Monday, February 2, 2009

Wall Street to Washington, DC: A Road Paved with Fraud

I took this past weekend to catch up on some reading and focus my thoughts on the economy, the stock market and government.

Then I watched the Super Bowl, which worked out well enough for me. Though the Cardinals did not win, as I predicted, the Steelers did not cover the spread, which I also predicted, and, since covering the line is all that matters to gamblers, I retain my status as a near-genius football picker. Like anything else in our crazy world, we are judged most by our last effort. In the NFL prognostication business, that last effort each season happens to be the Super Bowl, so I'm good to go until August.

One final note on the game: Arizona nearly killed itself throughout the entire contest and, without the numerous mistakes and crippling penalties, they would have won easily. But, no excuses. All hail the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So, getting back to my laser-like focus on the economy, stock market and government, I can say one thing that applies to them all: They stink. Our economy is so deeply in debt that radical changes are needed for it to ever be fixed and workable. The government is simply too corrupt, too inept and too rooted in old, failed ideologies to make the necessary changes. As for the stock market, well, that's just a rigged craps table. You can place all the bets you like, but chances are you're going to lose because the game is rigged from the inside, for the insiders.

Monday was no exception to the rigging of Wall Street. At 3:00 pm, all indices were at or near the lows of the day. By the close, the losses were pared and the NASDAQ actually finished with a decent gain, that owing to the flawed thinking that tech firms would benefit from the new plans being shuffled about by the Obama administration and the Democratic congress.

Dow 7,936.75, -64.11 (0.80%)
NASDAQ 1,494.43, +18.01 (1.22%)
S&P 500 825.43, -0.45 (0.05%)
NYSE Composite 5,166.47, -29.32 (0.56%)

The pols, however, are a sideshow. Whatever they compose in "stimulus" legislation, it won't help stem the rising tide of defaults and bankruptcies (everything from individuals to banks, to cities, counties and states), nor will they correct the essential flaw in our system: government at all levels which is too corrupt, too large and too endeared to their own hold on power. Americans face some dim prospects in the near future. There is either going to be a prolonged economic disaster (caused by Wall Street and the federal government) or riots and overthrow of the government, or martial law.

None of those are palatable, but, believe it or not, the one in the middle (riots and revolution) is probably the best solution.

Clean slate. Put all the fraudsters and criminals from Wall Street to Washington behind bars or at least, out of positions of power. Being that the government has all the money and guns, it's probably going to be easier for most Americans to simply submit to martial law (this should occur by September) or leave the country (Get those passports now!).

The imbecility of the American public cannot be underestimated. They continue to elect leaders from the same two entrenched, powerful parties, and expect different results. When the newly-elected get to their appointed positions of power, they have become members of the club. They are no longer Democrats and Republicans, they are all elitists, taking their orders from the oligarchs (CEOs) behind the various Wall Street fraud schemes.

That the entire house of cards is collapsing upon them at once is a very large problem, one which neither the Wall Streeters or the federal (or state) government operatives seem to be able to right. They're screwed, and because of that, the American people is about to be screwed even more.

Already, Californians are getting IOUs instead of tax refund checks. The Governor and the legislature wants to raise taxes and fees to fill the burgeoning budget gap. Higher taxes and fees are also being bandied about in state houses from New York to Wisconsin, Florida to Arkansas, Massachusetts to Michigan. The states are facing monumental budget shortfalls and instead of cutting pay to overpaid civil servants, they're opting for more blood (tax revenue) from constituents.

From the federal level on down, government has the equation all wrong. They're facing shortfalls because there isn't enough revenue, because people are out of work, or out of their homes, or both. Raising taxes on the rest of the population isn't going to repair that condition. In fact, their higher tax solutions will only serve to infuriate the masses even more.

Backing up my contention that the market is rigged (a small loss today instead of a big one) are the internals, which worsened considerably today. Declining issues outnumbered advancers, 3408-3126. The number of new lows expanded to 357, while the new highs contracted to 17. These are unmistakable signs of a worsening condition. The indices are heading back to the November 20 lows, likely to exceed them by a long shot on the downside.

NYSE Volume 1,326,851,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,014,289,000

The commodity markets, much less prone to outright manipulation, showed continuing signs of deflationary strain. Oil futures fell $1.60, to $40.08. Gold was overtaken by profit-takers, losing $21.20, to $907.20. Silver also fell, by 15 cents, to $12.42.

Buy silver, food and bullets.

This morning, I undertook a small test of the value of stocks as investments. I'll spare you the math, but I decided to look at what a basket of 10 stocks, purchased in February, 1999, would look like today. My selections were household names, all of which paid dividends: Intel (INTC), IBM (IBM), General Electric (GE), ExxonMobil (XON), FedEx (FDX), Bank of America (BAC), Caterpillar (CAT), McDonald's (MCD), Wal-Mart (WMT) and Coca-Cola (KO). In my example, I purchased $10,000 of each stock, for a total investment of $100,000.

The results, considering that I didn't pick all outright losers (In fact, 6 of the 10 were higher today than in 1999.), was an eye-opener. Before all taxes and fees, the $100,000 invested in 1999 would have been worth just $2347 less today. Adding in dividends, that number became positive, to the tune of a total return of $27,953. Not bad. right?

Not good, is my response. A simple fixed investment retuning 4% annually would have produced a profit of $48,024 before tax considerations. My takeaway on this is simple: Wall Street is a major fraud, built on high risk. Your money would be much better off in a simple savings account with a fair rate of interest. Therein lies the major disconnect of our age: the difference between saving and investing. Most individuals are not investors, just as most investors are not savers. Over the last 40-50 years, we've been fed a steady diet that investing was the key to prosperity, when the truth - all along - was that saving was the real key.

Americans can now focus on saving, thrift and intelligent consumerism, rather than engage in the highly-leveraged, risk-ridden world of Wall Street. Let the rich take the risk. The rest of us can prosper well enough without them.

And for the government, how can be be confident in a leadership that allows tax cheats to take over some of the most critical and demanding jobs in government? I'm talking about Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle, each of whom evaded taxes knowingly and yet will be confirmed as Secretaries of Treasury and Health and Human Services, respectively. Geithner's already been seated. Daschle has widespread support, including President Obama himself.

Our institutions have been corrupted beyond any hope for a reasonable repair. Our economy is a black hole and Americans will need new leaders and renewed resolve to get through this period with our nation intact. God save us all.

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