»The Daily Reckoning by Bill Borner

Why the government will keep on borrowing
12 APRIL 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The feds got over the first hurdle. They cut a deal to keep the government in business a while longer.

But that's not the end of the story. It's just the beginning.

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The New York Times has the story:

Congressional Republicans are vowing that before they will agree to raise the current $14.25 trillion federal debt ceiling - a step that will become necessary in as little as five weeks - President Obama and Senate Democrats will have to agree to far deeper spending cuts for next year and beyond than those contained in the six-month budget deal agreed to late Friday night that cut $38 billion and averted a government shutdown.

Republicans have also signaled that they will again demand fundamental changes in policy on health care, the environment, abortion rights and more, as the price of their support for raising the debt ceiling.

In a letter last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Congressional leaders the government would hit the limit no later than May 16. He outlined "extraordinary measures" - essentially moving money among federal accounts - that could buy time until July 8. Once the limit is reached, the Treasury Department would not be able to borrow as it does routinely to finance federal operations and roll over existing debt; ultimately it would be unable to pay off maturing debt, putting the United States government - the global standard-setter for creditworthiness - into default.

The repercussions in that event would be as much economic as political, rippling from the bond market into the lives of ordinary citizens through higher interest rates and financial uncertainty of the sort that the economy is only now overcoming, more than three years after the onset of the last recession.
Here's the story. The feds spend more than they 'earn' in taxes almost 100% more. That gives them only two choices...balance the federal budget , by raising taxes and/or making spending cuts...

Or...borrowing money.

Borrowing is a lot easier than taxing or cutting. So, that's what they'll do. Forget the grandstanding...forget the agit-prop theatre...

...they either borrow...or they balance the budget.

And they're not going to balance the budget. Because too many voters expect to get more from government than they have paid for. That was the unstated promise of modern, social welfare governments:
Let us control your lives. We will give you more in benefits than you pay for.
How can you give people more than they pay for? Only by taking the money from someone else. But governments have learned that taxing the rich heavily actually reduces the GDP and the amount of money that can be given to voters. So, they turned to taxing the next generation.

After all, they don't vote.

*** Buenos Aires is beautiful. We have been blessed with good weather.

The city is booming, too. Strong agricultural prices have done what they always do in Argentina they've set off a boom.

"Property prices are up about 30% over the last 3 years," says our BA-based colleague, Rob Marstrand. "But this is such a funny place. I love living here, because you see everything. If not in the present, certainly in the past...or the future. Booms, busts, corruption, inflation everything.

"Only about 6% of properties are sold with mortgages. So this is a real boom where people are paying cash. But, where does this cash come from? Much of it comes from the bull market in farm products. Argentina is one of the world's top producers of cereals, for example. But there is probably a lot of money coming from the government too. The inflation rate is about 25%.

"Now, you'd think that a country with a 25% inflation rate would have a currency that is falling through the floorboards. But no. The authorities have been supporting the peso; it actually went up 4% against the dollar. Put the dollar's drop and Argentine inflation together, and you get a loss of dollar purchasing power of 30%.

"People want to protect themselves. And here, they do it by buying real estate.

"Americans might want to think about it too."

Prices are down 30% nationwide in the US. In Florida, Nevada, and most of California, they're half off. Even if they might go down a bit more, there are some very good deals available now. A friend of ours is able to buy apartment buildings for little more than 5 times rent income. If upkeep and taxes take half of that, that still gives him a 10% return. But it could be much better. Suppose he takes out a 30-year, fixed rate mortgage. Now, suppose inflation goes up. Every percentage point that consumer prices rise is another percentage point of yield for a fully-mortgaged investor.

Rob also is in charge of our Family Office investments.

"I don't see anyway that they can unwind all this debt and spending without causing even more problems," he says. Investors might get some protection from real estate or stocks. But the best protection is gold.

"But we're still in a correction," Rob continued. "It wouldn't be surprising to see gold fall when this round of QE ends. Take away the money-printing and gold could sell off along with everything else. But people are now catching on. When the economy worsens, they expect the feds to add more stimulus...or lower rates...or more QE. So, they know that over the long run, the effect will probably be to undermine the dollar. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see gold down 15% in the next sell-off.

"But when the feds step in with more spending, gold will be the clear winner. We already own a lot of gold. I feel like I want to buy more of it..."

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