Why not sell German bonds?

The German 30 year bond is yielding 2.8%:


The US 30 year bond is yielding the same:

Yahoo Finance

There is no margin of safety in Germany debt against the strong likelihood that the country will be forced (by Merkel and other banker tools) to absorb the losses of the rest of Europe.

Of course, there is no margin in safety in US bonds either at this price, certainly not enough to compensate for the probability of trillion dollar deficits forever. I expect yields to stay low through this cyclical bear market, but not much beyond that. Bonds will continue to be a good short at times when they are overbought, and we may be approaching such a time.

Jim Rogers discusses his euro long and stock shorts

I happen to have similar positions at the moment, though unlike Rogers, I’m a bear on commodities and China, which he seems to be perpetually long.  Here’s today’s Bloomberg interview.


- Long euro as a contrary position. Too many shorts out there.

- All these countries (Spain, Portugal, UK, US) are spending money they don’t have and it will continue.

- ECB buying government and private debt is wrong.

- EU is ignoring its own rules about bailouts from Maastricht Treaty.

- Governments are still trying to solve a problem of too much debt with more debt.

- Fundamentals are bad for all paper currencies. Good for gold.

- Is “contagion” limited now? Well, for those who get the money…

Here’s a longer interview from a few days ago on the same topics as well as stocks:


- Rogers has a few stock shorts: emerging market index, NASDAQ stocks, and a large international financial institution.

- Rogers owns both silver and gold, but is not buying any more. He’s not buying anything here, “just watching.”

- Optimistic about Chinese currency. Expected it to rise more and faster, but still bullish.

- Thinking of adding shorts in next week or two if markets rally (my note: they have now).

- “Debts are so staggering, we’re all going to get hit with the problem,” no longer just our children and grandchildren.

Video: Public employee of the year awards (SNL)

Mish put this up a few days ago. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must-watch.


This version may play better in the US:


This is why your state and local governments are bankrupt, as well as the national governments of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and probably soon France.

Selling munis today is like selling Greek bonds six months ago — the numbers guarantee default. The only question is whether or not there are bailouts, but like with the GIPSI states, there will be a lot of uncertainty leading to higher rates in the interim, and in the end they can’t all be bailed out.

Look at these rates. Considering the risks, that’s a pretty skimpy premium over Treasuries, even considering the tax advantage.

Source: Bloomberg.com

Capitalism needs failure, say winning fund managers

Kevin Duffy and Bill Laggner are acquaintances of mine who run the Bearing Fund, which returned high double digits for its investors in 2008. Their moral and economic philosophy is grounded in the Austrian understanding of the credit cycle and the parasitic role that government plays in today’s economy. I highly recommend an interview with them in this week’s Barrons (subscription only). Here are some excerpts:

Duffy: Any healthy system needs a way to correct error and remove waste. Nature has extinction, the economy has loss, bankruptcy, liquidation. Interfering in this process lengthens feedback loops. Error and waste are allowed to accumulate, and you ultimately get a massive collapse.

Capitalism is primarily attacked by two groups: utopians who wish to impose a more “compassionate” system, and political capitalists who want to enjoy the fruits of success without bearing the pain of failure. They use the coercion of the state to gain privileges, at the expense of everyone else.

As a country we’ve become less tolerant of economic failure. The result has been a series of interventions, such as meddling in the credit markets, promoting homeownership and creating a variety of safety nets for investors. Each crisis leads to an even greater crisis. The solution is always greater doses of intervention. So the system becomes increasingly unstable. The interventionists never see the bust coming, then blame it on “capitalism.” …

Laggner: AIG made sure its creditors received 100 cents on the dollar. Essentially you have the socialization of risk, but the survivors are still highly leveraged. There is still a multi-trillion dollar shadow banking system that FASB [the Financial Accounting Standards Board] wants to address next year. The central planners have already spent $3.15 trillion on various bailouts, credit backstops, guarantees, etc., and given approximately $17.5 trillion of government commitments, etc., while allowing many of these institutions to remain in place, with the same people running them…

Barron’s: What kind of financial reform would you like to see?

Laggner: We don’t believe in a central bank. The idea that banks can speculate with essentially free money from the [Federal Reserve], which ultimately is the taxpayer, and that when they lose money the Fed bails them out and then passes that invoice to the taxpayer — that whole model is broken and needs to go away.

Duffy: To get to the heart of the problem, we need to address fractional-reserve banking, which is causing the instability. We have essentially socialized deposit insurance and prevented the bank run, which used to impose discipline on this unstable system. At least it had some check on those who were acting most recklessly. Until we address the root of the problem, we are going to have a series of crises, greater responses and intervention, and more bubbles — and the system will keep perpetuating itself.


The whole system is broken and needs to go away. We can only hope that this depression fosters that end, though the actors that control the guns (i.e. government) will use all of their wiles to hold onto their racket.

Yes, the 1700s and 1800s had their booms and busts, but the 200 years leading up to the first world war saw the greatest improvement in living standards that the world has ever seen. The industrial revolution and development of modern communications, medicine and transportation happened on the gold standard, with non-existent or non-interventionist central banks and governments that allowed busts to clear away mal-investments and bad debts so that the market could guide capital and labor into productive hands.

Nobody back then believed that consumption and “stimulous” could generate anything but debt and waste. Since the ruinous economic policies of the 20th century took hold, we have been squandering our wealth and merely coasting on technological improvements, which government only impedes in a thousand ways.

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.

That great economist, Ben S. Bernanke

For your amusement, here’s Bernanke a couple of years ago doing his best to downplay our problems:


To the dismay of many a fair-minded observer, Bernanke the Fool has been nominated for another term as Fed chairman. My comment is, so long as there is a Fed, who cares who runs it? The chairman, like the US President, is nothing but a figurehead. He provides lip service for policies that exclusively benefit the cartel of big banks.  Thus it has been since the Morgan, Schiff, Warburg and Rockefeller syndicates conspired in 1913 to draft the Federal Reserve Act and ram it through Congress two days before Christmas.

I’m a little bit surprised that Bernanke was nominated again, since there is such low public opinion towards him and his employer. I thought that he might be thrown to the dogs to satisfy the public’s urge for ‘change,’ but I guess the logic is that by keeping him on they can better preserve the fiction that the Fed saved the world. He is also very lucky that the nomination schedule coincided with the likely peak in Wave 2 sentiment (2nd waves are characterized by the near consensus that the old trend is back to stay, in this case, the Great American Bull Market).

Along the same line, I’m also surprised that the campaign to audit the Fed hasn’t found more support from the White House, since it would be the perfect PR opportunity for them to pretend that they were independent of the bankers. I half expect to see the audit happen, with the results decided in advance of course, something akin to past Congressional “investigations.” Maybe they will have to do something like this once mood sours again with the next wave of foreclosures, bank failures and panic selling in the markets.

The real campaign should be to end the Fed, not audit it. We already know what it does, and they are actually surprisingly transparent for such a sinister institution. It’s all right there on their website.

In praise of bank runs, the only regulator we need

Graphite here. Mike has asked me to join up as a guest blogger, and since I’ve always loved the spirited mix of finance, politics, and righteous anger of The Sovereign Speculator, I’m happy to come aboard.

If you needed another sign that this deflationary crash is just getting started, take a look at this blog post over at The Baseline Scenario. It’s stunning that in August 2009, with the FDIC in a state of de facto bankruptcy, anyone can write “the FDIC works” with a straight face. Just because it’s not the kind of horrible fascist “solution” that the current pack of knaves in Washington would pursue, doesn’t mean it’s some kind of brilliant idea.

The FDIC’s explicit purpose is to bail out imprudent depositors at the expense of prudent ones. If it wasn’t for the FDIC, all those people strutting into Corus’s Chicago branches to put their money in CDs yielding 0.25% more than the competition might have been just a little bit more concerned that it was going to fund condo development projects in Florida. Instead, they got a free lunch — why look at where your money’s going when Uncle Sucker (sorry, Sam) gets to eat the losses?

The idea that the FDIC “self funds” out of the banking system is nothing but a polite fiction. It has nearly always had to rely on taxpayer bailouts when resolving banking crises. Meanwhile, the banks that stayed prudent, made reasonable loans, and kept their reserve deposits in more liquid holdings are being slammed with huge assessments and fees, which are preventing them from recapitalizing themselves or offering better rates to their customers — in effect, spreading the stress and weakness of America’s worst banks to its best ones.

Yeah, this is a great solution to the problem of bank runs. Let’s see what happens when we really do get a full banking panic and the FDIC needs to go draw on its $500 billion line of credit with the Treasury. If you think that story ends with American depositors happily riding off into the sunset with their cash, I’d love to have some of whatever you’re smoking.

People talk about bank runs as though they’re some kind of unmitigated evil, just because some people lose money. As a matter of fact, they impose discipline and order on both banks and depositors, and ensure that the banking system as a whole remains diverse and resilient to major shocks. The moral hazard created by the FDIC was one of the most important drivers of the concentration of deposits at a few mega-banks, which (all carping about the “unregulated shadow banking system” notwithstanding) were the primary source of the awful lending binge which precipitated the credit crisis.

Look for a bottom after people finally start to dismiss, ignore, and ridicule the FDIC and its absurd apologists.

The Global Dow needs to crash some more.

Last fall, Dow Jones launched the Global Dow index, composed of 150 stocks from around the world. A quick glance at its 10-year chart shows that stock prices have only so far blown off the froth from 2006 and 2007:

Source: wsj.com

Stocks are driven by mood, and mood today seems to be highly coordinated around the globe, so rather than scrutinize the twists and turns in the Dow, DAX or Nikkei, perhaps this new index is the best reference.

What is most striking about this picture, as opposed to that of the S&P500, Eurostoxx 50, or Nikkei, is that stock prices are only 2/3 of the way back to the 2002 lows, as opposed to right upon them.

This says to me that even this first stage of the crash has further to run. Fundamentals are deteriorating with blazing speed, but market participants remain in secular bull market mode. Too many are still buying the dips, or at least ignoring their losses and hoping for a rebound. The stock market is still viewed by most Americans as the best way to save for retirement, and the myth persists that if only your time horizon is longer than a decade or so, stocks will always beat cash.

This wave off of the November lows is looking weaker and weaker. We had our chance for a strong bounce like the one after the crash of ’29 (the Dow was up about 45% from November ’29 to April ’30), and all we could muster was about 20%.

Today’s action is a pretty strong indication that panic has been lurking just below the surface. With the sell-off in bonds possibly having run its course, precious metals stalling out at resistance, and a very low put/call ratio indicating extreme trader optimism, the news of the Great Pork Package and latest bankers’ bailout may be just the catalyst we need for a sell-off. Hope is fading fast.

Oh, and it is worth mentioning that John Mauldin reports that a contact at S&P told him that the latest quarter’s earnings are apparently coming in at a NEGATIVE $7 for the index. I have been saying all along, that if this is a depression (it is), PE’s should bottom out at well under 10 and even dividend yields should be in the double digits. Whatever figure you come up with as a final bottom target for the S&P, it should be a very low multiple of very low earnings.