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It’s official: the Federal Reserve is insolvent

It’s official: the Federal Reserve is insolvent

In the year 1157, the Republic of Venice was in the midst of war and in desperate need of funds.

It wasn’t the first time in history that a government needed to borrow money to fight a war. But the Venetians came up with an innovative idea:

Every citizen who loaned money to the government was to receive an official paper certificate guaranteeing that the state would make interest payments.

Those certificates could then be transferred to other people… and the government would make payments to whoever held the certificate at the time.

In this way, the loan that an investor made to the government essentially became an asset– one that he could sell to another investor in the future.

This was the first real government bond. And the idea ultimately created a robust market of investors who would buy and sell these securities.

When a government’s fortunes changed and its ability to make interest payments was in doubt, the price of the bond fell. When confidence was high, bond prices rose.

It’s not much different today. Governments still borrow money by issuing bonds, and those bonds trade in a robust marketplace where countless investors buy and sell on a daily basis.

Just like the price of Apple shares, the prices of government bonds rise and fall all the time.

One of the most important factors affecting bond prices is interest rates: when interest rates rise, bond prices fall. And when rates fall, bond prices rise.

And this law of bond prices and interest rates moving opposite to one another is as inviolable as the Laws of Gravity.

Back in the 12th century when Venice started issuing the first government bonds, interest rates were shockingly high by modern standards, fluctuating between 12% and 20%. In France and England rates would sometimes rise beyond even 80% during the Middle Ages.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why buy gold now? Because I don’t know

Why buy gold now? Because I don’t know

From 2000 through 2012, the price of gold increased every year, rising from around $280 an ounce to nearly $1,700. It was an unprecedented run.

Then, in 2013, gold took a nose dive, losing over 27% of its value.

It was widely reported that the Swiss National Bank, the former bastion of monetary conservatism, lost $10 billion that year just on its gold holdings.

As you probably know, central banks hold a portion of their reserves in gold. The practice goes back to when central banks actually had to have gold on hand to trade in and out of paper money (or even trade for goods and services).

And central banks still hold reserves in gold today, even though they don’t need it to transact like they used to.

So that begs the question, did the Swiss National Bank actually lose $10 billion? It still had every ounce of gold in its vaults. And gold, after all, ismoney.

Plus, the SNB wasn’t holding gold to speculate…

Today, central banks hold gold as a hedge against fiat money. These are the guys with their fingers on the printing press… so they know exactly the effect they have on money.

And right now, banks are buying up gold hand over fist. Central banks currently hold 20% of all the gold ever mined—33,000 metric tons.

And JPMorgan Chase says they’ll buy another 650 tons this year and next.

Why?

Gold is for the I don’t knows.

And right now, there are a LOT of I don’t knows.

Markets have been going crazy over the past few months.

After a record bull run for stocks, we are now seeing massive volatility with the Dow regularly jumping 500+ points in a single day. Just yesterday, the Dow fell a whopping 800 points.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Here are all the ways inflation is happening today

Here are all the ways inflation is happening today

Something strange happened in the markets last month that signals trouble ahead…

When stocks fell from their September highs, you would have expected investors to run for cover in the world’s safe-haven asset – US Treasurys.

But that’s not what happened.

While stocks were plunging, Treasurys also fell. Yields on 30-year Treasurys increased to 3.4% from 3.22% (and yields have already more than doubled from their 2016 lows).

It’s a sign that the market is worried about the US government’s ability to pay its exploding debts and that inflation is creeping back into the market. That makes me a bit nervous because we haven’t seen inflation in a decade.

We’ve seen an increase in oil prices, food prices, rent and many other things that eat into people’s savings. Unemployment is low and US wages increased 3.1% in September (the highest in nine years). And core inflation is already running above the Fed’s target of 2%.

In general, inflation is nothing to panic about. The Fed is supposed to raise rates when inflation heats up, which it’s been doing.

But as rates have moved higher, we’ve already seen stocks and real estate fall.

The entire financial system has been dependent on super low rates for the past ten years. The Fed held rates at zero for a decade and printed trillions of dollars.

The increase in prices and interest rates to date is only the beginning.

Just take a look at what’s happening in the economy right now…

Food companies like Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Hershey and Kellogg are all raising prices as both ingredient and transportation costs increase. Kellogg’s CEO recently said in an interview, “We think 2019 will be more inflationary than we have seen historically since the recession.”

McDonald’s and Chili’s both raised prices.

Airlines are paying 40% more for jet fuel than they were a year ago.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How the government uses its giant facial recognition database

How the government uses its giant facial recognition database

In July 1996, flight TWA 800 exploded in mid-air, 12 minutes after taking off from JFK International Airport in New York. All 230 passengers on board were killed.

It would be four years before an investigation concluded the likely cause of the explosion was a short circuit in the plane’s fuel tank.

But at the time, President Clinton felt the overwhelming need to do something.

People suspected terrorism. So Clinton issued new airport security rules.

From then on, identification was required to board an airplane.

Before that, you just needed a ticket.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, airport security escalated.

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and DHS (Department of Homeland Security) were born.

Screening procedures intensified. Agents could now feel you up and down. Then came naked body scanners and the Real ID requirement.

Real ID standards were part of the post-9/11 security hysteria. But they are just now coming into full effect.

The federal guidelines require states to issue IDs that meet certain federal standards, or else the ID cannot be used for flying.

One of these standards is that the photo on the ID has to work with facial recognition systems.

CBP (Customs and Border Protection) has now completed a pilot program for using biometric data for boarding flights exiting the country. Biometric data includes unique identity markers like fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition.

The DHS audited the pilot program, and found that it was a success. They caught 1,300 people who had overstayed their visas.

Wait, what? I thought this was supposed to be about national security?

But that’s not what you get from the propaganda piece on the CBP’s website.

One of their “success stories” involved a Polish couple leaving the country. They were using fake documents. But the biometric data revealed they were ordered deported and hadn’t left.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

The Return of the Inquisition: Do you confess?

In 279 BC, the vast army of King Pyrrhus of Epirus was met by Roman forces at the Battle of Asculum in southern Italy, in what would be one of the costliest military engagements of ancient history.

Pyrrhus fancied himself the second coming of Alexander the Great and believed that he was a descendant of Achilles.

Many of his peers and contemporaries believed Pyrrhus to be the greatest military commander of all time.

His exploits were legendary. And when he set sail for Italy in 280 BC, the Romans did not underestimate him.

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The Battle of Asculum was decisive. Pyrrhus actually won the battle; but in defeating the Romans, he lost so many of his men that his army was practically broken.

Pyrrhus purportedly said of his victory, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined. . .”

This gave rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which refers to a win that’s incredibly costly.

Pyrrhus also tried his hand at diplomacy with Rome, sending one of his ablest statesmen to the capital to negotiate peace with the Roman Senate.

The emissary was not successful. But he reported back to Pyrrhus that Rome’s Senate was incredibly impressive– “an assembly of kings” comprised of its noblest citizens.

And he was right. In the early days when Rome was still a republic, its Senate was a highly revered institution that stood for wisdom, dignity, and virtue.

They were far from perfect. But the men who served in the Senate during the early republic were heavily responsible for building the most advanced civilization the world had ever seen up to that point.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ten years after the crisis… they’re doing the same thing and expecting different results

Ten years after the crisis… they’re doing the same thing and expecting different results

“Holy Crap– turn on your TV! This is crazy!”

It was Sunday, September 14, 2008. Exactly 10 years ago to the day.

My friend Jeff called me and told me to turn on the television—where I saw dozens of people on the streets of Manhattan filing out of a skyscraper carrying boxes full of their office junk.

They were all employees of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest investment banks in the world.

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Lehman was hours away from filing bankruptcy in what would go down as THE biggest bankruptcy in US history.

The next day the US stock market tanked. And for most of the next several weeks, all global financial markets were a roller coaster of surreal panic and chaos.

I don’t know if you can remember the general mood back then. I can. It was fear.

People were terrified of what was happening in the economy. The real estate market had dried up. The stock market had crashed. Some of the most hallowed financial institutions in the world went bust in the blink of an eye.

It’s now officially been a decade since the collapse.

And the typical sentiment among economists, politicians, and central bankers is that the economy has come roaring back.

There’s certainly a lot of evidence to support this assertion—

Several financial markets around the world have hit all-time highs. Stocks. Real estate. Bonds. They’re all generally selling for record high prices.

Earlier this week the US Census Bureau announced that median household income in the Land of the Free had increased by 1.8% between 2016 and 2017.

(That’s hardly a life-changing pay raise for workers… but it’s better than nothing.)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The latest casualty in the global pension catastrophe is…

The latest casualty in the global pension catastrophe is…

In the year 6 AD, the Roman emperor Augustus set up a special trust fund known as the aerarium militare, or military treasury, to fund retirement pensions for Rome’s legionnaires.

Now, these military pensions had already existed for several centuries in Rome. But the money to pay them had always been mixed together in the government’s general treasury.

So for hundreds of years, mischievous senators could easily grab money that was earmarked for military pensions and redirect it elsewhere.

Augustus wanted to end this practice by setting up a special fund specifically for military pensions.

And to make sure there would be no meddling from any government officials, Augustus established a Board of Trustees, consisting of former military commanders, to oversee the fund’s operations.

Augustus really wanted this pension fund to last for the ages. And to keep a steady inflow of revenue, he established a 5% inheritance tax in Rome that would go directly to the aerarium militare.

He even capitalized the fund with 170,000,000 sesterces of his own money, worth about half a billion dollars in today’s money.

But as you can probably already guess, the money didn’t last.

Few subsequent governments and emperors ever bothered themselves with balancing the fund’s long-term fiscal health. And several found creative ways to plunder it for their own purposes.

Within a few centuries, the fund was gone.

This is a common theme throughout history… and still today: pension funds are almost invariably mismanaged to the point of catastrophe.

We’ve written about this topic frequently in the past. It’s one of the biggest financial catastrophes of our time.

Congress has even formed a committee that’s preparing for massive pension failures.

And here’s another, very recent example: the city of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is deep in the red with its police pension fund.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America’s long-term challenge #3: destruction of the currency

America’s long-term challenge #3: destruction of the currency

On April 2, 1792, George Washington signed into law what’s commonly referred to as the Mint and Coinage Act.

It was one of the first major pieces of legislation in the young country’s history… and it was an important one, because it formally created the United States dollar.

Under the Act, the US dollar was defined as a particular amount of copper, silver, or gold. It wasn’t just a piece of paper.

A $10 “eagle” coin, for example, was 16.04 grams of pure gold, whereas a 1 cent coin was 17.1 grams of copper.

The ratios between gold, silver, and copper were all fixed back then.

But if we apply today’s gold price of $1292 per troy ounce, we can see that the current value of the original dollar as defined by the Mint and Coinage Act of 1792 is roughly $66.75.

In other words, the dollar has lost 98.5% of its value since 1792.

What’s incredible about this constant, steady destruction of the currency is how subtle it is.

Few people seem to notice, because modern day central bankers try to “manage” inflation between 2% to 3% per year.

2% to 3% per year is pretty trivial. But it happens again the next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

After a decade or so, it really starts to add up.

But there’s an important, other side of the equation: income.

Costs are clearly rising. And it’s fair to say that incomes have been rising too. But which one has risen more?

In 1982, back when I was a toddler, the price of a Ford Mustang was $6,572. Today the cheapest Mustang starts at $25,680 according to Ford’s website.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The coming boom in gold prices. . .

The coming boom in gold prices. . . 

In June 1884, a local farmer named Jan Gerritt Bantjes discovered gold on his property in a quiet corner of the South African Republic.

Though no one had any idea at the time, Bantjes’ farm was located on a vast geological formation known as the Witwatersrand Basin… which just happens to contain the world’s largest known gold reserves.

Within a few months, other local farmers started discovering gold… kicking off a full-fledged gold rush.

Just over a decade later, South Africa became the largest gold producer in the world… and the city of Johannesburg grew from absolutely nothing to a thriving boomtown.

This area is singlehandedly responsible for 40% of all the gold discovered in human history – some 2 billion ounces (or $2.6 trillion of wealth at today’s gold price).

And while the Witwatersrand Basin is still being mined to this day, it’s not as active as it used to be.

Gold production in Witwatersrand peaked in 1970, when miners pulled a whopping 1,000 metric tons of gold out of the ground.

A few decades later in 2016, the same area produced just 166 tonnes– a decline of 83%.

That’s not unusual in the natural resource business.

Whereas it takes nature hundreds of millions of years to deposit minerals deep in the earth’s crust, human beings only require a few decades to pull most of it out.

This creates the constant need for mining companies to explore for more and more major discoveries.

Problem is– that’s not happening. Mining companies aren’t finding anymore vast deposits.

According to Pierre Lassonde, founder of the gold royalty giant Franco-Nevada and former head of Newmont Mining–

If you look back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, in every one of those decades, the industry found at least one 50+ million-ounce gold deposit, at least ten 30+ million ounce deposits, and countless 5 to 10 million ounce deposits.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Treasury Department reports $1.2 TRILLION loss in 2017

Treasury Department reports $1.2 TRILLION loss in 2017

Earlier this month, the United States government released its annual financial report for the year 2017.

This is something the government does every year, similar to how large companies like Apple, or Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, publish their own annual reports.

Unlike Berkshire and Apple, though, whose financial reports typically show strong, positive results, the US government’s financial statements are a complete horror show.

Right at the beginning of the report, the government explains that it’s “net loss” for the year was an unbelievable $1.2 TRILLION.

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Read that number again.

$1.2 trillion. That’s simply staggering.

It’s larger than the size of the entire Australian economy… and constitutes a loss of more than $2.2 million per minute.

This is not a conspiracy theory or irrational fantasy.

This is the Treasury Secretary of the United States of America publicly announcing that the federal government lost $1.2 trillion on page ‘i’ of its annual financial report.

What’s even more alarming is that 2017 was a great year.

There was no war. No recession. No epic financial crisis.

In his introductory letter, in fact, the Treasury Secretary proudly stated that “[t]he country enjoyed a pick-up in [economic] growth in 2017. Unemployment is at its lowest level since February 2001, consumer and business confidence are at two-decade highs, and inflation is low and stable.”

In short, everything was awesome in 2017.

Even the government’s overall revenue was a record high $3.3 trillion for the year.

Yet despite all that good news… despite all those positive developments and record revenue… they STILL managed to lose $1.2 trillion.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the most-recent selloff was just the beginning

Why the most-recent selloff was just the beginning

On October 19, 1987, the Dow experienced its biggest one-day percentage loss in history – plunging 22.6%.

The day will forever be known as “Black Monday.” The selloff was so fast and so severe, nothing else even comes close.

The second worst percentage loss for the Dow was October 28, 1929 (also Black Monday) when the exchange fell 12.82%. It fell another 11.73% the next day (you guessed it… “Black Tuesday”). Then the Great Depression hit.

A lot of people blame portfolio insurance for the severity of the market drop in 1987.

At the time, portfolio insurance had become a super popular product for the largest institutional investors. Portfolio insurance would “hedge” their portfolios by selling short S&P 500 futures (which profit when the market falls) when stocks fall by a certain amount. The idea was the gains from selling the S&P futures would offset the losses from the falling prices of the underlying portfolio.

If stocks fell more, the big investors would sell more futures.

The problem with portfolio insurance is it was programmatic. And when the losses inevitably came, it created a feedback loop. Selling begot selling.

But what initially ignited that selling back in 1987?

Matt Maley is a former Salomon Brothers executive who was on the trading floor for Black Monday. He shared his thoughts with CNBC last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the event.

Maley reminded us of the popularity of another strategy in those days – merger arbitrage. This was the time of Gordon Gekko, when corporate raiders would borrow tons of money – typically via high-yield bonds – to buy other firms.

Merger arbitrage is simply buying shares of the takeover candidate and shorting shares of the acquiring firm. It’s a speculative strategy that tries to capture the spread between the time the deal is announced and when it (hopefully) closes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Meet the Italian government’s Orwellian new automated tax snitch

Meet the Italian government’s Orwellian new automated tax snitch

By the end of the 3rd century AD, the finances of ancient Rome were in terminal crisis.

Years and years of debasing the currency had resulted in severe hyperinflation– a period of Roman history known as the Crisis of the Third Century (from AD 235 through AD 284).

During the time of Julius Caesar, for example, the Roman silver denarius coin was nearly 98% pure silver.

Two centuries later in the mid-100s AD, the silver content had fallen to 83.5%.

And by the late 200s AD, the silver content in the denarius was just 5%.

As the money continued to be devalued, prices across the Empire skyrocketed.

Wheat, for example, rose in price by over 4,000% during the first three decades of the third century.

Rome was on the brink of collapse. And when Emperor Diocletian came to power at the end of the third century, he tried to stabilize the economy with his ill-fated Edict on Wages and Prices.

Diocletian’s infamous decree fixed the price of everything in the Empire. Food. Lumber. Salaries. Everything.

And anyone caught violating the prices set forth in his edict would be put to death.

Another one of Diocletian’s major policies was reforming the Roman tax system.

He mandated widespread census reports to determine precisely how much wealth and property each citizen had.

They counted every parcel of land, every piece of livestock, every bushel of wheat, and demanded from the population increasing amounts of tribute.

And anyone found violating this debilitating tax policy was punished with– you guessed it– the death penalty.

Needless to say, Diocletian’s reforms didn’t work.

Every high school economics student knows that wage and price controls don’t work… and that excessive taxation bankrupts the population.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This tiny corner of Rhode Island shows us the future of Social Security

This tiny corner of Rhode Island shows us the future of Social Security

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit gave us an interesting glimpse of the future last week when it ruled on an obscure case involving government pension obligations.

Ever since the mid-1990s, police officers and fire fighters in the town of Cranston, Rhode Island had been promised state pension benefits upon retirement.

But, facing critical budget shortfalls over the last several years that the Rhode Island government called “fiscal peril,” the state legislature voted to unilaterally reduce public employees’ pension benefits.

Even more, these cuts were retroactive, i.e. they didn’t just apply to new employees.

The changes were applied across the board; workers who had spent their entire careers being promised certain retirement benefits ended up having their pensions cut as well.

Even the court acknowledged that these changes “substantially reduced the value of public employee pensions provided by the Rhode Island system.”

So, naturally, a number of municipal employee unions sued.

And the case of Cranston’s police and fire fighter unions made it all the way to federal court.

The unions’ argument was that the government of Rhode Island was contractually bound to pay benefits– these benefits had been enshrined in long-standing state legislation, and they should be enforced just like any other contract.

The state government disagreed.

In their view, the legislature should be able to change laws, even retroactively, whenever it suits them.

Last week the First Circuit Court issued a final ruling and sided with the state of Rhode Island: the government has no obligation to honor its promises.

News like this will never make major headlines.

But here at Sovereign Man our team pays very close attention to these obscure court cases because they often set very dangerous precedents.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Customs And Border Protection Clarifies: You Have No Rights While Traveling

The government is like a poorly trained dog. If you let one bad behavior go, it just escalates until they bite.

The government has been searching electronics like cell phones and laptops at the border since early in the Bush administration. But because the 9/11 attacks were fresh, and because the practice was not widespread, it went largely unnoticed.

Fast forward to fiscal year 2015 and the Customs and Border Protection searched 8,503 airline passengers’ electronic devices. In FY 2016 they searched 19,033. And in FY 2017 CBP searched the devices of 30,200 travelers.

The CBP obtained no warrants for these searches. Many people searched were foreign travelers to the U.S. but last year over 6,000 were American citizens.

In response to growing complaints Customs and Border Protection revised their policy. Last week they issued a new directive. But in some ways, it is worse.

For starters, their guidance claims the authority to search a traveler’s electronic devices “with or without suspicion.”

The guidance now claims passengers are “obligated” to turn over their devices as well as passcodes for examination. If they fail to do so, agents can seize the device.

That is all considered a “basic search.” Agents must have suspicion in order to conduct an “advanced search.” This includes copying information from devices, or analyzing them with other equipment.

Finally, CBP agents can not “intentionally” search information stored on the cloud, versus on the device’s hard drive.

What this means:

It actually adds insult to injury that the new guidance starts: “CBP will protect the rights of individuals against unreasonable search and seizure and ensure privacy protection while accomplishing its enforcement mission.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is clearly a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. This violates the privacy of everyone searched.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why the next stock market crash will be faster and bigger than ever before

Why the next stock market crash will be faster and bigger than ever before

US stock markets hit another all-time high on Friday.

The S&P 500 is nearing 2,600 and the Dow is over 23,300.

In fact, US stocks have only been more expensive two times since 1881.

According to Yale economist Robert Shiller’s Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings (CAPE) ratio – which is the market price divided by ten years’ average earnings – the S&P 500 is above 31. The last two times the market reached such a high valuation were just before the Great Depression in 1929 and the tech bubble in 1999-2000.

Some of the blame for high valuation goes to the so-called “FANG” stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google), whose average P/E is now around 130.

But there’s something different about today’s bull market…

Simply put, everything is going up at once.

Leading up to the tech bubble bursting, investors would dump defensive stocks (thereby pushing down their valuations) to buy high-flying tech stocks like Intel and Cisco – the result was a valuation dispersion.

The S&P cap-weighted index (which was influenced by the high valuations of the S&P’s most expensive tech stocks) traded at 30.6 times earnings. The equal-weighted S&P index (which, as the name implies, weights each constituent stock equally, regardless of size) traded at 20.7 times.

Today, despite sky-high FANG valuations, the S&P market-cap weighted and equal-weighted indexes both trade at around 22 times earnings.

Thanks to the trillions of dollars printed by the Federal Reserve (and the popularity of passive investing, which we’ll discuss in a moment), investors are buying everything.

In a recent report, investment bank Morgan Stanley wrote:

We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective… Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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