Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Technical Evidence Indicates Major Price Movement Just Getting Started!

Stocks around the globe were pummeled again last week. This is no surprise to our subscribers as our predictive trend analytics model gave us clear technical evidence that important multi year highs had completed back in the middle of 2015. I continue to remain steadfastly bearish in my outlook for stocks.

Last Friday, January 15, 2016, the SPX broke below its Aug. 24, 2015 low, which is equivalent to a major sell signal if price closes the month below that level.

Last week, The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 511 points, or 3.1%, to 15,866, while the S&P 500 slid 64 points, or 3.4%, to 1,856.34, led by the financials, technology and energy sectors. The Nasdaq Composite tumbled 190 points, or 4.1%, to 4,424.35. Subscribers and I managed to catch a 33% quick intra-week bounce trading the SSO ETF and then got out of harm’s way as volatility took hold once again.

European stocks were unable to escape the downward trend from other markets, and the Stoxx Europe 600 index lost 2.8%. The dollar fell to a one-year low vs. the yen. Gold rose $22.40, or 2.1%, to $1,096.20 an ounce.

The SPX is currently testing major support. This is consistent with a “cycle low” that arrived over the weekend. Even though we are in a bear market, we should expect a “Bear Market Rally” sucking every last investor into long positions, before dropping much lower through previous support areas. This will be a very “short term bottom” this week.

We are in a long term downtrend now; it is not a “hiccup” as we experienced back in 2012.

If the stock market is going to stage a rally from here, this is a good time to start, right when everyone is jumping off the ship and the sentiment is so extremely negative. Just to give you a feel for the level of panic selling on Friday, my panic selling indicator which tells us when short term bottoms are likely to happen as everyone is running for the door, this contrarian indicator spiked to 50. Now any reading over 3 is panic in the market, and a reading of 9-18 is typically a multi week low. So you can see how 50 is VERY extreme.

Because we are entering a bear market and institutions will be unloading shares area record pace going forward, I feel this extreme level of panic selling (50) is only going to trigger a bounce lasting a week or so, then more distribution selling will take hold.

trap2
trap1


A slew of disappointing U.S. data shows that manufacturing and consumer spending are in trouble. Empire State factory index declined sharply this month to its lowest level since the recession. Retail sales declined by 0.1% in December 2015 and a report on industrial production compiled showed that activity declined for the third straight month.

The New Year is not off to good start. In fact, it may be the worst start ever of a New Year in many world stock indices. Instead off irrational exuberance that had previously been so evident, investors of world equity markets are clearly starting to panic. We all know things are not right. We know it hasn’t been okay since the 2008 financial crisis. The effort by the central banks to get over the hump has fueled an “Asset Bubble” in the stock markets.

This in turn should start to fuel safe haven buying in gold. Gold’s day in the sun is soon approaching. I believe this new year will prove to be a pivotal year for gold, silver and miners.

The “talking heads” tell us that the stock market is falling because energy prices are falling. We need higher energy (gasoline) prices. Really? They claim that energy companies are going out of business and that tens of thousands of people will lose jobs and unemployment will rise. Really? Didn’t the jobs numbers show hundreds of thousands of people getting new jobs – in fields outside of energy? Who are you going to believe?

Later this week I will be posting an exciting video show you how to make a fortune during this pending bear market and exactly how I did this in 2008 – 2012 to become financially free before I turned 30 years of age. Stay tuned and be sure to opt into my free email list if you want to see this exciting, inspiring and educational video!

Visit Here > www.Gold & Oil Guy.com 
Chris Vermeulen

Stock & ETF Trading Signals

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Steve Swanson Shows Us How to Trade This Volatile Market


Steve Swanson's 4D technology [which you'll read about in a minute] predicted everything about January's sell off and subsequent rally way back in December. If you want to know the future too, just click on the video link below. An up to date chart of the S&P 500 Price/Time Continuum is posted below the video. See for yourself the precise day the next big rally will begin then use the profit magnifier detailed in this free eBook to earn 3 times more profits.

A revolutionary profit magnifier quietly introduced in November 2008 had the power to essentially change the fate of millions of beleaguered investors. Yet, to this day hardly anybody knows about it.  Do you? In his highly acclaimed new book, Steve Swanson [the brilliant trader and inventor who predicted every intermediate market top and bottom for more than two decades] reveals a safe and easy way for you to utilize the powerful Thanksgiving gift of 2008 to earn 3 times more money on every trade.  


This is something you really deserve to know about. And you can download his tell all new ebook this week for free. Just for starters, see how you can take that profit and triple it! See how this one simple change can earn you 3 times more money I was shocked. And I think you will be too when you see how ridiculously simple it is to make one minor change. Easy for anybody. And turn a boring 25% a year strategy into an exciting moneymaker that averages 108% a year with no compounding!

And that’s not all. When you download your FREE eBook, you’ll also gain instant access to Steve’s paradigm shifting video 

Steve Swanson actually invented a program that plots every intermediate market high and low. Past, present, and future on what’s called the “Price Time Continuum”. That’s how he’s been able to predict and profit from every market turning point for more than 2 decades. Some are calling Swanson’s 4th Dimension breakthrough the “Discovery of the Century”.  

So you might want to at least take a peek.  Click Here Now.

See you in the markets,
The Stock Market Club

P.S. As with most free things, Steve Swanson’s generous offer is limited.  So, even if you don’t have time to delve into anything new right now, I’d encourage you to grab your free ebook while you can.  That way you’ll have it to look through whenever you like. Click Here Now.



Stock & ETF Trading Signals

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

How Saudi Arabia and OPEC are Manipulating Oil Prices

About eighteen months ago the international price of WTI Crude Oil, at the close of June 2014, was $105.93 per barrel. Flash forward to today; the price of WTI Crude Oil was just holding above $38.00 per barrel, a drastic fall of more than 65% since June 2014. I will point out several reasons behind this sharp, sudden, and what now seems to be prolonged slump.
Chart 1

The Big Push

Despite a combination of factors triggering the fall in prices, the biggest push came from the U.S. Shale producers. From 2010 to 2014, oil production in the U.S. increased from 5,482,000 bpd to 8,663,000 (a 58% increase), making the U.S. the third largest oil-producing country in the world. The next big push came from Iraq whose production increased from 2,358,000 bpd in 2010 to 3,111,000 bpd in 2014 (a 32% increase), mostly resulting from the revival of its post war oil industry.
The country-wide financial crunch, and the need for the government to increasingly export more to pay foreign companies for their production contracts and continue the fight against militants in the country took production levels to the full of its current capacity. In addition; global demand remained flat, growing at just 1.1% and even declining for some regions during 2014. Demand for oil in the U.S. grew just 0.6% against production growth of 16% during 2014.
Europe registered extremely slow growth in demand, and Asia was plagued by a slowdown in China which registered the lowest growth in its demand for oil in the last five years. Consequently, a global surplus was created courtesy of excess supply and lack of demand, with the U.S. and Iraq contributing to it the most.

The Response

In response to the falling prices, OPEC members met in the November of 2014, in Vienna, to discuss the strategy forward. Advocated by Saudi Arabia, the most influential member of the cartel, along with support from other GCC countries in the OPEC, the cartel reluctantly agreed to maintain its current production levels. This sent WTI Crude Oil and Brent Oil prices below $70, much to the annoyance of Russia (non-OPEC), Nigeria and Venezuela, who desperately needed oil close to $90 to meet their then economic goals.
For Saudi Arabia, the strategy was to leverage their low cost of production advantage in the market and send prices falling beyond such levels so that high cost competitors (U.S. Shale producers are the highest cost producers in the market) are driven out and the market defines a higher equilibrium price from the resulting correction. The GCC region, with a combined $2.5 trillion in exchange reserves, braced itself for lower prices, even to the levels of $20per barrel.

The Knockout Punch

By the end of September 2014, according to data from Baker Hughes, U.S. Shale rigs registered their highest number in as many years at 1,931. However, they also registered their very first decline to 1,917 at the end of November 2014, following OPEC’s first meeting after price falls and its decision to maintain production levels. By June 2015, in time for the next OPEC meeting, U.S. Shale rigs had already declined to just 875 by the end of May; a 54% decline.
usshale
The Saudi Arabia strategy was spot on; a classic real-life example of predatory price tactics being used by a market leader, showing its dominant power in the form of deep foreign-exchange pockets and the low costs of production. Furthermore, on the week ending on the date of the most recent OPEC meeting held on December 4th, 2015, the U.S. rig count was down even more to only 737; a 62% decline. Despite increased pressure from the likes of Venezuela, the GCC lobby was able to ensure that production levels were maintained for the foreseeable future.

Now What?

Moving forward; the U.S. production will decline by 600,000 bpd, according to a forecast by the International Energy Agency. Furthermore, news from Iraq is that its production will also decline in 2016 as the battle with militants gets more expensive and foreign companies like British Petroleum have already cut operational budgets for next year, hinting production slowdowns. A few companies in the Kurdish region have even shut down all production, owing to outstanding dues on their contracts with the government.
Hence, for the coming year, global oil supply is very much likely to be curtailed. However, Iran’s recent disclosure of ambitions to double its output once sanctions are lifted next year, and call for $30 billion in investment in its oil and gas industry, is very much likely to spoil any case for a significant price rebound.
The same also led Saudi Arabia and its GCC partners to turn down any requests from other less-economically strong members of OPEC to cut production, in their December 2015, meeting. Under the current scenarios members like Venezuela, Algeria and Nigeria, given their dependence on oil revenues to run their economies, cannot afford to cut their own production but, as members of the cartel, can plea to cut its production share to make room for price improvements, which they can benefit from i.e. forego its market share.

It’s Not Over Until I’ve Won

With news coming from Iran, and the successful delivery of a knockout punch to a six-year shale boom in the U.S., Saudi Arabia feared it would lose share to Iran if it cut its own production. Oil prices will be influenced increasingly by the political scuffles between Saudi Arabia and its allies and Iran. The deadlock and increased uncertainty over Saudi Arabia and Iran’s ties have sent prices plunging further. The Global Hedge Fund industry is increasing its short position for the short-term, which stood at 154 million barrels on November 17th, 2015, when prices hit $40 per barrel; all of this indicating a prolonged bear market for oil.
One important factor that needs to be discussed is the $1+ trillions of junk bonds holding up the shale and other marginal producers. As you know, that has been teetering and looked like a crash not long ago. The pressure is still there. As the shale becomes more impaired, the probability of a high yield market crash looks very high. If that market crashes, what happens to oil?  Wouldn’t there be feedback effects between the oil and the crashing junk market, with a final sudden shutdown of marginal production? Could this be the catalyst for a quick reversal of oil price?
The strategic interests, primarily of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia; the Saudis have strategically decided to go all in to maintain their market share by maximizing oil production, even though the effect on prices is to drive them down even further. In the near term, they have substantial reserves to cover any budget shortfalls due to low prices. More importantly, in the intermediate term, they want to force marginal producers out of business and damage Iran’s hopes of reaping a windfall due to the lifting of sanctions. This is something they have in common with the strategic interests of the U.S. which also include damaging the capabilities of Russia and ISIS. It’s certainly complicated sorting out the projected knock-on effects, but no doubt they are there and very important.    

I’ll Show You How Great I Am

Moreover, despite a more than 50% decline in its oil revenues, the International Monetary Fund has maintained Saudi Arabia’s economy to grow at 3.5% for 2015, buoyed by increasing government spending and oil production. According to data by Deutsche Bank and IMF; in order to balance its fiscal books, Saudi Arabia needs an oil price of$105. But the petroleum sector only accounts for 45% of its GDP, and as of June 2015, according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, the country had combined foreign reserves of $650 billion. The only challenge for Saudi Arabia is to introduce slight taxes to balance its fiscal books. As for the balance of payments deficit; the country has asserted its will to depend on its reserves for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

The above are some of the advantages which only Saudi Arabia and a couple of other GCC members in the OPEC enjoy, which will help them sustain their strategy even beyond 2016 if required. But I believe it won’t take that long. International pressure from other OPEC members, and even the global oil corporations’ lobby will push leaders on both sides to negotiate a deal to streamline prices.
With the U.S. players more or less out by the end of 2016, the OPEC will be in more control of price fluctuations and, therefore, in light of any deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia (both OPEC members) and even Russia (non-OPEC), will alter global supply for prices to rebound, thus controlling prices again.
What we see now in oil price manipulation is just the mid-way point. Lots of opportunity in oil and oil related companies will slowly start to present themselves over the next year which I will share my trades and long term investment pays with subscribers of my newsletter at The Gold & Oil Guy.com
Chris Vermeulen





Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Half Dozen 2016 Stock Market Poisons

By Tony Sagami

Most of the “adults” on Wall Street are on vacation this week, and trading volume shrivels up to a trickle. That low volume is exactly the environment that the momentum crowd uses to paint the tape green. I call it the financial version of Reindeer Games.

However, once the “adults” return, the stock market will need to pay attention to the actual economic fundamentals and deal with facts—like, 2015 being the first year since 2009 when S&P 500 profits declined for the year.


I expect that 2016 is going to be a very difficult year for the stock market. Why do I say that? For any number of reasons, such as:

Poison #1: The Strong US Dollar

The greenback has been red hot. The US dollar index is up 9% in 2015 after gaining 13% in 2014.
A strong dollar can have a dramatic (negative) impact on the earnings of companies that do a significant amount of business outside of the US—for example, Johnson & Johnson, Ford, Yum Brands, Tiffany’s, Procter & Gamble, and hundreds more.


Poison #2: Depressed Energy Prices

I don’t have to tell you that oil prices have fallen like a rock. That’s a blessing when you stop at a gas station, but the impact on the finances of petro dependent economies, including certain US states, has been devastating. Plunging energy prices are going to clobber everything from emerging markets to energy stocks, to states like North Dakota and Texas.


Poison #3: Junk Bond Implosion

You may not have noticed because the decline has been orderly, but the junk bond market is on the verge of a total meltdown.


Third Avenue Management unexpectedly halted redemption of its high-yield (junk) Focused Credit Fund. Investors who want their money… tough luck. The investors who placed $789 million in this junk bond fund are now “beneficiaries of the liquidating trust” without any idea of how much they will get back and or even when that money will be returned. Third Avenue admitted that it may take “up to a year” for investors to get their money back. Ouch!

The problem is that the bids of the junkiest part of the junk bond market have collapsed. For example, the bonds of iHeartCommunications and Claire’s Stores have dropped 54% and 55%, respectively, since June!
What the junk bond market is experiencing is a liquidity crunch, the financial equivalent of everybody trying to stampede through a fire exit at the same time. In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that blocking redemptions could lead to an increase in redemption requests at similar funds.


Poison #4: Rising Interest Rates

As expected, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates at its last meeting. The reaction (so far) hasn’t been too negative; however, we may have several more interest rate hikes coming our way.


Every single one of the 17 Federal Reserve members expects the fed funds rate to increase by at least 50 bps before the end of 2016, and 10 of the 17 expect rates to rise at least 100 bps higher in the next 12 months. I doubt our already struggling economy could handle those increases.


Poison #5: Government Interference

Sure, 2016 is an election year, which brings uncertainty and possibly turmoil. But the Obama administration could shove several changes down America’s throat via executive action—such as higher minimum wage, limits on drug pricing, gun control, trade sanctions including tariffs, immigration, climate change, and increased business regulation.


I don’t give the Republican led Congress a free pass either, as I have no faith that it will put the best interests of the US ahead of its desire to fight Obama.


Poison #6: China Contagion

We do indeed live in a small, interconnected world, and it’s quite possible that something outside of the US could send our stock market tumbling. Middle East challenges notwithstanding, the one external shock I worry the most about is one coming from China. The sudden devaluation of the yuan and the significant easing of monetary policy by the People’s Bank of China are signs that trouble is brewing.


However, I think the biggest danger is an explosion of non-performing loans in China. Debt levels in China, both public and private, have exploded, and I continue to hear anecdotal evidence that default and non-performing loans are on the rise.


Conclusion

To be truthful, I have no idea which of the above or maybe even something completely out of left field will poison the stock market in 2016, but I am convinced that trouble is coming. Call me a pessimist, a bear, or an idiot… but my personal portfolio and that of my Rational Bear subscribers are prepared to profit from falling stock prices.
Tony Sagami
Tony Sagami
30 year market expert Tony Sagami leads the Yield Shark and Rational Bear advisories at Mauldin Economics. To learn more about Yield Shark and how it helps you maximize dividend income, click here.

To learn more about Rational Bear and how you can use it to benefit from falling stocks and sectors, click here.



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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

By Far the Biggest Threat to Your Wealth in 2016

By Justin Spittler

Today, we begin with a warning. We’re going to tell you about a dangerous event that is very likely to happen within the next year. You’ve probably never thought about this threat. Until now, Casey Research has never discussed it in public. This threat isn’t a stock market collapse…it’s not a failure of the Social Security system…it’s not even a national debt or currency crisis. It’s much more dangerous and much more likely to happen than any of those things.

We’re talking about a major financial terrorist attack. A total wipeout of your financial data, assets, and records and those of many millions of other people. If you’re like most people, you think, “There’s no way that could happen here. Surely the financial system is completely safe.” But think about it….

If you have $100,000 in the bank, what do you really have?

These days, it’s not a claim to hard assets like gold or silver. And it’s certainly not real cash in a bank. Many local banks don’t even keep that much cash on hand! Just try asking your bank for $25,000 in cash. The teller will say, “We can’t give you that much money.” If you keep your life savings in a bank or brokerage account, what you have are electronic entries that hackers can easily and quickly delete. All the money you’ve earned...the hard work, the sweat, the sacrifice...the nest egg you’ve built to provide for your family, GONE. In an instant.

Cyberterrorists have already broken into the world’s most secure digital systems....

For example…..


➢ In May, hackers stole information on 300,000 private tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They used the information to claim tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds.
➢ In April, hackers gained access to President Obama’s email. They gathered details on Obama’s personal schedule as well as private conversations with foreign officials.
➢ And earlier this year, we learned that a group of hackers infiltrated some of America’s largest and most sophisticated financial firms. The victims include JPMorgan Chase, E*Trade, and Scottrade. The hackers stole the personal data of more than 100 million customers. They even manipulated stock prices.

A large scale cyber attack could cripple the financial system….

E.B. Tucker, editor of The Casey Report, explains: In today’s high tech world, the lifeblood of our economy is a complex system of digital payments, digital book entries, and digital money. Billions of dollars are electronically transferred every day. We bank online, shop on our computers, and pay for lunch with credit and debit cards. Even the stock exchanges are now 100% electronic. The money in your savings, brokerage, and credit card accounts are just bits and bytes. A skilled hacker could steal it or make it vanish completely.

Enemy foreign governments are likely to attack the U.S.’s financial system.…

Here’s E.B....The U.S. has enemies all over the world: Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia come to mind. There are millions of people out there who want to see the West burn. And it’s only a matter of time before they strike us at one of our most vulnerable points: Our digital financial system. As cybersecurity expert, Mary Galligan, recently told Bloomberg News, state sponsored cyberterrorism is “the FBI’s worst nightmare.”

The fallout from a cyberattack could be catastrophic….

E.B. explains…Just imagine, what if all of the accounts at a major bank like Wells Fargo were suddenly erased? What if businesses couldn’t process digital payments? What if your brokerage told you its records had been destroyed and all evidence of your stock portfolio had disappeared? What if a cyberattack shut down our electrical grid? I’ll tell you what would happen: An explosion of chaos. Society would break down. When people are wiped out financially, they’re often wiped out mentally and morally, too…they’ll do anything to survive, including resort to violence.

The government and central banks cannot protect you from cyberterrorists….

They don’t want people talking about this massive threat. They want to keep it quiet. You see, the U.S. dollar isn’t backed by gold like it was in the past. Our monetary system is built on confidence, and confidence alone. If lots of people questioned the safety of the system and pulled their money out, it could trigger a nationwide run on the banks, a stock market collapse, and a currency crisis. It could literally lead to rioting in the streets.

If you keep most of your money in digital form….

You must take steps to protect yourself and your family before an attack happens. The first step is to store a sizable amount of cash in a safe place you can easily access. We recommend at least three months’ worth of living expenses. Six months’ worth is even better.

You can store the cash in a safe, in a public storage container, or bury it in a waterproof container in your backyard. This might sound extreme, but think about it…if the financial system is compromised and your debit and credit cards become useless, you’ll need enough cash on hand to pay for groceries, gasoline, and other daily necessities.

Otherwise, you’re in a vulnerable position. Having no cash on hand means you could struggle to feed your family in an emergency. Because we believe most Americans are overlooking this huge threat, we put together a new special report titled “How to Protect Yourself from a Financial Terrorist Attack.” We talked with top cybersecurity experts and put hundreds of hours of research into this report. It explains seven specific steps you can take now to protect your money from financial terrorism. Click here to learn more.

Switching gears, the Dow Jones U.S. Trucking Index is headed for its worst year ever….

Yesterday, it closed down 17% on the year. It’s dropped 7.1% in December alone. The Dow Trucking Index tracks the performance of major U.S. trucking stocks. It’s only had three down years since 2001. Over that period, it’s averaged annual returns of 12%. The chart below shows trucking stocks have been in a clear downtrend all year.



E.B. Tucker says investors should watch this trend even if they don’t own trucking stocks. Trucks carry inventory to stores. They carry parts to the assembly plant. Then they carry assembled products to buyers. When sales are rising, it tends to show up in trucking companies before retailers. Trucking companies also feel the pinch first when sales are falling. This is why trucking stocks often give clues about where the market’s going long before other industries.

E.B. also says the collapse in trucking stocks is an early warning sign for the rest of the market. Transport stocks have given investors early warning signs for the past 100 years. Right now, the Dow Trucking Index is telling us business is not great. The trucks aren’t full. This is a dire sign. It’s saying we’re in for some negative surprises in 2016.

The U.S. stock market looks fragile….

From March 2009 through December 2014, the S&P 500 gained 204%. But the bull market has stalled this year. The S&P 500 is down 1% since January. If this trend continues, 2015 will the S&P’s first down year since 2008. On its own, this isn’t a huge concern. However, Dispatch readers know there are many other signs U.S. stocks have already topped out

For one, the current bull market in stocks is now 81 months old. It’s run 31 months longer than the average bull market since World War II. Of course, bull markets don’t die of old age. But they all die eventually. On top of that, U.S. stocks are expensive. The S&P 500 is now 57% more expensive than its historical average. Again, bull markets don’t end just because stocks are expensive. But expensive stocks can fall much harder during a big selloff.

We recommend investing with caution right now. You should own a significant amount of cash and physical gold...and you should sell any overpriced stocks that are vulnerable to an economic downturn.

Chart of the Day

Oil tanker rates are at their highest level in seven years. Today’s chart shows the daily shipping rates for very large crude carriers (VLCC), the second largest type of oil tanker. Each VLCC can carry 2 million barrels of oil. From 2011 through 2014, VLCC shipping rates averaged $20,000/day. This year, rates have soared 79%. Earlier this month, VLCC daily rates reached $112,775, their highest level since 2008.

Meanwhile, the price of oil has plunged 32% this year. Earlier this month, oil fell to its lowest level since 2009. Oil tanker rates can go up when oil prices go down…because ship operators charge based on how much oil they move. Their rates are not directly tied to the price of oil.

Dispatch readers know the world has a huge surplus of oil right now. All this oil needs to go somewhere, and oil tankers get paid to move it. As you can see in the chart, it’s a great time to be an oil tanker company.




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Monday, December 28, 2015

Peek Inside this Private "Hedge Fund" that is up 22% this Year


What if I told you there was a private "hedge fund" that regular people (not just the super rich) are quietly using to rapidly grow their wealth?

As you may know, you must invest a minimum of 250K or more to buy your way into most private hedge funds.
And even then -- nothing is guaranteed.

In fact, hedge fund managers (who make millions in fees) produced dismal results in 2015. Business Insider reports that through the 3rd quarter, most of the big-name hedge funds were returning between -4 and -17%.

Ouch!

Which makes the "fund" I'm telling you about today even more interesting. First, it's not really a fund. It's a trade advisory service. Second: Regular people, even those with smaller accounts, are able to follow these trade recommendations and go after double and even triple digit gains.

And third, the manager of this little known trade advisory service is picking winners at an astounding rate: 41 out of 51 trade recommendations were winners and the average profit on a winning trade was 33.1%! If you put $5,000 on each of the 51 trade recommendations, your initial $255,000 would now be worth over $311,000 in less than 5 months.

See for yourself:
This Private Trade Advisory Service Finally Reveals Full List Of Closed Trades

Of course, there's no guarantee of future performance but even those billion dollar hedge fund managers will tell you that. Speaking of those managers, had you handed that 250K to one of the top hedge fund managers this year, you'd have LOST between 10 and 45K! And paid massive fees for the privilege!

That's why this program just might be one of the last remaining ways for the "little guy" to get ahead. But hurry, before Christmas they opened the doors to new members for the first time in months and the program filled to capacity in 4 days flat. Now that things have settled down, they've opened a few additional spots for new members but the doors won't stay open for long.


See you in the markets,
The Stock Market Club

p.s. John Burbank, a private hedge fund manager who made a fortune betting big against the sub prime housing market in 2007, is predicting another big crash. If he's right, ordinary investors will probably get hammered. But members of this private trade advisory service could actually grow six times richer in a hurry.

                                 This "tell-all" videos reveals why...


Friday, December 25, 2015

Is the “Easy Money Era” Over?

By Justin Spittler

It finally happened. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade. Dispatch readers know the Fed dropped interest rates to effectively zero during the 2008 financial crisis. It has held rates at effectively zero ever since…an unprecedented policy that has warped the financial markets. Rock bottom interest rates make it extremely cheap to borrow money. Over the last seven years, Americans have borrowed trillions of dollars to buy cars, stocks, houses, and commercial property. This has pushed many prices to all time highs. U.S. stock prices, for example, have tripled since 2009.

The Fed raised its key rate by 0.25%.....

U.S. stocks rallied on the news, surprising many investors. The S&P 500 and NASDAQ both gained 1.5% yesterday. The Fed plans to continue raising rates next year. It’s targeting a rate of 1.38% by the end of 2016. So, is this the beginning of the end of the “easy money era?” For historical perspective, here’s a chart showing the Fed’s key rate going back to 1995. As you can see, yesterday’s rate hike was tiny. The key rate is still far below its long term average of 5.0%.



Josh Brown, writer of the financial website The Reformed Broker, put the Fed’s rate hike in perspective.

The overnight borrowing rate…has now risen from “around zero” to “basically zero.”

In other words, interest rates are still extremely low, and borrowing is still extremely cheap. We’re not ready to call the end of easy money yet.

Cheap money has goosed the commercial property market..…

Commercial property prices have surged 93% since bottoming in 2009. Prices are now 16% higher than their 2007 peak, according to research firm Real Capital Analytics. Borrowed money has been fueling this hot market. According to the Fed, the value of commercial property loans held by banks is now $1.76 trillion, an all time high. The apartment market is especially frothy today. Apartment prices have more than doubled since November 2009. U.S. apartment prices are now 34% above their 2007 peak.

Sam Zell is cashing out of commercial property..…

Zell is a real estate mogul and self-made billionaire. He made a fortune buying property for pennies on the dollar during recessions in the 1970s and 1990s. It pays to watch what Zell is buying and selling. He was one of few real estate gurus to spot the last property bubble and get out before it popped. In February 2007, Zell sold $23 billion worth of office properties. Nine months later, U.S. commercial property prices peaked and went on to plunge 42%.

Recently, Zell has started selling again. In October, Zell’s company sold 23,000 apartment units, about one quarter of its portfolio. The deal was valued at $5.4 billion, making it one of the largest property deals since the financial crisis. The company plans to sell 4,700 more units in 2016. Yesterday, Zell told Bloomberg Business that “it is very hard not to be a seller” with the “pricing currently available in the commercial real estate market.”

Recent stats from the commercial property market have been ugly. In the third quarter, commercial property transactions fell 6.5% from a year ago. Transaction volume also fell 24% between the second quarter and third quarter.

Auction.com, the largest online real estate marketplace, said economic growth is hurting the market.
Both commercial real estate transaction volume and pricing have showed signs of softening over the past few months. It’s likely that what we’re seeing is the result of reduced capital spending due to some weakness in the U.S. economy, coupled with a highly volatile economic climate in China and ongoing financial issues in Europe.

Zell is bearish on the U.S. economy..…

On Bloomberg yesterday, he predicted that the U.S. will have a recession by the end of 2016.
I think that there’s a high probability that we’re looking at a recession in the next twelve months.

A recession is when a country’s economy shrinks two quarters in a row. The U.S. economy hasn’t had a recession in six years. Instead, it’s been limping through its weakest recovery since World War II.
Zell continued to say that the U.S. economy faces many challenges.


World trade is slowing. Currencies continue to be manipulated. You’re looking at the beginnings of layoffs in multinational companies. We’re still looking all over the world for demand…
So, when you look at those factors it’s hard to see where strength is going to come from. I think weakness is going to be pervasive.

Like Zell, we see tough economic times ahead. To prepare, we suggest you hold a significant amount of cash and physical gold. We put together a short video presentation with other strategies for how to protect your money in an economic downturn. Click here to watch.

Chart of the Day

The U.S. economy is in an “industrial recession”. In recent editions of the Dispatch, we’ve told you that major American manufacturers are struggling to make money. For example, sales for global machinery maker Caterpillar (CAT) have declined 35 months in a row. In October, CAT’s global sales dropped by 16%...its worst sales decline since February 2010.

Today’s chart shows the yearly growth in U.S. industrial production. The bars on the chart below indicate recessions. Last month, U.S. industrial production declined -1.17% from the prior year. It marked the 19th time since 1920 that industrial output dropped from a positive reading to a reading of -1.1% or worse.
15 of the last 18 times this happened – or 83% of the time – the U.S. economy went into recession.



The article Is the “Easy Money Era” Over? was originally published at caseyresearch.com.


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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Evaluating Brazil

By Doug Casey

Editor’s Note: Casey Research originally published this article in January 2013. We’ve updated it with new, timely commentary. Doug’s analysis of Brazil is still vital today. They are timeless lessons on what happens to a country when a currency collapses.

Let’s explore Brazil, the “B” in the BRIC countries. It’s been getting a lot of applause as the new breadbasket of the world, and Brazilians are viewed as taking their place among the world’s new rich guys. I recently spent a week in São Paulo. I’d been to Brazil a half dozen times over the years, but never to São Paulo, a gigantic city that could easily be mistaken for L.A., except that it lacks the charm, is said to have vastly more crime, and speaks Portuguese, not Spanish. I was there to play in the Brazil Series of Poker, but also because I just wanted to see the place, since it vies with Mexico City to be the biggest agglomeration of people in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the biggest cities in the world. And it’s only a two hour flight from Buenos Aires.

It’s fairly easy to generalize about the other countries in South America. They’re all quite different from one another, but, relative to Brazil, each is small and homogeneous. For an American, getting to know Brazil is much harder than for a Brazilian to get to know the U.S. For one thing, it’s vastly more difficult to get around; you’ll basically have to fly everywhere. And the country hasn’t yet been homogenized with the franchise clones making cities and towns indistinguishable from one another. Brazil is a veritable subcontinent. Let me recall a few facts that almost everybody knows (and therefore are hardly worth mentioning), and also some that relatively few know (and that may, therefore, offer you some edge).

Brazil is somewhat larger than the continental U.S., has 5,000 miles of beachfront, and 190 million people. Nearly half of them are concentrated in the southeast, in just 10% of the country’s area. The countryside there roughly resembles Georgia in the U.S. One-third of Brazil’s GDP comes from in and around São Paulo, which is the functional center of the region. That city is where the action is, but it truly has no soul. It’s almost entirely of recent construction; what’s left of the quaint old downtown is now just a hangout for beggars, bums, and pickpockets. I consider the burg devoid of attraction, unlivable, and have no urgent desire to go back.

Only businesspeople go to São Paulo; tourists go to Rio, a much more appealing place. Surprisingly, Brazil only gets about 5 million tourists a year, and most of them are from neighboring Argentina. This is a very low number. France gets 80 million, the U.S. 60 million, Thailand 20 million, and Singapore 10 million. Cuba and Uruguay get about 2.5 million apiece. Even Syria reported 5 million in 2011 - a number I find hard to credit and which may include numbers of tourists who are heavily armed. Further proof you have to take all government statistics with a grain of salt; all the bureaucrats know is what someone casually puts on a form.

The good news is that a tourist number as low as Brazil’s can only go up, which is favorable, unlike most of what I’ll have to say about the place. And it will go up, because they’re hosting the FIFA World Cup soccer contest in 2014 and then the Summer Olympics in 2016. It’s completely unclear to me, however, where they’re going to put all the sports fans or how the visitors are going to get around and get on generally, even though the government plans on spending $20 billion on stadiums, airport upgrades, and road building to accommodate the crowds. Most of the money will inevitably be frittered away on monument construction, as opposed to things that make life easier or more pleasant.

Doug Casey: You might want to read my editorial about the ongoing FIFA so-called scandal.
I haven’t found Brazil to be convenient for anything. It’s extremely difficult to find a place to exchange even dollars - forget about other currencies. Except at major hotels, where you’ll pay a 15% fee. But there aren’t a whole lot of hotels, reflecting the low number of arrivers. And the average Brazilian speaks only Portuguese, although kids are learning either Spanish or English in schools. But how well did you speak a foreign language when you got out of high school? If I didn’t have some Spanish (which is much more comprehensible to a Portuguese speaker than vice versa), I would have been reduced to hand gestures.

That’s apart from the fact that illiteracy is officially figured at 10%, although my guess is that it’s much higher.

Demography, Cities & Race

São Paulo is different from Rio in every aspect. It’s flat, as opposed to mountainous. It’s non-centered, with numerous subcities, rather than being focused on the beach. It’s purely about business and getting ahead, as opposed to having a good time. Both cities are famous for their high rates of violent crime, emanating from the favelas, which are the shantytowns that ring all the major cities. They originated in the ’50s, when poor people started moving into the cities looking for opportunity. The cities were much more pleasant and more livable before the favelas arose - but they’re actually good things. They’re the first step to urbanization. And in the Third World, that’s essential for increasing literacy, improving incomes, and slowing the production of waifs and street kids.

When you think of the favelas, you might imagine the population is swelling. Just the opposite, actually. As people move into the cities, they redirect their attention from family to work, and women take advantage of modern birth control. Women find jobs, and there are few grandparents around to help raise the kids - who are now seen as an expense, as opposed to cheap labor for the farm.

So here’s a shocking statistic. As late as 1980, the average Brazilian woman had four children; the country was in the midst of a population explosion. As of 2011, however, the average was down to 1.8. The government estimates that in 15 years, it will drop to 1.5, which is far below the replacement rate of 2.2. This is happening almost everywhere in the world now, not just in Europe, North America, China, Japan, and other developed countries. The implications of this trend - which I believe will accelerate worldwide - are profound. But that’s for another article. Brazil is now essentially an urban country, with almost 85% of its 190 million inhabitants living in towns and cities.

The degree of urbanization relates not just to the birth rate, but to other phenomena, like racism and even slavery. Brazil has long had a reputation as a non-racist society. I think that’s true, even though it was the last major country in the world where the slavery of blacks as a group was abolished, in 1888. An event which is, in my view, irrefutable proof that the U.S. War Between the States was neither necessary nor essentially about slavery.

One reason there’s little antagonism between the races in Brazil is that the country never had a Lincoln, or a war, to polarize them. I think there’s going to be ever more racial harmony as more people live in cities and almost necessarily start seeing each other as individuals, as economic units, rather than as members of a racial group. There was no racial hostility that I could see. Slavery is still said to exist in the Muslim world, but only on an individual, as opposed to a legalized and institutional, basis. That’s because it’s completely uneconomic today; it’s hard to incentivize slaves to work productively in a high-tech economy.
Doug Casey: Actually, it does exist. I spent 10 days in Mauritania in June, where it was only officially abolished in 1987. But it still exists. Mostly because the slaves are well treated, and don’t have a better alternative.
And common laborers, doing grunt work, are less and less either necessary or desirable. Within a generation from now, intelligent robots will be doing most menial labor, making human muscular input almost redundant. But that’s just the culmination of a trend that’s been in motion since the start of the Industrial Revolution, when people started moving into cities on a grand scale. In those days, London had its own versions of the favela, as New York City later also did.

The fact is that the southeast of the country - the area from Rio on down - is socially very European, while the rural and undeveloped northeast is quite African. It’s mild de facto segregation. At the poker tournament I played in, there couldn’t have been more than 10 blacks among the 1,800 players. That’s partly a reflection of São Paulo’s demographics (even though, as a national event, people were from all over the country) and partly because the 1,800 real (US$900) entrance fee was prohibitive for those who aren’t solidly in the middle class. And in Brazil, that still leaves out almost all the blacks.
Doug Casey: You’ll notice the real has lost over half of its value in only three years. This is one reason why the average person here - who saves in reals - can’t get ahead.
But a rising tide raises all boats. The question is: What’s going to happen to the economy in Brazil? And how can you profit from it?

The Economy

Brazil has, from its very beginning, been plagued with dirigiste government. When it comes to papers to fill out, stamps and approvals to garner, layers of taxes to pay, and bureaucrats to soothe, it may be the worst place in Latin America. I think anyone who runs a business in the country is both a saint and a hero, although that’s becoming the case almost anywhere. The country has done as well as it has mainly because it’s so big, and Brazilians are used to dealing with Brazilians, mostly within Brazil.

The place has a lot of native wealth. You’d think it almost couldn’t help but be prosperous. But that would be untrue, as demonstrated by the Congo, which is a basket case despite being at least as rich in resources as Brazil; and with the counterexample of Japan, which is extremely wealthy despite having no resources at all except its people. Brazil is midway between them. For what it’s worth, the largest Japanese community in the world outside Japan lives in Brazil.

Except for the very recent past, the country’s history is all about dictators, military governments, and currency destruction - but its promoters overlook these things. You might think history would have taught Brazilians a lesson and shown them what not to do, so that they don’t repeat the same mistakes. But that’s not the way it seems to work. Instead, every disaster becomes ingrained as part of the culture. I admire the makers of the surreal movie Brazil for capturing much of the essence of the place.

There’s an old saying about Brazil: It’s the country of the future - and always will be. That may be true partly because it’s a closed economy and always has been. Brazil is essentially an island, cut off from the rest of the continent by a jungle. And the southeast, the developed part of the country, is cut off from the interior by the highlands. And it’s rather unlikely that a bridge is ever going to cross the Amazon anywhere near the coast; the river’s 200 miles wide at its mouth. The place could plausibly be at least two or three different countries. Brazil’s mainland links to the rest of the continent are Uruguay and Paraguay - both small, quiet, backward countries that offer little in the way of trade possibilities but do present a language difference.

China is now Brazil’s big export destination for iron ore, soybeans, beef, and chicken. But the China bubble is overdue to burst, and the country’s imports of iron ore are going to collapse. Brazil will feel it especially, partly because of shipping costs, since it’s literally on the other side of the planet from China, and partly because producing anything in Brazil has become expensive.

Iron ore neared $200 a tonne at the peak of the recent boom, up from about $20 at the 2001 bottom. It probably costs Vale, by far Brazil’s largest producer and largest company, about $40 to produce the stuff and perhaps $20 more to ship it. The ore currently trades at around $120 in China, but I don’t see why the price couldn’t collapse to less than production cost. Further, Australia not only produces the stuff for less than $30 a tonne, but is much closer to the Orient, so the shipping cost is half of Brazil’s. Vale is a heavily touted stock today. I wouldn’t touch it, for that and other reasons covered below.
Doug Casey: This, I’ve got to say, was an accurate call.
Brazil’s second-largest trade partner is the U.S. But what’s going to happen as the U.S. economy winds down? Third is Argentina, where exports are already collapsing because of the Kirchner regime. But it’s really incorrect to think of Brazil as a major force in trading. According to World Bank data, Brazil’s exports in 2011 amounted to only 12% of its GDP. The figures for Russia, India, and China were, respectively, 31%, 25%, and 31%. A few ag sectors qualify as exceptions, but overall the country is an isolated, self-contained island.

Brazil has made real progress over the last 13 years, since the bottom of the commodity cycle in 2001. Average prices of its commodities have gone up 2.5 times, and volumes have grown 50%. National income has boomed, more than trebled, in real terms. So, of course, the country has done well. But mostly for reasons extraneous to itself.

Agriculture

Over the last two decades, Latin America has become an increasingly important supplier of agricultural commodities to the rest of the world. In 1980, Latin America accounted for 30% of global soybean exports (oilseed, meal, and oil); in 2012, it accounted for over 60%. That’s mostly Brazil, in that while Argentine production has risen, punitive taxes under the Kirchners have kept it from rising by much. U.S. producers, meanwhile, have lost half their market share. Brazilian corn exports have gone from 11% of the world total in 1980 to 29% in 2012, while U.S. export numbers have collapsed due to the insane policy of turning corn into ethanol fuel.

Brazilian export numbers have boomed for coffee, sugar, beef, chicken, and orange juice as well. So a major argument by Brazil promoters is that it’s become the world’s food storehouse, and it’s going to grow from here. Unlike many of their arguments, this makes some sense, I think. But it’s not a good enough reason to invest there anytime soon.

Over the short term, global demand for agricultural commodities is likely to increase because, despite the downturn in world economic growth, world population is still going up. But even in Africa and the Muslim world, the population growth rate is slowing radically and will soon head down. The main driver for agriculture, in the long run, won’t be rising populations but rising standards of living.

Since the 1960s, world per-capita consumption of grains has increased at 0.5% per year compounded, on top of the growth in population. Planted area per capita has been declining, however, because of the expansion of the world’s cities, most of which were founded in prime agricultural areas. To compensate, new land has had to be cleared, and most of that has been in Brazil. Fortunately, advances in plant genetics, ag techniques, fertilizers, pesticides, and the like have increased production by something like slightly over 2% per year from 1970 to 1991, but at only half that rate since then. The result has been the commodity boom, mainly reflected in grains. But grains are poor people’s food. And they’re also highly political commodities, almost on a par with oil. I’m disinclined to invest in farmland for the grains.

I’m much more interested in specialty products, like grapes, olives, and other fruits. And cattle. Interestingly, cattle producers really haven’t participated in the recent ag boom, partly because they’ve been pushed onto less productive land, reflecting the weak profits for many, many years. Because of that, herds have been liquidated, and headcounts all around the world are at their lowest levels in three generations. That’s why I’m especially bullish on cattle. But that’s another story.

In the last five years, land prices in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil have risen 15% to 20% per annum. That’s mostly because, of course, grain prices have exploded. In the U.S., by comparison, farmland prices have only risen 10% per annum. Land in Latin America has done better partly because infrastructure had room to improve, and partly because the market is becoming ever more global because of generally lower tariffs and bigger, more efficient ships.

Will there be a worldwide shortage of arable land? I doubt it. The demand for grain is likely to flatten out. There’s an immense amount of underused farmland everywhere (especially in Africa). And I have no doubt technology will again increase productivity. So Brazil will grow in importance for food, but that’s not the bonanza a lot of promoters seem to think.

Stocks

Around 400 companies are listed on Brazil’s main exchange, the Bovespa, for about US$1.2 trillion of market cap. By far the biggest are iron miner Vale and Petrobras, the national, state-controlled oil company.
Those two and 27 other Brazilian stocks are traded in the U.S. They’ve historically always traded at a discount to their foreign peers because of the country’s well-known problems - high taxes, intense bureaucracy, onerous import restrictions and duties, high crime rate, uneducated population, and subpar infrastructure.

As well as Brazil has done, it’s been a laggard by comparison to its peers in Latin America. In the last 10 years, corporate earnings in Latin America have grown on average by 18% annually. The countries that have recorded the highest earnings growth rates are Peru (28%), Colombia (23%), Chile (13%), and Mexico (12%). Brazil trails the list with 11% growth. During that time, Latin American stocks averaged a 10-to-1 P/E ratio. Most expensive (but deservedly so, as by far the most liberal economy in the region) was Chile, at 15, followed by Mexico, Colombia, and Peru with P/Es of 12. Brazil has historically traded cheaper, with an average P/E of 8. I attribute that to the country’s tax and regulatory structure.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2011 report, Brazil is ranked 127th out of 183 countries for business friendliness. Mexico ranks 35th and Chile 43rd. Brazil scores particularly badly in categories related to starting a business, registering property, paying taxes, and closing a business. It’s Kafkaesque here, as in many other Third World countries, in that they make it nearly impossible to open a business (because they’re trying to protect those already in existence), and equally hard to close one (because they’re trying to protect the workers).

Say what one will about how screwed up Argentina is - and its economy is a real mess and getting worse - at least the country has a strong tradition of classical liberalism. There are a lot of Argentines who know who Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard are and who study their work; that offers some hope for a renaissance. That just doesn’t seem to be the case in Brazil.

Based on all of this, I can’t see buying Brazilian stocks. Actually, the place to look is Argentina, which currently has some of the world’s most tempting market statistics - a P/E ratio of 3 (whereas its average over the last 10 years has been 12); a price-to-book-value ratio of 0.9 (versus an average of 2.0 over the last 10 years); and a dividend yield of 13% (versus an average of 4.2% over the last 10 years). Argentina is a bargain. But, like most bargains, nobody wants to touch it.
Nick Giambruno: Casey Research originally published this article in January 2013, and the Argentine market went up by more than 200% over the next 33 months.

Taxes

I’ve mentioned how brutal Brazilian taxes are. They’re a major reason everything in the country is so expensive - especially imported items. I decided to find out just how Byzantine the regime might be. Suppose you decide to import something to take advantage of the country’s vaunted growth. It had better be a highly desirable, extremely high margin item, because there are six levels of tax on imports, and they compound, each tax being levied upon the previous taxes. Nothing leaves the harbor before your check clears.

I’ll list them in the order they’re applied. On top of one another. They’re generally referred to by their Portuguese acronyms, in parentheses, to avoid confusion.
  • Merchant Marine Renewal Tax (AFRMM) - 25% of the shipping and port handling costs. Used to subsidize the merchant marine and shipbuilding industries.
  • Import Tax (II) - From zero to 35%, depending on the product. The level depends largely on which domestic industry they’re trying to protect.
  • Industrialized Products Tax (IPI) - From zero to 20%. Another protectionist tax.
  • Merchandise and Services Circulation Tax (ICMS) - This is essentially a VAT, levied by the states. It averages 18%, but ranges from zero for some “essential” items, to 25% for “luxury” goods.
  • Contribution to the Social Integration Program and Civil Service Asset Formation Program (PIS/PASEP) - 1.65%.
  • Contribution to Social Security Financing (COFINS) - 7.6%.

More Taxes

But I’ve only mentioned the import duties. The Corporate Income Tax (CIT) runs from 25% to 34%. Plus there are lots of rules regarding deals with related companies, companies in low-tax jurisdictions, and outbound interest payments. This is because, living in both a Latin culture and a high-tax jurisdiction, the Brazilians have grown expert at denying revenue to their voracious government. The government, in turn, adds more layers of rules.

Of course there’s also a personal income tax ranging to 35%. Then, on top of it, is Social Security (INSS) tax of 20%, accident insurance (SAT) of 1% to 3%, Employee Indemnity Guarantee Fund (FGTS) and Education Fund (SE) of 2.5%, plus assorted other taxes adding up to another 3.3% of income. There’s even a 10% tax on the acquisition of foreign technologies. This isn’t a treatise on Brazilian tax law, so I haven’t researched the limits, exclusions, exemptions, and deductions. But if you’re going to do anything here, you’d better have a good accountant.

Total import taxes can easily add up to 100% or more. It’s actually quite insane. Countries like Cuba and Iran complain about being placed under trade embargo and suffering from the dearth of imports. But Brazil - and, for that matter, almost every country in Latin America and Africa - effectively puts itself under embargo with its own tariffs. Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina are by far the worst self-tormentors.

Restricting purchases to things made within the arbitrary borders of one country (almost always to subsidize some inefficient local industry) makes about as much sense as limiting purchases to things made within a state, a county, or a city - or within a city block, for that matter. What’s happened in Brazil, as with all these places, is that it’s full of uneconomic industries, which turn out relatively high-cost/low-quality products. And often with a surfeit of workers - since keeping lots of workers on the payroll is considered smart public policy. That makes it very hard to make a sensible investment in these places.

It’s all happened before. Eventually reality wins out, and out of either intelligence or simple necessity, the duties come down, the protected industries collapse, and lots of workers become unemployed. The bigger and richer a country is, however, the more mistakes it can make before its eventual comeuppance. And Brazil is a rich country. In other words, Brazil has created some artificial and temporary prosperity in exchange for a very real depression sometime in the future. Neither an individual nor a country can get rich by producing inefficiently and wasting resources.

So Brazil should be doing vastly better than it is now and be on a much sounder foundation. But first it’s going to have to liquidate a lot of malinvestment and allow the severe distortions that have built up over the decades to unwind themselves. It won’t be fun, and it’s going to happen regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the world. This is a major factor that Brazil’s lately arrived cheerleaders either don’t see or don’t understand. It’s why Brazil - as with all controlled, politicized markets - has to be treated as a speculation, not as an investment.

History Equals Culture

Let’s take a look at where Brazil has been to get a better grip on where it’s likely to go.
Brazil split from Portugal in 1822 (about the time the rest of Latin America was breaking political ties with Spain), but remained a monarchy. After independence, the head of state was styled “Emperor” until 1889. (Would the U.S. be the country it is today - yes, the description is loaded with irony - if it had been a monarchy that late in its life?) The next 40 years saw political instability, with alternating military and oligarchical governments, essentially all financed with coffee exports. In 1930, a military coup installed the Vargas dictatorship, typical of governments the world over in the ’30s in its promotion of industrialization by state-owned companies. It survived coups by both pro-Communist and pro-Nazi elements while resembling both.

Another general was elected president in 1946, followed by one headstrong statist after another promising the era’s version of hope and change, by making “50 years’ progress in 5 years.” Part of that promise included moving the capital from Rio to Brasilia, a city built from whole cloth in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of nowhere, starting in 1956. Three million people now live there, so it has been construed a success by some. I think it’s better described as an ongoing disaster and a monument to the gigantic size, complexity, and cost of the Brazilian government.

Brazil was again a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, with all the things that have come to be expected from a banana republic ruled by generals - repression, torture, corruption, and runaway inflation. This brings us to the current era, with the ascension of Fernando Collor de Mello in 1985, then the first elected leader in 29 years. He started a trend toward liberalization - beginning the privatization of companies like Vale, Embraer, and Telebras - and toward political moderation that’s been in motion since.

Predictably, Collor de Mello was tried on corruption charges. I say it’s predictable both because enemies of liberalization wanted to punish him and because it was inevitable that, with lots of new capital being liberated, some of it would stick to the president and his cronies. That’s what politics is all about everywhere.

A big change came in 1994 with the invention of the real, the present currency, which was initially priced at US$1.25. Brazilians were overwhelmed at the thought of their currency being worth more than a dollar, even if only for a while. Surprisingly, the currency has been managed fairly prudently, losing just 60% against the dollar over 20 years. Part of the real’s comparative durability was that Brazilians were reacting against the immense inconvenience of one currency destruction after another; part was the simultaneous partial liberalization of the economy on a number of fronts, especially imports.

But when Lula da Silva (who’d run for president twice before) was elected in 2002, the real collapsed to US$0.25, because he and his leftist party had long promised to roll back what reforms had been made and return to a more closed economy. Surprisingly, da Silva proved quite moderate. And he had the singular good luck to be elected at the beginning of the great commodity boom, which brought lots of capital into Brazil, facilitated nearly full employment, and increased the value of the real to its current two to the U.S. dollar.

It was a given that his protégé, Dilma Rousseff, would easily be elected in 2011. Rousseff used to be a communist radical, but like da Silva, she’s acted in a fairly responsible and reasonable way so far. She’s even talked about freeing the economy further and reducing some taxes. These things are possible. But so far she’s been presiding over good times. When things get tough, it’s likely she’ll return to her intellectual and psychological roots, and the government will act the way it usually has.

So I wouldn’t plan my life around meaningful liberalization in Brazil. Or good times in any of its markets. One reason is that the commodity boom has already run a long way, and further gains are likely to be marginal in real terms. But a bigger reason is simply the country’s history and culture - dictators, generals, chronic inflation, and consistently destructive economic policies. When the world economy turns down in the near future, it’s not going to help Brazil. They’ll likely revert to form. Or simply act like almost every other government in the world today and “do something.” Brazil is a prime example of the wisdom of the old saw “Never invest in a country that has the color green in its flag.”

Culture and Currency

Four recently published books promote Brazil as the place to be, mainly because it’s a BRIC that has established a great “track record” since 2001. This is typical of what happens at the top of a bubble. When stocks are at a peak, people want a book about how the Dow is going to 40,000; this is true across all times, places, and markets. People are now writing books on Brazil.

But it’s almost always a mistake to buy popular investments and speculations. In order to make serious money, you have to buy while something is cheap and unwanted, even unknown - better yet, despised. Not after it’s expensive and everyone’s hungry for it. People tend to confuse investments with people. When it comes to people, track records are critical. With people, past performance isn’t just the best, it’s essentially the only predictor of future performance.

Someone who has exemplified the Boy Scout virtues in the past is likely to continue on that course; someone with a panoply of vices and bad habits is likely to carry them to a bad end. The same is true of companies, at least until management changes. But even when it does, corporate culture lingers for a considerable period. This is even more the case with countries. Change in a country’s culture takes generations, if it happens at all.

Everyone talks (quite correctly) about how totally irresponsible Argentina has been with its currency, but Brazil’s follies have been forgotten in the celebrating of its success over the last 15 years. You may find a comparison of interest.

Argentina has had only five currencies in its modern history - the peso moneda nacional (PMN), the peso ley, the peso argentino, the austral, and the current peso convertible. The PMN was used from before WWI until 1970. In its early days, it was tied to gold, and the PMN traded at about 2.25 pesos to the dollar. It started slipping after the Great Depression began in 1929 and then went from 4.2 (to the dollar) in 1947 to 15 in 1950. At that point Peronism, a peculiar blend of corporatism, populism, socialism, fascism, Keynesianism, militarism, nationalism, and other variants of statism that seemed like good ideas at various times, took over. And the ideas have never let go of the popular Argentine psyche.

In 1970, the PMN was replaced by the peso ley, for a 100-1 rollback.
In 1983, the peso ley was replaced by the peso argentino, for a 10,000-1 rollback.
In 1985, the peso argentino was replaced by the austral, for a 1,000-1 rollback.
In 1992, the austral was replaced by the peso convertible, for a 10,000-1 rollback.

This happened with the election of Carlos Menem, who greatly liberalized the economy (while facilitating grand larceny among his cronies). Menem maintained this peso’s relative value with a currency board, wherein the central bank was supposed to take in and hold one U.S. dollar for every peso it issued. They kept to that for a while, then started fraudulently issuing extra pesos, which led to the famous crisis of 2001, with a 75% devaluation.

If you’d held Argentine currency through its various replacements over the last 100 years, you’d have retained only 1/70 trillionth of its original value. At the moment, the peso has an “official” value of 4.7 to the dollar, but trades on the semi-illegal free market for 7 to 1. It’s on its way to zero again. The history of currency in Brazil is even worse, despite the Banco do Brasil mission statement’s talk of “ensur[ing] the stability of the currency’s purchasing power and a solid and efficient financial system.” But all central banks say that.

Brazil long maintained its original real from the 18th century and then replaced it with the cruzeiro in 1942, for a 100-1 rollback.
In 1965, the cruzeiro novo replaced the cruzeiro, for a 1,000-1 rollback.
In 1986, the cruzeiro novo was replaced with the cruzado, for a 1,000-1 rollback.
In 1993, the cruzado was replaced with the cruzeiro real, for a 1,000-1 rollback.
In 1994, the cruzeiro real was replaced with the real, for a 2,750-1 rollback.

Since then, the real has lost about two thirds of its value relative to the dollar. I see no reason why it shouldn’t meet the fate of its predecessors. I calculate destruction against the dollar so far at about a quadrillion to one. But numbers of this order of magnitude are academic. I fully expect that, when the pressure for revenue and economic stimulus next arises, the Brazilians will once again destroy their currency.

The Bottom Line

My view is that in today’s world, it’s extremely hard and risky to invest. You must remember the correct definition of investing: to allocate capital to produce new wealth. Essentially that amounts to buying equipment, hiring people, renting real estate, and seeing that a business is run sensibly over the long term.

Investing is all about funding successful businesses. In order for that to be possible, you need some predictability and a certain amount of stability. Unfortunately, those are ingredients that go into short supply whenever government gets involved in the economy. And today, from what are already the highest levels in modern history, governments all over the world are becoming much more virulent. And since most of them are now manifestly bankrupt but are burdened by huge promises for welfare and transfer payments to the masses who voted them in, you can expect things to get even worse.

When there are no opportunities for investing, you can only speculate, which means, look for politically caused bubbles, collapses, and distortions. Brazil should only be viewed as a speculation. As chronically and pathetically mismanaged as Brazil has always been and continues to be, it’s astonishing how well it’s done. And there’s no reason that it shouldn’t continue progressing, despite the weight of government and its seeming inability to learn from its mistakes. People will keep producing, and technology evolving.

Am I negative on Brazil? No. I highly recommend you visit, especially before FIFA in 2014. I really like the country (notwithstanding São Paulo). But it’s not a sure ticket to wealth. In fact, over the next decade, I’d recommend you stay away from Brazilian markets. But armed with this information, hopefully we’ll recognize the Bovespa’s next bottom.
Doug Casey: Hmm...maybe the bottom is close now. Or certainly closer.

Editor’s Note: Doug Casey has been warning of a currency collapse. He believes a collapse of major currencies could wipe out trillions of dollars in wealth, including pensions. Here’s Doug:
It’s going to be much more severe, different, and longer lasting than what we saw in 2008 and 2009…The U.S. created trillions of dollars to fight the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. Most of those dollars are still sitting in the banking system and aren’t in the economy. Some have found their way into the stock markets and the bond markets, creating a stock bubble and a bond super-bubble. The higher stocks and bonds go, the harder they’re going to fall.

Unlike most people, Doug Casey has actually lived through a currency crisis. He was in Argentina when its currency collapsed in 2001 during the largest sovereign debt default ever. By making smart investments, he even managed to make a large gain on his money in the aftermath of the crisis.

We recently recorded a video presentation with Doug on this topic. In the video, Doug shares his advice on how to position your money and investments for the collapse of a major currency like the U.S. dollar. Click here to watch the video.

The article was originally published at internationalman.com.


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