This is the End

The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: It’s been a string of long days and late nights for your dedicated “street team” at the Vancouver conference, but now the end is here. Wrapping things up for you today is the editor of the Agora Financial Forum, Rick Barnard.


Today, the last day of the Agora Financial Wealth Symposium, Bill Bonner took the stage to discuss “the end” – the end of the dollar, the end of the housing bubble, the end of the U.S. Empire, the end of Western civilization…and the end of all life on Earth.

I’ll simply discuss the end of the conference.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but we saved the best for last – with some of the strongest, most informative and possibly most profitable information yet. And I’m not just saying that because I work with these most of these guys.

First up was Michael Checkan of Asset Strategies International. He was stopping in Vancouver as part of a whirlwind trip around the world, visiting gold hotspots around the globe. By the time he reached us in Canada, his passport was filled with fresh ink from the likes of Turkey, Australia, Singapore and more.

Michael shared some of his favorite ways to invest in gold around the world, focusing on coins and bullion. But he also acknowledged that there’s always room for gold ETFs and gold certificates, too. As he admitted, “I’m a gold bug, but that doesn’t mean I’m a paper worm.”

Then it was time for James Boric to take the stage. We’ve seen very little of our favorite small-cap analyst the past few days as he perfected his speech and double-checked his recommendations. But it was obviously time very well spent, as the crowd was treated to an in-depth look at why small-caps still have power… and a step-by-step method for evaluating the best ones out there.

Despite what some of his esteemed colleagues had said during the week, James made a compelling argument for following Wall Street’s smallest stocks – offering three specific ways you can still find value in this overheating sector. He also shared two of the best values he’s come across – a pair of tiny companies with great fundamentals and a building catalyst for breakout growth. If James is right, both are poised to double or more. Of course, time is of the essence on these plays, and I hear several conference-goers jumped onto their laptops moments after his speech.

One of the most intriguing speeches of the day came courtesy of Outstanding Investment’s Justice Litle. He shared his belief that gold bugs fondest wish could soon come true – and much of the world could soon return to the gold standard.

To many on Wall Street, it’s just a pipe dream. And Justice was well aware of the criticism. In fact, he discussed the four biggest objections to returning to a gold standard – and offered a compelling case for dismissing every single one. From the murmurs in the crowd, I could tell some people weren’t buying it. But then Justice offered a simple analogy…comparing today’s currency fears to a common fear over 200 years ago – the fear that America’s cities would be buried knee-deep in horse manure.

See, back then, America was growing so fast that and more and more horses were needed to keep things running smoothly – deliver people and goods throughout our burgeoning cities. Some scientists and worrywarts predicted the number of horses in our cities would have to outpace the human population to keep up with demand. And that meant a lot of horse waste filling the streets. Luckily, our government wasn’t so proactive in those days, so there weren’t proposals for programs or policies to stop the threat of “road apples.” Instead, technology came to the rescue, ensuring that future generations wouldn’t have to watch where they stepped walking down the street. And Justice believes technology will step in to rescue our currencies, too, putting us back on the gold standard, where we belong.

Bringing another unique look at history was the ever-popular Byron King. Our favorite historian dedicated his talk to turning points in history – events that in hindsight changed the world forever. From Japan’s defeat at the Battle of Midway to how a war with the Bulgarians brought an end to the Byzantine Empire, Byron showed how seemingly minor events can have big consequences – and shared ideas for identifying these turning points while there is still time to take advantage of them.

One of those future turning points is sure to be the growing water crisis, as Chris shared when he took the stage. He shared the latest data on America’s crumbling water infrastructure, and the costs it will involve to fix. Little did he know that a mere four days before he spoke, a maintenance crew had hammered through the ceiling just above our heads. It turns out some pipes had started leaking, leaving several hotel rooms without water. So, I hope the crowd was paying particular attention to the specific stocks he recommended.

Next, it was time for a profit scavenger hunt – literally. Global Profit Hunter’s Sala Kannan hid several items around the conference room. Each represented a specific opportunity for profits in the years ahead. As attendees eagerly looked under their tables and chairs for the special goodies, Sala revealed how they were the best ways to invest in the world’s growing middle class. Among the items – and her specific recommendations – was a can of beer. After congratulating the luck attendee who found it, she suggested he save it because, as she put it, “You’ll need it because Bill Bonner is up next.”

Sure enough, our top curmudgeon took the stage in rare form – tackling head-on the belief that he’s always negative. He just calls things how he sees them…and it’s a fact that nothing lasts forever. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the end is near. And it certainly doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from here.

“There was no signal that the Roman Empire was in decline,” he said. “And the truth is, Roman citizens enjoyed some of their best years, even as the Empire was falling apart.”

The same thing might be true for America. Yes, we are an empire. And empires don’t last forever. But they still can last for a long time, and people can prosper in that time. In his usual humble style, the Daily Reckoning mastermind conceded: “The U.S. empire could last for another four centuries.”

“Then again,” he added, “Rome didn’t have a Federal Reserve system…”

All in all, it’s been an exciting and informative couple of days. I spoke to several attendees who declared this one of the best financial conferences they’ve ever attended. While some people admitted they didn’t like every speaker, they did enjoy the large number of specific recommendations they’re going home with.


Rick Barnard
for The Daily Reckoning
July 31, 2006

P.S. So it seems all the hard work – behind the scenes and in front – was worth it. But you don’t have to be left out. We recorded each and every speech this week and these special CDs will bring you almost all the action – straight to your living room.

Editor’s Note: Rick Barnard is a financial writer based in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s the editor of Agora Financial and associate editor of The Richebächer Letter. He also does behind-the-scenes editing and writing for newsletters like Outstanding Investments and the Capital & Crisis.

“People just have no margin,” explained Dennis Gartman, whom we met in Vancouver. “I have a friend who is a mortgage broker. He tells me that clients will figure out their monthly budgets to within $5. That’s how much they have left over after their foreseeable expenses.”

When a credit bubble expands, the lenders make a lot of money. But when it contracts, the loan business goes sour.

Countrywide Financial and Capital One are two of the biggest lenders in America. Their stocks are falling – down 15% to 20% from their peaks.

We are seeing – we think – a “Farewell to ARMs,” as we put it on Friday in our speech to the Agora Wealth Symposium. Rising rates, and the threat of rising rates, is killing the lending industry.

Friday’s papers also brought news of two trends that may be destined to increase the destruction far beyond the credit business. Inflation was reported rising at the fastest rate half from the first quarter to the second. These twin trends are heralds of stagflation, the first in 12 years. Meanwhile, GDP growth is declining – the rate of economic growth fell in scourge of central banking.

We remind readers how stagflation comes about (and why Ben Bernanke is doomed):

The Keynesian economics practiced by governments and central bankers depends on deception. As more money and credit is introduced into the economy – as “stimulus” – it is mistaken for real wealth. Consumers think they have more money to spend; businessmen think they have more customers; investors think they see more profits. Deceived, they happily expand the economy. As time goes on, however, prices catch up to the funny money and the consumer wakes up to the fact that he or she is no better off than before. The businessman finds that though he has more customers, he must also pay his workers more. And his supplies cost more, too. The investor sees that he did not really make any money; profits disappeared as costs rose and the gain on his stock barely equaled the general loss of purchasing power of the dollar.

So, gradually, the old trick stops working. Money and credit may pour in, but no one is fooled. Instead, prices rise, while the economy goes limp.

This was what Paul Volcker faced when he stepped into the Fed back in the late ’70s. He had to whip inflation – or more precisely, inflation expectations – before any further monetary stimulus would work. And this he did, by pushing lending rates up over 15% and bringing about the worst recession since the 1930s. People were so upset with him they burned him in effigy on the capital steps.

Now, what will Ben Bernanke do? The poor man finds a different world from the one his immediate predecessor ruled over. Alan Greenspan took the post after Volcker had already raised rates. Greenspan could ride them down for the next 15 years. But now rates are low, and who wants to ride them up? If present trends continue, Bernanke will need to raise rates to fight inflation. But he will also need to cut rates to fight the incipient slump.

The man is trapped. He’s spent his career studying how to avoid a Japanese-style slump – an off-again, on-again deflationary recession extending over a long period of time. And now, he has one staring him in the face. He desperately wants to cut rates to head it off. But then, what about inflation?

And if he tries to pull a Volcker – jacking up rates to squeeze out inflationary expectation – the lumpen are likely to burn him for real!

We think again of Alan Greenspan. The man must have to back into elevators and shave in the dark. How can he bear to look himself in the eyes? His easy money policies have wreaked havoc on the landscape of the United States. Gone are the sturdy independent homesteads. In their place are shaky plastic lean-tos and flimsy vinyl shacks held up by debt. And debt of the worst sort: ARMs – adjustable-rate debt.

Adjust the rates upward just a couple percentage points and the things will collapse in a heap.

Oh those ARMS! If Bernanke hikes rates to fight inflation, the ARMs go up. And then the hands go up, voting for a change in government. Finally, the stakes and tinder are prepared. Bernanke must smell the smoke already…

More news from our friends at EverBank…


Chris Gaffney reporting from St. Louis:

“With just over a week to go before the FOMC decision, I expect the currency traders to continue to sell dollars in exchange for yen and euros, as we continue to see signs that the next Fed move up will be its last.”

For the rest of this story, and for more insights into the world currency markets, see today’s issue of The Daily Pfennig


And more thoughts…

*** Want to make some money? “Buy China,” says Alex Green.

There are more people who speak English in China than there are in the United States, says Alex. And 200 million people with middle-class budgets. China has been growing at lightning speed, of course. People keep expecting it to slow down. Instead, it just grows faster. This is a trend that can go on for a very long time, Alex suggests, and make a lot of people a lot of money.

How to profit from it?

“Don’t bother trying to figure out which Chinese company to buy,” he says. “You’re not likely to get it right. Just buy one of the ETFs – the EWH or the FXI – that focus on China…or buy the Templeton Dragon Fund. It’s run by Mark Mobius, one of the smartest guys in the business.”

*** Making our way back from Vancouver, we had the pleasure of a couple idle hours in the business waiting-lounge at Heathrow Airport in London. There, we witnessed the most remarkable thing: television. There was one in the waiting room that apparently couldn’t be disabled, so we had to endure it out of the corner of our eye.

What we found took our breath away: a group of dissolute young people acting like complete jackasses in front of the camera. They laid around in various settings, sometimes putting on strange get-ups, often jumping up and down and hugging each other. The show seemed to go on forever. Big Brother, it is called.

*** At last, a political candidate we can get behind.

Kinky Friedman is running for governor of the state of Texas as a “compassionate redneck.” We remember Kinky from his days as a rock and roller when he had his own band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. Later, he took up writing, turning out such classics of detective stories as “Armadillos and Old Lace,” and “Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned.”

Kinky’s campaign slogan appeals to our own Essentialist sense of modesty: “I Can’t Screw Things Up Any Worse Than They Have.” Accused of drinking beer while driving at the head of the recent St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas, Kinky says: “I admit I did drink the Guinness, but I did not swallow.”

The candidate has a solution to education financing. He proposes to legalize gambling and use the money to pay for schools. “Slots for Tots,” he calls it. And he may be the only candidate in the country who supports gay marriage and compulsory prayer in the public schools…as well as converting all the state’s school buses to run on biodiesel fuel. Yes, Kinky has the usual assortment of fashionable claptrap and a few bad ideas of his own, but at least he doesn’t seem to be serious about them.

“The death penalty? I’m all over the map. I’m not anti it, but I’m anti the wrong guy getting executed…at least I never killed anybody. Not even Ted Kennedy can say that.”