The message is loud and clear: The powers that be have learned nothing from the credit crisis and left us vulnerable to another crash. Our leaders are fiddling while Rome burns. Even now, as Congress, led by the likes of Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd, works on a massive Finance and Banking Reform bill that many say does nothing about the essential problems of moral hazard and "too big to fail." In fact, they say, we've done exactly the wrong thing and created banks which are too big to fail but will anyway.
The mood coming from some corners of the European media is that of a death watch on the Euro and the Eurozone. The fear of spreading contagion has many, including Nouriel Roubini, speculating on the coming austerity measures which may be imposed throughout the social democracies and the US. Are we witnessing the end of the great post-war social experiment?
Go here and listen to a 27 minute podcast with Niall Ferguson
http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/worldbiz which puts our current crisis in a historical context.
Nassim Taleb has studied nature and determined that smaller, more diverse systems are better adapted to survive cataclysmic events. He has extrapolated his theory to encompass man's economic system and concluded that larger systems such as the US banking become less diverse which makes them less resistant and more prone to ultimate failure.
Warning: Crash dead ahead. Sell. Get liquid. Now.
Commentary: 'Game's in the refrigerator.' Power's turning off. Dow sinking below 6,470
By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- "This game's in the refrigerator! The door's closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter's getting hard and the Jell-O is jiggling ..."
That was legendary Lakers' radio announcer Chick Hearn's signature way of calling a game early, telling fans the home team won ... you can head for the exits before the final buzzer. Chick wrote the book with popular sports phrases like "slam dunk," "air ball," "charity stripe," and a "bunny hop in the pea patch" for a traveling violation.
Chick's our inspiration today: Last March I wrote "6 reasons I'm calling a bottom and a new bull." Today it's time for a new call. We've had a good year. Net gains over 50% in 2009. But now: "Game over, head for the exits." Bears beating bulls.
No, no, "it's a buying opportunity," says another legend, hedge fund manager, Barton Biggs. Buying opportunity? For who? Remember, Biggs isn't advising Joe Lunchbox about what to do with his little 401(k). Biggs' customers are mega-millionaires in his $1.5 billion Traxis Partners Fund. Main Street investors like Joe are prey in his casino.
Read on, you decide: As you stare from high up in the nose-bleed bleachers watching the game, staring at a Dow that not long ago was above 11,000 and heading for 12,000. Now the Dow's sitting on the bench, ready for the showers, weak after a couple air balls around 10,000. No more timeouts. "This game's in the refrigerator."
How bad is your bookie's point spread in this game? A blowout? Will the Dow drop below 9,000 again? Now that it's broken technical supports, will it drop below 6,470, where the last bull rally started in early 2009? Can you handle the nerve-racking volatility generated by Wall Street's high-frequency traders playing the game at warp-speed with algorithms making thousands of micro-bets in milliseconds, betting billions daily?
So who should you listen to? Barton and I arrived at Morgan Stanley about the same time. He stayed decades longer, became one of the world's leading strategists, advising the kind of high-rollers who also bet at private tables in a Vegas casino.
You remember Biggs: In his book "Wealth, War & Wisdom" he advises his high rollers to prepare for a "breakdown of the civilized infrastructure." Buy a farm: "Your safe haven must be self-sufficient and capable of growing some kind of food ... It should be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine, clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson." Biggs is not advising small investors on what to do with their 401(k)s.
If you're gambling at Wall Street's casino, folks, the odds-makers are betting against Biggs. It's "game over."
Main Street lost 20% last decade ... yet like sheep keep going back
Yes, if you're channeling Chick, here's your "mixed metaphor" cue card: "This game's in the refrigerator ... Wall Street won (proof, Goldman's $100-million-profit trading days and Blankfein's $68 million bonus) ... Main Street's headed for another losing streak ... Congress' lights are out ... the refrigerator door's closing on financial reforms ... the lobbyists are laying some rotten eggs, poisoning capitalism ... the Tea Party-of-No-No ideologies are hardening ... the bull's Jell-O is jiggling to a flat line ... and this market's going into hibernation, with the bears ... run, don't walk, to the exits, folks."
But will Main Street exit? Will we ever learn? No. The Wall Street casino makes mega-billions for insiders like Blankfein and the Goldman Conspiracy. Yet "The Casino" is still below the 2000 record of 11,722. So after accounting for inflation, Wall Street lost over 20% of Main Street's 401(k) retirement money between 2000 and 2010. Yes, Wall Street's a big loser the past decade. Their advice is self-serving. Period.
Given their miserable track record, only a fool would bet with Wall Street. Betting odds are Wall Street will lose another 20% in the next decade from 2010-2020. Yes, today's market is a "buying opportunity," but only for Wall Street casino insiders like Biggs, Blankfein and even low-level staffers inside "The Casino." But not for our 95 million Main Street investors, there's more pain ahead, this market's dropping.
Correction? New crash imminent, worse than 2008
More proof: Earlier economist Gary Shilling said price-to-earnings ratios are at a "nosebleed 22.5 level." The Dow was around 11,000. Money manager Jeremy Grantham recently said the market's overvalued 40%. That could mean a collapse to 6,600. Last week in Reuters' "Markets Could Be Derailed Again," George Soros echoed a "game over" warning with a "stark warning ... that the financial world is on the wrong track and that we may be hurtling towards an even bigger boom and bust than in the credit crisis."
Now Dow Theory's Richard Russell is warning the public of an imminent crash: "Sell ... get liquid ... by the end of this year they won't recognize the country."
A bigger meltdown than the credit crisis? Yes, Bush's team drove America into a ditch. But now Obama and his money men, Summers, Geithner, Bernanke, are digging the hole deeper. Soros says we have not learned "the lessons that markets are inherently unstable." As a result, "the success in bailing out the system on the previous occasion led to a super-bubble." Now "we are facing a yet larger bubble." Worse than 2008?
Yes, the game may be "in the refrigerator," the lights will go out, but as Soros hints, the electricity may get turned off too. Get it? This may not be a correction. Not even a bear. What's coming could be worse than the 2000 dot-com crash and the 2008 meltdown combined, a "Super-Bubble" says Soros. And the biggest reason, Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm tell Newsweek, is that "the president's half-measures won't fix our failed financial system" because he refuses to "bust up the too-big-to-fail banks."
Yes, Congress will pass something. But unfortunately, as reported on MSNBC, Senator Dodd, the reform bill's sponsor, is a turncoat, working overtime with Wall Street lobbyists "to weaken financial reform," leave us vulnerable to a new, bigger crash in the near future. And Wall Street lobbyists are spending hundreds of millions to kill reform.
'White Swans:' 2000 and 2008 crashes were predictable, next one too
Recently Roubini was interviewed by Charlie Rose in BusinessWeek. His message confirms the worst. Roubini was questioned about his new book, "Crisis Economics." Rose began by asking, "what have we learned from these crises of capitalism?" Roubini could easily have said, "nothing, we learned nothing." His actual reply:
"The first lesson is that crises are not 'black swan' events ... they're not just random outcomes. They are the result of a buildup of financial and policy vulnerability and mistakes -- excessive risk-taking, leverage, debt, and so on." They are 'White Swans' "because these events are predictable. But generation after generation, we seem to forget the past. When there's a bubble, there's euphoria. There's irrational exuberance. Consumers can use their homes like ATM machines. Governments and policy makers are happy because they get reelected. Wall Street makes billions of dollars of profits. Everybody's delusional."
Sound familiar? Yes indeed, in "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff pinpoint the key signal that will blow the whistle and call the game: The "90% ratio of government debt to GDP is a tipping point in economic growth." For 800 years "you increase it over and beyond a high threshold, and boom!"
Warning, fans, the numbers on the game-clock are flashing wildly. America's ratio is now 92%, thanks to Obama's $1.7 trillion budget, future deficits, exploding debt. Soon, Ka-Booom! Another great nation bites the dust. Depression follows. Goodbye retirement.
Warning: 800 years of history are calling 'game over'
But can't we change destiny? Or are Dodd, Congress, Obama, Wall Street, the Party of No-No and 300 million Americans all just playing their parts in a historical script well-known to historians like Reinhart and Rogoff, Kevin Phillips, Niall Ferguson and others? The message of "This Time Is Different" is very simple:
"We have been here before. No matter how different the latest financial frenzy or crisis always appears, there are usually remarkable similarities from past experience from other countries and from history. ... no country, irrespective of its global importance, appears to be immune to it. The fading memories of borrowers and lenders, policy makers and academics, and the public at large do not seem to improve over time, so the policy lessons on how to 'avoid' the next blow-up are at best limited."
So please listen closely: All the TARP bailouts, stimulus debt and Fed loans won't work. Neither will a new conservative government. This is not a basketball game. We are not channeling Chick Hearn, calling this game before the final buzzer. While we prefer the illusion that "this time really is different," eight centuries of history suggest otherwise:
"The lesson of history, then, is that even as institutions and policy makers improve there will always be a temptation to stretch the limits. ... If there is one common theme to the vast range of crises ... it is that excessive debt accumulation, whether it be by the government, banks, corporations, or consumers, often poses greater systemic risks than it seems during a boom. ... Highly indebted governments, banks, or corporations can seem to be merrily rolling along for an extended period, when bang -- confidence collapses, lenders disappear and a crisis hits. ... Highly leveraged economies ... seldom survive forever ... history does point to warnings signs that policy makers can look to access risk -- if only they do not become too drunk with their credit bubble-fueled success and say, as their predecessors have for centuries, 'This time is different'."
No, "this time" it's never different. Get it? In the end, it doesn't matter what happens to the Dodd-Obama financial reforms. The endgame's never a Black Swan, it's a very White Swan well known to historians -- guaranteed, inevitable and inescapable. This time is never different.
The clock's flashing. Huge point spread. Think bear, think crash, think end of capitalism, think Great Depression II ... This is no buying opportunity, this game's in the refrigerator, call it.