My colleague and erstwhile nemesis Gonzalo Lira posed the question above in a recent essay, and it is indeed a most puzzling one. Given that the world’s central banks — joined most recently by a shockingly reckless Switzerland — are waging all-out economic war by inflating their currencies, shouldn’t gold be soaring?
The institutional crazies, village idiots and knee-jerk opportunists who bought shares yesterday following a Fed announcement of yet more monetization seem not to have been paying attention, at least initially, to the nasty sell-off in T-Bonds. Well before yesterday, any sentient being would have surmised that easing’s impact on the economy had reached the point of diminishing returns. With administered rates pegged at zero and mortgage loans near historical lows, how much more boost are we to expect from yet another gaseous effusion of bank-system credit?
All the government subsidies in the world will not revive the construction industry - only demand from increasing wealth will. The guest commentary below offers a vivid picture of the economic and regulatory factors weighing on homebuilders these days. The author is Wayne Siggard, who builds mansions for the super-rich. A UCLA law graduate, Wayne worked for Bechtel Financing Services and was self-employed as an investment banker doing private placements in oil and gas and alternative energy project financing. When oil hit $10/bbl in 1985, he went into the homebuilding business, turning an avocation into an occupation. His real estate operations, including land development, have primarily been in California and Utah. Wayne lived for several years in Italy and Switzerland and speaks many languages.
[And now it’s time for Mr. Obama to start paying for all those votes by reaching deep into our pockets. If you intend to avoid paying your “fair share,” however, please take note: There will be few places to hide. For a gimlet-eyed view of what may lie in store for taxpayers and citizens of all political persuasions during the next four years, ponder the guest commentary below, from Wayne Siggard, a regular in the Rick’s Picks forum. RA]
The Dow plunged 313 points yesterday, but don’t believe news media reports that it was the nearness of the “fiscal cliff” that caused the selloff. What spooked investors is a bigger picture that recognizes the economically catastrophic implications of a second Obama term. To be clear, there is nothing Romney could have done to avoid the deflationary Depression that lies ahead. However, a Romney presidency might have at least served as a reality check on malfeasant fiscal practices, delaying the onslaught of hard times for perhaps long enough to allow Americans to put their financial houses in better order before austerity is imposed on us with the force of an earthquake, as it has been on Europe.
It would be easy for me to dismiss Obama supporters as mentally defective but for one inconvenient fact: my mother, sharp as a tack at 92, is voting for him. And so is my sister, a San Francisco attorney who is no slouch in the brains department. I’m not sure where my brother, a municipal employee, stands, but neither am I eager to find out. There is no bridging the political gap between us, and so we simply avoid discussing politics. The same goes for old friends, although newer ones are another matter. One of them walked out on our dinner together in a huff when an innocuous remark I’d made about Abe Lincoln evidently bruised his self-righteously liberal, morally perfect heart . Good riddance. It is far better friends than he that I am worried about. Will they draw the line when I let slip my support for the right to bear arms, even concealed?
Mario Draghi, feather merchant to northern Europe, is once again plying his dubious trade, this time with a slick sales pitch designed to persuade Germany that he can “save” Europe with a financial scheme that makes alchemy look respectable.
A ZeroHedge reader who goes by the handle “Kito” took me to task last week for straddling the fence. On the one hand, he observed, I have been predicting a huge Dow rally to 14969. More recently, though, in a commentary published last week and rightly seized on by Kito, I said to hell with the bullish target; with Apple, IBM and Google shares getting bludgeoned, it’s only a matter of time before the bloodshed spreads to the broad averages. So which is it, Kito has asked?
What kind of batter crowds the plate after a pitcher has aimed a fastball at his head? “Batters” have been doing it routinely on Wall Street lately — most recently yesterday, when they held the broad averages buoyant while Google shares were getting pasted for 80 points. During this single-stock onslaught, the Dow Industrials were never down more than 50 points and closed off only slightly with GOOG still $53 in the hole. This wasn’t the first time bulls have leaned into the plate while “dusters” whizzed past their ears.
Facebook shares took another hellacious dive last week when the lock-up period for insider selling ended on Thursday. Gluttonously coveted by investors in the months leading up to the IPO, the stock has become a pariah after falling 50% from its $38 offering price in May. Was it jinxed from the start, as some have suggested? It is indeed true that technical gremlins on Nasdaq plagued the order book the day Facebook went public. And although some sore losers have sued to get their money back (if not their hands, belatedly, on fire-sale shares) the exchange glitches seemed to us like business as usual. Facebook’s real problem is that it is just another Internet fad that will probably never earn a profit commensurate with the $100 billion valuation it was given by IPO buyers.
Anyone betting that the global financial system will continue to muddle along indefinitely deserves to reap the whirlwind that’s coming. As the rest of us well know, the international banking system is being kept afloat solely by political lies, stupidity, corruption, greed and, most of all, egregiously misplaced confidence. It would seem to be only a matter of time before the rotted timbers of this belief system give way. But what will be the catalyst? The possibility or even likelihood that the financial system will be toppled by some event no one was expecting was an implicit theme of Nassim Taleb’s widely read 2004 book.
Alas, the devil is in the details for Europe’s latest attempt at financial alchemy. Much to the investment world’s apparent dismay yesterday, it turned out that the ECB’s Draghi had nothing very specific in mind when he pledged last week to defend Europe’s monetary union by any means necessary. In theory, and most immediately, such a rescue would entail using printing-press money to mop up Spain’s leprous bonds, lest rates push above 7%.
As usual, the stock market was vexatiously out of step with reality last week, soaring on word that the ECB plans to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro and the political union that it binds. For U.S. investors, especially those who believe in hope and change (and, presumably, the Easter Bunny), there was also the invaluable news that the U.S. economy is once again verging on recession – a development which is widely believed to portend yet more Fed easing.
Savers and retirees aren’t the only ones getting screwed by interest rates that have been artificially suppressed by central banks around the world. These days, banks themselves are finding it increasingly difficult to earn even a nominal return on instruments they consider safe. Just last week, Denmark’s Nationalbanken set its deposit rate below zero for the first time, effectively charging commercial banks and others a fee for parking their surpluses in krones. There are numerous reasons why the krone would be a magnet for idle money. For one, Denmark’s economy is among the strongest in Europe. Also, because Danes rejected euro-zone membership in 2000, they enjoy a degree of political and economic autonomy that their neighbors do not have. This will presumably make Denmark less susceptible to the shock waves that follow the inevitable implosion of Greece, Spain, Italy et al. Small wonder, then, that the global stewards of OPM would consider the krone a safe haven even though it now guarantees them at least a small loss on their money. From Denmark’s standpoint, the decision to follow the European Central Bank’s latest rate cut was unavoidable. The alternative would have been to sit idly by as the krone appreciated, hobbling the country’s exports and destabilizing its balance sheet.
Europe’s doomed experiment with the politics of austerity went down in flames over the weekend as voters across the region veered sharply to the left in savaging incumbents. Elections in six European nations on Sunday promised to end any pretense of fiscal sanity. However, it remains to be seen how quickly and drastically the new leaders will act to further unbalance their nations’ books, ostensibly in the name of economic growth.