Sound Familiar?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before….  The dollar and financial stocks fall, while gold and oil rise.  Damn, you already heard that one somewhere else? 

It’s a familiar refrain that seems to keep repeating, just like an obnoxious Barry Manilow song or that annoying dog commercial that goes “there might be bugs on some of you mugs but there ain’t no bugs on me”.  (Ha – now you’ve got it stuck in your head too!)

The reason that oil and gold continue to trend higher while the dollar and financial stocks continue to trend lower is one and the same – the Federal Reserve. 

The Fed continues to flood the system with cheap and/or free money.  It’s simple supply and demand.  There are more and more dollars but there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the demand for those dollars.  So the amount of stuff a dollar will purchase continues to fall.

It’s called inflation, and it’s always CAUSED by the same thing – too much money chasing too few goods.  The classic way to explain inflation is that inflation “is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” (Milton Friedman) but it’s saying the same thing.

Even though this is nothing new, I’ve found that damn few people actually understand it.  And the more involved they are in the stock market, the less likely they are to understand it.  They blame inflation on rising wages, or rising oil prices, or the rising cost of (insert commodity here).  🙂

They don’t understand that rising prices are CAUSED by too much money.  When the Fed injects billions of dollars into the money supply (without a real demand for the money) prices HAVE to go up. 

Pretend I have a blog that lots of people read (we’re pretending!) and visit everyday.  Now I take the blog posts that I write and post them on 7 other sites as well.  Assuming more people don’t want to read what I have to say, the number of people visiting each site would go down – even though the total number may stay the same.

Ok, maybe that isn’t the best analogy…. Try this one.  8 people are standing around a barrel of oil.  They all need that barrel of oil, and they’ve all got about $5 to use to purchase it.  Guess what the price of that barrel of oil will be?  Yup, about $5.

Now imagine that Uncle Sam gives (or lets them borrow cheaply) each one of them another $5.  There’s still only one barrel of oil, and all of them still need it.  How much will that barrel cost now?

Does that help?  That’s what the Fed is doing with dollars.  Helicopter Ben is doing everything he can to keep the over-leveraged financial institutions afloat, but he’s simply buying time.  Borrowing money to pay off debt never works – it simply delays the inevitable.

As the dollar loses value (because there are more of them in circulation) the amount of “stuff” each dollar can buy MUST go down.  So things like oil and gold go up BECAUSE the dollar is worth less. 

This sometimes isn’t obvious because with commodities like oil and gold (and corn and soybeans and wheat and rice and pork bellies) demand can also fluctuate and cause price movements, but the underlying cause is the same.  Too many dollars in the system.

Anyhoo, the major financial institutions all owe waaay more than they own.  And they’re finding out that as the value of their assets (and the payments they receive from those assets) fall, they suddenly can’t make the payments on their debt anymore.  But then the Fed comes riding in and lets them borrow more money (using the same assets which are falling in value as collateral) and suddenly everything is supposed to be ok…. Brilliant! (Not!)

There was a report by Reuters today saying “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Freddie Mac chief Richard Syron that his company and Fannie Mae could take advantage of the emergency discount window, according to a source familiar with the conversation.” 

Since it’s pretty obvious to everyone that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are insolvent and going under unless someone steps in, this report was a catalyst for a huge rebound in the market today.  Investors were grasping at straws looking for something, anything to save the sinking financial ship.  They grabbed onto this report and stocks reversed course over 200 points and were even briefly into positive territory today.

Then they realized that even if the report was true, it didn’t change a damn thing.  So the market sold off again into the close. After the markets closed, the Fed denied the story – but I won’t be surprised if the Fed takes action over the weekend like they did with Bear Stearns. 

They know the companies are technically bankrupt, and they’ve got to act at some point.  I don’t know what they’ll do, but they won’t stand by while the ship sinks.  They’ll continue to bail water, only to eventually figure out that the water is coming in much faster than they can bail it out.  The ship will still sink, but they can drag out this soap opera for months. 

In my opinion, they should let it sink now so we can start building the new ship.



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