Great little speech at EU: fire the bureaucrats & restore national sovereignty

This is Nigel Farage, a UK delegate to the European Parlaiment, saying that all Europe really needs is free trade and some basic standards for regulation, not the whole mess of regulation and loss of sovereignty offered by Brussels today. ¬†(I totally agree about free trade, but where do you draw the line with labor and environmental regulation – so many of the EU’s silly laws today are in those spheres – better to just say, “Tarriffs, quotas and bans are hereby abolished within the EU. Fin.”).

It seems as though opinion within every EU nation is turning against the institution. This is good, but also dangerous, as it would be a shame to see Europe return to the mess of trade and travel restrictions that existed a few decades ago. The lack of such restrictions was a great contributor to the flourishing of civilization on that continent in the 19th century, and their reinstitution in the early 20th brought war. “When goods don’t gross borders, armies will.” -Frederic Bastiat

A look at the real value of gold on an historical basis.

I like making random gold ratio charts in stockcharts.com since it lets you chart the ratio of anything: gold:oil, gold:copper, gold:SPX, etc:

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If you do this kind of analysis on a longer-term basis, you see that gold is getting a bit expensive relative to other commodities, capital goods or labor (or you could say that each of those things is getting cheap when priced in gold). What is clear is that gold is no longer cheap by any measure. I don’t think this type of analysis has anything to do with where gold price goes in the near-term (technicals and sentiment drive that), but it’s helpful to think about where gold is on an historical basis.

  • The Gold:Oil and Gold:Copper ratios are moderately high, and would be off the charts if oil and copper were to crash.
  • Rent on a nicer 1BR apartment in Manhattan has fallen from 8 ounces in 2001 to 2 ounces today. This is about what it cost in the 1920s-60s.
  • 10 ounces in 2001 bought a 12-year-old Honda Civic, and now it gets you a brand new one with extras. A Model T Ford cost 15 ounces by the 1920s. The VW Beetle cost 30-50 ounces in the ’50s.
  • Median family income in was about 50 ounces in 1920, 90 ounces in 1955, over 100 in 1965, 70 in 1975, 75 in 1985, 95 in 1995 and way over 100 in 2000. Today, it’s about 30.

On a purchasing power basis, gold is adequately priced – it is certainly no longer cheap. Of course, markets don’t care about this on anything but the longest term – gold was overvalued at $500 in 1979, but it still spiked over $800 and then fell to a ridiculously low level in 2000. In the scenario where the dollar goes to zero, everything will soar in dollars, not just gold, so you’d still have to evaluate gold in terms of goods and services.

I’m still in the dollar bull camp for the foreseable future. Treasuries are pointing the way (record low 10-year yields, 3.5% on the 30-year, almost like Japan), and it looks like another bout of deflation is underway, if you define deflation as a contraction in money and credit (if credit is marked to market). Europe’s soveriegn debt implosion is deflationary. The same goes for the Australian real estate collapse and the pending RE collapses in China and Canada, and the US muni and junk market troubles.

I don’t see the dollar as any worse fundamentally than the euro or yen, and much better technically. Japan’s history since ’89 is proof that printing and spending and running up huge public debt doesn’t necessarily kill your currency. When there is too much private debt going bad but not being written off, it overwhelms the mismanagement of the currency and props it up. It doesn’t matter what you think of the fundamental value of the dollar if you’re in debt and can’t find enough dollars to make your payments. And until asset and labor prices and demand for goods and services can justify borrowing costs, there’s no credit expansion so no inflation.

Sentiment-wise, we’ve still got a great long-term case on the long-dollar trade. Fear of the dollar has been widespread since early 2008, but the DXY has just bounced around sideways – no crash. The crash happend from 2000-08, while nobody but old-school Austrians noticed.

The material living standards of US rich vs poor, and the politics of envy.

I’ve lived on both continents, and poor people in the US have what middle-class europeans do, but they eat more and on average are far dumber. What this video makes clear is that most of their fundamental problems do not arise from a lack of purchasing power.

Keynes vs. Hayek, Round 2

I like how at the end Keynes is pulled up to his feet and declared the victor (no matter how obvious a failure, the corrupt system keeps applying his theories). Then the Washington mandarins, Wall Street bigwigs and press all gather around him while the nerds come to congratulate Hayek. The press often implies that the Wall Street crowd loves Hayek and laissez-faire (“unrestrained markets” and all that), when in reality the moneyed political players support intervention since they are successful rent seekers and bailout recipients.

The key point that well-intentioned supporters of government (like most everyone in Europe) often miss is summed up in this phrase from Hayek:

“With political incentives, discretion’s a joke.
Those dials they’re twisting, just mirrors and smoke.”

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For those who haven’t seen it, this is the first video:

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And the real Hayek on Keynes:

David Einhorn: Scrap the official ratings agencies (Moodies, S&P, Fitch)

From Bloomberg:

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Einhorn has shorted S&P and Moodies. Some take-aways:

Rating agencies are a “public bad,” not a public good.

We need a systemic change to reject the idea of centralized official ratings.

The market would adjust if we didn’t have them.

On Buffett: “He still made a very nice investment for himself.”

“The brands are ruined.”

The companies may lose their equity in (much-deserved) lawsuits.

Margins during boom reflected compromised objectivity, competing for market share.

Without official ratings the market would adjust to risks itself. Official ratings create an arbitrage opportunity: real credit risk is often higher than ratings imply (look at BP: downgraded by just “1/2 notch or something like that.” Ratings allow sharpies to front-run downgrades or prepare to take advantage of depressed prices following downgrades.

Agencies add little value. Market spreads are a much better indicator of risk.

Not much between here and Dow 8500

Many of the world’s stock markets have already retraced large¬†portions of the entire rally from the 2009 lows, but US equities have a long way to go before they give traders a scare. Judging from the sanguine attitudes expressed by various managers on Bloomberg TV, the majority remains firmly convinced that the lows are in and that any sell-off is just a healthy correction on the way to new all-time highs. This is exactly the same attitude expressed from late 2007 to mid-2008 before the crash got underway in force.

Stockcharts.com

Since we are still in the early phase of the credit deflation and most people remain unconvinced of its magnitude and implications, this next decline in asset prices could be very swift and deep, driven by the panic of recognition. Technical support has already been taken out, and dip buyers will be less eager, since they have seen that stocks can indeed crash. We could see an unrelenting slide like the two years from April 1930 to July 1932.

There won’t be another bounce of the magnitude we’ve just seen until real value is restored by attractive dividend yields. A 7% yield on today’s dividends would put the S&P 500 at 350 or the Dow under 4000, but this assumes dividends won’t be cut and that the recent years of extreme overvaluation won’t be matched by an era of extremely low valuations as the culture of financial speculation dies off.

Civil Lawsuit, Allran vs. New York Fed, alleges cartel & Ponzi

Via Zerohedge, a suit has been filed in the US district court for western North Carolina by a group of citizens alleging that the Federal Reserve is an unconstitutional cartel and Ponzi scheme. Also named as defendants are several large banks and their CEOs, Geithner, Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Greenspan, John Snow, Shiela Bair and several other hacks and oligarchs.

The suit enumerates various “evils” committed over the last 97 years, but reaches way too far and dilutes the case by stringing together an overarching theory of a grand plot against the American way. Since it doesn’t stick to clear-cut issues of constitutionality such as the legal tender laws it is unlikely to get traction, but there can’t be a better place for it than in Western NC.

I take it as a sign of the times. It’s heartening to see people channel their anger about the economy into the study of banking history and take action that will at least open some more eyes.

Allran v NY Fed Reserve http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf