There's a Dinosaur in My Back Yard

There’s a Dinosaur in my Backyard
The Daily Reckoning Weekend Edition
October 23-24, 2004
Baltimore, Maryland
By Tom Dyson

"I’ll probably be buying an SUV quite soon," said your editor’s father at breakfast this morning. He’s always hated SUVs.

The old man is a teacher and he rides his bike all over town giving art and piano lessons. When he’s got a puncture, he walks – even if it’s raining. It’s not that he doesn’t like driving; he just objects to waste. "Why should I drive when I can pedal everywhere," is his standard response to the soccer moms.

So you can imagine our surprise when he said he was thinking about buying an SUV. We nearly choked on our scrambled eggs!

"People around here are so lazy." He’s said it so frequently, we hardly pay attention any more. "They hire workers to clean their yards, and nannies to take care of their kids. They even pay people to shovel their snow and carry the rubbish to the bins."

"But listen to this… this takes the biscuit. The other day we had a neighborhood meeting at our house. Only the closest neighbors were invited. You know, the Smiths, the Adamos, the Granvilles and a few others. You’ll never believe it, we actually had a traffic jam in our driveway! Only one person walked. Even our next door neighbors drove… it can’t be more than 200 feet, door to door!"

"So why on earth would you want an SUV?" we asked, "Are you going senile? Have you not seen how expensive gasoline is? You never drive anywhere… what do you want an SUV for? I thought you hated them?"

"That’s just it. Soon, SUVs will be so cheap, they’ll be virtually giving them away. I bet I can save $15,000 on a new one. Sure, it’ll cost more to fill up, but I don’t care, I hardly ever drive! The new Toyotas Prius hybrid, on the other hand, has just been marked up $5000 because of high demand, but I’d probably only save $500 in gas a year."

Millions of American’s aren’t so lucky. They already own SUVs, and they drive them all the time. That’s unfortunate because oil is now more expensive than at anytime in the past, priced in U.S. dollars. On Friday, the December contract closed up 70 cents, to $55.17 a barrel.

But big trucks and gasoline aren’t the only things Americans like to buy. They’re into houses too… bought on cheap credit. Everything’s okay for now though, if you believe Alan Greenspan: Dan Denning sends us his views on Bubble’s latest testimony…

"Despite average annual mortgage debt growth in excess of 12 percent over the past two years," claimed the chairman, "the financial obligations of homeowners have exhibited little change as a share of their income because mortgage rates have remained at historically low levels." [Denning’s translation: Everything will be fine as long as rates stay low. And I’m keeping them low, mind you.]

Greenspan: "There are, however, pockets of severe stress within the household sector that remain of concern and we need to be mindful of the difficulties these households face." Mindful, says Denning, must mean keeping interest rates low, encouraging adjustable rate mortgages, goading sub-prime borrowers with the illusion they can get rich from rising home values by leveraging 95% of the purchase price, and saying it all with great conviction.

"And by the way," concludes Dan, "he also says that the net worth to debt ratio is cause for comfort. Even if incomes are growing less fast than debt (or in some cases, not growing at all but shrinking) it’s okay. Net worth is rising. Dubious when you consider the largest component of net worth, and the one factor that’s accounted for its large rise is… you guessed it… rising home prices. Repeat after me Mr. Chairman… assets fluctuate in value. Debts do not."

The financial markets are frenzied. Oil, gold, euro and yen all made fresh multi-month highs. The Dow made a multi-month low.

The euro closed Friday at $1.2681, up 2 cents on the week for a new 8-month high. Yen gained 1.94 down to 107.25, for a 3-month high. Gold followed; the barbarous relic jumped $5.60 to $24.5 and to close in on, but not breach, a new 16-year high.

Stocks were mixed last week. The Nasdaq just managed to keep its head above water, something neither the Dow or S&P could manage. In fact, the Dow sunk 176 points to its lowest close this year and the lowest since November 24. It closed Friday at 9,758. The S&P slid 12 to 1,096 while the Nasdaq gained 4 to 1,915.

As for the lazy drivers in the traffic jam on my Dad’s driveway, one impatient couple tried to take a short cut across the grass. Unlucky for them. It’s been raining up here in New York and the grass is waterlogged. The vehicle got stuck.

"They couldn’t escape. They just ruined my garden instead. There were skid marks all over the place. I waited with them until about midnight and the tow truck still hadn’t come, so I left and went to bed."

It was an SUV. Maybe next time they’ll walk…

Tom Dyson,
The Daily Reckoning
October 23, 2004

P.S. Dan’s been on their case for months. Now the dominoes are all falling in place and the mortgage lending business is falling apart, right in front of us.


AIN’T MISBEHAVING                                     10/22/04
By Bill Bonner

"There is always a lot of random noise in markets – as in life itself. But there are patterns, too. The trouble is, the patterns – like fractals – are variable and largely unpredictable."

PANIC AND PROFITS                                   10/21/04
By Chris Mayer

"Panics always have their beginnings in the boom that precedes them. Just as all hurricanes first develop over warm waters from pre-existing conditions, financial storms are spawned by surging growth in money, debt and speculation – the tres hombres of financial upheaval, if you will."

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE                        10/20/04
By Gary Shilling

"The declining importance of energy in GDP production in the United States and most other countries means that the current crude oil price leap is less significant than previous spikes and should do less damage to the economy."

HISTORY REPEATING                                  10/19/04
By Marc Faber

"When the world is engulfed in a wave of speculation, the wave doesn’t end abruptly, but tends to carry on for a while and spreads to assets other than equities, such as real estate, commodities, art etc… "

WEIRDNESS ABOUNDS                             10/18/04
By the Mogambo Guru

"The big news is that the new winners of the Nobel Prize in economics, Edward Prescott and Finn Kyland, won the coveted prize by essentially saying that Alan Greenspan, and the idiotic course of monetary policy they are rabidly pursuing, is wrong!"



Nuclear Leverage
by Dan Denning

"Iran could deal a devastating blow to the United States economically – without touching Israel or even fomenting chaos in Iraq (although it’s capable of doing both). With supplies in the United States already so tight… what would a deliberate Iranian attack on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz do?"

Show Me the Oil!
by Kevin Kerr

"So many wishful thinkers are hoping, praying and betting on the idea that Saudi Arabia will come to the rescue. They think the world’s top exporter should be able to boost capacity enough to bring U.S. oil prices below $40… Sorry, it ain’t gonna happen, folks."

The Daily Reckoning