The World is Collapsing?


The World is Collapsing

I’m continuously surprised by the number of people I meet in Coronado, often American expats, who are convinced that the USA and the world is going to hell in a hand basket. To be fair, there are some Europeans and Canadians in this mix. This is often the reason these same people decided to move to Panama in the first place …. where the economy is based squarely on the American dollar.

When I question these people a bit further, the typical explanation is that the massive spending/stimulation programs of the past five years will soon result in runaway inflation causing the American dollar to plummet. The current wisdom is that “you can’t just print money”; the United States is living far beyond its means and ObamaCare is clearly the last straw that will break the camel’s back.

My first response is typically the following question. With high and persistent unemployment in the USA and Europe and huge amounts of global overcapacity in virtually every industry sector what exactly will drive this runaway inflation? To date, after 5 years of considerable stimulation, inflation and interest rates remain extremely low. Some countries in Europe which applied much less “stimulation” than the USA actually remain mired in recession with excessive rates of unemployment sometimes in the 20 to 30% range especially for some of the peripheral countries. Even Japan, a basket case of deflation for 20 years, recently decided to stimulate its way out of its problem and so far this strategy seems to be working.

The next point commonly made is that foreigners holding American dollar Bonds and Treasuries will start cashing in their chips. Oh My God, China will start selling! This argument has been around for longer than I can remember but China continues to add to its reserve of US Treasuries. Why? Because China sells most of its production to the USA. The last thing China wants is for the American dollar to plummet. Where else can China store its reserves? Gold?

How about gold? Is this not the ultimate “safe haven” when the world is crumbling. Gold has had a great run until recently precisely because everyone was certain that massive inflation was imminent. The number of “serious articles” in the past 5 years predicting gold at $5000 was mind boggling. In contrast, today some of the largest American investment houses are predicting that gold will drop to $1000. I happen to side with them.

Then there is always the point that the American dollar will lose its privileged status as the “world currency”. Of course this is the reason why the USA can “print money” to a much greater extent than would be permitted by the domestic economy alone. This is why every nation in the world wants to and must hold ample reserves of American dollars and why most global commodities (such as oil and gold) are priced in American dollars. Try to buy a house in Uruguay (a very strong economy) and you will see it priced in American dollars and not in Uruguayan pesos . What are the options to using the American dollar as a global currency? Gold? The Euro? Bartering? The Chinese currency? A basket of global currencies controlled by some international body? Probably not in my life time.

Then of course there is ObamaCare. With the present standoff in Congress this is clearly the major stumbling block. Whereas every other developed country in the world (and many developing countries) has a health program covering every citizen, many Americans believe that such a program dramatically curtails personal freedoms and will be the ruin of the country. The richest country in the world cannot afford such a program! Just look at how badly the insurance exchanges operated in their first week. Clearly a stupid program! Politically speaking, if the Republicans are so convinced that ObamaCare will be such a huge failure then the smart thing to do would be to let it roll out and fail miserably. They can always repeal it in 2016 when they control the House, the Senate and the White House because of this ObamaCare fiasco.

An Optimistic Global Outlook

So what does the other side, the bright side look like?

Is there an optimistic global outlook? In fact, yes I think there is ….. as follows:

  • The American economy has actually come “back from the brink” of the worst financial crisis since 1929.
  • The housing market in some American cities is attracting multiple bids on properties well in excess of the asking price and in excess of 2008 prices.
  • The USA is today on the brink of self-sufficiency in energy. Amazing … remember the OPEC embargo on oil in the 1970’s.
  • The European economy has “adjusted” significantly with large numbers of important structural changes and considerable austerity. It is finally bottoming out of 4 years of recession.
  • Japan is on the rise with the major stock exchange up about 65% in the past 12 months.
  • The UK has a very hot property market among other signs of renewed overall growth. It also has a great new Governor of the Bank of England …. a Canadian!
  • Canada and Australia remain in pretty good shape and never really suffered a housing bust and a major recession as did the USA and Europe.
  • China has also adjusted significantly and is returning slowly to a higher growth rate.
  • Gold is today in a serious “bear market” and the belief that gold is the perfect “safe haven” has been tarnished. A bit of diversification OK but as a major investment objective I doubt it.
  • The internet has continued to expand at blinding speed through smart phones, tablets and iPads. Billions of people exchanging information has been a transformational global phenomenon. Today anyone can earn a Harvard or MIT degree for “free” using the internet and live anywhere in the world. What a concept!  In the end it’s what you know.
  • The new Panama Canal opens in about 18 months (early 2015) and the prices of many commodities will drop dramatically as world trade takes on a new meaning.
  • Longevity for the average human on the planet is changing at the blinding speed of almost 3 months every year. Now that is truly incredible. What will this mean for productivity?
  • The global “middle class” is also growing at blinding speed meaning a rapidly increasing market for high end goods and services. Check out the number of millionaires in China.
  • The world is much less “at war” today than it was 10 years ago. Most countries have lost their appetite for new engagements. The Arab Spring was a very good thing globally albeit many adjustments remain.

It is not all gloom and doom as some scaremongers would have you believe. Cheers ….

 

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