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Thursday, December 8, 2011

John Corzine can't find the money!

So John Corzine, former Chairman and CEO of MF Global, has no idea where the firm's missing money might be found. Interesting people, the likes of John Corzine. These are the people under whose direction all sorts of clever investment vehicles and trading algorithms have been created over the years. We've been assured by these same folks that countless derivatives and trading mechanisms are OK, in fact - good. When challenged, we sometimes get told that we don't have the necessary basics to understand these complex instruments. But of course he has an MBA and is a former Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO and even former U.S. Senator and State Governor as well. His membership in the Bilderberg Group further establishes his luminary qualifications. Along the way, he and his cohorts have earned hundreds of millions of dollars for the services they have rendered humanity. Anyway, I digress.
My question is this: If a firm like MF Global with all its computer and investment resources and savvy can't find its investors' missing money, wouldn't you have to conclude that either they are crooks and are lying or that they really didn't understand their business so well, after all, and might not even understand basic accounting that well either? Well, there seem to be enough facts on the table already to support the "crooks" part, as the firm is known to have co-mingled its clients' funds with the firm's funds when they "needed" it. Further investigations will likely reveal a lot more illegalities, cover-ups, lying etc. But I suspect my other suspicion has played a role, too. Do these guys really know what they are doing? If they did, they wouldn't be in the pickle they are in right now, I would think.
As a matter of fact, I suspect that John Corzine would have plenty of company if some of his peers in the investment, brokerage, insurance and banking businesses were suddenly cut off from the bailout/stimulus/insider info train of the Federal Reserve. Most of their Ponzi schemes would collapse within a week. Look what happened to Lehman. But it doesn't help if for whatever reason you are no longer part of the club?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Can the U.S. ever really balance its budget?

Every once in a while, I visit the US Debt Clock Site to get a handle on the current U.S. fiscal and general financial situation. An interesting exercise is to see what kind of cuts would be necessary to achieve a balanced budget, that is, to reduce the deficit to zero and thereby to stop adding to the national debt every year. Well, we have to come up with more than $1,300 Billion in cuts. Gee, lots of ways to go about this but one combination is to eliminate defense altogether (scuttle the ships, close all the bases, send the soldiers home without pay or pensions, abrogate all military supply contracts, etc., and pray for peace - this saves $700B), then eliminate all federal pensions (too bad, folks - just sink or swim- this saves another $214B), then also eliminate all income security programs - too bad for all you unemployed folks! - this saves another $407B). That was easy, eh? Well, of course, politically, this is not doable! Furthermore, such cuts would devastate the economy, and with it, tax revenues, so you would need to cut much more than this to compensate. You see where I'm going.
Ok, let's try another angle - we'll just raise income taxes and do some minor expenditure cutting. So, if we doubled everyone's income taxes and eliminated all federal pensions, that might almost also do it, but whoops, since nobody has any money to spend, the economy would tank and therefore incomes and tax revenues would be affected, so we would need to raise taxes far more and/or cut more programs. H'mmm, nothing seems to work here, right?
Did you see the Congressional Super-Committee at work? Boy, did they ever agree on cuts, huh? Well, now you know why. It isn't doable, not politically, anyway. Not likely possible socially, either. Americans would be torching Capitol Hill, the White House, etc. So what do you think the U.S. will do/are doing? There is only one answer, and it is not a real solution but it kicks the can down the road, albeit at an even higher price down that road. The U.S., as well as most other western nations will simply continue to print ever vaster sums of money to make up for fiscal shortfalls. The likes of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of Japan will just keep buying up more of their governments' IOU's (bonds and bills and other clever securities). This will happen under various guises such as QE1, 2,3,4, . . n, Operation Twist, "liquidity injections", whatever. The middle class will will get poorer and poorer and most will not understand why. The printing will continue until folks recognize that their currencies are being destroyed and enough folks lose their confidence in it, that a wholesale dumping of currency gets underway. Too bad the fiscal redress was not seriously attempted 20 to 30 years ago, when some of the measures needed might, while painful, still have been politically and socially doable given a committed President and Congress. But are the politicians wholly to blame for what has happened? No, I don't think so. After all, did voters elect politicians with "responsible" platforms or those that promised combinations of government programs and tax structures that were way too good to be true? As the old saying goes - It's hard to cheat an honest man".