite that, I am hard-pressed to find a society anywhere that gives those people the level of respect or adulation awarded to sports figures and entertainment personalities. The monetary rewards are far less than for the average investment or insurance agent, lawyer, accountant, or medical doctor.
In the extremist Muslim world, much of science is decried as 'anti-Islam'. Evolution, physics, and geology are under attack in at least 37 US states by creationists. Much of science is also discounted by the New Age thinkers, who don't like facts to get in the way of their own comfortable beliefs.
Yet our leaders believe that the answer to our economic meltdown is to throw money at the people who caused the crisis, and who produce nothing at all. Even at universities, where some rational thinking should be expected, the sciences are de-emphasized, since they are 'hard' and unpopular, while we build programs in psychology and business management.
Without a cultural change in these attitudes, I am fearful that we may see the end of technological civilization within a few generations.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Protecting against inflation
How do we protect our little wealth against inflation? The gold bugs still enthuse, and it's true that if you'd sold the Dow and bought gold at the start of 2000, and bought back into the Dow now, you'd have multiplied your investment by 5:
But looking at the historical relationship between the Dow and gold, it seems the Dow is already below par.
When Nixon closed the "gold window" (15 August 1971), gold ceased to be a currency backing and became just another thing you could choose to invest in, so let's compare these assets from a little before that turning-point, onwards:
The gold-priced Dow is now well below average. So what are we to make of (I think) Marc Faber's recently-expressed view that an ounce of gold will buy the Dow?
That depends on whether you read this as a statement about gold, or about the Dow. I looked at the Dow in inflation (CPI) terms a while back (December 2008):
If we are in a downwave, then the Dow's bottom is still a lot lower than where it stands now. Extrapolation is always risky, but my curve indicates maybe 4,000 points as its destination. Having said that, the highs of the years 2000 and 2007 are so much higher than might have been extrapolated, that maybe the low will be correspondingly lower. A real pessimist might argue that, adjusted for inflation, the Dow might test 1,000 or 2,000 points sometime in the next few years.
Back to gold-pricing: it's also notable that the Dow is currently still worth some 8 ounces of gold, but in previous lows (Feb. 1933, March 1980) fell below 2 ounces:
So should we still pile into gold, as a hedge against the further collapse of the Dow?
I think not. Firstly, the Dow may well have a rally, since it's fallen so sharply in such a short time. And secondly, this is missing the point, which is that we are looking to protect wealth against inflation, not against the Dow.
So another question is, how does gold hold its value during periods of price inflation? A period some readers may have lived through, is that after the oil price hike of October 1973. Here is what happened in the 5 years from 1974 to 1978:True, the Dow merely held its value over that time (though it also made some sharp gains and losses) - but gold disappointed. I think this may be because, when prices are roaring up, people start looking for a yield, which of course the inert metal cannot provide.
Before we start blaming the "G-dd-mn A-rabs" for inflation, let's remember the inadequately-reported fact that monetary inflation was roaring for several years beforehand. The OPEC price rise was a reaction intended to protect the Saudis' (and others') main asset - and you'd have done the same. Yes, it happened suddenly, but like an earthquake, it merely released long-pent-up stresses. Instead, let's blame a goverment that failed to control its finances generally, and spent far too much on war - a retro theme back in vogue today, it seems.
Looking at it from an investor's point of view, once the preceding monetary trend was identifiable, going overweight in gold in the early 70s would have been a sensible precaution.
So I suggest that gold's value as an inflation hedge is for those who anticipate well in advance. And this may be the lesson to draw in relation to the present time:
The inflation protection has already been built-in, for those who bought gold at the right time. The rest of us should note that gold is now above the long-term post-1971 trend:
There may indeed be a spike, as in 1980 - but that's for speculators. For the average person, who wants a "fire-and-forget" longer-term investment, I can't say gold looks like a bargain now.
Nor would I be that keen to get into the stockmarket, unless you're a day-trader. Some may make a killing in the present turbulence, but many will get killed. I'm still looking for that Dow-4,000 moment, and as I explained above, even then it's possible I may lose 50% - 75% in the short-to-medium term.
Houses? Still too pricey, in relation to average income. Yes, some houses are now selling - it's a thriving auction business at the moment, I understand. But again, housing is above trend.
Bonds? No, indeed. Municipal bonds in the US are offering high yields, for a very good reason; and even national bonds are a worry. The debt has not been squeezed out of the system, since our cowardly politicians have absorbed it into the public finances instead.
Here in the UK, we have National Savings & Investments Index-Linked Savings Certificates (3- and 5-year terms). Between them, a couple could get £60,000 into that haven, and not many of us have that much. I'm not sure about the rules and limits for US equivalent (TIPS), but the general argument applies. Yes, there is the question of how the government will choose to define inflation, but I don't suppose the definition will get too Mickey-Mouse.
Besides, doubtless you'll keep some cash for emergencies (including sudden bank closures), and for bargains (e.g. looking for distressed sales).
And if you've got lots more cash than the rest of us, congratulations, since the rich will get substantially richer. There's no being wealthy like being wealthy in a poor country, or one that's getting poorer. Watch that Gini Index rise.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Has Guido been used?
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Straws in the wind
If you follow Cranmer, or Wat Tyler, or Jesse, or even the usually half-clowning Mogambo Guru, you'll see what I mean. Even mainstream journalists like Max Hastings and William Rees-Mogg have adopted language and ideas I would not have expected from them.
I can understand why it's happening, but this does not bode well.
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen
Alle aussteigen!, Part Two
Friday, April 10, 2009
Gold and the Dow
As of 1st April, it was the equivalent of 8.4 ounces. So although gold has risen substantially since the 2000 watershed, one could argue that either gold still has a long way to rise, or the Dow a long way to fall, before the next bottoming-out.
More on bonds, and an alternative view
Prepare for a bond rout
(Highlight mine.) Read the rest of Peter Schiff's interview with Marc Faber here.
PS: Faber indicates something like the following portfolio to Schiff:
Commodities (e.g. oil, agriculture): 20%
Emerging markets: 10% - 20%
Gold (in physical form): 10%
Cash (the US dollar, for now): 50%
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Thirty years on
1979: Blair Peach
When Britain turns to Fascist methods, it employs them totally incompetently. And this is the Left at work, too; we are led by people who themselves were on the picket line and putting the "chicks up front" so the "pigs" couldn't clobber the guys.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
The truth will out: it WAS fraud
Worse, the regulators didn't even start to investigate until the crash, whereas in the S&L crisis they were making preparations even while the lenders were boasting of record profits.
Black says the current mess is at least 100 times worse than the S&L debacle. In his view, Bernard Madoff is a mere "piker", not even in the first rank of the fraudsters responsible for all this.
(htp: Michael Panzner)
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Divination by horses
Well, I backed Golden Flight and down it went at the first fence - though the name is Delphic: will gold flee or take wing? For adherents of cash, Offshore Account stayed the course, but lost ground as the pace picked up, miming the effect of inflation.
On a political note, I was pleased that Eurotrek failed to complete. And we bloggers should not have been surprised to see Fleet Street unseated.
The winner, against all expectation, was Mon Mome (= "my kid"), perhaps a sign that we should be thinking of the next generation, as skewed demographics meets declining GDP. The trainer, Venetia Williams, was sporting a striking golden coat...
Who ruins Britain?
Take store group Arcadia, for example. In the year 2000, it was acquired by Stuart Rose, at which time it had a turnover of £2.5 billion, debts £250 million and a market capital value somewhere around £100 million. "The business was viewed as dead meat when he arrived." Two years later, the turnover was down to £2 billion, but all the debt was cleared and the group was making an annual profit of £106 million.
Rose then sold out to Philip Green for a reported £850 million (Peston says £775 million), of which Green's personal investment was only £9.2 million.
In 2005/2006, Arcadia's sales were down to £1.8 billion, but profits had risen to £300 million, according to Peston. Green then made it declare a £1.3 billion dividend, £1.2 billion of which went to his wife - who by then was, technically, domiciled in tax-free Monaco. This record-breaking payout was funded by bank loans to Arcadia totalling £1.35 billion, with the result that the group's net asset position went from plus £303 million (in August 2004) way into the red - minus £807 million. You'll see that the dividend accounted for the decline in Arcadia's net worth, and more besides.
Stuart Rose is like a man who buys a sick donkey, nurses it back to health and sells it at a profit. Green appears to me like the new owner who nurtures it further, then suddenly puts back-breaking quantities of heavy stone in its panniers and wanders off on other business, whistling merrily while the poor, over-laden beast staggers behind him in the wilderness. If it should stumble...
I can see what's in it for the bankers (less so, their shareholders). I can certainly see what's in it for Philip Green. But what's in it for us? We work, earn money, pay taxes and what is left we spend in stores that export our capital.
If this is to be the pattern for British business, we are finished. I don't see Johnny Foreigner making plans to take on the obligations of our Welfare State when we no longer make anything he wants; if he's looking for maltreated, ill-bred, indolent slaves, he'll find all he needs closer to home.
Are we making a nation fit for Marxists?
Back a winner!
Follow the Money
The source of this disparity was a combination of the arms manufacturers, faced in the late 1970's with their first downturn since 1939, and Leo Strauss' neo-conservative movement. Their propaganda assured us that the Soviets had invisible and powerful secret weapons that we had to counter. Under Reagan, the US engaged in the biggest peacetime arms build-up in history.
When the USSR collapsed, so did the need for all of our weapons. Just in time, we had the War on Terror. Rather than a counter-terrorist operation, we managed to turn it into a massive conventional war, when we chose to invade Iraq.
To date, we have spent at least $1 trillion in Iraq, $4 trillion on an uneccessary and unworkable Star Wars missile defense, and the military consumes over 50% of the budget.
Had we not been consumed by paranoia and fear, would we have a deficit now?
Thursday, April 02, 2009
What goes up
I dont know where Im going
But, I sure know where Ive been
Hanging on the promises
In songs of yesterday
An Ive made up my mind,
I aint wasting no more time
But, here I go again
Here I go again
Maybe the national brokers are right. I don't think so.
The concrete life saver
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Lessons not learned?
Adu Dhabi is has announced that it will change to coal-fired electricity generation. Dubai is currently building four such plants, with combined output of 4 gigawatts - enough to power 400,000 typical American homes. Oman is contracting with South Korea to build several as well, and Egypt proposes to build at least one on the shores of the Red Sea.
The supposed incentive is that coal from Australia is cheaper than their own natural gas. One wonders why they aren't using the desert for solar power. Perhaps it isn't the panacea that we have been told it is?
China, of course, puts one plant on their grid every 10 days, but at least they have their own mines.
Haven't the Arab nations learned the danger of energy dependence?
Where we went wrong?
While this data may be a little old, it may support my impressions that too much money is going to too few people, making the system inherently unstable.
In 2005, there were over 9,000 hedge funds, with over $1 trillion in assets. The managers earn 2% of the assets per year, plus 20% of any profit. Given the performance for those years, that's over $4 million per manager per year. The top three incomes reported in New York Magazine were all for hedge fund managers, with Edward Lampert topping the list at $1.02 billion.
It's what farmers used to call eating your seed corn.