Amid an "inflationary depression" in the U.S., Peter Schiff, president and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, sees opportunities in the maelstrom. Facing a massive redistribution of wealth, he advises investors to act quickly and "divest U.S. dollar assets into physical precious metals, other currencies and equities outside the United States." In this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, the widely-quoted expert on money, economic theory and international investing discusses what led up to our current "phony economy" and how investors can actually profit from the crisis.
The Gold Report: Peter, you were one of few people to predict financial crisis that the U.S. and the world is now in the midst of. At a recent conference, you called the conditions that we’re facing “an inflationary depression.” Can you describe what you mean by that?
Peter Schiff: Well, basically, that is the condition that the government is creating here in the United States, and an inflationary depression is going to be a protracted period of economic decline accompanied by rapid increases in consumer prices. So, it’s going to be something like the stagflation of the 1970s, only much more stagnation, or outright contraction of the economy, with the cost of living increasing even more rapidly than it did then.
TGR: As we look at some of the things that Obama’s trying to put into place, is there anything the government could do now to avoid this?
PS: There’s nothing the government can do to avoid some serious short-term pain. The country is in a lot of trouble because of all of the monetary mismanagement of the past, the reckless government spending and the money creation that led to the phony economy.
We’ve spent a long time squandering wealth in this country. We’ve borrowed a lot of money and foolishly used it to consume. We’ve allowed our industrial base to disintegrate, and it’s going to be difficult to rebuild a viable economy. But we’re never going to rebuild one if the government stands in the way. What the government is doing now with their polices is trying to reflate the bubble; they’re trying to get Americans to borrow and spend even more money when we’re broke from the money that we shouldn’t have borrowed and spent in the first place. And the government is trying to get itself bigger. The government is trying to grow its size at a time when it needs to contract because we’re really too broke to afford a bloated government.
It was bad in the past—it was making us less competitive, but at least we could afford it; now we clearly can’t. So, we need less government. We need sound monetary policy. We need higher interest rates. We need to allow businesses to fail. We need to allow companies to go out of business or bankrupt. We need to allow foreclosures to take place. We need to allow people to lose certain jobs. We can’t try and interfere with that. And to the extent that we do, we’re going to create this depression; and if we keep printing money, we’re going to have massive inflation on top of it.
TGR: In your talks, you've said that printing money will cause massive inflation and the collapse of the U.S. dollar. Can you speak to that?
PS: People think you just create money and use it to spend. But when you create money you don’t create purchasing power. So, what happens is you have to pay more money; you create inflation. The way you get increased purchasing power is through increased production, and simply printing money doesn’t cause factories to appear. It doesn’t cause consumer goods to appear.
In order to have real increased consumption, we need to produce more, which means we need more savings and investment—and the government is discouraging that with its policy, not promoting it.
TGR: Will the government bailouts help increase production and ultimately purchasing power?
PS: No, no, the bailouts are destructive to the economy because the government is bailing out industries and companies that should be failing. They’re keeping nonproductive companies in business, which ultimately undermines the competitiveness and the productivity of our economy.
Bankruptcy is like when a body has an infection. It fights it off, and that’s what the free market is doing by trying to kill off noncompetitive companies. Bankruptcy is a positive force in an economy. Maybe it’s not positive for the entity going bankrupt, but it is positive for the economy as a whole because it’s purging from the body of the economy nonviable companies that are squandering our resources.
We need companies to fail so that more prosperous companies can succeed. By keeping certain businesses around, the government is preventing others from coming into existence that would have been more productive.
TGR: So, if the government would step back and let the free market systems work, how much sooner would they be able to make the turnaround, rather than having the government do it?
PS: We’re not going to turn around at all as a result of what the government is doing. We'd turn around a lot sooner if they would let free market systems work, but it wouldn’t be instantaneous. We’ve got to dismantle the phony economy before we can rebuild the viable economy. We’re going to have this transitionary pain. We have to get over all the damage that has already been done in response to the government and bad monetary fiscal policy. We had a bubble economy; we had an economy based on Americans spending money they didn’t have and buying products they couldn’t afford or that they didn’t make. We had an economy built on debt, consumer debt, and financial engineering, and our companies were generating profits from accounting rather than from production. And the whole thing was phony; the prosperity was phony. We need to address those problems, and get back on the road to economic viability.
TGR: Is this a U.S. phenomenon or is this worldwide?
PS: Well, it exists to lesser degrees in other countries, and certainly other countries are affected because they’re producing the goods that we’re consuming and they’re lending us the money to pay for it and, ultimately, we can’t pay them back. And so their economies are going to suffer as a result of all the wealth that has been squandered and all the resources that have been wasted on production for American consumers because we can’t afford to pay.
TGR: The government is printing money. What is going to be the impact of all that money coming into the economy?
PS: Well, it’s going to force up prices. Eventually real estate prices will start to rise, stock prices will start to rise; but Americans aren’t going to be richer because the cost of living is going to rise a lot faster. The price of food and the price of energy are going to rise much faster than the price of stocks or real estate.
TGR: Do you see a pending collapse in the U.S. dollar?
PS: I do see a collapse in the dollar. The dollar is already been losing value, but I think it’s going to lose a lot more.
TGR: What should investors be looking at as a safe haven for the money that they have now?
PS: Well, they should be looking at the traditional safe havens like gold and silver; they should also be looking at other commodities and at investments outside the United States. There are a lot of opportunities around the world. There are a lot of stocks that are extremely inexpensive, in my opinion, particularly in the Asian markets and the natural resource space.
There are a lot of stocks trading at valuations I have never seen; there’s a lot of pessimism built into the global markets right now, and there are fire sale prices. The world has overreacted to our problems and the way our problems have affected their economies. And in this market environment of de-leveraging and asset liquidation, prudent investors who do have cash can find tremendous bargains around the world. They can preserve their wealth and actually profit from what’s going on.
TGR: Can you share with us some sectors people might consider?
PS: In general, the productive sectors of the economy have companies that are manufacturing products and have good balance sheets, companies that operate within a resource sector that has tremendous reserves—whether it’s mining reserves or energy reserves—or companies that operate in various forms of agriculture. There are great opportunities there. Stocks are trading for very low, single-digit multiples off of depressed earnings. And you have a lot of companies offering dividend yields north of 10%, and these are real dividends paid from earnings. But, as an investor, you have to do your homework to find them. Bond rates are so low we can get incredible yields on equities, and this is a great opportunity, especially if those yields are going to be paid to us in currencies that I expect to strengthen significantly against the U.S. dollar.
TGR: What countries and currencies do you see emerging first from the recession?
PS: Well, ultimately, a lot of the currencies that are currently pegged to the U.S. dollar will be very strong, a lot of the Asian currencies. We already see a lot of the resource currencies starting to move back. We have seen rather substantial strength in the Australian and the New Zealand dollars in the past few weeks. I do think you’re going to see strength also in the Euro, as the Euro seems to be a good alternative to the dollar as far as a reserve-type currency. And the Europeans’ monetary policy is not nearly as bad as ours, so more of that type money will be attracted to the Euro and will probably benefit other Euro-zone type currencies—Scand... currencies, the Swiss Franc—those currencies will benefit, as well.
TGR: China and Russia and some other OPEC nations are calling for the IMF to come in with an international currency. I think they’re calling it special drawing rights.
PS: Yes, China was talking about trying to look for alternative reserve currencies to the dollar, and they’re floating a balloon of special drawing rights issued by the IMF. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Ultimately, China does indeed need to convince the world to look for another standard. China needs to find another reserve on its own and it can do that. The Chinese should start divesting U.S. dollars now. They can choose any currency they want as their reserve currency. When they do start divesting dollars it will impact the value of the dollar.
TGR: Will we see a return to a gold standard?
PS: Currencies need to have value and paper is not value. No fiat currency in history has ever survived. Everyone says this one is going fine but we’ve only been off the gold standard since 1971—it’s too soon to tell, but it’s sure not looking good.
TGR: Will you see a return to the gold standard in your lifetime?
PS: Yes, I will—it has to happen.
TGR: What investment advice do you have for our readers?
PS: Investors need to act quickly and take charge of their financial destiny. We’re facing the largest redistribution of wealth through inflation.
The hardest hit will be the savers and investors who will see their savings wiped out if they are kept in U.S. dollars. Dollars will be stolen from the savers to pay for these huge government-spending policies—for health care, education and the bailout.
I would divest U.S. dollar assets into physical precious metals, other currencies and equities outside the United States, and focus on companies that own real things that have a demand.