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In July and August, the USD has actually become stronger against most other currencies, on apparently no news. Gold had also dropped as low as $790/oz from a high of $1030/oz this year, even though there is a shortage of physical gold in the US and the US mint had stopped selling gold coins like the American Gold Eagles. I was wondering if there was some manipulation going on in these markets.

Hedge fund manager John Lee thinks that gold prices are being manipulated in an effort to keep up the dollar afloat.

According to an article on Forbes, the central banks of the US, Europe and Japan planned in mid-March to prop up the US Dollar if it continued to slide.

Officials from the U.S. Treasury Department, Japan’s Finance Ministry and the European Central Bank reportedly drew up a currency contingency plan over the weekend of March 15-16.

The officials did not specify an exchange rate for initiating the dollar rescue plan, but in the event of a free-fall they agreed to aggressively buy the greenback and sell yen and euros.

Japan was to supply yen necessary for the underlying currency swaps. The plan also called for using a previously established swap mechanism between the United States and Europe.

Analysts said even though a rescue never took place, the fact that global monetary officials had agreed on action would be important in the future if the dollar were to tumble again or other exchange rates move very sharply.

Hmmm…who are these analysts and why should we trust what they say?

The Government and Wall Street has been less than forthright in the past. The CEO’s of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said a few months ago that they’re in no danger, but Buffett just declared game over for those two.

I’m getting tired of the bankers and government interfering in the natural course of things. They’re bailing out some market participants to the detriment of the taxpayer. People aren’t facing any adverse effects for taking on insane amounts of risks. If it pans out, they give themselves a bonus. If not the US taxpayer bails them out! Effectively, they’re socializing losses while privatizing profits.

Fannie Mae’s CEO claims that they make housing affordable for millions of Americans. However, if they went bankrupt, there would not be money available for huge home loans and home prices would fall. THAT would make home prices more affordable. Yes, it would be difficult for people to get a mortgage to buy a home, but it would encourage regular saving and it would take longer for people to buy their first home. But in the long run, housing would be a lot cheaper with lower payments towards mortgage interest and thus lower effective home costs.

The fact that the two CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac took home $32 million last year while saddling the US Taxpayers with $500 Billion in losses means they can’t be trusted. If this isn’t outright theft, then at least it’s either gross misrepresentation, negligence or stupidity and they ought to refund their salaries, if not do serious jail time.

And talking about government manipulation, the Pakistani Government just introduced price controls on the most popular Karachi Stock Exchange Index. They got tired of watching the stock market drift lower every day, so until the officials decide otherwise, the KSE-100 cannot go below yesterday’s two-year low of 9,144!

I’m often extremely pessimistic on the state of the US economy. In public settings my doom and gloom predictions seem to depress people so I tend to restrict my rants solely to my blog. So it makes me happy when I read an article that agrees with my thoughts on the state of affairs.

CARTOON CAPITALISM
by Bill Bonner

America’s largest mortgage finance companies, Fannie and Freddie, have so much water in their lungs it will take at least $25 billion of the public’s money to save them. Possibly $300 billion. Were it up to us, we’d leave them on the beach.

But, last week, the U.S. Senate bent down and pressed its large mouth onto those gaping traps of the mortgage twins – gurgling into them a corrupt breath of life. Since the two hold one out of every two mortgages in the nation, in effect, Congress is nationalizing the U.S. housing stock itself. Henceforth, citizens will pay not only their taxes to the government, but their mortgage payments too.

In America itself, how this came to be is the subject of little concern. But despite the lack of interest, it is the subject of the next 500 words or so.

At a speech in Vancouver, James Kunstler seemed positively delighted. Finally, gasoline over $4 a gallon was going to do what generations of artistic scorn could not – destroy Fannie and Freddie’s collateral. Kunstler’s critique of American suburban vernacular architecture is that its products are not real houses at all – but “cartoon houses.” They have porches that look like real porches from a distance, but they are too narrow to sit on. They have shutters too – nailed to the wall, making them completely useless. They may have “picture” windows…looking out on nothing…or no windows at all. And they wouldn’t exist at all were it not for cheap credit and cheap gasoline.

Of course, the same may be said of America’s – and Britain’s – entire economies during the last 20 years. The loose credit that built cartoon houses also constructed cartoon economies; they look like real economies, but they are essentially perverse, consuming wealth rather than creating it.

For proof, we return to Fannie and Freddie. Here were two companies that appeared to be helping Americans own houses. But since they were created, homeowners’ equity – that portion of the house actually owned and paid for by the homeowner – fell from 70% to below 50%. Currently, Americans’ total equity is lower than their mortgage debt. As a whole, the nation’s homeowners are “upside down,” in other words. Nearly 9 million Americans have zero or negative equity already – and house prices are still falling.

How comes this to be? The answer is simple: lenders lent more than the houses were worth to people who couldn’t pay it back anyway. This Looney Tune approach to finance radiated to all points of the economy. People pretended that they earned more – spending more and more money to buy more and more goods and services – but wages did not really increase. Then, they bought houses – believing the roofs over their heads were investments, rather than consumer items. With no down payment, no proof of income, and zero interest loans – for most of the new buyers, home ownership was merely a dangerous conceit. Now that the roofs have caved in, it is a staggering burden.

The “consumer economy” was always a mockery. No serious economist ever suggested that you could get richer by consuming wealth. But that didn’t make consumerism unpopular. The more people consumed, the more GDP went up. GDP measures output, not wealth creation; but who could tell the difference? In a cartoon economy – no one. Besides, spending made people feel as though they were getting richer.

Then, whenever the consumer threatened to come to his senses, the feds rushed to “stimulate” him – by giving him more of what he least needed, more credit. More spending kept the cartoon economy running – allowing the consumer, the businessman and the speculator to add to his burden of debt. In 1971, when the United States went off the gold wagon, household debt was less than 50% of GDP. Now, it is more than 100%. And now, the poor consumer’s knees buckle; he will be forced to work the rest of his life just to keep up with his debt burden, let alone pay it off.

Even the rentiers were bamboozled by their own claptrap. Stocks rose from ’82 to 2000…fell heavily to 2002 and bounced back. For the last 10 years, shareholders have gotten little for their effort. In July of ’98, the FTSE hit a high of 5,458. This month, it has reached 5,625. And in America, if stock prices were quoted in gallons of gasoline, the Dow would take the driver no further in 2008 than it did 40 years ago.

The cartoon capitalists did it all backwards; they are supposed to exploit the workers, not be exploited by them. But while consumers and investors were going nowhere, corporate managers and Wall Street hustlers were getting rich. The two Bozos running Fannie and Freddie, for example, pocketed about $32 million between them last year – during a period in which the companies lost almost $5.2 billion – not to mention the losses to shareholders. And on Wall Street, managers paid out $250 billion in bonuses in the 4 years leading up to the credit crunch. The firms declared a profit and paid bonuses when the bets were made; they didn’t wait to see how they turned out. Thus did the big banks and big brokers become capitalists without capital, dependent on the gullibility of investors to keep them in business. And when investors began to wise up, they turned to the public for capital support.

What kind of scam is this? It may look like capitalism from a distance. But this is not real capitalism; this is cartoon capitalism – run by clowns, who sell freak investments to chump investors, and encourage the lumpen householder to ruin himself.

Enjoy your weekend,

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning

Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning . He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of the national best sellers Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis . I strongly recommend his latest book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics.

Since I mentioned that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going to go bankrupt, their stocks have plummeted 50%. I think its time to start shorting other financial sectors like consumer credit card companies.

About 5 weeks ago I suggested that both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going bankrupt and their shares were going to hit single digits in 12 months. Well it looks like the market believed that too and their shares were punished. Instead of having to wait a year, the stocks dropped like bricks within the month!

According to Nouriel Roubini, renowned Professor of Economics & International Business at NYU’s Stern Business school, this is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the worst U.S. Recession in the last few decades.

The FDIC that has already depleted 10% of its funds in the rescue of IndyMac alone will run out of funds and will have to be recapitalized by Congress as its insurance premia were woefully insufficient to cover the hole from the biggest banking crisis since the Great Depression

Fannie and Freddie are insolvent and the Treasury bailout plan (the mother of all moral hazard bailout) is socialism for the rich, the well connected and Wall Street; it is the continuation of a corrupt system where profits are privatized and losses are socialized. Instead of wiping out shareholders of the two GSEs, replacing corrupt and incompetent managers and forcing a haircut on the claims of the creditors/bondholders such a plan bails out shareholders, managers and creditors at a massive cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Wow, those are strong words! Practically every stock in the financial sector has jumped today, probably due of extreme oversold conditions and not because of any underlying change in the fundamental scenario.

Sadly, my beloved Oil & Gas stocks are down. It may be a sector rotation out of energy stocks and into the financials. But so long as my Canadian Income Trusts continue to provide me with dividends and passive income, I’ll continue to hold them.

But I might enter new short positions in the financials if the stocks rally significantly above these levels. Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke announced today that FNM & FRE were “in no danger of failing”. I don’t know if I believe him – sounds just like a few months ago when the government telling us there’s no recession. Meanwhile everything (except housing) is getting more expensive and unemployment is rising. And as Jim Rogers says that “the only people Bernanke cares about are his buddies on Wall Street”!

There's Still No Recession!

After leading the company’s stock price down 60% in a year, Freddie Mac‘s CEO, Richard Syron, is doing the rounds trying to prop up the stock with feel-good stories. He tried to reassure investors that the worst is in the past and that the future will be brighter than ever.

According to Forbes,

Syron reiterated previous expectations, saying the company expects revenue growth of 15 percent to 20 percent this year, but expects to see losses from bad mortgages rise to as much as $6 billion this year.

“Weakening housing prices and housing activity have led to a punishing deterioration of credit which has hurt our results, along with those of other market participants,” Syron said.

However, the company is well-suited to ride out the housing bust because the home loans that Freddie Mac holds or guarantees are far less risky than those held by other lenders, he said.

Forgive my skepticism, but isn’t this exactly what Countrywide’s CEO Angelo Mozillo said in the beginning of last year when he was dumping stock hand over fist while claiming that CFC would be taking market share from the other lenders that were going out of business.

Anyway, I think its a good omen – I shorted Freddie Mac (FRE) and Fannie Mae (FNM) today at the open. So far I’m pretty happy with the result. FNM was down ~8% and FRE was down ~2.5%. Like I said yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprized to see these stocks in the low single digits in a year. [Note: this is not a stock recommendation – always do your own due diligence]

This post is a follow-up from a previous post about Going Long The Dollar. There were some valid arguments for being bullish on the dollar, however, based on yesterday’s economic news, they no longer sound very convincing.

The jobless claims came out and the national unemployment rate is now at 5.5% (and this is after the bogus birth-death model numbers that are used to under-represent the actual unemployment figures).

Oil prices shot up 8.4% to $139/barrrel, marking the highest ever one day gain for oil prices. This occurred after the U.S. dollar nosedived on speculation that the European Central Bank would raise its key lending rate and on worries that a bigger-than-expected spike in unemployment meant the U.S. economy was far weaker than feared.

I actually had taken a small position in RYBSX, but I closed it for a small loss after hearing Friday’s news.

It’s much easier to predict long term trends rather than short-term trends. In the long term, I still think the Dollar is going down, so there’s no point buying RYBSX – might as well just stick to my Australian Currency shares ETF that has done so well for me. I continue to believe that we’re going to see stagflation and have been investing accordingly. I think it commodities like gold and foreign currencies will continue to do well.

I also think it’s much easier to make money on sure things like Countrywide(CFC) and WCI Communities (WCI) going bankrupt. (Disclaimer: even though my direction for the CFC and WCI trades was correct, I was just a few weeks early and still lost money!). I’ve been harboring suspcions about Fannie Mae(FNM) and Freddie Mac(FRE) going bankrupt. Not wanting to get in to early, I’ve missed the major decline in both stocks, but there seems like theres still a bit of downward movement. Let’s see how that pans out.