subprime mortgage crisis
“As a result of my research and this blog, I’m now aware of the myriad of man-made and naturally-occurring threats to my life and lifestyle (and those of my loved ones), and think it’s probably wise to acquaint myself more with ‘prepping’ via a sustained ‘hands-on’ program of learning and doing, which I’ll call ‘Project Prepper.’
Through a series of posts on this blog which I suspect should last for quite some time (years?), I’ll be able to share my preparedness experiences with you…”
–Survival And Prosperity, “Project Prepper, Part 1: It Begins,” October 24, 2012
This week’s “Project Prepper” post is going to be a little different. While I’m currently working on a number of projects related to fulfilling seven “innate survival needs” (hat tip Jack Spirko @ The Survival Podcast):
1. Physical Security
2. Financial Security
5. Sanitation and Health
Today I’m going to talk about threat priorities. As a forty-something homeowner residing with my girlfriend in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, in 2016, “I’m now aware of the myriad of man-made and naturally-occurring threats to my life and lifestyle (and those of my loved ones).” Regular readers of Survival And Prosperity know I blog about them frequently. But from my vantage point, here are the “top 3” I’m mostly concerned about:
1. Severe Weather
2. Financial Crisis
Concerning severe weather, here in the Chicagoland area residents have to contend with spring and summer storms that can consist of high winds, torrential rain, flooding, and tornadoes. Winter can bring along with it ice storms (not too often), significant snowfall/blizzards, and brutally-cold temperatures. Consequently, structural damage, utility outages, hazardous travel conditions, and other threats to life and property accompany such events.
Case in point, prior to my girlfriend and I moving into our house in 2013, a large part of the Chicago metro area suffered significant damage from a “derecho” (widespread, long-lived wind storm) event that left many area homeowners without electricity for several days. A real nuisance for most of those affected, but potentially deadly to those with serious health issues- like my elderly father. And in case readers think I’m talking about those far-off “suburbs” of Chicago here (I remember one real estate agent referring to Rochelle- approximately 80 miles west of Chicago- as a “western suburb” during the housing boom last decade), these extended outages were taking place in near “North Shore” enclaves. I remember watching one furious Northbrook homeowner being interviewed on the local televised news, saying how he had been without power for a number of days and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been restored yet considering the high taxes he paid to live in such a nice area. Anyway, severe weather tops the list for me. Not as “sexy”- as some would say- as preparing for the “Zombie apocalypse,” but oh well.
Financial crisis. Regular readers of Survival And Prosperity and its predecessor know I’ve been on the lookout for coming “tough times” for some years now. From this blog’s “About” page:
Back in 2004 when SP’s creator/editor Christopher Hill was surveying the economic and investment landscape in support of his own investing activities, he concluded from his own research that the United States was heading towards a financial crash. Deciding that this was something other Americans might want to know about, Mr. Hill launched the independent financial blog Boom2Bust.com, “The Most Hated Blog on Wall Street,” on Memorial Day Weekend 2007 with the purpose of warning and educating others about the approaching U.S. economic crash. He has been credited with calling last decade’s housing bubble and subsequent bust, the 2008 global economic crisis, and the “Great Recession” as a result of his work on this project. Chris wrote over 1,500 posts on Boom2Bust.com during its nearly three-year run, with many of these picked up and republished on the web sites of The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, Fox News, Reuters, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times group, the Austin-American Statesman, the Palm Beach Post, and the West Orlando News, among other media outlets. Chris was also interviewed for a May 2009 MSNBC.com article as a result of his work with the blog.
Since Memorial Day Weekend 2007, I’ve stood by and watched as the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble and subprime mortgage crisis was quickly followed by carnage on Wall Street in the autumn of 2008 and a “Great Recession.” I also observed how the Washington politicians and the Fed responded by “papering up” the mess with massive government and central bank intervention. But as everyone knows, you can only “kick the can down the road” so far. And my concern is that the road is rapidly coming to an end. Visit this blog often enough and you might get that sense as well.
Consequently, I’ve come to believe that the U.S. financial crash I still see headed our way won’t be like an airplane that suffers a sudden, catastrophic failure and plummets back to Earth like a rock. Rather, taking into account the abilities of the federal government and central bank to keep the aircraft aloft for quite some time, the crash may be more akin to a slow- yet-unavoidable descent into the ground. At which point, Americans might be left pondering what had happened to them, just like Argentines did after their economy crapped out in the early 2000s after prosperous times.
Making matters worse is the fact that I still reside in Cook County and Illinois, whose financial troubles are well-publicized. While I’ve left Chicago, I still haven’t made Wisconsin my permanent home address.
When the “balloon goes up” locally and nationally, I suspect everyday living is going to get particularly gritty around these parts.
As terrorism is concerned, post-9/11 I found myself working in the public safety field. As part of my duties at a local fire department, I catalogued potential terrorist targets in the area in the hunt for money to upgrade the agency’s response capabilities. It was my belief that the threat was real then, and it remains so today. Even more so in 2016, as U.S. border security is quite suspect at a time when those who would wish to harm the “homeland” continually make their operational capabilities and future desires for wreaking death and destruction known.
“Border Patrol Admits US Citizenship Doesn’t Matter”
Like I’ve repeatedly said before on this blog, I believe it’s only a matter of time before the United States suffers terror attacks possibly resembling what occurred in Beslan (Russia) in 2004, Mumbai (India) in 2008, and more recently in Paris and Brussels. And a terrorist strike rivaling or even surpassing the carnage of September 11, 2011, is not out of the question as far as I’m concerned. New jihadists continue to replace their fallen predecessors in this “War on Terror,” and the religious duty of killing “infidels” remains the same. On May 6, 2011, I wrote:
In 2005, Dr. Paul L. Williams, a journalist and author, published the book The Al-Qaeda Connection, in which he discussed plans for a future nuclear terrorist strike, dubbed “American Hiroshima.” He wrote:
Bin Laden asserts that he must kill four million Americans- two million of whom must be children- in order to achieve parity for a litany of “wrongs” committed against the Muslim people by the United States of America. The “wrongs” include the establishment and occupation of military bases between the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, the support of Israel and the suppression of the Palestinian people, the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent economic sanctions, and the invasions of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq…
(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)
These days, the Islamic State has stolen the headlines from Al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremists. But such religious fanaticism as a whole remains a top concern for me.
Severe weather, financial crisis, and terrorism are natural and man-made threats that register the most on my radar. But this doesn’t mean I discount other potential dangers to life and property either (pandemic, severe space weather, and war would probably be the next three on the list). As such, an “all-hazards” approach is emphasized in my “Project Prepper” activities.
Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)
The housing bulls are out in full-force these days after repeated smack-downs since the air was let out of the U.S. housing bubble (“housing’s coming back in 2007, no 2008, maybe 2009, make that 2010, 2011 anyone?”)
But one housing expert, who was out there in the mid-2000s warning anyone who would listen about the housing bubble and subsequent crash, isn’t sure residential real estate in the United States has bottomed-out just yet.
Yale University economist Robert Shiller talked to CNBC’s Scott Wapner on the TV show Fast Money earlier today. From their exchange on the “Halftime Report”:
WAPNER: You don’t think that housing is on the road to recovery?
SHILLER: I think it might be. There are a lot of positive indicators. But I think people tend to overreact to these. And if you look at the trend- which has been down since 2006- it’s a pretty strong trend that we have to see reversed. You know, maybe, you know, I might call it later this year that we’ve reached the bottom. But I’m not ready yet.
Dr. Shiller noted that there have been four attempts at a housing recovery since the subprime crisis.
“Shiller: ‘Not Ready Yet’ to Call Housing Bottom”
Vice President Dick Cheney says that his boss, President George W. Bush, has no need to apologize to the American people for not doing more to head off the financial calamity, saying no one saw the crisis coming.
During an interview Thursday with The Associated Press in his West Wing office, Cheney defended the administration’s performance on an economy that is growing weaker daily and which recently collapsed in spectacular fashion. Cheney said that “nobody anywhere was smart enough to figure it out.”
-Associated Press, January 8, 2009
June 14, 2007
Yesterday I read an article on MarketWatch that I want to share with you. Mutual funds columnist Paul Farrell wrote “‘Pop!’ Bubbles are great for America!” in response to author Daniel Gross’ new book Pop!: Why Bubbles Are Great For The Economy. In all fairness, I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet. But from what I’ve heard so far, Gross argues that economic bubbles and their subsequent popping are not to be feared, as innovation and infrastructure are utilized in the bubble’s aftermath to spur new economic growth. Rather than placing a positive spin on this “creative destruction,” Farrell sympathizes with the Main Street investors squashed by the popping of these bubbles. More importantly, he points out several prominent market watchers who are warning us that we are in the midst of economic bubbles today.
Richard Bookstaber, a risk manager and derivatives designer, played a role in the 1987 Wall Street crash and 1998 LTCM collapse. In his new book, A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds and the Perils of Financial Innovation, he says, “The financial markets that we have constructed have become so complex. And the speed of transactions so fast that apparently isolated actions and even minor events can have catastrophic consequences.” In the Wall Street Journal on May 18, Bookstaber warned, “The odds are pretty high that we’ll see other dislocations that match the type of turmoil we saw with the crash in 1987 and with the LTCM crisis- Any one derivative, with some exceptions, may be easy to track. But by the time you layer a lot of them one on top of the other, it becomes increasingly complex, so a small, unexpected event can propagate in surprising and nonlinear ways — and there’s no way to anticipate all these possible events.”
Peter Bernstein, a Wall Street legend who encouraged Bookstaber to write his book, is also deeply worried about the threat posed by derivatives. Bernstein, author of the just-released Capital Ideas Evolving and 1992’s Capital Ideas, fears derivatives because of the number of inexperienced investors (speculators) utilizing them. Farrell adds, “Meanwhile, the irrational exuberance of all the inexperienced masses continues blowing the bubble while “playing” with $370 trillion in derivatives worldwide.”
Legendary value investor Jeremy Grantham, chairman of the global investment management firm Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), said in a recent letter to shareholders we are now witnessing the first global bubble in history, covering all asset classes. “From Indian antiquities to modern Chinese art; from land in Panama to Mayfair; from forestry, infrastructure and the junkiest bonds to mundane blue chips; it’s bubble time!” Grantham adds, “Everyone, everywhere is reinforcing one another. Wherever you travel you will hear it confirmed that ‘they don’t make any more land,’ and that “with these growth rates and low interest rates, equity markets must keep rising,’ and ‘private equity will continue to drive the markets.’”
Finally, economist Gary Shilling says the United States is fast approaching a financial storm in his INSIGHT newsletter. He notes, “An unusual confluence of five forces in recent years created a virtual world of financial speculation that departed spectacularly from the real economic world, the ‘grand disconnect’ we’ve called it.” The five forces, according to Farrell, are:
1. Global liquidity.
2. Investors’ misguided belief in “20% annual returns each and every year.”
3. Risk desensitization due to recent low volatility and the belief the Fed will “bail them out.”
4. Rampant, aggressive speculation.
5. American consumer spending, highlighted by instant gratification and the inability to save.
And what will trigger the meltdown? According to Farrell, Shilling still sees the subprime debacle as the catalyst. But like Bernstein, Bookstaber and Grantham, he also feels the “speculative excesses” of private equity deals may preempt the subprime blowup. In addition, Bookstaber fears that financial derivatives and hedge funds will prick the bubbles. Regardless, the most important thing to realize is that a number of threats exist simultaneously, thereby increasing the odds for a major financial crisis in the United States and beyond.
To be continued…
Crash Prophets, Part 2
June 15, 2007
In yesterday’s blog post, I talked about how some market watchers, specifically Richard Bookstaber, Peter Bernstein, Jeremy Grantham, and Gary Shilling, are warning of a fast-approaching U.S. financial crisis. Continuing the theme of “crash prophets,” today’s post focuses on legendary investors George Soros, Warren Buffett, and Jim Rogers, and what each is saying about the future of the U.S. economy.
George Soros is a Hungarian-born billionaire investor, philanthropist and author. The American businessman is known as “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” as he earned $1.1 billion after speculating on the British pound in 1992, believing it was overvalued. He is also recognized for his involvement with the Quantum Fund, one of the most successful investment funds ever with an average annual return of 31% throughout its 30-year history. Back in January 2006, George Soros told an audience in Singapore that, “The soft landing (for the U.S. economy) will turn into a hard landing. That’s why I expect the recession to occur in 2007, not 2006.” Soros explained that a slowing U.S. housing market would be the catalyst for a U.S. recession in 2007. Back on June 2, 2007, AME Info quoted Soros as saying, “I believe the global economy has been sustained by a housing boom that took on the characteristics of a bubble,” and he cautioned, “I expect an initial soft landing to turn into a hard one when the slowdown does not end.” On the U.S. and global economy, “A slowdown in the United States will be transmitted to the rest of the world via a weaker dollar. That is why I expect a worldwide slowdown starting in 2007.” Finally, Mr. Soros stated that, “The savings of the world are sucked up into the center to finance over consumption by the richest and largest country, the United States. This cannot continue indefinitely and when it stops the global economy will suffer from a deficiency of demand.”
Warren Buffett, “The Oracle of Omaha,” is a famous investor, head of Berkshire Hathaway, and also the world’s second richest man. On October 26, 2003, Warren Buffet wrote a piece for Fortune entitled “Why I’m not buying the U.S. dollar.” Although a little dated, this article, and Buffett’s subsequent bet against the dollar, gives us insight as to where Mr. Buffett thinks the U.S. dollar and economy are going. Buffett said, “I started way back in 1987 to publicly worry about our mounting trade deficits — and, as you know, we’ve not only survived but also thrived. So on the trade front, score at least one “wolf” for me. Nevertheless, I am crying wolf again and this time backing it with Berkshire Hathaway’s money.” Regarding his actions on the U.S. dollar, he explains, “And my reason for finally putting my money where my mouth has been so long is that our trade deficit has greatly worsened, to the point that our country’s “net worth,” so to speak, is now being transferred abroad at an alarming rate.” On the United States having avoided a financial crisis so far, Buffett says, “We were taught in Economics 101 that countries could not for long sustain large, ever-growing trade deficits. At a point, so it was claimed, the spree of the consumption-happy nation would be braked by currency-rate adjustments and by the unwillingness of creditor countries to accept an endless flow of IOUs from the big spenders. And that’s the way it has indeed worked for the rest of the world, as we can see by the abrupt shutoffs of credit that many profligate nations have suffered in recent decades. The U.S., however, enjoys special status. In effect, we can behave today as we wish because our past financial behavior was so exemplary — and because we are so rich. Neither our capacity nor our intention to pay is questioned, and we continue to have a mountain of desirable assets to trade for consumables. In other words, our national credit card allows us to charge truly breathtaking amounts. But that card’s credit line is not limitless.” Finally, Mr. Buffett closes with a warning to all those who think the trade deficit is just another obstacle that can be overcome. “We still have a truly remarkable country and economy. But I believe that in the trade deficit we also have a problem that is going to test all of our abilities to find a solution. A gently declining dollar will not provide the answer. True, it would reduce our trade deficit to a degree, but not by enough to halt the outflow of our country’s net worth and the resulting growth in our investment-income deficit.”
Jim Rogers is a legendary commodities trader who picked the bottom of the commodities bull market in 1999. He is also one of the co-founders of the Quantum Fund, along with George Soros. Of the three investors profiled, Rogers is the most vocal regarding the direction the U.S. is headed. In a Reuters article on December 16, 2006, Jim Rogers talked about the future of the U.S. dollar, and predicted, “It’s only a matter of time before the beleaguered U.S. dollar loses its status as the world’s reserve currency and medium of exchange.” He added, “The dollar is a terribly flawed currency- You should hold as few dollars as possible. The dollar’s decline would go on for years to come.” In an interview with iTulip on April 3, 2007, Rogers said that a U.S. recession will occur soon. “I see a recession, and for a variety of reasons. Automobiles are in recession. Housing is in recession. There’s been an inverted yield curve for a while. You have a slowdown in business spending. The subprime mortgage and junk bond markets are a disaster happening or waiting to happen in the financial area. There are plenty of things going on. Plus we’ve had recessions every four to eight years since the beginning of time, so there’ nothing unusual about the fact that we’re about to have another one.” On housing, Jim Rogers is especially bearish. In the same iTulip interview, he responded to a question about the housing downturn and the consensus of economists that the correction is largely over by replying, “It has a good long way to go because never before in American history have so many people been able to buy houses with no money down. Even during the 1920s when the banks first tried interest-only mortgages borrowers at least had to put some money down. This time a lot of borrowers have put no money down on interest only mortgages. The results will be much worse.” In a May 14, 2007, Reuters article, he predicts an eventual U.S. real estate crash. Rogers said, “You can’t believe how bad it’s going to get before it gets any better.” He adds, “It’s going to be a disaster for many people who don’t have a clue about what happens when a real estate bubble pops- Real estate prices will go down 40-50 percent in bubble areas. There will be massive defaults. This time it’ll be worse because we haven’t had this kind of speculative buying in U.S. history.”
“When markets turn from bubble to reality, a lot of people get burned.”
To be continued…
Crash Prophets, Part 3
June 21, 2007
In the previous “Crash Prophets” posts, we examined the U.S. economic outlook of key market watchers and investment legends. Today, the focus is on U.S. government and Federal Reserve officials, both past and present. Specifically, I am talking about former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, U.S. Comptroller General and Head of the U.S. General Accountability Office David Walker, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
Robert Rubin served as Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton. On January 22, Rubin appeared on the Charlie Rose television show and talked about the U.S. economy becoming increasingly unsound, and the need for “excruciating decisions” to be made. He explained, “I think we face [huge] challenges. I think we can do very well in what is really a transformed global economic environment with the rise of China and India. But- I think we’re on the wrong track on almost every front right now, regardless of how you allocate the political responsibility, and what I’d like to see the new Congress do- and I think they’ve gotten off to a very good start in this respect- is to address those challenges.” Rubin added, “I think we’ve got to re-establish sound fiscal conditions- so we have an environment conducive to growth, and also to avoid the dangers that, as [Federal Reserve Chairman] Ben Bernanke said very recently in his congressional testimony, [underlie] unsound fiscal conditions. I think that’s a tremendous threat to the global economy.” Regarding the deficit and its threat to the dollar, the former Treasury Secretary predicted, “If the current account deficit doesn’t change, then at some point something is going to have to give. It seems to me that it’s very likely there’s going to have to be an adjustment of the dollar. The way to minimize the adjustment that you need is to have sound policy.” In a videotaped message for a dinner hosted by the Concord Coalition in New York last November, Mr. Rubin emphasized that the U.S. budget situation needed to be addressed now because the government was just 5 years away from “rapid acceleration” in spending related to Social Security and Medicare.
The tremendous financial burden brought on by entitlements also frightens David Walker, who is basically the nation’s accountant-in-chief. Walker is touring the United States through the 2008 elections, and according to Bloomberg, is “talking to anybody who will listen about the fiscal black hole Washington has dug itself, the ‘demographic tsunami’ that will come when the baby boom generation begins retiring and the recklessness of borrowing money from foreign lenders to pay for the operation of the U.S. government.” His speaking tour includes economists and budget analysts from across the political spectrum. The message they are conveying is that if the U.S government continues to conduct business as usual in the coming years, the national debt ($8.8 trillion as of today) could reach $46 trillion or more, adjusted for inflation. Every year of inaction adds $2 trillion to $3 trillion, according to Walker. With the first baby boomers becoming eligible for Social Security in 2008 and for Medicare in 2011, the expenses for these two programs are about to increase significantly. In addition, the U.S. government has spent the last few years racking up debt and borrowing money from foreign lenders. If overseas investors lose their enthusiasm for purchasing U.S. debt, the result will be higher interest rates in the United States. A large jump in interest rates would be a disaster, in which case some economists predict the federal government would print money to pay off its debt, leading to runaway inflation.
Known for his stance against inflation, Paul Volcker was Federal Reserve Chairman from 1979 to 1987 and the predecessor of Alan Greenspan. At a dinner hosted by the Concord Coalition in New York last November, Volcker predicted that the United States’ dependence on foreign money raises the risk of a crisis in the dollar as soon as the next two and a half years. He said, “It’s incredible people have gone on so long holding dollars… At some point, you will get a situation where people have had enough.” Foreign investors now own about half of the $4.4 trillion of Treasuries outstanding. On April 10, 2005, Volcker talked about the U.S. economy in the Washington Post, and said, “Yet, under the placid surface, there are disturbing trends: huge imbalances, disequilibria, risks— call them what you will… What really concerns me is that there seems to be so little willingness or capacity to do much about it.” He added, “As a nation we are consuming and investing about 6 percent more than we are producing. The difficulty is that this seemingly comfortable pattern can’t go on indefinitely… I don’t know of any country that has managed to consume and invest 6 percent more than it produces for long. The United States is absorbing about 80 percent of the net flow of international capital. And at some point, both central banks and private institutions will have their fill of dollars.” Finally, Volcker speculated, “I don’t know whether change will come with a bang or a whimper, whether sooner or later. But as things stand, it is more likely than not that it will be financial crises rather than policy foresight that will force the change.”
Robert Rubin, David Walker, and Paul Volcker insist that the U.S. government must act now to prevent a U.S. financial disaster. As the former Federal Reserve Chairman recalled, “A wise observer of the economic scene once commented that ‘what can be left to later, usually is— and then, alas, it’s too late.’ I don’t want to let that stand as the epitaph of what has been an unparalleled period of success for the American economy and of enormous potential for the world at large.”
Est. 2010, Chicagoland, USA
Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Successor to Boom2Bust.com
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