Monday, September 27, 2010

We Need to Fire Our Economists and Replace Them with Astrologers

Once in a while in a news article I see the phrase “the science of economics”. It always makes me laugh.

Currently political economics is no more of a science than astrology.

It has no predictive value when extreme debt is involved.

Economists presently have no way to measure the unsustainable debt in our economy for four reasons:

1. Neoclassical(Wall Street) economists are not trained to look at total debt. They are only able to quantify the debt payment. Therefore if interest rates are placed at zero, then in theory our country can have unlimited debt.

2. To make matters worse, the public sector does not use real accounting standards. Neoclassical economists use Enron accounting to measure the public debt. Economists say that our federal government has about $13 trillion in total debt where in reality the liabilities of Uncle Sam are 4 times this amount.

3. To make this situation even worse, instead of comparing liabilities to income like an accountant, economists compare government liabilities to the total GDP in our economy. This avoids comparing the liability to the income that will eventually pay off the debt.

4. The craziest part of this situation is that Wall Street economists don't understand that the government's Enron liability must be paid off by the private sector in the future. It is indirectly a liability of the taxpayer.

The federal government has $60 trillion in liabilities and real income(without deficits) of $4 trillion. This is liabilities to income of 15 to 1.

Add this to the monstrous liability of our private sector and there is very little hope of taxpayers paying off this debt in real dollars.

This unsustainable debt is a problem. But the bigger problem is that our government subsidized economists don’t see it as a problem.

We are flying toward a mountain in zero visibility without an altimeter. We just asked our navigator how he is planning to circumvent the mountain.

Our navagator responds, “what mountain?"

Our navigator economists have no clue how to measure our nation's mountain of debt. They are blindly flying our economy straight into Mt. Fuji.

Economists are dead set on avoiding the pain of private sector deleveraging. This is exactly the policy mistake that Japan made 20 years ago.

Japan is experiencing 'death by a thousand cuts' instead of the debt amputation that would heal the economy immediately.

We are using the same flight plan. Our nation has incurred 3 years of moderate economic pain and only reduced debt in the private sector by 5%.

The government has increased its Enron balance sheet by 15%. This is trillions of dollars that the private sector will be required to pay in the future.

So after 3 years the mountain has grown larger and our airplane has not changed course.

Instead of looking at our private sector's mountain of liabilities our economists are dead set on keeping us from repeating the Great Depression.

Let me describe what happened during the Great Depression. We had 4 years of pain from 1930 to 1933. Most of the pain was caused by bad economic policy by our government. But even with the extremely bad government policy our private sector was allowed to deleverage.

This directly caused the greatest boom in our nation’s history.

From 1934 until 1953 our GDP grew a total of 580%. This was a compounded growth rate of over 10% a year for 20 years.

Our country has never grown that fast for that long.

Our incompetent economists are desperately trying to keep us from reliving the Great Depression. The goal is to become like Japan.

Their goal is 20 years of economic stagnation.

So instead of recreating the greatest period of growth in our country’s history our economists are intending to lever up our government 30 to one, without deleveraging our private sector.

This will slow the economy to a crawl so it will be impossible to pay off our government’s debt without destroying our currency.

Our private sector desperately needs to deleverage. Economists are manipulating markets to force people to borrow more money and spend it on speculation.

I suggest that we fire all Wall Street economists and hire astrologists to make policy decisions in the future.

Let us not forget,

Astrology worked out pretty well for Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fine Tuning my Snap Trades

A year and a half ago I suggested that it was a great time to buy into the stock market as equities were making new lows. But I did suggest that I wanted to be out of the market by the end of 2010 as the stimulus started to run out and as corporate earnings peaked.

I have suggested that for at least the next 5 years there will be no long term gains in the stock market but there could be monumental short term volatility. In my post Snap Trading I suggested how I will manage my retirement account and my Virtual House Equity.

The market is getting close to the peak earnings so this current rally seems to be a good opportunity to sell my snap trading gains of the last few months and move to a market neutral position.

I have been selling my equity investments and I am buying into ETFs: FXP, PST, SRS, SH and VXX.

I am almost market neutral. If the market goes up I will happily trade into a small short position to weather the economic storms ahead.

Today the stock, housing and bond markets are more dysfunctional and volatile than anytime in history thanks to monumentally bad government policy.

Anyone 100% long in any of these markets is a fool.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Desperation in the Housing Market

I talk to a lot of people about housing. Many that I speak with are frantic to buy a home. Also when I check the current housing stats, I see some buyers biding over the asking price on homes that have been on the market for months.

There is desperation in a number of people that are looking to purchase a home.

When I talk to people about real estate I will spend ten minutes explaining how our banking sector is insolvent and many of our nation’s households are insolvent.

How there is a historically high inventory of homes listed with an equal size shadow inventory held by the banks that are not even listed yet.

Also, there are tens of millions of families that will put their homes on the market once prices stabilize. We have double the amount of any previously recorded inventory levels, while home sales amounts are at historic lows.

I explain how buying a home in many areas doesn’t make sense because rents are historically low compared to house prices.

We are in the most unsound economy in our nation’s history as interest rates and markets are being desperately manipulated by the government to force many people into buying homes that will absolutely go down in value.

I will sometimes be honest and say that most of the people today that are buying houses are not financially qualified to own. The government has created another bubble that is allowing many people through government subsidized loans to stretch to buy a home. These are people that have no concept of budgeting or saving or anything other that living paycheck to paycheck. They are renters that are being pushed into buying overpriced real estate. So if we consider that their 3% down is wiped out with purchase costs, these glorified renters are starting out home ownership with less than zero equity.

If I have time I might say that as a nation our savings rate and taxes must go higher making it harder for families to afford a higher priced home. And that our nation’s debt is mathematically impossible to pay off.

There are the demographic issues of our aging population that must sell their homes to fund retirement. They will exit the market and won’t be back.

There are the mathematical issues that state that as interest rates rise home prices decrease proportionally.

So interest rates will be a severe headwind on home prices for many years in the future.

Owners will learn that the buying and closing costs for a home are at historic highs. They will come to realize that it could take 8 years of mortgage payments to repay enough principle to be able to pay the round trip purchase and selling costs in a stagnant market.

So many people in the future will be surprised when they are required to write a large check when they sell their home.

There are the funding issues that suggest that as home prices decline there will be no money for move up buyers to purchase higher end homes. For the next ten years people will have to save for home improvement costs instead of robbing from their home’s equity.

So the move up market is dead for ten years and the home ATM is gone forever.

Honestly there is nothing that could possibly drive the housing market significantly higher above its present overvaluation. But there are thousands of events that will force prices back to the fair value that was the normal trend before 1999.

The fact of the matter is that assets will ALWAYS come down to fair value after a bubble and many times they can trend below fair value for a while. To think that this time is different is utter delusion. To make a highly leveraged bet on a delusional assumption is madness.

The people will listen for about ten minutes with a glazed expression.

When I am done they become animated and tell me how excited they are at the prospect of buying a home. Sometimes it almost seems like desperation.

They say that they must buy now. Everyone says that it is the best time in history to buy a home.

I love to go on the Housing Tracker website. I can follow the listing prices of homes in most major metro areas. Listing prices everywhere are still falling lower. Every month like clockwork they go down.

Every week we get closer to fair value. Every week desperate people are less likely to buy an overpriced home.

Every week there is a new person that might look at the data instead of the salespeople. And honestly decide if owning a house makes sense compared to renting.

Honestly decide if they want to lock themselves into 30 years of debt payments with absolutely no chance of escape once interest rates start to rise.

And acknowledge the fact that home prices are still historically overvalued in many areas compared to rent and household income.

As a nation we need to question how long the government can continue to desperately rob money from our children to prop up overpriced housing.

There will be a point in the future where people start looking at what is best for their family, for our children and for the nation in the long run.

I am not anxious for a housing bottom. That will take many years. I am looking for the emotional bottom.

I am anxious for our nation to stop looking at the real estate market with desperation.

Like we did before 1999,

and the previous 200 years before that.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Keynesians need a Class in Common Sense

I read Paul Krugman’s blog once in a while just to find out what the other half is thinking. Presently he is harping on the need to save our country from another Great Depression with more government stimulus.

So far we have been saved three times from big Great Depressions in the last 8 years.

The first time was when Greenspan and Bush saved us in 2002. The second time was when Bernanke saved us two years ago with 0% interest rates. And the third time was the bailout bonus for bankers.

There have also been little mini rescues such as the housing credit and cash for clunkers to name a few.

Also the government is planning to fund deficits of $1 trillion a year for the next ten years to continuously prevent various other great depressions that might come along.

It seems like preventing great depressions is the major government activity of late.

But Paul Krugman is adamant that this one is for real and we must borrow more money to prevent economic collapse. I assume that along with incurring this monstrous debt, he wants the government to waste the money just like they have done in all the previous rescue attempts.

Paul Krugman sees this as the end of the world but I see it as an opportunity.

I would like to suggest that we end this once and for all.

Let’s decide how much stimulus will stop great depressions for the next 10 years. Let's suppose it is $5 trillion. Then we divide $5 trillion 300 million ways and give $16,000 to everyone.

But for that $5 trillion I would need Dr. Krugman to sign a contract saying that he can’t ask for any more stimulus money for 10 years.

So Dr.Krugman will fund the biggest stimulus of all time.

It will be the most expensive economics class anyone has ever attended.

But he will get a lesson in real world economics. He will learn that:

  • Destroying a currency can't create long term prosperity.
  • Debt can't be eliminated with more debt.
  • Wasteful government spending doesn't create long term private sector job growth.
Some might say that spending $5 trillion to give Keynesian economists a class in common sense is ridiculous.

I say it is money well spent.