How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Pension Crisis?

For my entire adult life, I have repeatedly had it hammered into me that the country I am from is facing a massive crisis due to huge pension liabilities building up in developed nations. From a time when it took 10 working people to fund one pensioner, we are now down below 2 working people per pensioner in some Western nations.

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: US and Canada ...

These liabilities take many forms. For example, people in all of these countries were encouraged (read : forced) to pay into government schemes that promised to fund their old age and that promised land of loads of time to spend gardening, seeing the grandchildren, or going on cruises when you ceased working. Except…well, the governments took the money but in the case of the UK, for some reason forget to actually start up the fund to invest the money into. I would suspect other countries did the same, but you can update me via email on that below. No matter, the ledger entry liability where the government (through future taxpayers) must pay those pensions to the retirees and also fund their other welfare and healthcare needs still exists. When it comes to ledger entries and simple accounting, there’s no doubt that pensioners are a liability, IF we measure life in such simplistic terms. Fortunately, any non-sociopathic human doesn’t. for the sociopaths, it’s worth noting that 48-49 is the peak age for economic activity in human life – after that the trajectory is forever downwards.

What’s not often mentioned, however is how much capital these pensioners themselves saved up themselves to pay for their retirement. A huge percentage of world equity markets and the cash lying dormant in bank accounts, awaiting circulation, is owned by these very people being lamented for their inconsideration of daring to stay alive beyond their economic sell-by date. Yes, those very people who spent every month of their 30-40 year working lives, investing their excess capital above living expenses into funds, naively believing it’ll some day provide for their retirement. I can understand the level of trust then, but it’s harder to share now. However, another byproduct of this is that these are the very people who have dramatically high levels of trust in the existing system and that government will look after them. Therein lies another key factor of the recipe described at the end, for, you may have noticed a common denominator by now that all of these liabilities are extinguished, if only you can get the people themselves to die off. More on that later.

As an early example of the legalised wealth transfer from these retirees (hell, I will be one myself quite soon, if all goes to plan*), in 2012, the United Kingdom took ownership of the Royal Mail Pension scheme. Now, as you can probably imagine, this pension scheme has had many, many years to accumulate capital and invest it and so it did. By 2012, these assets had grown to £30bn, a huge sum. No matter, with the prevailing calculations in place, this pension fund was deemed to be in deficit compared to it’s liabilities. It’s probably worth pointing out at this point that it’s nice to be able to gently nudge a pension fund into being deficient on it’s liabilities, when you implement laws that force it to invest a fixed percentage of it’s assets in government bonds paying 0.1%, instead of being able to freely invest in dividend-paying safe stocks, or even hold the ultimate safe haven asset, Gold, and watch that appreciate. Well, okay, maybe appreciate in fiat currency, since Gold can only ever stand still priced in itself. The government solution to this was to offer the Royal Mail an opportunity for the government to take the assets, all £30bn of them, and in return offer nothing, but to pay the future unfunded liabilities of those pensioners who once worked for Royal Mail. As an early example of taking something now, in return for an unfunded future promise, it was wonderful. expect more of this to occur in future.

On a similar vein, I almost called this post “Last Coal Miner standing”, for there is one huge pension fund out there with assets way in excess of liabilities and which defaults back to the government once the last recipient expires. The Coal Miners’ Pension Fund. For the main reasons that coal miners, due to the nature of the work, tend not to live as long in retirement, as I know to our historic familial cost and that coal mining is a supposedly a declining industry (demand is still huge though, but you can engineer a decline, can’t you?).

The Coal miner’s pension fund actually did something dramatically clever way back in the 1980s. Identifying that investment trusts often trade way below the net value of their assets (NAV), they spotted one investment trust, the UK’s biggest at this time, was trading on a huge (30%?) discount to NAV and decided the best and cheapest way to increase the assets of the fund was to buy this trust and incorporate it into the fund. A wonderful move, whoever did it deserves the highest praise and I bet it was someone who sat outside the city circle, who genuinely had the best interests of the pension fund members in mind. Fast forward 40 years and sadly, the government doubtless has their eyes on this fund big-time and I am concerned how long that huge pool of money, paid in by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of men, will remain out of the clutches of the elite. See this kind of thing as the asset side of the equation, that they prefer not to tell you about, when they tell you about pensioners, with all their knowledge and wisdom, being liabilities. The same goes for firefighters, teachers and whoever else out there spent their working life trusting some pension to cater for them in retirement. You may well be disappointed.

Of course, it’s completely disgusting and represents theft on the most massive scale. So, that raises the question – what’s the best way to deal with it? Well, in an ideal world you might…nope, it’s pointless, that ideal world does not exist at all. The solution, I fear is somewhat simpler.

  1. Spend years convincing old people they are a liability and that they are dinosaurs who unnecessarily consume resources like CO2.
  2. Try to engineer an age divide, where the old are presented to the young as the people who stole your assets and who, by virtue of the happier times in which they lived, are somehow responsible for you not having a job and struggling in life.
  3. Introduce a new virus, then tell those trusting old people who still believe the state will provide that their best protection is an injection, as insurance against never feeling the full symptoms of this virus. Yes, that truly is all it promises – that you won’t get the symptoms quite so bad.

Things not to tell them include :- that the injection is experimental until 2023 and that you are part of the human experimental pool, or that the leading French Nobel prize winning virus expert believes you may well have just reduced your life expectancy to two years.

Pension crisis solved and best of all, the pensioners themselves agreed to it.

*It won’t, whatever else happens in life, the “plan”, as I imagined it, will not occur. You will own nothing and you will be happy. Or else.

Bitbubble

Last night was one of those nights where you wake up and things occur to you. I’ve had quite a few of those lately, but this one seemed especially illuminating. For a while now, we’ve had the word bubble planted in front of us by the media for quite a while to convince us stock markets, bond markets, commodity markets and biggest of all, cryptocurrencies are too high and may be about to crash.

Using reverse psychology, you should wonder if there really is a bubble. After all, a real bubble happens when everyone is too carried away by the emotion and success to recognise the bubble for what it is. In fact, bubbles don’t normally get identified until long after they pop. In hindsight, a graph usually makes it clear and everyone who once yelled loudly about their success now remains quiet and tries to forget the whole sorry episode.

Perhaps the one where you could say the graph seems to show a bubble, is Bitcoin. While I regret not being in on the Bitcoin boom, I’m still not convinced and find myself on the side of Peter Schiff and Jim Rogers, versus such other illuminaries as Doug Casey and Robert Kiyosaki. Yes, billions are being made and yes, we can agree fiat currencies are in massive decline. However, to me, the best medium to avoid that is the precious metals, with thousands of years of history to prove it, not electronic bits on a screen with no intrinsic value. Of course, the blockchain technology, decentralisation and ability to pay without banks are excellent, but it all runs on establishment hardware. Beginning with your smartphone, then the networks that pass your data across the world. As the establishment gets better at tracking, they will undoubtedly find ways to switch you off if they want to. There are certainly some fascinating debates out there to watch on the subject between these knowledgeable and successful people. Meanwhile, stories like this, about a German who won’t give the police his password and would rather sit in prison, remain amusing and stick two fingers up to the powers that be.

I am certainly an interested observer. Even the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who supposed started up Bitcoin is an enigma. For some reason, his name reminds me of the government department, the NSA (National Security Agency) and it’s always seemed strange that organisations with a global reach and unlimited funds are unable to track down the person who started it all. As an adult, you know that sometimes the best way to keep a child or dog occupied is to throw them a ball and part of me has wondered lately if that’s exactly what’s happened here. Throwing a ball to keep people busy and distract them from the best investments, while you clean up on the cheap.

Take, for example, the recent purchase by Tesla of $1.5 Billion worth of Bitcoin. Why would they do that, you might wonder? Whatever reasons are given, I find myself doubting they are the full truth. Then, we hear that Apple may also buy Bitcoin. Both stories helpfully plugged on mainstream media, to ensure maximum public reach.

So why are they buying?

Last night was my own Eureka moment. On a yearly basis, there isn’t enough silver mined to meet demand. Only about 80%, with the rest met by recycling. Fair enough, excellent reuse, but for how long will there be enough scrap silver to go around, and, if a sniff of inflation came around, how many of those recyclers would be willing to sell their metal at the current prices? It led me to get thinking about the products of Tesla and Apple, and the amount of silver they consume yearly. In the case of Tesla, one electric car consumes 1 kilogram of silver. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if they make one million cars a year, then they will consume 5% of world silver demand. To put that in perspective, Ford alone produced 4 million cars last year. When it comes to Apple, I am grateful to this excellent infographic for explaining it all very clearly, albeit it from 2013. I can only guess that bigger iphones means even more metal in there.

Here’s my view – the public has been thrown a ball to play with. Indeed, it may continue to shoot up and entertain us all, the same way the Dutch went wild for Tulip bulbs in Amsterdam in the 1600s, and for a while, we may all feel ourselves rich or stupid for not participating. Indeed, some will walk away with fortunes. The majority probably won’t, however.

Meanwhile, the elite can stock up on the proven store of value and have a good laugh as many lose everything and are forced to succumb to The Great Reset.

UK Government Borrowing in the Time of Corona

The BBC lays the amount of new money created in the UK, during the Corona crisis. To spell it out :-

“Since the beginning of the financial year in April, government borrowing has reached £214.9bn, £169.1bn more than a year ago.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has estimated it could reach £372.2bn by the end of the financial year in March.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55013192

The natural consequences of this? Inflation, even if it takes a few years for the currency to begin circulating, or the death of the pound? Take your choice.

Oil and Gold

Oil is still one of the biggest building blocks of life.  Regardless of whether you now work from home instead of driving to work every day in the gas-guzzler or not.  It’s used in everything – fuels, plastics and pharmaceuticals, to name a few.  In fact, if you now work from home, chances are you’re turning up the winter thermostats a bit more often than you would at work.  You’re probably also buying a lot more food from the supermarket, most of it encased in plastic packaging.  Even if your heating system is not oil-based, oil remains one of the main fuels available for generation of electricity, and could well do so for many, many years, regardless of how many windmills they build.

So, the good news.  You’ll be pleased to hear is that oil is at an all-time low, when measured against gold.  Luckily enough, since with your earnings being one-sixth of the 1970 value, you may not be able to afford to keep the house warm or drive a car otherwise.  Any apparent price rises you see at the pumps are merely an inflation of your fiat currency.

Now for the bad news, can it continue?

Maybe not.  For many years, gold and Oil actually maintained a near 10:1 ratio relationship.

(Chart: Gold/Oil ratio 2010 to 2020)

As the chart shows, this relationship has become distended as a result of the Corona crisis. There’s now a near 50:1 relationship as of August 2020. This may imply oil is actually quite cheap, gold is expensive, or that the ratio no longer holds. There has been a multitude of media articles heralding the death of oil.  However, it seems to have missed the attention of many that all of this data – everyone’s Facebook posts, Instagram images, or cloud software solution is stored on a server somewhere that requires electrical power to run. For sure, in the case of one Instagram post, that electrical consumption is miniscule, but multiply it across a world of 7 billion people, and you get an idea now of the immense electrical power required. Oil, natural gas, and coal are still heavily used in electrical power generation across the globe.

(Chart: Actual and predicted power sources to 2030)

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted the chart dates from 2003. This was deliberate since more recent data shows it to be correct. If so, the future trend for oil consumption is still upward.

(Chart: Energy consumption to 2040)

So, and this is only a question, not investment advice, maybe oil itself is not finished yet as an investment.  If not, could it revert back to the 10:1 ratio with gold and if so, at what price for both?

Housing and Gold

Now for some big news.  If you live in the UK, your house topped in value in 2005 and has been falling ever since.  In fact, it’s now about one-quarter of what it was worth then.  What?  I hear you say.  Okay, yes, in fiat currency units it has gone up, but measured in gold, it has fallen dramatically.

Measured this way, house prices are very close to the 1950 mean.  However, with the Corona crisis still in full swing, employment uncertainty for many and wages still at one-sixth of their 1970 value, it’s entirely possible the market could still have a lot further to fall.  Conversely, if something happens to get wages closer to the mean or inflation rises, well, they could easily move upwards in fiat currency terms especially.

In this case, the housing market is hard to exit, unless you prefer the uncertainty of renting.  Everyone needs to live somewhere.

Textiles and Gold

Clothes are really cheap right now, as retailers dump tons of unsold stock from the 2020 fashion ranges onto the market at bargain prices. If you already have enough clothes, fine, but if not, it might be a good time to ensure you do, especially clothes to see you through cold winters. With this glut, it’s hard to know what will happen to all elements of the clothing supply chain in the future: Cotton farmers, Garment manufacturers, and clothing retailers.

The low price of cotton has already made it hard for growers in countries like India to turn a profit and it’s hard to know how they are coping with this huge change in market conditions.  There’s been talk of suicides in the media.  With cotton at an all-time low, we can assume that prospects are not great for some cotton farmers.

Food and Gold

100 years ago, the average household spent up to 50% of its income on food. Today, that figure is nearer 10%, giving us all more disposable income for consumer goods, bigger mortgage repayments, and exotic holidays.  Food is cheap, almost too cheap, in fact.  As some farmers struggle to turn a profit and big supermarkets control the supply chain.

(Chart showing food prices as a proportion of income)

Of course, some of this is due to technological improvements in farming and manufacturing, but much of it is due to fiat currency inflation versus gold.  Perhaps it can’t last forever – we may well already be being prepared for future food shortages and increases in food prices. You may have already noticed shortages during the crisis or increases. On a personal level, visiting the supermarket regularly, a 20-25% increase in fruit, vegetables, and dairy products has occurred since March 2020, when Corona began. That’s interesting, as these products are all the ones with the shortest shelf life, that are most immediately impacted by price rises. Others, like dried, tinned and frozen goods, may be in huge stock at warehouses down the supply chain behind the supermarket facade, and price rises may take longer to feed through. Observe these headlines from recent times, as to what they may be planting the seed in your head to germinate for:-

“UK potato farmers fear another washout for this year’s crop. “

The Guardian, August 2020

“Bread price may rise after dire UK wheat Harvest.”

BBC News, August 2020

“Coronavirus: Meat shortage leaves US farmers with ‘mind-blowing’ choice.”

BBC News, May 2020

If you wonder how far food prices can rise during a monetary crisis, then here is an example of prices from “Fiat Money Inflation in France,” an excellent study of the hyperinflation that occurred there during the French revolutionary times, which coincide with the decline of the French empire before the handover to Great Britain.

Now, how well covered are you for those kinds of price rises in basic commodities, the essentials of life?

Inflation

Inflation is an awful thing. It increases the number of currency units in circulation, robbing and diluting the hard-earned savings of normal people.

Note, inflation is an increase in the number of currency units in circulation, not an increase in prices, despite media stories about increased prices being inflation. Even the Bank of England, perhaps accidentally, confuses the two. They often aim for an inflation ‘target’
of 2%, supposedly the centrally-decided ideal set of price increases for a Goldilocks, not too-warm, not too-cold, economy to function. However, when they refer to this inflation target, they mean an increase in prices. Normally, the amount of extra currency pumped into circulation yearly exceeds the 2% figure by a large margin.

The BBC too, it seems, has the same misconception as the Bank of England. Take this story UK inflation rises after Eat Out to Help Out ends, published on 21st October 2020, for example. Here we find an explanation of Inflation that is, at best, accidentally wrong and at worst, intentionally wrong.

What is inflation?

Inflation is the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase.

It affects everything from mortgages to the cost of our shopping and the price of train tickets.

It’s one of the key measures of financial well-being, because it affects what consumers can buy for their money. If there is inflation, money doesn’t go as far.

1971 Gold Window Closes

While the owning of gold was illegal for US citizens from 1933, the USA sat atop international trade after World War 2, allowing gold convertibility at the same price of 35 dollars an ounce for other nations. This was called the ‘Bretton Woods’ agreement, referring to the location where it was signed. However, partly due to the cost of paying for the Vietnam War, the number of dollars in circulation began rising in the 1950s and 1960s. Nations like France and West Germany seized their chance to exchange their devaluing dollars for the real thing, gold at $35 an ounce. In 1971, the window for exchanging gold was officially closed.

The Federal Reserve

As the current empire, the USA began 1900 with a strong, growing country, an economic powerhouse destined to lead the world, and best of all, their currency was all denominated in gold and silver.

The USA removed its link in gradual phases, but several major milestones stand out in history. The first of these was the creation of the Federal Reserve, in 1913, just before World War One, handing control of the US national currency to private banking interests. To emphasise the importance of this, remember Amschel Rothschild’s quote :-

“Give me control of a nation’s money, and I care not who makes the laws.”

― Amschel Rothschild

James Corbett’s superb “Century of Enslavement – History of the Federal Reserve” video and podcast documentary is highly recommended for the full history of how that happened.