Archive for the ‘Victories Over the Squid’ Category

So, do you have a fixed-rate mortage…

Monday, July 9th, 2012

… or one with “adjustable” rates that have been “fixed”?  Eh, Barclays?  And how do YOU plead, Team LIBOR?

Barclays “Fixed” Rates, eh?

Photo found at Gary Kaltbaum’s Site

Why we cannot “save our way to prosperity”

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

I just found an article by London Banker on Marriner Eccles’ testimony in 1933 to a Senate committee that actually and seriously investigated the nation’s economic problems.  (Back then, we had a government that managed to get useful things done!)

London Banker is one of the most thoughtful economics bloggers, and I’m glad to see he’s back, after evidently taking a break from blogging to work on the U.K. banking system!

There is a quote that Eccles gave in 1933, from W.T. Foster, which resonates today:

It is utterly impossible, as this country has demonstrated again and again, for the rich to save as much as they have been trying to save, and save anything that is worth saving. They can save idle factories and useless railroad coaches; they can save empty office buildings and closed banks; they can save paper evidences of foreign loans; but as a class they can not save anything that is worth saving, above and beyond the amount that is made profitable by the increase of consumer buying. It is for the interests of the well to do – to protect them from the results of their own folly – that we should take from them a sufficient amount of their surplus to enable consumers to consume and business to operate at a profit. This is not “soaking the rich”; it is saving the rich. Incidentally, it is the only way to assure them the serenity and security which they do not have at the present moment.

Now, this message is not real popular with my family, who believe everyone ought to earn what they get, and be able to keep what they earn. And in the current U.S. political climate, there are grave reasons to fear that in “saving the rich” from themselves, we will squander our last chance to rescue the economy through another round of waste, corruption, nonfeasance and injustice.

But there’s an abundance of evidence that the economic structure has made it too easy for too many to keep too much — and on top of that, the amount which “can” be “saved” is simply not enough for everyone who faces retirement and wants to save!

Here is a quick quantification of why the quote matters today:

In the U.S., it’s simply mathematically impossible for 76 million Baby Boomers, representing 1/4 of the population, to save 16-25 times their accustomed (final, peak) annual income and retire on “savings” by drawing out 4-6%/year. Such “savings” would have to amount to well over 4 to 5 times U.S. GDP… well over 60 to 75 TRILLION dollars. This value, 60,000,000,000,000 exceeds by at least $20 trillion the total wealth of the country! And that would leave no room for either older or younger generations to own anything!

Retirement in any civilized form simply cannot be funded by any credible “stock” of real “savings”… it must be a “flow” of goods and services provided by the increasingly productive young to the increasingly numerous elderly.

The same issue applies to China, Japan, and Europe, all of which are now facing similar demographics.

This issue is exacerbated by our credit-based approach to everything, in which very few people stockpile years worth of food, gasoline, etc. in advance in order to survive old age. In a purely tangible sense, the retired, unemployed and wealthy cannot consume more than the surplus produced by the workers.

The economically-dependent can, however, politically squeeze the workers’ share of consumption, in order to have more for themselves!

Interestingly, if one imagines persistent zero interest rates and negative real yields, the financial incentive to stockpile goods should start to impact behavior. Hopefully this will provide the stimulus to restore full production, because otherwise it must result in yet another squeeze on current consumption.

So in the end I’m forced to agree with the quotation.  The economic playing field must be leveled, to restore prosperity for all, and to bring the machinery of production back into full use.  We must not squander what we spend, any further.  But if we can pull this off, the growth in total national wealth should make the sacrifice of the rich a worthwhile investment.

Do NOT Feed The Squid!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

I’d like to welcome my readers (all 2 of them?) from my other blog, Do Not Feed The Squid!  “DNFTS” was a great idea (and still is, so I’ve put it in the tagline above!) but I do not have time to keep up two blogs.  Also, the idea behind “Do NOT Feed The Squid”, that we’re going to have to take personal actions to stop the large financial corporations from continuing to abuse the legal system and destroy the public trust, is no longer as politically radical as it used to be.  It’s no longer a distraction from the “Ethical Investing” and “Sustainable Gains” themes here.  In fact, it’s pretty clear that investors in the mortgage lending apparatus have failed to invest ethically and are discovering that their fraudulent gains are not sustainable.  (Whether they continue to succeed in ripping off the taxpayers, only time will tell… but hopefully the public will not put up with this any longer!)

The 6 posts from “Do NOT Feed the Squid” have been moved over here verbatim, without any updates to their timestamps.

For those who may not have reviewed the “Do NOT Feed The Squid” site, here’s a list of the 6 posts in, reverse chronological order:

Post-Squid Investing Attitude Shift

Squid-Free Investing (small victories)

Preventing the Next Crisis? Automatic Stabilizers?

Restoring the Federal “Reserve”

A Quick Guide to Squid-Free Banking

What is the Squid?

Post-Squid Investing Attitude Shift

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

I’ve done my share of speculative trading, but lately I’m no longer interested in dancing with the squid. At the moment I’m focused on my bond portfolio, and I’m trying to figure out how to be a *lender*, the old fashioned way, not a “bond trader”. I’d like to buy, hold to maturity, and sleep soundly at night without having to worry if a greater fool will turn up tomorrow to relieve me of my “paper” (now there’s a nice squid doublespeak term – a bond is a loan, a debt, an obligation which forces people to toil who otherwise might not – not just “paper”).

Looking at stocks, I was enamored for a while with the “Dividend Achievers” approach, e.g. the VIG or VDAIX fund. But the underlying “Dividend Achievers” index lost about 1/3 of its components in 2008-2009… Looks like dividend achievement is a bit unstable. Also, much of that dividend achievement is done with borrowing/leverage and may not be sustainable. And there are whole market sectors that need to experience destructive re-creation. I’m tempted to look more at low-debt, smaller companies (which respect their shareholders enough to pay at least some kind of dividend), with prospects for growth.

More philosophically: I don’t want to “own” something that “owes”. In my stock portfolio, I want to own things that produce, without being burdened by the high fixed costs of debt service… In my lending portfolio (bonds and bank accounts), I want to be owed, by those who don’t need my money, who I’m confident will pay me back, because they will amortize the debt and won’t need to roll the debt over. I want to be helping others do productive things and growing their way out of debt … not trapping them in it….

Lending needs to become more constructive, not predatory. And that means not giving the debt addicts another round, even when they ask for it.

And the ownership of stocks needs to be about rebuilding the real, physical, tangible, doing-cool-things economy, not speculative paper-shuffling.

Squid-Free Investing (small victories)

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

I’ve made some major progress this week in freeing myself from the squid-infested segments of the financial system.

The IRA is moving from Wells Fargo to Vanguard. My only remaining exposure to the huge TBTF banks is a small checking account at Bank of America and another account at Wells Fargo (used to pay our mortgage there). Total with the squid corps. is now just 2% of liquid assets. I can live with that.

Vanguard won my business by lowering their brokerage commission rates. We’ve had taxable accounts with them for 10 years, and love not being preyed upon.

Now I’m looking to reallocate 30-50% of my portfolio, which had been in a muni bond fund and some selected stocks. The muni bond market is suffering from too many credit-dependent entities in dire danger of a “Greece fire” should the bond market seize up again… which it may very well do, at least for those who are credit-dependent. I decided to focus my LENDING (not “bond buying” – more squid doublespeak there) more tightly on those who can amortize their debt instead of rolling it over…

On the minus side: For the next leg of my lending portfolio, I have set up a brokerage account with Fidelity since they offer the best commission rates on bonds (and at reasonable prices/yields). I’m still trying to find the catch behind their setup… one thing I’ve noticed is that their email “New Issue Offering” alerts are almost exclusively selling either squid bank CDs or squid corporate bonds (large financials). Where are the bond issues from healthy industrial and consumer corporations? Not a good sign!

A Quick Guide to Squid-Free Banking

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Over on Calculated Risk, a commenter asked:

So I have a checking account with Citi. Use it mainly for direct deposit and some bill paying. If I wanted to move to a small local bank, how would I find a safe one in my area(LA/OC)? I’ve tried searching online to find some kind of list or ranking of small banks, but could never get anywhere.

I replied with the following:

Three suggestions, but you’ll have to find what works for you on your own:

First, you can check with the National Credit Union Administration: Find a Credit Union
… if you are so inclined, you can actually view each credit union’s detailed financials. The credit unions are nonprofits (AFAIK) and tend to lend locally. They are all federally insured, much as banks have FDIC insurance. You can even check each CU’s local vs. nonlocal lending in the financials, after doing some homework.

Second, you might try looking on bankrate.com to find out which banks are lending in your area. Some of them will be small local banks.

Third, you might try here: Find Bank (and enter something like “metro:los angeles”). The list that comes up will be sorted by size (total loans, right hand column). Scroll down to find the smaller banks, then look at the detailed bank reports on the site… try to find banks with a lot of “green” stats (healthier than average).

Finally, when you do pick a bank, make sure they’re not on the list that CR posts weekly, or on this list: Troubled Bank List

Good hunting!

P.S. Another commenter chimed in with http://moveyourmoney.info/ . Personally I think my method is more “safe and sound”, but it also requires more work. The good news is that there’s clearly a market for this kind of information, so I expect more sites will be supplying it!

What is the Squid?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

The original “Great Vampire Squid” reference was by Matt Taibbi, in “The Great American Bubble Machine“, printed in Rolling Stone in July, 2009.

Here at DoNotFeedTheSquid, I take a broader view, but let’s start with the original:

“The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who’s Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.”

The broader view taken here is that the Squid is a collective parasite, consisting of any person or organization (not just some parts of Goldman Sachs) which siphons human time and natural resources away from truly productive enterprises. (* This definition may evolve as we delve further, but it’s a good place to start…)

Unfortunately the examples are all too numerous. The Squid includes:

  • Failed financial and industrial corporations which squander billions of taxpayer dollars while refusing to reform their worst practices and unwise incentive structures.
  • Politicians, media, and their followers which glorify sensationalized trivia, while neglecting to study and understand the real news. (Meanwhile, bloggers eat their lunches, and historians prepare to excoriate them for nonfeasance or “failure to act properly when required to do so”.)
  • “Consumers” of all kinds, who fail to think before buying, and consequently let the squid feed on them unimpeded.
  • “Investors” of all kinds, who settle for too little and fail to demand quality products from the financial sector. (We can start with the fraud-ridden mortgage system and crappy 401(k) plans with high fees, but the list is much longer!)
  • And so on…

Part of the problem is that “We have met the Squid, and they are Us!” The Squid is not so much an organization, or a person, as it is a mindset, paradigm, or worldview. It’s a worldview which tolerates fraud, tolerates incompetence, tolerates inefficiency and waste. It’s a worldview which many of us (this blogger included) fell into during the long credit boom, when prosperity seemed boundless because money and credit were abundant… but those days are now over.

Many of us, perhaps nearly all of us who grew up during the Long Boom, were raised to believe in a system that worked for all. But we now see that the system worked far better for some than for most, and that during the Lost Decade of 2000-2009, declining incomes relative to inflation actually robbed the many to pay the few.

The Squid brought us wealth inequality and far too many individuals who feel that anything goes as long as no one catches them. As a result of this and other shortcomings, that system is now broken… and yet those most responsible for its failure have not been held accountable.

Here at Do Not Feed The Squid, the goal is to break the faulty mindset, to crack the broken paradigm, and to restore a more productive worldview. We feed the squid whenever we fail to think realistically about the human systems we have created, and let them run amok at our shared expense. We must learn from the recent failures, and fix the systems involved, but it is difficult to do so while the flawed mindset remains dominant!

I myself have much to learn, and can only dimly see the direction to go, not the destination to be reached. But I hope others will join me on this journey, and we will be able to make faster progress together. Hence doing this as a blog!

Readers may also be interested in my other blog, Investing for Sustainable Gains, which will focus more specifically on individual investing ideas. Do Not Feed The Squid is a more philosophical look at the broader national crisis.