Reputable financial houses, as they are described online, are telling their clients how to prepare for potential “global collapse” over the next two years. France’s Societe Generale, according to the London Daily Telegraph’s chief investigative reporter, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is such a house that is now “mapping a strategy of defensive investments to avoid wealth destruction.”
A 68-page report, headed by the bank’s asset chief, Daniel Fermon, explores forthcoming dangers but does not forecast which of three possible outcomes of the ongoing crisis it sees coming. Under the gloomiest “Bear Case” scenario the dollar would slide further and global equities would retest the March lows. Property prices would tumble again. Oil would fall back to $50 per barrel in 2010 (but could shoot up to $200 or $300 if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities).
Fermon writes governments have already shot their fiscal bolts. Even without fresh spending, public debt would explode within two years to 105 percent of GDP in the United Kingdom, 125 percent in the United States and the European Union, and 270 percent in Japan. Thus, worldwide state debt would reach $45 trillion, up two and a half times in a decade.
Inflating debt away might be seen by some governments as the lesser of two evils. If so, says the forecaster, gold would go “up, and up, and up” as the only safe haven from “fiat paper money.” Even if the U.S. savings rate stabilizes at 7 percent — highly doubtful — and all of it is used to pay down debt, it will take nine years for households to reduce debt/income ratios to the safe levels of the 1980s.
Societe Generale advises “Bear” clients to sell the dollar short and to “short” cyclical equities such as technology, auto and travel to avoid being caught in the “inherent deflationary spiral.” Fermon says his report has electrified clients on both sides of the Atlantic as “everybody wants to know what the impact will be. A lot of hedge funds and bankers are worried.”
Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Business School and a prominent citizen of the Internet, says in his latest contribution, “Bigger than the budget deficit, America has a leadership gap. Despite last February’s $787 billion stimulus package, the economic recovery is not creating jobs; unemployment is rising (34 million, including those whose benefits have expired, out of a workforce of 153.9 million); and the president and Congress offer little more than nostrums and platitudes.”
Along with oil imports, cheap consumer goods from China account for nearly the entire trade gap, writes this former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. “China undervalues its currency to boost its U.S. sales, domestic employment and growth. Its economic miracle is engineered by Beijing buying hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars with freshly printed yuan, to keep the currency undervalued and Chinese products inexpensive in U.S. stores. Then China uses those dollars to buy U.S. Treasury securities.” And President Obama, afraid China won’t buy more U.S. debt, failed to challenge China on currency and trade during his visit there last week.
“The Republicans offer little more than tort reform … and the Democrats,” concludes Morici, “fearful that unemployment, stagnant wages and their fiscal follies will result in big electoral losses in 2010, are cooking up another stimulus package. They will call it a … ‘jobs initiative.’ After both the Bush and Obama stimulus packages failed, it has few prospects of creating lasting jobs. All this calls to mind bread and circuses as in a declining Roman Empire. Those kept the crowds happy while the state was failing.”
The conservative Financial Intelligence Report says dollar devaluation is a done deal. “Since taking office almost a year ago,” FIR thunders, “the Obama administration has increased the monetary base by a staggering $10 trillion … and doubled the expected annual budget deficit to almost $2 trillion.” The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf, highly respected the world over, says shady trading activities destroyed the financial system. What Wolf regards as intolerable are huge rewards for those who have been rescued by the state and bear responsibility for the crisis in the first place. “Even more intolerable is that they have devastated the prospect of hundreds of millions of innocents all over the globe,” he wrote.
Today’s huge bank profits “are in large part the fruit of the free money provided by the central bank,” says Wolf, and thus “the state is giving banks a license to print money. In 2006 Goldman Sachs earmarked $16.7 billion for year-end bonuses. One top trader was awarded $70 million (which he deemed insufficient given his superior talents and resigned). Hyper-bonuses are already back: GS’s bonus pool at the end of 2009 was $20 billion.
The 1987 Oliver Stone movie “Wall Street,” in which Michael Douglas plays Gordon Gekko, now on the lecture circuit as a published financial author after 14 years in the slammer for insider trading and security fraud, is being reprised as “Wall Street II.” This time round the same sleazy track, Douglas, playing Gekko, fails in his attempt to warn people about the imminent fall of Wall Street. “Shakedown,” the first novel for Wall Street insider Andie Ryan, with 20 years of experience in senior management in major firms, is thinly disguised fiction. “The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System” by former Wall Street Journal reporter Charles Gasparino is climbing the best-seller charts.
Gasparino argues the meltdown — from 1,125 billionaires to 783 in a year — is just the latest calamity in a 30-year pattern of executive excesses, unsustainable leverage and unreliable computer models — and warns risk-takers could be doomed to repeat their errors. Because there is reluctance, bordering on paralysis, to concede what went wrong. And the ever widening gap between rich and poor in America is not seen as an inducement for social upheaval.
It was the criminal predatory lending scams for subprime mortgages in the United States in 2006 that ensnared the entire planet and triggered the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression. The “back to square one” cliche springs to mind with the third-quarter delinquency rate now the highest since records were kept — up from one in 14 mortgage holders in the last quarter of 2008 to one in seven, or 14 percent in mid-November.
Yet purchases of previously owned homes soared 10.1 percent in October. Go figure.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is editor-at-large at UPI and the Washington Times. This essay was previously published by UPI as “Net-centric Cassandras”