Michael Lewis' latest compilation of Vanity Fair articles into book format, Boomerang, is the usual entertaining romp around those back and front waters of the world that are currently on the verge of bankruptcy: from Greece, to Ireland, to Germany and, of course, to California. The premise at its core is an interview that the former Salomon bond salesman had with investing wunderkind Kyle Bass several years back which inspired to him to ask what it is that the Texan saw three years ago that so few others, due to a permafrosty cognitive bias or what have you, could (i.e., that the world is bankrupt and getting much worse). Oh, did we say wunderkind? We meant billionaire. Because unlike that other "anti-Midas" who only piggybacked on the good ideas, while blowing up LPs when left to his own non-Goldman Sachs facilitated devices, Bass actually could always see the big picture for what it is. So courtesy of Lewis' latest book, here are three pieces of advice from Bass to people everywhere, which will surely bring the fanatically jealous anti-gold crew to accusations that Bass made his billions from buying and reselling tinfoil hats.
A guy sitting in an office in Dallas, Texas, making sweeping claims about the future of countries he’d hardly set foot in: how on earth could he know how a bunch of people he’d never met might behave? As he laid out his ideas I had an experience I’ve often had, while listening to people who seem perfectly certain about uncertain events. One part of me was swept away by his argument and began to worry the world was about to collapse; the other part suspected he might be nuts. “That’s great,” I said, but I was already thinking about the flight I needed to catch. “But even if you’re right, what can any normal person do about it?”
He stared at me as if he’d just seen an interesting sight: the world’s stupidest man.
“What do you tell your mother when she asks you where to put her money?” I asked.
“Guns and gold,” he said simply.
“Guns and gold,” I said. So he was nuts.
But not gold futures,” he said, paying no attention to my thoughts.
"You need physical gold.” He explained that when the next crisis struck, the gold futures market was likely to seize up, as there were more outstanding futures contracts than available gold. People who thought they owned gold would find they owned pieces of paper instead. He opened his desk drawer, hauled out a giant gold brick, and dropped it on the desk. “We’ve bought a lot of this stuff.” At this point, I was giggling nervously and glancing toward the door.
So many others were giggling along. They were giggling all the way as gold rose from $800 to $1900. Probably not giggling now...
He still owned stacks of gold and platinum bars that had roughly doubled in value, but he remained on the lookout for hard stores of wealth as a hedge against what he assumed was the coming debasement of fiat currency. Nickels, for instance.
“The value of the metal in a nickel is worth six point eight cents,” he said. “Did you know that?”
“I just bought a million dollars’ worth of them,” he said, and then, perhaps sensing I couldn’t do the math: “twenty million nickels.”
“You bought twenty million nickels?”
“How do you buy twenty million nickels?”
“Actually, it’s very difficult,” he said, and then explained that he had to call his bank and talk them into ordering him twenty million nickels. The bank had finally done it, but the Federal Reserve had its own questions. “The Fed apparently called my guy at the bank,” he says. “They asked him, ‘Why do you want all these nickels?’ So he called me and asked, ‘Why do you want all these nickels?’ And I said, ‘I just like nickels.’”
He pulled out a photograph of his nickels and handed it to me. There they were, piled up on giant wooden pallets in a Brink’s vault in downtown Dallas.
“I’m telling you, in the next two years they’ll change the content of the nickel,” he said. “You really ought to call your bank and buy some now.”
And on how to prepare for what is coming and why it is coming:
We hopped into his Hummer, decorated with bumper stickers (God Bless Our Troops, Especially Our Snipers) and customized to maximize the amount of fun its owner could have in it: for instance, he could press a button and, James Bond–like, coat the road behind him in giant tacks. We roared out into the Texas hill country, where, with the fortune he’d made off the subprime crisis, Kyle Bass had purchased what amounted to a fort: a forty-thousand-square-foot ranch house on thousands of acres in the middle of nowhere, with its own water supply, and an arsenal of automatic weapons and sniper rifles and small explosives to equip a battalion. That night we tore around his property in the back of his U.S. Army jeep, firing the very latest-issue U.S. Army sniper rifles, equipped with infrared scopes, at the beavers that he felt were a menace to his waterways. “There are these explosives you can buy on the Internet,” he said, as we bounded over the yellow hills. “It’s a molecular reaction. FedEx will deliver hundreds of pounds of these things.” The few beavers that survived the initial night rifle assault would wake up to watch their dams being more or less vaporized.
“It doesn’t exactly sound like a fair fight,” I said.
“Beavers are rodents,” he said.
Whatever else he was doing, he was clearly having fun. He’d spent two and a half years watching the global financial system, and the people who ran it, confirm his dark view of them. It didn’t get him down. It thrilled him to have gotten his mind around seemingly incomprehensible events. “I’m not someone who is hell-bent on being negative his whole life,” he said. “I think this is something we need to go through. It’s atonement. It’s atonement for the sins of the past.”
The take home: Atonement is coming, bitchez. Beavers beware.
For those who want much more, here is a one hour interview in which Todd Groome and Toni Moss spoke with Kyle at AmeriCatalyst 2010 in Austin in September, asking him about his thoughts on prospects for housing market recovery, current policy issues and national debt implications, global debt imbalances and his perspectives on the influence of policy on the timing, sequence and magnitude of potential sovereign defaults and debt restructurings. Fascinating stuff.