Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Financial Crisis, The Bail Out And Your Survival

I tell any college student and professional person I know that they should take a course on "Money and Banking" as an important part of their training regardless of what their path of education is. This course gets into the technical mechanisms of how banks interact with each other and the central banks of their respective countries. It is dry and sometimes boring technical material. It also shatters all the concepts we have of how an economy works.

To make a long story short, no bank has the money to cover all of its deposits. If all the depositors showed up on the same day demanding their money, the whole system would collapse. Banks continue in business by leading the depositors to believe that their money is always safe. The word CONFIDENCE is the key to everything. Once confidence fails, you have an economic collapse.

The Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is a great student of the Great Depression of the 1930's. He even wrote his PhD thesis on the subject. He understands intimately the forces that can cause another Great Depression.

People often ask me to explain how the Great Depression happened. I answer in one sentence. "It was the perfect storm." There were three elements that came together to create this economic disaster. The first was the erection of trade barriers between nations. High import duties were charged by almost every country on goods coming from other nations. International trade came to a standstill. The second element of the perfect storm was the collapse of the stock market bubble in the late 1920's. The third element was the reaction of regulators who raised interest rates and put all sorts of restrictions on the stock market. These conservative economic policies included allowing banks to fail and "letting the free market work things out."

All of the actions above caused everyone from the top to the bottom in societies to lose confidence. The result was a decade of economic suffering and a recovery that took decades more.

This current bailout is an effort to restore and maintain confidence. In this respect, it will work for the short term. The $700 billion dollar price tag is low. At the end of the day the costs will go to over $1.5 trillion dollars or more. Banks and some Wall Street firms will survive. Those that do will be frightened on new lending. Only the very best borrowers will get credit. The program will not stimulate lending and get the backlog of houses on the market sold. It will not stop foreclosures. Another expensive program will be demanded to achieve this goal.

As the printing press turns out more and more money, inflation will rise. Foreign holders of US debt will get more and more anxious. They will quietly begin to liquidate more and more of their treasury bonds. This will make it harder for the US government to raise money to finance the huge deficits that are coming. The dollar will no longer be the reserve currency of the world. The US will go from being a credit society to being a cash society where savings is well respected.

If we do nothing, we will have many more bank failures. Unemployment could accelerate to 20% or more. Social unrest will increase to dangerous proportions. It will be a perfect political background for the rise of another Hitler or Stalin.

Even if this bailout stops a collapse, we are going to see the middle class disappear and all societies become like most of Latin America where people are either rich or very lower-middle class and poor.

What caused this current crisis? It is easy to point to President Bush. He is the commander-in-chief and he is ultimately responsible. However the roots of this crisis began in 1999 when President Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This legislation swept away the Depression-era law known as the Glass-Steagall Act. It deregulated banks. At the time, Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota predicted that it would lead to a disaster in 10 years. He was right.

This act created super banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citigroup. These banks started to engage in risky lending but have survived this melt down Other banks that copied them have failed.

Alan Greenspan and the Bush administration did little to regulate this new free market economy. The results have been disastrous. The infection of subprime mortgages has spread all over the world. The only country I know of that was smart enough to avoid this temptation is South Africa.

So how do you and your family survive in this crisis? I am a great admirer of the Mormon church. They have some wonderful survival principles that they learned the hard way when they were exiled to the Utah desert in the 1800's. They urge every family to store 6 months of food and necessities such as toilet paper.They also encourage families to keep part of their savings in gold and silver. I would not keep such valuable at home as this always invites a robbery. South Africa has an excellent brokerage firm named Imara SP Reid.( This would be a good place to buy and store your gold. You should also look at the website

I would add to this advice about your home. Either pay if off in full or leverage it as much as you can. In the inflation that will follow you will be able to use your house as an inflation hedge or pay off the loans with cheaper and cheaper dollars.

You will also need to keep liquidity in a solid foreign currency. This will not be the US dollar. I would recommend the Canadian dollar or the Norweigan Kroner. Please look at banks in Ireland and Austria.

At the end of the day you will see the US move to be more like Europe where state socialism is a part of the life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

President Bush's Financial House Of Cards Is Collapsing!!

My readers, last week the US Treasury Department took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They assumed liabilities of over $5 trillion US dollars. This is over one half of the current US national debt. We now see Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual Bank teetering close to failure. Another government bailout is looming. We also have the spectre of trillions of dollars in credit fault swaps that could go bad.

Despite all of this bad news, the US dollar has shot up against other currencies. Gold and oil prices are dropping. It seems as if everyone around the world has buried their heads in the sand and thinking it is all business as usual.

It reminds me of Singapore in early 1941. As two Japanese armies moved down the Malay Peninsula to take the city,the elites of Singapore were seen having parties at such venues as the world-famous Raffles Hotel. No one believed that their island city paradise would fall into Japanese hands. No body took notice of the fact that all of the RAF personnel were being evacuated quietly to Australia. None gave much thought to the sinking of British capital ships by Japanese aircraft. When the Japanese armies stormed into the city, the party was over a huge hangover lasting over four years followed. Many of the people attending these parties did not live to see their liberation by the Allies.

What happens here when the party is over? We will have a Singapore-style hangover lasting 4-5 years. The first casualty will be the crash of the US dollar. The authorities will either let it fall or raise interest rates astronomically to try to attract investors. In either scenario, the American people will suffer a drop in living standards that they,most likely, will never recover from. Unemployment will rise to over 12%. Foreigners will come in and buy American firms and properties at bargain basement prices. The poor will suffer immensely.

How did such circumstances come to be. A weak and stupid man assumed the presidency in 2001. He got a majority in the senate and in congress. This gave him carte blanche to do what ever he wanted. With all of this power and authority, he could have created a United States that would continue to lead the world throughout the 21st century. Instead, he raised the national debt from $4 trillion to over $9 trillion dollars. He embarked on a senseless war inIraq that cost us over $1 trillion dollars and the loss of our prestige and respect all over the world. He let his friends in the congress and the senate give out all sorts of money to their rich friends. He did nothing to stop the loss of $1 trillion dollars per year due to the importation of foreign oil. He was "asleep at the wheel" when $10 trillion dollars in questionable real estate loans on homes and commercial property were made.

To add to the madness, the US voters are getting ready to elect John McCain so "the party" can go on for four more years.

How can you protect yourself against all of these problems. You need to own gold. You need to have your cash savings in a very stable currency like the Norweigan Kroner. Store six months of food in the house. If your house is paid off, leave it that way. If you owe a lot of money on your house, just sit and relax. Inflation will eat up a lot of the debt and the government will bail out your mortgage.