Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Prepare for a Currency Crisis

Euro Capital interviewed Doug Casey in an interview entitled "HOW TO PREPARE FOR WHEN MONEY DIES"published in Peter Schiff's Gold Report. This is quite an interesting discussion on the US economy, the government role and the future of currencies. The final advice is to accumulate Gold.

Here's the transcript of the interview:

If dollar-dumping turns from a trickle into a flood, look out. Exploding prices (aka exorbitant inflation) resulting from the devaluation of the dollar will compound the problems we saw in 2007-2009. Catastrophe will come when everybody realizes that the dollar is an "IOU nothing." That's the downside in the decade(s) ahead, according to Casey Research Chairman Doug Casey. But an optimist at heart, in this interview with The Gold Report, Doug also identifies some reasons to be hopeful.

The Gold Report: You've been talking about two ticking time bombs. One is the trillions of dollars owned outside the US that investors could dump if they lose confidence. And the other is the trillions of dollars within the US that were created to paper over the crisis that started in 2007. Are these really explosive circumstances that will bring catastrophic results? Or will it just result in a huge, but manageable, hangover?

Doug Casey: Both, but in sequence. One thing that's for sure is that although the epicenter of this crisis will be the US, it's going to have truly worldwide effects. The US dollar is the de jure national currency of at least three other countries, and the de facto national currency of about 50 others. The main US export for many years has been paper dollars; in exchange, the nice foreigners send us Mercedes cars, Sony electronics, cocaine, coffee - and about everything you see on Walmart's shelves. It has been a one-way street for several decades, a free ride - but the party's over.

Nobody knows the numbers for sure, but foreign central banks and individuals outside the US own US dollars to the tune of something like $6 or $7 trillion. Especially during the recent crisis, the Fed created trillions more dollars to bail out the big financial institutions. At some point, foreign dollar holders will start dumping them; they are starting to realize this is like a game of Old Maid, with the dollar being the Old Maid card. I don't know what will set it off, but the markets are already very nervous about it. This nervousness is demonstrated in gold having hit $1,900 an ounce, copper at all-time highs, oil at $100 a barrel - the boom in commodity prices.

Some countries are already trying to get out of dollars, but it could become a panic if the selling goes from a trickle to a flood. So, yes, it's a time bomb waiting to go off, or maybe a landmine waiting to be stepped on. If a theatre catches fire and one person runs out, soon everybody rushes toward the door and they all get trampled. It's a very serious situation.

TGR: You warned early on in the 2008-2009 economic crisis that it would really be more of a hurricane. In the last year or so, we've been in the eye of the hurricane and there's more turmoil to come. Will the other side of the storm be worse than the first? And given the recent economic news, do you think we have moved out of that eye?

DC: Yes, I think we are moving out of the eye and going into the other side of the storm. This storm will be much more severe because we haven't solved any of the problems that caused the hurricane in the first place. The fact that governments all over the world have created trillions of currency units has only aggravated those problems. Now, I expect exploding prices to compound the problems that we saw back in 2007, 2008, and 2009. That will devastate the prudent people in society who saved money. They saved it in the form of currency, and wiping out their savings will be catastrophic.

TGR: That's something you've been saying for years - about this being the "Greater Depression." We are now four years into it, based on your 2007 start date.

DC: Actually, depending on how long a historical scale you look at, you could say that, for the working class in the US anyway, the depression started in the early 1970s. After inflation, after taxes, their take-home pay hasn't risen in real terms for 40 years. But the definition of a depression that I use is "a period of time during which most people's standard of living drops significantly."

Net savings shows that you're living within your means and putting aside capital for the future. In the US, people have been living above their means for many years - that is what debt is all about. Debt means that you are borrowing against future production, which is exactly what the US has been doing.

TGR: So, how long will this Greater Depression last?

DC: It doesn't have to last long at all. It could be quite brief if the US government, which is basically the root cause, retrenches vastly in size and defaults on the national debt, which is essentially an enormous mortgage, an albatross around the neck of the next several generations of Americans. The debt will be defaulted on one way or another, almost certainly through inflation. I simply advocate an honest, overt default; that would serve to punish those who, by lending to the government, have financed its depredations. Distortions and misallocations of capital that have been cranked into the economy for many years need to be liquidated. It could be unpleasant but brief.

The government is likely to do just the opposite, however. It will try to prop it up further and make it worse - compounding the problem by expanding the wars. So, it could last a very long time. In that sense, I'm not optimistic at all. I think there is little cause for optimism.

On the other hand, I'm generally optimistic for the future. There are only two causes for optimism. First, smart individuals all over the world continue, as individuals, to produce more than they consume and try to save the difference. That will build capital, which is of critical importance. Second, expanding and compounding technology will increase the standard of living. Remember that there are more scientists and engineers alive today than have lived in all previous history combined. Those two factors countervail the government stupidity around us. Whether they will be overwhelmed and washed away by a tsunami of statism and collectivism, I don't know.

TGR: You say that the US government is the root cause of this problem. Isn't that putting too much blame for a worldwide problem on one nation?

DC: The institution of government itself is the problem, and the problem is metastasizing like a cancer all over the world. But, sad to say, the US is the most serious offender because it is currently both the most powerful and the most aggressive nation-state. It has been greatly abetted by the fact that the US currency has been accepted globally. The US dollar is, in effect, the reserve that backs all the other currencies in the world. That is why the US government has been the most destructive from an economic point of view. Furthermore, military spending - which in the US equals that of all the other militaries in the world combined - is purely destructive. It serves no useful economic purpose at all. The military is no longer "defending" anything - least of all liberty. It's actively creating enemies and provoking conflict. So, yes, I think the US government is actually the most dangerous force roaming the world today.

TGR: Do you see that changing after the next election?

DC: No. I think the chances of Obama being reelected are high, simply because more than half of Americans are big net-recipients of state largesse. The US has turned into a larger version of Argentina politically, where the electorate is effectively bribed to vote for the biggest thief. It is likely to turn out much worse than Argentina, however. Unlike the Argentines, the US government is fairly efficient. And, unlike Argentina, the US is rapidly turning into a police state.

Electing a Republican might be even worse, though. With the exceptions of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, the potential Republican candidates absolutely make my skin crawl. So, no, there is no help on the horizon. The US government is spending about $1.5 trillion more this year than it takes in, and it is not going to cut that. In fact, foolish spending to bail things out will increase. And, worse than that, the Fed has artificially suppressed interest rates for three years. Interest accounts for roughly 2% of $15 trillion official national debt, or $300 billion per year. As interest rates inevitably rise, that interest amount will grow. At 12% - and I'm afraid they'll have to go even higher than that - it would add another $1.5 trillion just in interest payments.

I absolutely see no way out without a collapse of the US currency and a total reordering of the US economy.

TGR: When Money Dies, the title of your latest summit, implies some return to a gold standard. How do you see that playing out?

DC: Nothing is certain, but when the dollar disappears - and it's going to reach its intrinsic value soon - what are people going to use as money? Will we gin up another fiat currency like the euro? The euro is likely to fail before the dollar. My suspicion is that people will want to go back to gold. It's not because gold is anything magical, but simply the one of the 92 naturally occurring elements that - for the same reasons that make aluminum good for planes and iron good for steel girders - is most useful as money. In fact, the reason that gold has risen as high as it has is that the central banks of third-world countries - places that don't have large gold reserves, such as China, India, Korea, Russia, even Mexico - have been buying the stuff in size.

TGR: The concept of going to a gold standard seems impossible in the sense that there is only so much gold above ground - 6 billion ounces? Maybe $11 trillion worth? But it's only a fraction of the US GDP. Even with gold at $2,000 an ounce, that leaves an immense gap. In that scenario, how do you convert to a gold standard?

DC: In terms of today's dollars, gold should probably be a lot higher than it is. I don't know what the number will be, because a lot of those dollars will disappear in bankruptcies; they will dry up and blow away. It's like a real estate development that was worth $1 billion on somebody's books; when it fails, that's $1 billion destroyed. It's a question of the battle of inflation (with the government creating dollars to prop things up) against deflation (where businesses fail and wipe out dollars). But put it this way: the US government reports it owns about 265 million ounces. Its liabilities to foreigners alone are at least $6 trillion. If they were to be redeemed for a fixed amount, that would require roughly $22,000/oz gold. And that doesn't count dollars in the US itself.

I'm a bargain hunter and a bottom fisher, and bought most of my gold at vastly lower prices. But I think gold is going much higher because most people still barely even know that the stuff exists. As inflation picks up, they are going to want to get rid of these dollars - but what other monetary commodity can they turn to? So, gold is going higher. I'm still accumulating gold.

TGR: Thank you for the tips, Doug, and as always, for your thoughtful insights.

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