Defaults

Jeremy Grantham: ‘It May Well Be Necessary To Our Survival That We Become More Realistic’

Continuing yesterday’s discussion on investing, last night I finally got the chance to read the latest quarterly investment letter from “crash prophet” Jeremy Grantham, the British-born investment strategist and founder/former chairman of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (currently oversees $104 billion in client assets). Here’s what December’s installment (covering the third quarter of 2015) consisted of. From “Give Me Only Good News!”:

I have noticed how hard it is to effectively pass on a warning for the same reason: No one wants to hear this bad news. So a while ago I came up with a list of propositions that are widely accepted by an educated business audience. They are widely accepted but totally wrong. It is my attempt to bring home how extreme is our preference for good news over accurate news. When you have run through this list you may be a little more aware of how dangerous our wishful thinking can be in investing and in the much more important fields of resource (especially food) limitations and the potentially life-threatening risks of climate damage. Wishful thinking and denial of unpleasant facts are simply not survival characteristics…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Grantham discussed those “propositions” and went on to conclude:

This is more or less the best I can do to prove the point. We in the U.S. have a broad and heavy bias away from unpleasant data. We are ready to be manipulated by vested interests in finance, economics, and climate change, whose interests might be better served by our believing optimistic stuff “that just ain’t so.” We are dealing today with important issues, one so important that it may affect the long-term viability of our global society and perhaps our species. It may well be necessary to our survival that we become more realistic, more willing to process the unpleasant, and, above all, less easily manipulated through our need for good news

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

While an interesting read, I was a little disappointed that Grantham (who’s individual clients have included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) didn’t talk about the following in his latest letter. From an August 9, 2015, post:

However, Grantham has now offered up a potential timeframe for a “major decline” in equities.

Robin Wigglesworth reported on the Financial Times (UK) website Thursday:

A well-known fund manager who foresaw the Japanese crash, the dotcom bubble and the global financial crisis has predicted that markets will be “ripe for a major decline” some time in 2016, potentially triggering government bankruptcies.

Jeremy Grantham , founder and chief investment strategist of GMO, a $118bn investment house based in Boston, expects the stock market to continue to march higher in the coming year, eventually sucking in retail investors and setting up a serious decline around the time of the US elections in late 2016.

The famously bearish and often prescient money manager said this could trigger a “very different” type of crisis, because many governments had become considerably more indebted and much of the liabilities had shifted to the balance sheets of central banks.

Given that central banks were able to create money to recapitalise themselves, this “could be a crisis we could weather”, Mr Grantham said. “If not, then we’re talking the 1930s, where you have a chain-link of government defaults.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And from a May 4, 2015, post about his first quarter 2015 letter:

On the Federal Reserve and asset bubbles, Grantham noted:

In the Greenspan/ Bernanke/Yellen Era, the Fed historically did not stop its asset price pushing until fully-fledged bubbles had occurred, as they did in U.S. growth stocks in 2000 and in U.S. housing in 2006. Both of these were in fact stunning three-sigma events, by far the biggest equity bubble and housing bubble in U.S. history. Yellen, like both of her predecessors, has bragged about the Fed’s role in pushing up asset prices in order to get a wealth effect. Thus far, she seems to also share their view on feeling no responsibility to interfere with any asset bubble that may form. For me, recognizing the power of the Fed to move assets (although desperately limited power to boost the economy), it seems logical to assume that absent a major international economic accident, the current Fed is bound and determined to continue stimulating asset prices until we once again have a fully-fledged bubble. And we are not there yet

To remind you, we at GMO still believe that bubble territory for the S&P 500 is about 2250…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Two things I’m dying to know from Mr. Grantham right now:

1. Does he still expect “the stock market to continue to march higher in the coming year, eventually sucking in retail investors and setting up a serious decline around the time of the US elections in late 2016”?

2. Does he/GMO “still believe that bubble territory for the S&P 500 is about 2250”? The S&P was really marching towards 2,250 for a while before the index went south.

You can read the latest Grantham letter over at the GMO website here (.pdf format).

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s note: A qualified professional should be consulted prior to making a financial decision based on material found in this weblog. If this recommended course of action is not pursued, then it must be understood that the decision is the reader’s and the reader’s alone. The creator/Editor of this blog is not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information contained herein.)

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IMF Statement On Greece

The Greek sovereign debt crisis has now entered a new, more disturbing phase. From an International Monetary Fund press release Tuesday night:

Statement by the IMF on Greece
Press Release No.15/310
June 30, 2015

Mr. Gerry Rice, Director of Communications at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), made the following statement today regarding Greece’s financial obligations to the IMF due today:

I confirm that the SDR 1.2 billion repayment (about EUR 1.5 billion) due by Greece to the IMF today has not been received. We have informed our Executive Board that Greece is now in arrears and can only receive IMF financing once the arrears are cleared.

“I can also confirm that the IMF received a request today from the Greek authorities for an extension of Greece’s repayment obligation that fell due today, which will go to the IMF’s Executive Board in due course.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 Debt Crisis, Defaults, Europe No Comments

Peter Schiff Advises Americans, Greeks: ‘Don’t Hold On To Dollars, Just Like You’re Not Going To Hold On To Drachma’

Tuesday, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Peter Schiff, compared Greece’s financial situation with what’s going on in the United States. From his April 14 SchiffGold “Gold Videocast” entry on YouTube.com:

The only difference between Greece and the United States is the perception of our creditors. Because we are just as broke. We have borrowed more money than we can repay. Not only have we borrowed it like Greece, and we owe over $18 trillion when it comes to the national debt- the bonds that have been issued where we actually owe principal and interest payments. But just like Greece politicians, American politicians have made all sorts of promises to everybody to get votes. And there’s nothing that’s going to stop the U.S. government from repaying its commitments in worthless money. Just like there’s nothing that’s going to stop the Greeks once they get the Euro out of the way, and go back to the drachma…

And when the dollar collapses, and prices skyrocket, it’s not going to do any good if the government kept its promise in money that doesn’t buy anything. So I would give the same advice today to Americans as I would for Greeks:

Don’t hold on to dollars, just like you’re not going to hold on to drachma. Turn your dollars into something else, something of real, tangible value, that the government can’t create out of thin air. And I think the best choice would be gold. Gold or silver can retain their purchasing power in the face of government default through inflation.


“Greece and the Euro Breakup; Why the US Dollar Is Facing an Even Bigger Crisis”
YouTube Video

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Bill Introduced To Permit Illinois Municipalities To File For Bankruptcy

Since I started blogging about a U.S. financial crash back on Memorial Day Weekend 2007, I’ve believed one casualty will be municipal government. Particularly in Illinois. So imagine my non-surprise when I spotted an article on the Chicago Tribune website a couple of days ago about proposed legislation at the state level granting Illinois towns the authority to file for bankruptcy. Nick Swedberg of the Associated Press wrote on March 26:

Stressed by pension debt, other financial issues and the possibility losing a chunk of their state aid, some Illinois cities want the option to file for bankruptcy. They’ve found an ally in a Republican lawmaker, who’s proposed legislation to allow municipalities to follow in the footsteps of Detroit and other cities in restructuring debt and paying back creditors…

Rep. Ron Sandack is sponsoring legislation that would grant authority for communities to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 of the federal code. The Downers Grove Republican says it’s a “measure of last resort,” especially with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal in next year’s budget to cut in half the local governments’ share of state income taxes by 50 percent.

“It’s just giving time and space to do things right,” he said…

Swedberg added later in the piece:

Municipal bankruptcies are rare, NCSL data shows. Of 37 local government filings since 2010, only 8 were cities, with the majority filed by utilities and special districts.

Detroit filed for the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, looking to restructure $12 billion of debt…

It’s true. Municipal bankruptcies haven’t happened too often. But keep in mind what Eric Weiner wrote on the NPR website back on February 28, 2008:

For most of U.S. history, cities and towns were not eligible for bankruptcy protection. But during the Great Depression, more than 2,000 municipalities defaulted on their debt, and they pleaded with President Roosevelt for a federal bailout. “All they got was sympathy,” reported Time magazine in 1933. Instead, Roosevelt pushed through changes to the bankruptcy laws that allows towns and cities to file for bankruptcy. They even got their own section of the bankruptcy code: Chapter Nine…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

There’s also this from Robert Slavin on The Bond Buyer website back on January 14:

For the municipal bond industry, 2015 marks the midpoint in what may turn out to be the decade of the bankruptcy.

Four of the five largest municipal bankruptcy filings in United States history have been made in roughly the last three years, a trend analysts attribute to the aftereffects of the 2008 credit crisis and Great Recession, as well as changing attitudes about debt.

“The crash of 2008 and five years of stagnation preceded by years of escalating wages, pensions and Other Post-Employment Benefits set the stage for our recent Chapter 9 filings,” said Arent Fox partner David Dubrow.

Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy was adopted in 1937 but had been rarely used, particularly by large governments. However, since November 2011 San Bernardino, Calif., Stockton, Calif., Jefferson County, Ala., and Detroit have filed four of the five largest bankruptcies as measured by total obligations.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Could the specter of Meredith Whitney, the “Diva Of Doom,” be returning to take revenge on the municipal bond industry?

I’m not surprised Illinois municipalities would be interested in House Bill 298. From Patrick Rehkamp and Andrew Schroedter on the website of the Chicago-based Better Government Association back on December 6, 2014:

Reasons for filing vary but often include troubled public development projects, unanticipated hefty legal judgments against a taxpayer-backed entity, or massive pension and bond debt payments that leave a municipality cash-strapped and unable to cover operating costs of employee salaries, vendor payments and other expenses.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

The public pension crisis in Chicago and Illinois has been well-publicized for some time now. And while such entitlements are supposedly protected by a provision in the 1970 Illinois Constitution, the BGA noted in their piece:

In Illinois, public employee pensions are guaranteed by the state constitution. But in the Detroit and Stockton, California bankruptcy cases, federal judges have ruled that pension benefits can be adjusted, the same as other debts, despite a constitutional guarantee.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

You can track the progress of HB 298 on the Illinois General Assembly website here.

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Swedberg, Nick. “Bill pushes for possible municipal bankruptcies in Illinois.” Associated Press. 29 Mar. 2015. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-bc-il–closer-look-bankruptcy-20150329-story.html). 3 Apr. 2015.

Weiner, Eric. “What Happens When City Hall Goes Bankrupt?” NPR. 28 Feb. 2008. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=60740288). 3 Apr. 2015.

Slavin, Robert. “Why So Many Big Bankruptcies?” The Bond Buyer. 14 Jan. 2015. (http://www.bondbuyer.com/news/markets-buy-side/why-so-many-big-bankruptcies-1069539-1.html). 3 Apr. 2015.

Rehkamp, Patrick and Schroedter, Andrew. “Next Up: Illinois Municipal Bankruptcy?” Better Government Association. 16 Dec. 2014. (http://www.bettergov.org/next_up_illinois_municipal_bankruptcy/). 4 Apr. 2015.

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Peter Schiff: ‘We Have An Entire Economy That Is Supported On A Foundation Of Bubbles’

Tonight I watched Peter Schiff’s presentation at the MoneyShow Las Vegas back on May 12, 2014. The CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital shared his current assessment of the U.S. financial landscape in “Too Big to Bail: Why the Next Financial Crisis Will Be Worse Than the Last”- as well as where he thinks we’re heading. Schiff warned attendees:

There is no economic recovery in the United States at all. There is no evidence of an economic recovery. The U.S. economy is in far worse shape than it was on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis. We have never been in as worse shape as we are right now. But they say, “Whoa! But the stock market went up.” Yeah, of course the stock market went up. You print enough money, you can make the stock market go up. Yes, the Federal Reserve succeeded in reflating the stock market bubble. But that’s all that it did. That isn’t evidence of a strong economy. Stock prices went up from 2002 to 2007. Does that mean we had a sound economy? No. We were on the verge of a complete implosion. The main difference though between the stock market bubble that we have today and the one that blew up, let’s say, in 2000, is that fewer individuals are participating. This is the bubble for the 1 percent. This is for the hedge funds, the private equity guys… The overwhelming concentration of buyers are very wealthy people. The average American is not participating in the stock market to the extent that he was in the 1990s. And so the Fed is not getting the boost to consumption that you would normally have from the wealth effect because a lot of people aren’t feeling the effects of the wealth because they don’t own stocks.

The same thing is happening in the real estate bubble, which the Fed has managed to reflate. The difference again between the real estate bubble we have now and the real estate bubble that popped in 2007 is again- the average American isn’t participating. Home ownership rates are at 19-year lows. You have hedge funds and private equity companies that are buying up real estate. Last month, I think 43 percent of all the properties purchased in America were purchased for cash. These are not typical Americans buying houses to live in. These are investors buying houses to flip, buying houses to rent out. This is not a healthy market. It is an extremely speculative real estate market thanks to the Federal Reserve.

So the Federal Reserve has managed to reflate two bubbles simultaneously.

And of course, the biggest bubble of them all is the bubble in the bond market.

So we have an entire economy that is supported on a foundation of bubbles…


“Peter Schiff at Las Vegas Moneyshow 2014”
YouTube Video

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Pandemic Tops Global Insurance Executive Rankings Of ‘Extreme’ Risks To Their Industry

Here’s an interesting piece I stumbled upon this morning while searching for some pandemic-related material out in cyberspace. Caitlin Bronson reported on the website of Insurance Business (America) this morning:

A global pandemic, a widespread natural disaster and a food/water/energy crisis are the top three extreme risks threatening the insurance industry in the near future, a Towers Watson survey of global insurance industry executives reveals.

The survey—part of Towers Watson’s biennial analysis Extreme Risks—asked more than 30,000 top executives to rate very rare events that would have a large impact on global economic growth and the insurance sector.

In addition to health, weather and technological risks, the insurance executives also saw financial disasters as having a large role to play in the future of the insurance industry. An economic depression, a banking crisis and a default by a major sovereign borrower were all listed in the executives’ top 10 concerns…

It’s a short, insightful read (I wonder if the insurance industry is any good at forecasting major crises/disasters?), and the article can be viewed in its entirety on the Insurance Business (America) website here.

By Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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Peter Schiff: U.S. Will Become Either Greece Or Weimar Germany

“It’s hard to imagine what the country will look like when the dollar crashes. But one thing is certain; it will bear little resemblance to the America we know today.”

-Peter Schiff, CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, in an interview posted on The Daily Caller website, October 17, 2013

Yesterday we heard from two “crash prophets”– Dr. Marc Faber and Jim Rogers on finance and investing. Today, I want to bring up a third “prophet”- Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff- and talk about an interview he just did with Faith Braverman over at The Daily Caller website. Posted last Thursday, Braverman asked Schiff- who correctly predicted the U.S. housing crash and “Panic of ’08”- about what Americans should be on the lookout for as the real U.S. financial crash draws closer. Schiff advised:

You gotta follow the foreign exchange market, the value of the dollar vs. foreign currencies. The Federal Reserve keeps buying bonds to keep interest rates from rising. We have no choice but to default if creditors want their money back. If interest rates go up, we can’t afford that. That is why the Fed feels that it has to keep interest rates down at all costs. So the Federal Reserve prints more money to buy up bonds. That puts pressure on the dollar. Foreign central banks than buy those dollars to prevent their currencies form rising, which imposes costs on their own population, as they are forced to absorb our inflation.

There will be big spikes in commodity prices, like energy and food. Ultimately, we will be forced to make even bigger cuts than the ones we would have made now had the debt ceiling not been raised. Then we’ll be Greece, essentially. If we refuse, and keep spending, and the Fed prints even more money to buy the bonds no one else will buy, we’ll destroy the dollar and then we’ll be Weimar Germany. When the dollar collapses, what does that mean? Hyperinflation means you will have nothing. Your life savings will be worth nothing. We’re celebrating solving the debt ceiling, but we’ve only kicked the can down the road and removed the barrier between us and fiscal responsibility.

Later on in the exchange, the former U.S. Senate candidate suggested Americans should “get gold, silver, foreign assets, and buy up things that will have value after the dollar crashes.”

Braverman did a nice job on this interview, which can be read in its entirety on The Daily Caller website here.

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s notes: Info added to “Crash Prophets” page; I am not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein.)

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Back To Blogging

It’s back to work over here at Survival And Prosperity this dreary Wednesday morning in the Chicagoland area. I had planned on publishing new material Monday, but decided to extend my “vacation” out a little bit longer. I apologize if you were checking for new posts earlier this week.

During my time away from the blog, I was able to attend to a number of tasks that needed my immediate attention. But it wasn’t “all work and no play.” I got the chance to spend a couple of days at my family’s place in southeast Wisconsin near the end of the break. The weather was terrific, the locally-brewed beer plentiful, and the Northern Pike and Largemouth Bass were biting. My cousin and I managed to haul in some really nice-sized fish. Which is why I extended my stay longer than originally planned.

Two things come to mind now when thinking about that long weekend in Wisconsin:

First, I noticed the gun section at the local hardware store had a lot more ammunition on the shelves from the last time I was there. Another sign the ammo shortage is easing up?

Second, it was nice to “Escape to Wisconsin” and breathe in some “freedom.” In my opinion, Wisconsin is heading in the right direction. Illinois… not so much. As each day goes by, the “Land of Lincoln” continues to be transformed into a Big Government Nanny State, highlighted by more/higher taxes, more/higher fees, and increasing controls forced upon the populace. Sadly enough, many of my neighbors seem to be okay with this. Especially here in the Chicago area.

Coupled with the huge financial woes facing the City of Chicago, Cook County, and State of Illinois- an ugly ending looks to be in store for us. At the very least, Illinoisans will be busting their wallets out en masse to deal with the debt debacle.

And while our nice new house in the Chicago suburbs that I worked on quite a bit the last two weeks is fine and all, I continue to warn my girlfriend that our future permanent residence looks to be outside of the state.

It’s a real shame it might have to come to that.

Back to our regularly-scheduled blogging. And wondering if incompetency trumps political theater in causing a national debt default in the coming hours.

Christopher E. Hill
Editor

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U.S. Treasury: Debt Limit Reached By Mid-October

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned Congress yesterday that the United States will hit its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in mid-October. Lew wrote in a letter addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner:

I am writing to provide additional information regarding the Treasury Department’s ability to continue to finance the government, and the extraordinary measures we have undertaken in order to avoid default. On May 17, I wrote to inform you that the U.S. government has reached the statutory debt limit and had begun to implement extraordinary measures. As I stated in that letter, Congress should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by extending normal borrowing authority well before any risk of default becomes imminent.

Based on our latest estimates, extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October. At that point, the United States will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority, and Treasury would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand on any given day. The cash balance at that time is currently forecasted to be approximately $50 billion…

You can read Secretary Lew’s entire letter on the Treasury Department’s website here (.pdf file).

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

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U.S. Reaches $16.4 Trillion Debt Limit

You may have been distracted by events related to New Year’s Day and negotiations over the “fiscal cliff” to notice that the United States reached its authorized debt ceiling of $16.394 trillion on New Year’s Eve. Rich Barbieri and Jeanne Sahadi reported on the CNN Money website Monday morning:

It’s official: U.S. debt reached its legal borrowing limit Monday, giving Congress about two months before it must raise the debt ceiling or risk causing the government to default on its bills and financial obligations.

“I can confirm we will reach the statutory debt limit today, Dec. 31,” a Treasury Department official said Monday.

As for increasing the nation’s debt ceiling yet again, U.S. President Barack Obama doesn’t want debate from Congress on the subject. From Reuters this morning:

President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to avoid a repeat of last year’s divisive fight with Congress over an extension of the nation’s borrowing authority.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they have already racked up,” Obama said in remarks in the White House.

“I will not have another debate.” Hmm. Back on December 5, Zachary Goldfarb wrote on the Post Politics blog on the Washington Post website:

As part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, Obama has proposed effectively ending the need for Congress to periodically raise the debt limit, which Republicans have rejected.

I wonder if this proposal won’t be pushed again in the near future?

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (http://www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Barbieri, Rich and Sahadi, Jeanne. “It’s official: U.S. hits debt ceiling.” CNN Money. 31 Dec. 2012. (http://money.cnn.com/2012/12/31/news/economy/debt-ceiling/) 2 Jan. 2013.

“Obama Debt Ceiling Statement: Limit Increase Not Up For Debate After Fiscal Cliff Showdown.” Reuters. 2 Jan. 2013. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/02/obama-debt-ceiling-fiscal-cliff_n_2394164.html). 2 Jan. 2013.

Goldfarb, Zachary A. “Obama on debt ceiling fight: ‘I will not play that game.’” Post Politics. 5 Dec. 2012. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2012/12/05/obama-on-debt-ceiling-i-will-not-play-that-game/). 2 Jan. 2013.

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Christopher E. Hill, Editor

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