Americans are not accustomed to thinking about currency risk; this needs to change.
The Spending Crisis: Monopoly Money
By: George Noga – May 17, 2020
My last post on May 10, 2020 established new all-time MLLG records for forwards and reader feedback. If you missed it, go to www.mllg.us to understand what all the hullabaloo is about. It was one of the most consequential posts in my 13 years of blogging – until this post. This post may be even more consequential!
I now can see clearly how the spending crisis plays out and, as a corollary, how better to prepare for it. Due to an unforeseen confluence of events, the end game came into focus. More time at home due to coronavirus restrictions allowed for discernment. Second, mountains of new pandemic-related debt made the crisis imminent. Third, as shown in my May 10th post, we have passed the point-of-no-return and are nearing critical mass. Fourth, I read excerpts from a new, unpublished book by Ray Dalio, arguably the most astute investor of our era, that crystallized my thinking.
Possible Government Responses to the Spending Crisis
There are five main ways government can respond to the crisis: (1) cut spending; (2) raise taxes; (3) default and/or restructure; (4) seize pension assets; and (5) print money. The first two options clearly are untenable. Spending cuts would need to be so deep and tax increases so huge the social cost would be unacceptable. Moreover, such actions would need to be sustained for decades – an impossibility. Default would be too painful as the defaulted debt represents someone’s assets. Seizure of pension assets (by converting them into government pensions) would be a hard sell. That leaves option five – print monopoly money. BINGO! (See our 5/12/19 post for more on this.)
Government will print money because it is expedient, poorly understood by most people and results in the least (apparent) pain. Printing money and inflating (basically the same thing) historically has been the go-to choice for governments with their backs against the wall. It is likely there also will be token spending cuts, tax increases and other actions, but they will be more symbolic than consequential. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s proposal to issue trillion dollar coins may not be that far fetched.
A few words about timing. The analysis in my May 10th post shows the debt ratio at 169% in 2025 and 264% in 2030. That makes the onset of the crisis no more than 5 to 10 years away – perhaps less. Ray Dalio has stated the US is in the seventh inning of its debt crisis – that means he believes we are 78% of the way to Gotterdammerung!
Preparing for the Crisis – Protecting Your Family and Your Assets
Readers always ask what measures can be taken to prepare for the crisis and I am frequently asked what I am doing to prepare for the inevitable. At this juncture, I am taking the most obvious, commonsensical and lowest-risk actions described below. Note: My posts of 10/14/18 and 10/21/18 (on website) discuss these issues in depth.
1. Firearms: Although I strongly support the second amendment, I do not presently own firearms. The debt crisis will be accompanied by a high probability of civil unrest, breakdowns of law and order, interruptions of public services and financial chaos. Therefore, I am reevaluating and likely will acquire guns and ammo.
2. Gold: I will begin investing in gold, precious metals and hard assets. Initially, this will be 5% of my portfolio – perhaps increasing to 10% over time. It also is wise to keep a supply of small denomination gold and silver coins at home for use in a crisis.
3. Currency: Americans are not accustomed to thinking about currency risk. This needs to change. Per Ray Dalio, Americans need to think about currencies in the same way they think about holding any other asset. I am diversifying my currency risk with a foreign bank account denominated in a foreign currency and by buying bond funds that focus on highly rated bonds in currencies of countries with low debt ratios.
4. TIPS/Long Bonds: The hardest hit asset when the monopoly money starts flying off the printing presses will be long-dated bonds. I am divesting such assets. I also will take a position (5% to begin – more later) in TIPS to protect against hyperinflation.
The above measures are only initial responses; there will be more to come. It appears my analysis and writing about the spending crisis soon will be validated. I derive no pleasure whatsoever from this and wish I was wrong. I do take some small consolation however, if I am able to help readers better prepare for the inevitable.