Posts Tagged ‘social security’

Is the GFC the final crisis?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Late last year, the global financial system suffered a near death experience. History will remember that year as the Panic of 2008 (there was a panic 101 years ago too- the Panic of 1907). Today, there’s a belief that the worst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is over. Thus, assuming that March 2009 is the pinnacle of the panic, then it must follow that things can only get better and that stocks will have to continue its long-term upward trajectory. The only question is how ‘fast’ stocks should go up to reflect the speed and extent of the ‘recovery’ (and in our opinion, also the speed in the rise of price inflation- see Can we have a booming stock market with economic calamity?).

But make no mistake about this: deflationary pressures still exists and it is still possible that asset prices can suffer seasons of mini-panics. If history is any guide (e.g. Japan in the 1990s and the Great Depression), the lows of March 2009 can still be challenged in say, a couple of years time.

Now, in the midst of witnessing all the unfolding drama of the GFC, it is easy to believe that the GFC is the final major economic crisis of our lifetime. It is easy to imagine that after the global economy survives this near catastrophe, it’s time to move on to the next phase.

But please understand this: the GFC is not the final crisis of our lifetime. There is a bigger looming disaster emanating from the United States that will begin several years from now. To the extent that the US dollar still functions as the global reserve currency, it will affect the rest of the world. What is this looming disaster?

Remember what we wrote in How is the US going to repay its national debt?? As we said in that article,

Meanwhile, the social security system faces an unfunded liability estimated by the Government Accountability Office at $US6.7 trillion and the unfunded liability of Medicare is $US34 trillion.

This liability is “unfunded” because the US government has not budgeted for it- it is paid as the liability is due. In total, depending on the various guesstimates, we can expect the order of several tens of trillions of dollars worth of debt (several hundred percent of US GDP) owed by the US government in the decades to come. The first of these social security liabilities will kick in in 5 years time. This is when the beginning of the tidal wave will begin. Where is the US going to find the money? Are the future tax revenues enough? We’re afraid they have no choice but to crank up the monetary printing press in order not to default.

That is when the real financial crisis in the US begins. Meanwhile, even the “funded” part of the budget deficit is still projected to grow.

How is the US going to repay its national debt?

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

As we all know, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were being nationalised a couple of days ago. The US government has put in $US1 billion of new capital (in the form of preferred shares) and says it might put in up to $US200 billion more. At the same time, it will take over the management of these two companies. Consequently, the stock market all over the world cheered this news in exuberance.

This is a farce.

There is a cost to this nationalisation, which as we said two months ago in How do we all pay for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?,

The collapse of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will result in a colossal deflation. Can the US allow such an unthinkable to happen? If the answer is no, then inflation is the only path out of it, in which the road to hyperinflation hell begins. This is also unthinkable. Which road will the US take? If the US takes the latter route, all of us will be paying for their bailout via inflation.

Now consider the situation of the US government budget as reported in ‘Frannie’ bailout heavy with irony:

According to the US Government’s Accountability Office the national debt stood at $US4.4 trillion early this year. Unless the habit of deficit spending is arrested quickly this figure will double in the next ten years.

Meanwhile, the social security system faces an unfunded liability estimated by the Government Accountability Office at $US6.7 trillion and the unfunded liability of Medicare is $US34 trillion.

If the US government has to bail out more and more blow-ups in the financial system, there is only one way the level of national debt can go: up and up to the sky. It has come to a stage that the word “billion” is not enough to describe the magnitude of the debt- “trillion” has used instead. That level of debt is approximately $150,000 for every man, woman and children in the United States.

Is the US government going to pay all these debt by raising taxes? With rising unemployment, record levels of private debt and wobbly economy, do you think this idea can ever be entertained? If it is politically impossible to raise taxes, what else can be done? Default or print money?

Strangely, the market reacted to this news by bidding up the US dollar.