Monday, November 30, 2009

The High Cost of Dying

In 2008, Medicare paid $50 billion just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives. That's more than the budgets of the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Education.

There's an important distinction to be made here; this spending wasn't geared toward saving lives. All of these patients died within two months.

Such a protocol isn't a matter of prolonging life; it's a matter of prolonging death.

According to Dr. Ira Byock, 18 to 20 percent of Americans spend their last days in an ICU.

Despite the fact that a vast majority of Americans say they want to die at home, 75 percent end up dying in a hospital or a nursing home.

Dr. Elliott Fisher, a researcher at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy, says that 30 percent of hospital stays in the United States are probably unnecessary.

The resulting costs are massive.

Overall, healthcare in the U.S. is the most expensive in the world, costing about $2.4 trillion last year.

And government economists expect healthcare costs to account for 17.6 percent of GDP this year.

Part of the problem is that most doctors get paid based on the number of patients they see, and most hospitals get paid for the patients they admit. This amounts to what might be termed a "perverse incentive."

"In medicine we have turned the laws of supply and demand upside down," says Dr. Fisher. "Supply drives its own demand. If you're running a hospital, you have to keep that hospital full of paying patients in order to, you know, to meet your payroll. In order to pay off your bonds."

In essence, the current system often rewards excessive care. Efficacy and outcomes are not rewarded. But excessive care is.

By law, Medicare cannot reject any treatment based upon cost. It will pay $55,000 for patients with advanced breast cancer to receive the chemotherapy drug Avastin, even though it extends life only by an average of one and a half months.

And it will pay $40,000 for a 93-year-old man with terminal cancer to get a surgically implanted defibrillator if he happens to have heart problems too.

On a national basis, the costs are enormous.

Projections released by economists at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid show health care outlays rising from $2.4 trillion in 2008 to $4.4 trillion by 2018, or 20.3 percent of the GDP.

Comparatively, healthcare costs are considerably less expensive across the industrialized world, ranging from 7.2 percent of GDP in Ireland to 11.6 percent in Switzerland.

The current level of U.S. spending is simply unsustainable.

David Walker, the government's former top accountant, puts it this way:

"The one thing that could bankrupt America is out of control health care costs. And if we don't get them under control, that's where we're headed."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One in Eight Americans Now Receiving Food Stamps

The use of food stamps has reached a record high and is climbing every month.

Due to the recession, the number of recipients has soared. One in eight Americans, and one in four children, are now fed by food stamps. That amounts to more than 36 million people.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, and include single mothers and married couples, the unemployed, the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks, and workers facing reduced hours and/or low wages.

Almost 90 percent of food stamp beneficiaries live below the poverty line.

However, the federal poverty level has a very conservative definition, and is set according to the number of persons in a family.

1 person: $10,830
2 people: $14,570
3 people: $18,310
4 people: $22,050

Individuals earning $11,000 annually are not considered in poverty. And the government does not define a family of four subsisting on $23,000 as living in poverty either.

Despite the strict definitions of poverty, the number of people receiving "nutritional assistance" has been steadily rising. The program is currently expanding at a rate of 20,000 people every day.

The stigma once associated with food stamps has eroded, and even large numbers of "red state" voters are beneficiaries.

In fact, the food stamp program is now officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

For many recipients, that acronym probably has a much nicer ring to it than "food stamps" ever did.

While the number of recipients of the federal cash welfare program has remained flat, the number of food stamp recipients has been steadily climbing.

According to an analysis done by the New York Times, there are 239 U.S. counties where at least a quarter of the population now receives food stamps.

And in 205 counties, the number of people receiving food stamps has risen by at least two-thirds since the recession started two years ago.

Yet, incredibly, the program will almost surely grow considerably larger; only two-thirds of eligible recipients are presently enrolled nationwide.

As it stands, roughly 12 percent of Americans receive food aid.

Professor Mark Rank, of Washington University, recently found that half of Americans receive food stamps at some point by the age of 20.

In Ohio alone, the cost of food stamps to the federal government was $2.2 billion last year. That's just a microcosm of the larger national cost.

According to the government, in 2008, SNAP served 28.4 million people a month at an annual cost of $34.6 billion.

But since that time, the ranks of recipients have swelled by some six million people.

And with it, so have the costs.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bank Failures Continue to Mount

As of November 20, a total of 124 U.S. banks have been closed by regulators. That's the highest total since 1992, when 181 banks failed at the tail end of the S&L crisis.

An average of 11 banks per month have failed this year. Just 25 banks failed last year, and only three in 2007.

The 124 closings have cost the FDIC's insurance fund more than $28 billion this year. The fund's balance went negative as of the end of the third quarter.

The FDIC estimates that the total cost of failures will be $100 billion from 2009 through 2013.

The number of banks on the FDIC's "problem list" stood at 416 at the end of June. The agency will hold a briefing next week to reveal how many banks are currently on that problem list.

The FDIC says that bank failures will remain elevated through next year. Experts suggest we could be no more than 10% of the way through this cycle of bank collapses.

CreditSights, which tracks bank failures, predicts that in the current cycle, from 2008 through 2011, as many as 1,100 banks will fail. That would wipe out 13.4% of all U.S. banks, representing 7% of U.S. banking assets.

Most of the troubled banks are concentrated at the regional and community level, and are weighed down by commercial real estate and construction loans.

Between now and 2012, more than $1.4 trillion worth of commercial real estate loans will come due, according to real estate investment firm ING Clarion Partners.

However, the collateral value underlying many of these loans is depreciating. That means many borrowers will have trouble rolling over their loans.

"Another wave of prolonged losses driven by weakness in commercial real estate could prove catastrophic to many of these weakened banks," CreditSights said.

The banking system has deteriorated considerably since last fall. Banks that regulators deemed healthy only months ago have started to fail.

This month, three banks that received taxpayer money have failed. The three received a total of $2.63 billion from the $700 billion financial bailout program. All of that taxpayer money will likely be lost.

When the TARP legislation was enacted last October, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, "there is no reason to expect this program will cost taxpayers anything."

In all, more than two dozen banks that received taxpayer money have faced regulatory actions, suggesting they are not stable and could fail. All were deemed "healthy banks" when that money was granted.

More than $5 billion in taxpayer money could be lost, depending on which of these shaky banks survive.

Hold on to your hats, your checkbooks, and your wallets; the worst is yet to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hunger Growing Across U.S.

On Monday, the Agriculture Department reported that 17 million American households, or 49 million individuals, “had difficulty putting enough food on the table at times [this] year.”

That was an increase from 13 million households, or 11 percent, in 2008.

This is a disturbing development, and amounts to the highest total since the government began surveying in 1995. It points to the distress that millions of American families are facing as a result of the recession.

In its simplest terms, what this means is that one in seven households is now struggling to put enough food on the table.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called hunger “a problem that the American sense of fairness should not tolerate and American ingenuity can overcome.”

However, Vicki Escarra, president of the nonprofit organization Feeding America, says the Agriculture Department is probably understating the problem.

Food banks in her network reported an average increase in need of nearly 30 percent this year over 2008.

It would hardly be a surprise if the government is fudging the numbers; it recently admitted it had overestimated employment figures by 824,000 jobs between March of 2008 and March of 2009.

Food — the most basic staple of life, and of dignity — is simply unaffordable for millions of Americans.

The government reports that one in eight Americans now collects food stamps.

This is a stunning figure. And that number will continue to grow; nearly 16 million Americans are now said to be unemployed, and more than 100,000 additional people join their ranks each week.

When workers who can only find part time jobs are added to the mix, we find that 26.5 million Americans are either unemployed or under-employed.

Sadly, their is no letup in sight.

We are living in hard times and this latest Agriculture Report only serves to remind us that, for millions of Americans, the basic act of buying food has become all too challenging.

For these families, the recession is anything but over.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Military Spending Weighs Heavily on Bloated Budget

Research Shows That it is Robbing Jobs From the Private Sector Too

With the National Debt about to exceed $12 Trillion (which will require Congressional approval), major budget cuts will most certainly ensue and significant tax hikes won't be far behind.

But much of the federal budget is mandated by law — the product of Social Security and Medicare — or is otherwise non-discretionary, such as interest payments to holders of the U.S. debt.

The War Research League performed an analysis of the “Analytical Perspectives” book of the Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2009.

It found that 54% of federal spending is allocated to the military. This includes veterans spending, the cost of the "war on terror", as well as the cost of two concurrent wars.

The Center for Defense Information reports the military portion of the budget at 51%.

Either way, military spending represents more than half the federal budget.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research published an op-ed last week titled, Massive Defense Spending Leads to Job Loss.

The piece notes that defense spending removes resources from the economy, thwarting the free market. Defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.

A few years ago the Center for Economic and Policy Research commissioned Global Insight, one of the leading economic modeling firms, to project the impact of a sustained increase in defense spending equal to 1.0 percentage point of GDP. This was roughly equal to the cost of the Iraq War.

Global Insight’s model projected that after 20 years the economy would be about 0.6 percentage points smaller as a result of the additional defense spending. Slower growth would imply a loss of almost 700,000 jobs compared to a situation in which defense spending had not been increased.

Defense spending has now grown to 5.6 percent of GDP. By comparison, before the September 11th attacks, the Congressional Budget Office projected that defense spending in 2009 would be equal to just 2.4 percent of GDP. That's a difference of 3.2 percent. So, the Global Insight projections of job loss are far too low.

In fact, the projected job loss from this increase in defense spending is closer to 2 million. The analysis also projects a roughly $250 billion reduction in GDP due to defense spending. This is at the expense of the private sector.

Upon his departure from the White House, President Eisenhower so famously warned of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Useless, unwanted, unwarranted, and unnecessary weapons systems are continually approved and appropriated. The entire defense-contracting industry has dedicated itself to forever increasing government spending on its assorted wares.

About $50 billion in defense spending (or about 7.5%) is now classified, or part of the so-called "black budget."

According to Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman, this makes the Pentagon’s secret operations, including the intelligence budgets nested inside, “roughly equal in magnitude to the entire defense budgets of the UK, France or Japan.”

While America debates how soon we can bring home our troops from Iraq, it's worth noting that — more than 60 years after the end of WWII — the US still has more than 50,000 troops in Germany and 30,000 in Japan.

In fact, the US has over 500,000 military personnel deployed on over 700 bases, with troops in 150 countries — including 37 European nations.

As Ron Paul suggests, in this time of deep economic crisis, why not just bring them all home?

"We are bankrupt and cannot afford it," says the Texas Representative.

The truth is, he's right.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Monumental Oil Scam Robbing Consumers Every Day

Investor and consultant Phillip Davis has written about a giant global oil scam amounting to some $2.5 TRILLION.

Davis notes that investment giants Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Societe Generale teamed with oil giants British Petroleum, Total, and Shell to found the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in 2000.

The ICE is putting billions of dollars into oil futures contracts without ever taking delivery of the oil. It's nothing more than a shell game.

"They just ratchet up the price with leveraged speculation using your TARP money," writes Davis. "This year alone they ratcheted up the global cost of oil from $40 to $80 per barrel."

In 2003, Congress discovered that ICE was facilitating "roundtrip trades," in which one firm sells energy to another and then the second firm simultaneously sells the same amount of energy back to the first company at exactly the same price. No commodity ever changes hands.

This indicates demand to the market, which pushes up the price. Yet, it amounts to nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Over the course of an average month, 5 BILLION barrels of oil are traded on the NYMEX. A fee is collected on every single transaction, and this is ultimately passed down to US consumers. Yet, less than 40M barrels is actually delivered. That is just 8 tenths of 1 percent of actual demand for the product being traded. So, 99.2% of the oil transaction fees being paid by the American people amount to nothing more than fees for traders and record profits and bonuses for the trading firms.

"Before ICE, the average American family spent 7% of their income on food and fuel," writes Davis.."Last year, that number topped 20%. That’s 13% of the incomes of every man, woman and child in the United States of America, over $1 Trillion EVERY SINGLE YEAR, stolen through market manipulation. On a global scale, that number is over $4 Trillion per year."

This amounts to a truly massive scam, an epic scam.

ICE members Total and JP Morgan are currently storing 125 million barrels of oil in offshore tankers. That amounts to 15 days of US imports that have been ordered, but not delivered.

Speculators have stockpiled the equivalent of 1.1 million barrels of oil via the futures market. That amounts to eight times the amount added to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the last five years.

There is an extraordinary amount of manipulation going on in the oil markets, and consumers the world over are being gouged by all of this illicit behavior.

There is no oversight and no regulation. We're all being robbed.

Back in January, 60 Minutes ran a similar story, noting that oil speculation seemed to be fueling wild swings in oil prices. That can be seen here.

To read Davis' article, click here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

World Oil Reserves Running Out Much Faster Than Previously Believed

A whistleblower from the International Energy Association (IEA) has told the Guardian UK that the agency has been deliberately misleading the public about oil reserves in order to avert a panic on world markets.

The senior official, who was unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals inside the industry, says the US encouraged the IEA to underestimate the decline in worldwide oil reserves while overestimating the potential for new reserves.

World oil production is currently 83 million barrels a day. Since 2005, the IEA has had to downwardly asses its projections for 2030 from 120 millions barrels per day to 116, and then to 105.

But even that is highly inflated, according to the official.

"Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources," he told the British paper.

A second IEA source, no longer with the agency, backed his former colleague's claims. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he said.

The implications for the US and the rest of the industrial world are stark.

International observers have long suspected that the IEA's projections for future oil output were misleading.

Yet last summer, the IEA's chief economist publicly stated that most of the world's major oil fields have already passed their peak production.

Dr Fatih Birol said the world is heading for a catastrophic energy crunch because oil is running out far faster than previously predicted. He noted that global production is likely to peak in about 10 years.

The Guardian's latest report reveals this projection to be overly optimistic.

The first detailed assessment of more than 800 oil fields in the world, covering three quarters of global reserves, found that most of the biggest fields have already peaked and that the rate of decline in oil production is now 6.7%.

It's worth noting that the doubling rate of 7% is 10 years. In other words, anything growing or shrinking by 7% will see a doubling effect in 10 years.

In its landmark assessment of the world's major oil fields, the IEA concluded that global consumption of oil was "patently unsustainable", with expected demand far outstripping supply.

Dr Birol said that even if demand remained steady, the world would have to find the equivalent of four Saudi Arabias to maintain production, and six Saudi Arabias if it is to keep up with the expected increase in demand between now and 2030.

That assessment was quite sobering. But in light of the new warning from the IEA whistleblowers, the future of oil production and supply appears downright scary.

It seems that production will in no way be able to meet growing world demand, and that our lives in the heavily oil-dependent modern economy are simply unsustainable and need to change quickly.

Eventually, there will be major disruptions and shortages. Such events will cripple the world economy and radically alter our way of life.

In a grim and perhaps tacit warning last summer, Dr. Birol said the following:

"One day we will run out of oil. It is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil. And we have to leave oil before oil leaves us. And we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil. So to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously."

Monday, November 09, 2009

Bank Stresses Mounting; Commercial Real Estate Crisis Looming

As if mounting residential housing defaults weren't enough of a problem, banks are expected to face an even bigger crisis next year: commercial real estate defaults.

Banks hold roughly $1.8 trillion of commercial real estate debt on their books. Many of those loans were made in the same fast and loose manner that home loans were during this decade.

Loans that never should have been issued were ultimately granted under very unrealistic scenarios anticipating endless growth and appreciation.

The parties involved seemed to believe the market could never go down, and loan portfolios expanded rapidly.

Banks underwrote and held $11 billion in commercial real estate loans in 1997; by 2007 that figure had skyrocketed to approximately $190 billion.

The problem is that the $6.4 trillion commercial real estate market is under duress as businesses across the country go under. Stores are closing, mall vacancies are increasing, and office space is all too available.

Between now and 2012, more than $1.4 trillion worth of commercial real estate loans will come due, according to real estate investment firm ING Clarion Partners.

However, the collateral value underlying many of these loans is depreciating. That means many borrowers will have trouble rolling over their loans.

Kenneth P. Riggs Jr., CEO of Real Estate Research, told BusinessWeek that the market won't fully recover until 2020, and in cases where "values were over the top...maybe never."

Commercial real estate prices have dropped 41% from the beginning of 2007 through October. Meanwhile, the housing market has dropped some 31%.

Since banks are not required to mark their loans to market prices, no one knows the values of the loans on their books. But as the commercial real estate market nose dives, many banks will go down with it.

Consider this; $6.4 billion in commercial real estate investments didn't qualify for refinancing in the first ten months of this year.

The tidal wave of defaults will begin next year and banks can hardly take any additional stresses without breaking.

So far, 120 U.S. banks have failed this year, the most since 1992. There were just 25 banks failures last year, which was more than in the previous five years combined. Only three banks failed in 2007.

Things are poised to get much worse.

Currently, there are 2.8 million active interest-only home loans nationwide, worth a combined total of $908 billion. In the next 12 months, $71 billion of interest-only loans will reset. Even after mid-2011, another $400 billion will reset.

That means there will be a massive number of additional defaults over the next two years.

Amherst Securities estimates that 7 million housing units are destined to default, only to be seized by lenders. That number represents well over a year's worth of home sales. When this "shadow inventory" eventually hits the market, home prices will be pushed further downward.

That is truly bad news for already distressed banks.

We can expect bank failures to continually worsen in coming months, and throughout the next two years, at the least.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mortgage Giants Teetering

Developments this week revealed the increasing troubles in the home-mortgage industry.

On Thursday, Fannie Mae, the nation's largest mortgage provider, reported a whopping $18.9 billion third-quarter loss and said it would need $15 billion from the U.S. Treasury.

Then, on Friday, Freddie Mac, the second largest provider of residential mortgage funding, posted a third-quarter loss of $5 billion and predicted it would need more government support amid a "prolonged deterioration" in housing.

"I would say we are just beginning to see the impact of the chargeoffs on their guarantee book," said Janaki Rao, vice president of mortgage research at Morgan Stanley in New York.

In its filing, Fannie Mae said that losses will continue and that it remains “dependent on the continued support of Treasury to continue operating,”

Results at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are widely watched as a barometer of the U.S. housing market since they own or back nearly half of the nation's $12 trillion mortgage market.

In September 2008, examiners said the two lending giants may be at risk of failing due to the housing slump.

Freddie Mac has taken $51.7 billion in government support since that time, while Fannie Mae's draw will rise to $60.9 billion.

Fannie Mae’s net worth was negative $15 billion as of September 30. The lender has been given a $200 billion emergency lifeline by the Treasury Department.

“They’re going to need that $200 billion in capital, if not more, when this thing’s all said and done,” said Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, Virginia.

“In absolute dollar terms, you’re still looking at outlandish growth in nonperformers, which tells you that reserves will continue to increase,” said Miller.

Banks are supposed to make provisions against future loan losses by estimating future defaults and then putting that amount of money into reserves in response. When the defaults occur, the bank has the cash to deal with the crisis.

But this presumes that banks actually have the massive amounts of cash to put aside in preparation for the coming onslaught.

According to RealtyTrac, a record 2.6 million defaults, scheduled foreclosure auctions, or bank repossessions occurred in the first nine months of this year.

That was a 22 percent increase from a year earlier, as unemployment climbed and temporary programs delaying foreclosure expired.

The ratio of inventory to sales remains high and additional foreclosures may put further pressure on home prices, Fannie Mae said.

Nationwide, about 3.9 million homes are for sale.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, an equal number of homes with mortgage payments that are at least 90 days past due (the so-called “shadow inventory") will eventually come onto the market.

This portends the trouble yet to come.

There will be more government rescues and more bailouts of the banking and lending industries.

Housing inventories will continue to rise, and prices will continue to sink.

We are a long way from the bottom.

We are deep in the woods, looking for a way out.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Oil and Gold are Up; the Dollar is Down and on it's Way Out

With crude oil prices bouncing above $80 per barrel once again, even OPEC leaders are saying this price is too high given the fragile state of the global economy.

The slumping US dollar is the primary reason.

The demand for gasoline in the United States is flat compared with last year. Yet, gas prices hit a new high for the year last week; the national average price for a gallon on Wednesday was around $2.68. That is 22.3 cents more expensive than last month, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service.

Even the demand for jet fuel is down.

Since crude is bought and sold in dollars, those holding holding euros or another strong currency can get more crude for less.

Simply put, the price of oil is climbing as the dollar is falling. In fact, oil seems to be tracking the run up in gold prices.

"Oil is following the lead of gold as a hard asset," said Ellis Eckland, an independent analyst. Commodities are "alternative forms of currencies, especially gold," he said.

Inflation fears stoked by the massive liquidity pumped into the financial sector by central banks recently have pushed investors toward commodities to protect the value of their assets.

As a result, the dollar is under assault.

Last month, the British paper, The Independent, reported the following:

"Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar."

The story's author, Robert Fisk, called this "the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history."

What this would mean, in essence, is that oil will no longer be priced in dollars. The unique status has been an extraordinary advantage to the US, and that advantage now seems poised to disappear.

Is it any wonder? Oil exporting nations are being negatively affected by the dollar's decline.

The plan may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices. Chinese banking sources told The Independent that the transitional currency in the move away from dollars may well be gold.

The so-called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have publicly voiced a particular interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments.

The dollar's position as the dominant global reserve currency has given the US extraordinary control of international finance and trade. The BRIC countries, in particular, don't like this sort of hegemony. And now they are apparently moving to end it.

The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

With the US importing two-thirds of the oil it uses (14 million of the 21 million barrels used daily), and China importing 60 percent to support its rapidly expanding economy, there is growing competition for this finite commodity.

Sun Bigan, China's former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East.

"Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable," he told the Asia and Africa Review. "We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security."

Against that backdrop, China's recent oil negotiations have been particularly interesting.

The US has fought two wars with Iraq, and is still engaged there, largely over oil.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of the current engagement will amount to $3 trillion, a staggering sum. The war has already exceeded the cost of the Vietnam conflict.

There has always been the belief that the US would at least secure long term oil contracts with the new Iraqi government, and establish stable supplies of oil for decades to come.

When the war started nearly seven years ago, experts said it would virtually pay for itself through increased Iraqi oil exports. That has not turned out to be the case. In fact, China is benefitting from America's loss in blood and treasure.

On Tuesday, Iraq signed a deal with British energy giant BP and China's CNPC to almost triple oil production at a giant southern oilfield.

"The two companies will invest 50 billion dollars in the project," Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told reporters.

The 20-year contract is expected to boost production at the Rumaila field from the current one million barrels per day to around 2.8 million bpd within its first six years, the minister said.

The costs of war have impacted the US economy and compounded the size of our continually growing national debt.

And now the dollar is tumbling as the price of oil rises in accordance.

Call it unintended consequences.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Treasury Ponzi Doomed to Fail

U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission Ponzi Pyramid Diagram

In the early 1980s, a major recession and massive military spending resulted in huge government borrowing. The sale of U.S. Treasury bonds financed all that massive spending.

Many of the long term bonds issued at the time will begin to mature next year, and will continue to do so in large numbers over the next few years.

To pay its bills, the federal government floats its debt, meaning it issues new bonds to obtain the revenue to pay off old bonds as they reach their maturity dates.

Consider that: the federal government – so deeply, perennially, and perhaps terminally in debt – continues to issue Treasury bonds not just to maintain its deficit spending, but to pay back previous bond holders.

So, in essence, our government is literally perpetuating its own Ponzi scheme, whereby it is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.

The U.S. Treasury Department now conducts more than 200 sales of debt by auction every year. All of it will eventually have to be paid back – with interest.

The US deficit for fiscal 2009 was $1.42 trillion, pushing the national debt to roughly $12 trillion. All that deficit spending has been financed with borrowed money.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the National Debt is projected to skyrocket in excess of $14 trillion in the current fiscal year.

That will likely exceed GDP. And if it doesn't, any growth will simply be the result of additional government borrowing to finance further deficit spending.

That is not a solution. It is simply more of the same poison that's already slowly killing us.

But that's not the whole story.

The federal government assumed $6.8 trillion in new debt last year—a 12 percent increase—pushing its total debt to a record $63.8 trillion, according to USA Today. That amounts to $545,668 for each household.

The government does not have the capacity to ever repay that debt. Its obligations far exceed its means. And the hole is only getting deeper.

As a result of the recession, tax revenues in FY 2009 fell nearly 17 percent, the biggest decline since 1932. That will only result in even deeper borrowing.

For three decades, foreign governments have facilitated much of that borrowing.

The surplus cash deposits of exporters like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the oil exporters of the Middle East, and China – the world’s biggest exporter – have financed the U.S. public debt since 1980.

China alone holds an estimated $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds and other government debt.

These nations liberally purchased U.S. Treasury bonds and left their money in U.S. banks, believing their money was in safe hands. But it now seems that doubts about that course of action are beginning to mount.

The Chinese and other big-time U.S. creditors have expressed concerns that Treasuries are becoming more risky. And they are starting to demand higher interest payments for further bond purchases.

Creditors have reasonable worries that inflation in the U.S. will gain momentum, lowering the value of the dollar and all dollar-based assets, including U.S. Treasuries.

The fear is that these investors might respond by reducing their purchases of U.S. Treasuries, or begin dumping their holdings altogether. That would also cause the dollar's value – already declining – to drop even further. The government would have to start paying higher interest rates to try to attract investors and bolster the dollar.

There are signs that this scenario is already starting to develop.

Driven by inflation fears, bond investors – especially international investors – have slowly begun selling Treasuries, pushing long-term interest rates up and the dollar down. The resulting danger is that bond investors will begin selling Treasury bonds faster than the Fed can buy them.

The Fed will surely continue its futile attempts to print its way out of trouble. Consequently, the huge international Treasury bond market, already trying to absorb a huge supply of new bond issues, could react accordingly and start a selloff. Realistic fears of hyperinflation could create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The federal government, the biggest borrower in the world, has been the prime beneficiary of today's record low interest rates.

However, in Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09), the U. S. Government spent $383 Billion of your money on interest payments to the holders of the National Debt.

That made it the fourth biggest expense in the entire federal budget. We get nothing for it. It merely pays interest.

Yet, the debt continues to soar.

Interest payments to all bond holders over the past 30 years (the longest term of Treasury bonds) don't begin to payoff the bonds themselves. The government counts on bond holders rolling over their holdings and reinvesting. That is becoming increasingly less likely with each passing day.

Furthermore, bond interest is compounded, meaning that even if the government stopped its deficit spending, the total debt would continue to grow as a result of interest on the portion that already exists.

Despite this, our government's deficit spending continues unabated. Congress continually raises the debt ceiling to accommodate all of this additional debt burden.

Historically, the sale of government bonds makes less money available for private investment. That may not seem like much of an issue right now since much of the private sector is simply unwilling to go further into debt in these uncertain times. Businesses are determinedly paying off debts instead.

But any U.S. business, any entrepreneur, or any average citizen seeking credit will eventually be saddled by higher interest rates as a result of all this massive government borrowing and debt. That will spur higher prices across the economy.

When the government issues new debt, the supply of bonds increases, lowering the price and raising the interest rate. When there is deficit spending, the supply of bonds held by the public increases and interest rates increase as well.

The economy is always retarded by government debt. The larger the debt, the greater the damage.

For years, we've been warned that our government's irresponsible spending and mounting debt would come back to haunt us. It seems that time is finally arriving.

Old debts are coming due. In response, the government will continue to issue new debts to pay them off. We're on a carousel of debt.

The government is attempting to print and borrow its way out of crisis. Yet, it is only making its problems – our problems – interminably worse.

It is not hard to imagine that foreign bond holders will cease renewing. The Chinese have already warned us about this. How can anyone realistically expect us to payoff all our debt?

The jig is up. Get ready for price inflation, higher interest rates, and higher taxes. Get ready for further economic stagnation.

When the other shoe drops, it will feel like a boot in the face.