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Two And A Half Years On...

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Two and a half years ago I made my first post on HPC. Here it is:

Gilt yields might also start to rise as longer-term investors begin to place their bets as to how the great global credit bubble will be resolved.

If you take the view that debt levels worldwide are now at such critical levels that some sort of crash is inevitable, then in general there are really only two scenarios which need to be considered: a debt deflation leading to mass bankruptcy amongst individuals and companies, or debt 'forgiveness' through a monetising of debt (the inflation exit).

Although the Fed has now spooked the market as it apparently begins to flex its inflation-fighting muscles, a creeping perception is growing that it's all bluff, just rhetoric to achieve its goals through words rather than actions.

Investors are realising that Western central banks have painted themselves into a corner. In an effort to stave off deflation (they're terrified of duplicating the Japanese experience) they've reacted to every potential financial shock by flooding the market with liquidity and stimulating economic activity through negative interest rates. The result has been a massive asset inflation which they haven't been able (or have been unwilling) to control. So now we're in a situation where a rise of 50 basis points in interest rates can collapse the house of cards, but a 50 basis point reduction in rates merely stimulates more debt insanity.

In the end they can't just sit forever - they're going to have to show their hand. Maybe twenty years ago I'd have said that the debt deflation route was an almost certain outcome of this madness. However I think the world has changed. There's a different mentality in place amongst the government and central banking elite.

The removal of the principle of personal responsibility has led to a willingness (and demand) for compensation for whatever ill may befall an individual, regardless of his or her actions. It seems inevitable to me therefore that there will be tremendous pressure this time round to bail out debtors at the expense of savers and those with capital. Whether this manifests itself through inflationary monetising, mandatory debt forgiveness or 'emergency' wealth taxes is a matter of debate. The end result would be that those who have saved and not been irresponsible would be sacrificed to save the herd (and the skins of the central bankers and politicians).

Hopefully the above is still the least likely result, primarily because debt deflation is an animal which once released is almost impossible to control. However the likes of Ben Bernanke believe that this time round they can beat the liquidity trap, and in keeping with all intellectual economists, deep down he's itching to be put to the test so that he can immortalise his financial credentials.

So, we live in dangerous times, which is no revelation to Dr. B and all you others here because I'm only summarising what you have all been discussing on this site for the past several months.

Isn't it surreal though? Calm markets, low volatility, a smug Joe Public, and GB preening himself as he tells us how he's brought unprecedented economic stability to our lives. All this as we stand on the edge of the cliff. It would be great to be able to stand outside of this and casually watch as the story unfolds, oblivious to any effects.

Unfortunately we can't.

In the light of the past few weeks' events, I think the mist is now gradually lifting as the central banks move their chess pieces across the board. As I suspected when I made that first post, the political pressure to avoid a deflationary resolution to the global credit boom, combined with the eternal fear of repeating what is now considered to be gross mismanagement of monetary policy by the Fed during the Great Depression, has led to a the current mentality of providing liquidity to markets at whatever cost. No one can be allowed to suffer, savers and borrowers alike. Nobody must lose.

So, on the face of it, it seems like we're heading down the inflationary road. Banking institutions will be bailed out, distressed borrowers will be supported, and the good and great in the investment banking community will socialise their losses on to a compliant and spiritless middle class.

Or will they? Although from an investment perspective I've tried to hedge my bets to cater for any eventuality, deep down I've always believed that the outcome of the past decade's lunacy would be a deflationary one. Perhaps surprisingly, that belief has strengthened, not diminished. Why? Because I think despite all their theories and analysis the CBs are indeed walking headfirst into a classic liquidity trap. Each kneejerk drop of interest rates to stave off today's liquidity problems is drawing them remorselessly towards the impotency of 0% interest rates. At that point they are royally screwed (although Bernanke doesn't think so, but you have to read his academic papers to understand why).

As OnlyMe has demonstrated in other threads, the central banks and media are painting this as a liquidity crisis, when in fact what we have is a solvency crisis. At some point (it may be next week, it may be two years from now) the bad stuff on the bank/hedge fund/pension fund books is going to have to be marked to market. And by then there will be even more bad stuff as the choking off of easy credit eats its way into existing asset values.

Despite the recent spineless central bank accommodation, I'm unconvinced that an inflationary outcome is the inevitable result of all this as many on HPC believe. Short-term inflation, yes, but longer-term I think that the powerful debt deflation animal I spoke of in my first post will have its day.

Sadly though, unlike others, I'm unable to offer a guarantee.

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Two and a half years ago I made my first post on HPC. Here it is:

In the light of the past few weeks' events, I think the mist is now gradually lifting as the central banks move their chess pieces across the board. As I suspected when I made that first post, the political pressure to avoid a deflationary resolution to the global credit boom, combined with the eternal fear of repeating what is now considered to be gross mismanagement of monetary policy by the Fed during the Great Depression, has led to a the current mentality of providing liquidity to markets at whatever cost. No one can be allowed to suffer, savers and borrowers alike. Nobody must lose.

So, on the face of it, it seems like we're heading down the inflationary road. Banking institutions will be bailed out, distressed borrowers will be supported, and the good and great in the investment banking community will socialise their losses on to a compliant and spiritless middle class.

Or will they? Although from an investment perspective I've tried to hedge my bets to cater for any eventuality, deep down I've always believed that the outcome of the past decade's lunacy would be a deflationary one. Perhaps surprisingly, that belief has strengthened, not diminished. Why? Because I think despite all their theories and analysis the CBs are indeed walking headfirst into a classic liquidity trap. Each kneejerk drop of interest rates to stave off today's liquidity problems is drawing them remorselessly towards the impotency of 0% interest rates. At that point they are royally screwed (although Bernanke doesn't think so, but you have to read his academic papers to understand why).

As OnlyMe has demonstrated in other threads, the central banks and media are painting this as a liquidity crisis, when in fact what we have is a solvency crisis. At some point (it may be next week, it may be two years from now) the bad stuff on the bank/hedge fund/pension fund books is going to have to be marked to market. And by then there will be even more bad stuff as the choking off of easy credit eats its way into existing asset values.

Despite the recent spineless central bank accommodation, I'm unconvinced that an inflationary outcome is the inevitable result of all this as many on HPC believe. Short-term inflation, yes, but longer-term I think that the powerful debt deflation animal I spoke of in my first post will have its day.

Sadly though, unlike others, I'm unable to offer a guarantee.

Sorry, too much waffle for me.

The gist of it seems to be that 2.5 years ago you 'predicted' that at some indeterminate point in the future there would be a credit squeeze but that there was a possibility that the losers would try to hang on to their assets, and/or that the BoE/govt would make a tactical intervention.

I predict that it will rain in the UK.

OK, I'll be even bolder. I predict that it will rain in Tunbridge Wells.

Anyone want to bet against me?

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Sorry, too much waffle for me.

The gist of it seems to be that 2.5 years ago you 'predicted' that at some indeterminate point in the future there would be a credit squeeze but that there was a possibility that the losers would try to hang on to their assets, and/or that the BoE/govt would make a tactical intervention.

I predict that it will rain in the UK.

OK, I'll be even bolder. I predict that it will rain in Tunbridge Wells.

Anyone want to bet against me?

Awful.

You should post less often.

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Guest Charlie The Tramp
Sorry, too much waffle for me.

Try reading it slowly, much more interesting than the get yourself an AK47 or buy gold, or how you should protect yourself which is 100% guaranteed. ;)

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Sorry, too much waffle for me.

Freeetrader's first post is impressive because, not only is it well written and well balanced, he had a clear grasp of the issues (unlike myself) , and correctly identified them in the very early days of this thing.

Unfortunately, if I had read his post 2 1/2 years ago it probably would have washed over me.

Fortunately, now I understand what he is saying.

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Spot on analysis and prediction. 2.5 years ago you had the situation clearly mapped out and what was the Bank of England doing - lowering interest rates!

crashtart: I predict that you will be left looking a bit silly by your comments.

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Impressive and prescient first post, Freetrader, and very informative, as is your follow-up. Thanks.

Re inflation or deflation, thought you might find this excerpt from The Great Reckoning, published in 1992 interesting. It seems to me that this is where we are heading.

"Structural defecits are unsustainable in a low nominal growth environment once markets realise that rapid recovery is unlikely. The promise of governments to bail out insolvent banking systems and finance unemployment benefits ultimately must be paid either from budget surpluses or by depreciation of the currency. With budgets chronically in defecit in most countries, the expectation of currency depreciation can lead rapidly to a crisis. Funds flow out of the currencies of the countries whose credit is in doubt, resulting in the highly contractionary phenomenon of interest rates rising as economies weaken. The effect is to take away much of the freedom that governments seem to have to finance their deficits through inflation. Governments facing the need to finance massive structural deficits due to the slowdown in economic activity may find that markets can set the price of funding high enough to offset any stimulative gains from inflation. If so, there will be no alternative to direct debt liquidation, and the second, deeper stage of depression."

Edit: typo

Edited by Methinkshe

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........... Short-term inflation, yes, but longer-term I think that the powerful debt deflation animal I spoke of in my first post will have its day..........

A year or so of stagflation, becoming apparent early next year, followed by a much longer period of deflation may now be the most likely scenario for the UK.

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yes, excellent post and pretty much spot on.

i think we could see a balance of deflation and inflation.

inflation of true assets and a deflation of liabilities.

for example, housing could deflate as the cost of running the property inflates i.e gas, electric, council tax, cost of borrowing.

same as motoring. petrol becomes more expensive, mid-big size cars lose value. whereas small economical cars hold value.

who knows hey ?

one thing for sure though, the FED can't keep cutting rates to hold back the tide thats coming.

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Fascinating thread.

That said, I still can't get my head round what the OP is eluding to. Is 'debt deflation' the equivalent of inflation, i.e. peoples debts will be eroded by inflation? Or are heading for Japanese deflationary scenario?

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Two and a half years ago I made my first post on HPC. Here it is:

In the light of the past few weeks' events, I think the mist is now gradually lifting as the central banks move their chess pieces across the board. As I suspected when I made that first post, the political pressure to avoid a deflationary resolution to the global credit boom, combined with the eternal fear of repeating what is now considered to be gross mismanagement of monetary policy by the Fed during the Great Depression, has led to a the current mentality of providing liquidity to markets at whatever cost. No one can be allowed to suffer, savers and borrowers alike. Nobody must lose.

So, on the face of it, it seems like we're heading down the inflationary road. Banking institutions will be bailed out, distressed borrowers will be supported, and the good and great in the investment banking community will socialise their losses on to a compliant and spiritless middle class.

Or will they? Although from an investment perspective I've tried to hedge my bets to cater for any eventuality, deep down I've always believed that the outcome of the past decade's lunacy would be a deflationary one. Perhaps surprisingly, that belief has strengthened, not diminished. Why? Because I think despite all their theories and analysis the CBs are indeed walking headfirst into a classic liquidity trap. Each kneejerk drop of interest rates to stave off today's liquidity problems is drawing them remorselessly towards the impotency of 0% interest rates. At that point they are royally screwed (although Bernanke doesn't think so, but you have to read his academic papers to understand why).

As OnlyMe has demonstrated in other threads, the central banks and media are painting this as a liquidity crisis, when in fact what we have is a solvency crisis. At some point (it may be next week, it may be two years from now) the bad stuff on the bank/hedge fund/pension fund books is going to have to be marked to market. And by then there will be even more bad stuff as the choking off of easy credit eats its way into existing asset values.

Despite the recent spineless central bank accommodation, I'm unconvinced that an inflationary outcome is the inevitable result of all this as many on HPC believe. Short-term inflation, yes, but longer-term I think that the powerful debt deflation animal I spoke of in my first post will have its day.

Sadly though, unlike others, I'm unable to offer a guarantee.

Great stuff FP - It's been an interesting few years.

I have believed for some time that interest rate cycles and the ability to keep the cycle moving will ultimatley determine whether or not a correction of historic proportions occurs.

So long as the central banks can re-inflate quickly as they have previoulsy, i.e. 1% to +5% then the merry go round goes on.

They were fortunate to get away with it last time ans suspect they will tread more carefully this time around, i.e. I doubt we will see US rates back down to 1 again. I expect to see a US/UK range of between 2% and 6% for a generation.

I also believed for a long time that we are in a deflationary uber cycle but again it could take a generational time scale before this will be visible.

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Fascinating thread.

That said, I still can't get my head round what the OP is eluding to. Is 'debt deflation' the equivalent of inflation, i.e. peoples debts will be eroded by inflation? Or are heading for Japanese deflationary scenario?

Bomber,

Apologies if I've caused some confusion with that term. I'm trying to draw the distinction between price deflation and monetary deflation, so maybe I should have used the latter.

The two normally go hand-in-hand, but not necessarily so. Take the situation at the moment - despite the headline CPI rate, it looks like we're heading into a period of significant price inflation - oil over $80 a barrel, food costs rising sharply etc. However this could ultimately lead to a sharp monetary deflation, because with relatively static wages and the withdrawal of cheap credit , many households are having to rein in their consumption. This in turn leads to debt default as demand in the economy implodes, with the money supply shrinking very rapidly - the classic consequence of a credit boom (and you'll do well to find any historical examples which haven't ended like this). This is what I mean by the term 'debt deflation'.

Ben Bernanke has studied this scenario for most of his academic life, and before he took up his economic post as with the U.S. administration he was in the process of writing a book which he hoped would become the definitive analysis of the monetary and political conduct of the establishment during the Great Depression - surpassing even the studies of Galbraith and Friedman/Schwartz. He is quoted as saying that figuring out the origins of that slump and the correct monetary policy to follow is the "Holy Grail of macroeconomics."

One of Bernanke's main criticisms of the 1920/30's Fed is that it allowed banks to go to the wall. This is why no-one should be surprised by the action he's taking to address the problems in the U.S. He's now accused of being a mere stooge for his political masters, but this sort of finger-pointing fails to understand the man himself. For example, Bernanke believes that the Bank of Japan should have solved the deflationary situation there by bailing out the banks and allowing the Yen to depreciate markedly - exactly the sort of policy we're heading towards right now in the U.S. Bernanke would argue that this is the correct policy to take in light of the current difficulties - he'd say that had he been in charge earlier we wouldn't have gotten into this mess, but since we're in it, the answer is to pump, pump, pump liquidity and monetise debt if necessary. The alternative (in his eyes) is too awful to contemplate.

My own view is that the deflationary forces in the system will ultimately trump Bernanke's policies. He's fighting the Law of Unintended Consequences, and one way or another I feel the bear is going to maul the central bankers. There's still a heavy price to be paid for the credit excesses we've witnessed over the past decade or more.

Sorry if I'm waffling again, but I don't see how anyone can draw any definitive conclusion as to where this will all lead. There are simply too many variables, and so it's all about balance of probabilities. However, I don't agree with others that trying to analyse all this is futile and unproductive. Positioning oneself to guard against various extreme outcomes - both deflationary and inflationary - is, I feel, the wisest course to take at present, and those that have committed themselves to any one particular scenario are taking on board far too much risk.

In thirty-five years of investing and studying markets, this is without a doubt the most dangerous - and let's face it, fascinating - period I have ever been through. Like most of you here, I just hope I get through all this without being burned too much. I certainly don't see there being many winners.

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Another great post. Not a single bit of waffle, IMO.

Here's my simplistic view on things

During a debt boom the creditors make money by having their loans serviced. As this burden becomes onerous towards the end of the boom this becomes less profitable as defaults increase.

As you rightly point out wages have not kept pace with the debt burden. Not even close.

At some point the best way to make money for the creditors is simply to grab back the over-inflated assets and start all over again.

I believe this point was reached in the States about a year ago and is probably here now.

I'm not saying for one minute that there's a conspriracy by the banks/Rothschilds it's just that the "business model" of the boom isn't valid any more.

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Bomber,

Apologies if I've caused some confusion with that term. I'm trying to draw the distinction between price deflation and monetary deflation, so maybe I should have used the latter.

.....

<snip>

FreeTrader, thanks for taking the time to reply. Now I understand by what you phrased as 'debt deflation'. (I did google it first honest, but then I got even more confused :blink: )

Like another poster said, and hopefully I'm not appearing too sycophantic, you should post on here more often.

Bomber.

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I concur with others when saying your posts and replies are very informative, persuasive and amazingly eloquent.

But, how does one go about protecting ones assets. As I believe that HPI will turn in to HPC, I have converted my assets into cash. Currently, I am holding sterling, which I now believe will go the same way as the once mighty dollar. Would you recommend that to further protect my wealth, I should move into or hedge inflation risk using other "safer" currencies?

:unsure:

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Was it Jim Rogers on Bloomberg who said he was holding:

Gold

Silver

Swiss Franc

Yen

Shorting investment banks

Buying soft commodities (has been for at least the last year)

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I concur with others when saying your posts and replies are very informative, persuasive and amazingly eloquent.

But, how does one go about protecting ones assets. As I believe that HPI will turn in to HPC, I have converted my assets into cash. Currently, I am holding sterling, which I now believe will go the same way as the once mighty dollar. Would you recommend that to further protect my wealth, I should move into or hedge inflation risk using other "safer" currencies?

:unsure:

Rakno,

I'm not a financial advisor and I don't want to turn this into a investment thread, so all I'll give here is a brief outline of my own general philosophy regarding the best way for non-professional investors to handle their savings, small or large.

  • Your first and foremost aim is preservation of capital in real terms. As Warren Buffett has said, there are only two rules in investment: 1) Never lose money, and 2) Never forget rule number one. The best way of achieving that aim is to seek a balanced portfolio which spreads your risk amongst a number of different investment vehicles. The idea is to have uncorrelated risk i.e. if you take a hit on one of your investments, then this is likely to be offset by a corresponding rise in another portfolio holding. In the present climate accept that at some point you will take some losses, but you'll be protected by your overall distribution of risk.

  • Know your psychological limits. This is the killer for most investors. In booming markets we can all be smooth, smart operators, but it's in falling markets that you have to show true steel. The one way to ensure that you can act calmly and rationally when everything's going to hell is to maintain the balanced portfolio objective I outlined above. With your eggs in a number of different baskets it's far less likely that you will be panicked into making bad decisions. Also recognise that you aren't a pro, and you should therefore not try to invest like one. If investment is your whole life then you can afford to take a different approach, but for most, a simple, disciplined investment strategy is the way to go. Make sure you appreciate the difference between trading and investing and be sure to stick to the latter.

  • Many investors initially try to follow the rules above at first, but break their discipline at some point. Either fear causes them to 'cut and run' on an investment, or greed leads them to chasing a 'cert'. Both these actions unbalance the portfolio, and the spread of risk is lost. The best way to overcome this is to follow a regular savings plan which drip-feeds capital into different vehicles over time. If you've never heard of the term 'pound cost averaging' (or 'dollar cost averaging') then Google it and make sure you understand why this form of investment works so successfully.

  • On top of the preservation of capital aim, you have of course got the aim of generating a real return on your capital. One thing to be cognizant of is that you are essentially trying to get an overall rate of return (after tax) that is at or above the growth rate of real earnings. All wealth is relative, and if you're lagging the general rise in wealth of your fellow citizens, then ultimately you'll find your standard of living seems to be falling, even if your portfolio is growing. A decade ago this required growth rate was far higher than it is now. Globalisation is levelling the playing field of earnings around the world, and as a result you can currently afford to be quite conservative with your holdings. You don't need to take great risks. Never forget the axiom that higher reward nearly always entails higher risk.

  • Of course, the $64,000 dollar question is where to put your money, which was your original query. I can't be specific, but conceptually I believe it's best to build your portfolio as a sort of pyramid, with a large, solid base of core central holdings - e.g. index-linked gilts (easily purchased through low-cost brokers), index-linked National Savings, and other short-tem AAA government bonds (just UK gilts are fine for most portfolios). Above this is a layer of accounts in major banks, some precious metals in the current climate (in my own case though nothing like the concentration that others here have advocated), and yes, some property. Then there's equities (probably a spread in several different investment trusts) which you buy regularly on a monthly basis and don't rabidly follow every up and down in the price. Get the idea that as you climb the pyramid risk increases, but there is less at stake at those higher levels. Overall this should afford the best overall rate of return with a risk profile that enables you to sleep at night.

  • We've spoken before on HPC regarding holdings in other currencies. My answer now is the same as it was then - unless you believe Sterling is going to suffer a complete collapse then in general I believe that it's best to hold your liquid savings in the currency where your financial liabilities and obligations lie i.e. your home currency. Certainly there's no harm in moving some cash into a spread of other currencies, but be aware that in many cases you'll be earning a derisory return on your funds - it's suprising how quickly the interest rate differential between UK rates and (say) Euro rates accumulates, offsetting any currency gain. Also, in theory, index-linked UK investment vehicles should offset currency risk in the longer term - i.e. if we experience a severe fall in Sterling this will lead to a higher relative inflation rate to other countries which will be reflected in IL returns. In general, I'd prefer to offset currency risk by pound-cost averaging into a selection of international equity funds. In the longer term these should provide a higher rate of return and still offer the opportunity of currency gains if Sterling falls.

Okay I need to stop, as what started as a quick reply is turning into an essay. Just remember that this is only my own view - many others will disagree with what I've written and I stress once again that I'm not offering investment advice. In the end it's up to everyone to find an investment strategy that suits their temperament, gives them peace of mind, and is tailored to the time period over which funds will be invested.

Cheers.

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Okay I need to stop, as what started as a quick reply is turning into an essay. Just remember that this is only my own view - many others will disagree with what I've written and I stress once again that I'm not offering investment advice. In the end it's up to everyone to find an investment strategy that suits their temperament, gives them peace of mind, and is tailored to the time period over which funds will be invested.

Cheers.

That makes a lot of sense. The pyramid idea is good, with a sold base and increasing risk in smaller quantities higher up.

Inflation usually means higher interest rates, and this is bad for property, shares and bonds.

However, inversely correlated to these are commodities. The source of much of the inflation we're experiencing today is from the massive rise in commodity prices, ie the price of wheat has shot up recently and leading to rises in bread prices.

I'm concerned about inflation, so to me the best strategy is to have a base of safe investments (ie NS&I, Gilts etc), then commodities further up the pyramid, with shares higher up. This way you get protection from inflation, and benefit from the China boom and commodities, and you lower the correlation amongst your investments.

Edited by BandWagon

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Time for a slide is upon us, just as the Builder share prices started warning last spring.

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNeCetQeLLU

WHAT IS COMING NEXT - (here's Peter Schiff's view):

Bernanke’s attempt to circumvent the free market forces that are bringing on a long overdo recession (which is necessary to purge our economy of unsustainable imbalances) will lead to an even greater disaster. Make no mistake about it; had the Fed done nothing, or raised rates as I would have preferred, the economy would have clearly tipped toward a severe recession. However, by “coming to the rescue” with rate cuts, the Fed assures us that we will experience something far worse.

Again, the coming recession is not the problem but the solution. Painful as it will be, a recession is the only way to cure our sick economy and we will need to grin and bear it. When it ends, our nation will be a lot poorer, but at least we will be clawing our way out of this gigantic hole. Cutting rates now only assures that we will dig ourselves into an even deeper hole. In the end, it will be that much harder for us to get out, and we will be that much worse off when we finally do.

Although they may slow the process down for a few quarters, the rate cuts will neither prevent the recession nor keep house prices from collapsing. But they will cost us dearly. The dollar’s fall, which had been held somewhat in check by the possibility of a hawkish Fed, has accelerated in earnest now that the curtain has been pulled back.

Unlike previous bouts of Fed easing, this time any additional liquidity will not artificially pump up the economy or the housing market, but merely accelerate the rise in consumer prices and eventually push up long-term interest rates as well. If Americans are having problems making mortgage payments now, think of how much more difficult the task will become when food and energy prices double. If you think mortgage rates are high now, wait to you see how much higher they rise after a few rate cuts. After all, with the dollar in free-fall, will foreign savers really want to buy our mortgage backed securities, or lend us any more money at single digit interest rates?

/more: http://www.financialsense.com/fsu/editoria.../2007/0921.html

Couldn't agree more. How many months are we lagging the U.S.? 12? 18?

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