The Room - 10/10/2008

October 10, 2008

Dear, Dear Reader,

In last week's edition of this meandering missive, I mused as follows...

"What, I wonder, will the government do when next week, or the week after maybe, the U.S. stock market takes another header for 500 points? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, gold is at $826, down considerably over the past week.

Like when a tsunami sucks the water away from the shore just before hitting, we're in a transition period. I'm not worried about where gold is going next. I wish I could say the same about the world."

According to the number crunchers, the U.S. stock market is on track to have its worst week since 1937. Which, as you can see from the DJIA chart here, is an acceleration of the broader trend that has held sway for some time now.

1223661656-bloombergchart

While we can't yet say what action the U.S. Government will take next, glancing over the horizon, we see a growing number of countries implementing a euphemistically named "market holiday." In Iceland, all banks and markets are now enjoying a day off. And Kevin Brekke, our Switzerland-based researcher, just wrote that there is a rising call to halt trading in Germany. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the same were to occur in the U.S.

As has previously been noted, we are wandering through deep woods, with little in the way of a map to guide us. And so we must rely on what few signs we can discern. And one of those signs is that, literally, all of the "solutions" to the problem now being pushed forward by governments around the globe have to do with trying to re-generate an expansion of credit through the liberal application of a thick layer of monetary grease. In other words, trying to solve the problem with more of the same.

It's like trying to sober up a prostrate drunk by pouring Vodka down his throat as a restorative.

To the extent that these exertions fail, government is forced to fall back on the coercive powers they have taken unto themselves over the decades... slap down the short traders, clamp shut the markets, or... or... we just can't say. But in our mind's eyes, we can hear the motto of our century, "Whatever it takes," bubbling from the blubbery lips of officialdom around the world.

Playing their part, the MMM (Mass Media for the Mindless) intone that the smart move for investors to make now is to play for the big bounce, a drumbeat that was heard especially loud as the week of October 5 opened for business.

This notion that sunny skies are surely just ahead was being championed, of course, by all of the king's men and most of the punditry. It is as if the words "The worst is now behind us" are etched on the inside of their lungs.

And so they urged the investing public to jump back onboard the Rebound Express... maybe even with the use of leverage, just to be sure to squeeze all of the juice possible out the rally that surely cometh.

On Monday and again on Tuesday, I received several emails from readers inquiring for my opinion on that very same theme, often accompanied by articles from this sage or that about the pending rally.

My response to one such inquiry is as follows...

    Yes. He is likely right about a rally, but there is one important thing to keep in mind in all of this sort of discussion.

    It is this.

    Everyone operates from within the framework of their experience. The author's experience is that when his phone begins ringing, it's a bottom. Or when the candlestick chart shows that X level is below Y, then a bounce is due.

    He is likely right in one sense... that no market goes in one direction consistently, without pullbacks and bounces.

    But what if this time things are, in actual fact, different?

    Oh no! Not that old saying.

    Well, consider that America has historic (as in, never happened before) levels of trade deficits, government deficits, record levels of personal indebtedness, the largest housing bubble ever – a housing bubble that qualifies as the largest financial bubble in history (by a wide margin), record number of dollars in the hands of foreigners, etc.

    So, before we broke through all those negative records, one could have said, yeah, but for those things to happen, things would have to be different... and they were.

    Both Doug Casey and Bud Conrad are on record saying that the entire global financial system – a system built on the house of cards of a fiat currency – may be about to fall. That the holders of trillions of dollars in misallocated capital and derivatives anchored to that capital may be about to learn just what the underlying value of a fiat currency actually is, and demand something else.

    Look at the stock chart of the Great Depression and you won't see it moving in a straight line... there are bounces along the way... but if you had bought ahead of most of those bounces, it would have been a financial disaster.

    All of which is a long way of saying, the author you quote may be right... but I would play the bounce only with money I could afford to lose.

    Gold at these prices should be a good monetary medium to transfer wealth to calmer waters... that, and not as a speculative investment, is its best and highest purpose just now. And it is a hell of a lot safer than pretty much any mainstream security (by virtue of the fact that credit markets are frozen... which makes it kinda hard to buy raw materials, meet payrolls, build inventories, buy capital equipment, etc.)

    Unless and until the credit markets are working again, caution is the word.

Prior to this week, perhaps, the concept that the world we live in might not be quite so predictable and well organized – you know, that stocks fall, then quickly recover, allowing you to close shop and head down to your preferred martini bar for a $15 libation -- had not made it through the well-coifed craniums of the young and the restless that now dominate the world of finance.

1223661656-Trader An email from our Jake Weber, the Chicago-based editor of our very useful (and free!) new e-letter, Casey's Charts, shed a passing glimpse on the cost associated with misunderstanding the nature of what's going on just now...

    My friend, who's a day trader here in Chicago, said that he lost $100k for the company in 10 seconds, and had he waited 10 more seconds, it would have been $300k. It's a different game...

Now, multiply that experience by the tens of thousands, handling tens of millions, and you can begin to get a sense about the hard dose of reality that has been meted out to the optimistic this week.

It is said that a picture can tell a thousand words (or, these days, given inflation, is it a hundred thousand?), and so I would share the accompanying photo from the Financial Times. One can't say with certainty, but I suspect the look on the young gentleman's face is not enthusiasm but panic.

No $15 martini today, though a bottle of cheap gin in a darkened room might be called for.

Go Gold

As I don't need to tell you -- or at least those of you who have been with us for any length of time – the core fixative in our prescription for the immunization of portfolios large and small from the dark age now descending on global financial markets is a healthy dose of bright and shiny gold.

I hope you didn't drag your feet in laying in supplies, because it is now all but impossible to find physical gold... pretty much in any form (other than expensive rarities), anywhere.

Personally, I've never seen anything like it. Even in the gold bull market scramble of the late 1970s, you still could still walk into pretty much any gold shop and pick up an ounce or two (with a short wait in line, at worst).

Likewise, I couldn't have imagined we'd see such a disconnect between the paper price of gold – which, while comforting, seems restrained to us – in light of the physical shortages and all that those shortages imply.

Shedding some light on that topic, Sally Limantour, the editor of our soon-to-be-launched trading service, forwarded the following excerpt from recent writings by Bill Fleckenstein, one of the few money managers with the foresight to see what was about to unfold...

    All regular readers are aware of the shortages of physical gold. (And, I think a lot of folks have found that out for themselves when they've tried to buy some coins.) What I haven't talked about lately is that gold lease rates have gone through the roof. That appears to be because central banks are becoming credit-adverse and not lending out their gold as they once did. I've also heard rumblings about some large holders of gold futures deciding to take delivery, since they're having trouble buying physical gold in sufficient size.

    Lust for Gold Dust

    If that's the case, it could cause a mad scramble at the COMEX, because there's not enough gold to meet the open interest. It looks like physical gold, as compared to paper gold, is rapidly becoming the flavor of the day -- meaning that a huge price move may lie just in front of us.

    And, if that thesis is correct, when more folks start understanding it, there might not be enough gold around to satisfy demand at anywhere near current prices -- and their attention will turn to the place where they can find gold, namely the gold miners, whose job it is to "make" more. (With the price of energy dropping as world GDP slows, the profit potential for the gold miners is liable to be the best it has been in many years.) So, I think the stage may be set for a dramatic move in gold stocks.

This, of course, is a thesis we subscribe to in our BIG GOLD letter, which is dedicated to following the fortunes of the large market capitalization producers – as well as the various ways you can buy and hold the monetary metal (in the next edition, the BIG GOLD team looks for – and finds – physical gold available for purchase. Learn more.)

The bottom line is that if you are in gold and -- we continue to believe, gold stocks and other assets connected to gold – hold on tight because as interesting as things have been so far, the next three or four acts promise to bring down the curtain.

A Quick Conrad Commentary

Our Casey Research chief economist, the always-working Bud Conrad, shot me the following note and chart in an email yesterday. While his words are succinct, they do a good job of summarizing the situation as it now stands.
    Deficit Could Exceed $1 Trillion My view is that all the king's men can't put this market back together. The finance ministers are going to meet in Washington tomorrow, and they don't know what to do. Remember that we saw Paulson and Bernanke tell us that everything was fine all last year? Bush doesn't have enough respect left for anybody to bother with his pronouncements. The combination is that they won't do the right things.

    Taken together, the dollar is overvalued and stocks are still not reflecting the multi-year recession that, I expect, will bring much lower earnings than the current estimates that keep the CNBC rubes saying stocks are undervalued.

    Until I hear something different from the government, other than pouring more gasoline on the fire, I don't expect this crisis to even begin to be solved. At this point, I don't think they have even determined what the problem is, namely too much debt and its deleveraging.

    They are working on the wrong problem with the wrong solutions.

    Meanwhile, the chart here provides a glimpse at where those solutions are taking the U.S. economy. Not a pretty picture. Gold remains the only safe harbor.

Snippets

The following items arrived this week from Mr. Watson, my longtime friend and correspondent in Portugal.
    Running Out of Digits. The famous debt clock in Times Square that shows the national debt has hit a problem. When it first went up, it was about $3 trillion. Today it passed $10 trillion and has not got enough digits. It will take some months to add an extra digit so that the debt can then be measured in quadrillions.

    To which I reply by sharing the message off a bumper sticker I saw earlier this week, "If you aren't angry, you aren't paying attention!"

    Iceland on Ice. British local governments, it is now revealed, may have as much as 1 billion pounds parked in Iceland banks, banks with an AA rating. They all parked funds there on the recommendation of John Prescott, Tony Blair's deputy prime minister! The Iceland government wanted to seize control of the three bankrupt banks but discovered that there was no law on the books allowing them to do this. So they used the anti-terrorism laws to seize the banks' assets. Look out, America. Meanwhile, the Iceland president just had a heart attack and was rushed to hospital for heart surgery. I wonder if there is a cause-and-effect relationship at work?

David again, on the topic of Iceland, the following excerpt came out of an article that just came across the wires from an English news source...

    Financial crisis: Gordon Brown to sue Iceland over near £1bn of frozen bank deposits

    Gordon Brown has described the behaviour of the Icelandic government following the bank collapses as "totally unacceptable", adding that the Government was considering legal action.

    The Prime Minister is furious that 300,000 bank customers are blocked from accessing deposits in online bank Icesave.

    There are also concerns that councils and police authorities might not be able to retrieve nearly £900m of taxpayers' money which is stranded in Icelandic bank accounts.

    Mr. Brown told a press conference: "We are taking legal action against the Icelandic authorities. We are showing by our action that we stand by people who save."

    Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, added: "The Icelandic government, believe it or not, have told me yesterday they have no intention of honouring their obligations here."

In sandbox lingo, those comments would be equivalent to, "If you don't give me back my ball, I'm going to tell my mother!" Regardless, one government giving raspberries to another is not exactly the sort of big love international cooperation everyone is cooing about lately.

The Really BIG Bubble

Growth of a Complex Market As I wrote in the September 1 edition of The Casey Report, which focused on housing and how much longer the meltdown in that important sector might last, the global housing bubble at $30 trillion ranks as the biggest financial bubble in history.

It is, in fact, an amount roughly equivalent to the GNP of the entire world.

But my contention that it was the biggest bubble ever was an error. The Really BIG Bubble is in global derivatives, as shown here in this snapshot from the International Swaps and Derivatives Association. As you can see on the lower right-hand side of the really big bubble, the Credit Default Swaps alone come to over $54 trillion... and they are now coming unglued.

While we cannot know how the game will end, the simple fact that the pieces involved are this big is a lot more than a little concerning. I sincerely hope the best case will appear in a fresh suit and pressed tie and announce that all is well. For the time being, however, preparing for the worst case seems appropriate.

What to Watch Now

We expect this crisis to unfold in stages. So far, we have seen the real estate bubble beginning to deflate (and it has a long ways to go, increasingly involving commercial real estate, a play we are already profiting from in The Casey Report), a freeze-up in credit, the emergence of violent market volatility... and now a global stock market meltdown (dare we say "crash"?).

Next up will be widespread bank failures, corporate bankruptcies, soaring unemployment, increasingly draconian government interventions, all of which will end in a massive inflation. How's that for a string of happy thoughts?

Unfortunately, we'll have a lot of time to discuss those various developments in the weeks, months, and even years ahead.

For now, however, the key measure to watch is the London Interbank Lending Rate, or LIBOR, as it is referred to in the trades.

As you may already be aware -- being a whole lot more astute than most people in such matters -- LIBOR is the rate at which banks are willing to lend money between themselves. In addition to being viewed as a measure of trust and normalcy in the global financial system – and on that measure, an upward-spiking LIBOR is the equivalent of a flashing red light these days – it is also used as a feature in financial contracts worldwide.

For example, if you have secured a loan to build your factory or a line of credit to finance the stream of materials you need to manufacture your goods, the underlying terms of your agreement almost invariably use LIBOR, plus some percentage, to express the interest rate you'll pay on the loan.

LIBOR is so widely used in this manner that it is estimated to be linked to over $370 trillion worth of financial contracts. Thus, when LIBOR spikes by 1.44% to 5.38%, as it did earlier this week (it has since settled in around 4.82%... for the moment), the financial consequences to already struggling businesses are huge.

To get the full picture, you have to understand that, pre-crisis, LIBOR was ticking along at about one-half of a percent. So, in raw numbers, multiply a 4.3% increase in LIBOR across $370 trillion worth of contracts and you come up with a financial punch in the gut of almost $16 trillion.

Businesses will fail. Industries will grind to a halt.

Watch LIBOR. Unless and until those rates come down, you can forget about that whole "Happy days are here again" thing. (And, when LIBOR does eventually come down, we'll still be in the deep, dark woods... just in another quadrant of the woods.)

Vive Le Difference!

The McCain/Palin team, correctly in my view, hurls bricks at Obama/Biden for looking to the government to fix all that ails.

Set the free market free, I cheered, pumping my arm enthusiastically in the air with a loud whoop or two thrown in for effect.

But then I came across the following, and my arm dropped across my forehead in an swoon of bitter despair.

    (From Bloomberg) When asked about the quickest way to help Americans struggling with financial ruin, McCain said he would order the Treasury Department to purchase bad mortgages to keep people in their homes.

    "And it's my proposal, it's not Senator Obama's proposal, it's not President Bush's proposal," McCain said. His campaign estimates it would cost about $300 billion, some of which could be diverted from an existing $700 billion rescue package.

Democrat, Republican... two sides of a statist coin if you ask me.

But wait, just when my despair was about to turn to cynicism, I came across this other item from Bloomberg... they caught the culprit behind the financial crisis!

His name, in case you hadn't heard, is Kenneth Rickel. And better yet, he's from Beverly Hills! Rich and greedy, just as we suspected. Bring out the duct tape and truncheons, I say!

From Bloomberg's report on the miscreant behind the crime of the century...

    Here's what Rosalind R. Tyson, director of the SEC's Los Angeles office, had to say in the same press release: Rickel and his firm "engaged in serial violations of an important regulation designed to protect the integrity of the capital markets." It's enough to make you think he's the Jeffrey Dahmer of Wall Street.

    Just what kind of short seller is our man Rickel? Not a naked short seller, like the kind Cox normally vilifies. And while the SEC may have called his civil violations "illegal," it didn't accuse him of fraud.

    According to the SEC's complaint, Rickel covered short sales on 14 companies with shares he bought through their public stock offerings. If he'd covered his bets with stock he bought on the open market, he would've been OK under the rules. In a short sale, an investor sells borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back at a lower price and pocket the difference as profit. (Naked shorts sell shares without borrowing them first.)

And what was the totality of Rickel's ill-gotten gains? $207,291. For shame, Mr. Rickel, for shame! (You can read the whole story here:)

Kind of reminds me of Barney Frank's blaming the housing collapse on the free market (see last week's edition). On that topic, someone -- and I am sorry to say I don't recollect, but thanks to whomever you are -- sent along the following.

1223666322-comic

Which brings me to my song of the week, a classic and very appropriate to today's situation. It's Ship of Fools by World Party. You can listen to it here.

And, Now for Something Entirely Different...

I'm tired of writing about doom and gloom. So, let's take a quick breather by spending a few minutes on one of my favorite topics... the more optimistic topic of technology. This week, a couple of items came to my attention.

Amazon Kindle 2 Cars for Teens. The first is that Ford announced they are coming out with a new car that allows parents control over maximum speed, music volume, and required seat belt usage. As the father of two pre-teens and remembering my own experience as a teenager behind the wheel (final tally four accidents, one serious), I am solidly in Ford's customer demographic for this innovation.

Kindle 2 Coming. Subscriber and regular correspondent Marv A. tipped me off to the fact that the much anticipated Kindle V.2 is on the way. In fact, here's a peek at it. As readers of any duration know, I am in love with this technology... and even more so with each passing day. If you don't have a Kindle yet, you just don't know what you're missing. In any event, here's a link to an article on the new version. I'll be a buyer (that will make three for a family of four... but I suspect it will be four for four in the not-too-distant future.)

Correspondence

I have received many wonderful and thoughtful emails over the last couple of weeks (along with a few not so wonderful, but hey, it is what it is). While I read all email addressed to me, the problem comes in responding, which takes longer. The problem is that the incoming mail – perfectly understandable given the temper tantrum being thrown by global markets – has reached the point where I am falling hopelessly behind.

Next week, I will try to be a better correspondent.

Sleep Walking into a Brave New World

"It's unreal," said Dean Price, 24, a graphic designer in London. "We've been sleep-walking into this. Everyone talks about Orwell and 1984, but no one ever does anything about it."

I'm running out of time, but I don't want to end this week without hoisting a warning flag about the rising tide of fascism, which typically occurs during economic crisis.

You don't need me to point out the signs that are there for everyone to see, if they weren't too sheepish or just too busy trying to survive to do so. Gitmo, wiretapping of civilians (and, according to breaking news, soldiers in Iraq and their loved ones), U.S. spy satellites being redirected to within U.S. borders for law enforcement purposes, even the deployment of a U.S. Army brigade within the U.S. with a specific mandate to be available to "help" in the event of a domestic emergency of an unspecified nature. A democratic congressman, during the floor debate on the big bailout, said that he and a number of his colleagues were told that if they didn't vote in favor of the bill, "the stock market would crash, and within two weeks martial law would be declared." (You can look all those references up for yourself. I would have done it for you, but I am already out of time.)

The quote at the top of this segment comes from an article I came across on Bloomberg this week on the very slippery slope that Britain is now on. It started with surveillance cameras here and there and has expanded to the point where even local councils have been given permission to deploy spy cameras and wire tapping.

It is worth reading, which you can do here.

As an aside, I am re-reading Orwell's 1984... on my Kindle, of course. It is a true classic and well worth a re-read, especially now.

My point is simple: if there was ever a time to be vigilant, this is it.

Miscellany1223666225-McDonalds

  • You Think Times Are Tough in the U.S.? Last week, I discussed the fact that, as bad as things are in the U.S. financial system, it is as bad, or worse, in Europe. How bad? Well, I can't say for sure if this photo out of England is real or not, but if things keep going the way they are, it could be... (thanks to Bill W. for sending that along!)
  • Stock Sale Notice. As is our policy, please be advised that a member of our team intends to sell his shares in Allied Nevada, a company we are currently have as a buy. The decision to sell is entirely due to the need to raise some of the money needed to pay a tax bill and has nothing to do with the company or its prospects. Also per our policy, he will not sell until you have had a head start of two business days.
  • Phyle Announcements. Glenn in Auckland, NZ, is looking to start a get-together group for subscribers, as is Hans in Tampa, FL. The inaugural gathering in Los Angeles is Oct. 18 at 7:00 pm at The Church and State located at 1850 Industrial Ave (east downtown LA). The next phyle meeting in Seattle is scheduled for Oct. 21 at 7:00 pm at the Starbucks in downtown Mercer Island, WA. For more on these events, drop a line to Kristen at phyle@caseyresearch.com.

That's it for this week. As I sign off, just after midday, I see the DJIA is off by 368 points, the S&P is off another 39 points to 865, and gold, after a morning surge, has backed off to around $880 per ounce, as traders close out positions ahead of the weekend. This weekend, the G-7 finance ministers, the IMF and Worldbank all meet in Washington, DC. Understandably, there is a lot of uncertainty in the markets about what's going to happen on Monday.

Speaking of which, Sally Limantour, in the current edition of The Casey Report, provided the technical break-up/break-down levels for a number of markets... i.e., the levels at which a breakthrough signals a bigger move up or down. I asked her to update the levels for stocks and gold. The current break-up level for the S&P 500 is 1005, the break-down is 825. For gold, the break-up is $942, the break-down is $866.

Now, obviously, those numbers move with time... but at least now you know what the traders are watching.

We live in interesting times. Stay in touch...

David Galland

David Galland

Managing Director

Casey Research, LLC.





Posted 10-10-2008 2:27 PM by David Galland