John Mauldin's weekly E-Letter, Sell in May and Go Away, is a good read. My favorite portion of the E-Letter is the section A Dangerous End Game. Let's take a look.
The Fed and the Obama administration are playing a dangerous game. The Fed is going to print trillions of dollars to forestall deflation and try to re-ignite the economy. But for a variety of reasons we will go into next week, a real, sustainable recovery may be a few years away. What happens when the market start balking at high and unsustainable national deficits? What happens when inflation (finally) does return? Can the Fed remain independent and take back the money it is printing in the face of what will likely be a tepid recovery? And if they don't, what happens to the dollar?
Next year, we will be entering what will certainly be the most dangerous era in my lifetime for the US economy. It is not clear what will happen. There are a lot of paths that can be taken, though some are more likely than others. For those who are convinced that high inflation and a falling dollar are absolutely, unequivocally in the future I have just one word: Japan.
Yes, there are differences, but there are a lot of similarities. While I think the most likely outcome is a long Muddle Through recovery, the likelihood of a lost decade of deflation a la Japan is a very real potential outcome. And the possibility of stagflation and a seriously impaired dollar is also quite real.
Investors, businessmen, and entrepreneurs need to be as nimble as possible. A free market will figure out what paths to take, and I am still optimistic about the long term. But we have some very dangerous times in front of us, and we need to be realistic.
And before I close, let me make a few comments about the Chrysler and GM issues. I tell my kids all the time that actions have consequences. If I hold senior secured debt of a company and the government tells me I have to take less than unsecured junior debtors, I am not going to be happy. I may have been dumb to make the loans in the first place, but I did it under a very specific contract and the rule of law.
If the Obama administration arbitrarily changes those rules to favor a political class (unions), then that is going to have a chilling effect on future lending to all corporations. As an aside, they are spending $12 billion to save 54,000 Chrysler jobs (at $22,000 per job). With 600,000 jobs a month being lost, why are these 54,000 jobs more special than those of the rest of the unemployed, who get a fraction of that amount in unemployment benefits?
Actions have consequences. The lenders who are forcing the Chrysler deal into bankruptcy court are not all predatory hedge funds. They are mutual funds, pension funds, and other financial firms with small stakeholders as their investors.
Cerberus, the hedge fund that originally bought Chrysler, deserves to lose their money. They made a bad investment. But those who lent money deserve to be treated in accordance with the contracts they signed.
Demonizing investors and businessmen is hardly helpful. They are precisely the people we need to help get this economy moving. Governments don't create true job growth, businesspeople do, and mostly small businesses. I am not certain why small business owners, the job creation engine of the country, should see their taxes raised in order to protect bond holders of automobile companies or banks, or for union jobs to be preserved in companies that are clearly not competitive.
Somehow Bernanke, Geithner, and Obama think they can ignore (or get away with) fraudulent bailout schemes, shameful treatment of auto bondholders to help out unions, and cotton candy treatment of bank bondholders.
While banks are happy and financial bondholders are ecstatic with the bailouts (at least for now), taxpayers are taking it on the chin.
What Happens ....?
In his article, Mauldin asks bunch of What Happens? type questions. He does not answer them. Perhaps there are no answers, at least not yet.
However, it's important to remember we are in this mess because Greenspan elected to blow another bubble rather than face what would likely have been a short-term recession of limited consequences. Instead, Greenspan elected to bail out his banking buddies who were in deep trouble with loans to dot-com companies and Latin America. The fruits of Greenspan's attempt to bail out banks were worldwide housing and credit bubbles of epic proportion that have now popped, leaving banks much worse off than before.
Compounding Greenspan's errors, the trio of Bernanke, Geithner, and Obama, like the trio of Bernanke, Paulson, and Bush before them, all seem to think the results will be better this time if we just do it again with more force.
I have news for all of them. While we may not be able to predict for certain the consequences of Stupidity Squared we can say for certain the result cannot possibly be any good.