The Coming Tidal Wave
While many investors and developers are pushing forward on the assumption that the worst is over and all will be on the upswing from here on, there is a huge underlying tidal wave coming at us under the surface which could put is all at risk again. We have a several pronged set of black swans each of which could create havoc if not properly handled. First is the fiscal mess we all know about and the apparent refusal of Obama to recognize the giant liability of entitlements and the deficit. Entitlements are now 50% of the federal budget and going quickly to 66%. They are eating the future. We are moving form 4.5 young people supporting each retiree to 2.8 which is not sustainable. We have wealthy people like me getting social security and all of my medical bills covered with no co-pay. That is stupid. In my father-in –law’s last couple of days the doctors insisted on running tests. They knew he was going to die at any moment but they ran more and more tests. For What? If they just eliminated the end of life costs of Medicare running tests and extraordinary measures to keep someone alive in pain and extra week, and just let people die without pain and suffering or more tests, we would save Medicare. A huge expenditure takes place in the last three months of life to no benefit to the person dying. That is just one example. Raise eligibility over several years to just 67 for social security and Medicare.
The other big black swan is the Fed QE programs. Despite what Bernanke says, there is no way the fed can just work its way out of the $4 trillion of bonds they will hold without a market disruption. Right now the entire credit market and real estate market is manipulated and there is no free market for bonds or interest rates. That means there is no real cap rate. When the fed is essentially manipulating the debt markets, as they are, then nobody knows what free market rates really are. The best guess is rates should be about 65 basis points higher, but nobody really knows. With rates at unrealistically low levels, cap rates are lower than they should be and leverage is unrealistically bearable. At some point QE3 ends and when it does then the free market takes over. Guess what happens. Rates shoot up suddenly, cap rates shoot up suddenly, debt cover or debt yield goes the wrong way suddenly, values decline quickly, good investments may become suddenly marginal. The minute QE3 gets close to over, the big investors dump stocks and bonds and the markets get volatile. The stock market drops. And all of that is before the Fed tries to sell off $4 trillion of bonds at what will be a huge loss as rates rise. The Fed is currently buying 80% of all Treasury issues, so what do you think happens when that stops? Because the fed is controlling the debt markets, there is no longer any market signals telling us what may be happening at any given moment. Rates will go up and blow away almost any budget deal with high rates.
The younger generation is being abused into supporting older people and is being robbed of their future by higher taxes and a government debt burden which is using money that should go to growing the economy and using it to fund all of the non- productive entitlement programs for the non-productive people. Obama loves to talk about fairness and higher taxes, but the real unfairness is the huge burden he is piling on the younger generation with the massive debt burden that will have to be serviced and paid in the future. His refusal to reform entitlements meaningfully, and to reign in the deficit, is stealing the future opportunity of America from the young and from the minorities who he loves to claim he is helping. The kids need to figure out they are getting screwed.
The Fed is trying to subsidize the fiscal mess created by the complete dysfunction in Washington. While monetary policy is mean to help support fiscal policy, it was not intended to supplant total lack of a responsible fiscal policy, which is what we now have. This is not sustainable. It is highly dangerous. When the crack happens may be a few years off, depending on when the Fed stops and reverses course. Nobody knows. Maybe Obama realizes he lost the battle over sequester, and all the scare tactics backfired, and now he is reaching out to Republicans to see if he can possibly find the grand bargain. It is far from clear that Pelosi and Reid will allow that bargain to happen. The point is there is a tipping point in the Fed credit market manipulation when the whole thing could tip into the sewer.
Last is the huge disassembling of the power structure of the Mideast. The Arab spring has turned into the Arab collapse in every country other than Saudi Arabia. The US withdrawal from the region has simply fed the instability. Now we have an all out war between the Sunni and Shiite, and the secular groups. Add to this the Iranian attempt to get a bomb and to control the region, weakness by Obama on making credible threats of military action to stop Iran, and we will have Israel doing what it needs to do to protect itself from the second Holocaust. The Mideast will explode this year. When the US fails to lead, very bad things happen. Just look at Libya.
So any one of these black swans is capable of dumping all over us and ruining the party now underway. When or how badly is unknown. Just be aware that there is a huge tidal wave rushing ashore under that sunny calm surface. Watch the Fed and watch the markets and don’t get locked in long term where you have no exit. You will need to see it coming and get out. Maybe it is in three years, maybe longer. I have no idea, but that wave is headed to your pretty beach. Many of us knew in 2006-2007 what was about to happen, and some of us were able to go all cash. Many of us see this one coming, and unless the Washington crowd wakes up quickly and decisively, it will be ugly. We will make Greece look like a party.
Stay careful and stay alert to trends and the Fed actions. Your future depends on it.
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