“We came, we saw… we borrowed!” Addison Wiggins proposed a suitable motto for the U.S. imperium.
But the dollar keeps rising. Dollar strength has surprised most analysts. We have no particular view about the dollar — except that we don’t like it. We don’t much like the euro either. All the world’s paper monies are bound to be a disappointment over the long term. Our guess is that the euro will be less of a disappointment than the dollar, but it is merely a guess. Europe has less debt than America, and a positive current account.
Warren Buffett has lightened up on his bet against the dollar. He made $3 billion when the dollar fell against the euro. He’s given back $1 billion since then, as the dollar rebounded. Now, he’s cashed in 25% of his anti-dollar position. It may turn out that he should have waited longer, we don’t know.
But for the present, the dollar is going up…against other paper currencies. Against real money, gold, all paper — no matter whose picture is on it — is going down, fast. This is what we have always expected. Yesterday, the price of gold — the anti-paper — rose more than $10, to nearly $480 (December contracts).
Right now, we rather regret it. Because gold has, so far, been unwilling to correct to our current buying target: $450. This leaves us to wonder whether we should buy at the market price — whatever it is — or continue waiting. Over the long run, we doubt that it will make much difference. The supply of paper — in all its forms — is multiplying rapidly. Money supplies everywhere are going up two, three, even five times as fast as GDP. Debt levels, too, are going up much more quickly than real economic output. And credit derivatives? Don’t even mention them; they’re soaring. About the only thing that is not outpacing economic growth is the supply of hard assets generally, and gold particularly. Over time, we have little doubt that the price of paper will fall…compared to gold. How, when, and why remain the subjects of much debate and uncertainty.
Meanwhile, helping to support the dollar are foreign investors, who are buying record numbers of U.S. assets. But the assets they are buying seem to be shifting from debt to equity. That is, while they may be cooling on U.S. Treasury bonds, temperatures are rising for U.S. stocks. Again, as expected, foreigners are turning up their noses at more IOUs. They want to own U.S. businesses and American resources. They want something that has real value. In September, foreign investors put a record amount of money on Wall Street, a net of more than $100 billion.
For the moment, this foreign buying is helping to push up Wall Street and the dollar. But we also know that the growth in U.S. dollar claims, obligations, and debts is growing at a rate that can’t be sustained. A “Fiscal Hurricane” is coming, says USA Today. For the next 10 years, $1.6 trillion in federal deficits are projected. Altogether, the national debt is expected to grow by $3 trillion through 2010, to a total of $11.2 trillion. This is in addition to Americans’ $7 trillion in mortgage debt. Of course, these are only a fraction of America’s financial obligations. There are also all the automatically expanding programs for health and retirement — all set to explode when the boomers begin to retire in 2011. The interest on the national debt alone, in 2010, will be more than all the rest of the world combined spends on defense.
Where will it all lead? Broadly, it will lead to a lower standard of living in America (so much money has been pledged to so many different places, there will be less left over to spend). It will also lead to a lower dollar, though not necessarily directly or immediately.
What’s the best investment strategy right now? Sell inflated property; buy gold.
u2022 We are on the train to Paris…with time on our hands, a laptop at our fingertips, and the day’s press on the table.
“Memo to Europe,” begins the cover story from this week’s Newsweek, “Ready to change now?”
In the aftermath of riots, the American press shakes its finger at France in particular. The French model, say the papers, is rigid, centralized, calcified, elitist and xenophobic. What’s more, it doesn’t work. European leaders are urged to take a close look at a model that does work — ours, of course.
“What France can learn from 1960s New York,” is another headline on display today, this one from the International Herald Tribune.
On a facing page, President Bush is urging reform on another part of the world: “Bush pushes China to open its society.”
Is there any part of the globe that cannot benefit from becoming more like us? Apparently not. Over on the editorial page of the IHT is our favorite waggy, naggy columnist, Thomas L. Friedman. LRC and Daily Reckoning scribblers the exception, no columnist ever suffered by underestimating the intelligence of his readers. The New York Times opinion monger has become a celebrity by offering moronic points of view to the imbecile multitudes. His oeuvre of the last few years can be distilled down into a single question: Why can’t Arabs be more like New Yorkers? We don’t know what sense it makes, but who can argue with success; the goo sells.
Today’s paper brings us more classic Friedman. “The real problem in the Sunni Muslim world today,” he writes, “there is no controlling moral authority.” We don’t know what a controlling moral authority is, but we’re sure there is one controlling the Hell out of New York and other major metropolitan areas of the United States. Friedman goes on to describe how the Arab world must “de-legitimize” suicide bombing of innocent civilians. Exactly how you do this is not specified, but it must involve, we presume, a controlling moral authority…the very thing the Arabs haven’t got.
And now for Friedman’s pice de rsistance: “You cannot build a healthy state from suicide bombers.”
We’ve always wondered about that, haven’t you dear reader? We mean, how you build a healthy state and all. Many times it has come up in dinner conversations, some people arguing that blowing yourself up really can help strengthen the foundations of a healthy, modern republic. Didn’t the whole universe get started with a big bang, they point out? Others take the contrary view, of course. They argue that self-detonation has a tendency to disaggregate the body politic; things tend to come apart rather than together, they say.
We could have gone either way. So, we’re glad Friedman has finally delivered a verdict on this vital issue. Someone should tell the suicide bombers; they have a right to know.
u2022 Coincidently: Empire of Debt “is far more readable and entertaining than Friedman’s drippy, World is Flat,” reads a sympathetic, biased even, review of our book on Amazon.com. We apparently passed Friedman on the sales list last night. Empire is now sitting at #4 overall and #1 on the business list at the great River of No Returns.
“The idea that Americans are the most innovative,” the review continues “smart and democratic society in the world (as Friedman contends) is exactly the sophomoric and arrogant line of thinking that will lead to our downfall — if we don’t mind our P’s and Q’s.
“If you only read one chapter…turn to page 261 and read the section titled ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes.’ It will be the most eye-opening 11 pages you read all year.” (Thank you, James.)
Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.