He is Sprott On - Dollar Destruction
One of the folks I like to follow is Eric Sprott. He does not do a blog or seek a lot of publicity, but he has had some of the best performing funds in Canada for many years running, so I like to occasionally go to his company's site (Sprott Private Wealth, LP) to read his monthly thoughts and those of his colleagues. Indeed, his group for at least the past year and a half has actively been recommending investing in gold and it just so happens that gold is setting records recently, so they hit that one on the head. Don't believe me, look at the articles by John Embry at the Sprott company site. He has for a long time been the biggest gold bull around, and apparently for good reason.
Here is a link to Eric Sprott's September report on the U.S. dollar. Eric makes a very persuasive case for the dollar being toast. It seems we have been actively building our debt to the level we cannot hope to support even the interest payments in the future, especially when you throw in unfunded Social Security and Medicare obligations, so we have no reasonable alternatives. Bernanke is simply going to need to keep that printing press running full time, which will eventually and, probably, inevitably, lead to the dollar losing its status as the reserve currency. The value will continue to fall as well. This is no doubt why many are still recommending gold as a place to put your money.
Now, of course, I must add a caveat. Sprott has undoubtedly a lot of investments tied to the value of gold and the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, so keep this in mind in reading his thoughts.
And as Eric points out in his October report, the foreign appetite for U.S treasury purchases is decreasing sharply such that the Fed is becoming "the" market for treasuries, which is dangerous indeed.
(Update: Save your comments about how the dollar index was strengthening today, up .4% as I write, and how gold is down. It does not change the long term fundamentals discussed above.)
Survey Says . . . (cont.)
Just the other day I noted how people continue to survey economists for their predictions and economists continue to be too optimistic. So much so that on several recent forecasts not a single surveyed economist was sufficiently pessimistic to predict the correct result. Well, it happened again on the housing numbers for new home sales. Forecasts ranged from 412,000 to 460,000 and the actual result was 402,000. Time to wake up and smell reality.
Thursday we get government preliminary figures on third quarter GDP growth. The median economist forecast is 3.2%. I cannot wholly dismiss the impact of the cash-for-clunkers program or the first time home buyers incentive, but I think I am going to go out on a limb here and say 2.6%. Of course I should not ignore the fact that this will be a government preliminary number and some believe (you can guess where I stand) that the government cooks the books on the numbers. Nonetheless, 2.6% is where I stand. Feel free to add your vote. The winner will get special mention in my next post.
That Stock Thingy
I am shocked and dismayed. After a global 68% run in stocks and seven months of straight increases in the market we may - please, say it isn't so - have a month that ends down just a tad. Not a significant tad so far, but a tad nonetheless. How can it be?! The market can actually go down again?
I love this quote in this Bloomberg article that "The doubt and pessimism just won't go away." Seriously, we narrowly avoided a total financial meltdown seven short months ago and this is what this supposedly knowledgeable - quotable - person has to say. Unless Bloomberg is shooting for comedic relief, they need to be quoting better sources.
So back to the question of why the market after seven months of going up, some months significantly, might actually now have a slightly down month. Heeellllooooo! Why shouldn't it. Let me count, just a few of the ways (hold on to your hats):
- Home building by any standard has well exceeded usual norms, compared to population and income, over the past several years - significantly. We are just now getting back to levels that are more sustainable, but we have the inventory overhang, increasing unemployment, existing housing sales and foreclosures, and multiple other problems facing home builders. Did I mention shadow inventory? If you do not know what that is, it is basically banks and homeowners who want to sell - foreclosure properties or otherwise - who are holding homes off the market. Look it up as some estimates of this shadow inventory are staggering. I refer you to Calculated Risk, the best site I know on real estate issues, both private and commercial.
- Debt, debt and more debt. I refer you to one of my favorite blogs, Sudden Debt, that focuses on this issue. To put it short, under Greenspan and Uncle Ben our debt to GDP ratio climbed from 1.25X to 3.25X. Stop and think about that stat for a moment. And it does not include the incredible debt load the government has added this past 18 months. Boy is that a wakeup call. How did we do that?
- I have written a lot lately about the financial bastards that brought us here. While I need not say more, I feel I must. The problem now is moral hazard. These institutions - according to numerous reports I have read of late - are returning to their risk taking ways. They are most certainly returning to rewarding officers and executives with handsome pay and bonus programs, despite these same individuals nearly causing the financial meltdown of the entire world. How can this be so soon - like less than a year - after we teetered on the edge of financial Armageddon? It is because the government stepped in with little to no conditions. And I suspect this was largely due to us letting wolves from the industry (who took on key government jobs, e.g. Paulson) guard us (taxpayer) chickens. You reward, or save, idiots for their idiotic behaviour and they will not only repeat it but build upon it. We folks, are building a much bigger bubble. In a few years you can quote me on that. And hey, I am not even an economist. No one surveys my opinion.
- As suggested above, the government is making a substantial number of wrong moves. For one, they need to take apart the too-big-to-fail institutions. Instead they promoted them getting bigger and now we do not know what to do with them. I had the same advice in my very first blog a year ago, linked above, and stand by it. Take them apart and let the officers and shareholders share the pain. Do not support them at taxpayer cost. Now I see a lot more other commentators, including many who know more than me, giving the same advice.
- Let me mention commercial real estate. One stat I read this year is that we have in the U.S. roughly 50% more retail space per person in this country than the second closest country. If you believe private real estate was overbuilt, you have not seen anything yet. Commercial real estate is still not near a bottom and it is incredibly overbuilt. We could be looking at a decade or more before this area of real estate comes back to where it belongs.
- And did I mention adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs). I read a report this past week that over 90% of the option ARMs are yet to reset. These are the private mortgages where the borrower can choose to pay just interest or even less. There is some sense that the low rates now will help, which they will, but when you are resetting from interest only or less to interest payments and principal payments on an increased balance, then low rates are not going to save you. A lot of these will reset in 2010 and 2011, so we will see.
- Shipping (Baltic dry index), trucking, port activity, shipping rates, and so on and so forth are all pointing to economic activity being negative. Not diving like we were earlier this year, but not rebounding.
- Unemployment still increasing, not as fast but still increasing, and this has run on effects on retail spending, real estate and several other areas. As a side note I have to mention that a number of the bottom line improvements for companies this past quarter have been largely due to cost cutting (like layoffs) as opposed to increased sales. This does not spell recovery.
I could go on and on and in posts to come will do so, but the bottom line is that fundamentals are pretty much the worst they have been in my life time. Debt, government and private, continues to be my primary concern and you can easily see how many of the other areas noted above are closely tied to and - feeding or being fed by - that situation. Please feel free to add your thoughts, but I still have trouble sleeping at night - mostly because of my kids needing to deal with the stuff we are leaving for them.