Gold, an Homage to Two Chris's, and The Financial Crisis is Far From Over
It is no secret that I am a big fan of Chris Martenson. Many of you know him from his phenomenal presenation and educational set, The Crash Course. I have linked to many of his articles, including most recently this one: Chris Martenson: The Shell Game Continues… - http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ViewPost.aspx?bpid=373325. As Chris says in his newest post, sometimes boring advice that is repeated often is the best advice. When you see problems that are so big and they are not being seriously addressed (and in fact being worsened) by our government, sometimes there is a clear path to protection. TMFSinchiruna / Chris Barker also comes to mind: advice that is given repeatedly and often. And this is the highest compliment possible. For anybody who would listen, both Chris's (Barker and Martenson) have been discussing large structural problems that are not being solved, and what the most direct and effective hedge against bad monetary and financial policy is: gold.
I for one am glad that I started listening years ago to this advice from both of these Chris's. Before I read TMFSinchiruna’s blog (a couple of years ago, back when he was just Sinchiruna :) ), I thought gold was stupid. I had all of the same preconceptions and misconceptions that people typically have. I used to think gold was stupid, that it was a shiny yellow rock, as arbitrary for storing monetary value as seashells, bottle caps or baseball cards. I was born after the gold convertibility window was closed by Nixon in 1971. I have always lived in a world when gold was not an official currency. I am not a gold bug (although I call myself one sarcastically because most people who are not bullish on gold calls anybody who is bullish on gold a goldbug) in any way. But I have gone through the process from being a skeptic to seeing the value in gold. These 3 posts give my compresive view about gold and what it really is:
-- More Thoughts on Gold's Massive Bull Market - http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ViewPost.aspx?bpid=372061
-- The Dow / Gold Ratio - http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ViewPost.aspx?bpid=327553
-- The Gold Blog. Gold/Silver/GSMs (and a little Oil for good measure) - http://caps.fool.com/Blogs/ViewPost.aspx?bpid=212735
I hear a lot of talk about the "overvaluation" of gold and the "bubble about to burst". I love it. Fundamentally I know I am on the right side of this trade and I believe I am on from a sentiment perspective as well. But I would honestly urge you to read my 3 links above, any of TMFSinchiruna's blogs, or the article below to understand the scope of the problems our economy faces and the fact that gold deserves to be taked very seriously in this environment
The Financial Crisis is Far From Over
Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 4:54 pm, by cmartenson
I give really, really boring advice. For years it has not changed a whit, and that's just not the way to run a newsletter business. There should be some movement, some pizzazz, new things to ponder. Instead I just keep saying the same thing over and over again.
Buy gold (and silver too).
This is what I've been saying for the past seven years, ever since gold was in the $300's and silver was under $5, so you might be tempted to think I am simply another gold bug. While I confess to finding a certain allure in heavy bullion coins - they sound great tossed on a counter and feel good in my hand - I am not really a gold bug.
Instead, what I am is a gigantic, unrelenting, anti-fiat-currency bug. Well, at least I am anti-mismanaged fiat currencies, but that pretty much encompasses them all to varying degrees.
As with all investment,s I have an exit strategy in my mind that will dictate when I sell my gold and silver to place those funds in other productive investments. Unfortunately, that day seems further away than ever.
Let me explain why.
The Euro Zone Bailout
As I pondered the many details of euro zone bailout, I came to the conclusion that it is little more than a shuffling of debt risk from one place to another, and I couldn't escape the larger conclusion that nothing had been solved at all. Debt was merely shuffled from one location to another, from the banks to the public.
The bottom line is that Greece is merely the poster child for what happens to a country at the end of a long period of living beyond its means. But it is by no means unique in having over-promised benefits to its citizens, and now faces a toxic brew of poor growth prospects, enforced austerity, demographic pressures, and an enormous mismatch between what has been promised and what can be delivered.
The only clear winners in the euro zone "solution" are the banks, which (again) have been relieved of the burden of paying for their own mistakes (again) by passing their horrible investment decisions back to the public (again). I guess moral hazard is a winner in this instance, too.
Banks had loaded up on Greek debt because it paid a higher rate of interest than other sovereign debt. It did so because it had a higher chance of default, so it was riskier. Now that it has defaulted, the cost of that mistake has been transferred to the citizens of various countries, including as much as possibly $50 billion from US citizens.
Compare that to the long, protracted legal battle that the residents of the Gulf states will face to extract $1-2 billion from BP/Uncle Sam for the environmental and economic catastrophe unfolding down there, and you've got a pretty good start on understanding why anger is building throughout the land.
The euro zone bailout, unlike its US counterpart, does not create vast quantities of new money out of thin air (as did the MBS purchase program by the Fed), but instead seeks to 'solve' a debt problem by creating new debt. Many people have come to the conclusion that this solves nothing, and, worse, it exposes the Ponzi-like character of the modern debt-based money system for all to see.
The dirty little secret of banking is that bankers have no interest in seeing the loans they make get paid back. All they want is for the interest payments to be made. As long as the interest payments are being made, it doesn't really matter how large the outstanding loan balance is. That just gets rolled over.
Loans default when a borrower misses an interest payment. The Greek crisis was precipitated by the very real prospect that Greece was going to miss an interest payment on May 19th. Only once this prospect was raised did the overall amount of Greek debt become a source of concern. Without Greece potentially missing an interest payment, there was no crisis and no problem. Which is exactly how we got into this mess.
The Ugly Truth
Even as the financial media parse over the ugly details of Greece's situation and gnash their teeth at the fact that Greece apparently has too much debt, the ugly truth is that there are many countries in similarly bad shape.
However, we persist in telling ourselves pleasant little lies to help distort the seriousness of the situation. Here's a perfect example from the New York Times today (5/12/10).
Yet in the back of your mind comes a nagging question: how different, really, is the United States?
The numbers on our federal debt are becoming frighteningly familiar, David Leonhardt writes in The New York Times. The debt is projected to equal 140 percent of gross domestic product within two decades. Add in the budget troubles of state governments, and the true shortfall grows even larger.
Greece’s debt, by comparison, equals about 115 percent of its G.D.P. today.
According to this pleasant little myth, the US has a couple of decades before its debt might possibly hit 140% of GDP. That doesn't sound too bad, now, does it? After all, we're as far away from that moment as we are from the collapse of the Soviet Union back in 1990. Seems like a long time.
And Greece, a country we can now all openly deride as clearly irresponsible, is already at 115% of GDP.
The problem with this little narrative is that it conveniently excludes all the off-balance-sheet obligations that governments routinely exclude to hide the severity of the current predicament. The red bars in the chart below are the relatively tiny amounts with which we console ourselves, like in the article snippet above. The gray bars include all official liabilities.
So even as we tut-tut over those profligate Greeks and their unserviceable debts, we'd do well to take this opportunity to note that most of the rest of the developed world is in similar straits.
As bad as that is, the even uglier reality is that the true debt situation of a country must include ALL debts public and private. After all, those are the ones that the productive economy must service over time. While we might wish to secure a better view of the situation by turning down the lights and squinting slightly before looking in the mirror, we do ourselves no favors by doing so.
For the US, the 'full light of day; eyes wide open' chart looks like this.
Where Greece now faces extraordinary austerity measures intended to reduce their budget deficit from 13.6% of GDP to 3% of GDP by 2012, nobody is talking about the fact that the US is going to run a 10% of GDP deficit this year to match its 13% deficit last year. The UK budget deficit this year is pegged at some 12% of GDP.
Pot. Kettle. Black.
If the US or UK were 'asked' by the IMF to reduce their budget deficits by a full 10% over the next two years, each would spiral into a deep, dark depression and be crushed by increasingly unbearable debt loads.
READ THE REST OF THIS FANTASTIC ARTICLE