Saturday, June 5, 2010
I don't think I can recall ever being more disgusted in public... and certainly not at an investment conference. A couple weeks back, I attended the famed Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference in New York City, which benefits pediatric cancer. The conference was good and I'm glad I went... but one presentation made me want to vomit.
It was Steve Rattner – the New York financier turned OBAMA! "car czar." Listening to him tell one lie after another about the bankruptcy of General Motors was bad enough. (And believe me... I know a little bit about GM's balance sheet, having been the first analyst anywhere to predict the carmaker's bankruptcy.) But having to listen to this scumbag lecture me about the evils of "income inequality" was truly more than I could bear.
This man was personally implicated in bribing New York state pension officials (but hasn't been indicted yet). He made close to $500 million via his private-equity fund (Quadrangle), while his investors underperformed municipal bonds. This guy lives in a $15 million home on Martha's Vineyard and in the same Fifth Avenue apartment building as George Soros. This is a guy who flies his own plane... whose wife is the leading fundraiser for the Democratic Party. This is Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Michael Bloomberg's best friend. And Barry Diller's. This guy spent his entire life in the rarified world of Ivy League colleges, investment banks, and New York City's most elite social circles.
And yet... even with all of these advantages, he ended up accused of bribing New York State pension officials to get them to invest with his private-equity firm. (By the way... I have to hand it to OBAMA! on appointing Rattner as the "car czar." OBAMA! knew about the corruption charges, and he appointed Rattner to restructure General Motors anyways. After all, who better to steal from bondholders than a crook?)
And now, Rattner was going to lecture us, the great unwashed, about "income inequality." It was simply unbearable...
After spending about 20 minutes congratulating himself on the bailout of GM (which cost taxpayers roughly $80 billion and bondholders roughly $27 billion), Rattner put up a chart he seemed to believe indicated rich people in America were making far too much money. I let out a loud "Boooo..."
Really, it was more of a moan of agony. I just couldn't take anymore. How could such a person ever have been allowed to reach such levels of power and influence? How could an idea as obviously repellant as government-directed income redistribution ever be discussed at an investment conference filled with thousands of capitalists?
Rattner's response to my loud boo was remarkable. In his most condescending, the-government-knows-best tone he said: "I hope you're joking." As if to even question the role of government in redistributing the wealth of our society made me some kind of a mental invalid or moral outrage. I replied, in a much, much louder and more hostile tone: "YOU'RE THE JOKE."
When I write about not recognizing my fellow Americans... and feeling like I live in a country called Amerika, I'm talking about the Rattnerization of our country.
This guy is the very embodiment of the term "limousine liberal." He wants to raise your taxes because his income is now all sheltered. And he thinks he knows how to use your money far better than you do. In his mind, he's doing you a big favor when he raises your taxes.
As the whole global warming thing falls apart (hard to believe it has lasted this long), guys like Rattner need a new slogan. They need a new calling – a new, better, and simpler reason to motivate voters. Their cry will be "income inequality." The free market has failed, they say, because some people are getting very, very rich.
And Rattner knows well the 50% or so of the people who no longer pay federal income taxes will believe income inequality is a problem (instead of the result of a wonderful technological revolution). And they will support every possible measure to correct "the problem." This will keep people like Rattner in power for a long, long time.
The rest of the conference was great, by the way. All of the other speakers were successful investors, most of whom manage billions. Said David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital:
How long will the capital markets continue to finance government borrowings that may be refinanced but never repaid on reasonable terms? And second, to what extent can obligations that are not financed through traditional fiscal means be satisfied through central bank monetization of debts – that is, by the printing of money?
You might recognize these two core questions. I've been asking them since December 2008 in my newsletter. They are the two most important questions in finance and global politics. I am afraid – more afraid than I have ever been – that not only do our politicians not know the answers to these questions, they don't even care to think about them.
What scares me the most isn't that we have a huge fiscal problem, it's that our politicians have come to believe we don't need to balance our budgets, insist on banking discipline, allow companies to go bankrupt, or even require people to pay their debts because we can always print more money. This is how paper money systems have always collapsed. And how great empires have always ended.
By the way... not many investors know this (and David Einhorn didn't mention it either), but Alan Greenspan himself attempted to quantify the answers to those key questions regarding sovereign debt. He published the answers in a little-read financial journal in 1999. I've read it. Several times.
The answer is, sovereigns can borrow as much money as they want, safely, as long as they keep at least one year's worth of foreign debt service (principal and interest) in hard currency reserves. The U.S. has about $800 billion in reserves: oil, gold, and euros. We owe foreign creditors roughly $2 trillion in the next 12 months. That's very, very dangerous.
For more than a year now, I've been giving my readers the absolute best ways to prepare for the now-inevitable collapse of the U.S. dollar. I believe my analysis on this situation is the most important material I've ever written. If you'd like to access it immediately, click here.
Date Range:5/27/2010 to 6/3/2010
Date Range:5/27/2010 to 6/3/2010