Category Archives: Tom’s Take

What’s Important to You?

World is in different place than ever before. That’s true with every generation over the history of time. Ah, but do you know what pitfalls are this time? Have you taken steps to minimize effect of disasters, natural or government induced?

What’s different this time?   Most countries are broke.

So what are most countries doing? And why do you care?

They are relying on printing presses creating a rapidly expanding money supply.  Historically this has happened to many countries at one time or another. We all know the boom bust times in various South American countries.

This time it’s happening at the same time to most industrialized countries at the same time. Think China, Japan, Great Britain, US, India, almost all of Europe and Africa. Governments are increasingly tied to each other in the ways they exchange money and honor currencies.

Japan and China own trillions of the US debt. Countries have huge amounts of actual US dollars. That means re-pegging the value of US dollar won’t work. In past we were tied to gold standard. That would no work in US this time around. Countries that hold trillions of dollars outside the US could still sell the currency for any amount they wanted and US could not stop it.

Back in 2009 US public and private dept was in neighborhood of $55 trillion. That debt had significant impact on US economy. Today, US public and private debt has climbed to $65 trillion. Total US debt is up 150% since 2000. Additionally rest of world has added another $57 trillion in public and private debt.

This is referred to as “hot money” lending. But does it matter? McKinsey points out that debt, around the world, is outpacing economic growth. When economic growth can’t finance all these loans, only governments are willing to step into the breach.

This debt can only be paid off in 3 ways:

-Paid off by the people, businesses, and countries that took on the debt.
-Inflation
-Declaring the debt null and void…destroying relationships with those who provided the money in the first place. This has been used by many countries over the history of the world…but never by a number of countries in a very short period of time. No one knows the effect if several countries started down this path.

Federal Reserve Richmond, VA branch recently reported that 61% of all liabilities in US are now guaranteed by the government, implicitly or explicitly. In 1999 the percentage was 45% (mostly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Today more and more of our financial institutions rely on the government to access credit.

Unfortunately, government guarantees are not shown on any government balance sheet…in US or elsewhere in the world. Governments are relying on massive currency and interest rate manipulation to fund themselves. World has never experienced anything like this by the major economic powers of the world.

Sooner or later this bubble will pop, like many others have over the years. But when?

Nobody knows. But what it means for your personal wealth is known. The biggest threat to your wealth isn’t a stock market crash. Instead it’s from confiscation and/or devaluation by our government. Think Greece last year that took 25% of savings from citizens bank accounts.

In the 1930’s people and companies suffered massive losses. But the actual wealth didn’t disappear. Wealth transferred from creditors to lenders. This time around we will have the above, but will also have major collapse in governments politically. The US government has pledged a large amount of the wealth of the citizens to other people…through all kinds of government programs. We are all familiar with Detroit bankruptcy. That will occur within America and many other countries…within a few years.  What’s a few years? Again, no one knows for sure, but within 10-20 years seems realistic.

Once inflation takes off it can have devastating effects quickly. Think back to the Carter years when inflation in US hit 20%.

US, and most countries of the world can’t sustain government spending that is vastly outstripping tax revenues coming in. Sooner or later the piper has to be paid.

Previously the world would have a 1930’s situation where loans would be called. Difference then and now? Governments were not the primary financiers of the world debt.  Banks and financial institutions had the primary role.  If government can’t pay all the people that have been promised money there will be riots on massive scale.

So what can individuals do?

10,000 doctors every year are refusing to serve Medicare patients. That means many people won’t be able to get doctors appointments. What you can do? Doctors, not participating in Medicare are starting to charge patients monthly fee to see them. In effect doctors are signing up the patients they want to see to give doctors the income they want. These patients at least are assured medical opinions will be available to them. Start understanding medical coverage options in other countries…like Costa Rica or Panama (there are lots of others.) Those two countries have doctors that were educated in US and majority speak English. Last those countries are just few hours away and charge fraction of US doctors and hospitals.

Above is only one example. Many people have majority of their wealth tied up in value of their homes. What happens in major downturn when housing prices drop? In 2009 housing values dropped by over 50% in some markets. For most Americans that means there houses are worth far less than they paid. What can you do? Work to eliminate as much debt as possible, especially credit card debt and auto loans. If you can, pay off your house…or go to 15 year mortgage. Objective is to reduce debt so you can cover any remaining debt in a down turn.

Wages have remained flat in US for many years. How many? Depends whose figures you want to use. Assuredly since at least late 1990’s. Differences in years typically depends on rate of inflation that is applied.

To minimize this, acquire the things you need if times get tough. For some that’s food storage, for others it’s cash, or other products and supplies that are important to them.  If there’s run at supermarkets toilet paper becomes pretty valuable. Natural disasters have cleared the shelves of supermarkets many times. The economy doesn’t have to tank to cause major disruptions. People who have taken, even just a few steps, to prepare for emergencies that would affect them sleep better.

Most people live day-to-day. They assume things won’t happen. They listen and believe the media. Remember, no government cares much about their citizens. We are each just a number. Any of us that think differently aren’t thinking.

Top Threats for Business Security

Those of us in Hospitality industry are very familiar with, and typically have plans in place to avoid/minimize employee theft and white collar crime or fraud.

Do your hotels or restaurants have plans in place on how to handle:

-Terrorism

-Workplace violence

-Property crime—protect your intellectual property.

Some hotels and restaurants, and the companies that own/operate them, are doing adequate job protecting customer records. When it comes to protecting business and financial records appears most hotels and restaurants are doing very little, except having weak password protection.

We find US hotels and restaurants have done almost nothing when it comes to recognizing possible terrorism threats or warning signs that indicate potential workplace violence. All employees need to know what to watch for, and how to report the possibility of either of these.

Best counter to terrorism and work place violence is a staff (including all hourly employees) who understand behaviors and things to watch for.

I’d like to hear from any of you that have programs in place for these. If you are using outside companies, who is good?

Theodore Roosevelt’s Ideas on Immigration

Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas on Immigrants and being an AMERICAN in 1907.

‘In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag… We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language.. And we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.’
Theodore Roosevelt 1907

Recent article on immigration on LinkedIn got me thinking about  immigration issues around the world. Immigrants trying to force their way into Europe, but not anywhere in Europe, to the countries with the best jobs. Syrians and other immigrants from Africa just trying to get out. Closer to home,  illegal immigrants coming across from Mexico, many with criminal past or criminal intents. Many from  other countries that are just using Mexico as a conduit into US.

Countries are trying a “one size fits all” approach to immigration. It’s not working.
Appears there are 3 immigrant issues:

-Those desperate to save their own lives and lives of their children from despots. These people, for most part, would take any jobs, and probably do anything to assimilate into the country they go to. These groups are from all walks of life, uneducated and unskilled to highly educated and highly skilled.

-Very selfish immigrants looking to improve their lives who demand that country they immigrate to meet their demands and adapt to their cultures. They don’t expect or want to learn language of their host country, may not want to adapt their religious practices to the customs of their host country, and some want to bring their own legal system with them instead of adapting to their host country.

-Immigrants looking for hand outs from country they move to. Without any real interest in the country they are immigrating to and without any intent of adapting to assimilate.

Foreign governments also are taking three approaches

-There are despotic governments that are just trying to eliminate certain ethnic types to “purify” their country. For political and/or religious grounds.

-Countries where the government simply can’t function well enough to take care of all the population. Some are well meaning. Most of these countries, are just struggling to stay in power and are spending lot of their economic resources trying to “keep the lid on” internal uprisings.

-Still other governments are interested in exporting the criminal element in their societies. Or exporting terrorism.

Countries facing a large influx of immigrants need 3 approaches as well. One immigration policy doesn’t fit all situations.

-Immigrants fleeing for their lives need to be assimilated. Those immigrants also need to be carefully screened to assure they are not criminals in their own countries or terrorists or religious extremists unwilling to adapt to host country. These immigrants must be willing to learn the language of their host country, agree to follow the host countries laws, and agree to take the jobs that are suitable for them. They need to be disbursed within a country, that means they can’t form mini cultures within their host country. That also means the host countries have to work hard to enable the people to assimilate as painlessly as possible.

-Immigrants looking for free ride, or to impose their culture in their host country need to be deported back to their country of origin. That means countries need to adopt standards that let them deport people for up to several years. Most immigrants are smart enough to tell host country anything the host country wants to hear, to get in. Agenda of these immigrants may not surface for months or years. When those agendas come out the immigrants must be dealt with.

-Immigrants that foment unrest in their host countries need to be dealt with very harshly. At very least they need to be deported and not allowed to visit the host country…ever again. If, after deportation, they sneak back in, they need to be dealt with using strong corporal punishment. They have already demonstrated their country of origin can’t keep them in. They have already demonstrated they don’t care about their host country.

No country is rich enough to accept all immigrants who want to come.

Each country needs to come to grips with this. As rich as world thinks US is, we can’t assimilate millions of immigrants who don’t speak English, when majority lack education or skills to perform jobs we need done. Majority of immigrants need at least a few years to adapt to their host country. Countries of the world, including US, don’t have the financial reserves to accommodate all the people who want to immigrate. Most countries are already facing financial difficulties taking care of their own citizens who need help. Each country has an obligation to take care of their own citizens before helping others.That’s harsh, but it is an economic fact of life.

Politicians of the world, wake up. The world is way to complex. Countries can no longer afford “one size fits all” policies.

 

 

4 Things to Remember About ETFs

Concept of ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds) was created after the 22% one day drop in the market on Black Monday, Oct 19, 1987. Insider trading was rampant, at same time SEC was clamping down, and traders turned to hedging to protect against downturns. Then the Fed stepped in…to avoid the markets overheating. In one day $500 billion was wiped off the investment landscape. The markets did recover quickly, but lot of damage had been done.

Just 3 years later, the first ETF was launched…to track the S&P 500. Since then, 1400 ETFs have been created.

Advantage of ETFs over mutual funds?

Higher liquidity, low fees, and they can be traded anytime during the day. (Instead of after the close as funds do.) This also works to disadvantage for many investors.

Investors are direct owners in mutual funds, but indirect owners in ETFs.  While ETFs have shares that trade like stocks, they also have a basket of representative securities. Usually, but not always, the Net Asset Value of an ETF matches closely the underlying basket of securities the ETF tracks. But ETFs can be manipulated by inside traders.

Following 1987 meltdown, NYSE put trading curbs on to reduce volatility and price panic. The curbs also give traders time to react.  How does that impact ETFs? When the underlying securities in the ETF stop trading, the ETF stops trading because the ETF itself can’t be priced. Key point: Anyone can buy mutual funds. Only large institutional investors and broker dealers can buy and sell shares of ETF.  When individual investors buy an ETF their orders are pooled until they are large enough for the underlying investor to actually buy or sell shares in the  ETF.

Normal trading days that’s not big deal. On very high volume days it can significantly alter the value of your ETF investment.

Monday, August 24, 2015 that happened to about 25% of ETFs and they dropped 20% or more.

Traders were smart. When ETF’s dropped fast, traders bought the ETF while selling the underlying companies—a practice called arbitrage. When that happened traders discovered they had artificial means to manipulate the market to make profits for themselves. Traders are unlikely to do this on purpose, but on volatile trading days they can take advantage of this and increase the price range and their profits…to the disadvantage of individuals who happen to invest in the ETF that day.

Four Rules to Understand about ETFs

-Don’t trade ETFs as stock replacements. Remember, ETFs have shares that trade like stocks AND the basket of underlying securities.
-Remember why ETFs were created: To be a way to allocate funds for the benefit of Wall Street, not individual investors.
-Don’t ever use market orders when buying or selling ETFs. That plays into the hands of high speed traders (arbitrage again.) Use limit orders.
-Put your core investments into mutual funds, not ETFs.

Recognize that ETFs were formed to benefit Wall Street, not individual investors. Understand how they work, and the rules above to protect your investments.

Above abstracted from excellent article by Keith Fitz-gerald in his Total Wealth Newsletter.

Is the Dollar Going To Get Overthrown in October?

Just read great analysis by Jim Rickards in his Strategic Intelligence newsletter.  Jim is great explaining complex issues in terms we can understand.

There are warnings and media talk about major economic upheavals in Sept and again in Oct.

The monetary elites, worldwide, will impact global capital markets, but they do it over years by solving the global debt problem with inflation. Predicting major changes in Sept and Oct isn’t the way they operate. The elites make small moves year after year, by way of technical changes that most of us don’t know about or understand. Major upheaval is to hard to control. Elites don’t want that. So all the rhetoric about major upheavals in Sept and Oct, is likely to be just that…rhetoric.

We each should be worried about their longer range plan to destroy our wealth through inflation.

So What Is the Elites Plan?

To use SDR’s to wipe out debt and destroy wealth. Special Drawing Rights (SDR’s) is money issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). They call that money SDR’s.

The Fed can print dollars, European Central Bank prints Euros, and IMF prints SDR’s.

Only real difference? SDR’s are for countries only, whereas we can keep Dollars and Euros in our bank accounts. Countries swap their currency for SDR’s. So whether a country prints trillions in their currency or the IMF prints trillions in SDR’s, the effect is the same…inflation.

What’s the Problem?

No one is accountable when IMF prints SDR’s. US can hold Fed accountable. People won’t know what is happening, all they will know is that their savings have been wiped out by inflation.

The Chronology

Janet Yellen and the Fed determine whether to raise interest rates on Sept 17, 2015.  There are several other political and economic events between then and mid-November. But those events are working against each other, so the effect is not likely to be dire…in spite of all the media hype.

Media isn’t explaining to us that Fed, White House, and IMF are all working together on all of this. It isn’t a series of individual events. It’s a coordinated plan involving several events.

Years past the US Treasury was primary agency in the value of the dollar. Fed focused on the overall economy, but didn’t involve itself with the dollar in international markets. This has changed.

Starting in 2009 the Fed became heavily involved with White House, IMF, Fed,  Treasury, and an increased role for China.

Will Yellen and the Fed Raise Interest Rates Sept. 17th?

No one really knows. Fed has been talking about raising rates for months. Sooner or later they may feel they have to do it politically.

Economically there is no economic reason to raise rates at this time. China’s growth is slowing, US is far from 2% inflation target goal the Fed has talked about for months. Core personal consumption expenditure index is about 1.3% and going down. It hasn’t been above 2% in 7 years. US employment cost index is also trending down. It has long been considered one of measures of inflation. Average hourly earnings, after adjusting for inflation are about zero.

In short, there is nothing in Yellen’s numbers to justify a raise in rates in Sept. Politics can be an entirely different story.

How is SDR Value Determined and Where is China in This?

SDR considers dollar, euro, yen and sterling, based on mathematical formula. China wants prestige of having their currency, the yuan, included. Adding the yuan won’t really change anything.  There are a variety of reasons why adding the yuan won’t disrupt the dollar as the leading global reserve currency. (A number of years down the road, perhaps, but not now.)

US has veto power on whether IMF includes yuan or not. If  China wants in, China has to peg the yuan to the dollar, which they have done.  When a country pegs their currency to the dollar they forfeit partial control of their currency to the central bank, in this case the Fed.

China’s economy is slowing, they should be loosening credit. Instead they are tightening it. When Fed talks about raising interest rates it strengthens the dollar. That also strengthens the yuan, but forces China to tighten its monetary policy.

Politically, What Happens if Yellen (Fed) Raises Rates Sept 17th?

That’s about the time President of China is going to be visiting US for first time. If Yellen raises interest rate China will have to tighten their own interest rate policy. That would have serious economic implications for China. Is Obama likely to do that when he’s meeting with President of that country to strengthen our ties and reduce areas of disagreement?

The Bottom Line

A rate increase by Fed in Sept would have serious implications for China, the US stock market, and probably impact SDR’s. If China’s yuan is admitted to IMF world currency reserve there is a years wait before it takes effect.

The SDR will become the global reserve currency, but not for a few years.

Looking for more detailed information? Subscribe to Jim Richards’ Strategic Intelligence…Making the Complex Simple. http://agorafinancial.com/publications/awn/

Fed Policy is Destroying or Crippling Whole Industries

Just read interesting article on role the Federal Reserve (Fed) in US and their counterparts in other countries are impacting business negatively.

We all know that cranking up the  printing presses creates money out of thin air. That’s  normally, inflationary, which is why politicians like it. Politicians love to spend money. If politicians think they might have to pay it back they want to pay it back with cheaper dollars.

Printing money drives down the cost of capital. Low cost capital encourages companies to expand faster than economic need dictates…think about all the money invested in the oil and gas industries in recent years. Production in US has doubled in the last 6 years…but demand has not doubled.

Creating wealth in the past always started with saving money. Governments are trying to change that with the printing press. It’s working on the mass population.

Now individuals, businesses, and countries can borrow money and make purchases with very little down. They don’t even need the assets to “back” the money they have borrowed. Money creation, done relatively slowly, creates inflation. Done very rapidly, like the world is experiencing now, and money creation can be deflationary before it becomes inflationary.

When the cost to borrow money is almost nothing, it encourages speculation. Today, most major corporations have plenty of working capital to invest, but are they investing it wisely? Or just spending money? Even stock buybacks can be costly if companies are buying their own stock at inflated prices.

Interest rates used to be set based on actual demand for capital. Now they appear to be based on the whim of the Fed and other governments.

Fed has Created at Least 2 Financial Market Bubbles

First is the above mentioned capital that has flowed into gas and oil industries. $5 trillion in last decade, most financed with junk bonds and spent by relatively small, Texas based, oil and gas companies. This is primary reason Texas has created as many new jobs as the rest of the country combined.

Today, these smaller companies are feeling the effect of lower gas prices. It is starting to spill over to the larger oil and gas companies.  Chevron lost over $2 BB in oil and gas operations last quarter. Last time it saw loss like this was 20 years ago.

Share buy back programs coupled with sharply lower oil and gas prices are having serious impact on these companies. Oil and gas companies either have to borrow more or reduce dividends or share buybacks. Either will cause a drop in share prices.

Second, Fed’s easy money policy has greatly increased subprime auto lending. Almost  the same as the subprime lending in housing market 10 years ago. People bought houses they couldn’t afford. Now they are buying vehicles they can’t afford. When bubbles burst, assets lose value…a lot of value..value that takes years to recover. Some is never recovered.

One company has $26 BB in outstanding auto loans, $21 billion of which are subprime.  And that’s  just one of several companies with billions in subprime auto loans. Moody’s expects 27% of these subprime auto loans to default. That effectively wipes out the projected profit margins.

Combine greedy lenders with irresponsible buyers and it’s a recipe with serious repercussions.

The housing subprime crisis occurred when people lost jobs and the stock market lost lot of value in 2008. Today stock market is close to all time high and employment is rising. Even average incomes are increasing…yet, loan defaults are high already.

Something is badly wrong in the underwriting and funding of new car loans.

What’s It All Mean?

Right now everything is good. When auto loans can’t be repaid, or oil and gas companies can’t repay loans we will have deflation short term.  I will start to reduce prices on both new and used cars. It will likely also reduce demand for gas.

When defaults occur credit dries up quickly…for consumers or businesses.

Fleet sales by auto manufactures to rental car companies account for 25% of new car sales. Rental companies dispose of vehicles within 1-2 years. As people default on their auto loans the auto manufactures, rental car companies, used vehicle sales, and those holding the loans will all be negatively affected.

Is All of this Just Conjecture?

No. January 2015 inflation hit negative territory…deflation.  (Measure used was Consumer Price Index including food and energy.) By June we had barely climbed out of negative territory.

The Fed’s printing press policies rather than creating instant inflation are creating deflation in select industries and creating deflationary conditions in others.

How about the rest of the world? Europe is in deflation, Japan spent couple decades in deflation. Asia saw deflation in 2013 and is now facing deflation again.

Practical Solution

None of us can impact the government. Each of us, as individuals, or companies, can increase savings and reduce or re-structure debt. Restructure leases and contracts, whether on buildings, equipment, with vendors, cell phones, or internet services.

Effective Recruiting Ads…for Employers

Recruiting is advertising. You need to sell your opportunities.

To many ads have job descriptions in them. Concept of job descriptions was to satisfy internal HR record keeping and help in relating similar positions for pay purposes. Later EEO drove development of job descriptions. Have you ever read one that didn’t put you to sleep?

Come on. If you want me to get excited about your employment opportunity don’t bore me to death.

Majority of employers do good job interviewing candidates with what, how, when, where, and for whom questions. Employers strive to learn about the accomplishments of the candidates and how those accomplishments mesh with the employers immediate needs.

Candidates want the same information. The best candidates will be hired by the employers who provide the information the candidates want.

Candidates want to know what the challenges are in this job or what the goals are. How the employer wants to see them accomplished. (Can I fire as many as I need to build a better team? Or am I restricted to the existing employees for at least several months?)

They want to know how the employer expects them to do the job? Phase things slowly? Or move fast?

When is the candidate expected to show results? Tomorrow? Or is the time frame realistic?

Where are the greatest challenges for this job?

Who does the job report to? Where are the hidden reporting relationships? (Position reports to Department A, but Department B has lot of say in how A operates.)

Put real information in your ads so people can tell you how they will benefit you.

When to Cash in Winning Investments

Excellent article last week in Lifetime Income Report (7/23/15, AgoraFinancial.com) on how to evaluate when to get out of an investment that’s making money. Many investors hang on to long and end up giving back some or all of their gains.

How do you know “when” it is right time to sell?

You’ve made an investment. It’s shot up quickly. Oh crap, is it getting overpriced and ready for a downward adjustment? Or has the rally got more legs to run?

KEY: How much is the investment worth now? How much are you getting paid to hold it?

Warning signs: Are analysts getting pessimistic about future earning (real analysts, not talking heads on TV.) Is investment getting pricey historically? Dividends just average?

When you meet your “exit price.”  What’s an “exit price”? The day smart investors buy an investment, they set the price at which they plan on selling. The “exit price” that meet their objectives. Smart investors have a plan when they “buy” on how they expect the investment to perform. They stick to that plan.

The rest of investors? Everyone buys with the expectation the price will rise. Majority of investors fail to evaluate their investments using the keys above. Nor are they watching Warning signs. Therefore they don’t know when to sell.

What not to do

Lifetime Income Report pointed out that investments are nothing more than a piece of paper we trade. Don’t become attached to specific company or position. As soon as you do you will likely make mistakes and lose money. (If your gain has dropped from 50% to 25% you’ve still lost 25%.)

Never lose your objectivity. If investment has one or more of the warning signs above, set your exit price.

Tom’s Take: What Did You Learn from Your Toughest Situation?

It’s not always fun to re-visit the toughest situation you have dealt with. It could have been in business, or a personal situation.

What did you learn from the situation that you can apply today to business challenges facing you? Dealing with tough situations shape us and challenge us. We’ve each dealt with them. What can you apply today to improve?

Capitalism and You

Recent Pew poll indicated only 52% of Americans have a favorable view of capitalism.

Yet, according to United Nations, poverty has declined more in last 50 years than in the previous 500 years. Adjusted for inflation, incomes have tripled in last 50 years.

Human beings, technology combined with capital markets create a problem solving machine that enables the decline in poverty.

Free market system has a severe branding problem.

John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods  has written excellent book, Conscious Capitalism.  He points out four values of business:

1. Business is good because it creates value.
2. Business is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange.
3. Business is noble. It can elevate our existence as high as our talents will take us.
4. Business is heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.

Capitalism is about meeting people’s wants and needs.

Each of us in business need to start branding capitalism positively by reinforcing the above points with our employees and with social contacts we meet.