Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Rise and Fall of American Democracy

Alexander Tytler (1747-1813) was a Scottish-born English lawyer and historian. Reportedly, Tytler was critical of democracies, pointing to the history of democracies such as Athens and its flaws, cycles, and ultimate failures. Although the authenticity of his following quote is often disputed, the words have eerie relevance today:A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government.A democracy will continue to exist up until the time voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by dictatorship.The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:• From bondage to spiritual faith;• From spiritual faith to great courage;• From courage to liberty;• From liberty to abundance;• From abundance to complacency;• From complacency to apathy;• From apathy to dependence;• From dependence back to bondage.Tytler's Cycle and the U.S.In looking at American history, we can see Tytler's sequence in action. In 1620, the Pilgrims sailed to America to escape the religious bondage imposed by the Church of England. Their spiritual faith carried them to the new world.Because of their deep faith, the Pilgrims left England in spite of the high percentage of deaths incurred by earlier American settlements. For example, when Jamestown, Virginia, was founded in 1607, 70 of the 108 settlers died in the first year. The following winter only 60 of 500 new settlers lived. Between 1619 and 1622, the Virginia Company sent 3,600 more settlers to the colony, and over those three years 3,000 would die.In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed. From spiritual faith the new Americans were garnering great courage. By crafting the Declaration of Independence, the colonists knew they were essentially declaring war on the most powerful country in the world -- England.With the onset of the Revolutionary War, the colonists were moving from courage to liberty, following Tytler's sequence. By demanding their independence and being willing to fight for it, a new democracy was born. This new democracy grew rapidly for nearly 200 years.Then, in 1933, the U.S. was thrown into the Great Depression and elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt as president. Facing total economic collapse, Roosevelt took the U.S. dollar off the gold standard. At the same time, Germany, also in financial crisis, elected Adolf Hitler as its leader. World War II soon followed.In 1944, with WWII coming to an end, the Bretton Woods Agreement was signed by the world powers and the U.S. dollar, once again backed by gold, became the reserve currency of the world.After the war, America passed England, France, and Germany to become the new world power. Having entered the war late, the U.S. emerged as the creditor nation to the world. Our factories weren't bombed and the world owed us money. The U.S. grew rich financing the rebuilding of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. The American democracy was transitioning from liberty to abundance -- maybe too much abundance.In 1971 President Nixon violated the Bretton Woods Agreement by taking the U.S. dollar off the gold standard because America was spending more than it was producing and the U.S. gold reserves were being depleted.In 1972 Nixon visited China to open the door for trade. What followed was the biggest economic boom in history -- a boom fueled by the U.S. borrowing money through the sale of bonds to China, one of the world's poorest countries at that time. The sale of these bonds financed a growing U.S. trade deficit. China produced low-cost goods, and we paid for them with money borrowed from the Chinese workers.American factory production, which had fueled the American boom after WWII, was "shipped" overseas along with high-paying American jobs. America was shifting from abundance to complacency. Rather than produce, we borrowed and printed money to maintain our standard of living.In 1976 America celebrated its 200th anniversary as a democracy. Rather than produce, we kept borrowing to finance social-welfare programs. Over the next three decades or so, America slid from complacency to apathy.In 2007 the subprime crisis reared its ugly head. And by 2010, unemployment increased to double-digits, even as the rich got richer. Once-affluent people walked away from homes they could no longer afford. The U.S. moved from apathy to dependence.Today we're dependent upon China to finance our debt as well as fill our stores with cheap products. At the same time, millions of Americans are becoming dependent upon the government to take care of them. If Tytler is correct, the American democracy is presently moving from dependence back to bondage.Filling the VoidHistory reminds us that dictators and despots arise during times of severe economic crisis. Some of the more infamous despots are Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Napoleon. I find it interesting that the U.S. is now dependent upon Chairman Mao's creation, the People's Republic of China, for the things that we buy and the money that we borrow.To me, this is spooky, foreboding, and ominous. While the Chinese people, as a rule, are good people, my business dealings with Communist Chinese officials have left me disturbed and concerned about the rise of the Chinese Empire. As you know, China doesn't plan on becoming a democracy. With money, factories, a billion people to feed, and a massive military, could they put the free world into bondage?Although I don't like the way the Chinese do business, I continue to do business in China. I have to. They're the next world power. I cautiously believe that trade, business, and understanding offer better options for world peace and prosperity than isolationism. Now the Western world must seek to grow stronger financially as China continues to gain power. To do this, our schools need to offer more sophisticated financial education to children of all ages.This is not the time to be complacent or apathetic. This is the time to think globally. Putting up trade barriers would be disastrous. Instead, it's time our schools train students to be entrepreneurs who export to the world rather than employees looking for jobs that are being exported to low-wage countries.Please be clear. I don't fear the Chinese. I fear our own growing weakness. Only a weak people can be oppressed. Today, America has too many people looking to the government for financial salvation.In 1620 the Pilgrims fled the spiritual oppression of the Church of England. Today Americans may need to flee the financial oppression of our own government as our democracy dies. If we follow Tytler's cycle for democracy, our financial dependence will lead us to financial bondage.

What’s Worse Than a Depression?

"Is the crisis over?"
"Is the economy recovering?"
These are questions I'm often asked. People who ask such questions are praying for a "V-shaped" recovery, hoping that the worst is over and that we're on our way to economic recovery.
Some experts say that we're in a "U-shaped" recovery, meaning the recovery will take longer, maybe another two to three years. Others fear a "W-shaped recovery," a double dip, which could result in another crash before full recovery. Some experts are calling for a zombie recovery similar to the Japanese economy's 20-year stagnation.
There's also a growing chorus of experts who are warning of our greatest fear, a depression either in the form of hyperinflation like the German Weimar Republic experienced in the 1920s, or a deflationary depression like the Great Depression.
A depression would be devastating, but could there be something worse than a depression?
The answer is, "Yes." There could be an economic collapse.
Near Miss
In 2008 my friend and author of The Dollar Crisis and The Corruption of Capitalism, Richard Duncan, called me and said, "The global credit card system almost shut down. Can you imagine what would've happened to the world economy if the credit card system failed? We came very close."
Richard is not an alarmist. He's a classically trained economist, a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Babson College, and a former advisor to both the IMF and the World Bank. He has access to information most of us don't. He's a reserved, clear-thinking, soft-spoken person. For over a year now, Richard's words have been ringing in my ears.
For me, the key word is system. For something to collapse, not all systems have to shut down. In most cases, just one system is enough. For example, the human body is a system of systems. If just one system, such as the cardiovascular system, shuts down, death follows. The same is true for an automobile. If the fuel system shuts down, the car is inoperable even though the other systems may all be in good order.
Many of us go about our days in blissful ignorance that an economic collapse could happen at any moment should one of our financial systems -- like the credit card system -- collapse. Our global economy is much more fragile than many of us realize.
The world is made up of systems, systems often competing against one another. For instance, BP's latest gusher in the Gulf brought home the fragile relationship between the world's eco and economic systems. The environmentalists say capitalism is killing our oceans, air, land, and forests. Capitalists argue that they provide food, fuel, and building materials for a growing world.
Because the world is made up of systems in conflict, it's not only uncommon (but, rather, normal) to see systems collapse.
History is full of economic collapses from the Roman Empire to Weimar Germany to, most recently, Iceland. Economic collapses most often precede the collapse of empires.
In families, if the breadwinners lose their jobs, the family economy often collapses.
We should not be surprised when collapses happen. Rather, we should be surprised they don't happen more often.
As you may have already guessed, a minor collapse can create a ripple effect that may cause a domino effect of bigger crashes. This is why Greece was such a hot issue. If Greece failed, it might have taken the mighty German and French economies down. This would have caused an economic tsunami and collapsed the world economy.
Jared Diamond's Collapse is a great book for history buffs of collapses. Diamond traces the causes that led to the fall of civilizations such as the Maya, Easter Island, the Anasazi Indian tribe of Arizona and Utah, the environmental and economic collapse going on in Montana today, and more. The book reads like a murder mystery. It's easy to read, disturbing, frightening -- and hard to put down. Looking into the history of collapses, we see many parallels to today.
And, it seems to me, we know this intuitively. Our pop culture is becoming obsessed with apocalyptic stories. There are more and more movies about what would happen to our world after a collapse. The latest are 2012, The Road, and The Book of Eli. There is a new TV series titled The Colony that is created on the same theme. Even TV commercials are picking up on the post-apocalyptic world. Bridgestone tires runs a commercial about a rogue gang of dark and dangerous looking thugs stopping a car on a steep mountain road demanding, "Your Bridgestones or your life." The driver throws out a gorgeous, sexy, long-legged young woman, turns around and drives off with the thugs screaming, "Your life, not your wife!"
Judging History
So the question becomes, if the world's economic systems are so fragile, and if collapses are common in a world of competing systems, why are we not talking more about the possibility of collapse? Obviously our leaders don't want us talking or thinking about that. And they try hard to frame the discussion so we don't.
Most people would agree (including many historians) that the best way to anticipate the future is to study the past. But what if our version of history is wrong? What if our history is distorted to sell an agenda? After all, the word "history" is made up of two words: his and story.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Princeton University scholar of the Great Depression, often says that the depression could have been averted if only the government had printed more money. That's his story, but that's not what history says.
After the crash of 1929, FDR was elected in 1933. He immediately took the U.S. off the gold standard through the Emergency Banking Act and introduced his New Deal. This allowed him to print more money and rack up huge amounts of national debt. At first it seemed that FDR's plan was working.
Yet in 1938 there was a "depression within the depression." Economic output collapsed and the unemployment rate rose from 14.3% to 19%, in the face of a year-over-year decline from the peak of 24.9% in 1933.
History proves Bernanke's claim (that FDR didn't print enough money) to be wrong. This is what Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, wrote in his diary in May 1939: "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and now if I am wrong, somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosper. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of this administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started. And enormous debt to boot."
World War II broke out in 1939 and many people credit that war with saving the economy. While the war did boost the recovery, it was the Bretton Woods Agreement, signed in 1944, that put the world back on the gold standard, which stabilized the global economy.
Back to the Future
In 1971 President Richard Nixon took the world off the gold standard. Here we are again on the edge of a new depression. After the last depression, America emerged as the richest creditor nation in the world. Because our homeland wasn't bombed like the European countries, we had factories exporting products to a world rebuilding from the war.
Today leaders like Ben Bernanke want to rewrite history. They want us to believe that spending and debt are the solution. They want us to buy their version of history and continue to get deeper and deeper into debt. They want us to trust that printing more money will pull us out of our great recession.
True history speaks a different story. It speaks of collapse when a nation or empire overextends itself. The true fear should not be a depression or a double-dip recession. It should be an economic collapse. You can only tip the system so many times before it falls completely apart.
Today America is the biggest debtor nation in the world. Our factories have moved overseas. Now we're net importers paying our bills and fighting two wars with counterfeit money as our leaders use the same accounting rules WorldCom and Enron used -- and as you know, those companies no longer exist.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Think the Gulf Spill Is Bad? Wait Until the Next Disaster

Think the Gulf Spill Is Bad? Wait Until the Next Disaster


The world knows BP is a disaster, a monster of a disaster. BP's disaster makes Hurricane Katrina look like a rain shower.
Every time a TV news station shows oil gushing from a broken pipe -- one mile below the ocean's surface -- the world gets sick. Scenes of oil-soaked pelicans struggling for life both angers and saddens us. The financial losses endured by small businesses and fishermen cannot be imagined, let alone conveyed by the media interviews. BP is a disaster with a scope beyond comprehension.
I was in England when President Barack Obama blamed and criticized BP for this tragedy. His criticism sparked the anger of the British. Politicians wanted him to tone it down, to be more careful in his choice of words. British Prime Minister David Cameron told Obama not to "go after BP for the sake of it." Virgin's Richard Branson said he was "kicking a company while it was on its knees." Their concern was not for the environment or those suffering the ravages of this disaster. Their concern was for the pensioners who are counting on BP for a secure retirement.
On June 17, London's Daily Mail ran a headline screaming, "Obama Bullies BP into £13.5bn Fund for Oil Spill Victims... but British Pensioners will Pick Up the Bill." The British are angry with Obama for pressuring BP to suspend dividend payments and set aside $20 billion for the cleanup. Obama's strong-arm position has not only affected British pensioners, who own 40% of BP, but American pension funds, who own 39%, as well. In other words, the economic damage of the BP disaster goes far beyond the Gulf. The damage is spreading to pensions, pensioners, and portfolios all around the world.
An Atmosphere Changed
While in London, I decided to go to dinner at Canary Wharf, ground zero for the next BP. Only a few years ago, Canary Wharf was one of the centers of the financial universe. Condo prices were sky high, offices were packed, and high-paid bankers filled Canary Wharf with wealth and excitement. Today, Canary Wharf seems to be dying. It has lost its vibrancy. Many restaurants and offices were nearly empty and there were few lights to be seen in those once-high-priced condos.
And Canary Wharf's ‘BP' stands for Bomb Production. Canary Wharf is much like AIG, a factory for exotic financial products known as derivatives. The problem is that most people do not know what these murky and mysterious products are -- and that includes the people who make them or buy them. It's why Warren Buffett has called derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction." That is how powerful they are. During World War II, a ship exploded while loading bombs for transport at Port Chicago, California. The explosion flattened everything for miles. It is said that the ship's anchor, which weighed tons, was found more than six miles away. Derivatives -- financial bombs -- have the same power if they accidently detonate inside a bank's balance sheet.
The subprime disaster was a result of financial bombs -- derivatives -- exploding in financial institutions such as AIG and Lehman Brothers, as well as banks and financial institutions throughout the world. After the bombs AIG manufactured exploded, AIG received $181 billion in taxpayer funding and immediately sent $11.9 billion to France's Société Générale, $11.8 billion to Deutsche Bank, and $8.5 billion to Barclays Bank of Britain. U.S. taxpayer money was going to bailout banks around the world. During the last three months of 2008, AIG was losing more than $27 million an hour. That is how powerful these derivatives can be. The problem I see is this: There are many more such bombs still sitting in balance sheets all over the world.
Financial Bombs All Over the World
Military bombs are classified by weight: 500-, 750-, and 1,000-pound bombs. Financial bombs have interesting labels such as CDO (collateralized debt obligations), ABS (asset backed securities), and CDS (credit default swaps). While they sound exotic and sophisticated, when put in everyday language, a CDO is simply debt sold as an asset. And CDS, or swaps, are simply a form of insurance.
Since the insurance industry is strictly regulated, and the bomb factories producing CDS did not want to comply with insurance industry regulations, they simply called them ‘swaps,' rather than insurance.
To make matters worse, rating agencies such as Moody's and S&P (and even Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan) blessed these financial bombs as safe, sound, and good for you. It was almost as good as the pope blessing these products. In 2007, the subprime boom busted, and we know what happened from there.
The problem is that approximately $700 trillion of these financial time bombs are still in the system. While people watch the BP disaster in the Gulf, few people are aware of the other BP, the financial bomb production that is still going on. If this derivative market begins to collapse, we will see another BP disaster.
Can't Clean Up the Next Disaster
Most of us know there is not enough money in the world to clean up the Gulf. The same is true with the $700 trillion derivatives market. If just 1% of the $700 trillion derivatives market goes bust, that is a $7 trillion disaster. The entire U.S. economy is only $14 trillion annually. A 10% failure, equating to $70 trillion, would probably bring down the world economy. As with the BP Gulf disaster, there is not enough money in the world to clean up the next BP disaster.
Could such a financial disaster happen? The answer is "Yes." In fact, just as President Obama pressured BP into doing the "right thing," he is also pressuring the financial markets to do the right thing. The president and our congressional leaders are pushing through financial reform legislation. My concern is that, if not handled delicately, it is this financial reform that will set off the derivative time bomb... the next BP.
Currently, derivatives are traded over-the-counter, also known as off-exchange trading. This means derivatives are uncontrolled, unregulated, and unsupervised. The proposed financial reform legislation is pushing to have derivatives traded through an exchange. This will bring greater transparency and control. My concern is, when this happens, the reform will reveal fraud and failures we do not yet know about today. It will be like turning on the light and watching the cockroaches (bankers) run for cover.
While it is commendable that President Obama holds the rich and powerful accountable, I wonder what the price will be.
How many BPs can we afford?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Rise of the Mega-Rich

The Rise of the Mega-Rich

The first decade of the 21st century is over. Many people find themselves off to a bad start. The new century began with the Y2K scare -- the threat of computers shutting down around the world. Then 9/11 came, followed by two long and expensive wars. The Nasdaq bubble and crash were followed by the real estate bubble then subprime crash, which led to the unprecedented printing of trillions of dollars in an attempt to prevent a global depression. The result is a lingering financial crisis that has expanded the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Most decades have their characters. In the 1960s, we had the hippies. By the 1970s the peace movement evolved into John Travolta and disco. In the 1980s, capitalists took center stage. Techies dominated the 1990s and suddenly geeks were cool.

The question is, what character will emerge to represent the first decade of the 21st century? Will it be the religious terrorists flying into tall buildings or the financial terrorists stealing our wealth from inside tall buildings? Will the first decade be known for Ponzi scheme notables such as Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford… or Social Security and mutual funds? Could it be known for odd couples such as Barack and Hillary or John and Sarah? Or will the first decade be known as the era of celebrity philandering with confessions from the likes of Tiger Woods, Elliot Spitzer, and John Edwards? (All three should get together to co-author a book entitled “Family First”.)

The Century's Exciting Start

All in all, the first decade was an exciting start to the 21st century. What will the second decade bring? What new character will emerge if hippies, disco-ducks, techies, and philanderers are yesterday’s news?

I believe there will be two newsworthy groups to emerge between 2010 and 2020. One big group will be the Dumpies, so named because life leaves them down in the dumps. Many in this group are old hippies who flourished during the ‘60s and forgot to grow up. Not all Dumpies were hippies. Many Dumpies became Dumpies simply because, like dinosaurs, they failed to notice the weather changing. They simply followed in their parents’ footsteps, faithfully believing that all they had to do was go to school, get a job, buy a house, save money, retire on a company pension, collect Social Security, and live happily ever after at the country club. The formula worked for their parents -- the WWII generation – so why shouldn’t it work for them?

The problem is, the rules of money changed. In 1971 President Nixon took the world off the gold standard and in 1974 the predecessor to the 401(k) plan emerged. Suddenly savers were losers as inflation took off, debtors were winners, and people turned to gambling with real estate and in the stock market as the guarantee of a retirement check for life disappeared.

In the coming decade, I believe we will be hearing more and more stories of Dumpies -- well educated, hard-working, successful, prosperous people who will find themselves out of time, out of money, and dependent upon government or family support in their golden years.

The New, the Young, the Prosperous

The second group you will hear more about is the new, young, global mega-rich. They are internationally minded plutocrats who are the beneficiaries of globalization and the technical revolution. They are being pushed along by the fall of communism, the spread of economic globalization, and the impact of the internet as technology makes information and communication free or almost free. Most are 40 or younger today.

This rise of the new global mega-rich is happening as established institutions are falling. The fall runs the gamut from the music business and traditional media to the Detroit automakers who find themselves obsolete, outmaneuvered, and out-priced by entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Mumbai, Shanghai, and even Siberia.

We live in an era of unprecedented opportunity for the smartest, most persistent, and creative among us. Whole new businesses will emerge around breakthrough products as revolutionary technologies accelerate capitalism’s creative destruction of slower industries.

In this second decade, you will see the middle class of the West being hollowed out, creating the Dumpies of the world…modern dinosaurs of the evolutionary process. Both globalization and technology will have a punishing impact on those without intellect, luck, or chutzpah to profit from the changes. Machines, technology, and cheap labor in low-wage countries have pushed down wages in the West, aggravating the financial crisis for the obsolete and ill-informed.

Unprecedented Openness

We live in an age of unprecedented openness. As stated earlier, technology has made information and communication free or almost free. There is more opportunity than ever before…yet that opportunity is largely theoretical: In America social mobility will reverse as many in the middle class become Dumpies.

Between 1997 and 2001 the gap was as follows:

1. The top 1% earned 24% of earnings growth.
2. The top 10% earned 49% of earnings growth.
3. The bottom 50% earned 13% of growth.

Until 2008 none of this seemed to matter. The wonderful inventions, such as iphones, ipods, Twitter, Google, and Facebook kept us entertained like kids at Disneyland.

At the same time, the expanding bubble of debt created a surreal environment of monetary nirvana. You could buy what you wanted, max out your credit cards, and pay off the cards with a home equity loan, as Santa’s sleigh ride continued. Who cared if the bottom 50% were being left behind? Who cared if the top 10% earned 49% of earning’s growth? Who cared if 10% of the population got richer while 90% were left behind? We had toys, we were hip, we had designer bling from China that made us look rich, and we could buy the house of our dreams for no money down. What could be better?

As this financial crisis lingers on, the gap between the new plutocracy and the new Dumpies is becoming a pressing political issue. During the 1960s, the hippies dropped acid and dropped out. Today, as Dumpies, the largest demographic group (a.k.a. baby boomers, approximately 75 million strong…of which I am one) may wake up and drop back in. If they do, who knows where the political process, driven by their hippie values, will go? This is why the second decade of the 21st century will be more important than the first.

Financial education is an important objective for this next decade. We cannot allow the gap to grow bigger. We must have financial education in our schools. Money will not close the gap -- only financial education will. If we do nothing, who knows what creature will emerge as the mascot of the new decade?

To see the future, look to the past. Throughout history, political despots have emerged during times of economic crisis. Some famous characters are Mao, Stalin, Napoleon, and Milosevic.

In 1933, four years after the 1929 crash, two figures arose from the Depression. One was Adolf Hitler. The other was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Many people believe Barack Obama is modeling himself after FDR. Which leads to the question: Who will play Hitler?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Doing the Dead Cat Bounce

Dow 5,000 in 2010?

In my last column I predicted a “dead cat bounce” in the stock market and a possible Dow plunge to 5,000 this year. Obviously, many readers mocked my prediction.

But the dead cat bounce is very important, especially in today’s market.

Simply put, ‘a dead cat bounce’ looks like Diagram 1 below:


The market crashes, rebounds, and runs out of steam, then crashes again…unfortunately, and possibly, to a lower low.
When professional investors observe a ‘dead cat’ forming, many will begin to sell. If their selling leads to a panic, the stock market goes even lower.

Putting today’s numbers to the ‘dead cat’ diagram gives this topic more meaning.

In 2002, the Dow hit a low of 7,286.

In 2007, the Dow hit a high of 14,164


In 2009 the Dow fell and stopped at 6,547.

Dow 6,547 is where the market stopped falling and the dead cat bounce began. At 6,547 the market was oversold and buyers came rushing back in, looking for bargains. The Dow headed back up, and a bear market rally began.

On February 5, 2010 the Dow closed at 10,012.

What Does This Mean?

So the question is, “What do these numbers mean to me?” The answer to that question depends upon you. If you are a bullish person, you will be optimistic, reassured by these numbers, and looking forward to the Dow breaking 14,000 soon.
If you are bearish, you will be waiting for the dead cat to finally die and for a double dip recession to begin.

One of the theorists (and writers) I follow is Richard Russell, a wise sage who is in tune with markets and the madness of crowds. He has been in the business for about 50 years, so he has the wisdom and perspective of time. Lately, he has been writing about the ‘50% Rule’ of Dow Theory. I thought I would pass it on to you because it may assist you in seeing the future of the economy, even if --like me -- you do not trade in stocks.

The following is my interpretation of the ‘50% Rule’ using real numbers.

In 2002 the low of the Dow was 7,286.

In 2007 the Dow hit a high of 14,164.

The ‘50% Rule ‘number is 10,725…the halfway point between 7,286 and 14,164.

In 2007, when the market headed down and broke 10,725, professional traders who follow the Dow Theory ‘50% Rule’ knew what was going to happen next. On March 9, 2009, the crash stopped at Dow 6,547.

On that day, what I believe is a ‘dead cat bounce’ began as the market moved up.

On January 19, 2010, the Dow stalled at 10,725 and headed down again. This is spooky. The 50% rule came true.

The next interesting point is 7,286, the low of 2002, when the rally began. According to Russell, if the Dow holds at 7,286 and begins a rally, this might be a good time to buy. But if it fails to hold at 7,286 and slides past 6,547, then look out for dead cats dropping from the sky. Russell predicts that Dow 1,000, the number at which the Dow began its rally in the 1970s, may not be out of the question. If that happens, there will be millions of baby boomers joining the dead cats falling from the sky as their 401(k)s and IRAs implode.

Other Markets

This ‘50% Rule’ may apply to other markets such as gold, the hot commodity of this era.

In 1971 gold was $35 an ounce. I began buying gold in 1972 when I was a pilot in Vietnam, watching the Vietnamese panic when they knew the U.S. was not going to win the war.

Gold hit a peak of $850 an ounce in January of 1980.

Gold dropped to a low of $252 in July of 1999. Obviously, I bought a lot of gold in 1999. Gold was at an all-time low because Central Banks, such as the Fed and the Bank of England, were dumping gold in an attempt to protect the value of their counterfeit currencies.

According to the ‘50% Rule’ of Dow Theory, when the price of gold was passing $600 an ounce(halfway between $850 and $252), a rally in gold was on. When gold passed $600, mainstream financial experts began warning of a crash in the price of gold… stating that gold was in a bubble.

Today gold fluctuates between $1,000 and $1,200 an ounce.

Is Gold in a Bubble?

When you factor in inflation and devaluation of the U.S. dollar, $850 gold in 1980 is $2,500 an ounce in today’s dollars. In other words, gold might be at 50% at $1,200, which is the highest of highs. Could there be a run to $2,500?

Your personal answer to that question will depend upon how confident you are in Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, President Obama, and Wall Street. If you have faith in our leaders of commerce, don’t buy gold. If you do not have faith in them, maybe you should buy gold or silver.

If the dead cat bounce dies and the Dow drops to 5,000 in 2010, as I predict, then the price of gold and silver may die with the dead cat of the Dow, as investors cling to cash. The next question you need to answer is, “If the Dow dies and the price of gold and silver drop, what should you invest in at the bottom…stocks, gold and silver, or cash?”

I know what I will do. I will buy more gold and silver. Why? The answer is because I trust gold and silver more than Central bankers, the Oval Office, and Wall Street. Gold and silver have been real money for thousands of years.

The Lost Decade

The people I am most concerned about are the average investors who have bought their financial planner’s advice of “Invest for the long term in a well-diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.”

Many investors are calling the past 10 years The Lost Decade. That means those who invested for the long term in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and cash are long-term losers. Japan has been in a Lost Two Decades.

A ‘lost decade’ means:

1. Zero job creation.
2. Zero economic gains for the typical family. Home values are down and many families owe more on their home than the home is worth.
3. Zero gains in the stock market.

Over the next few months, it is important to watch both the Dow and gold. As I write, the Dow is around 10,000 and gold is at $1,000. If the Dow breaks 7,286, the 2002 low, and continues down below 6,547, the 2009 low, watch out below. If 6,547 is broken and gold passes $2,500 an ounce, you'll have even more to worry about.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2010: The Best of Times or the Worst?

2010: The Best of Times or the Worst?

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
­ – Charles Dickens

Is the recession over? Are happy days really here again? Paraphrasing Dickens, my answer is, “For people who are prepared, 2010 will be the best of times. For many, 2010 will be the worst of times.”

The following are a few of my predictions and reasons behind them…

Prediction #1: The real estate market will crash again.


Pictured above is a graph of mortgage resets. In simple terms, a mortgage reset is when a mortgage comes due. In normal times, refinancing was a simple process…but these are not normal times. Some points of interest:

1. In September 2008, the mortgage resets hit $35 billion that month. That was the exact time the financial crisis hit. When people could not afford to refinance and began to default, the stock market and banking industry crashed.

2. The eye of the storm: In the summer of 2009 mortgage resets were low -- around $15 billion a month. This is when optimists began to see “green shoots” in the economy. The green shoots were the eye of the storm. In 2010, as I see it, the second half of the financial hurricane hits. By late 2011, the resets climb to nearly $40 billion a month. The storm will not end until 2012.

3. The first half of the storm was primarily due to subprime defaults. The second half of the storm will hit more solid homeowners. The question is, can they weather the storm? Will Mac Mansion foreclosures be next?

4. In America, there are over 40 million people who own more than two homes. Can they afford to carry and refinance two or more mortgages?

5. Since home values have gone down, many homeowners will find they owe more than their home(s) are worth. Will the bank be kind to them?

6. The time for using your home as an ATM is over. This is crushing retailers and retail real estate. Shopping centers are in trouble. Strip malls are empyting as shopkeepers close -- permanently. This will lead to the crash of the office, warehouse, and other commercial properties.

My prediction: Obviously these are the best of times if you are a buyer of distressed properties and the worst of times if you are a seller.

Other things I am watching for in 2010:

1. Will China crash? America’s crash has hit China in the gut. The Chinese are laying off millions of workers. Only massive government bailout is keeping the economy afloat. The Chinese boom will eventually go bust…but will it bust in 2010? Only time will tell.

2. When America stopped importing from China, China stopped importing from the rest of the world. This affects Asian countries as well as Australia, Brazil, and other suppliers of raw materials.

3. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is replacing toxic debt with new debt. By protecting his friends in the mega-banks, he is turning the U.S. into a zombie nation. The recession is over, but America is entering an era we will be calling The New Depression, a period when the rich become extremely rich but everyone else becomes poorer. Taxes will kill anyone working for a paycheck.

4. The U.S. dollar will grow weaker. If the dollar strengthens, we will have more unemployment because our goods become too expensive and we will export less.

5. The deficit will increase. The bailouts for the rich are killing the economy.


6. Israel may attack Iran. Israel will not tolerate Iran developing nuclear power, even if Iran claims it is for peaceful purposes. If there is an attack, oil prices will go through the roof.

7. Dead cat bounce. The current stock market rally will probably turn into a dead cat bounce. If the Dow drops below 6500, 5,000 may be the next stop.

The Best of Times

I know I sound painfully pessimistic. I know my predictions are bad news for most people. Yet, for others, bad news is good news.

The following are the bright spots for people who are prepared.

Prediction #2: Gold, silver, and oil will continue to be safe investments in 2010.

The following recaps the year-end prices of gold and silver:

2000 $ 273 $ 4.57
2001 $ 279 $ 4.57
2002 $ 348 $ 4.78
2003 $ 416 $ 5.92
2004 $ 438 $ 6.79
2005 $ 518 $ 8.80
2006 $ 638 $12.78
2007 $ 838 $14.77
2008 $ 882 $11.33
2009 $1100 (approx) $17.50 (approx)

In 2009, the Dow rose approximately 18%. Gold rose approximately 25%. Silver rose approximately 50%.

By the end of 2010, I predict gold will be at $1,775 an ounce, silver at $24 an ounce, and oil at $85 a barrel. If Israel attacks Iran, these predictions will be blown away.

Prediction #3: The next market to crash will be commercial real estate.

Cash flow positive real estate will be even more affordable. 2010 through 2012 will be a real estate buffet for those with cash and access to credit.

My Personal Investments

As I stated in 2002, “You have up to the year 2010 to become prepared.”

The following are things I have done to prepare myself:

1. I started The Rich Dad Company in 1997 because I saw this crisis coming. For the past three years, I have tightened internal controls and prepared for global expansion via a franchise distribution system. The company is debt free with strong income.

2. 2009 was my best real estate year to date. With the Fed handing out large sums of money and pension funds looking for projects to invest in, my real estate holding company has acquired tens of millions of dollars for acquisition of bankrupt properties and development projects. Development projects are affordable again, as labor, material, and land costs are low and the government is generous with 40-year, low interest, non-recourse loans. People still need a roof over their heads.

3. My oil development projects have done well. We drilled three wells and hit oil on two of them. Government tax breaks for oil exploration remain generous, even for dry holes. Even if the economy crashes, we will still burn oil.

4. I took 90% of my money out of the stock market in 2007. If the Fed raises interest rates, the stock market and real estate market will collapse.

5. I loaded up on gold and silver between 1996 and 2004.

6. With the Fed printing trillions of dollars, cash is trash and savers are losers. As soon as I have excess cash I invest in oil, real estate, gold, and silver.

7. In a zero-interest-rate environment, debtors are winners…but only if you have good debt…debt that’s paid by tenants.

In Conclusion

A few years ago, Japan was ‘King of the Financial World.’ Japan’s economy was the world’s second largest economy -- till the bubble burst in 1990. Japan’s budget went into deficit in 1993. Since then, the deficit has averaged 5.4 percent of GDP per year. As a result, Japanese government debt is now 200 percentof GDP today. The U.S. is following Japan, and China will follow the U.S.

We will not see much inflation because the Fed is not able to print enough money to replace the losses from the burst of the credit bubble. Also, factories have too much excess capacity due to lack of demand, which means prices for consumer goods will remain low and unemployment will remain high. Instead, we will see inflation in gold, silver, oil, some stocks, some real estate sectors, and food -- not because values are going up but because the dollar is going down.

Welcome to The New Depression. And may these times be the best of times for you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Biggest Scam Ever

The Biggest Scam Ever

On the cover of the October 19, 2009 issue of "Time" magazine ran this headline: "Why It's Time to Retire the 401(k)." The cover picture was ominous, showing a 401(k) sinking like the Titanic.

I recommend reading this entire article, especially if you do have a 401(k). My concern is that the flaws of this retirement plan will grow into personal tragedies as the first of approximately 75 million baby boomers retire, leading to the biggest stock market crash in history.

But in spite of the apparent problems with the 401(k) plan, the darlings of financial media continue to tout its benefits. The same month "Time" ran its article, "More" magazine's financial guru, Jean Chatzky, wrote an article about using low-interest savings to pay off high-interest credit cards. In the article she states, "There's no better guaranteed return on your money (except, perhaps, a 401(k) match)."

Countering Jean's wisdom of "no better guaranteed return," the "Time" article stated, "At the end of 1998, the average 401(k) balance was $47,004. By the end of 2008, the average balance was down to $45,519." If that is a great guaranteed return, I'm glad I don't have a 401(k). The "Time" article pointed out that $100 in 1998, after inflation, was worth about $73 in 2008, a loss of $27 after ten years. So whom do you believe..."Time" or "More" magazine?

If you are unsure as to whom (and what) to believe, the "Time" article made two more statements worth considering. They are:

1. "The older you are the riskier a 401(k) gets."

2. "Forty-four percent of all Americans are in danger of going broke in their post-work years."

Now, I can hear some of you saying, "But the stock market is going back up. Green shoots are appearing. Everything is fine. The crash was just a correction." For those optimists among you: I wish that all of your dreams come true and you live happily ever after.

I do not criticize the 401(k) plans just to criticize. I write because I am concerned. Let's say "Time" magazine's estimates are correct. Let's say 44 percent of all Americans will go bankrupt after retirement. For approximately 75 million baby-boomers preparing to retire, that means 33.8 million of them will go bust once they stop working. To me, this is disturbing.

While many think the financial crisis is over, I believe the worst is yet to come. In spite of the green shoots in the stock market, the fundamentals of the U.S. government are worsening. I doubt Social Security can afford the avalanche of retiring baby boomers. The Social Security fund is empty, underfunded by approximately $10 trillion. For the first time in 35 years, Social Security will not pay a cost of living increase. And Medicare is projected to face a shortfall as well, of between $65 and $85 trillion.

In 2009, interest payments on our national debt are about $380 billion, which is $1 billion a day in interest. At the same time, the national debt is projected to climb to $20 trillion by 2012, which means the U.S. will have to borrow money just to make the interest payments.

I know the Federal Reserve Bank can continue to print more and more money...but city and state governments cannot. This means your city and state taxes will have to go up. If you think your property taxes are high now, just wait five years. I predict that, even if your home's value does not go up, property tax rates will, and higher taxes will do wonders for property values. This means people counting on their home as their biggest asset may be disappointed.

In 1913, when the Fed was created, and in 1971, when President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard, the ultra rich were allowed to siphon off our wealth -- via our own money, the very thing we work hard for and do our best to save. In other words, with every dollar the Fed prints, our wealth is being drained via increased taxes, debt, inflation, and savings.

A Cash Heist

There are four expenses that keep the poor and middle class struggling financially. They are:

1. Taxes -- both apparent and hidden

2. Debt -- mortgages, credit cards, and student loans.

3. Inflation -- rising food and fuel costs

4. Retirement plans -- 401(k) and savings

It is via these four expenses that the rich get richer. In other words, all four of these expenses are a cash heists, the ways the rich use the government to get into our pockets, draining us of our wealth.

The Silver Lining

The silver lining of all this: With a more sophisticated financial education, rather than have taxes, debt, inflation, and retirement accounts as drains on a person's wealth, a person can convert those government-sponsored expenses into elements that work in one's favor. By using the same rules of money the rich use, those four expenses will make you richer. In other words, taxes, debt, inflation, and not needing a retirement plan can make you richer if you use different rules of money. As stated earlier, in 1971 Nixon changed the rules -- and so should you.

In closing, the 401(k) has a few good points...but not good enough, in my opinion, given the financial challenges that lie ahead.