Monday, April 16, 2012

You Are Free To Travel—If The IRS Lets You

A bill that nobody is paying any attention to is sailing through Congress: Senate Bill 1813. It passed the Senate by 74 to 22, and is expected to sail through the House as well. It’s an act “[t]o reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes.”

It’s the “and for other purposes” part of the title that has me worried—specifically Section 40304: “Revocation or denial of passport in case of certain unpaid taxes.

This section would give the IRS the power to keep a U.S. citizen from traveling—

—and it’s another example of Executive Power run amok. It’s another example of how the United States is turning into a police-state.

The right to travel freely is sacrosanct—it’s not some privilege that the government bestows on us: It’s one of our basic freedoms as citizens. In point of fact, the countries that have limited their citizens’ ability to travel—the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Cuba—were all rightfully called “police-states”: It’s one of their defining characteristics—the fact that they were keeping their citizens hostage.

In the United States, there are several, clearly defined reasons why you would have your passport either denied or revoked—and all of them pass the smell test.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Will There Be A “Corralito” In Spain?

Yes, it’s a metaphor. Of what, I dunno.

How Spain could exit the eurozone—a practical guide.

In late 2001, while everyone was in shock over 9/11, the Argentines were going through a little shock of their own: The “Corralito”.

Argentina was bankrupt, a product of a stagnant economy, rampant crony-corruption, and—most important of all—of having its currency fixed to the dollar. This currency peg had created a huge credit bubble, and of course massive capital outflows as a result, eventually leading to the depletion of foreign reserves by the government and an inability to raise more funds on the open markets.

In other words, sovereign bankruptcy.

Coupled to these problems, in the months leading up to the December 2001 crash, people were aware that the country was going bankrupt—so they were quickly converting all their Argentine pesos into dollars, and then sending this money to safe havens overseas.

To solve these problems of sovereign insolvency and massive capital flight, and at the same time to stabilize the situation, on December 1, 2001, the Argentine government imposed the infamous corralito—literally, the “little bullpen”: A series of measures designed to hold in capital and prevent it from fleeing the country, while devaluing the currency to a more realistic, sustainable rate of exchange.

As part of the corralito measures, the Argentine government froze all dollar-denominated bank accounts; converted those dollars into Argentine pesos on a one-to-one basis—that is, confiscated people’s dollars; limited all withdrawals in Argentine pesos to a weekly maximum of AR$250 (you read right: per week); and of course—the cherry on the sundae—it devalued the Argentine peso against the dollar.

The devaluation was at first a “mere” 40%—but shortly thereafter the Argentine peso was allowed to float: And it dropped to a rate of four to one against the dollar.

Literally millions of people lost their life-savings in one fell swoop. The local equity market tanked catastrophically, as did the local bond markets. People on a fixed income also got clobbered, as their pensions lost their purchasing power by 40% overnight—and then eventually by 75%.

Chaos ensued.

Now, the situation in Europe today is virtually identical to that of Argentina in 2001: Overleveraged, with an insolvent banking sector, a flatlining economy and growing unemployment.

But of all the countries, Spain in particular is the biggest trouble.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spain Will Exit The Eurozone First—This Year

This post is adapted from a piece that originally appeared at my Strategic Planning Group. I've been doing a lot of work over there—hence the scarce postings over here. Sorry! GL

In the LiraSPG Scenario “When The Euro Breaks”, I discussed what would happen to the euro and the eurozone when those countries—unable to continue under their massive debt burdens—began exiting the European monetary union.

One of the assumptions I made was that one of the smaller nations of the eurozone would leave the monetary union first, thereby encouraging one of the bigger nations to follow their example and leave as well. I postulated that the small country would likely be Greece, and that the large country would probably be Spain.

From this exodus, I analyzed what would happen to the euro vis-à-vis gold and the rest of the world’s currencies—namely, that the euro would suffer a staggered loss of value against commodities and other currencies: An initial drop-and-recovery when the smaller nation exited the eurozone, followed by a sustained drop when the big nation exited the monetary union.

The Scenario was written and published on the LiraSPG site in May 2011.

Since then, I have changed my mind: I no longer think that a small country will exit the eurozone first, followed by one of the bigger countries.

I now think that Spain will exit the eurozone first—precipitously and without warning—and that the impact on the euro will be much more sudden and dramatic than I had earlier thought.

In this SPG Supplement, I will explain my thinking. First I will discuss the general European situation; then the Greek debacle, and how the European leadership has lost sight of what salvaging Greece was supposed to be about; then the current Spanish situation, how it is unsustainable, and how the new Rajoy government’s only escape—politically and economically—is to default and then exit the eurozone.