The Room – 05/15/2009
Dear Reader,

Last time I wrote, I labored under the after-effects of a mild case of “immoderation.” In response to which the ever-moving Doug Casey (writing from Washington D.C.) sent along the following witticisms, which I thought you might enjoy...

    “While a little absinthe can be quite pleasant, a lot, as with any other strong spirit, will make you drunk. Perhaps, if you are of an Oscar Wilde bent, too much absinthe will do to you what it did to him: ‘After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were,’ he said in one of his many disquisitions on absinthe. ‘After the second you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.’
    “Personally, I prefer how martinis affected Dorothy Parker:

    “I like to have a martini,

    “Two at the very most.

    “After three I’m under the table,

    “after four I’m under my host.”


After a week of engaging in all manner of healthful activity, I am ready once again to tilt my lance against the armies of absurdity that assault the senses more or less constantly these days.

This week, for instance, Alan Greenspan opined that the economy has bottomed, and the stock market actually rallied in response! It’s akin to Bernard Madoff announcing he is opening a new money management service from the secure facility where he now resides, and having investors rush all over themselves to hand him their money.

Or how about these headlines...

US Retail Sales Unexpectedly Fall for Second Month (Bloomberg)… and, Foreclosures: “April was a shocker"(CNN)… or Unemployment Claims in U.S. Jump More Than Forecast on Idled Auto Plants (Bloomberg).

Now, despite my ready access to a large and very capable team of researchers who are intensely curious and focused on facts, I won’t claim anything close to perfect knowledge about anything. But I will claim that any economic observer who is “shocked” by any piece of bad news these days has either been misreading their doctor’s instructions on their daily doses of Valium, or is just plain stupid.

But the absurdity doesn’t stop there. Not by a long shot.

For proof of that contention, look no further than the crime of omission the mainstream media are now committing by failing to report, emphasized with banner headlines, the train wreck now occurring with the government’s finances.

Starting with the trouble the U.S. Treasury had on May 7 when it tried to auction off $14 billion in long-term bonds. Skeptical buyers demanded higher yields, forcing the rate to rise from 4.19% to 4.29% over the course of the auction.

But even that is just the tip of the iceberg. The latest developments have to do with the sharp shortfall in tax revenues we have been anticipating.

Here’s the story…


Tax Revenues Tanking

While everyone else has been focused on the banks’ stress tests and how much government is spending to bail out troubled “too big to fails,” a disturbing trend on the other side of the equation is now emerging: how much (or rather, how little) the U.S. government is receiving in tax revenues.

After combing through the past 25 editions of the “Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government,” which is compiled and published by the Treasury Department’s Financial Management Service, we created the following chart.





Here’s what’s going on:

  • In 2007 and 2008, government tax revenues averaged about $633.15 billion per quarter. For the first quarter of 2009, however, the numbers just in tell us that tax receipts totaled only about $442.39 billion -- a decline of 30%.

  • Looking to confirm the trend, we compared the data for April – the big kahuna of tax collection months – to the 2007-2008 average, and found that individual income taxes this year were down more than 40%. The situation is even worse for corporate income taxes, which were down a stunning 67%!

  • When you add in all revenue from all sources (including Social Security revenue, government fees, etc.), the fiscal year-to-date – October through April – revenue shortfall comes to 19%, vs. the 14.6% projected in Obama’s budget. If, however, the accelerating shortfall apparent year-to-date, and in April in particular, continues, the spread between projected and actual tax receipts will widen considerably.

Tellingly, for the first time since 1983, the U.S. government posted a deficit in April. That’s a big swing in the wrong direction, as the bump in personal tax collections in April historically results in a big surplus -- on average about $68 billion.

What are the implications of this tanking tax revenue?

For starters, it means the federal government deficit is going be as bad or worse than the $2.5 trillion Bud Conrad, chief economist of Casey Research, projected it to be last year.

If the shortfall in individual and corporate tax revenue persists -- and we expect it will -- then the deep hole the government is already digging for itself will be that much deeper.

Using the government’s own expense projections, the revenue shortfall, even if it doesn’t worsen further, would push the fiscal 2009 budget deficit up to about $1.958 trillion. For reasons we’ve discussed at some length in The Casey Report, those expense projections are likely to be significantly understated.

Case in point, in January the government projected a $1.2 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2009… in March, just three months later, they upped the projection to $1.8 trillion. That $600 billion “adjustment” alone totaled more than any full-year budget deficit in the nation’s history.





Yet, the real fly in the ointment is that the actual borrowing by the Treasury is likely to be at least half a trillion dollars more than the deficit.

That’s because the Treasury is buying toxic paper (mortgage, credit card loans, etc.) and putting them on the books with a higher value than the market is willing to assign. While that makes the budget deficit appear smaller, it doesn’t negate the fact that the government still must borrow the money needed to buy the toxic paper in the first place. The additional revenue shortfall means they have to raise that much more money. Based on the struggle they had pushing the $14 billion in long-term notes at the latest auction, it becomes increasingly apparent that when push comes to shove, the only way the government is going to come up with the money needed to meet its aggressive spending is to print it up.

In other words, events are rolling out almost exactly as we have been anticipating. Below, for example, are some useful excerpts from an April 3 article titled “Widening Deficits” by Casey Research CEO Olivier Garret. To quote…

    In the midst of the Great Depression, the 1931 federal tax revenues had fallen by 52% from their 1929 highs. While we do not expect anything that dramatic in 2009, it would not be unrealistic to see a 20% to 25% reduction in cash flow from tax collections this tax season. Such a drop would pose significant challenges given that spending commitments are off the charts and climbing.

Later in that same article, Olivier continued,

    In the absence of sizeable increases in tax revenues, it is quite clear that the lion’s share of the planned sales of Treasuries in 2009 cannot be met by demand from the market. Either the Treasury will have to raise interest rates significantly, or the Fed will need to step in very aggressively to support the planned auctions. Our expectation is that both will happen. Auctions will fail and the Fed will step in. The market will react to more printing by anticipating inflation and demanding higher interest rates. Once the cycle starts, it will be very hard to pull interest rates back.

    We continue to stand by our December forecast that the 2009 budget deficit is more likely to widen to levels between $2.5 and $3 trillion rather than the CBO’s $1.8 trillion forecast. We also believe that inflation could start setting in as early as Q3 of 2009 and will accelerate sharply by 2010. Treasury Rates will start climbing and the era of cheap money will end, making it harder for overleveraged consumers, businesses, and governments to service their debt.

Olivier’s forecast of failed auctions and rising interest rates on Treasuries proved more prophetic as a May 7th story from Bloomberg reported:

    Treasury 30-year bonds fell the most in four months as investors demanded higher-than-forecasted yields at today’s auction of $14 billion of the securities with the U.S. slated to sell a record amount of debt this year.

    “This is a problem,” said Chris Ahrens, head interest-rate strategist at UBS AG in Stamford, Connecticut, one of 16 primary dealers required to bid in Treasury auctions. “The market required a fairly significant discount to buy the bonds.”

    Thirty-year bonds have lost investors 20.9 percent this year, Merrill Lynch & Co. indexes show, as the Treasury increases securities sales to help fund a swelling budget deficit. Yields climbed to a six-month high today as the auction drew a yield of 4.288 percent, higher than the 4.192 percent average forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of seven primary dealers. Demand was below average, judging by total bids.

    The benchmark 30-year bond yield climbed 23 basis points, or 0.23 percentage points, the most since Jan. 5, to 4.316 percent, at 5:25 p.m. in New York, according to BGCantor Market data. It was the highest yield since Nov. 14. The 3.5 percent security due in February 2039 dropped 3 15/32, or $34.69 per $1,000 face amount, to 86 3/8.

    The 10-year note yield increased 16 basis points to 3.345 percent, the highest since Nov. 24.

    Two-year notes yielded 1 percent for the first time since March 18, while the rate on the three-month Treasury bill was 0.18 percent.

So, what does all this mean?

As per above, the rock-and-the-hard-place scenario we have been predicting is unfolding before our eyes. At this point, other than sharply changing course and letting the free market cope with the crisis through a brutal “survival of the fittest” scenario, the government is left with no other option than to accelerate its buying up of its own debt.

Which is to say, it must push even harder on the levers of its printing presses, further setting the stage for the massive period of inflation we continue to see as inevitable… and for the stunning rise in interest rates we are now positioning ourselves for in The Casey Report (and, you can too… learn more).


Super Fed, Super Cop?

Did you see that the Obama administration wants to turn the Fed into a “super cop” to regulate any company considered by the government to be “too big to fail”? If not, you can read the story here…

That notion caught the attention of Bud Conrad, no big fan of the Fed. In his own words…

    So, the proposal is to have the Fed, the institution most responsible for pouring gasoline on the fire in creating this crisis, control the banks. The Fed has been in bed with the big banks since it was invented. Greenspan was at the center of the bubble that Bernanke is trying to reinflate.

    Making the Fed a “super cop” institution would be worse than putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. This would be like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of supervising hedge funds. It’s important to understand that the Federal Reserve has no oversight from Congress. Proof of that point can be found in the eye-opening video of testimony by the Inspector General charged with overseeing the Fed stonewalling a congressional inquiry. Watching that video, it becomes clear that they aren’t doing anything – and I mean anything – about monitoring the Fed’s trillions of dollars of spending!

    For the Federal Reserve to expand its balance sheet by 300%, and probably a lot more before this year is out, should be evidence that this is not an organization that will provide any meaningful restraint. This proposal for the Fed to act as a regulator is just more scheming by a government with no compunction about usurping powers.

    This is just a continuum of the federal government’s takeover of the management of the banking system that began with Bush’s cronies cramming TARP funds into the big banks. I'm amazed that all of us take it lying down.

David again. Speaking of banking, there is a short but very informative video that explains in simple terms what a sham the recently concluded bank stress test really was. Watch it here…


Sharks Eat Sharks

Dear friend and regular UK correspondent Sadia sent me a collection of links to the unfolding media scandal now underway in England over the egregious abuses of expense accounts by members of parliament in that country. Here’s her email…

    Dear David

    I've taken the liberty of sending you a few headlines on this scandal. Headlines are in all of today's papers, and have been for some time.

    MPs are just about on the verge of being tarred and feathered, dragged through the streets and put in stocks. As you can imagine, hardworking taxpayers, already incensed at the bailouts for the banks, are crying mutiny. This only serves to add fuel to the fire, and couldn't have come at a worse (or better, depending on your point of view) time.

    Times: Parliament's darkest day: MPs suspended and Michael Martin at risk
    Linked here.

    Times: Shahid Malik stands down as Justice Minister after PM orders inquiry into his expenses
    Linked here.


    Daily Mail: Bring them to justice! The Mail helps to launch campaign to prosecute sleaze MPs
    Linked here.


    Independent: The married couple who took taxpayers for £282,731
    Linked here.


    FT: MP claimed for non-existent mortgage
    Linked here.


    Guardian: MPs' expenses
    Linked here.


    Telegraph: MPs' expenses
    Linked here.


David again. My purpose for including all those links was not to invite you to spend the rest of your day in idle reading, but rather to make the point that there is an honest-to-goodness, blood-in-the-water media frenzy now underway in England. Members of both the ruling party and its loyal opposition are (correctly) under assault – which is to say, the very institution of government in the UK is running for cover.

The good news, for this side of the Atlantic, is that you can bet your last dollar that the desk editors of various U.S. media factories, having taken note of the satisfactory increase in eyeballs-on-pages being generated in England over the expense scandal, are now urging their reporters to look for – and find – a similar scandal in Washington D.C.

I suspect they won’t have to look too hard.

While no fan of the whole genre of news-as-entertainment, I expect to be highly entertained by the revelations of expense abuses by U.S. congressmen and sundry bureaucrats that should be coming to a media outlet near you soon.


Eat Dirt

Given the general outlook and views of those here at Casey Research, it is something of an oddity that we are headquartered in Vermont. It is, in fact, something of an accident -- the outcome of the usual twists and turns of life that brought me to this place roughly 25 years ago. Subsequently, Casey Research followed along.

The "oddity" part has to do with the fact that this is one of the highest-taxed states in the union, and the overarching political temperament could be accurately described as "socialist." In fact, Vermont's Senator Bernie Sanders is the nation's only elected (openly declared) socialist.

Yet, the place has much to recommend it, including a general lack of population due to the aforementioned high taxes and a well-earned reputation for cold winter weather. But it also has an abundance of beautiful scenery, scenery that includes any number of ski hills and even the shores of the six largest lake in the country. When the weather is good here, Vermont is very nice indeed.

I mention all of this because I came across a story this week from one of our fellow residents, an amateur environmentalist by the name of Annie Leonard who has created a popular YouTube video about America's "stuff"... the general theme being that to own "stuff" is bad. Very bad.

To give you a sense of her views, here is an excerpt from an article on her film.

    “We’ll start with extraction, which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation, which is a fancy word for trashing the planet,” she says at one point. “What this looks like is we chop down the trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals.”

There is an old saying, "Beware what you wish for because you may get it.” While I cannot find it in my heart to hope that Ms. Leonard gets her wish, because then we would all be living in caves and subsisting on roots and berries, I can certainly hope that the populace come to their senses before her Luddite notions gain any real traction.

Alas, I think it is a false hope because she has just signed a contract with Simon & Schuster to publish a book on the same theme. Further, her video is now being widely distributed to the nation's schools to be used in their normal curriculum of brainwashing.

You, too, can glimpse the future we should aspire to, according to Ms. Leonard, by emulating the world of the past – by taking 20 minutes now to view the same video, “The Story of Stuff,” that millions of schoolchildren will be viewing in the months and years ahead.

This seems to be an appropriate time to mention that we are now homeschooling one of our children... and none too soon. More on that topic on another day.

(But since we are on the topic, however briefly, if you have any good recommendations for online courses for middle- and high-school students, I would greatly appreciate it if you'd shoot them my way, at [email protected])


Word from the (Mexican) Street

Earlier this week, as part of an effort to further calibrate our investment advice to the needs of our readers, I reviewed a count of Casey Research subscribers by geographic location. As usual, I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of countries in which our subscribers reside – including Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Brunei, Nepal, and well over 100 more.

Once again tapping into this widespread network, I was able to solicit a first-hand report “from the ground” as to the state of things in Mexico. Jeff B., a longtime correspondent, filed this dispatch on how the swine flu hysteria had affected life in his current home town of Acapulco…

    Life in Mexico, for me, is great thanks. I love it here.

    Somewhat surprisingly, Acapulco isn’t a ghost town at the moment. Seasonally, May-June is a very slow period here for tourism. All the gringos come from November to April and the Mexicans come all year, but come very heavily in July-Aug during school breaks with the entire family (which is usually 10+ when you include the kids, cousins, grandparents, uncles).

    But other than tourism being slow as per seasonal norms, it is actually a bit busier than usual. That is due to many people from Mexico City coming here to escape the oppression called swine flu. The Mexican government, seemingly intent to collapse the economy by any means necessary, shut down the entire country for a week, because eight people in Mexico City died from the flu… significantly fewer than die from dozens of other causes in Mexico City every day. The swine flu didn’t scare me at all. The reaction to the swine flu scared the hell out of me, however! I was shocked how quickly and easily everyone in Mexico bought into this pandemic BS.

    Anyway, the point was that Acapulco was deluged with thousands of people from Mexico City, fleeing from the government’s reaction to the flu. As you know, Acapulco is very close to Mexico City and is a favorite of many residents of Mexico City, most of whom drive or take a bus for the scenic three-hour drive.

    Meanwhile, a week or two later, while Egyptians kill every pig in their country, for no rational reason whatsoever, and the gov’t in Hong Kong is quarantining entire hotels, and a recent poll showed 19% of Americans are avoiding Mexican restaurants in the U.S., life in Mexico has almost returned completely back to normal. Considering only 10 or 15 people have died from swine flu, I am hoping no one tells the people that 500,000 people per year die from normal flu! Run for your lives!

    As an aside, I was in Thailand and HK for both the bird flu and SARS. As I did then, I made sure to sneeze every time someone walked by me with a nearly useless paper mask over their face!

    Total deaths from SARS (775), bird flu (258), and swine flu (15-60, depending on whose figures you use) add up to just over 1,000. Let’s see, what is that as a percentage of all people on Earth? 0.000000142%? Meanwhile, people who eat at McDonalds every day, smoke, and never exercise wear masks and are scared to leave their houses! Sigh!

    As you can tell, this latest government charade has irritated me in my otherwise idyllic setting!

    Cheers, Jeff


Star Trek – “Stayed Wide Awake”

Last weekend, I took the kids to see the new Star Trek movie. While most movie reviewers tend to use some number of stars or perhaps thumbs pointing upwards or downwards in order to communicate their opinions on the movies they watch, I have a simpler system that emanates from the hours I keep.

Using my rating system, uninteresting movies warrant a "long nap" -- literally.

Mediocre fare will garner "periods of napping," or perhaps "occasional nodding off.” It is only the very best movies that rate "stayed wide awake throughout" -- the rating I enthusiastically award to the latest entry in the Star Trek movie franchise.

As a youth, I enjoyed Star Trek but would not categorize myself as a "Trekkie" (generally speaking, a self-imposed moniker that always struck me as categorizing oneself as "delusional" and maybe in need of "getting a life"). Even so, it was fun to see how the director managed to seamlessly introduce the Star Trek characters as they came together in their early careers, the background against which the movie unfolds.

But even if I had never seen a Star Trek episode, I have to believe that the overall plot and production values of the film would have sucked me in and kept me glued to my seat, as they did. The only disappointment came in mild doses, mostly associated with brief appearances by one of the original cast members whose age is sufficiently advanced at this point that you can detect a slight but distracting whistling of his dentures as he delivers his lines. But that’s a petty critique of what is otherwise a very tight movie.

So, at least by my rating system, if you're looking for an entertaining, interesting, and action-packed film for a rainy weekend, Star Trek may be just the thing.


Miscellany

  • Lecture on the Great Depression. While there is as much or even more misinformation on the Internet, and a great deal of mindless -- make that mind-numbing -- stupidity on services such as YouTube, there is no debate that there is also much excellent content available. For instance, if you have 49 minutes available, you can listen into an excellent lecture on the Great Depression sponsored by the Von Mises Institute. All that’s required is that you click the link here.

  • Charlotte Phyle… Grant in Charlotte is looking to get a phyle started. If you are in the area, drop us a note at [email protected] and we’ll get you hooked up.

  • Trade War… with Canada? As I was getting ready to go to press, someone sent me an article from today's Washington Post on the topic of a burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and Canada, the unintended – or maybe intended – consequence of the "Buy American" provisions inserted by Congress into the recent stimulus package. Here's an excerpt to give you a flavor of the thing...

      Ordered by Congress to "buy American" when spending money from the $787 billion stimulus package, the town of Peru, Ind., stunned its Canadian supplier by rejecting sewage pumps made outside of Toronto. After a Navy official spotted Canadian pipe fittings in a construction project at Camp Pendleton, Calif., they were hauled out of the ground and replaced with American versions. In recent weeks, other Canadian manufacturers doing business with U.S. state and local governments say they have been besieged with requests to sign affidavits pledging that they will only supply materials made in the USA.

      Outrage spread in Canada, with the Toronto Star last week bemoaning "a plague of protectionist measures in the U.S." and Canadian companies openly fretting having to shift jobs to the United States to meet made-in-the-USA requirements. This week, the Canadians fired back. A number of Ontario towns, with a collective population of nearly 500,000, retaliated with measures effectively barring U.S. companies from their municipal contracts -- the first shot in a larger campaign that could shut U.S. companies out of billions of dollars worth of Canadian projects.


Once again reminding one of the reason to run in the opposite direction whenever one hears the phrase "Hi, I'm from the government and I'm here to help." (Read the full article here)

And with that, I must sign off for the week, noting as I do that the U.S. stock market is jumping around like a yo-yo, with the DJIA down 36 points as I sign off. Gold continues to defy its naysayers by holding firm at $930, and oil is changing hands at $58 a barrel, no small feat given the surpluses now filling storage tanks, and even oil tankers, around the world. There is big money moving into inflation hedges just now… but merely a trickle compared to what’s to come.

Until next week, thanks for reading and for being a Casey Research subscriber…





David Galland
Managing Director
Casey Research, LLC.




Posted 05-15-2009 11:48 AM by David Galland