Category Archives: Financial Crisis

A Brief History Of U.S. Dollar Debasement

January 8, 2013
by David Ziffer

On the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Federal Reserve, it seems fitting that we should present a brief history of US dollar debasement:

1787: U.S. Constitution ratified. “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.”

1792: U.S. Coinage Act ratified. Our first Coinage Act establishes a uniform standard of gold and silver content of U.S. coins, paving the way for over a century of trust in the U.S. dollar that will ultimately catapult the U.S. to world economic supremacy.

1861: Greenbacks and Greybacks: In desperation and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, both the north and south issue paper currency with no gold or silver backing. Following the war, the U.S. returns to its constitutional roots, ceasing production of Greenbacks and making efforts to retire them as the U.S. returns to the gold standard. A first-class postage stamp (introduced in 1863) costs two cents.

1913: Creation of the Fed: In the belief that a central bank will prevent future economic panics, the U.S. government forms a banking cartel called the Federal Reserve, a rather facetious name given that the Fed is not federal and it maintains no reserves. In so doing our government ignores the warning of Thomas Jefferson:

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.

The stage is now set for the collapse of the dollar. A first-class postage stamp still costs two cents.

1934: Gold Reserve Act: After 23 years of dollar debasement by the Fed, Franklin Roosevelt is forced to acknowledge the growing disparity between the century-old fixed price of gold ($20.67/oz.) and its market price. The rift is made painfully obvious by the outflow of U.S. gold into the coffers of foreign nations redeeming dollars for gold at the stated fixed price. In direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, Roosevelt and Congress not only remove gold from circulation but prohibit ownership of gold by U.S. citizens. With the stroke of a pen the dollar is devalued from $20.67/oz. to $35/oz. Despite massive improvements in delivery efficiency, a first-class postage stamp now costs three cents.

1944: Bretton Woods: In the belief that the world requires a unified monetary standard in order to eliminate trade wars that ultimately lead to shooting wars, leading nations establish a dollar-based monetary system in which currencies are valued in terms of the U.S. dollar, which still claims to be gold-backed. This unwarranted trust ironically gives the U.S. yet more license and incentive to continue its debasement, since the world’s citizens now accept newly printed dollars with the mistaken notion that they can be redeemed for a fixed amount of gold. A first-class postage stamp still costs three cents.

1965: Second Coinage Act. In order to finance two very expensive initiatives (the Vietnam War and moon walking) and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, Lyndon Johnson signs a new Coinage Act that removes all silver content from U.S. coins. In so doing he provides the following advice to the public, explicitly promising future federal precious metals market manipulation:

If anybody has any idea of hoarding our silver coins, let me say this. Treasury has a lot of silver on hand, and it can be, and it will be used to keep the price of silver in line with its value in our present silver coin. There will be no profit in holding them out of circulation for the value of their silver content. The new coins are not going to have a scarcity value either. The mint is geared to get into production quickly and to do it on a massive scale. We expect to produce not less than 3 1/2 billions of the new coins in the next year, and, if necessary, twice that amount in the following 12 months.

In this same speech Johnson states that scarcity of silver is the motivation for the change. Despite incredible improvements in delivery efficiency that should have dropped the price astronomically, a first-class postage stamp now costs five cents.

1971-75: Petrodollars replace the gold standard: In a repetition of the 1934 crisis, the U.S. gold supply is being decimated by foreign governments redeeming dollars for gold at the stated fixed price ($35/oz.), a completely untenable ratio after thirty more years of dollar debasement by the Fed. In direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, Richard Nixon and the Congress once again stop the outflow, but this time rather than set a new unmaintainable fixed rate they simply eliminate the fixed dollar/gold ratio. Realizing that the collapse of the gold standard will dramatically reduce demand for dollars worldwide, Nixon strikes a deal with OPEC: trade oil in dollars only in return for perpetual U.S. military support. By 1974 gold is irrelevant to the U.S. hegemony, and so as his final act of the year Gerald Ford signs a bill that once again allows U.S. citizens to own gold. The first-class postage stamp now costs ten cents.

2000: Iraq threatens the petrodollar: Shortly after the creation of the Euro, Saddam Hussein makes Iraq the first major oil exporting country to sell oil in a currency other than the dollar, thereby threatening the global petrodollar arrangement. Citing this “weapon of mass destruction” while misleading the public into a preposterous belief that he is really referring to conventional weapons that could somehow threaten the U.S., George W. Bush reacts swiftly by invading in 2003 and quickly reverting Iraq to dollar sales. To make our point exceptionally clear to world leaders, the U.S. (using proxies) hunts down Hussein and executes him in 2006. The first-class postage stamp now costs 33 cents.

2008: Beginning of the end: Under Barack Obama, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke begins a series of bailouts of banks (that are presumably Fed members) and of U.S. debt (both mortgage-backed securities and U.S. Treasurys). The first-class postage stamp now sells for 42 cents.

2013: 100th Anniversary: The master of dollar-printing is 100 years old. The Fed marks its birthday by engaging in the largest debt purchase program in history ($40 billion of mortgage-backed securities and $45 billion of Treasurys per month). Awaiting the collapse of the petrodollar arrangement and the subsequent radical reduction in the purchasing power of the dollar, the price of gold is bid up to over $1600 per ounce. And despite the fact that humans now expend a tiny fraction of the effort to deliver a letter in 2013 compared to what was required in 1863, the price of a first-class stamp is now 46 cents.

Technically the U.S. left the gold standard in 1971, but in reality we abandoned it in 1913 with the creation of the Fed. The two publicly visible gold-standard slippages of the past century (FDR’s repricing and Nixon’s cancellation) were merely necessary adjustments following decades of gradually increasing gold-price inconsistency caused by continuous inflation. Given this, it seems hard to imagine that the Fed was created for any purpose other to create this inflation, i.e. to effectively raise our taxes under the table.

This has enormous implications for today’s long-term investor. Our most constant and predictable financial reality is the continued inflationary policy of the Fed. Given this, and assuming the U.S. is unlikely to pull another rabbit out of the global hat as Nixon and Ford did with the petrodollar in the early 70s, the dollar will almost certainly continue losing purchasing power indefinitely, in terms of both commodities and other currencies. And when the oil-producing nations finally agree to accept payment in currencies other than the dollar, expect a precipitous drop. Invest accordingly.

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INFLATION On The Way

J. D. Longstreet

A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet

Let me be clear. I am not an economist. Heck, I’m not even a CPA. Frankly, I know squat about finance short of running a business and having the good sense to hire someone to handle the financial end of the business — extremely well.

Here, at the Longstreet Manor, my lovely and gracious (and long-suffering!) spouse is the financier. She is my “Personal Banker.” No, I MEAN IT! She has kept me out of jail, debtor’s prison, or wherever they place men like me (who spend all the money they can lay their hands on.)

See, I view money as having been made for one purpose — to spend! And yes, I have been told all my life that one cannot take it with them when one departs this world. Although, I did meet a hearse once, out on the interstate, towing a U-Haul trailer behind it. I remarked to my wife at the time, that, perhaps, someone HAD figured out a way to take it with them, after all!

I distinctly remember a member of my board of directors insisting once, many years ago, that if he couldn’t take it with him, the he wasn’t going! Today’s he’s gone — and so is his money. Oh, he didn’t take it with him. No, after he passed from the scene, the family spent the heck out of it until, it, too, was gone!

This may seem strange and even alien to some of you, but I never sought wealth. It was never important to me. Having ample funds to stay fed, clothed, housed, and out of jail was sufficient. So far, I have managed to do that.

I think an aunt made such an impression on me, as a child, that it bent me in a way one might even describe as fear of wealth.

See, my aunt ,was the daughter of a share cropper. (I’m the first generation off the farm, myself.) She was fortunate. She married a man on the way up in one of the most powerful labor unions in the country at the time. They became wealthy. But it affected my aunt in a strange way. She was always afraid — afraid of losing her wealth and returning, I suppose, to the poverty she knew growing up as a hard scrabble sharecropper. She invested wisely, had plenty of money, real estate, stocks, bonds, all of it. But what she lacked was happiness.

I decided then and there, I did not want that. I chose an occupation that I loved, was, indeed, suited for and I stayed with it for thirty years.

Now that I have established my bona fides — which is to say that I am dumb as a post when it comes to high finance, I am about to tell you why Ben Bernanke blew the US economy to hell recently with QE-3.

In a word: INFLATION.

The money you had before QE-3 is now worth less — and the more money Ben and his cronies order printed — the less your money will be worth.

Bernanke, a Jew and a Republican, was born in Augusta, Georgia and raised just thirty miles, or so, from where I sit as I write this piece. It’s a small country town in the coastal plain of South Carolina. So, we are both “Sandlappers.” And as much as I would like to agree with, and support, a fellow son of the Palmetto State, and a fellow Republican, I cannot. He’s wrong on this and, unfortunately, all Americans are going to pay for it, dearly, in the not too distant future.

Ben Bernanke

It pains me to say this, but I am of the mind that Ben really wants Obama to win the coming election. See, Mr. Romney has already said he intends to replace Mr. Bernanke if he is elected. So, it stands to reason that if Bernanke can make the President look good, or even better, in the few weeks left ’til election day, Obama may be reelected and — guess what — Ben gets to keep his cushy job!

See? Politics ain’t all that hard, now, is it?

Seriously, inflation brings the mighty low… quickly! To get a better understanding of what inflation, especially hyperinflation can do to a country just Google “Weimar Republic” or “Hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic.”

During the Gerald Ford Administration the US had a fight with inflation. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, those big red WIN buttons — Whip Inflation Now!” It took a toll on the country that lasted the remainder of Ford’s Administration, through the Carter Administration, and right up until Ronald Reagan came into office. It was an anvil around the neck of the US economy.

As I said, I don’t know diddly-squat about high finance so I can’t dazzle you with great gobs of numbers with dollar signs and percentage signs, etc., but take it from a guy who was trying to run a business during those years and believe me when I tell you it was “hunker down” and “tread water” time during those years. Reagan tossed the country a life-preserver and we got through it — vowing never to make the same mistake again.

But Americans have extremely short memories. As a result, we are making the same mistakes over and we are inflicting unnecessary pain on ourselves.

The MSM was touting the skyrocket in the stock markets after Bernanke made the announcement. And, yes, it DID look good. But, believe me — it is a bubble and IT WILL BURST — and we will be far worse for it in the end.

J. D. Longstreet

INFLATION On The Way … J. D. Longstreet.

DYLAN GRICE: The Next Crisis Will Be Born Out Of The US Treasury Market

SocGen investment strategist Dylan Grice does not think “safe-haven” assets are very safe.

In Grice’s latest note to clients, he compares the illusion of safety created by faulty regulation before the 2008 financial crisis to the new, impending wave of financial regulation on the table like Dodd-Frank in the U.S. and Basel requirements on a global scale.

Grice warns “madness is going on in the government bond markets” today, furnishing this long term chart of US Treasury yields going back to 1800:

From the note:

The regulations which told banks that AAA-rated bonds were “risk free” were designed to make markets safer. But they created an artificial demand for such bonds, which created an incentive for issuers to dress up bonds as “risk free” when they were anything but. The regulations effectively incentivized ratings agencies to rate them as “risk free” when they clearly weren’’t. And today, the same madness is going on in the government bond markets.

It’s very difficult to see how government bonds are anything other than “risk assets” (let’s face it, all assets are). Yet insurers are buying them because they’’ve been told to “take less risk” (whatever that means) by the regulators. So they are taking more risk, and they will one day suffer the consequences. Banks in the eurozone are bust because they own so much of their local sovereigns’’ debt. But they were told it was OK to do that by the regulators. So they let their guard down.

Indeed, having told banks that they were of sound balance sheet before the crises (Lehman Brothers Tier 1 risk-weighted capital ratio was 11% five days before bankruptcy), those same regulators today scratch their heads and wonder how banks became too big to fail. It’’s all embarrassing really.

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Connect The Dots: Bailouts, Bankruptcy And Gold

Simon Black, Sovereign Man

June 29, 2012
Tel Aviv, Israel

This week may very well go down as ‘connect the dots’ week. Things have been moving so quickly, so let’s step back briefly and review the big picture from the week’s events:

1) After weeks… months… even years of posturing and denial, Spain and Cyprus became the fourth and fifth countries to formally request aid from Europe’s bailout funds on Monday.

In doing so, these governments have officially confessed to their own insolvency and the insolvency of their respective banking systems.

Meanwhile, Slovenia’s prime minister said that his country may soon ask for a bailout. (Humorously, Slovenia’s Finance Minister denied any such plans.)

Spain’s 10-year bond yield jumped to over 7% again in response, and many Spanish banks were downgraded to junk status by Moodys.

2) Over in the US, the city of Stockton, California filed for bankruptcy this week… the largest so far, but certainly a mere drop in the proverbial bucket.

3) JP Morgan, considered to be among the few ‘good’ banks remaining in the US, conceded that the $2 billion loss they announced several weeks ago might actually be more like $9 billion.

4) The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that foreigners are reducing their holdings of US Treasuries.

5) Countries from Ukraine to Kazakhstan to Turkey announced that they have purchased gold in recent months to bolster their growing reserves.

6) Chile has joined a growing list of countries that has agreed to bypass the US dollar and settle all of its trade with China in renminbi.

7) China has further announced plans to create a special zone in Shenzhen, one of its wealthiest cities, to allow full exchange and convertibility of the renminbi.

8) World banking regulators from the Bank of International Settlements to the FDIC are proposing that gold bullion be treated as a risk-free cash equivalent by commercial banks.

So… what we can see from this week’s events is:

– European governments are insolvent
– European banks are insolvent
– US governments are heading in that direction
– Even the best US banks are not as strong as believed
– Foreigners are abandoning the US dollar and seeking alternatives
– Gold is money

These events are all connected, and the trend is becoming so clear that even the most casual observers are starting to wake up.

When you connect the dots, the next steps lead to what may soon be regarded as an obvious conclusion: the system, as it exists right now, is crumbling.

No amount of self-delusion can make this go away.

Rational thinking and measured action, on the other hand, can make the consequences go away… turning people from victims into spectators of the greatest bubble burst in modern times.

Source

Banker to the Bankers Knows the Numbers Are Lying

By Jonathan Weil
 Jun 28, 2012 5:30 PM CT

The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks, should know fudged numbers when it sees them. What may come as a surprise is how openly it has been discussing the problem of bogus balance sheets at large financial companies.

“The financial sector needs to recognize losses and recapitalize,” the Basel, Switzerland-based institution said in its latest annual report, released this week. “As we have urged in previous reports, banks must adjust balance sheets to accurately reflect the value of assets.” The implication is that many banks are showing inaccurate numbers now.

Unfortunately the BIS’s suggested approach is almost all carrot and no stick. “The challenge is to provide incentives for banks and other credit suppliers to recognize losses fully and write down debt,” the report said. “Supporting this process may well call for the use of public sector balance sheets.”

So there you have it. More than four years after the financial crisis began, it’s so widely accepted that many of the world’s banks are burying losses and overstating their asset values, even the Bank for International Settlements is saying so — in writing. (The BIS’s board includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.) It fully expects taxpayers to pick up the tab should the need arise, too.

No Change

In this respect, little has changed since the near-meltdown of 2008, especially in Europe. Spain has requested 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to rescue its ailing banks. Italy, perhaps the next in line for a European Union bailout, is weighing plans to boost capital at some of the country’s lenders through sales of their bonds to the government.

Those bank rescues almost certainly won’t be the last. All but four of the 28 companies in the Euro Stoxx Banks Index (SX7E) trade for less than half of their common shareholder equity, which tells you investors don’t believe the companies’ asset values. While it may be true that the accounting standards are weak, the bigger problem is they are often not followed or enforced.

Government bailouts might be easier for the world’s taxpayers to swallow if banks were required to be truthful about their finances, as part of their standard operating procedure. Nowhere in its report did the BIS discuss the role of law enforcement, although the last time I checked it’s against the law in most developed countries to knowingly publish false financial statements. There have been few fraud prosecutions against executives from large financial institutions in recent years, in the U.S. or elsewhere, much to citizens’ outrage.

In the BIS’s eyes, it seems that it’s enough to merely encourage or incentivize banks to come clean about their losses, by dangling the prospect of additional taxpayer support before them. For example, on the subject of how to deal with overvalued mortgage loans: “One frequently used option is to set up an asset management company to buy up loans at attractive prices, i.e., slightly above current market valuations,” the BIS report said. “Alternatively, authorities can subsidize lenders or guarantee the restructured debt when lenders renegotiate loans.”

The BIS report got this much right: The lack of transparency and credibility in banks’ balance sheets fuels a vicious cycle. When investors can’t trust the books, lenders can’t raise capital and may have to fall back on their home countries’ governments for help. This further pressures sovereign finances, which in turn weakens the banks even more. The contagion spreads across borders. There is no clear end in sight.

Propping Up

To date, the task of propping up the economies in Europe and the U.S. has fallen largely to central banks. As the BIS wrote, easy-money policies also can make balance-sheet repairs harder to accomplish.

“Prolonged unusually accommodative monetary conditions mask underlying balance sheet problems and reduce incentives to address them head-on,” the report said. “Similarly, large- scale asset purchases and unconditional liquidity support together with very low interest rates can undermine the perceived need to deal with banks’ impaired assets.”

At some point, the cycle will break, only nobody knows when. This you can count on: It will take more than subtle inducements to make banks fess up to all their losses. Prosecutors must have a role. There’s nothing like the threat of a courtroom trial to focus a bank executive’s mind. The risk just has to be real.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil in New York at jweil6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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