Posted On: 2007-01-19Length: 1:03:05
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Hello everybody. Thank you for tuning on in to yet another episode of our weekly radio broadcast, Podcast and live net streamcast, vigilantinvestor.com, welcome aboard, this is your host, Johannes Ernharth again. And we have had an interesting week out there in the news, all sorts of things have been, just kind of pushing along, not a whole heck of changes from week to week but when you really start looking back at some of the broader points of you know reference, you start finding that the dots are getting connected a little more and as we always say around here at Vigilant Investor, that is what we do. We try to help our listeners and our readers at vigilantinvestor.com, get a hold of our information and connect the dots. A lot of information, it's just all over the place out there in the investment media, it can be in the investment media, it can be elsewhere, it can be in the political media, it can be in international, global kind of stuff. And it's just, excuse me all over the place. It's nice just to have a repository we think, at least for us it has been, we had a heck of a time when we were trying to connect the dots years ago, let's try to put this together to find a good common resource that not only just provided you with a, maybe a couple of particles here and there, but also a little bit of an explanation as to why it is relevant, and relative to your own personal situation. And, excuse me, the most important there is you're able to look at it not just from the investing standpoint, and again this is less of an investment [...] even though the name of the show is Vigilant Investor. [...] like an investment in terms of you know, stocks and bonds and that kind of thing compared to a lot of shows out there that you'll listen to on the radio. They'll be talking about, you know proper allocations and you know, boy the Kramers of the world are taken and request us to what company should people be investing in here or there and so forth. And you know the long and short is that you don't get a lot of detail outside of how some of the broader themes are actually applying to your life in a context that might affect your investment portfolios but also what about if you're a business owner, an entrepreneur looking to get out there and you know, looking to start a new initiative or something like that. And it happened not to be, frog in my throat here today, excuse me, but if you happen not to be part of a huge you know, fortune 500 or fortune 1000 type firm, it has consultants coming on though all the time that try to give you a broader perspective. But I would also add if you happen to be a member of some group like that the majority of consultants out there simply are not really giving a lot of credence to some of the economic things that we're covering. And in fact they tend to ignore it or simply outright dismiss. So, if you haven't been a regular listener, well that's why you're here and that's why you should come back I should say, and that's why you know we get a lot of people who subscribe to our Podcast and tune in live and so forth when they can. So, definitely do you outmost to do that. Now, a couple of housekeeping issues here always we do take questions if you have them, (724) 444 - 7444, because we use the Talk Shoe platform, talkshoe.com, what you're going to need to do is get yourself your own user name and password equivalent if you will, and what that enables you to do is to call on in and have your own PIN number. Now when you call in (724) 444 - 7444, what you want to be able to do is then dial in our show number which is 982, and then you can put in your own personal PIN number when you're requested to do so. Now if you don't happen to have a PIN number and just want to do a quick call and not go through the whole hassle we can accommodate you with the following PIN number, 222-333-4444, so take advantage of that. Again it's 222-333-4444. So, the show id is 982 on talkshoe.com, but all that's accessible if you ever want to check it out through vigilantinvestor.com, we have a little tab there that gets you into our Talk Shoe area, and boy it's a real convenience, we say it every week, but you can subscribe to us as a Podcast, and you happen to be an iTunes user, that stuff gets downloaded automatically the minute we have a new Podcast up there which you can jump on. And then whenever you sync up your iPod, if you have an iPod, it automatically can be set up to be one of those things that syncs up for your Saturday morning drive or your Monday morning drive, whatever it might be. So, anyway all that aside, Stephan Ernharth, I see you're here. Stephan, my co-host, how are you doing Stephan?
Stephan: Doing fine Johannes, how about yourself?
A little choked up today, I've got a bit of a frog in the throat, I've been growling here a little bit, but other than that I'm doing well, thank you. Interesting week out there I guess, I've been seeing a lot of things bouncing around a good bit, seems like with all the Goldilocks stock talk Stephan, that people who are of the Goldilocks bullish persona type, in other words, the majority of Wall Street, for example the 12 largest firms on Wall Street, all bullish for the S&P 500 and so forth. You know we take a look at what's happened to oil, everybody was talking as if oil was going to you know, break down below the 50 dollar level, sink into the 40's and return back to the 30's. And you had you know, people predicting that this was just a strange out of the ordinary kind of thing. Katrina compounded it with the big hurricanes and all that, that one year. And of course little war worries and so forth sometimes can get prices up. But very few people were acknowledging the dollar issue and boy, the money supply since 1980 has in the United States, has decreased over 5 times, and 3 times since 1990 almost if you're measuring if verses M3. And surprise, surprise, oil today right now trading at 59 dollars, up a buck seventy-two on today's trading. And gold's taken a little bit of a bounce around and down to 647, down about 8 dollars today but that's of course the volatile nature of the precious metal. And the reason we mention things like oil and gold on the show for our new listeners, is that we, we're looking at really at the strength of the dollar, we're looking at inflation. We're not making those as an investment recommendation, we're simply commenting on what's happening to the purchasing power of the dollar relative to things that cannot be printed out of thin air like currencies. And we mentioned last week that the global currencies have been going breakneck. The euro's been getting inflated a lot, the Japanese yen, the Chines yuan, all the currencies out there, all the central banks are engaged in the daily activity of increasing money supply. So inflation is built into the system and the very definition of the expanding money supply, means that you're ruining purchasing power in some form or another. And we go take a look at the USDX, the U.S. dollar trading today, the USDX against a basket of 5 major currencies, it's up a touch, trading at 8495 today, Stephan. So the dollar's still showing some strength from it's lows in early December of under 83, what I call the Thanksgiving massacre of 2006, where the dollar dropped precipitously from trading above 85 in just a matter of days to under 83. But that was probably exasperated by the thinly traded markets then. Anyway, to tie it all up, any thoughts on what's going on with oil and gold despite what everybody was saying that you know, oil's had it's day in the sun and time to move away...?
Stephan :The only thing about oil having its day in the sun is that you know, there's not much more to be discovered. And in a nutshell, you know, we've said it time and time again, and not just us, some folks we really respect out there, that basically continue to talk about the fact, and it's evident, you have something that's getting more and more difficult, more and more difficult to discover, more and more difficult to discover the highest grade, the most easily refinable oil -
The low hanging fruit we usually say ...
Stephan : The low hanging fruit. And in a nutshell, what you have is a scenario where this resource is a finite resource. And demand is continually increasing. And people fail to realize that sure it's a predominant component of the fuel in our cars and our airplanes and heating our homes, but oil and it's byproducts are in so many things that we use on a day to day basis it will make your head spin. And to think that the price is going to go back down is to say that well, demand has peaked, or demand will go down. And that, what we had were, was abnormally priced oil and as, it's intriguing in the sense that the United States has exported so much money, spending money abroad, that we have allowed our, and basically in a healthy way to those countries, their economies are growing and they're entering the first world. But what you have done is allowed them to create their own demand for this very finite resource. So, you know, you and I have talked about it, people we respect tremendously that are experts in that area have talked about it, do not be surprised to see oil back up at 70 dollars a barrel relatively soon. And we think that it's ultimately going to hit, crack a hundred dollars a barrel okay?
Yeah, it's just a matter of time.
Stephan : We've said it here, okay? You [...] the fact that you know, we're still printing money like it's going out of style. It absolutely will crack that mark. So anyone that thinks that the price of oil is going down, thinks that the cost of living is going to go down. As to gold, you know, again we use our, it's economic physics, but in economic physics when you try to hold the balloon under water like the oil balloon or the gold balloon let's say, you can only keep it down for so long. And the price of gold going up is simply a reflection of the fact that there was smart money out there that realizes the massive inflationary trend in all paper currency existing in the world. And you've talked about it Johannes, I've talked about it, you know what the United States really does well is we export inflation. And the creation of money out of thin air via credit, whether on a governmental level or credit card company, bank, etc.. we export that money to other countries and we export our inflation to other countries, and there are countries out there that will not allow their currency to strengthen that dramatically against the dollar, simply because they don't want to make their exports be un-competitive all of the sudden. So what they're doing is they're printing money to devalue their own currency. So you've got massive global inflation and trust me, the retail investor, that's anyone really that's not an institution or a trust fund of something like that, the retail investor has very little if any gold in their portfolios, their broker or advisor is still telling them to a large degree that this is a risky thing, it's a commodity. In essence that's wrong. Gold is a real form of money, it's been around forever, and smart money, who do you think, the retail investor has not bid gold up over the last 5 or 6 years from the 240, 280 level to 650.
Well, leaving the investment properties aside for the purpose of the show, you know, looking at what's happened with gold recently since 2000, and I think that what people got in the habit of from 1982 to 2000 is that boy, as a precious metal and as a part of considered to be a conventional asset allocation, nobody was touching it in the early 70's, everybody was stocks and bonds, and pretty much what Wall Street wants to do. But what you saw in the 60's and late 60's and early 70's was this long term bear market that began, a secular bear market in equities and in a rising interest rate environment, a bear market in fixed income and bonds. So that you know really, boy you get whip sawed around a lot with equities until 1982 when finally after that long period of time the equity market bottomed out and began it's bull market, that you know finished up in 2000 there. And it was a mediocre kind of a rise there. It just kept steadily moving along with what, pretty much two big blips, one in '87, which was a large blip, then maybe two small ones in the early 90's, and then you know, chugging along. But you know a lot of people got you know, the modern investment, you know, concept of you know, asset allocation, everybody's got to own equities, really didn't start happening until the mid 90's. 1995 was when the mutual fundization, the democratization of investments really got rolling. And in the early 90's a lot of people were starting to do it, but [still fence] sitting they didn't get on board. Well you know, considering that the bull market in equities started in 1982, a lot of people missed you know a lot of the boat there and got in '95 and got 5 years of it before you know, it crapped out. And heck, a lot of people who started investing then, and again, that's when the statistically the bulk of the average commoner started investing, you know, the equity index has dropped back down to their '96 level, so you got about one year's worth of gain there if you were just starting in '95. But, again, back to the precious metal concept. Gold, by the time everybody got into gold it was very similar, they started getting into it in the late 70's already after it had gone up some you know, several hundred over a thousand percent, and a lot of people started getting in gold when it was above 600, 700 maybe even close to 800 until it peaked out. And at that point the cycle had ended, and it started you know, very early, it started prior to 1972. So over 10 years earlier were the early comers who were talking about, you know boy you need to have a diversified portfolio, you need to take a look at the economic environment and so forth. And you know, not being an investment show, you know we don't give recommendations as to what you should or should not have in your portfolio. So the reason we're discussing gold is because it serves as a monetary component historically, it always has. And that is where you look at history, and you look at gold from a historic context, it has served as a safe haven during uncertain times, and has always served as a store of wealth going back, heck I mean the faros were burying themselves with the stuff 6 thousand years ago, Rome was funding empire expansion and you know, 2000 year ago you have Spanish kinkeistedors searching, scouring the Earth with kings sending them all over the place, and queens sending them all over the place to find the precious metal. And there's still several tons of it sitting around in the Federal Reserve in New York in their basement, Fort Knox here. And yet, nobody pays attention to it as you know something that's beyond just this, what, the barbarous relic, which is what the conventional wisdom is. I've forgotten, who is it that said barbarous relic, do you remember Stephan>
Stephan: No, I can't remember Johannes, but someone did...it's a good..
One of the Fed guys I think, he was being questioned on it. And simply they asked him what they thought about gold and he said, ah it's just a barbarous relic, who needs that when you have the dollar these days? And functionally what you had is, with the dollar, is a paper currency un-backed by anything. I mean it simply is printed out of thin air and pushed into the economy, every new dollar that you sink out there into the economy is a claim to wealth. I mean what is a dollar? You have a few dollars in your pocket, you can go claim a soda a pack of cigarettes, a sandwich at the shop, it's a claim to other people's production, okay? And that's a key thing to remember. It's production and, but you know to get a dollar that's been printed out of thin air, did you do anything other than print it out of thin air? I mean literally these days, the banks and the Federal Reserve just add a couple of you know zeros on a computer [...]
Stephan: It's comes down to this, and what's really intriguing, interesting is that you know, you sort of, for anybody to lose their perspective and God it's so sophisticated, the financial markets and the economy etc.. but let's put it down, let's make it real simple. And it's this, would you rather be paid in something valuable like gold or silver that somebody could not print away, that is finitely a produced every year and is actually getting tougher and tougher for it to mine, alright? Or would you rather get paid in pieces of paper controlled by a government of which there is no restriction upon the printing of. And the history shows us the gold standard was, we got away from it in 1913, that that piece of paper has been printed to the extent that it has lost 97 percent of its purchasing power since 1913. Would you rather be paid in that piece of paper, or would you rather be paid in gold and silver? It think someone with a borderline low IQ would still take the gold or silver, let alone a raven or a canary or a bird.
Well, it's the reality of it and the date that Stephan is referring to, 1913, law was passed to create the Federal Reserve. Prior to the Federal Reserve in the United States, dollars were merely issues or certificates from banks that were claims to gold. 20 dollars to an ounce of gold was the ratio and when the Federal Reserve first got its granted privilege to be a private banking cartel of private interests, go figure how that happens with government, it happens every day. But special interests got themselves to be the central bank of the United States. The major banking interests in the U.S. got the right to print money and lend it into circulation. Again, prior to the Federal Reserve you had, you got paid, paid in currency that was backed by metal. By the physical gold, 20 dollars to an ounce. It only took a few years for the Federal Reserve to start cranking along where it started expanding the money supply, issuing off tremendous amounts of dollars that were backed by nothing for which there were not reserves in the banks, and enabled the banks out there out in the public to do this, where you had a sudden flood of money. And it was the very cause of a huge boom in the 20's where everybody thought they were getting rich because all this money was floating around and in reality, it was all artificial because again nobody went through the sacrifice of savings or producing to create those dollars. They were simply claims to other people's wealth and it divided the wealth and it took away, it stole the wealth from people who had actually been saving and put it into the hot money hand. So you look at the, you know, what happened back in the 20's. You had the big real estate bubble down in Florida that blew up, crushed a lot of people, then you had the giant stock bubble there where you had all that speculation and that totally crushed everybody. And then you had a run on the banks because nobody, people put one and two together and they realized that there was nothing backing their money, that the banks had fraudulently, although it was legalized at that point, been issuing receipts for gold they did not have. So again, we had our first default on the U.S. dollar under FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, everybody thinks of him as a hero but what he did was basically said, you know what in the land of the free, you can't protect your wealth anymore by using gold. We're going to make it illegal for you to hold gold, and we're going to you know, say you can only hold these pieces of paper, because we're going to continue to print them and we don't want you to protect yourself. And that's what they tried to do is print more and more currency to get us out of the depression and no wonder that thing lasted 10 years until WWII. And it wasn't until after WWII and all the competition was bombed out of existence, Japan and Germany is a consequence of WWII, you look at England and France and everybody was debilitated, we were the last man standing in the United States and of course our economy was going to hum along there until the 70's when everybody else got back up on their feet, you know a mere 30 years later. Now, second default happened to happen in 1972, the first default under FDR, he changed the ratio from 20 dollars to one to thirty five to one and made it illegal for private individuals in the United States to protect their wealth. So they had to accept these money currency. And in 1972 because they'd been printing so much money to pay for all these new LBJ great society programs, all the welfare programs created by FDR and Vietnam of course, they were even, that was when they moved Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid off the balance sheet so it didn't look as bad. People weren't stupid, and the central banks were still allowed to exchange their paper currency that we were printing for gold though the central bank system. It still had to be settled in gold, granted it was once ounce of gold to thirty-five. What did Nixon have to do, because all of the sudden everybody said, you know what you guys are printing money like its going out of style, it's a load of baloney, and Nixon was forced to default on the U.S. dollar a second time, and he closed the gold window, reneged on the agreement that anybody could get gold for their dollars. And at that point gold was allowed to trade freely, and of course within you know, a few short years it shot up over a thousand percent was trading as high as you know, 825 before it became it's own bubble of irrational stupidity. And it sat idle for the better part of 17 years until 2000. So, here we are today Stephan, and gold and oil, we think are signifying economically from a standpoint that something seriously has changed since 2000. Now we always talk about it, and I think the Dow Jones hit a new record earlier this week, and yet when you adjust it for simple inflation, it's no record, it's still below water from its 2000 high just according to official CPI. And we always say CPI in this country, the statisticians have begun, started fudging that back in the 1970's and adjusting how it statistically calculated so it far under reports the rate of inflation. So if you're really to look at the real rate of inflation, it would be a lot worse off. That's why we think that gold is actually serving as a better inflation indicator and oil is serving as a better inflation indicator that old CPI, which you know, just a couple weeks ago, Bernanke was testifying in front of Congress that they were thinking, oh the changed CPI is a new better way to measure it, it's going to be rigged down even lower, to further understate the official inflation.
Stephan: That is actually hilarious, it would be even more hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic and scary and sad. What our Fed chairman is saying, in a system where we are, where our government already rigs inflation low, and I'll allow you to elaborate as to how they do that, Johannes, he is then now saying that if inflation is actually calculated a little bit too high, and I love it when we see the inflation figure, they will say, excluding food and oil. Well, who can live without food and oil or energy? I mean, throw in air and you've got the Trifecta okay? And the bottom line is, as you have said many times, if we were calculating Social Security benefits, which are hedged, the increases are hedged or linked to increase for inflation, if we calculated inflation like we did in the 1970's, Social Security benefits would be roughly 70 percent higher than they are today. America, that is the way our government underpays what they initially promised to you via Social Security. Now they want to lower the inflation rate even further. Johannes, I'll let you, they're getting very overt regarding hedonic inflation, but why don't you elaborate on that for our listeners?
Yeah, we talk about it every week [...] so I'm not going to get too deep into it, but you can listen to the past, or in particular go check out an interview I did with John Williams last year, I think it was November and you can access that via our web site but, vigilantinvestor.com. But, the bottom line is they are basically under reporting, they do things that's called hedonics, which simply is, if there is an improvement to a product, it gives you a better value than you had the prior year, even if you're paying the same or more than you did the previous year, they're going to create a deflationary weighting to that. So in other words if you have a computer that's 10 percent faster than last year they'll actually, even if you spent a thousand last year and you spent a thousand this year they'll say you spent less than a thousand this year because you got a 10 percent faster computer. Even though the baseline computer still says you know, 10 thousands dollars, or excuse me, a thousand dollars what you need. And the most classic example of this is one that John Williams over at shadowstats.com always reminds people of was back in the 90's when they had that fuel additive, I want to say it's MDT or something like that. It was a government requirement that they had to put that in all gasoline in order to improve the environment and it cost 10 cents an extra per gallon. And what did the inflationary statisticians say? Well, you got an improvement in the environment, so there was no increase in the cost. Even though everybody had to pay 10 cents more, they hedonically adjusted it out. They do other things like if steak goes up in price they replace it with hamburger. And it's not so much what it used to be, which is the static basket of goods reflecting our prices going up or down, and now it's become this muddled number that is subject to all these other things. And I could go on for an hour about how these are all adjusted. And also it's important to understand when you understate your inflation, your GDP gets overstated as well. And that's even aside from the fact that GDP itself gets hedonically adjusted, so if you spend a thousand this year and your computer is 10 percent faster than it was last year, they'll say you spent a thousand, one hundred. And that's over simplifying it, but the premise is the same. Stephan: You're right. Absolutely.
Well hey, let's move on to some news things, because we don't want to, we hit a lot of these things week to week, these current themes and I want to bring some current events in that are happening. I was looking at a headline that struck me today, Stephan, was the, a couple, it's been an interesting week, the stats have been coming out all week. But probably the one that got me the most was in 2006 the personal saving rates have dropped to a 74 year low. And that's reported by the commerce department that said that savings rate for all 2006 was negative one percent. Meaning, that not only did people spend all of the money that they earned, but they also dipped into their savings and increased borrowing and financing again. So 2006, you know, here we are with this economy that's supposedly doing really well, and yet if it's doing so well why can't anybody save compared to their historic savings? And this is the lowest it's been since the 1930's Stephan, since The Great Depression when it actually bottomed out, I believe at about negative 1.5 percent or so, that was 1933. Now, that's interesting news, you know, if things are so well in this country, why is the average person not able to save? And it gets to the point where I think what we're seeing in the U.S. is a divided economy where the people up top, the money shufflers as Dr. Faber always refers to the people who are close to the money spigot, the expanding money supply, the credit, the people who are in those private investments that are hedge fund runners and all that kind of stuff, private equity and if you 're running a central bank you're getting record bonuses these years, or running an investment bank, excuse me, like Goldman Sachs or something. You're getting you know, billion dollar bonuses this year circulating on Wall Street. And yet the average Joe had a tough time through the holiday season as reflected at Wal Mart. Wal Mart could not make its expectations, had to lower its expectations in November prior to the season really getting in, they just expected it to be low. And that's because, another headline to tie it in Stephan here is that U.S. manufacturing, this is a headline from financialtimes.com is on the brink of recession and the jobs are coming up really short relative to manufacturing and the job numbers came in under expectations. Now, we're supposedly having this economy that's you know, heating along and you know, but what great GDP numbers and yet, we look at you know, manufacturing in this country, wage growth in this country somewhat stagnating for certain people and especially manufacturing. And you know, again that's our manufacturing base has been exported largely as you were talking about earlier with all that inflation going abroad it built all the manufacturing elsewhere and creating the demand that we're now competing with for oil.
Stephan: Yes, I think there's a convergence right now, I think it's very interesting. And I think that what you have now, you're seeing the housing data out there, the inventory is starting to build up also Johannes, I don't know if you've noticed the latest data on that, or if listeners have. But your housing inventory is starting to build up. What's also interesting, and I did not realize this, is that when they track the statistics fore new housing and construction, they do not subtract out the canceled deals.
Isn't that great?
Stephan: So we've seen new housing starts, i.e. those stats do not cancel out the, or reflect the deals where people pull out of them on.
And they're saying some as high as 36 to 40 percent in some areas.
Stephan: That, isn't that interesting. And I think that there is still a spin that housing is fine, soft-landing in housing. Look, that we don't know for sure, but that is far from shaken out. And you know, the latest jobs data today for January was well under what was expected and well below December. And you know, there's always the potential revisions of that data. But as we always say, economically what happens never happens as fast as you think it should or seems like it should. And this is not played out yet. And back to your negative savings rate, that is scary simply for two reasons. On the back end, what are people going to live off of when they retire, number one, okay? But what this is also saying is simply this economy is based on nothing but credit. And that is extremely disconcerting.
Yeah, no doubt it is. It's you know, it just cannot continue indefinitely and it's almost as if folks out there on the main stream have gotten just way too comfortable with distensions in the economy that just are not sustainable. And that sounds like a mouthful there, distensions in the economy that aren't sustainable, but I mean, if you keep printing money, injecting it out in the economy it causes dislocations. And that's as fundamental as you know, if I'm a saver and I happen to have a million dollars in the bank or even if I'm a retiree who is blue collar and I have you know, 400 thousand from saving and heck, I used to run into people when I first started out in the investment business, Stephan in the early 90's where they were children of the depression and they were in their 80's and they were rolling over CDs that had come due from the early 80's when interest rates were double digit and they found that the new CDs were renewing in the single digits. And they were having a hard time finding investments. But where I was going with that was these people have never made more than 35 grand a year, and yet they'd saved away, you know 600, 700 thousand by being very, very conservative. And a lot of that is because they knew what could happen during the depression. But what you're doing when you inflate especially at a pace where, you know, money supply, M3, 5 times since 1980 alone. That's 20 years, 26 years we've increased the money by 5 times. And invariably that's going to erode purchasing power. Now a lot of that, we got very fortunate by having that trade deficit. Were it not for that trade deficit, which now I mean we have to borrow 2 billion dollars a day in the United States just to cover the shortfall for the fact that we're spending more than we're earning from abroad. But, that deficit ended up enabling us to buy things made elsewhere because we could no longer afford to make them in the U.S. and sell them, or we couldn't afford to buy them. So, in some ways the deficit has helped a lot of people make ends meet and avoid horrible inflation from money supply increase, not to mention all the extra hurdles you have to do business in this country. I mean over the last 30 years it's been a bonanza of regulation and more and more tax complexity, I mean I look at our own business, I mean, Stephan, I mean in the investment management and financial services it's crazy how much more complicated it is today than it was you know, just 15 years ago. And you think of all those hassles, and heck I mean, businesses are just setting up elsewhere. They're setting up in China and so forth and they can produce things cheaper over there. That's been good for the U.S. consumer because they can make end meet. But the problem with that is you're slowly exporting your manufacturing base, your capital base and you're importing debt in order to cover the shortfall of deficits to the tune today where I mean our deficit last year, 2006 was over 700 billion dollars, and it's still climbing today. And oil prices dropped down at the end of the year, which slowed it down. But when those oil prices start going back up again, look out, I mean that's a lot of money that just keeps getting vented abroad, its exporting our capital, it's producing it in manufacturing complexes that are all over the world, not in the United States, people a lot of people to work all over the world, not in the United States. And now it's coming home to roost after, you know, a solid 20 years of that, in the year 2000 we had the stock market bubble burst. We're still getting away with a little bit, we're still benefiting form super cheap big screen TVs and extra cheap computers, but boy I mean if you're in manufacturing you know you probably don't have a job, you're working at Wal Mart.
Stephan: Well, you know, and you will read certain economists, they'll talk about, hey this is great, see, there is so much capacity out there for work to be done very cheaply and that has a counter inflationary, i.e. you know, in the popular vernacular, i.e. as the cost of good, but that cheap labor out there has a counter inflationary effect and is tremendously good. And all well and good, okay, except for the fact that you have mentioned, when you keep creating money out of thin air and lending it to people to keep sending it abroad, foreigners will take that for a while, they may take it for a long while. But there will come a point in time where they're going to say, hey there's nothing backing this money, we've got what we need over here, we have our own demand over here, and we make everything over here, we don't need your money anymore okay? And that's the direction that it's headed too. So, fundamentals are fundamentals, and you really, you can dance around them and you can use all the hyperbole that you want to use and you can act like economics is some mystical science but, it's not. And real money is real money, you can't spend more than you have for very long, and the repercussions will come around.
Yeah, it's true and people you know, say where's the inflation in the United States, I don't see it. And then you remind them, well what's happened to gasoline prices lately. What's happened to the price of, here's another headline today, Baked Goods Prices on the Rise. And they're talking about you know, some bakers are making some better profits in dollar terms, but that's largely because the price that they're charging is going up because the ingredients are going up. Flour and corn, base sweeteners and, consider the stupid law that we had passed for ethanol in the past year where basically you know, thank to the Agri Lobby, which is Archers Daniel Midland and multimillion-dollar corporations lobbying heavily. You have corn based ethanol redirecting corn and getting it into the energy, less efficient than existing oil, requires a lot more input into than you get [...] yet, you know, it was lobbied into existence. So now we have ethanol, consuming all this corn and what's going on south of the border? Well, have you heard about the Tortilla Ride, Stephan?
Stephan: I beg your pardon? The Tortilla Ride? It's in Mexico?
Stephan: No.. no, I have not heard about that.
75 thousand people have been protesting the rising prices of tortillas in Mexico. Yeah, and it's been going on, I mean on one hand people are like, yeah, who cares about that. But no, it's basically poor Mexicans are relying on tortilla, which is corn based for their diet. And what's happening is there's been a crunch thanks to our ethanol push and not to mention all these extra dollars chasing around the price of corn, the price is going up. And they can't afford their basic food. So, you know, you ought to start looking globally at prices. You've got to start looking outside of your own front door here in the U.S., it's nice to be all comfy and not have to worry about anything else other than, you know, hey the dollar is what we use, who cares what's happening elsewhere. But look outside your front door or look beyond your nose a little bit because you got to, you know, pay attention to that kind of stuff because there are a lot of indicators that are telling us that inflation is alive and well. Just because you got a cheap big screen TV doesn't mean that prices are not going up or there's not a global shift happening right now economically.
Stephan: Again, you know, the U.S., the major export of America as Peter Schiff said is inflation. And this inflation trickles over into other countries and the fact that they print more money so that they're currency does not get that strong relative to ours, benefiting their exports et cetera, et cetera. Well, the problem, as it's been said so perfectly, inflation first spilled over into the stock market, this newly created money through the 90's, then it spilled over into the housing market, but now it's spilled over into the supermarket. And, basically that's where things become very painful. The cheap goods that you got, the fun side on the front end, the cheap goods that you continue to get at Wal Mart, or that you got at Wal Mart in the end that's going to translate, that money floating around is going to spill over into the supermarket, and all of the sudden you're going to be looking at a two or three dollar, you know, whatever it is for a dozen eggs. And you can see it, it's not so subtle anymore, these price increases, and everybody knows it.
Yeah, absolutely and, you know, the interesting thing is in the U.S., I mean the markets are supposedly the judges of what's going on in the economy; good economies and the markets do well, lousy economies and the markets are not supposed to be doing so well, especially in advance, they're supposed to be somewhat predictive. And yet here we have the U.S. equity indexes telling us that everything is rosy in the U.S., but the bond market indexes are not so confident. And just over the past couple of weeks we've seen a big rise in the 10-year treasury, and that's going to start affecting mortgage people. We haven't mentioned it yet today, but you know, they were detailed, the housing bubble is a huge problem in the U.S. And a few weeks ago we posted up an article on the Washington D.C. condo market environment, it's really worth a read. You can pull it up there, we might pop a link up there as to reference it back to you, so you can take a look at it there. But you know there's so much in this economy that has yet to shake out relative to the housing bubble and the biggest concern are the adjustable rate mortgages which are coming due, or I say the three biggest concerns, the adjustable rate mortgages coming due, so many people could not afford to get into homes so they had to squeeze themselves away from the traditional 30 year mortgage, which is your most affordable. And here we are in an environment where your interest rates are at 50 year lows, and yet people can't afford the housing with the conventional 30 year mortgage and they've got to go with one of these adjustable, which are fine for a couple of years until their teaser rate vanishes and then you have to go out there and acquire the mortgage or pay the mortgage at the current prevailing rate, which fluctuates if you cannot re-fi. Now, consequently, a lot of people were banking on being able to re-fi when that adjustable rate mortgage came due and lock in a 30 year. But now what you're seeing is that the mortgage market is having liquidity issues, especially on the marginal side where marginal borrowers, your high risk borrowers, there was so much liquidity out there for a number of years, where the sub prime mortgage market, which is for the people who ordinarily wouldn't have qualified a few years back...you know during this decade everybody pretty much who wanted a mortgage, if you had a pulse you could get one. They weren't even bothering to double-check your income sources, they weren't bothering to check your residency status or anything else, and anybody could get a mortgage. And now those people are facing adjustable rate mortgages coming due, and they don't have the financing available to them to lock in the 30 year, and who knows if they'd even be able to qualify for a 30 year at those higher rates because the higher rates are always there when you're dealing with 30 years and an adjustable teaser rate. Now these resets are going to come in and a lot of people are going to get whacked, and there's not going to be that liquidity there to help bail them out, at least from the market. And that leads me to the next point, which is, if that really starts gridlocking here, they're seeing problems off in Britain and Britain has been somewhat of a leading indicator in the housing market relative to what's going on here, theirs has locked up a bit as well, and I think what you're going to see is the Fed trying to provide a lot of liquidity to bail that out.
Stephan: Absolutely. I think that's potentially what we're looking at. And as we've said before, don't be surprised if you see a 20 thousand Dow, you know, at some point in time. But again you're going to see the 40-dollar Pizza. And I think the mega trend is we try to instruct our folks that we know and the listeners out there, the mega trend, the fix is in on the mega trend, and the mega trend is inflationary. Massive amounts of inflation. It's happening right now and you need to be prepared for it.
Not a doubt. Not a doubt about that at all. Yeah, one of the things that was also out there in the news this week, and this is something that we've been covering for a while. We did an interview towards the end of last year with Robert Blumen, and he's an occasional contributor, he's a well schooled person in Austrian economics and occasional contributor to Mises.org which is a valuable resource to anyone who wants to understand the Austrian business cycle theory and important economic perspective that you're not getting out there. The conventional wisdom has scrapped it because it's very inconvenient, you actually have to pay for stuff with savings and production, they'd rather just be able to print money out of thin air, at least that's what Wall Street likes to do so they can finance and charge off of that money. But the Austrians are very conservative about that, say it's bad. Well, we interviewed Robert Blumen last year and talked about the potential of central banks to be getting in to the business of using liquidity to acquire investments in the stock market, actually getting into the capital markets. And what that translates into is central banks conceivably would take their reserves and rather than you know, doing stuff with bonds with them, or even with gold, which a lot of them keep handy, they're talking about investing now in the world stock markets. And there's an article, financialtimes.com, IMF Advised to sell 6.6 billion dollars of gold. International monetary fund should sell 6.6 billion, was the recommendation from an expert panel on Wednesday. They basically were saying that they should be going out there and trying to get better rates of return than they're able to get. Are you kidding me? I mean -
Stephan: Johannes, Johannes...
That's basically selling gold, investing the proceeds into the stock market, in other words if you're going to try to deflate gold and you're going to try to inflate equities further -
Stephan: Mark Faber, Dr. Faber wrote a great article on that recently, and it gave a hypothetical, basically, you know as opposed to country's islands or island nations etc.. and it was excellent. When you get to the point where central banks begin to purchase the securities of their own respective countries or even other countries, what that is, is that is very, very close to the end game. It's the last bullet in the gun used to prop up markets. And that is the beginning of the real end. And remember, when central banks like the Fed buy anything, the money they come up with is created out of thin air. They stroke a check and that money is not there. And they create that money and that is inflationary. And any bail out, like GM, when they buy government bonds, so that government has the money to bail them out, all the way back to WWII, alright, loaning money to England and France that basically came back to the United States and doubled the money supply. That's a bail out, okay? Make no bones about it, that is a bail out. And yeah, they may initially sell some gold to get some money to buy into the stock market, but then they're going to sell, you can't keep selling gold and nobody in their right mind would get rid of all their true money. And when they do buy in, and that may be a smoke screen, we don't know, okay? But when they do buy in, that money, that's bail out money. That's going to be inflationary and watch out after that.
There's not doubt. The risk that they run, and this is something I mentioned last week is that you know, everybody is all comfortable with people calling the Goldilocks economy, which is you know, not too hot, not too cold, everything is perfect, and that's very much the mentality of most on Wall Street all the way down to the retail level where we operate day to day. And yet what we're seeing there is an economy that is simultaneously both too hot and too cold, depending on where you're looking. We've had problems with inflationary, you know price inflation on things that you can't print out of thin air. And yet you're looking at depressed incomes and so forth. So, it is going to be interesting to see how they're going to try to balance that because you know they've created a new bubble to bail out the old bubble. We had the equity bubble and you know, while we're talking about the equity bubble I may as well point out that was a sign of inflation. And most people will tell you, you know we didn't see any inflation for the longest time, you know, we got inflation, Fed conquered inflation in the 80's after Paul Volker came in, he made some tough, you know, sacrifices, we all had to make tough sacrifices in the early 80's. and you know all those steelworkers that lost their jobs and manufacturing, yada yada yada, so on, so forth. But look what happened in the 80's and the 90's we had this great boom and all this productivity miracles and everybody was getting rich by investing in the stock market and the bond markets. Well, there's not doubt that those prices went up but they were the direct beneficiaries of equities and fixed income of a lot of that inflationary money trying to find a home. And what ultimately happens with any inflation is that you know, I was talking about this earlier, is you dislocate the currency, the purchasing power from responsible people and you put it in hot hands, the same way it happened in the 20's, you had the big collapse, you had the dot.com bubble and you know, boy we have short memories in this country. But just think, a few years ago we were piling, you know IPO money, you know, Initial Public Offering, stock offerings, 50 million dollars into 26 year old hands simply because it was on a dot.com. It didn't matter whether a company had any profits, balance sheets, schmalance sheets, we didn't care about that. It was the new era of investing. And we were talking about click through rates, and I rates, and you know, I blink rates, that kind of thing, so how many views does a site get. And that was much better than looking at earnings Stephan, because it was the new environment. What a load of garbage it was and you know, voila, 2 years later, the Nasdaq technology, the whole technology sector drops 78 percent and tons of companies had vanished along the sock puppet of pets.com, all get sucked into the vortex. That is an inflationary bubble at its end, and that is what happens. A lot of good money got sucked into that, a lot of people who were not being as crazy about investing on sock puppets [...] dot.com. But what happens if you are a guy who was servicing the dot.com companies, maybe you were selling tables or desks or you were selling computers or whatever it might have been. All those resources that you were building up and you know maybe open a new branch in San Francisco to service the dot.coms. Same thing's happened right now with the housing. We're now in the back end, the bubble has peaked, it's now sloping downward, think of how many people who started working related to housing over the last six years, since 2002, with the recession, there are people who were estimating were from 40 to 50 percent of all jobs created during that period were related to housing in one form or another, whether it's related to home depot, whether you're working for Whirlpool, you know everybody is scrapping their old dishwashers, getting new dishwashers. All this housing related boom from home equity withdrawals and building new homes, all that kind of stuff, now what? The bubble is bursting, there's no where for money to be generated out of super low mortgage rates, the momentum has stopped, where are they going to find the liquidity now?
Stephan: Absolutely, you know, and it's interesting and hoping back from the political side, Johannes I think what we're also going to see is you know interesting piece that came out a few days ago, the secretary of treasury Henry Paulson is you know, trying to broker a deal between both parties and Social Security overhaul and when you read between the lines, while Bush is against any increase of taxes, you can see that the increase in the taxes is what a lot of people are looking at. And to me, again, that's inflationary in its nature, just simply because of this. We were told in the early 80's by both parties that taxes need to be increased simply because in 2016 at the current rate Social Security would start paying out from a demographic standpoint simply would start paying out more benefits than it took in, in taxes. So the average American went along with that massive Social Security tax increase, so we were told that the money would be put in a trust find. And they all, both parties knew, both parties knew that the 1939 Social Security act stated that any surplus funds not paid out that year must be invested in government bonds. And folks, when you buy a government bond that is a loan to the government that they immediately spent. Alright, so the money was spent. And, let's give you a parallel to that, if your employer said, look, I'm going to take an additional amount of your pay out, so that you really have enough, so that you can catch up with inflation, we're going to sock it away for you, and you'll be fine. And low and behold you found out that you're employer took that money and spent it on his business where you are employed, that's a jail-able offence, okay? That's a jail-able offence. So, any Social Security tags that increase, you shake your head, it's sad that its needed, you shake your head, but that's inflationary in its own nature and the politicians did it to us, on both sides of the aisle, they knew what the money would be used for, and now there is no money, and now it's becoming clear, you even hear it's said out loud, there is no trust fund. And why would you trust what they're going to do now?
Absolutely. And again you know we talked about it before, about monkeying with the inflationary inflater for your benefits and so forth to reduce the ultimate payment. And that was part of the softening up that was going on. I mean it was scripted it seemed with the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and the congressional committee about a week and half ago where you had you know, gee how are we going to balance this all out and to going back and forth and conveniently the conversation turns over to how CPI is calculated. And if you reduce the inflation factor, you don't have to grow your benefit obligations as rapidly.
Stephan: Johannes, can I make one more point, I just wanted to, on the Social Security side, I think the key thing in life, let alone economics is to try to see four, five steps down the road. You know, I think that it's inevitable that with Social Security, what you're going to see is increased taxation to pay more benefits. I think folks will be means tested out of it i.e. if you make too much money, you know you're just not going to receive the benefit. And like I said, if you make 150,000 a year, a hundred percent that you're pay taxes and remember folks, when you pay that 7 and a half percent or so, Social Security, Medicare, you're not just paying 7 and a half percent, there's another equal amount that your employer pays that they could not pay you in salary, alright? And here's another thing, there are proposals out there that I'm sure the financial industry will like very much, to create personal retirement accounts, i.e. to privatize and to buy stocks and bonds. Now do you think that, you know, what's the main risk there, that people put money in there and the markets collapse. Do you think there will be government intervention if those things are allowed? Do you think the potential increases or decreases for government intervention, i.e. buying into the markets to prevent a financial collapse of those accounts. If those accounts are allowed, bet on government intervention, bet on central banks buying into those markets to help prop them up, but remember, that's a bail out, that's a subsidy, and that's inflationary in its own right. No doubt about it. Well, moving on here, we're getting close to the end of the show here. I wanted to dip into the mailbag today with some questions that we get from readers. And again you can always email us by going to vigilantinvestor.com, and we have a contact us form there if you have a question you can do it that way, or you can just simply email to me firstname.lastname@example.org that's email@example.com, any questions we'll take them there. But, Steve from looks like he is from the Brentwood area of California has a question, basically what do we think of the mood in Congress to raise the minimum wage as well as what has happened in California with the initiative from the "governator" with health care? You know, a couple of things there I think that you know again today the senate has okayed the minimum wage law to increase wages to 7.25 an hour. And they also put in a few tax sweeteners for small business and so forth. That's all fine and dandy, but for God's sakes, how many complex hoops do we need for small businesses to have to comply with? I mean all this crap that Congress creates, you know as, you know it's like a mine field and they plant a new one every other day, and businesses have to navigate it and they've got to chase their stupid tax breaks here and there. And it reminds me of being in Pittsburgh where, you know, you've got these politician that make the environment so crazy for businesses that new ones, the only ones that are showing up are the ones that are politically connected enough to qualify for them and they end up scaring a lot of business away that want nothing to do with that kind of an environment, because a lot of times what you see is it lures in competition and puts out the existing business that doesn't qualify. But, back to the minimum wage, I'm not a fan of having the carrot you know and stick kind for premise of tax rules, because who knows what kind of garbage was in that. But, are we crazy with minimum wages in this country? We cannot compete already globally, and already we have the minimum wage going up for unskilled labor in the United States to make it that much more prohibitive for small businesses to hire someone that happens not to be skilled in the U.S. And you know, that's the reality of it, and we're going to end up driving, you know, there's two solutions to this kind of problem, it's been happening since they created the minimum wage. Either you get, you either lay people off, number one, number two replace them with new technology or number three you go abroad. And what you have here is Congress pandering to economic illiteracy, there's not one respected economist except the ones that are socialists out there that are trying to gradually move this country more and more towards pure socialism, that will tell you that minimum wage actually works out and that people will do well with it. And here we have Congress pandering to you know the political body out there to political illiteracy and to economic illiteracy, and they're passing minimum wage laws. I think it's crazy, and as for the "governator," no different there, it's no wonder that more and more people can't afford health care. If you keep providing more and more free sides, people catch on pretty quickly and decide they don't want to buy it anymore. And they drop off the [...] where they can't afford it anymore, so they drop off the payers side and they end up on the other side, just like a balance sheet. If you're not paying, you're one the receiving. And the more people that end up from one side to the other, it just makes it that much harder for the private sector to offer health care. And we wonder why everybody has to pay more and more health care these days. It gets more and more socialized by the day. If you think that we have a free market health care problem, we don't. We have a quasi-social health care problem in this country. And that's why it keeps getting more and more expensive year after year, far ahead of the inflationary rate. It's just the more you let the government get its hands in there, the worse it's going to get. But if that's what you want people, that's what you're going to get. So you better go to the polls to create some change there. But I wouldn't suspect it in California, which is a hot bed of sort of leftism and socialism and that kind of stuff. You know it's great forward thinking, but like they say Stephan, as California goes, the whole country goes, it's similar to how GM goes the whole country goes. You know, GM is basically going under water and I think it's a harbinger to what's you know, we can expect with Social Security in the U.S. as a whole with its 4.6 trillion dollars of obligations that it cannot afford today, they're just going to keep getting rolled over to tomorrow. California's basically showing us the road map to a serious, you know, economic breakdown and being able to you know get free lunches away the tab's going to come due and look out when it does. And it is coming due as we speak.
Stephan: You're right.
Okay, well any other comments, we've got about two minutes left for our hour and we probably want to wrap up there.
Stephan: Well, I think the year continues to get interesting, and I think that the housing shake out is far from over and we will not know yet the ripple effect, what of these sub prime loans shaking out or being defaulted on etc.. and that is in its own right is nowhere near the end. We don't know the ripple effect of the slowdown in building etc.. what that's going to have on the jobs market. And the stock market from a technical standpoint is showing some indication that the S&P that it may be reaching a peak. And there are those out there you know, who say, and again, the technical standpoint that it has not hit the 4 year cycle low. So, what I find interesting personally, it's no matter what the news is, the S&P goes up, you know the jobs report is bad, the S&P goes up. OPEC is going to cut energy, the S&P goes up. No matter what and when you start to see it disconnect from reality like that and good news is found in bad news, that's where we tend to say we utilize our gut feeling, you know, watch out, be careful out there because the situation that, the set up for the whole scenario is not good from a fundamental standpoint, we've just elaborated on all of that during the show. But there are indications out there that it is time to be extremely careful at this moment. And how this all pans out will be really intriguing. Also surprised by the resiliency of gold and the resiliency of silver.
Just to continue with the market wrap up that we start, usually do it every week - the VIX, CBOE volatility index Stephan is trading at 10.09 today, and that is down you know, a good bit, it was trading in the 12's just a few weeks ago and here we are again the difference is showing there. And you know, it's you know, we've been worried about the complete indifference to volatility for a long while and by volatility we simply mean the VIX is an indicator of basically Wall Street's view on what's happening out there relative to volatility expectations and traders will actually play the volatility index in order to shield themselves against expected volatility. Well when it's trading as cheaply as it is, 10.09, it's virtually nothing. It's basically at 14-year lows when we're looking at the 10 level, far lower than we were in 1999. It's telling you that Wall Street is supremely confident, that there's not going to be much volatility. Another indicator out there that has been alarming to us, and the fact we're in agreement with you know the likes of Abby Joseph Khan who had a chance to sit in on a conference call with earlier this week. You know, when she's worried about the spreads in bonds, you know, the yields spreads, and when we talk about yields spreads are you know, there's a low risk bond and then there's a higher risk bond, theoretically you should be getting a lot better rate of return if you're lending to a higher risk company. And ordinarily the spread between, let's say U.S. treasury and junk bond, you know, a C rated junk bond, you know, a lender that's not as secure. The gap is dramatically [...] right now we're sitting at very, very narrow spreads. The different between that is that it is still far below its average and in territory that just simply indicates that people are very, very indifferent to risk. And that is something that we expect cannot last forever. And our concern with that is that so many people have to try to expand on those levels of returns have used borrowing to sort of double down on their investments to try to leverage up their rate of return and they do that by borrowing at super, super low borrowing rates and then they invest in higher risk assets and you know, that's all fine and dandy as long as something doesn't break. And that's our concern with the sub prime market right now is that things are breaking in the sub prime market as we speak and it will be interesting to see how that happens. A bunch of lenders have gone under water just since December. So, with that we probably ought to wrap up Stephan, we've gone a full hour here. Everybody, make sure you tune in next well we'll be on 3:30 Friday PM live, Vigilant Investor, we're always here for you. And of course you can subscribe to us as we always remind you via vigilantinvestor.com, and iTunes and so forth, great service that Talk Shoe has that you can just listen to our streamcast live and if you're interested in doing that on Fridays or you can subscribe to our Podcast recording of the show afterwards and you know, be equally pleased with you know, catching up on the show that way and keeping an eye on stuff. But with that Stephan, we probably should wrap up. I just want to remind all of our listeners that nothing we're offering here today is investment advice. We're not suggesting that anything we're talking about is an investment. Always consult a professional before you make any decisions about your portfolios and so forth. We're not guaranteeing anything and please be very cautious out there folks, we just, if anything we're recommending is just be careful with what you're doing and that's purely from an economic [...] standpoint. Things are a little bit of out whack folks and just want to make sure that nobody is getting hurt out there. So, take care folks, this is Johannes Ernharth, Stephan Ernharth for Vigilant Investor.