Monday, November 30, 2009

Do Buy(!) Meltdown 2.0

The blog servers are really humming now that we have all given thanks to the turkeys of the world. The grist for a new blog is piling up head high. I've spent the entire morning reading amazing takes on Dubai, Obama, TARP, and world markets. Mostly it's about how hopeless this world debt situation is and how badly it will all end. I can particularly recommend Jim Kunstler's Monday morning blog which is hilarious if a bit dark. The automatic earth is well done and continues to feature Dorthea Lange photos which are darkly appropriate . I did uncover a 6 month old in depth report on Dubai which is stunning and harks back to the day when the US had good overseas journalists. It is a must read:
While you read about it, keep in mind that this is the place where Halliburton and Darth Cheney moved to as their corporate headquarters, the slave state hell of Do BUY!
Dubai does have some features of their society that I wish we could adopt selectively here, like debtors prison. You owe money, you go to the hoosegow. In the good old US of Tarp, we pay you if you owe money. One other curiosity was that at market close on the Thanksgiving Friday bloodbath, one of the few stocks up big was Sturm Ruger, the gun and ammunition manufacturer. Could this be a portent?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meltdown in Dubai

You are looking at the world's tallest building at 2684', over one half mile high. It is the Burj Dubai and the lightning strike of the world credit implosion hit home in the improbably bizarre desert nation state of Dubai this thanksgiving when Dubai World, a giant real estate development conglomerate told the world banks that it was going to be missing payments on its $60 Billion loan for the next 6 months or so. Dubai is famous for its extravagant Mall of the Emirates with a 5 run ski area with real snow and islands in the shape of a palm trees and the world for sale to uber wealthy nutcases. The company has dredged up vast quantities of silt from the Arabian Gulf using computer modeling to make home site islands in the shape of countries and palm fronds. Sales haven't taken off as hoped and real estate prices have gone off a cliff mirroring the collapse in Las Vegas real estate, our home grown equivalent to Dubai. Dubai is the poster child of environmental unsustainability. Dubai has little in the way of oil and gas resources, at least as compared to it's wealthy neighbors in the Persian Gulf but it somehow managed to promote itself as a financial services and destination resort to the Gulf Region but that business model is obviously at risk as are a lot of misbegotten commercial real estate projects elsewhere. The sums to bail out poor Dubai are chump change compared to what Tim Geithner and Helicopter Ben and Nasty Larry have parcelled out to Goldman Sachs and AIG but it will be a wake up call to the nincompoops who run the world's investment banks. But not to worry, maybe Tim or Lord whatshisface of the Bank of England will step up again and provide taxpayer funded help to keep this Tower of Babel on schedule along with all the other nonsensical projects in the pipeline. The announcement from Dubai was scheduled to coincide with a big Islamic holiday so it will be a few days for the financial sandstorm to clear up. Speculation has it that the big money in UAE, namely Abu Dhabi with it's giant sovereign wealth fund will step up with a bridge loan but other financial bloggers think that Abu Dhabi is fed up with Dubai and may instead come in and pick up distressed assets for pennies on the dollar. Regardless of what happens, it bodes poorly for US Commercial RE which is already in deep feces. The CDS market has been humming with risk spreads widening as the smart money seeks financial protection from high risk countries like Dubai. Some of the countries where risk premiums are rising besides Dubai are Greece, Spain, Italy and the good old USA. Premiums are dropping in former financial basket cases like Russia and Brazil. It's a curious world we live in. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

President Obama: Wake up!

President Obama is in a death spiral, a flat spin which is taking the country down with him
This will be a blog with images of important dangerous economists who have brought this country to its knees and the few economists who have tried to prevent this economic depression. I'll give you a hint:the economists who ruined this country pictured to the left have Y chromosomes. The woman economist is Brooksley Born who tried to stop the madness being hatched by the pictured economic thugs while serving as commissioner of the CFTC. She was crushed by Robert Rubin, Larry Summers and Al Greenspan in the 1990's when she had the temerity to question the emerging cancer of unregulated derivative banking. Sadly, she is gone, flattened by the Wall Street Banking steamroller . The pictured bully boys are still atop that steamroller and now they have finally aroused the ire of Main Street, and are back on their heels fighting for their survival. Tim Geithner was shredded in front of a congressional panel last week and at one point he lost all cool and had the chutzpah to blast a republican congressman from Texas for causing the current unregulated banking debacle . The preposterous irony of course was that the debacle happened on his watch when he was the head of the NY Fed, the one person who could have done something to mitigate the disaster. He engineered the enormous bailout of AIG which had the effect of funneling taxpayer money straight into the coffers of Goldman Sachs and other huge investment banks who had made bad derivative bets both here and abroad . His crime was that he allowed GS and the others to get 100 cents on the dollar, courtesy of the taxpayer. Worse, he lied about the whole process from beginning to end. The tens of billions that went to Goldman Sachs will allow them to pay out $30 billion to their greedy executives this Christmas. Fed Chairman Bernanke has an op ed in this Sunday's Washington Post angrily denouncing the congress for even thinking of oversight and regulation of the Fed, which the Congress itself created in 1913. His is a sample of some of his outrageous assertions:

“Now more than ever, America needs a strong, nonpolitical and independent central bank with the tools to promote financial stability and to help steer our economy to recovery without inflation,” he said.

And when it comes to monetary policy, he said, “independent does not mean unaccountable.” He said the actions of the Fed were already thoroughly reviewed and needed to be protected from Congressional influence, “which would undermine the confidence the public and the markets have in the Fed.”

This is ridiculous, absurd, self serving nonsense. The public has no confidence in an organization that is the defacto 4th branch of the government which you could easily argue is by far the most powerful and fully unaccountable branch of government. The Fed and Treasury are dominated and influenced by the Wall Street Banks and large corporations who are confident that Treasury and the Fed will take care of them to the detriment of the country. It is the Treasury and the Fed who decide how and when to raise and print money and who gets it on what terms, not the President, the congress or the courts or of course, the people. It is no accident that Treasury Secretaries, economic advisers and Fed officers are of , by, for, and from the big banks. That these men should be sacked goes without saying, but replacing them from the same pool of Wall Street Banksters changes nothing. They should be investigated and if found guilty of indictable offenses, sentenced and imprisoned. Ex Wall Street bankers have no place in a presidential cabinet. There are many qualified folks in academe and government who could be independent and non partisan. Paul Volker demonstrated vast independence which is why Reagan and Wall Street had him replaced. Brooksley Born, Elizabeth Warren, and Gretchen Morgenson are brilliant articulate women with a proven grasp of economics and finance and who appear to be tools of no one. The obvious political problem of Obama sacking an entire economic team and Fed Chairman and cabinet secretary would make it appear that he has blundered in his choice of advisers.

In fact, that is exactly what he has done, but keeping them would be the greater blunder. These men along with dozens of others are and have been tools and leaders of Wall Street and worse, victims of their own faulty neoclassical economic philosophies and Keynesian fallacious delusions . They have perverted capitalism into a ugly mutant blend of socialism for the rich, financial fascism, arrogant imperialism all designed to achieve total economic control over the society by subverting and destroying the free market and the currency of the United States. In this they have succeeded and now that the serfs are getting restive, they are starting to fight back and crush this mini rebellion before it gets a head of steam. One little statistic I read to give a little context: the average Goldman Sachs employee earned $770,000 last year. There are over 30,000 of them. 49,000,000 Americans are hungry and 3,000,000 are homeless and over $160,000,000,000 will be paid out in bonuses to banksters this year by banks who received BILLIONS from Treasury and the FED courtesy of the taxpayer who resisted those payouts but who could do nothing about it because a tiny minority of the super wealthy corporate bankster barons now tell the people and the government representatives when to jump and how high. Change at the Congressional and Senate level to at least audit and make accountable the FED is a necessary first step. Republican Ron Paul has over 300 members of the house who have signed on to his bill to do just that. If your representative is among the 150 odd who did not, find out why.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

South of the Border.....or.. BIG IRON comes home

I have just returned from a trip to San Carlos,Mexico, in the Sonoran Desert on the upper East shore of the Sea of Cortez. I made the trip to retrieve our 1977 suburban, BIG IRON, I had left in a storage yard when daughter Heidi and I hopped on our Cal 48 KOHO to sail to Alaska last May. While we were en route,BIG IRON had to weather a hurricane . To return to retrieve our car I had to take a motley assortment of planes and buses and trucks to get to San Carlos. Once I arrived and saw the mess, I considered donating BIG IRON to the local recycler, but there wasn't any. I had heard there was a lot of damage to the town. There was. Houses and cars and boats washed away along with a lot of bridges and roads. And yet a lot of favorably sited structures were untouched. The local Mexicans were still hard at it ,both men and women with shovels and rakes and brooms trying to get all the gravel off the roads. The locals seemed nonplussed about it all but the resident expats were still pretty grumpy waiting to have their utilities restored. Many were still trucking in water. Anyway..back to my story. The old truck wouldn't start. She had been underwater a few feet. I was told San Carlos set a new all time rainfall record of 45+ inches of water in less than a day with normal annual rainfall only 6-8".Finding parts and help for my Suburban was a challenge with no auto parts stores nearby, no rental cars and the storage yard distant from the town. I did a lot of walking and met many nice Mexicans who all had stories to tell me. I found a used starter from a 1976 Chevy which worked. My old starter was new, which I had installed 6 months ago before the trip down but it swam with the fishes because unfortunately it is mounted low on the engine . It was corroded. I disassembled it, cleaned up the commutator, and did locate a replacement solenoid which I found on a bus trip to Guaymas, the nearest town of any size. The transmission had to refilled with new oil oil but the engine was fine. The whole job was done with a crescent wrench and vice grips and no sockets. There were lots of mosquitoes and mud and no way to jack up the car properly on supports and so working under it was a tight fit and rather messy. Other misc electrical gremlins still plague me but I managed to get it running with new gasoline. The trip north to the border had some trials and tribulations which included a Mexican tag team stealing my new CD player out of the dash while my back was turned. It was a clever trick done at a Pemex gas station with one guy distracting me while his buddy did his evil deed. I actually drove 1350 miles nonstop before I started seeing the mexican virgin of Guadelupe, the ghost of Brigham Young, and pink giraffes near Pocatello Idaho, so I had to stop to banish the demons and limp home the next morning. The old vermilion colored four wheel drive struggled up 8500' Teton Pass where it coughed and sputtered and belched and farted finally crested the summit after a few rest stops for the carburetor to gather its wits. I eventually coasted down the backside of the pass and chugged home to our log cabin in the cottonwoods. A friend asked me why I would spend $500 to bring back a car worth $400. I told him I was just doing what the government was doing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back to the Grind

It has been 6 months since the last blog. Long difficult trip up from Mexico on Koho, our Cal48 with daughter Heidi. It is docked near Glacier Bay for the winter. I may tell the story here someday. When I left the depression had started and my retirement was toast. When I got back 4.5 months later, the depression was still starting and the S&P had staged a monster bear market rally up almost 60% so I took that as a sign from heaven that it might be time to sell. I was out of touch most of the time from the brouhaha of the industrial world and it was with dismay that I returned to the same world I left. Barak has not figured it out and remains a captive puppet to his GS Thug Advisers and the Federal Reserve and is presiding over quantitative easing pouring money into wall street banks stealing a favorable economic future from my children. In the process he is destroying the dollar(down %16 in the past 6 months against most currencies). And there was huge news from the middle east totally ignored by all the media except Reuters. Saudi Arabia is moving to have it's crude listed on the Argus US Sour Crude Index based in London. So what, you say. How is that news? It's big news pilgrim and I hope somebody notes it somewhere. KSA has been unhappy with the volatility of the crude markets which are mostly western based, and of course primarily in the NYMEX in New York. It has been the perfect playground of the speculators who play in the futures market sandbox and the Saudis think a lot of the last spike to $147 was due to the unregulated futures speculators with their contracts and derivatives. So they have had enough and they have taken their dog and pony show elsewhere. They hope to have a more stable environment for oil prices which will help their fiscal planning and we will have to see if it works for them. I did not see any reference on how crude will be priced but I would not be surprised to see if petrodollar pricing may be nearing an end. If oil becomes priced in say, the Euro or a new Gulf currency(also rumored), the US can still buy oil on the world market as long as dollars can be exchanged for the new currency. But it is another sign that the days of dollar and US hegemony are nearing an end. And the Saudis are not even the biggest producer. Russia last month produced 10.04 MBPD which may be a peak for them. The Saudi Arabia peaked 29 years ago in 1980 at 9.9 MBPD. If the Russians and Africans and Latin Producers decide to emulate the Saudis, it is checkmate for the dollar. Oil demand in the US is now down to the mid 18 MBPD which is off 4.4% from a year ago but interestingly, that is due entirely to distillate fuels. Gasoline consumption is unchanged. Back here in Jackson Hole the Depression is marching on. For the first time in memory properties are being foreclosed on the courthouse steps and with the exception of some relatively cheap condos, the foreclosures have failed to attract bids any where near the reserve prices. Hotels are turning into rooming houses and advertising weekly and monthly rates. The Point is demanding $239 a week and super 8 only %650 a month. These cheap rates for pretty nice hotels are killing the apartment and condo market especially in the commuter towns of Victor and Driggs ID and Alpine WY and vacant rental listings are flooding the want ads just as job wanted ads have almost disappeared. Naturally the residential real estate market is dead and hundreds of tradesmen and carpenters have packed their dogs and tool belts into their pickups and fled for greener pastures. Boom and bust cycles are the rule in Wyoming but a residential bust this big has never happened. Credit is drying up and a builder recently advertised in the News and Guide for a loan of $1.2 Million for which he was willing to pay %12 "guaranteed" over 48 months. All of these local tidbits have the earmarks of a deflationary depression. Ah...Life at the end of empire.