Tim Price: The Mess We're In
Comment of the Day

August 08 2012

Commentary by David Fuller

Tim Price: The Mess We're In

My thanks to the author for the latest issue of his greatly admired letter, published by PFP Wealth Management. Here is a brief sample:
We are now five years into this crisis and there is no tangible sign of improvement. Having thrown everything at banks including the kitchen sink, governments are now starting to appreciate that all they have achieved is the loss of a kitchen sink. Which may be why the Financial Times last week reported that the full nationalisation of RBS was back on the agenda. Barclays' discredited former CEO, Bob Diamond, was obviously ridiculously premature when he suggested that a period of banking remorse and apology needed to be over. On the contrary, given the scale of the mess, and its cost to the taxpayer and to the economy, that requisite period of remorse and apology may yet outlive us. But bashing the bankers gives only the least satisfying form of relief. As we have frequently suggested, no account of the crisis can be complete without a comparable assessment of the role played by our politicians - not just in the run-up to the events of 2007 and 2008, but in the years and decades that preceded them.

David Fuller's view Many commentators, including me, assume that the OECD countries' economic "Mess" will persist for at least a few more years. This is hardly surprising when we consider its origins which are now familiar to most readers.

Therefore, let's shift the discussion to the main winners and losers, as a consequence of this mess. Commencing with the latter, governments have lost most of whatever moral authority they once had. They have also lost a significant amount of revenue required for doing the legitimate and necessary jobs for which they were elected.

However, it is households which have lost the most, having seen the cost of their everyday overheads increase, while the value of what they own has more often than not decreased, while the purchasing power of their income and savings is eroded. In other words, they are experiencing a prolonged period of stagflation.

First among winners are the Autonomies which Fullermoney mentions so frequently. These are the sector-leading multinational companies, particularly those which benefit from the new generations of consumers with disposable income in the China-led growth economies.

Autonomies headquartered in OECD economies are the antithesis of their national governments. Spurred on by the financial crisis they initially went into survival mode and then improved their own governance by reducing overheads, strengthening their balance sheets, and upgrading their technology and product lines. More recently, many of them have been increasing dividends. Unsurprisingly, some of the most successful Autonomies are in the technology sector.

Growth economies are also among the winners, in terms of their overall populations, because the standard of living in these countries is increasing at a faster rate than in the OECD nations.

Most subscribers reading this copy will have personally experienced the rising cost of living, which is seldom accurately reported by CPI statistics. As investors, we can at least partially protect ourselves and our families by investing in performing Autonomies and Dividend Aristocrats. I think it is also a good idea to retain some gold. For those of you who favour fixed income, my preference would be for corporate bonds of financially sound companies and the sovereign debt of countries with similarly strong balance sheets.

Here is Tim Price's letter from last week: "An Olympian hurdle" and a sample:

Very little has definitively changed during the course of the financial crisis and where there has been evidence of change, very little of it seems to have been positive. Governments appear to believe that a problem of overmuch indebtedness can be resolved by the creation of more debt. Which is why the central banks are now so systematically dangerous. Those who should be the stewards of sound money are doing their level best to destroy it. This is Monetary Fahrenheit 451. Those who should be extinguishing monetary fires are doing their best to set them. But this monetary madness is being conducted in full public view: in Ronald-Peter Stoeferle's magisterial recent piece for Erste Group (In GOLD we TRUST), he shows how gold has kept pace more or less perfectly with the inflationary and currency-depreciating activity of the world's major central banks over the past decade. Gold remains, in our view, the best currency of all in a world where all the paper varieties are being printed toward potential destruction. (This observation has not escaped the central banks themselves, who have turned net buyers.) One doubts that they are exhibiting this behaviour purely out of what Fed chairman Ben Bernanke recently called "tradition".

If you have not yet read Ronald-Peter Stöferle's latest report: In GOLD we TRUST, it was posted on Friday 20th July.

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