China’s New Investment, Student Debt, The Faux Recovery and More!

by Addison Wiggin & Ian Mathias

  • China walks the walk… red nation agrees to major shift away from dollar reserves
  • Gold soars… Frank Holmes with a historic reason gold should keep rising
  • You know Peak Oil, but Peak Stimulus? Chris Mayer offers a compelling chart on government intervention
  • Dark data: Service sector, retail, jobs all disappoint, plus a shocking stat on student debt

 

  Walking the long, windy road toward the demise of the dollar, we spy another mile marker today: China is officially putting their money where their mouth is.

After clamoring for a reserve alternative all year, the Chinese government agreed to a $50 billion currency-diverse deal with the IMF today. Back in June, the deal seemed imminent. This morning, it finally came to fruition.

In their deal with the IMF — the first of its kind for any nation, ever — China buys $50 billion worth of bonds denominated in Special Drawing Rights, which will represent a basket of global monies. (That basket will be a split between the dollar, euro, pound and yen… not exactly the gems of the global currency batch.)

Still, it’s probably a win for China on several fronts: They get to ditch the dollar (sort of) without making a big geopolitical stink. In fact, since their funds will prop up the IMF’s rescue coffer, China gets to play the global good guy for once — while also purchasing some political influence over the IMF.

Russia and Brazil have each promised to buy $10 billion of these bonds, as well.

  The U.S. dollar has already given back gains made earlier this week. The panic on Monday and Tuesday helped bump the dollar index up to just shy of 79. But the buzz has worn off, and the DX is right back to where it started the week, around 78.3.

  Gold, on the other hand, has done nothing but rise this week. The spot price inched up, thanks to its “safe haven” status, and then accelerated skyward as the dollar fell. The spot price is up to $985 this morning, from $950 and change on Monday. That’s a three-month high.

  “Over the past four decades, September has been the best time for gold in terms of its month-over-month price appreciation,” Frank Holmes reminds us in his latest Daily Reckoning essay. “You can see this on the chart below — in a typical year, the price of gold in September rises 2.5% above its August price. The gold price has risen in 16 of the 20 Septembers since 1989, by far the best success ratio of any month of the year.

“What accounts for this predictable trend?

“September kicks off several of the planet’s most potent gold-demand drivers:

  • The post-monsoon wedding season in India and Diwali, one of the country’s most important festivals
  • Restocking by jewelry makers in advance of the Christmas shopping season in the United States
  • The holy month of Ramadan in the Muslim world, whose end in late September is marked by a period of celebration and gift giving
  • And in China, the week-long National Day celebration starting Oct. 1 and the run-up to the Chinese New Year in early 2010.

“Based on the long-term record, this may represent a good time for investors who want to establish or add to a gold or gold stock position in advance of seasonal demand growth. The guidance provided by historical patterns may improve the chances for investment success, but of course, there are no guarantees that this September will follow the well-established trend.”

  For stocks, traders took a breather after Tuesday’s sell-off and finished yesterday around break-even. This morning, the S&P 500 opened just a bit higher, thanks mostly to this:

  Chinese banks lent more money in August than many had anticipated, the China Securities Journal reported this morning. At $24 billion, that’s right around July’s level.

If you recall, it was a rumor that Chinese lending had slowed even further in August that sent stocks around the world plummeting Monday. Thus, this “not so bad” report shot the Shanghai Composite up 4.8% today, and has helped other worldly indexes start off in the black. (Whether more easy money in China is a good thing… well… traders can save that for another day.)

  “Market prices should reflect underlying demand and supply,” notes Chris Mayer. “As in a vegetable stand, the prices come from the buying and selling of people in the market.

“But with all the artificial stimulus money floating around, here and abroad, you can never be sure of what you see. Is this a real recovery or is it an artificially ripened tomato, and hence an imposter? When the stimulus money stops flowing, will the recession get worse?

“CNN’s bailout tracker reports that U.S. government stimulus has totaled $2.8 trillion so far this year, with another $8.2 trillion in commitments. Most of this money has gone to the financial sector. Some of it has gone to infrastructure projects and to consumers (“cash for clunkers,” for example).

“That is a lot of money. It is hard to say how all of this spending has artificially boosted economic activity in some sectors of the economy. It is obvious that such spending cannot continue indefinitely.

“Take a look at this next chart, which shows you how the stimulus spending reaches a peak sometime in early 2010 at $57 billion and then takes a dive.

 

“Of course, the government can always decide to spend more. But as it is now, this is a pattern of spending we can expect to distort the various sectors it flows to. You can see also on the chart where the money goes, including that big red layer that goes toward highways and transportation.

“We may yet see a surge in business activity as we get to 2010. But after that, we’ll see if this seeming recovery in the making is real or manufactured by funny money.”

If the latter scenario occurs, wouldn’t you want a portfolio full of companies in essential industries… like water, food and energy? That’s part of the reasoning behind Chris’ latest project: The Primeval Portfolio. Check it out here.

  Whether real or artificial, hopes of recovery got a firm slap this morning, courtesy of the data patch. Here’s the quick and dirty:

  • The U.S. service sector contracted for the 11th month in a row, the ISM said today. After Monday’s ISM manufacturing gauge, which showed surprise growth, traders had their fingers crossed for a score above 50 in today’s ISM service sector reader. Not so, said the group. Their index stood at 48. In other words, 70% of our economy was still shrinking in August
  • Retail sales fell 2.9% in August, the 12th straight month of decline. Despite of the “back to school” rush, only low-cost brands showed signs of life last month… Costco, BJ’s, Gap, Aeropostale, Target and T.J. Maxx all outperformed
  • Jobless claims from last week came in at 570,000, worse than the Street expected. Coupled with yesterday’s worse-than-expected ADP jobs report, the outlook is none too rosy for tomorrow’s government employment data
  • Personal bankruptcies shot up 24% in August, year over year, putting the U.S. on track for over 1.4 million filings this year.

  And here’s the one statistic that troubled us the most this morning: Student debt grew 25% in the 2008-2009 school year, says the latest from the Department of Education. So much for “the great deleveraging.”

Total student loans outstanding exceeded $75 billion during the period, up from roughly $60 billion the year before. An estimated 66% of U.S. college students borrow money for school, with the average individual debt load of $23,186 by graduation.

So let’s get this straight… the next generation is borrowing more than ever, at a faster rate then ever, during extremely worrisome credit conditions, heading into the worst employment environment in recent history, while on the verge of inheriting the biggest federal debt burden the world has ever known?

  “Don’t let the recovery pundits fool you,” urges our currency adviser, Bill Jenkins. “As just about everyone knows, the stock market crashed in a big way in 1929. What most don’t realize is that it rallied 15 times before it hit bottom fours years later, having lost 90% of its value.

“And the truth is, when adjusted for inflation, the market didn’t break even again until 1960. (If you’re a ‘buy-and-hold’ investor, you MUST account for inflation. It is the single biggest ‘invisible’ tax in our wonderful Fed-managed economy.)

“But before people could get too happy with making money again, along came President Johnson and the ‘Great Society.’ I don’t know who it was so great for — the market began crashing again in ’66. Once again, adjusted for inflation, it didn’t get back to break-even for another 30 years.

“So 30 years from the Great Depression to the Great Society. Then 30 years from the Great Society to the Great Depression II. Each of the peaks resulted in 10-15 years of declines.

“We are now in just the second year of this disaster. We are witnessing an almost-perfect copy of the first Great Depression. And there are more nasty little secrets in the economy, waiting like ticking time bombs to explode. We will see more businesses in trouble, more banks failing, more foreclosures and more commercial real estate losses.

“At the end of June alone, there were over 5,300 commercial properties in the United States in default. That’s more than double the number from the end of 2008 — and there are still six months to count. Still think American companies are recovering? What will a 300% rise in commercial defaults do for jobs? Profits? Banks?

“So don’t let the recovery pundits fool you, even though they’re out in force.”

  “I’ve recently moved to Florida from South Carolina,” a reader writes, “and we decided to rent the first year here, for several reasons. But now that we’re here, we’re thinking of staying renters for a while. My wife and I realized that by living in Florida and — here’s the key part – renting, we’re saving about $15,000 per year.

 

“After we read the news about Florida losing population for the first time in 50 years, it got us thinking — what are the prospects for Florida? I don’t think they’re as sunny as they used to be.

 

“Here’s how our savings add up:

  • Don’t have to pay property tax, which is 2% of the purchase price where we are (Palm Beach County) — so that’s $10,000
  • No homeowners insurance in Hurricane Alley, which saves us another $2-3,000
  • No homeowners association fees, which are $3000 per year in the neighborhood we’re currently residing. Many neighborhoods are higher.

“Add it up and we’re saving $15,000-plus as renters. I don’t think we’re missing out on any home price appreciation, so tell me, why do I want to own a home in Florida?”

The 5: We’re not the right people to ask. This editor’s been renting a condo in one of Baltimore’s more swanky/artsy neighborhoods for over two years now. It’s close to the city — but quiet — with a great park in the backyard and the sexiest pool in Baltimore. It’s not without faults, but we really like it.

Despite it being one of the city’s finer locales, the condo’s owner — who got together with some friends and made an investment in the building during the bubble — hasn’t rented the apartment at a profit for years… if ever.

The idea of owning a home has its merits, but watching him sink underwater on this place has been tough (he’s a really nice guy) as well as educational. Of course, we don’t have “a place of our own,” and we’re not “building equity,” “establishing credit” and all the other mortgage broker sales pitches. But after watching all this go down, that seems like a risk worth taking.    

Cheers,

Ian Mathias

The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. “I do not understand why you don’t give more press to silver,” a reader writes, singing a tune we’ve become familiar with. “Gold, gold, gold — fine, gold is going to go up! Gold is going to retain value. But, if you have done any kind of cursory evaluation of silver, you know that it is going to far outperform gold over the next 5-10 years. Why aren’t any of the Agora Publishing newsletters talking about silver?”

Very well, ask and you shall receive. Hot off the presses, here’s Byron King’s latest report on investing in silver.

rspertzel

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