Jul 31, 2008

Tony Deden on inflation, the credit and banking crisis, and moral decline

As day after day brings to light the damage caused by the credit and banking crisis of our times, man's natural reaction focuses on solving such real problems. Yet, most investors cling to their misplaced optimism in the ability of government employees to provide solutions, despite ample evidence that points to the opposite, and despite the fact that these same persons and institutions are responsible for creating this crisis in the first place.

The crisis we face is not merely one of a bankrupt monetary system, but also a crisis of ideas that contributed to the relativism of our times and the collective arrogance of those unable to distinguish between money, credit and capital or those wishing to suspend the laws of scarcity via sophisticated finance. In the process, a few have enriched themselves beyond description while the fate of most is one of continuing impoverishment. This is not a failure of capitalism but a result of the intellectual and moral poverty that grips our world. In the end, the medicine being administered, whether via inflationism, further regulation or direct and indirect nationalization of banking, is likely to contribute to further malaise - for we have focused on solving a problem without either understanding its nature or identifying its genesis.

Financial history will someday record this year in the same manner in which past financial disasters are embedded in the memory of our parents and grandparents. As it was then, the genesis of the problems started years earlier, yet very few recognized it at the time. As it always happens, even the "experts" are surprised by the severity of the ongoing pain necessary to correct the imbalances built over many years. Recoveries from economic disasters demand a period of cleansing that last many years. More often than not, the ensuing problems are aggravated even further by the invariable financial and regulatory meddling by well-intentioned bureaucrats.

Today's deliberate destruction of money and savings, via inflationism, is an attack on private property and an attack on freedom as we know it. We stand at the vanguard of what could be a violent period of upheaval - one of many that history has witnessed.

~ Anthony Deden, Sage Capital Zurich AG, Edelweiss Fund 2007 Annual Report, March, 2008

Ludwig von Mises on inflation

Inflationism is not an isolated phenomenon. It is only one piece in the total framework of politico-economic and socio-philosophical ideas of our time. Just as the sound money policy of gold standard advocates went hand in hand with liberalism, free trade, capitalism and peace, so is inflationism part and parcel of imperialism, militarism, protectionism, statism and socialism.

~ Ludwig von Mises, On the Manipulation of Money and Credit, p. 48

Nassim Taleb on journalists

Most journalists do not take things too seriously: After all this business of journalism is about pure entertainment not search for truth, particularly when it comes to radio and television. The trick is to stay away from those who do not seem to know that they are just entertainers (like George Will... ) and actually believe that they are thinkers.

~ Nassim Taleb, Fooled by Randomness, 2nd Edition, p. xxvii

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Jeremy Grantham: "I am officially scared"

I am officially scared. In 2000, we had a technology bubble. But this is massive, a massive credit crisis and a bubble in global housing, global equity and global land.

~ Jeremy Grantham, GMO investment manager, "Even the pros may be stuffing the mattresses," ChicagoTribune.com, July 29, 2008, by Gail Marks Jarvis

Marc Faber on the coming global bust

The Fed has created a bubble in everything - stocks in emerging market, real estate everywhere in the world, commodities, art. The only asset class that is down is the U.S. dollar.

It is quite likely that the current synchronized global economic boom and the universal, all-encompassing asset bubble will lead to a colossal bust. [With commodity prices so inflated, I expect an] increase in international tensions [over resources].

~ Marc Faber, "Even the pros may be stuffing the mattresses," ChicagoTribune.com, July 29, 2008, by Gail Marks Jarvis

George Bernard Shaw on politicians

He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.

~ George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara (1907)

Jul 29, 2008

Jim Grant on why politicians do not attack Wall Street over the credit crunch (2008)

Wall Street is off the political agenda in 2008 for reasons we may only guess about. Possibly, in this time of widespread public participation in the stock market, "Wall Street" is really "Main Street." Or maybe Wall Street, its old self, owns both major political parties and their candidates. Or, possibly, the $4.50 gasoline price has absorbed every available erg of populist anger, or -- yet another possibility -- today's financial failures are too complex to stick in everyman's craw.

I have another theory, and that is that the old populists actually won. This is their financial system. They had demanded paper money, federally insured bank deposits and a heavy governmental hand in the distribution of credit, and now they have them. The Populist Party might have lost the elections in the hard times of the 1890s. But it won the future.

~ James Grant, "Why No Outrage?," The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2008

Paul Gigot on the lesson of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The abiding lesson here is what happens when you combine private profit with government power. You create political monsters that are protected both by journalists on the left and pseudo-capitalists on Wall Street, by liberal Democrats and country-club Republicans. Even now, after all of their dishonesty and failure, Fannie and Freddie could emerge from this taxpayer rescue more powerful than ever. Campaigning to spare taxpayers from that result would represent genuine "change," not that either presidential candidate seems interested.

~ Paul A. Gigot, editorial page editor, The Wall Street Journal, "The Fannie Mae Gang," July 23, 2008

Franklin Raines responds to WSJ op-ed questioning Fannie Mae's risk levels

Shame on you. The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, has the opportunity and responsibility to provide leadership and shed light on the Enron debacle. At the very least, markets jittery about Enron need calm, trustworthy, responsible voices to clarify complex issues, get the facts, get them right, and put them in the proper context.

Unfortunately, in your Feb. 20 editorial about Fannie Mae, you only fan fears with your glib, disingenuous, contorted, even irresponsible attempt to tar our company with the Enron brush. At best, the editorial betrays a complete lack of knowledge or understanding about our business. At worst, you chose the thrill of a good smear job over the hard work of reporting or writing opinion pieces grounded in facts.

~ Franklin D. Raines, CEO, Fannie Mae, "Don't Tar Us With an Enron Brush," The Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2002

Franklin D. Raines on why Fannie Mae is no Enron (2002)

There are many lessons to be learned from the Enron debacle. One is the importance of careful fundamental analysis of major companies. Fannie Mae welcomes and, indeed, we seek out, that type of analysis.

Another lesson from Enron is that corporate behavior is fundamentally a product of the culture of the company. At Fannie Mae we take pride in the tone we set at the top, in our risk management focus, in our commitment to integrity and intellectual honesty and in the values of our people.

~ Franklin D. Raines, CEO, Fannie Mae, "Don't Tar Us With an Enron Brush," The Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2002

Bill Fleckenstein on the government's efforts to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The government's efforts will not create a bottom for financial stocks because of the fundamental problem in this country: People carry too much debt against homes that are sinking in value, homes they really couldn't afford in the first place and homes that have become all the more burdensome due to the inflation that's ravaging their paychecks. That the implosion of the housing debt bubble is dragging the economy down with it will just put additional pressure on jobs and the ability to service housing debt.

~ Bill Fleckenstein, "The Repugnant Bailout Nation," Contrarian Chronicles, MSN.Money, July 28, 2008

Henry Hazlitt on inflation and credit expansion

If a government resorts to inflation, that is, creates money in order to cover its budget deficits or expands credit in order to stimulate business, then no power on earth, no gimmick, device, trick or even indexation can prevent its economic consequences.

~ Henry Hazlitt, “'Indexing': The Wrong Way Out,” The Freeman, May 1977

Jul 27, 2008

Phil Duffy on the housing bill attempting to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

You and I have just assumed responsibility for the irresponsible actions of these organizations and their investors. This has very little to do with home buyers and everything to do with bailing out bankers and investors. It has no effect on existing home owners. They already have their mortgages. It doesn’t matter to them if their mortgager goes out of business. The case that is being made for home buyers of the future is that they can’t do without Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the market would move in to fill the role currently being played by these organizations. The market would be more prudent, but it is a lack of prudence that has caused the housing bubble and the demise of these government sponsored enterprises (GSEs).

Certainly the action by Congress with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bailout of Bear Stearns and hundreds of other interventions in the market have nothing to do with free enterprise and constitutional government. So what label accurately describes the nature of our current government? This was an issue addressed by Friedrich von Hayek, the author of The Road to Serfdom (Hayek was the co-winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics). He pointed out that socialism and fascism have many similarities. Certainly if the government owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac outright, that would be socialism. The government ‘sponsors’ but doesn’t own these entities. We the people don’t own them either, although we are forced to fund them. They will still be owned by private investors who will benefit at the expense of the rest of us. That describes a system called fascism. Surveillance of ordinary citizens is also a characteristic of fascist nations. As difficult as it may be to accept, our government is becoming increasingly fascist by any objective measure. We can no longer claim to be a constitutional republic because we refuse to be limited by our own Constitution.

Having lived through the World War II days and grown up in its aftermath when the question was asked, “How could Nazi Germany have occurred?”, I remember how we lulled ourselves to sleep. It couldn’t happen here. The problem was in the inherent nature of German stock (today we would call that DNA). We were biologically different, or so we convinced ourselves. The truth is that we are on the road to serfdom.

Phil Duffy, July 27, 2008

Jul 26, 2008

Lewis Mumford on war

War is both the product of an earlier corruption, and a producer of new corruptions.

~ Lewis Mumford

Jul 23, 2008

Thomas Paine on patriotism

It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.

~ Thomas Paine

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Jul 22, 2008

Christopher Mayer on the GSE ticking time bomb (2002)

An explosive concoction has been created with the GSEs. The GSEs have increasingly dangerous levels of debt, coupled with an implicit government guarantee that seems to encourage even more debt. In the case of Fannie and Freddie, they are publicly traded companies accountable to shareholders for delivering earnings growth that is going to be increasingly difficult to deliver as they grow to the limits of their market. Thus, they are faced with the prospect of lower earnings growth or of finding a way to expand into other (riskier) areas of consumer finance—and further spreading the threat of nationalization beyond just the mortgage market.

The only way to correct this problem is the same way all socialistic practices are corrected—the government’s involvement must be severed completely. Just because the GSEs have led a charmed life so far is no reason to infer that their future will always be so bright. Socialism is not dead; it is alive in institutions like the GSEs, which are for all practical purposes government agencies.

It has often been said that there are no free lunches. Surely, Americans cannot continue to subsidize (indirectly) mortgage finance without cost. What most Americans cannot see is that such subsidization of the mortgage industry has led to the assumption of a great deal of risk on the part of the taxpayer. The longer the GSEs are able to expand as they have, the more certain it becomes that someday taxpayers will have to bear the cost of such excess. Like Russian roulette, the longer you play, the more certain it becomes that you will bear the risk for playing.

~ Christopher Mayer, “Mortgage Market Socialism,” The Free Market, March 2002

Yuri Maltzev on the post-Cold War superpowers

Strip away the pomp and pretense, and superpowers can be seen as centralized Leviathans that have grown rich and militarily powerful by looting their own vast populations. Sometimes their respective interests require them to oppose each other, as they did in the Cold War. Other times--when, for example, they face "internal" independence movements that threaten the superpower model itself--they work in tandem.

~ Yuri Maltzev, "Chechnya Destroyed," The Free Market, March 1995

Jim Grant on leverage

Ignorance about tomorrow is a constant of human affairs. Submission to this truth is what’s variable. In finance, submission entails a healthy fear of leverage.

~ James Grant, editor, Grant's Interest Rate Observer

Queen Christina of Sweden on merit

Extraordinary merit is a crime never forgiven.

~ Queen Christina of Sweden (1632-1654)

Jul 20, 2008

John Templeton on philanthropy

As a philanthropist, I feel that love can mean helping people discover their own abilities, including thrift, responsibility, and character.

~ Sir John Templeton

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Peter Schiff on the need for limited government in the U.S.

My business works better here. I could try to run the business from overseas, say the Cayman Islands or Australia, but I have friends and family here. I'm optimistic.

I've supported political candidates in the U.S., including Ron Paul, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination this year. I'm not writing America off. But I'm trying to educate people so that they understand that when this economy does collapse, it is not because of capitalism but that it's because of too much government.

To really rebuild the economy, we are going to need cooperation from government and the government is going to have to get out of the way and make itself a much smaller burden on society, which means major reductions in government spending, taxes and regulations.

~ Peter Schiff, President, Euro Pacific Capital, "Gloom and Doom? Nah; Just for the U.S.," Barron's, June 30, 2008, by Lawrence C. Strauss

Leonardo da Vinci on liberty

The chief gift of nature is liberty.

~ Leonardo da Vinci as quoted by Will Durant in The Renaissance, Volume V of The Story of Civilization

Leonardo da Vinci on truth

The truth of things is a supreme food for fine intelligences, but not for wandering wits.

~ Leonardo da Vinci as quoted by Will Durant in The Renaissance, Volume V of The Story of Civilization

Jul 19, 2008

Songs - Personal favorites

Adams, Bryan:
Backstreet Boys:
Bareilles, Sara:
Branch, Michelle:
Browne, Jackson:
  • Saturday in the Park
Cole, Jude
Crow, Cheryl:
Def Leppard:
Elton John:
  • Honky Cat
  • Rocket Man
  • Benny and the Jets
  • Harmony
  • Dirty Little Girl
  • All the Young Girls Love Alice (1973 live version, live version)
  • Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
  • Candle in the Wind
Fleetwood Mac:
Fogelberg, Dan:
  • Blue Morning Blue Day
  • Waiting For a Girl Like You
Gaye, Marvin:
  • Let’s Get It On
Hall & Oats:
  • Sara Smile
Henley, Don:
  • Gimme What You Got
  • New York Minute
  • The Boys of Summer
  • The Heart of the Matter
  • The Last Worthless Evening
Huey Lewis & The News:
  • Do You Believe in Love?
  • If This Is It
  • Back In Time
  • Walking on a Thin Line
Jackson, Michael:
Loggins, Kenny:
  • I’m Alright
  • Turn Me Loose
  • The Kid is Hot Tonite
  • Always On My Mind
  • Working for the Weekend
  • When It’s Over
  • Lucky Ones
Lynyrd Skynyrd:
Marx, Richard:
Matchbox 20:
Mayer, John:
McLean, Don:
  • American Pie
Mellencamp, John Cougar:
  • Hurts So Good
  • Hand to Hold on To
  • Wild Night
Men At Work:
Petty, Tom:
Pink Floyd:
REO Speedwagon
Rice, Chris:
Richie, Lionel:
  • Trees
  • Limelight
Seger, Bob:
Spin Doctors:
Steely Dan:
Stewart, Rod:
Taylor, James:
  • Steamroller
  • You’ve Got a Friend
Tears For Fears:
  • Everybody Wants to Rule the World
  • Head Over Heels
Third Eye Blind:
Thomas, Rob:
Three Dog Night:
  • Joy to the World
  • One
  • Never Been to Spain
  • Mama Told Me Not to Come
Tull, Jethro:
  • Bungle in the Jungle
Van Halen:
ZZ Top:
Zevon, Warren:

Lost Classics...
  • How Long Has This Been Going On?
  • You’re the Only Woman
Biship, Elvin:
  • Strange Magic
England Dan & John Ford Coley:

Holmes, Ruper:
  • Escape (Pina Colada Song)
King Harvest:
Lynn, Cheryl:
  • Got To Be Real
Ocean, Billy:
  • When the Going Gets Tough the Tough Get Going
The Outfield:
Ozark Mountain Daredevils:
  • Jackie Blue
  • If You Wanna Get To Heaven
Parker, Ray Jr.:
  • You Can’t Change That (with Raydio)
Point Blank:
Pointer Sisters:

Rea, Chris:
Rice, Chris:
Rufus and Chaka Kahn:
  • Tell Me Something Good
Simon, Carly:
The Spinners:
  • Could It Be I’m Falling in Love
Springfield, Rick:
  • Don’t Talk To Strangers
Starland Vocal Band:
  • Afternoon Delight
Steeler’s Wheel:
  • Stuck in the Middle with You
Stevenson, B.W.:
  • My Maria
10 CC:
Thin Lizzie:
  • The Boys Are Back in Town
  • Jailbreak

Love songs...
Bublé, Michael:
Crow, Cheryl (with Sting):
Davis, Paul:
John, Olivia Newton (with Cliff Richard)
McCartney, Jesse
McCartney, Paul & Wings:
Perry, Steve:
Rice, Chris:

The Beatles
Benetar, Pat
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
You Better Run
I’m Gonna Follow You
Blue Oyster Cult
Burnin’ For You
Bowie, David
China Girl
Collins, Phil
Duran Duran
Earth, Wind & Fire
Grand Funk
Some Kind of Wonderful
Joel, Billy
Movin’ Out
Little River Band
It’s a Long Way There
The Night Owls
Man on Your Mind
McCartney, Paul
You’re My Best Friend (You Make Me Live)
Stefani, Gwen

Jul 18, 2008

Lew Rockwell on the market's ability to deal with the credit crisis

Consider the fate of mortgage lenders and homeowners. The markets became wise to the fact that loose credit led to a fantastic bubble and that trillions in traded mortgages might not be serviceable in an environment of downward price pressure. Companies that once were seen as valuable and liquid are suddenly seen as unstable and wasteful. Their stocks are shorted by sellers. Their price crashes. Reality is revealed.

This is not an attack. It is not a result of malign "rumor mongering." It is not even regrettable from an economic point of view. Truth is a precondition for economic recovery. Bad investments need to be avoided. Good ones need to replace them. That is the very core of what all this economic activity is about. If the informed guesses of traders turn out to be wrong, there is a profitable opportunity for other traders to guess more accurately. To dampen this spirit is to do nothing but prop up illusions and perpetuate error.

What can the State contribute to this cause? It can get out of the way. It is not necessary to somehow demonstrate the superiority of markets over state planning. This is demonstrated every single second of every day. The politicians blather while the markets act with confidence and wisdom to achieve real results. The only positive contribution that politicians can make is to make the market a freer environment for resources to travel to their most profitable production lines.

~ Lew Rockwell, "The Greatness of the Market in a Crisis," LewRockwell.com, July 18, 2008

Ludwig von Mises on war and idealogy

To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.

~ Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (1949)

Human Action: A Treatise On Economics (4 Volume Set) (Like-New Condition) from Ludwig Von Mises

Jul 11, 2008

Kevin Duffy on the shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

I’m shedding absolutely no tears for the nearly wiped out shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Equity owners are last in line in the capital structure. Fan/Fred were leveraged 50x, so their equity was always a lottery ticket masquerading as long-term investment. Shame on these so-called "investors" for taking on such risk. Why did they? Because they thought the taxpayer would come to their rescue. They got what they deserve, as Mencken would say, “good and hard.”

~ Kevin Duffy, Bearing Asset Management, July 11, 2008

OFHEO director: GSEs "are adequately capitalized"

OFHEO has been monitoring and continues to monitor closely Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage and financial markets. As one would expect, we are carefully watching the Enterprises’ credit and capital positions.

As I have said before, they are adequately capitalized, holding capital well in excess of the OFHEO-directed requirement, which exceeds the statutory minimums. They have large liquidity portfolios, access to the debt market and over $1.5 trillion in unpledged assets.

~ James B. Lockhart, Director, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), Press Release, July 10, 2008

Jul 9, 2008

Ken Heebner: Investors are overly pessimistic

People are bearish and the problems aren't as bad as they think.

~ Ken Heebner, portfolio manager, CGM Focus Fund, as appeared on CNBC, July 9, 2008

Lord Acton on democracy and elections

The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.

~ Lord Acton, The History of Freedom and Other Essays (1907)

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Jul 8, 2008

Lynda Barry on love

Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.

~ Lynda Barry

Robin Williams on divorce

Ah yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man's genitals through his wallet.

~ Robin Williams

Iris Murdoch on love

Falling out of love is chiefly a matter of forgetting how charming someone is.

~ Iris Murdoch

Ambrose Bierce on politics

Politics, n.  A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (1906)

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Jul 7, 2008

Jon Markman: Wait until S&P 500 slips below 1,000 to buy

I'm afraid there are no white knights on the horizon, as only time, apparently, can heal these wounds. I hate to sound like a pessimist, but you may wish to wait until the Standard & Poor's 500 Index slips under 1,000 to begin buying with confidence again.

~ Jon Markman, "Bad times for good companies," MarketWatch.com, July 7, 2008

(The S&P 500 closed Thursday, July 3 at 1262.90.)

Satyajit Das on the deleveraging process

All we are describing is how the system sheds excess debt. It's not actually a crisis. It's the natural process of destruction of leverage. A company has debt, can't refinance it, has to sell the asset or go bankrupt, and the process goes on until the debt reaches a manageable level. It's a process that central banks can smooth out by lowering rates, but they cannot actually shorten because they cannot force anyone to lend.

~ Satyajit Das, financial derivatives expert, "Bad times for good companies," MarketWatch.com, July 7, 2008, by Jon Markman

John Maynard Keynes on bankers

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he's ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

~ John Maynard Keynes, 1931

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American Bankers Association

Satyajit Das on unwinding the credit bubble

We've had a party for 15 years, and the house is a mess. You can't clean it up in 10 minutes once you discover your parents are coming home. You're screwed, and you have to face up to the fact that you're screwed.

~ Satyajit Das, financial derivatives expert, "Bad times for good companies," MarketWatch.com, July 7, 2008, by Jon Markman

Leonard Read on the libertarian movement

Once an individual who would advance liberty has settled on self-perfection as correct method, the first fact to bear in mind is that ours is not a numbers problem. Were it necessary to bring a majority into a comprehension of the libertarian philosophy, the cause of liberty would be utterly hopeless. Every significant movement in history has been led by one or just a few individuals with a small minority of energetic supporters.

~ Leonard E. Read

Jul 5, 2008

Lew Rockwell on government

A core problem with government is that its managers believe that all reality will conform to their wishes if they issue the right orders, pass the right laws, and put the right people in charge.

~ Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., “Grand Theft Society,” July 1, 2008

Jul 3, 2008

Bernard Baruch on voting

Vote for the man who promises least; he'll be the least disappointing.

~ Bernard Baruch

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Ron Paul on personal freedom and the Internet

The most basic principle to being a free American is the notion that we as individuals are responsible for our own lives and decisions. We do not have the right to rob our neighbors to make up for our mistakes, neither does our neighbor have any right to tell us how to live, so long as we aren’t infringing on their rights. Freedom to make bad decisions is inherent in the freedom to make good ones. If we are only free to make good decisions, we are not really free.

Socialist ideologies blur this line between self reliance and government control because the mistakes of the individual are spread to everyone else. Thus the government becomes very interested in your decisions and way of life, with the justification that you could make a mistake others will have to pay for. The end result is, of course, that everyone loses privacy and control over their own lives. Whether they realize it or not, they are no longer truly free.

~ Ron Paul, Personal Freedom and the Internet (June 30, 2008)

Jul 2, 2008

Kevin Duffy on government: illusion and reality

Government is the illusion that we can all live at the expense of everyone else, and the reality that a small band of thieves can live at the expense of the rest of us.

~ Kevin Duffy, Bearing Asset Management, July 2, 2008

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James Madison on the right to bear arms

Americans have the right and advantage of being armed — unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.

— James Madison, Federalist No. 46 (January 19, 1788)

James Madison

Whitney Tilson on Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway

I sleep well. It's not going to double overnight, but we think it will in five years, which is a 15 percent compounded annual rate. It's the stock you want to own.

~ Whitney Tilson, principal at New York-based hedge fund T2 Partners, "Buffett's Berkshire Has Worst First Half Since 1990," Bloomberg, July 2, 2008

Jul 1, 2008

Henry Brook Adams on politics

Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.

~ Henry Brook Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)