The Room 09/12/2008

September 12, 2008

Dear Readers,

In today’s “special” edition of the Room, I want to go somewhat beyond the latest news and observations on same.

Instead, I want to discuss the big picture as it relates to the U.S. and global economy.

I do so because it is growing more important with each passing day to get a solid fix on where things stand and, more importantly, where they are going next and how you can protect yourself. It’s hard to overstate just how unpredictable and dangerous the economic and investment environment has become.

While these are topics we’ll be covering in today’s online event, Casey’s Crisis & Opportunity Update, the situation at this point is moving so fast, and is so highly charged, that it is time to pay very, very close attention to things.

As you should expect, we have been furiously fingering the tea leaves in an attempt to make actionable sense out of the big moves now in motion. While there is much that we know about the unfolding events, there is also much that is unknowable – for instance, how much longer the long-suffering foreign holders of U.S. dollars will be patient.

In our quest for answers, we’ve been digging through the data and comparing notes with others we respect. For instance, earlier this week I spoke with real estate entrepreneur Andy Miller, who recently sat for a very insightful interview for the current edition of The Casey Report. In Andy’s view, the government takeover of Fannie and Freddie was a seminal event in U.S. history, ranking right up there, in his words “… with the Crash of 1929 or even the Civil War.”

We agree.

To set the stage, I want to share a lengthy excerpt from an article we just published, titled “The Biggest Bailout of All Time.” If you’ve already read it, skip to the next section.


The Biggest Bailout of All Time

(Published 9/10/08)

On Sunday, September 7, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, flanked by James Lockhart, the new conservator from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced a plan to take over the operation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to guarantee their debt. They cited what we all knew, that they did not have enough capital to continue operating. Their business is to borrow to lend for housing mortgages, and to guarantee half the country’s housing mortgages, about $5.4 trillion. The equity and preferred is all but wiped out as all dividends are suspended and management and the board are fired.
This is the biggest bailout ever. If 10% of the $5 trillion of guarantees must be made good by the government, the payments would be $500 billion. That is the size of the annual U.S. defense budget. The outstanding debt of the U.S. held by the public is the size of the guaranteed mortgages. It is huge.

We from Casey Research have seen this coming for more than a year:

    “For one thing, at the point that falling prices leave homeowners with mortgages exceeding the value of their homes, default rates will soar. This, in turn, will put lenders that hold large amounts of mortgage debt at risk, and possibly jeopardize the solvency of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, since they guarantee much of this debt. If these mortgage giants faced collapse – and they are already in well-documented trouble – a government bailout involving hundreds of billions of dollars would be a likely next step.

    “…The impending calamity – mass housing foreclosures, failing banks, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in ashes, millions of personal bankruptcies – is so dire… most people can’t even conceive of it. And indeed it may not hit us this year, or next, but the market always corrects itself, and this time will be no exception, sooner or later.

    “We have said before, and we repeat again: Rig for stormy weather.”

    [International Speculator (the predecessor of The Casey Report), March 2007]


Unusual Aspects

The Treasury will add funding to Fannie and Freddie when their assets are less than their liabilities. The Treasury gets warrants to own 79.9% of the equity. Fannie and Freddie are allowed to expand mortgage lending through the end of 2009 but are required to wind down their $850 billion of debt at 10% per year until they are essentially out of business at only $250 billion debt.

The effect on the Credit Default Swap (CDS) market could be big: there are about $1.47 trillion of CDS on Fannie/Freddie-backed mortgages. The creation of the conservatorship is probably a credit event, triggering the payment of the insurance on the debt. But as we know, the insurers are already weak, and forcing them to pay could eliminate them as ongoing business, thus creating a cascading loss of the value of insurance on other debt they guarantee.

The "New Secure Loan Agreement" that is designed to bail out the debtors of Fannie and Freddie will also be used to bail out the Federal Home Loan Banks. $274 billion additional housing market funding was passed through the FHLB last year, and it is safe to assume there are problems there too.

Who Will Rescue the Taxpayers from Fannie and Freddie?

The U.S. Government has decided to spend an enormous amount of money to prevent the two mortgage giants from defaulting. What will be the real effects?

The rescue won’t resuscitate the housing market. As much as prices have declined, they still haven’t come down enough to make houses affordable. (They only seemed affordable for a while because of the artificially low interest rates the Federal Reserve engineered during the housing boom through its inflationary policies.) Don’t expect the rescued Fannie and Freddie to revive the housing market; the government’s rescue package requires them to shrink their operations.

The rescue won’t end the credit crisis that is pulling the economy into recession. Fannie and Freddie are perhaps the biggest, but certainly not the only, institutions that overcommitted to risky mortgages. Banks, insurance companies, and pension funds are holding billions in the same kind of dangerous stuff. And they still must get through another two years of interest “resets” on subprime mortgages created during the housing boom. As those resets occur, there will be more defaults on mortgages that borrowers can no longer afford – or no longer want because the loan balance exceeds the value of the house.

The rescue helps keep bad decision makers in place. Managers of banks and other financial institutions that invested heavily in Fannie and Freddie paper get let off the hook. They get another chance to make more bad decisions about how to deploy trillions of dollars of capital. And the politicians who passed the laws that encouraged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to take all those wild risks? They’re up for reelection.

Implications for the Future


The complete collapse of the agencies that provided 80% of new mortgages year-to-date is now here. The whole structure of creating mortgage-backed securities and passing them on is gone. There will be no creating new phony tranches of sliced and diced SIV debt, and no CDO and no CDS and no AAA-rated toxic waste. We don’t know what happens to $62 trillion of notional CDS derivatives, but somebody is holding a disaster. This financial crisis is far from over.

By itself, the government might be able to manage some of these problems, but the problems are not isolated: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guarantees $4.3 trillion worth of bank deposits… but has only a $50 billion reserve to cover bank failures.

Interest rates are close to 50-year lows, from the Fed cutting the short-term rate, and as a result of the flight to Treasuries as a “safe harbor”… which serves to drive rates down. But the longer-term implication of the bailout is more deficits… and more deficits will weaken the dollar and therefore, in the longer-term, drive interest rates higher -- especially for non-government-guaranteed debt, to cover inflation and increased risk.

There will be many more financial institutions in trouble: perhaps 150 banks will fail, including probably one or two big banks, like Lehman, Citi, or Merrill. FDIC is next to need a bail-out, in our opinion, once a big commercial bank goes under.

The dollar is up in the short term on what we expect is a short covering rally, but that is not consistent with long-term implications, so we don’t expect it to stay up.

Homeowners gain, as Fannie and Freddie are allowed to continue to expand in 2009. But after that, they will be looking for a newly reconstituted system beyond what is in the conservatorships that are being asked to unwind. The long term is unclear.

The U.S. Treasury is now in the mortgage business. The financial future of the world is crumbling, and this is the biggest step in that change.


David Again, With a Public Service Announcement

Before we move on, I would like to pause for a quick public service announcement.

    Hello. My name is Henry Paulson, chairman of Goldman Sachs and the secretary of the Treasury of these United States.

    I am speaking to you about an important topic. The country is in deep financial trouble. While we can’t say how we got to this point, that’s really not important. What is important is that, as a good American, you need to step up to the plate and pay your fair share in order to provide your government with the money it so desperately needs in these trying times. If you look the other way, then the shaky house of cards we have built, at considerable expense, I might add, risks toppling over.

    What can you do?

    Most importantly, pay all your taxes promptly and in full. We’d help out, but as you may be aware, government doesn’t actually produce anything, so we can’t really do anything without you.

    In fact, if your patriotism moves you to it, why not throw in a few extra bucks to keep your team in Washington – and all our many good works – ticking right along?

    Finally, be sure to cooperate fully should your tax returns be called into question as part of our expanding audit program. Why, you might want to save your auditor the time and inconvenience of coercing you to come clean by reaching quickly into your coat pocket to retrieve your check book and saying something helpful along the lines of…

    “No need to continue. You just name a number you think represents my fair share and we can settle this right now.”

    For those of you who don’t have the good fortune to be U.S. citizens, consider kicking in a little for your struggling Uncle. After all, without us, who’s going to protect you against the commies or Islamo-fascists?

    Together, we can create a perfect world with a chicken in every pot and a nice stove to cook it on.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s move on to the topic of who is actually in control of monetary policy in these here United States. And for that, I gladly turn the page over to our own Bud Conrad.


The Reason Paulson Panicked

By Bud Conrad, September 11, 2008

Foreigners have been reinvesting their trade surplus into the U.S. The Federal Reserve keeps a custody account for foreign central banks, acting like a broker for them in buying U.S. Treasuries and agency debt. Agency debt is debt issued by agencies, most notably Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Fed publishes the data weekly. It is the most up-to-date source of foreign investment.

The chart below shows what happened monthly. Foreigners broke a record for selling off their holdings at the annualized rate of $280 billion in August.

Foreign Central Banks Sold Off Record Agency Debt in August

The U.S. housing market and Freddie and Fannie in particular have depended on foreigners buying their debt to fund mortgage loans. The above data show a loss of confidence by foreigners and a reversal from buying $200 billion a year… to selling off their holdings. There were other pressures, including PIMCO’s Bill Gross demanding a bailout before his huge fund would invest. But this foreign investment pullback was undoubtedly a big reason that Paulson had to act over the weekend to keep the whole agency debt market from collapsing.

Think through the implications of the largest bailout in history being dictated by foreign central banks -- I suspect that the Chinese are the main culprit, based on Paulson’s frequent travels there of late. Think through the fact that our monetary/fiscal policy is now essentially being dictated by foreigners. The bottom line is that the U.S. is now in the position of a third-world country because of our debt!

On the topic of the size of the bailout and the likely cost: in my view, a 10% loss on the $5 trillion insured by Fannie and Freddie is entirely plausible. That would mean that the government would have to come up with $500 billion… just to make the operations whole. But that doesn’t do anything to recapitalize their businesses so that they can continue as a successful ongoing enterprise. That would likely require another $300 billion to be credible.

Now where does the federal government get that kind of money… $800 billion? It means no health care program for Obama, or no defense spending or nuclear power initiative for McCain.

One of the risks a new president might face would be if the public catches on to the fact that the U.S. Government is going to have to pay close to a trillion dollars to bail out foreign central bank holders of bad debt from Freddie and Fannie. Given the trade-off – i.e., no new social programs – many people might decide that bailing out the foreign central banks isn’t such a high priority. The conclusion from that is that the bailout and reconstitution may not happen as planned, for financial reasons; never mind, constitutionality, or just because lawmakers feel duped by estimates of $25 billion. What happens if the mortgage defaults reach 20%? It could happen.

This situation is still very fluid and far from resolved.


“On a Scale with the Crash of 1929 and the Civil War”

David again.

When Andy Miller used that phrase in relation to the Freddie and Fannie takeover – and he didn’t use it flippantly – I took notice. As you know, here at Casey Research, we believe the unfolding crisis will be one for the history books… but we are not used to hearing such words from a mainstream business executive.

So, why was the Freddie and Fannie takeover so significant? Simply, it puts the economy even further out into deeply uncharted waters, with the U.S. Government now standing directly behind the organizations that, per Bud’s earlier comments, have year-to-date been responsible for guaranteeing some 80% of all U.S. mortgages.

Because the event is unprecedented, the consequences are also unpredictable.

To make that point, consider that since making the takeover announcement, the situation has continued to evolve. Or, more accurately, devolve… evidenced by the following items:

    Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The Bush administration is considering whether to fold Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's $5.2 trillion in debt into the federal budget, the White House budget office and the U.S. Treasury Department said.

    “We're discussing how to present this in the federal budget with Treasury and stakeholders right now, but a conclusion hasn't been determined,” said Corinne Hirsch, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget. The Government Accounting Office and other federal agencies are also weighing in on the issue.

The problem with this move, and it is symptomatic of the problem with the whole stinky mess, is that if you ignore longer-term funding obligations that cause it to balloon into the stratosphere, total U.S. Government debt now rings in at about $9 trillion. Toss $5 trillion onto that number, and you might just scare the wrong people… i.e., the foreign holders of dollars.

If there is one thing you can count on, it is that the Treasury will try to find some clever way to obfuscate the true cost of the bailout, which will be exponentially larger than the $25 billion they have suggested. (Recall that the cost of the Iraq war was initially estimated by the administration at $50 to $60 billion… current estimates put the total at closer to $3 trillion.)

And then, there’s this…

    Sept. 11 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate Banking Committee members urged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage lenders placed under federal control this week, to freeze foreclosures on loans in their portfolios for at least 90 days.

    “This action would provide immediate relief to many homeowners” and let the companies “turn these non-performing loans into performing assets to minimize losses,” Democrats Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez and other panel members said today in a letter to the companies and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which is overseeing them under the government conservatorship. The companies also should ease their policies on modifying mortgages, the senators wrote.

So, what these fine senators are proposing is essentially a 3-month moratorium on paying mortgage payments for many. Other than a testament to the stupidity of career politicians, it represents a huge step in the wrong direction… for taxpayers. I am as sympathetic as the next guy to the challenges now being faced by homeowners. But whether you give a person a 90-day or a 9-month moratorium, if you can’t afford the home, you can’t afford the home. This sort of legislation only assures that the bills mount or the loans go that much more in arrears. And it assures that once the moratorium is lifted, the process of actually cleaning up the mess will drag out for that much longer.

Meanwhile, many of the homes in question will be deserted, vandalized and stripped down to the sticks. And, as Andy Miller pointed out in his Casey Report interview, the disincentives will mount for private lenders to make mortgage loans. Thus, the housing crisis can be expected to continue, possibly for years, setting up a powerful negative feedback loop, with yet more downward pressure on prices, more defaults, more foreclosures, more debt moving onto the back of taxpayers.

But it gets worse.

Now that the government has made it clear that it is in the bailout business, it will be very hard for them to draw the line on who qualifies.

For instance, as we have been talking about for some time now, Lehman Brothers is about to be folded into someone else’s family. And Merrill Lynch is right behind them. As was the case with Bear Stearns, will the government end up as a party to whatever deal is struck? Probably.

Then there is the whole banking sector, which is in deep, deep trouble. It is looking more likely with each passing day that WaMu, a giant, will fail. They will be far from the last, as the trend of bank failures is far closer to the beginning than it is to the end.

And then there is the matter of faltering industry. This from the Associated Press earlier this week…

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Auto industry allies hope to secure up to $50 billion in government loans this month that would pay to modernize plants and help struggling car makers build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

    With Congress returning this coming week from its summer break, the industry plans an aggressive lobbying campaign for the low-interest loans. The situation is growing dire after months of tumbling sales, high gasoline prices and consumers' abandoning profitable trucks and sport utility vehicles.

    …"This is not about benefiting Wall Street," said Ford Motor Co.'s President of the Americas Mark Fields, referencing recent federal support for the investment firm Bear Stearns and troubled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "This is benefiting Main Street, the working men and women. The auto industry is part of the backbone of the U.S. economy."

    …Ford and General Motors Corp.'s credit ratings have fallen below investment grade, making it difficult for the companies to borrow money at affordable rates. Chrysler, which has been heavily dependent upon truck sales, has been privately held since last year and faces similar problems accessing capital.

    "This industry could fall down, literally, or be absorbed if they don't get something in place very soon. I think it's that severe," said Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich. "Something has to happen pretty quickly because they can't compete paying 15 to 20 percent (interest)."

    Industry lobbyists pressed the issue at the recent presidential conventions in Denver and St. Paul, Minn., and members of Michigan's congressional delegation have talked to legislative leaders and the Bush administration about the program. Discussions surround a three-year plan that would make $25 billion in loans available in the first year, followed by $15 billion the second year and $10 billion in the third.

I love how the lobbyists have thoughtfully packaged their well-timed pitch for the big bucks in the wrapping of “energy independence.” And that part about the auto industry being an essential component to the “backbone of the U.S. economy” is inspired. Funny, I thought the backbone of the economy was the free-market system that, in its less diluted form, was responsible for making the U.S. the world’s richest economy.

But no worries. No responsible politician would authorize a bailout of this magnitude to a group of car makers who, as friend Porter Stansberry points out, collectively have a market capitalization that is less than half the amount being requested.

Okay, okay, Obama, courting the union workers, might roll for it, but not McCain. At least we can count on that.

Well, not exactly. The AP article continues…

    “Democrat Barack Obama has criticized Republican rival John McCain for not supporting the full $50 billion loan program. McCain said last week he supported fully covering the $25 billion loan program in the energy law.”

Oh, well.

In my view, the government is desperate at this point… desperate to do something, anything, other than let the chips fall where they may… and must, if the country is going to move on. Instead, as the crisis gains momentum, the government has shown that it will try to manage things, but what it will really end up doing is rushing from emergency to emergency, stepping in again and again as the lender of last resort.

It is an untenable situation. It cannot end well.

Before continuing, I wanted to share a photo from Casey Researcher and daily correspondent Ed Steer of a bear that I think deserves serious consideration as the new poster child for U.S. industry.

BEAR


What Does This All Mean to Investors?

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a news service. As we talked, the notion struck me that the interview format might be useful in addressing some of the concerns expressed in the emails I have received lately. And so, with no other interviewer handy, I decided I’d tackle the job myself.

Me: Thanks for making time available today. I can imagine you’re a bit busy, you know, with everything going on in the markets and all.

David: My pleasure. Yes, things are certainly busy, but I’m taking off for a vacation to Portugal next week, so I’ll probably survive.

Me: What’s that music I hear in the background? I can barely hear you.

David: Sorry about that, it’s Polly by Nirvana. It’s actually one of their more mellow songs. Too bad about Kurt Cobain, the guy had a real talent but he couldn’t handle the success and made a lot of bad decisions, not the least of which was frying his brain with excessive quantities of unhealthful stimulants. His later music was truly horrible, but he still managed to secure his reputation by killing himself.

Me: Pretty morbid, but how about we talk about investments? Let’s start with gold. You’ve been very vocal in your bullishness on gold. But as we speak, gold is trading around $750. Are you still bullish, or are you starting to curb your enthusiasm?

David: I’ve never been more bullish. Now, stop rolling your eyes. I’m serious, and here’s why. When trying to understand where investment markets may be headed in the future, we have to largely rely on a combination of hard facts and observations of cause-and-effect relationships that history has shown to have some correlation.

So, what are the hard facts of the situation today? Well, for one thing, we are in the grips of a truly monumental financial crisis, one for the history books. We have the government essentially taking responsibility for over half of the mortgages in the nation, and by passing “anti-predatory lending” legislation and otherwise messing in the free market, assuring that what few private lenders there are still in the mortgage business will soon exit. We also know that the housing bubble was the largest in history, on the order of $30 trillion. And we know that that bubble, and all the little bubbles that spun off from it, were critical drivers of U.S. consumption which, in turn, was a critical driver of global economic growth.

And we know that the housing bubble is now deflating, quickly, with absolutely no turnaround in sight.

Me: That sounds deflationary.

David: No question. As Terry Coxon put it so succinctly, we now have an economy where lenders are afraid to lend, and borrowers are afraid to borrow. That is not a formula for economic growth but contraction. But it is important to interject the factor of time into this discussion. Is the economy in a downturn? Absolutely. Will investments that suffer in an economic downturn suffer in this downturn? Absolutely. Will the government do everything in its power to try to curb this downturn? Absolutely.

Which is why I remain so bullish for gold. While gold is temporarily out of favor with the trading herd, in this day and age, information moves quickly. As the government redoubles its efforts to fix all the many ails of the U.S. economy – and its only real power comes from the printing press – Mr. Market will take note and the pendulum will shift back towards tangibles.

Me: What about the rebound in the dollar?

David: There is a very high correlation between gold and the dollar…and between gold and oil, which is, of course, priced in dollars. It’s hard to argue with the contention that the U.S. dollar was oversold, and that oil was overbought. So, the U.S. dollar has had a bounce, as was inevitable because trees don’t go to the moon, and no investment moves in just one direction. And oil corrected, for much the same reason. As a consequence, gold took a big hit. But what happens as the crisis continues to unfold and the trading herd remembers that the U.S. dollar is trash? Oh, and so is the euro and the pound and the yen? Where is the money going to go next? The Chinese renminbi? Sure, some of it might… but I have to believe that more and more of it is going to find its way into gold.

I recently commented that the 24-hour trading volume on currency futures contracts is worth about $3.2 trillion. Against that number, gold trades about $26 billion and silver just $4.5 billion. When the currency traders start looking for their next safe harbor, I have to believe that some small percentage is going to head into tangibles. And what’s more tangible than gold?

It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. And when it does, the gold price is heading back toward $1,000 in a hurry.

Me: What about gold stocks?

David: To answer that question, you have to start by separating the gold stocks into two categories; the junior explorers and the producers.

Starting with the latter, I remain very bullish on the big producers. At today’s gold prices, the good ones, such as we follow in BIG GOLD, are throwing off large amounts of free cash. How many other sectors can you say that about these days? But the story is even better, because the stocks have been punished along with the broader market and with gold. Thus, they are selling for ridiculously low valuations, by just about any standards.

Historically, there have been a number of occasions where the gold stocks have initially fallen with the broader markets, but then snapped back relatively quickly and head to new highs. I think we’ll see this pattern repeat, and I don’t think we’ll have to wait overly long for it.

There is one other factor in the favor of the big gold companies, but it’s not particularly good news for investors in the junior exploration companies for the near term. Namely that the cashed-up big gold companies are beginning to pick off the juniors with serious deposits that lack the cash to make forward progress in these challenging times. And, thanks to the current market conditions, they don’t have to pay big premiums for those companies. So, that’s a big plus for the producers, but not so good for some of the juniors.

Me: Speaking of the juniors, seems like you should have seen the meltdown coming.

David: We certainly didn’t foresee the depth of the pullback in the juniors. At this point, the losses on juniors are a similar scale as those suffered by investors in the financials, which we did anticipate. In our defense, we did make a couple of moves relatively early on that I think were important. The first was to recommend selling all our appreciated base metals juniors back in August 2007, locking in big gains. Our rationale back then was that base metals were particularly susceptible to the economic downturn we saw coming, and that made it all the more important for subscribers to take their considerable profits off the table.

The other move, made around the same time, was to begin tightening up the portfolio of our remaining stocks, shifting our focus primarily to the highest-quality juniors involved in advanced stages of gold exploration. That was consistent with our view that gold’s role as a monetary metal would become highly valued in the economic crisis. That view hasn’t changed, but the structural underpinnings of the junior resource sector has taken a major hit, causing even the highest-quality juniors to suffer big setbacks.

Me: What structural damage are you referring to?

David: First and foremost, there has been a flight from risk. And we have never made it a secret that the junior resource stocks are risky – it’s what gives them such wonderful upside – which is why we constantly remind investors to only take positions with a relatively small percentage of their portfolio.

Regardless, in the process of trying to reduce risk, an increasing number of investors began trying to unload their juniors, at the same time that buying interest was drying up. That has effectively kept the lid on most of the stocks, even those that have delivered the drill results needed to confirm they are sitting on a major new deposit.

The situation has been exacerbated by a wave of redemptions by investors in the funds that had moved into the smaller resource plays – RAB Capital being the latest example. To meet those liquidations, the managers have been forced to sell, almost without regard to price.

So, ironically, just when everything should be breaking the way of the juniors, they are struggling.

Me: Is it time to throw in the towel on the juniors?

David: Personally, I’m holding. But I am doing so because the positions I own that actually matter – to wit, those of any real size – are all in companies that used their shareholder capital efficiently to discover and/or prove up significant discoveries.

And, per our criteria for the vast majority of the companies we are following in the International Speculator and Casey Investment Alert services, the companies I own are well cashed up and have proven management teams. It is highly unlikely that the deposits they have found are going to be returned to the former property owners or dumped in a fire-sale… at least not as long as the cash holds out. And they have cash.

So, I think, in the longer run, they’ll come out a lot more than fine. Could they get cheaper in the short term? Absolutely. If a fund is forced to dump everything, then quality is no longer a protection; in the short term, the stock is going down.

Between now and the end of the year, I would only look to invest in very special situations. A recent example was a company we brought to the attention of CIA readers on August 15 that subsequently announced a major discovery, giving readers a quick opportunity to lock in a gain of as much as 75% within a couple of weeks. But, as we expect to see in this market, the stock has since come back a bit, though we’re still well in positive territory.

So, the special opportunities are out there, but they take a lot of work to uncover. Fortunately, hard work doesn’t bother people around here very much.

But returning to something I said earlier, we really can’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. With market conditions as volatile as they are today -- and I expect things to get violently volatile before this is over – who is to say that gold doesn’t do a runner through $1,000 almost overnight? That could be a big game changer, and it is certainly not out of the question given the powerful uncertainty hanging over the global economy just now.

So, personally, I’m maintaining my positions in the juniors and looking to raise cash for the truly amazing opportunities I think the quality juniors are going to offer once things bottom early next year. At the point where there are no more sellers, these stocks are going to explode to the upside. As Rick Rule put it in my recent call with him, and Rick is one of the most successful resource investors ever, he is becoming very, very bullish on the better-quality juniors.

If I was pressed to it, I would say that the companies that we are following in the International Speculator and the Casey Investment Alert are going to do exceptionally well next year. We’ll have to get through this lag between the cause of their finding a major deposit and the effect of getting paid for it, but they will get paid.

I know that many of Aurelian’s shareholders were disappointed by the price that Kinross paid for them – but the number worked out to be about $88 per ounce in the ground. Not really all that bad, given that that ground is located in a very politically unstable place. By this time next year, the premium on good deposits, in good jurisdictions, should rise considerably.

Me: You focused your comments on the quality junior resource companies. What about the other 95%? You know, the paper tigers with indifferent management, small or non-existent mineral deposits, and little to no cash?

David: If you own any stocks that fit any part of that description, I’d be looking to beat the market to the punch by selling as soon as possible. Certainly before any serious year-end tax selling gets underway.

The bottom line is that bad companies will have a very bad outcome, simply because they are not going to find the cash they need to survive.

Me: What about base metals? Still bearish?

David: The world’s manufacturers are not going to all close up shop and go away, no matter how bad things get. Despite the big run-up in the prices of many base metals, copper for example, supply inventories throughout the period have not shot up as you might expect they would. So the supply/demand remains fairly tight, and we expect it will continue that way for the foreseeable future.

Our big concern about the base metals has been a sell-off due to broad concerns about a major economic downturn. Since our sell signal last August, we have seen much of the froth come off the base metals and, in the case of some of the metals, a steep sell-off. As the depth and scope of the crisis become widely apparent, we see base metals becoming oversold. At that point we expect to be buyers, competing for our shares with the end users who actually need the feed for their smelters or for their factories.

Me: What about oil? Given the positive correlation with gold, the outlook for oil seems important.

David: It is. While oil, like base metals, may take a few more hits as recession fears spread, the medium to long-term outlook is very bullish. As we have discussed at some length in Casey Energy Opportunities, on the order of 70% of the world’s production is now in the hands of state-run energy companies. That’s important for two reasons.

The first is that, unlike a private company where management has to be attentive to the expectations of shareholders, a government entity will respond only to the wishes of officialdom. As Rick Rule points out, governments have, for decades, dedicated large percentages of their oil revenues to the task of mollifying their populations with all manner of social programs. That money is not being spent to find and develop new fields. Which, in turn, assures that oil supplies will remain tight, and shortages are a locked-in certainty in the years just ahead.

Similarly, I have written about Jeffrey Brown’s Export Land Model, which shows that Mexico will go offline as an exporter to the U.S. within the next six years. While much of that has to do with geology, there’s no question that a diversion of oil revenues to social programs has limited new exploration.

Then there are the geopolitical aspects. If the big oil-producing countries, which include Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, think the price of oil is getting too low, they have it in their ability to stir things up or organize a cut in production, and loudly announce same, to drive prices back up. There are a lot of geopolitical apples in the air just now, not the least being the very real potential for an Israeli attack on Iran.

And just today, Venezuela tossed the U.S. ambassador out and announced it is withdrawing its U.S. envoy. Despite all his bluster and bravado, Venezuela is still the third or fourth largest supplier of oil to the U.S., depending on the day, so, who knows, maybe this time around Chavez ends up cutting off the U.S. and redirecting the country’s oil elsewhere? If there is one truth about history, it is that anything can happen at any time.

So, the outlook for oil remains strong. At least until we get the inevitable breakthrough in technology, I think it will be solar, that changes the entire game. But before that happens, the odds are high we’ll see $200 a barrel.

Me: What about other opportunities?

David: Now you’re talking. In a time of great crisis, there is also great opportunity. It’s all a matter of orientation. Being aware of the scope of the problems now challenging the global economy – and a surprising number of investors are still unaware of just how serious this situation is -- gives you a real leg up in positioning your portfolio to profit. In fact, it is getting hard to keep up with all the many ways to profit from this crisis, though we’re certainly giving it a good try in The Casey Report. Shorting regional banks with portfolios stuffed to the gills with condominium mortgages, or anticipating the inevitability of rising interest rates, or shorting financials, or buying more gold at today’s low prices, or buying natural gas companies on the cheap… and… and.

In the final analysis, I am sorry to say that the common man is going to take a serious hit here. But for the uncommon man, and by that I mean anyone actually willing and able to act decisively at the right time in the right sectors, the potential to earn investment fortunes in the next year or two is very real.

We see it as our job to keep our readers up to date on the unfolding situation and on the ways to play it. It’s a job we take seriously, even though we do sometimes talk to ourselves.


Taunting the Tiger

You may recall the tragic tale of the teenagers, encouraged by the liberal application of pot and alcohol, who thought taunting the tiger at the San Francisco zoo last year was a good idea, a notion that changed quickly when the tiger jumped the fence and expressed his displeasure in that special way only angry tigers can.

I recalled that story when reviewing the following story emanating, as usual, from that towering bastion of hijinks and stupidity, Washington D.C.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. financial institutions are using stock swaps and intricate loan transactions to help foreign investors avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes on dividends paid by U.S. companies, according to a Senate report to be released on Thursday.

    The report by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on permanent investigations said investment bankers use phrases like "dividend enhancement," "yield enhancement" and "dividend uplift" to market an array of transactions "whose major purpose is to enable non-U.S. persons to dodge payment of U.S. taxes on stock dividends."

    Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who along with Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman led the year-long investigation into these transactions, said the Internal Revenue Service has not done enough to crack down on abusive swap and loan transactions.

    "There is no business purpose other than avoiding taxes," Levin told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. "The IRS ought to go after that, they ought to go after that heavily, they have not."

    The committee estimates that using offshore entities to avoid paying U.S. taxes costs the federal treasury about $100 billion annually. The report did not put a specific amount on tax losses due to stock swaps and loans transactions with offshore entities, but said the amount is "substantial."

Now, rules are rules and all that, but at this particular moment, Congress might want to look the other way on new legislation to tax foreign investors in the U.S.

After all, should the IRS succeed in its endeavors in this regard, it might, just might, make the U.S. less attractive as a place for foreigners to park funds. And right now, I think the U.S. probably needs all the investment capital it can get.

Why, no sooner had those words rolled onto the screen than the following popped up in an email from the ever reliable Mr. Steer…

    China May Cut Its Dollar Holdings: CICC

    From China Daily, Beijing

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-09/12/content_7020656.htm

    China, which holds a fifth of its currency reserves in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt, may cut the portion held in US dollars, according to China International Capital Corp. (CICC), one of the nation's biggest investment banks.

    The US government this week seized control of the two mortgage-finance companies, which account for almost half the home-loan market in the world's biggest economy, to prevent defaults from crippling them. China holds up to $400 billion in the two firms' debt, CICC Chief Economist Ha Jiming said in a report Thursday.

    "The crisis has made Chinese officials realize it's a bad idea to put all their eggs in one basket," wrote Hong Kong-based Ha. "This will likely lead to greater diversification of foreign exchange reserve investments."

    China held $447.5 billion of US agency bonds as of June 2008, according to the CICC calculations using disclosures by the US Treasury. It is likely to reduce the portion of reserves in dollar assets from the current 60 percent by purchasing more non-dollar assets with new reserves, he said.

    Countries in Asia have stockpiled foreign exchange reserves since the 1997-98 financial crisis to act as a cushion against a run on their exchange rates. That in turn has increased pressure on policymakers to ensure higher returns from more than $4 trillion in assets.

    China will expand its investments in corporate bonds and equities, according to Ha. Treasury and agency bonds account for 50 percent and 40 percent of total dollar assets held by the central bank, he wrote.


I suspect, but can’t know, that given the general environment where bonds will soon look like a really, really bad idea, and stocks won’t look much better… at least not those in the U.S., given the proposed IRS enforcement, coupled with that whole collapsing financial markets thing… the Chinese and others in Asia will see some wisdom in adding some more precious metals to the portfolio mix. It wouldn’t take much more than a percentage point or two of $4 trillion to do some pretty amazing things to the price of gold.


A Very Useful New Service

Last week, I finally found time to do something I have been meaning to do for years but have always put off: I sent off a bunch of my old VHS tapes to be transferred to DVD.

The tapes, from my youth and my family life, have been gathering dust and slowly degrading.

Well, anyway, I finally got around to researching the best way to handle the transfer and settled on the Photo Archival Company. I don’t do a lot of product endorsements, but the service was so excellent – including changing my delivery instructions over the weekend – the prices so reasonable (about $10 a tape) and the quality of the transfer so good, I highly recommend them.

I was particularly amazed that they were able to successfully transfer, and retain the quality of the initial recording, of one tape that was almost 25 years old, of a very strange adventure I was involved with in Africa.

In any event, as I suspect you probably have old VHS tapes or Super 8’s, whatever, lying around, you may find this service as useful as I have. Check it out.


Miscellany

  • Good perspectives on gold. Frank Holmes, the top-performing gold fund manager, often comes across interesting facts and insights, which he shares on his website (you can read some of his recent postings by clicking here). Recently Frank co-authored an excellent book on gold investing, titled GoldWatcher. It’s quite well done and well worth the price, even though it’s not available on Kindle yet.
     
  • Orange County phyle starting up. If you live in Orange County, California, we have a subscriber who is willing to organize get-togethers. Drop us a note at phyle@caseyresearch.com.
     
  • Doug takes on James Carville and Fred Thompson, live… The annual New Orleans Investment Conference is coming up, Nov. 13 – 17. It has become something of a tradition for the organizers of this long-running event to put Doug Casey up against all manner of opposition in a debate format. This year’s challengers should be particularly interesting, especially Carville, who is famous for his rapier wit. Can Doug prevail against this media slick? Only one way to find out… be there. More details on the conference can be found here.
     
  • Music makes the world go round. I was thrilled to get so many emails with so many great songs I have never heard – and reminders of many great old songs I have. I was going to do a compilation of all your recommendations in this edition but ran out of time, so I will save that for the edition after next, when I am back from Portugal. Until then, thanks to all of you who took the time to write with your favorites!


And Finally…

And with that, I will sign off for this week… and for next as well, as I’ll be visiting with friends in Portugal. As I sign off, gold is trading up at $753, and the U.S. stock market isn’t open yet… I started quite early today. But a glance at the news suggests another rough day... with retail sales falling further and Lehman teetering.

One item of interest to gold investors, a group I am happy to belong to, has it that U.S. Producer Prices fell 0.9% in August. At first glance, that might seem a reversal of last month’s robust gains. But scratch at the data a bit, and you find that producers paid 9.6 percent more for goods in August 2008 than they did in August 2007. And, taking out food and energy, you find that the gain in “core” prices in August was 3.6%, the biggest year-over-year increase since 1991.

Even so, you can expect the pundits to point to the data as a sign that the inflation has been tamed, giving the government yet more license, as if they needed it, to belly up to the money bar.

Which brings me to one final item before I sign off.

The days ahead are going to try the mettle of most people and the quality of our lives will, in the end, be determined by how well we cope. It is important to keep things, good and bad, in their proper perspective. There’s more to life than money, and we as a species are truly resilient.

In that regard, I think the photo here, from Ireland during a recent flood, strikes a resonant chord.

Crowds panic as flooding threatens Ireland

Next week Olivier Garret, our hard-working CEO, will be writing this column.

And so, until the week after next, thank you for reading and for being a subscriber.

David Galland

David Galland
Managing Director
Casey Research, LLC




Posted 09-12-2008 2:14 PM by David Galland