We are coming to the point in the United States when even the US government will no longer be able to borrow at very low long-term rates. That point is a few years off, and we have time to change paths; but as I have shown in previous letters, the longer we wait to get the deficit under control, the fewer choices we have and the more painful they are. NO country can run deficits the size we are currently running, along with unfunded deficits over four times the size of the economy and a growing overall debt burden, without consequences. At some point, investors in bonds will start wondering exactly what the process is by which they will be repaid. And what will the value of those future payments be?
6 posts tagged with “US Debt”.
Turning and turning in the
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- The Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
This coming week we shall likely see Congress pass an extension of the "temporary" payroll tax cut, first enacted as a stimulus to the economy in January of 2011. As I write, the extension is just for two months. We'll leave aside the politics and look at the economic implications of the extension, and then go on to examine the deficit in the US. That will give rise to some thoughts about Europe and what would have to happen for a country to leave the euro. We'll finally close with some thoughts and graphs about the more controversial part of the tax cut extension, the Keystone XL Pipeline. Just how radical is it to build such a pipeline in the US? And what are the implications for the deficit? I think looking at a few maps might surprise some readers. It should all make for a rather controversial letter, but then controversy is my middle name. (Note, this letter will print longer as there are lots of charts.)
But first, I want to thank one reader for helping to increase my reader base in a rather unusual way. I was sent this bit from a blog by Edward Ream today:
"I came across John Mauldin, http://www.johnmauldin.com, when someone left a printout of his blog in a railway carriage. His ‘Outside the Box' column is free to all.
"I enjoy his column, and I think some of you may enjoy it too. I especially admire his thirst for knowledge and his tolerance of diverse viewpoints. He actively seeks disconfirming evidence and the views of those who disagree with him. Imo, this stance is a model for what politics should be, and isn't :-) – Edward"
Thanks, Edward, and to whomever left the letter on the train. We take expansion of the number of our friends wherever we can find it. And let's see how he feels after this letter.
The GDP numbers for the second quarter came in, and there is no way to spin them as anything but ugly. And the revisions were worse. We simply have to take a few pages to look at them. And, as I noted last Monday in the Outside the Box, I met with some ten Senators Monday afternoon (as well as Congressmen in the morning), plus a lot of staff. Getting ten Senators in a room for 90-plus minutes is not so often done. I will report in this week’s letter about our conversation and my impressions.
But first, I was in Vancouver for a few days this week at the Agora conference. I had dinner with old friends Bill Bonner, Barry Ritholtz, David Tice, Frank Holmes, and Keith Fitzgerald. I had spoken that morning and my speech was well-received, getting a fair complement of laughs. I was somewhat on a roll. I mentioned that I think a lot of the better financial speakers are actually frustrated stand-up comics, and there was general agreement on that.
I say that to set up the next item. This past April I spoke at my own investment conference in La Jolla (co-sponsored with Altegris Investments). It was a brand new speech, and I did something I have not done in years: I actually practiced it several times, as I did not want to embarrass myself, given the quality of the other speakers. I came off the stage feeling that I had given the worst speech of my career. The room was absolutely silent. I normally get a lot of laughs. I was getting no reaction at all. As I made my way to the rear of the room I was actually quite depressed.
Then several people (people who cut me no slack) told me that it was the best speech they had ever heard me give. I was surprised and said, “But the audience was so quiet. How come?”
“John, you just walked them through a scenario that was so compelling and so fraught with regard to our problematic future that it was very sobering. There really was nothing to laugh at.” This from a man who has been very blunt with me and has heard me speak many times and tells me if I am off my game. I got the same comment a lot.
I am now using a different speech, so we are going to make the one from our conference available online to all those who have signed up for my accredited investor letter. It is the last speech of the conference to be posted, so now every one is online – speeches by David Rosenberg, Martin Barnes, Neil Howe, Gary Shilling, and more, plus the panel sessions. A very powerful lineup it was.
If you are an accredited investor (net worth of over $1.5 million), you can go to www.johnmauldin.com and click on The Mauldin Circle and fill out the form, and one of my worldwide partners will get in contact with you and give you access to the speech. And if you have not yet reached that status, you can still sign up, and my partner CMG, based in Philadelphia, will make sure you get access. These all are management firms that, like Altegris, have access to some of the best alternative investments and commodity funds I am aware of. Let them show you what adding some of the managers they represent can do for your portfolio. (In this regard, I am president and a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, LLC, member FINRA.) Please read the risk disclosures on the form and at the end of the letter carefully when you are thinking about alternative investments. And now to this week’s letter.
This week we are going to revisit some themes concerning the problems of the debt and the deficit. I am getting a number of questions, so while long-time readers may have read most of this in one letter or another, it is clearly time for a review, especially given the deficit/debt-ceiling debate. I will probably offend some cherished beliefs of most readers, but that is the nature of the times we live in. It is the time of the Endgame, where things are not as black and white as they have been in the past.
I have written repeatedly about the Endgame in the weekly letter, as well as in a New York Times best-seller on the same topic. By Endgame I mean the period of time in which many of the developed economies of the world will either willingly deleverage or be forced to do so. This age of deleveraging will produce a fundamentally different economic environment, which the McKinsey study referenced below suggests will last anywhere from 4-6 years. Now, whether this deleveraging is orderly, as now appears to be the case in Britain, or more resembles what I have long predicted will be a violent default in Greece, it will create a profoundly different economic world from the one we have lived in for 60 years. This makes sense, in that the prior world was defined by ever-increasing amounts of leverage. Outright reductions in leverage or even a significant slowing of the rate of growth is a whole new ballgame, economically speaking.
In all this I have explained the various options facing the developed world, but I have refrained from putting forth my own estimates as to what will actually happen and what the environment surrounding that outcome will be. That is about to change. I have been giving this a great deal of thought and research. While my conclusions will be somewhat controversial (I know, surprise, surprise), with enough to offend almost everyone on some point, I hope that I can muster enough clarity to help you think through your own personal views and how you will respond to what I think will be yet another crisis on the not-too-distant horizon. Whether that is Crisis Lite or Crisis Depression is up to us and the politicians we elect. I argue that we need to choose most wisely, because we are at a crossroads that is as critical as any since 1940.
As I start this letter, I am on a flight to San Diego, where I will co-host my 8th annual Strategic Investment Conference. As usual, I will be the last speaker on Saturday. This letter will be the beginning of that speech, and we will conclude (hopefully) next week. What I hope to do here is summarize the main points, add some new ones, and then move on to how I think the Endgame will play out. These next two e-letters will be among the more critical ones of the last few years. Feel free to forward, and if you are reading this letter you can join my one million closest friends and sign up for my free weekly letter at www.johnmauldin.com. (This letter may print longer than usual, as it will have a significant number of graphs.)
But before we jump in, many of
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Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the Muddle Through Middle with you!
–With thanks to Stealers Wheel
I get a lot of email from readers. I recently got an impassioned letter from very-long-time reader Bill K., who asks some very pointed questions about austerity and spending cuts. It is a rather lengthy letter, so I will only quote part of it and use it is the launching pad for this week’s letter, where we look at today’s employment report, but from a little different slant. This letter will no doubt anger a few other long-time readers. I argue this week for the middle, but do so as a survivalist.
While Bill starts out by saying some very nice things about me (thanks), let’s jump to the meat of the letter:
“…. I would like to get something off my chest. I would like to know why you seem to side with those analysts who keep telling us that the only way we can sort out Western economies is by making the average guy suffer through austerity programs… You are a very intelligent guy – obviously. You can see how things work and what is broken. You can also see through the greed and excesses of Wall Street, and you can read the economic data which clearly shows that the wealthy continue to get more wealthy in America whilst the average Joe continues to see his standard of living going in the opposite direction. Capitalism today only works for the 'have gots'. It's been going in that direction for more than 30 years now. You saw the senseless and stupid greed of the derivative scheme which fueled the housing bubble which led to the meltdown which never melted because Bush/Obama handed out a huge welfare check to financial institutions that should have been allowed to fail.
“In the aftermath of all this, politicians in DC, you, and your guest pundits warn us that the world as we know it will end if we don't somehow reduce the average Joe's Social Security, pension, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Oh and let’s not forget the budget, which is being argued in Washington as I type this. The line is that we have to make drastic reductions to spending on domestic programs, on our schools, on our infrastructure, on unemployment entitlements, on all the things that serve to give working people a chance at a dignified life. You're a smart guy. You can recognize what is fair and what is greed and excess. When the nation is as troubled as it is today and yet the wealthy are living even better than they did 30 years ago, what does that say about America? I wonder if we really care about our neighbors anymore? I wonder why such a great country with such great natural resources cannot find a way to be just and generous and a beacon to higher ideals? Ike warned us to be wary of the military-industrial complex. Looks like he was right. We're a nation constantly at war, spending trillions on defense, whilst at home we enrich the already wealthy and tell the average Joe that he has to pay for it. I wonder how you manage to rationalize all this away – if indeed you do?
“Thanks and with respect, Bill”