Friday, September 12, 2008

Probable Future Outlook for the United States

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

Guest Blogger: Trevor Gauntlett from 'Running the Gauntlett'

What concerns me most is looking at the highly probable future outlook for the U.S. …

The government is taking over Freddie and Fannie, which will help out new, but not existing home buyers. By assuming responsibility for their debt, the gov’t is using inflation adjusted tax dollars to keep these companies operating . However, a $500 billion dollar short fall is projected this year in the budget and the U.S. national debt is already at about 9.7 trillion and growing ever so rapidly. If we tack on unfunded liabilities, we are talking anywhere from 50-70 trillion in obligations. Effectively the government is insolvent. Now what happens when government revenues begin to decline due to the slowing economy, baby boomers start to take money out of social security and access Medicare when they retire, and the continuation of the Iraq war / Afghan war / maybe Iran war?

I’m failing to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

During the housing boom, U.S. consumers purchased houses because money was cheap. Everyone felt rich so they purchased more consumables for immediate gratification. These weren't investments with productive value that would add to the economy in the future and they experienced immediate depreciation. Once U.S. consumers could no longer get money out of their homes through refinancings and HELOCs (home equity lines of credit), we started using our credit cards. Look at who is producing and who is consuming… we in the USA are primarily guilty of the latter and it is all funded through the rest of the world’s savings. At some point other countries are going to refuse to continue supporting the U.S. spending binge - this might already be taking place.

As for housing it will have to come back down to reasonable values. If we encounter a period of hyperinflation then housing could be a good asset to hold onto (although this was not the case during the hyperinflation in Wiemar Germany in the early 1920s). On the other hand, if we have a depression I could argue the opposite.

People are already losing their HELOCs because banks are worried that consumers won’t be able to afford them. Legal or not this is happening. I also heard from a Real Estate agent in Seattle that banks are asking for 25% down on new mortgages. In an earnings call in late January 2008, Bank of America executives said credit card delinquencies in California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada—states with high foreclosure rates—increased five times as fast as in other states, suggesting that consumers struggling with their mortgage debt are also finding their credit card bills hard to pay. “We’re focused on getting paid for the risk we take,” said Joe Price, chief financial officer. - US News and World report 2/28/2008.

What happens if the United States dollar loses its status as the reserve currency? Then everyone with dollars will flood the market to get rid of them. The dollar is a commodity just like gold and silver, but unlike gold and silver any amount of it can easily be created. It has no intrinsic value and is a exchangeable commodity and legal tender because of government fiat (hence paper money is fiat money or fiat currency). If people want dollars, the price rises and as people desire them less, the price falls. Loss of reserve currency status would mean the demand for U.S. dollars would fall significantly. Why would anyone want dollars when you look at the future for the US economy except because of necessity or political reasons?

The GSE bailout will help to prolong the issues that the financial industry is facing. The United States government will do everything in its power to support the system through money creation and taxation, giving individuals and institutions more time to pull their money out of the dollar. An immediate collapse would make that very difficult and costly.

I’m getting the sense that things could get a whole lot worse than any of us imagine.

NEXT: The Banks and Brokers Most Likely to Fail - The Big Players

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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