Blame for the credit crunch has landed squarely on the big Western banks, with government and the monetary authorities leading the finger-pointing.
This seems a bit rich. Government and central banks were the chief architects of the current difficulties. And as usual, their reaction to this crisis is just as wrong-headed as their reaction to the last crisis.
It’s also certain to make the next crisis worse still.
Unfortunately for the US and Britain, the authorities remain too convinced of their own powers to see the truth of this. There they sit, Canute-like before a sea of economic reality. They truly believe they can command the tide.
After all, this was how they responded from 2001-2005, force-feeding money to the big banks and mortgage lenders at very low rates of interest.
Thus did Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke switch the Tech Stock Bubble for today’s Subprime Crisis. Thus did Gordon Brown here in London encourage all those “unbroken years of growth” that he still loves to brag about. To perpetuate the feel-good factor, Brown continued pumping the UK economy with cheap money while preaching sanctimoniously about prudence.
And my, how he bragged! During the good times, Britain’s unbroken growth all came down to Gordon’s brilliance.
Funny, isn’t it, how the downturn is now somebody else’s fault? But in economics, as in life, the hangover reflects the party. Creating artificial demand is sure to create exactly the situation we’re in today.
So let’s spell it out and see if Gordon and Ben can get it, before they and their wretched textbooks destroy the wealth of cautious savers and their children once more.
Whenever and wherever you find a surfeit of money, bankers will face a choice:
#1. Take the money and lend it; or
#2. Refuse the money and lose out.
The problem for banks as for all financial companies during a bubble in money is keeping up with the game. If they don’t take the cheap money on offer, they will under-perform their competitors, and that will end in a take-over.
Another bank making bigger profits by taking the cheap money will buy out the laggard. That’s how cautious banks caught playing it safe, rather than joining the fun, are dragged to the party regardless. Their kicking and screaming is drowned out by the clamor for “total shareholder returns”.
So the reason the banks you now see around you all look like incautious buffoons is that, between 2001 and 2005, the US and European authorities created conditions in which only the incautious could prosper. Government killed off the cautious by pouring cheap money down the throats of the most aggressive banks.
Socialists and central planners just don’t understand that you cannot command an economy onto such an unnatural path without later paying the price. Cheap money destroys caution and nurtures speculation. When the world is awash with it, banks must take ever bigger and bigger risks, or they will wither and die; it’s as simple as that.
The irony of the Bear Stearns rescue seems lost on the media. Yet it was Bear Stearns that first signaled the start of today’s crisis last June, when its “enhanced leverage” funds went bust. And if Britain’s new banking bail-out works this time (and let’s hope it doesn’t) then no British bank will fail either.
The message will then echo round the City of London as on Wall Street that you simply must take all the cheap money on offer and punt it straight out to consumers and business. By 2012 if not before, we could find the Bank of England effectively bankrupt, sitting on a pile of “quality” mortgages as collateral and as house prices tumble from even higher peaks than last summer’s top.
And the big investment banks? They will be pitching for a fresh rescue from their next over-priced speculation.
Wind-swept farmland? Ocean-floor mining? High-orbit solar panels…? Who knows what fresh nonsense the banks will be forced to finance in the government’s scramble for un-ending growth. Who can guess at how much the banks and then us – will lose as a result. Such a slow-motion disaster, however, is baked in the crust when those in power subvert the economy to their own over-inflated egos.
Witness Argentina, Turkey and Zimbabwe already this decade. Now thanks to Gordon Brown’s self-belief in his personal, hands-on management of the economy, the UK is thoroughly addicted to monetary stimulants.
The United States, of course, is strung out on Ben Bernanke’s junk, first peddled by Alan Greenspan when Bill Clinton’s White House proclaimed “It’s the economy, stupid!” As in the UK, breaking this habit will hurt; the banks themselves warn of outright depression if taxpayers don’t front up today.
But cold turkey, according to Keith Richards at least, is just five days of climbing the walls. (And the Stones’ guitarist should know!) Whereas, if we stick with our habit, then it could soon be our turn to queue in the streets bearing armfuls of cash, fighting over the last loaf of bread in the shop.
The great private antidote to the Browns and Bernankes of this world remains gold. Those people owning it over the last couple of years now stand unaffected by the losses sweeping through financial markets.
Yes, it’s come a little off the boil since mid-March, but the fundamentals remain stacked in gold’s favor.
** Flat-to-falling production worldwide;
** Money creation still running amok;
** Growing investment demand from a very low base (particularly
in the Far East);
** Rising inflation in your cost of living;
** Control-freaks running government; yes-men in charge of
It’s always painful, of course, to buy something at twice the price it was just two and a half years ago. But markets like gold mines don’t easily give up their riches.
What’s hardest to do can often prove the best course.This current lull in the gold price might just be your best chance.