Detroit, model for future US?

Hat tip to Mish for this explanation of how government ruined one of the wealthiest cities in the world:


Now, if the government had let Chrysler and GM go under, their factories would have been bought by Toyota and Honda and their employees would be turning out cars that people actually want, not gems like the Aztec:


Doug Casey and Tom Woods on government

Video link from

Here’s an excerpt from The Law, by Frederic Bastiat, a French classical liberal (today we would say libertarian) economist:

A Fatal Tendency of Mankind

Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor, social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing.

But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man — in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.

The “other side” of the deflation trade

Graphite here. I remain an ardent deflationist and continue to see strong risks of a continued collapse in asset values in world real estate and equity markets. That said, one key practice in speculation, no matter how strong one’s conviction in a particular trade, is to understand the other side of that trade and how the market could move against your position.

This can sometimes present a challenge for deflationists because so much of the opposing camp is composed of die-hard Panglossian buy-and-holders betting on a V-shaped recovery, rounded out with a few gold bugs who present little or no argument other than that the Bernanke Fed will embark on a suicidal campaign of massive money printing.

Although Marc Faber has issued calls for hyperinflation before, the discussion in the video below represents a much more measured discussion of a serious alternative to the near-term bearish case for stocks and the economy:

“My sense is that — here I’m talking about the economy — that the economy, near term, can recover, and maybe the recovery will be somewhat lengthier than expected a crack-up boom, because the first stimulus package in the U.S. probably will be followed by a second one, and money printing will lead to even more money printing next year. So it can last, say, 12 to 18 months, and then we will get another set of problems ….”

Faber goes on to recommend buying financial stocks, on the expectation that the banks will continue to get free money from the government and parlay that largess into significant profits. His long-term view remains as bearish as ever, but he presents an important alternative perspective on how soon the economic calamity will arrive and what form it will take.

That said, I think Faber is wrong that the market will continue to enthusiastically take up the Fed’s offers of liquidity and use them to fuel speculation for very much longer. No one is laboring under the delusion that the garbage stocks like AIG, FNM, and FRE which have led this last leg upward are worth anything more than zero — and while from a contrarian perspective that could indicate that there is room remaining for investors to develop an even more desperate belief in a new bull market, I think it is much more likely a manifestation of the new trend toward skepticism which will come to permeate the entire market as the bear runs its course.

Whatever your perspective, it’s always fun to see Marc Faber’s characteristic chuckle at the suggestion that our wise overseers will competently steer us through the crisis.

Mish takes Peter Schiff to the cleaners

Mish has composed a detailed post on the many ways in which the vociferous Peter Schiff has been dead wrong on just about everything in this crash (the two actually had a little debate in December 2007). Mish’s post is essential reading for anyone who is considering following Schiff’s investment advice. In his own way, the man is usually just as wrong as the Pollyannas that he challenges on bubblevision.

Here is an excerpt:

Schiff’s Investment Thesis

  • US Dollar Will Go To Zero (Hyperinflation).
  • Decoupling (The rest of the world would be immune to a US slowdown.
  • Buy foreign equities and commodities and hold them with no exit strategy.

12 Ways Schiff Was Wrong in 2008

  • Wrong about hyperinflation
  • Wrong about the dollar
  • Wrong about commodities except for gold
  • Wrong about foreign currencies except for the Yen
  • Wrong about foreign equities
  • Wrong in timing
  • Wrong in risk management
  • Wrong in buy and hold thesis
  • Wrong on decoupling
  • Wrong on China
  • Wrong on US treasuries
  • Wrong on interest rates, both foreign and domestic

That’s a lot of things to be wrong about, especially given all the “Peter Schiff Was Right” videos floating around everywhere. The one thing he was right about was the collapse of US equities and no part of his investment strategy sought to make a gain from that prediction.

I will admit that I was nearly taken in by Schiff’s thesis back in 2006 when I first became bearish on the economy and stock market. I even opened an account for someone with his firm, but the only thing I did with it was short the US market — I took none of his brokers’ advice on favored mining juniors.

I owe Mish and Robert Prechter a huge debt of gratitude for beating some sense into me with solid logic. Readers can easily check my archives to see my pre-crash stances on commodities, gold stocks, Treasuries, the dollar, the Swiss Franc and the Euro and the inflation/deflation debate. I can report that things have turned out very well for those who went against the crowd of contrarians, swallowed their fear of the dollar, and shorted not just US stocks but almost everything else in sight. All the world was a bubble.

On the need to stay nimble

Yes, the deflationists were right and hopefully all made some money or at least avoided terrible losses, but nobody can afford to get cocky. The markets do not trade on fundamentals on anything but the longest time-frames, so the ability to read the prevailing mood and adjust accordingly is a critical part of asset management. So is the willingness to contradict yourself and change your mind.

I see now that this deflation can last even longer than I had suspected, and that there may be even ways to avoid hyperinflation, such as negotiated Treasury debt forgiveness, but there is no need to try to guess about outcomes that are years away when you know how to read the signs as they come and remain humble and liquid enough to change your stance as needed.

By the way, Mish manages client accounts

Mish is an investment advisor representative with Sitka Pacific (not Euro Pacific!), a firm that manages private accounts on a percent of assets fee basis. I am not a client, but I would not hesitate to suggest giving them a call. I am working on setting up my own firm of this type, which offers many advantages over hedge or mutual funds, especially when set up with the protections that Sitka Pacific has included. My own style of trading is somewhat different from any of the strategies Mish uses (for example, I am willing to go net short or to a majority cash position), and of course I am not always in agreement with Mish on every aspect of the markets.

Fear recedes, so how will it return?

The markets are experiencing a bit of a thaw today, with the memory of panic several weeks behind us now. The VIX has just broken decisively below 40 for the first time since September. Treasury yields have broken out just a tad from their extreme lows. Oil has jumped back to the mid-40s, copper has relieved its oversold condition, the GDX gold stock ETF has more than doubled, and the Dow has crept back to near 9000 again.

The question now remains, how will fear return? In several more weeks or months after the mood turns from relief to greed (and fear of missing out), or in the very near future?

My mind is not made up, but any breakaway rally is way overdue. With every week since the November 21 lows, we have been relieving the oversold condition as a function of time rather than price. That is not to say that the Dow couldn’t creep all the way to 10,000 by March, but the longer we hover here, the less necessary such a rally becomes.

What would be interesting in a January plunge is for the bond market to sell off with the stock market for the first time in recent events. But if the inverse correlation still holds, the overbought condition in Treasuries could find relief in a “happy days are not quite here again but will be soon” rally in stocks. Today’s action is what such an environment would look like, but with a great deal more animal spirits — $65 oil might even materialize (before new lows of course).

At any event, with the VIX below 38 I picked up a few more cheap puts on GDX today. Gold stocks have had a great run, and the same people are buying them today as were holding them in the crash, and for the same reasons. That is a bad sign.

My favorite short though is still the death-defying Home Depot. Also keep an eye on WalMart. People need cheap stuff, but they don’t need as much of it as they have been buying in recent years. At 16.5, the PE on that behemoth is still out of line, as is Costco’s at 18.5.


PS — Note that in this kind of analysis, I don’t pay much attention to news pieces or economic releases. That is not the way to trade. For instance, we have horrible manufacturing data out today, and all data is worse than 6 weeks ago, but the mood is hopeful and stocks are up, so how can you make money trading on the news?

I look at the mood of the market itself and try to figure out what it is feeling and what themes it is trading on: greed, panic, relief, inflation, deflation, dollar bad, dollar good, etc. I try to figure out the mood by what different asset prices are doing, and wait for entry and exit points when trends look exhaused. To know the larger trend is key, in this case deflation and depression, but the market’s take on the situation is always changing. You wait for Mr. Market to be very wrong about a situation or just too enthusiastic, as in the case of the overextended bond rally this month — in deflation, bonds are good, but overbought is overbought.

The next bubble: cash.

This is deflation, a contraction of money and credit. Hardy anybody argues about that anymore. So what happens next? Will Obama and the bailout maniacs inflate a new bubble in green energy in their new, green deal? Maybe, but it would only be a limited bubble, not the worldwide craze in any and all non-dollar assets that we saw the last time around.

Don’t assume that any new bubbles at all will form for a long, long time. The mood has shifted from risk to hoarding. Now that people have been burned by everything from dot-coms to gold miners and are scared to death of losing their jobs, they are going to hang onto the one thing that still works: Washington Wallpaper, the little notes that promise, “I owe you nothing but more of these IOUs.

Deflation will rage, until it doesn’t. We are still early in this phase, since among the public there is still a healthy fear of the dollar and paper money in general. But over the next year, as commodities and foreign currencies slide still lower and consumer prices stay solidly and noticeably negative, people will forget about the deficit and the $100 trillion in debt at just the wrong time.

This is the rule of maximum pain for the maximum number. The dollar is not yet ready to fail because it is too feared and despised. But when people let their guard down and sell for $450 the Krugerrands that they are paying $900 for today, take all that they have, because then the real fun will begin.

Just as the public will get too complacent about holding I-owe-you-nothings (Doug Casey’s phrase), Congress and Obama will get too complacent about printing them up, and the whole debt-based money system will come crashing down. I don’t pretend to know how it will play out (hyperinflation or just plain-old, “sorry, we can’t pay” default), but it will be visibly ugly, and I am glad I’ll only be watching it on TV. This won’t be pretty anywhere, but the US is not a civilized country anymore, and it has a most uncivil government.

File under Western Civilization, Decline of: Krugman wins Nobel

The market has been severely hamstrung for decades, and now that it is fainting from loss of blood, its vampire captors point to it and say, “see, markets need to be restrained or else they fail.”

I won’t actually comment on Krugman, other than to say that he is a socialist, and like many of his breed who do not actually implement collectivist scams (as opposed to Raines, Paulson, Mozillo, Congress, et al.) but provide intellectual support for them, he seems to have a soul, albeit a lost one.

Anyone who understands the principles of the market and defends them in public these days must feel the way I do: that we are simply narrating the decline. You can’t argue with history. You can just put it down as you see it, now in the hope of carrying a few embers of common sense through or out of the West as it enters some kind of dark age.

It is astounding that after recently observing Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Peron, Castro, Chavez and a hundred other tin-pot dictators destroy or hobble their nations through various forms of collectivism, the entire West is now leaping headlong in that same direction, with hardly a second thought. No credit is given to the principles of individualism, private property and freedom of contract, nor the great market economy that created the prosperity these societies are so eager to squander. The market has been hamstrung for years, and now that it is fainting from loss of blood, its vampire captors point to it and say, “see, markets need to be restrained or else they fail.”

This episode will play out over generations, and it will end with tens of millions dead and the end of the very civilization that codified respect for the individual.

The end of the Enlightenment means the end of freedom and the end of freedom means the end of centuries of increasing living standards, from food and health care, to travel and communication, to privacy and personal security.

The West is simply finished. It’s best hope is balkanization, in case any regional pockets of common sense remain, though I can’t think of any that are physically and culturally strong enough to withstand the violence to come. Perhaps Switzerland, for a while.

Bailout deal? Whoop de do.

Well, there you have it. Paulson got his 700 big ones (to start) but Congress is going to make him ask again for some of it (like they’ll say no). Executive compensation cuts? Well, deduction caps and no new golden parachutes for the biggest beggars. Equity? Well, warrants, and Paulson gets to say how many, what price, etc. Majority stakes only in some circumstances. Boy, Congress really fought this thing once it learned how its constituents felt.

Futures traders are just beside themselves (with apathy):







Source: Bloomberg

So, where do we go from here? As I have been saying, we still have a crash to take care of. Maybe it starts this week, maybe next week, maybe December, but a year from now the buy and hold crowd will be lucky if the Dow is closer to 10,000 than 5,000. This bill won’t do a thing to stimulate lending. We are just turning Japanese, without the exports or savings.

As a short, I won’t look this gift horse in the mouth. Paulson bought his buddies time to unload the remainder their personal securities, but the bailout also adds a few girders to bolster counterparties on the losing side of a crash. My biggest fear these days is that so many securities dealers could go broke at once that the Options Clearing Corporation can’t make up for bankrupt put sellers. That is my version of TEOTWAWKI.

So, are there no libertarians in financial crises? I railed against this thing, but the bankers make the rules in this new zero-sum game, or rather negative-sum game (wealth is going to money heaven). For those who stay in, it is every trader for himself.

Here’s a pdf of the full draft of the bill at it stands tonight.