The last financial crisis isn’t over, but we might as well start getting ready for the next one.
Sorry to be gloomy, but there it is.
Why? Here are 10 reasons.
1. We are learning the wrong lessons from the last one. Was the housing bubble really caused by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, Barney Frank, Bill Clinton, "liberals" and so on? That’s what a growing army of people now claim. There’s just one problem. If so, then how come there was a gigantic housing bubble in Spain as well? Did Barney Frank cause that, too (and while in the minority in Congress, no less!)? If so, how? And what about the giant housing bubbles in Ireland, the U.K. and Australia? All Barney Frank? And the ones across Eastern Europe, and elsewhere? I’d laugh, but tens of millions are being suckered into this piece of spin, which is being pushed in order to provide cover so the real culprits can get away. And it’s working.
2. No one has been punished. Executives like Dick Fuld at Lehman Brothers and Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide , along with many others, cashed out hundreds of millions of dollars before the ship crashed into the rocks. Predatory lenders and crooked mortgage lenders walked away with millions in ill-gotten gains. But they aren’t in jail. They aren’t even under criminal prosecution. They got away scot-free. As a general rule, the worse you behaved from 2000 to 2008, the better you’ve been treated. And so the next crowd will do it again. Guaranteed.
“And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.” – John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck wrote his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath at the age of 37 in 1939, at the tail end of the Great Depression. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize for literature. John Ford then made a classic film adaption in 1941, starring Henry Fonda.
Our favorite quotes so far from today’s FCIC report and reaction from analysts…
"Less than a 3 percent drop in asset values could wipe out a firm." – FCIC Report
"The AIG counterparty bailout, which was spun as necessary to protect the public, seems to have protected the institution at the expense of the public." – Josh Rosner
"The total was for proprietary trades," the report asserts. "Unlike the $14 billion received from AIG on trades in which Goldman owed the money to its own counterparties, this $2.9 billion was retained by Goldman."
"At the time, the idea was the sucker could go down because there wasn’t enough liquidity in the system, money wasn’t moving, and you could see a domino effect," said Ann Rutledge, a principal at R&R Consulting in New York, which specializes in structured finance. In reality, she contends, those fears were overblown: There was ample money in the financial system. Rather, individual institutions did not have enough cash on hand to survive their losses, she asserts. But the fear of a broader liquidity crisis was used as justification for what now appears to have been a backdoor means of bailing out Goldman, said Rutledge.
The details in the commission’s report leave Goldman "naked," she added. "It doesn’t have the fig leaf of a systemic risk argument. Normally what happens when you have a sophisticated institution that’s doing stupid credit stuff is you let them eat it, but that didn’t happen in the bailout."
"If these allegations are correct, it appears to have been a direct transfer of wealth from the Treasury to Goldman’s shareholders." – Josh Rosner
Since its creation in 1913, the primary intended role of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank has been that of protector. In theory, the central bank was bestowed with the power to shape monetary policy in a way that would keep both booms and busts in check. The two main tools at its disposal — interest rates and money creation — would provide a "ceiling of normalcy" above expansions AND a "net of safety" below contractions.
To this day, the financial mainstream holds great faith in the Fed’s ability to fulfill its save-the-day duties — as these recent news items make plain:
"Why Raising Fed Funds Rate Is Positive For Equities." (Seeking Alpha)
"Fed’s Moves Lift All Asset Classes." (Associated Press)
"US Stocks Erasing Losses: The aggressive moves of the Fed have been an important driver for the stabilization of stock prices." (Bloomberg)
But of all the variables the Fed creators took into account, there’s one glaring factor they neglected to consider: Namely, it cannot force consumers to spend, creditors to lend, or businesses to borrow. The events of 2007-2009 "credit crunch" and the subsequent "Great Recession" made that obvious. Remember how the government was upset at banks for sitting on the bailout funds instead of lending them out to consumers? And consumers weren’t exactly lining up on the street to get a loan, either.
The Fed’s inability to change social mood is the central theme in Chapter 13 of EWI President Bob Prechter’s NY Times business bestseller book Conquer the Crash. There, Bob describes the Fed’s strategy of lowering the federal funds rate to stimulate spending to be as effective as "pushing on a string." Writes Bob:
"The primary basis for today’s belief in perpetual prosperity and inflation with an occasional recession is what I call the ‘Potent Directors Fallacy.’ It is nearly impossible to find a treatise on macroeconomics today that does not assert or assume that the Federal Reserve Board has learned to control both our money and our economy. Many believe that it also possesses the immense power to manipulate the stock market. The very idea that it can do these things is false."
And so begins one of the most groundbreaking studies into the very real INABILITY of the Fed to fell the great bears of economic declines, or…
What could cause an economic collapse in 2011? Well, unfortunately there are quite a few "nightmare scenarios" that could plunge the entire globe into another massive financial crisis. The United States, Japan and most of the nations in Europe are absolutely drowning in debt. The Federal Reserve continues to play reckless games with the U.S. dollar. The price of oil is skyrocketing and the global price of food just hit a new record high. Food riots are already breaking out all over the world. Meanwhile, the rampant fraud and corruption going on in world financial markets is starting to be exposed and the whole house of cards could come crashing down at any time. Most Americans have no idea that a horrific economic collapse could happen at literally any time. There is no way that all of this debt and all of this financial corruption is sustainable. At some point we are going to reach a moment of "total system failure".
So will it be soon? Let’s hope not. Let’s certainly hope that it does not happen in 2011. Many of us need more time to prepare. Most of our families and friends need more time to prepare. Once this thing implodes there isn’t going to be an opportunity to have a "do over". We simply will not be able to put the toothpaste back into the tube again.
So we had all better be getting prepared for hard times. The following are 12 economic collapse scenarios that we could potentially see in 2011….
#1 U.S. debt could become a massive crisis at any moment. China is saying all of the right things at the moment, but many analysts are openly worried about what could happen if China suddenly decides to start dumping all of the U.S. debt that they have accumulated. Right now about the only thing keeping U.S. government finances going is the ability to borrow gigantic amounts of money at extremely low interest rates. If anything upsets that paradigm, it could potentially have enormous consequences for the entire world financial system.
#2 Speaking of threats to the global financial system, it turns out that "quantitative easing 2" has had the exact opposite effect that Ben Bernanke planned for it to have. Bernanke insisted that the main goal of QE2 was to lower interest rates, but instead all it has done is…
In response to readers’ requests, I disclose my own amateur’s Investment Strategy for Q1 2011: cash is king, and the U.S. dollar looks good simply because almost everyone expects it to collapse.
Despite my oft-avowed amateur-market-observer status, readers often ask me for advice or opinions on where to put their capital. This is not advice (please read the HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER below), it is a disclosure of my own personal opinion, what we might call "one investment strategy of many possible investment strategies" for the first quarter of 2011: cash, baby, cash all the way.
Why am I in cash? Because I don’t trust the parallel rallies, and I am extremely skeptical of the various "stories" which are driving the rallies. Why am I skeptical? Because everybody and their sister has bought into the stories, and a one-sided trade is rarely the winning one.
Yes, it’s my contrarian nature: when everyone is a believer in a "story" that is too good to be true, then I become skeptical. This often gets me in trouble. When everyone was buying GM at $50, I was shorting it. When everyone was buying Fannie Mae at $60, I was shorting it (via puts). Both GM and FNM were obviously, painfully insolvent, but it took practically forever for reality to intrude on the fantasy/narrative that each firm was a "solid blue chip" investment with numerous analyst recommendations. In the meantime, I lost money treading water for quarter after quarter.
So even though the market is clearly top-heavy, the short-side trade may yet be ground down by the Fed’s prop-job and the Wall Street/Central State partnership’s desperate desire to use a rising stock market as a propaganda proxy for the "recovery."
(Hey, just borrow and squander roughly 13% of GDP, year after year after year (roughly 45% of the entire Federal budget), and you might stimulate a modest "recovery," too.)
So let’s examine each of the "stories" driving the rallies.
1. The global recovery is solid, and Central State stimulus and quantitative easing will keep growth rising and interest rates low. This narrative drives capital into "risk assets," i.e. stock markets, commodities, FX carry trades, Chinese real estate, junk bonds, etc.
Oh boy is 2011 going to be an exciting year! Some things that I think might happen:
-Volatility is going up across the board. If you have the stomach for the swings that are coming across all markets there is a ton of money to be made; balls and timing are all that are necessary. The markets will create dozens of opportunities to make and lose.
-There will be 50 days with a swing in the S&P greater than 1%. There will be 10 days where gold swings $50. There will be two days with a drop greater than 100 bucks. Most of the big moves will be down moves. Bonds will not be spared the volatility.
-Gold will be higher a year from now but off its peak. At some time in the fall, gold will be near 1,800 and the New York Times will do a front-page story that gold is on its way to 2,000. That will be the high point of the year.
-Copper will continue to rise. This metal will benefit as the poor man’s gold. Why buy an ounce of something for $1,600 when you can have a whole pound of something else for only $5? The logic is compelling only because there is no logic. Increasingly, it will become understood that money does not hold value. Copper will do a better job of storing value then a Treasury Bond.
-The US bond market is in for a heck of a year. The 30-year will trade at BOTH 3% and 5%. Higher rates will come early in the year, then the deflation trade will come back into vogue.
-Spain will be the next sovereign debtor that falls prey to the market. This will happen before the end of the 1st Q. The package to bail them out will exceed $500b. This will exhaust the EU resources. There will be very high expectations that contagion will then move to Italy. That will not happen in 2011 (2012?) The European Central Bank will step up to the table (finally) and support the market for Italy. Sometime between March and June Italian bonds will be a great buy.
-The IMF will contribute $125b to the Spanish bailout. The US portion
When confronted with a balance sheet recession the math regarding economic growth gets relatively simple – either the government spends in times of below trend private sector spending or the economy contracts. For several years now I have maintained that we are in a balance sheet recession – an unusual recession caused by excessive private sector debt. Although this balance sheet recession created the risk of prolonged weakness I have been quick to dismiss the persistent discussions that compare this to anything close to a second great depression - as I showed in 2009 the comparisons were always ridiculous. The much closer precedent was Japan, where the economy actually expanded throughout their balance sheet recession, but a persistent malaise left a dark cloud over the private sector as they paid down debts.
Over the last year I have consistently expressed concerns that the USA was going to suffer the same fate as Japan, which consistently scared itself into recession due to austerity measures. At the time, most pundits were comparing us to Greece and attempting to scare us into thinking that the USA was bankrupt, on the verge of hyperinflation and general doom. I wrote several negative articles in 2009 & 2010 berating public officials who said the USA was going bankrupt and that the deficit was at risk of quickly turning us into Greece, Weimar or Zimbabwe. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. The inflationists, defaultistas and other fear mongerers have been wrong in nearly every aspect of their arguments about the US economy.
US government default was never on the table, the bond vigilantes were not just taking a nap and now, with the passage of the most recent stimulus bill it’s likely that we’ve (at least temporarily) sidestepped the economic decline that was likely to accompany a decline in government spending. Richard Koo, however, believes we are repeating the mistakes of our past. In a recent strategy note he said:
“The situation in Europe is no different from that in the US. I therefore have to conclude that the western nations have learned nothing from Japan’s lessons and are likely to repeat its mistakes.”
I have to disagree here. The most important factor impacting economic growth in the prior year…
With the US closed for Memorial Day and UK markets offline due to a bank holiday, overnight volumes have been weaker than normal on little newsflow. The main story remains the stronger USD following Yellen's hawkish Friday speech, which not only led to the lowest Yuan fixing since February 2011...
If Australia is an economic miracle -- the so-called Lucky Country, beneficiary of more than a quarter century of uninterrupted growth -- then its banks are its most visible sign of strength. After a near-death experience in the 1990s, they’ve reformed and bounced ...
Semiconductors were the star of the week. The index cleared Match/April congestion and posted six consecutive winning days in a row. Technicals are all in the green and the index is above all key moving averages. Weakness will be a buying opportunity; a test of the 50-day MA would be a good start.
The Russell 2000 managed to regain the prior rising channel. Technicals are positive although it still has to make up relative ground against the Nasdaq. The index hasn't yet cracked new highs but one more days gain may be en...
The rally in mining stocks since the first of the year has been very impressive.
The rally has taken Gold Miners ETF GDX up to test the 23% retracement of the collapse over the past 5-years. At the same time it is hitting the 23% level, two other resistance lines are being put to a test, with momentum at the highest levels in the past 5-years.
Graham Media Group, Inc., a Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC) subsidiary, said it struck a deal with Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Inc. and Media General, Inc. to purchase WCWJ, a CW affiliate television station in Jacksonville, Florida and WSLS, an NBC affiliate television station in Roanoke, Virginia for $60 million in cash and the assumption of certain liabilities.
The agreement to acquire Nextar Broadcasting included pension obligations. Graham Media Group, Inc. would continue to operate both stations under their current network affiliations.
Graham Media said the acquisition is subject to approval by the FCC, other regulatory appr...
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Do you remember when you were growing up and all your friends were allowed Atari game consoles but you weren’t?
Well, I do and the things seemed as foreign to me as Venus. Mostly because the little time I managed to spend on the gaming consoles when my friends weren’t hogging them I found it all a bit silly. I never “got” computer games, and to this day still have poor comprehension of things like Angry Birds.
I suspect that many people around the world view Bitcoin in the same way as I view Angry Birds: with mild amusement and a general lack of understanding as to what the hell all the fuss is about.
I was thinking of this since a buddy of mine recently started ...
After a three-year bull run that more than quadrupled its value by its peak last July, IBD’s Medical-Biomed/Biotech Industry Group plunged 50% by early February, hurt by backlashes against high drug prices and mergers that seek to lower corporate taxes.
Although we try to stay focused on finding and managing promising trade ideas, the comments in the comment section sometimes take a political turn (for access, try PSW — click here!). So today, Jean Luc writes,
The GOP debate last night was just unreal – are these people running to be president of the US or to lead a college fraternity! Comparing tool size? The only guy that looks semi-sane is Kasich. The other guys are just like 3 jackals right now.
And something else – if Trump is the candidate, that little Romney speech yesterday is probably already being made into a commercial. And all these little snippets from the debate will also make some nice ads! If you are a conservative, you have to be scared now.
Phil writes back,
I was expecting them to start throwing poop at each other &n...
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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