March 15, 2008

From today's survival blog

Credit Collapse: The Depression Countdown Begins

SurvivalBlog includes plenty of gloom and doom, but I do my best to not be a ranting and raving alarmist. The recent torrential flood of bad economic news, however, has led me to now urge greater preparedness. Don't quit your job and head for the hills yet, but by all means redouble your efforts to get ready. In my estimation, we are now on a short countdown to economic depression. Back in early 2006, I first warned about derivatives trading. Since June of 2007, I have been warning about the larger implications of CDOs. In January of 2008, I pointed the finger of blame at exotic debt repackaging instruments that are "marked to mystery" and causing the credit market to collapse. Now, these manifold dangers are apparent even the mainstream media. New bank accounting rules go into effect on March 31st, so the Fed is pumping liquidity frantically. This will likely exacerbate the problem. Please take the time to read the two following linked articles about the ongoing collapse of the global credit market:
1. Meltdown Looms Larger as Credit Markets Freeze. Here is a key quote: "As for Bernanke's Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF) it is intentionally designed to circumvent the Fed's mandate to only take top-grade collateral in exchange for loans. No one believes that these triple A mortgage-backed securities are worth more than $.70 on the dollar. In fact, according to a report in Bloomberg News yesterday: “AAA debt fell as low as 61 cents on the dollar after record home foreclosures and a decline to AA may push the value of the debt to 26 cents, according to Credit Suisse Group."

2. IMF tells states to plan for the worst.

Clearly, the global credit collapse is getting much worse, but ominously, it is also now clear that the collapse is just in its early stages. I now have a high level of confidence that the credit collapse will trigger a global economic depression that may be as bad, if not worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. At this point, it seems almost inevitable. The Federal Reserve lowering interest rates will not prevent it. At best, this will forestall it by a few months. To borrow an old Wall Street aphorism, Ben Bernanke is "pushing on string." Without financing, the global economic machine is grinding to a halt. Helicopter Ben and his cronies can't re-start it until after a lot of bad debt has worked its way through the system.

If you've been reading SurvivalBlog for several months, then you know what you need to do. And if you have been hesitating, then I strongly suggest that you get busy immediately: and actively prepare. Get the food and other key logistics, get the training, team up with like-minded friends and relatives, and if possible, buy and fully stock a retreat in a lightly-populated region. Get OUT of your dollar-denominated investments and re-invest in practical tangibles that you can barter. Companies with derivatives exposure and hedge funds will be the first to go, followed soon after by a stock market crash. Eventually, even erstwhile "safe" municipal bonds will be wiped out.

In the short term, please follow my advice on preparation for surviving bank runs. The recently-announced bailout of Bear Stearns is indicative of how quickly a bank's fortunes can turn. Here is a key quote from a recent Financial Times article on the Bear Stearns bailout: "One problem with the credit crunch is that banks' solvency positions can change overnight. As banks force fire sales of assets to recover their loans from hedge funds, the prices of those assets fall. But as the prices fall, the amount of capital that the banks need rises. Lena Komileva, a Tullett Prebon economist, said: 'This is what is fueling the vicious cycle. Things can deteriorate very rapidly and banks can reach insolvency almost overnight.'" In my estimation, bank runs are now imminent. {They have already started.]

Am I being an alarmist? I don't think so. Just look at the US Dollar Index and the spot price of gold. Pray hard, folks. There's a storm coming.


Letter Re: Battle Rifle Recommendations for a Californian

Mr. Rawles,

I am a resident of the People's Republic of Kalifornia (PRK). I'm looking to buy a main battle rifle (MBR). My rifle collection currently consists of a few .22 rimfires and a [Federally exempt antique Model] 1893 Mauser, which I purchased on your recommendation from The Pre-1899 Specialist. It seems as though most of the [firearms design] features one would look for are restricted (if not outright banned) here [in California]. My question for you is, what would you suggest for a California resident's MBR?. Thanks, - C3 in CA.

JWR Replies: California does have some almost unbearable "assault weapons" restrictions. OBTW, I'm fond of saying that the only "assault" going on is against our Constitutional rights.
Unless you plan to move out of the state soon, I'd recommend that you buy one or two FN49 rifles. This was a very robust post-WWII semi-auto rifle design. Most FN49s have fixed 10 round magazines that are filled from the top, via stripper clips. The ideal choice would be the detachable magazine Argentine Navy variant chambered in 7.62mm NATO. These are presently around $1,200 each. But if you are on a budget, FN49s were also made in several other calibers including .30-06, 7.65mm Argentine Mauser, 7x57mm Mauser, and 8x57mm Mauser. The latter were made for an Egyptian contract are the least expensive variants. These can sometimes be found for around $750. An 8mm Mauser, would of course also give you cartridge commonality with your Turkish contract pre-1899 antique Mauser. Regardless of what you buy, be sure to inspect the bore and chamber condition carefully before purchasing a military surplus rifle. Many of the Mauser cartridges and most of the older lots of .30-06 were made with corrosive priming, which causes bore pitting.

OBTW, up until a couple of years ago, I would have first recommended getting an M1 Garand rifle. Unfortunately, they have recently become quite collectible and prices have jumped up to the $1,000 to $1,500 price range. Spare parts have also become quite expensive. My advice to Californians: If you can find an M1 Garand with a nice bore for under $900, jump on it!

"Official" Statistics on Population, Employment, Income Levels, Money Supply, and Inflation?

In a recent Odds 'n Sods item, you cited a article published by The New York Times: You stated: "A key data point mentioned in the article: 'The median household [in the US] earned $48,201 in 2006, down from $49,244 in 1999, according to the Census Bureau.' "

That's from changing population dynamics and more careful surveys of low-income families. For comparable populations, income has risen as you ought to expect.

Consider the results for "Worked Full Time, Year Round, Both Sexes, White"...

For 1999 income:

Persons in this group: 81.7 million
Mean income of all persons in this group: $44,854

For 2006 income:
Persons in this group: 88 million
Mean income of all persons in this group: $55,176

The 1999 figure, adjusted for US retail price inflation to 2006, is equivalent to $53,781.
Adjusted for US wage inflation, the number is $53,622.

This is only barely better than staying even, but that's a lot better than the conclusion you drew from the New York Times article, which is that the median income has somehow declined 23% in constant dollars. Since when did you start trusting everything you read in the New York Times? In this case, the [New York Times] author went out of his way to make a clearly false claim:
"Most American households are still not earning as much annually as they did in 1999, once inflation is taken into account."
Based on the actual facts he presents as his source data, that just isn't true.

From the CIA World Factbook, the US GDP was $9.26 trillion in 1999 and $12.98 trillion in 2006, a 40.1% increase. Tom's price-inflation calculator says $9.26 in 1999 is equivalent to $11.10 in 2006, so the real growth was about 17%.

According to the Census Bureau, the population of the United States grew about 7% in those seven years, leaving us with roughly 10% of growth in per-capita GDP. So that's consistent with the other Census data, and it's reasonable to conclude from these analyses that average individual income did in fact increase faster than inflation during this time. - PNG

JWR Replies: Like you, I am dubious about statistics complied by governments. Journalists with an axe to grind--such as the New York Times writer that you mentioned do indeed distort statistics even further, so this is cause to distrust press accounts of "official" statistics.

I only saw any credence in the claim that real incomes have declined because of my personal experience. At the peak of the boom in 2000, I was working as a technical writer for a start-up high tech company and making $105,000 per year (plus full benefits). That is the equivalent of $129,543 in 2007 dollars. When the bubble burst, I was laid off and I scrambled for the next three years, alternately living on my unemployment insurance and taking short term technical writing contracts, without any health insurance benefits. My income plummeted to just $22,000 in 2003. Late in that year, I finally found salaried work as a technical and proposal writer, but it was at just $55,000 per year. I eventually decided to launch SurvivalBlog, (starting in September of 2005), and in the Spring of 2006 I quit my salaried job and started living on much less--from just my blog and book income. This change also allowed me to move my family to a remote, lightly-populated area that is much like where we lived in the early 1990s. This has taken some belt-tightening, but given the local low cost of living, we live fairly comfortably on my earnings. But it will surely be a long, long time before I ever again make as much as I did in 2000!

Now, getting back to "official" statistics: In many cases, government statisticians are solving equation with multiple missing variables, so their results are an admixture of mathematics, conjecture and voodoo. Inflation statistics are case in point. The official figures on consumer price inflation have become almost laughable. The "core" inflation rate excludes "volatile" food and energy costs. This makes the "official" consumer inflation figure just about useless to me, since my family's three biggest budget items are insurance, groceries, and gasoline.

Money supply figures cannot be trusted. The figure for electronic "bankers" dollars are perhaps fairly trustworthy, ut figures for printed paper dollars are unreliable, at best. There is no way to account for how many dollars are squirreled away in mattresses, or are in the hands of foreigners. (Although if foreigners have half a brain, they are currently scrambling to exchange into a more stable currency.) One key statistic, the M3 Money Supply Aggregate, got so embarrassing that in 2006 the government stopped publishing it. At least one web publisher, ShadowStats, has attempted to reconstruct the M3 figure, independently. (They charge for access to most of their data and reports.)

Government unemployment figures are also highly suspect. By their own admission, the Bureau of Labor Statistics undercounts the chronically unemployed. Once someone has been unemployed long enough to have their state unemployment insurance benefits run out, they simply drop off the radar. The unemployment statistics also do a poor job of accounting for underemployment. For example, they would in the aggregate count an out-of-work stockbroker (that formerly made $250,000 per year) as "full time employed" if he out of desperation takes a full time job as a waiter, for minimum wage, plus tips.

Census figures cannot be completely trusted. The US Census has become a political football. Most notably, it has become a cause celebre for both homeless advocates and illegal alien advocates. These advocates can be found both inside and outside of government. They have attempted to manipulate data for political ends. How many illegal aliens are there in the US? Nobody really knows. The estimates that I've read range from 10 million to 22 million. But again, it is guesswork.

The bottom line is that "official" statistics are not be trusted. I'll close with an unattributed quotation: "Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than enlightenment."

No comments: