Friday, July 24, 2009
Turning point; hiatus
Since Marc Faber and others have been saying for some considerable time that they can't see anything worth getting into, and now the dollar is getting closer to having the carpet yanked out from under its feet, and the British pound may follow suit thanks to the miserable state of the British economy, and China is busy blowing an inflationary bubble to maintain its vampire trading relationship with the West, and the gold-bugs are chirruping ever louder (though the US Government might not only seize gold as it did in 1933, but for those smarties who invest in overseas gold stores the bad news may be that Uncle Sam will also seize US citizens' title to those stores), the question is... where to hide your stash?
For the private investor, maybe part of the answer is to look at the currency market, for a country that isn't over-dependent on international trade, has enough natural resources to survive if the world system goes down, and is reasonably stable by second or third world standards. Sadly, I have even less expertise here than elsewhere, but any thoughts on e.g. the Thai baht?
We're going on holiday now, to a place where cellphones don't work (and it's in the UK) and our place has no broadband. Best wishes to you all, hope to be back in touch soon.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Out of their depth
... the theatrical element of Oxford's secret clubs and societies, the fact that so much of their activity seemed designed to dazzle and mystify bemused onlookers, is precisely what makes them such ideal training grounds for British public life.
... you don't have to be to the manor born to become a member of Britain's ruling class - or even particularly clever. You don't need charisma or sexual confidence or a sense of entitlement. All you need is the wherewithal to pretend to be someone who has these qualities. Provided you can do a reasonable impression of a person with the right stuff - and provided you wear the right uniform - that's enough to propel you to the top.
... The discovery that all these young pretenders make when they take their seats at the Cabinet table, or become QCs, or pocket £100million on a complicated land deal, is that the people at the very pinnacle of British society - the people pulling the levers of power - are exactly like them.
There is no such thing as the real McCoy, just a bunch of schoolboys parading around in the contents of the dressing-up box. They don't feel like frauds, because everyone else in this elite little club is as fraudulent as they are.
And when all is well, they get away with it. But when it comes to an emergency, a crisis needing skill, grit and sacrifice?
My father served his 25 in the British Army, and my mother used to say, "Thank God for civilians," i.e. the experienced people that would come in on callup when war broke out. Doubtless it's different now, with our much reduced and far more battle-experienced Armed Services, but in my father's career he met more than a few "educated idiots." Does the current crop of politicians and bankers have what it takes, including the moral fibre, to get us out of this mess? Or when it gets too tough, will they jump, like "Lord Jim" Blair, leaving us to our fate?
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Up to 140 characters of mutinous grumbling in the comments, please. After a time, all will collated and republished in a new "feast o' bitchin' "post.
Think of of it as a kind of haiku for the disenchanted.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Faber lives in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, a country whose King is a proponent of national economic self-sufficiency. It's also worth noting that Chiang Mai is a fairly short air-hop from Burma, Laos and China; and that Dr Faber collects Mao memorabilia and has business interests in Vietnam. I see him as a long-term planner who covers all possible options.
As Dr Doom notes, "...a major crisis like we had should clean the system but nothing has been cleaned," so why should all be well again? But you could choose to side with Faber's co-interviewee Giles Keating of Credit Suisse; very nice accent, nice bearing - just the sort of thing the clients like.
However, witness also Karl Denninger today, commenting on a report that US Federal Government support for the economy could reach almost $24 trillion:
A couple of market technicians have noted certain "patterns" in the market that have potential downside targets of zero. That sort of thing normally results in a loud guffaw from me - even though I'm bearish I'm not that bearish - I couldn't imagine anything short of global thermonuclear war, ala "Joshua", that could lead to such an outcome.
Well I think I just found something purely economic that could lead to that outcome, and it's right here.
Be prepared. As the Greek saying goes, "There is no borrowing a sword in time of war." I'm going to go back to doing what I started to do a few months ago: draw extra cash and stash it in a locker. And some other things (though not weapons - the tiger is the endangered species, not the rabbit).
House prices to sink further
But the market is segmented. Maybe it'd be more useful to discuss the projected impact on different regions and price brackets.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Step by step - how the dollar is recycled via China
North Dakota? Or New Mexico?
Lost in fantasy
Locking the doors
The same article describes a Chinese proposal to start issuing bonds denominated in renminbi, so that if the dollar does drop against the Chinese currency, all that will happen is that the dollar cost of the capital debt will increase.
It occurs to me that such extra security for lenders may help interest rates to remain lower than they otherwise would be. So the threat to borrowers is not that interest rates will increase, but that debt outstanding will continue to feel heavy, since inflation won't lighten the burden. In fact, the burden of foreign debt could get worse, if the dollar weakens in this new foreign-currency-mortgage era.
Another factor, which may be a deliberate strategy with an eye to the above, is China's own expansion of credit. If monetary inflation goes global - including in the East - then there's less hope that Western businesses could use relative currency devaluation to increase the demand for their goods and services. Manufacturers here will still be unable to compete and debt will grow. Our creditors will own us - we'll "owe our soul to the company store".
It's time to grasp the nettle - bust the banks who got us into this, have a tremendous clearout of debt from the system, reset wages and prices at lower (more internationally competitive) levels, get the people back to work and shrink the dead weight of government and its dependants.
That, or see what's left of our wealth leak away, and then suffer all the above as well - at even lower levels of per capita assets and income.
Doubtless the politically-favoured option is the latter - "Let it all happen on someone else's watch, after we've made ourselves into the New European Aristocracy and gone to our country estates." This would be a mistake. The palace of Versailles didn't protect Louis XVI, nor Waldsiedlung the East German communist elite.
Belling the cat
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Signs and portents
Studying the US Dollar Index, Willie uses a measure that Karl Denninger has previously cited, namely, a comparison of two trends: the 20-week moving average with the 50-week moving average. When the first crosses the second, the second will eventually follow - in this case, downwards.
In my previous post, I referred to signs and portents. This is because when big things are happening, the fog of lies thickens, so we have to look for betraying details and use our intuitions. Art is often the canary in the mine - you hear the coming conflict in the discords of Stravinsky's 1910 "the Rite of Spring". The disturbed children that I teach have recently been exploring zombies. Some also play computer games at home, that involve stabbing opponents in the eyes or genitals. One child's graffiti tag is JABZ.
Doodling, they draw pistols, rifles, knives, swords; but still read Postman Pat and Spongebob Squarepants. Gossiping, they talk of their mother's vibrator, their father's merkin, but (at age 11) don't quite understand and are looking forward to learning the facts about sex next week, which our curriculum now requires me to deliver. They come in shadow-eyed from gaming, but also from (in one case) accompanying their father late at night as he hunts down and savagely beats people who tied up and soaked with petrol an uncle suspected of stealing a motorbike. Where are the police? you may ask; the father is an ex-policeman. The Monarch's writ does not run where our underclass have to live; to have normal social inhibitions would be dangerous in such an environment.
Some may accuse me of moral panic; but I didn't grow up with the currently prevailing sense of moral ambiguity, despair and social collapse. Are we breeding a nation of future child guerrilla-band soldiers? And how tragic, how culpable, that the entertainment industry is playing its part in this; and that the Government hopes to shore up its vote by perpetuating the financial dependence of its claimants.
But it won't happen to us, will it? "Wat geht dat mik an?" as the mediaeval Germans would say: "What's it got to do with me?" Years ago, my Prussian grandmother described Der Flucht, the flight from the Red Army in 1945. They would come to a farm and be very grudgingly permitted to sleep in the haybarn; two days later, the owners would be on the road themselves.
We are in this together; but I cannot see how the present political arrangement can tackle the challenges. There are too many ways for our leadership to be distracted, to be suborned and to escape consequences personally.
Crash, cash, gold stash
I don't know how it is for you in the US, but here the jewellers have recently been fielding TV ads offering to buy your gold. What a favour they are doing for you.
Barry Ritholtz shares in a strange, ecstatic group experience.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The East is [in the] Red
For now, a cloud no bigger than your fist on the horizon; but sometime... This is how we ourselves started, back in the 80s.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Masters of the Universe vs. the Lord's Elect
On an unrelated note, I've suddenly recalled the episode in Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall" where Paul Pennyfeather meets a madman in prison:
"Well, one day I was just sweeping out the shop before shutting up when the angel of the Lord came in. I didn't know who it was at first. "Just in time," I said. "What can I do for you?" Then I noticed that all about him there was a red flame and a circle of flame over his head, same as I've been telling you. Then he told me how the Lord had numbered His elect and the day of tribulation was at hand. "Kill and spare not," he says."
Fortunately, the nutter's victim is a Modern Churchman, not a vitally important, wealth-creating banker.
Many market "shorts" are due to expire on Friday, I understand. Perhaps the market - a free and unmanipulated market, you may be sure - will change its mood next week.
The S&P 500 closed above 900 points yesterday. "Mish" has said that it could easily fall below 500 points, or stall for years. He is against "buy and hold." So who profits if the poor layman is persuaded to stay in the market?
Regardless of what strategy one uses, it is a horrible idea to hold stocks throughout recessions.
Why Is Bad Advice So Common?
Clearly, stay the course is bad advice. So why is it so common? A personal anecdote might help explain things: In January of this year, an investment advisor from Wachovia Securities called me up and stated "Mish, I am sitting on millions because I see nothing I like". I told the person I did not like much either and that Sitka Pacific was heavily in cash and or hedged. His response was "Well, I do not get paid anything if my clients are sitting in cash".
I called up a rep at Merrill Lynch and he said the same thing, that reps for Merrill Lynch do not get paid if their clients are sitting in cash.
Massive Conflict of Interest
Notice the massive conflict of interest possibilities. Reps for various broker dealers have a vested interest in keeping clients 100% invested 100% of the time, even if they know it is wrong. And so it is every recession, bad advice permeates the airwaves and internet "Stay The Course".
We own you
This one points out that to balance the US budget with borrowing, new bonds must be sold totalling 3 times the amount issued last year. Bearing in mind that there's less money around, and that people are getting nervous about America's credit rating, inflation and the value of the dollar on the international market, it seems very unlikely that this new debt auction would succeed; and if it did, it would have to be on the basis of higher interest rates, to factor-in the various increased risks.
Alternatively, it's time for the repo man - with a twist. Nassim Taleb and Mark Spitznagel suggest that banks could take part of homeowners' equity in exchange for lower interest rates. But if houses continue to decline in price? I bet the banks have thought of that, so if such a scheme were introduced, they'd want a bigger share than most homeowners would be willing to give them. My guess is that when houseowners realize that the market isn't going to turn soon, there'll be more voluntary bankruptcies and doorkeys in the post. That, plus rising and lengthening unemployment could set off the domino chain.
But returning to the Sprott analysis, note that late last year, 28% of US debt was foreign-owned. Look out for some form of debt-for-equity here - if not the sale of equities, then in the form of favours and concessions. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
It's just the way things are?
I've asked several times before, whether any country could have played it differently and avoided getting involved in The Crash. Then I read this article (htp: Jesse) about ex-BIS economist William White, and near the end there's an indication that maybe it's not simply about baddies and goodies:
This is the sort of thing that worries him. "That's when you have to ask yourself: Who exactly is controlling the whole thing anymore?"
Can't we do better than call vainly for somebody to restore justice to the world? Because that's the one thing that won't happen.
So, any ideas?
For example, what to do about the New World Order coinage unveiled by Medvedev the other day?
If you have a son or daughter, would you advise him/her to join GS and their ilk? Or McKinsey? Or emigrate?
Saturday, July 11, 2009
They're sobbing themselves to sleep,
The shrieks and wails
In the Yorkshire dales
Have even depressed the sheep.
In rather vulgar lettering
A very disgruntled group
Have posted bills
On the Cotswold Hills
To prove that we're in the soup.
While begging Kipling's pardon
There's one thing we know for sure
If England is a garden
We ought to have more manure.
Suffering and dismay.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
An astrologer writes
Next market peak due in... 2018 - if society's still around by then
On the other hand, history doesn't repeat, it rhymes. In 1966 China was... a disaster area. The world economy is much more interconnected now, and the tide is Eastwards, and big business is global. The company you invest in, if US or UK-based, may still be making good profits on its overseas earnings, even if domestic workers are all on the dole.
A recovery for the investors may happen sooner, and the market bottom may not be so deep in nominal terms (currency-adjusted is something else: look at what has happened to the dollar and pound; and what may yet happen). I think there's a big disconnect between the markets and Joe Average, since the extra wealth from 1980 on has mostly accrued to the top layer of society.
The concentration of money into fewer hands means that investment issues must inevitably give way to considerations of maintaining (repairing) the social and political fabric of our democracies.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
Where did the funny money go?
Now I come across a graph that makes it plain:
I suppose much the same happened here in the UK. So that's why we got all those posh-cooking and property-in -Provence TV programmes. We were encouraged to dream about the top echelon, not try to join them. As Eva Peron said, "I am taking the jewels from the oligarchs for you"; but somehow we never got to wear them ourselves. Not unless we went into hock for them.
This Wiki entry on the Gini coefficient remarks "Overall, there is a clear negative correlation between Gini coefficient and GDP per capita; although the U.S.A, Hong Kong and Singapore are all rich and have high Gini coefficients." Perhaps there is going to be a reversion to the standard international model: a poorer USA with a high Gini coefficient. Or (same source) a reversion to the social stratification of 1929:
"Gini indices for the United States at various times, according to the US Census Bureau:
1929: 45.0 (estimated)
1947: 37.6 (estimated)
1967: 39.7 (first year reported)
1968: 38.6 (lowest index reported)
This blog projects a Gini convergence between the USA and Mexico - perhaps it makes sense, on the reversion-to-mean basis:
Friday, July 03, 2009
The sun also rises
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Faber: correction, then inflation
For the record, EWFF also shows a "grand supercycle," beginning in January 2000 and ending at 400. Yes, that was FOUR HUNDRED.
And I thought I was being Eeyorish at 2,000.
Approaching the three-day week?
Mr Schwarzenegger also issued an executive order mandating that many state offices close the first, second and third Friday of each month until June 2010 in an attempt to save money.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
... a handful of banks, most specifically Goldman Sachs, constitute the majority of NYSE trading volume... This "back and forth trade" between a handful of institutions is nothing more than the old "pump and dump" game that has been played in the OTC market forever - and almost always screws the individual investor.
This is no different than you and I selling a house back and forth between us repeatedly, each time at a higher price. We both appear to be geniuses as we're both making a "profit", right?
Well, no. One of us is destined to take a horrifying loss if we do not find a sucker to make the final transaction with.
I wondered what was keeping it all up. And sooner or later...
P.S. Rob Kirby strongly suspects that similar manipulation is going on in oil and gold - one kept up, the other down. (For an update on the latter, click on the goldcam.)