Archive for June 15th, 2011

Debtors vs. Bankers: The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

De-financialization:  To beat the squid, we may have to quit the game!

It is hard to fathom that during today’s episode of Bankrupt Greeks vs. Bankrupt Bankers, the herd fled into Treasuries, gold and silver, dumping the Euro, stocks and oil.  Given the unsustainable debt levels here, the long-term U.S. economic picture has to include either severe deflation or severe inflation (or both in alternating sequences).  But apparently Greece is on fire now and our own conflagration remains in the future, so the herd has moved here for temporary safe haven.

But isn’t this a bit like hiking to the stern of the Titanic, to avoid going down first with the bow, only to be sunk later?

In an over-financialized world, it’s unlikely that either the debtors or the lenders will win. Deleveraging means de-financialization, and that means less net interest going to the lenders. Some lenders have to lose.

Meanwhile, the lack of new credit means that not only do the ponzi borrowers go broke (those who require fresh loans even to pay interest), but even the speculative ones (who can cover interest but not principal) start to have real trouble rolling over their debts.  And in the maelstrom of inflation, deflation and unemployment, nearly everyone loses something.

It reminds me of the classic line from the movie War Games, when the insane computer finally learns the truth about the nuclear war “game”:  “The only winning move is not to play.

So how does one “invest for sustainable gains” in this environment?  Shakespeare’s line comes to mind next:  “Neither borrower nor lender be.”

In practical terms, that’s not completely possible, but it does provide a sense of direction when considering options and choosing the next path.  The first move is to minimize fees to the financial sector, and to bring loans (bonds) into balance with debts (mortgage and other leverage). Second is to identify low-debt, high-tangible-value stocks and funds, that should hold their real value regardless of inflation or deflation.

Here we now have a portfolio with an overall 0.25% annual average expense ratio, and we’re closing on on zero net debt holdings (while allowing some room to make contrary rate-spread plays as the herd runs back and forth on the Titanic). The challenge of which tangible-value investments to hold is more challenging…

And, as this grows long, more about that later…