Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Who Is Jim Rogers?

With a name like that, you'd think he was a country and western movie star. Well, in his own way, he is definitely a swashbuckler. Jim is not shy and is very vocal on many investing issues. Unlike the other Jim (Cramer), this Jim has substance and intelligence. Cramer has very little of either.

On the recent bailouts by the Fed and applying "band-aids" to the US economy, the Federal Reserve may well be causing its own downfall - even as it hastens the demise of the greenback as a viable global currency, according to Jim Rogers.

Because of such strategic missteps, U.S. consumers could be facing a long and painful economic malaise, similar to the "lost decade" of 1990s Japan, or the stagflation-riddled 1970s in the United States, Rogers said.

Rogers started with The Quantum Fund, a hedge fund that’s often described as the first real global investment fund, which he and partner George Soros founded in 1970. Over the next decade, Quantum gained 4,200%, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed about 50%.

It was after Rogers "retired" in 1980 that the investing masses got to see him in action. Rogers traveled the world (several times), and penned such bestsellers as Investment Biker and Bull in China. And, he made some historic market calls: Rogers predicted China’s meteoric growth a good decade before it became apparent, and he subsequently foretold of the powerful updraft in global commodities prices that’s fueled a year-long bull market in the agriculture, energy and mining sectors.

Rogers also said that:

  • Although the United States faces perhaps its most daunting economic challenges in at least a generation, "in America, most people do not understand that there is a problem."
  • Because of these weak-dollar efforts - as well as the billion-dollar bailouts - "America is now the largest debtor the world has ever seen."
  • Although the central bank seems intent on engineering a U.S. economic rebound by creating an ultra-weak dollar, no country in history has ever emerged from a serious financial crisis by "debasing its currency."

The bottom line: The strategies that the central bank is currently employing are nothing short of "outrageous," Rogers said.

"You know, I’ve read the Federal Reserve Act," he said. "Nowhere does it say [the central bank is] supposed to bail out investment banks! Nowhere does it say you should bail out Wall Street. Their mandate was to have a sound currency, and then it was later expanded to have employment - to help employment. But nowhere does it say: ‘Bail out investment banks.’"

Here are some of the highlights of the Money Morning interview with investor and author Jim Rogers.

Q: There’s a confluence of money flowing into and around China. Do you believe that the U.S., with all its current problems, will get left out?

Jim Rogers: Absolutely.

The U.S. dollar is a terribly flawed currency. I’m trying to get all of my money out of U.S. dollars. I don’t know why anybody would put money into the U.S. dollar, and by extension into the U.S., as we stand here today. The U.S. is probably the largest debtor nation the world has ever seen!

The United States’ foreign debts are increasing at the rate of $1 trillion U.S. dollars every 15 months. U.S. foreign debt is over $13 trillion, and rising rapidly. It’s the official policy of the central bank to debase the currency. They’re trying to drive down the value of the dollar.

Q: The government has succeeded wildly, so far.

Rogers: You haven’t seen anything yet!

They’re trying to drive down the dollar. I’m trying to be patriotic. I’m trying to sell dollars. That’s what they want. I’m trying to help them drive down the value of the currency.

All Americans should. There are certainly probably good reasons to put some money in dollars. For instance, if you have to buy cotton, you have to have dollars.

But for the most part - I, anyway - am joining other people who’re trying to avoid the U.S. dollar, because Washington has sent a very clear signal: "We want the dollar to decline. We’re gonna do our best to make it decline."

Well, everybody has to make their own decision. I’m trying to do what the Federal Reserve wants me to do, and I’m selling dollars.

Q: My take is that former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and current Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke may go down as the worst central bank chairmen in history. Do you see it differently?

Rogers: [Bernanke] and Greenspan together will probably bring [about] the end of the Federal Reserve. We’ve had two central banks in America that failed. This third central bank will probably fail, too, because of Bernanke and Greenspan.

The Federal Reserve last week put $200 billion more onto its balance sheet of mortgages. Now, I don’t know how big they can expand their balance sheet, but if they keep doing it, there’s only so much - [and] they just bought Bear Stearns.

There’s just so much they can do. Maybe that balance sheet is infinite. I doubt it. And it can be said to be infinite; they just print money like Zimbabwe or someplace. But that has to come to an end, eventually.

Maybe Bernanke is going to get into his helicopter and fly around collecting rents now. Maybe when they repossess all the property, he’s going to be the rent collector. But then when they eventually take on all the car loans, I guess he’s going to be collecting car payments, too. And credit card debt, when they take over all the credit card payments, I guess he’ll be hauling us all out saying: "Your credit card’s overdue."

This is insanity.

Q: Is there a circumstance under which you could see the U.S. recovering, or do you think this country is doomed to be an economic also-ran?

Rogers: Historically, nations that have gotten themselves into this kind of situation have only gotten out following a crisis or a semi-crisis, or some gigantic stroke of luck.

The U.K. got out because they discovered the North Sea. Now, you give me the largest oil field in the world, or one of the largest oil fields in the world, I’ll show you a good time, too.

So if you have a stroke of luck [you can escape these kinds of problems], but otherwise, nobody’s ever sorted out these problems without some kind of gigantic crisis or semi-crisis first.

In America, most people do not understand there is a problem! The few who know there’s something going on don’t understand what it is. Most of them who understand it actually think it’s good that the currency’s declining. America’s not going to do anything until things get very, very bad.

Others that offer the rejoinder to this - that the declining dollar makes America competitive - [that] has worked in the short term. But no country has ever restored itself by debasing its currency, not in the long term, not even the medium term.

Many places have tried to debase their currency as a solution. It’s never worked, other than maybe in the short-term, for a while.

Q: Are we looking at a Japanese-style lost economic decade?

Rogers: The Federal Reserve is making the same mistakes that the Japanese made. They’re trying to say: "We won’t let anybody fail. We’ll print a lot of money. We’ll drive interest rates to zero. And we don’t want anybody to fail. We’ll put on as many Band-Aids as we have to."

Well, putting Band-Aids on a cancer patient is not a good solution.

So whether it’s like the ’90s in Japan, or the ’70s in America, remains to be seen.

[One-time U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman] Arthur Burns, who headed the central bank in the ’70s, did exactly what Bernanke’s doing. He raced in and printed money and said: "Oh, everything’s gonna be OK."

But the economy never recovered, inflation went through the roof, and the dollar was under duress. Eventually they had to bring in Paul Volcker and interest rates went over 20%. And eventually they killed inflation and they solved the problem.

They’re making exactly the same mistakes that Burns made. For whatever reason, though, this problem is going to last longer than previous difficulties in America. And it’s probably going to be worse.

Because, now, America is a debtor nation. Now we’re the largest debtor nation in the world. At least in the ’70s, we were still a creditor nation. Japan could survive because they were the largest creditor in the world at the time. So they didn’t fall off the face of the earth.

America’s now the largest debtor the world has ever seen. What’s happening in the U.S. is not going to be fun.

Q: Should the Fed be stepping in like it has in recent months?

Rogers: It’s outrageous that Bernanke’s sitting there. You know, I’ve read the Federal Reserve Act. Nowhere does it say [the central bank is] supposed to bail out investment banks! Nowhere does it say you should bail out Wall Street. Their mandate was to have a sound currency, and then it was later expanded to have employment - to help employment. But nowhere does it say: ‘Bail out investment banks.’

Investment banks have been failing for centuries. The world hasn’t come to an end… even when investment banks have failed. They just caused a setback, and so what!

Recessions are usually good for the system. They clean out the excesses. And my God there’ve been excesses on Wall Street in the past 10 years. You don’t see a bunch of 29-year-old cotton farmers driving around in Maseratis and flying in private planes to exotic locations. Well, you see a lot of guys on Wall Street doing that.

And the idea that we’re now supposed to bail them out is ludicrous! I don’t see any of those guys sending their bonus checks back.

Huge amounts were made in the debt markets. We now know [that money was made] at least incorrectly, if not fraudulently, and yet, now we’re supposed to bail them out. It’s bad enough they get to keep their money. But the outrageous part is that it will cost more to try to prevent a recession than to have the recession.

We have safety nets in place, now. We did in the ’70s in America and the Japanese did in the ’90s. I think there’s good evidence that it will cost more to try to prevent the problems than to have the problems.

Q: That’s a very interesting thought that had not occurred to me before.

Rogers: Well, we’ll see if it’s right. In nature, there’s the natural phenomenon of forest fires. The forest fires are pretty terrible when they’re going on. But nature invented them to clean out the forest so that the forest could then come and grow from a new, sound foundation. That’s what recessions do, too. They’re a natural phenomenon.

Nobody likes it when we have them any more than anybody likes a forest fire. But in the end, everybody’s better off. Bernanke thinks he can stop this; he’s going to very well destroy the system by trying to save it.

Q: Could you see a segment of the financial system surviving this? Or do you think that there will be such catastrophic change that we won’t recognize it till several years from now?

Rogers: Ask me again in five years, 10 years. That was true after the ’30s, certainly. It was true even after the ’60s. Very few people went to Wall Street in the ’70s, very few. A whole generation ignored Wall Street in the ’30s and in the ’70s.

Will that happen again? Probably, because of things we’ve been discussing.

So there will be big changes, of course. If you’re in the field that deals with - and works out - bankruptcies, you’ve got a great future - on Wall Street, or in the legal profession. If you’re in commodities, you have a great future. Some sectors of the financial community are going to do well. Many others are going to disappear and/or do badly.

Q: How low could the dollar go?

Rogers: I have no idea. You just have to watch it as it evolves. Politicians and bureaucrats can do unbelievably stupid things, and have [done so] throughout history.

They will usually do things that are so stupid nobody can believe them, but it happens. You have to watch and see as it goes

Additional Nuggets:

In February 2008, Mr Rogers told delegates to the CLSA investment forum that the prices of all agricultural products would “explode” in coming years and that the price of gold, which hit an all-time high of US$964 an ounce yesterday, will continue its surge to as much as US$3,500 an ounce.

We've had the worst bubble in credit we've ever had in American history. As the bubble got bigger and bigger, it spread to emerging markets and leveraged buyouts and all sorts of things. And it hasn't been cleaned out yet. I don't think you can have a bubble like this and clean it out in six months or even a year. It has always taken longer.

Look at homebuilders, for instance. Historically, when an industry goes through a retrenchment like this, you have two or three big companies going bankrupt and most of the companies in the industry losing money for a year or two or three. Well, we haven't gotten anywhere near that in the homebuilding business, so I think that bottom is a long way off. As far as the credit bubble, we have another several months, if not more, of mortgages that are going to reset and people who are going to find themselves with even higher monthly payments. There are many, many more losses to come, most of which we won't know about for weeks or months.

Normally you have markets go down 10% or so every couple of years. We haven't had a 10% correction in the stock market in nearly five years. I don't know if this is the beginning of it, but we've got a lot of corrections coming. It wouldn't surprise me to see a little bounce--say if a central bank cuts rates. But that will just lead to the markets falling further late this year or next year. It would be better for the market, it would be better for investors, and it would be better for the world if we went ahead and cleaned out the system. If they do cut rates in the U.S., it would be pure madness. Because the market's down 7% or 8% from an all-time high? My gosh, what's that going to say about the dollar? What's that going to say to foreign creditors? What's that going to say about inflation? The Federal Reserve was not founded to bail out Bear Stearns or a few hedge funds. It was founded to keep a stable currency and maintain its value.

I have been and continue to be short the investment banks and the commercial banks. If they bounce up, I'll probably short more. I'm certainly not buying anything. The market's only down 8%. I don't consider that a buying opportunity. The things that I'm short, some people probably think are buying opportunities, but I don't. I've been short the banks for close to a year, and for a while it was not fun. But I added to my positions, and now it's a lot of fun.


doraiddd said...

My hero... a true master of the REAL universe...

"But the outrageous part is that it will cost more to try to prevent a recession than to have the recession." Hahahahaah...

Thank god i'm not a maserati-driving 29 year old...

That will perhaps improve my resume a bit...

John said...

I'm quite surprised that at this rather "late" stage, he is still trying to get out of "all" his USD positions.

Salvatore_Dali said...

john, tobe fair, jim rogers have sold all his us properties for more than 18 months already, plus he has bought a place and moved all his things to be at Singapore now... that's call sticking up for your call... he wanted to be closer to china and considered hk, but the air pollution was too bad for the aging man...

John said...

It's all relative, I guess.

Mildly surprised, that's all.

John said...

One thing about these hedge fund fellas, like even Soros, once they make a stance, they really go all out to the extreme. And since they are already so short the USD, they will make sure they squeeze every bit out of their positions.

But once they switch, they can do it soo soooo instantaneously.

rask3 said...

Well, what he said can be rephrased thus:

Anyone can live beyond his means. Well, for some time. And then some "Shylock" will come around to extract the price for your foolishness. Nothing has changed.


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