Posts tagged ‘investing’

Lenders Have to Lend

I know this may be pointing out the obvious, but I think it needs to be said:  Lenders have to lend, just as much as borrowers have to borrow.  I know most people understand the "borrower" part of this phrase, but they seem to act as if lenders are somehow only putting their money on the street as some sort of charitable activity, and if we don't sufficiently kow-tow to all their needs, they will run away and never help us all again.

The fact is that people with large pools of money -- banks, pension funds, insurance companies -- HAVE to lend.  And in a time where stocks are dicey, they probably have more, not less, cash than normal they want to lend, much of it short-term.  Now, they may be temporarily scared off from doing so for a few days or weeks as they try to assess what is safe and what is not, but they can't stick their money in a mattress or buy tons of gold or invest in ammunition and run for the hills.  Banks have to pay off depositors; insurance companies often aim to break
even on premiums and payouts and make their money on investing the cash
in between; pension funds can't make their long-term obligations
without making steady returns.Their very survival, in many cases, depends on making continuous returns off their free cash. 

Wisdom from Schoolhouse Rock:

You got a couple hundred bucks saved up in your birthday stash.Why not deposit them dollars in the bank instead?
Then at the end of the year you'll come out way ahead,
Because the bank'll pay you money in exchange for the use of your cash!
And that's called interest; you're makin' money that way,
And you can buy that gear about a year from today.

      

Arizona Politicians Pursue Protectionism -- Against New Mexico

Taking the economically illiterate but apparently politically powerful notion that it is important that commerce across arbitrarily selected geographic boundaries be minimized, some Arizona politicians are taking the argument to the next, ridiculous level:  Not content to blame perceived problems in the state economy (which has outperformed most other states) on NAFTA, Mexico, or Mexican immigrants, Arizona politicians are now blaming them on New Mexico.

An Arizona energy regulator is frustrated that Arizona Public Service
Co. is passing up in-state wind-energy for power from New Mexico and
Utah....

The state's largest utility buys 90 megawatts of energy from the
Aragonne Mesa Wind Project near Santa Rosa, N.M., and officials have
informed Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes of plans to buy more
renewable energy from out of state, including from a Utah
geothermal-power plant.

"I am concerned that such out-of-state purchases hinder the development
of renewable energy here in Arizona, and potentially deprive our state
of much needed economic development," Mayes said in a letter to APS,
echoing concerns she raised at a regulatory meeting last week.

Of course, everyone knows that silly government energy mandates have much more growth potential than, say, low electrical rates.  So obviously the power company is just being treasonous in buying power from the cheapest sources:

When APS [one of our electric utilities] chose to buy power from the Aragonne project in New Mexico, it
rejected a similar proposal from a company that wanted to build a wind
farm in northern Arizona, which wasn't built because of the decision
from APS, Mayes said.

Brandt said the New Mexico project was better for customers.

"We put all these projects out with a competitive bid," Brandt said.
"Then we select the resource that comes out the best. It's not always
the cheapest. It's a combination of price, reliability and do-ability,
all the things a common businessperson would look at."

He said APS would rather support Arizona power projects, but so far those that have bid on power have not been competitive.

Of course, all of this, even taking the cheapest source, is more expensive than electricity would be without these mandates:

When the Corporation Commission approved the renewable-energy standard
in 2006, officials estimated it would raise an existing monthly tariff
on customer bills from less than 50 cents to $1.05 to help APS meet the
goal, but those projections have gone up. Regulators are expected to
set a new limit on the tariff in the next month, according to Mayes and
APS officials, with some proposals nearing $2.

The protectionist argument is summed up:

"This is Arizona ratepayer money that is currently going to other
states that ought to stay in Arizona," she said. "We are in an economic
downturn. It's a terrible time to be investing out of state."

Yes, yet another blow is struck against economic literacy and the concept of division of labor.  Just how arbitrarily small does a geographic area have to be before protectionists will accept that this area does not need to be self-sufficient of all products and services?

 

Privatizing Public Recreation

A bit over five years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece in our local paper calling for further privatization of public recreation.  The editorial was in response to a proposal for a large bond issue to rebuild recreation infrastructure.  I argued that the state should instead be focusing on attracting private investment.  Not only was there more money for recreation in private hands than public, but I sensed that private funds would more likely be invested in facilities the public really wanted, rather than goofy politically correct projects.  Further, private operators could operate recreation facilities much less expensively, in part because they are not tied to ridiculous public pay scales, pension plans, and job classifications.

Soon after, I had a business broker call me and ask me if I wanted to put my money (such that it was) and time where my mouth was.  After a lot of twists and turns, I ended up the owner of a recreation concession company.  In a recreation concession, a private operator pays the government rent in exchange for the ability to charge visitor fees and run the recreation facility for profit.  In most cases, our company can operate a property and make a profit on fees lower than the government must charge just to break even.

My business, Recreation Resource Management, has prospered since then.  And as I have gotten deeper into public recreation, what I have learned has only confirmed what I wrote in that editorial.  I have seen that when the government runs recreation facilities, it almost never spends enough money on capital maintenance and refurbishment.  The reason seems to be that legislators, given the choice, would much rather spend $X on a shiny new facility they can publicize to their constituents than spend $X maintaining facilities that already exist.  I laugh when I here progressives argue that private industry is too short-term focused and only the government invests for the long-term.  In practice, I find exactly the opposite is true.  Think about hotels, or gas stations, or grocery stores.  Private businesses understand that every 15-20 years, they need to practically rebuild existing infrastructure from scratch to keep them fresh for customers.  This kind of reinvestment almost never happens in public recreation.

Except this week!

After years of building up our business, we just completed a project with California State Parks that is what I have always wanted to achieve with the company.  At McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, California State Parks had an aging concession store and an outdated section of the campground that it really did not have the money to rehabilitate (by the way, this is an absolutely beautiful park -- I highly recommend it).  We crafted a two-part lease with the state which eventually led to us investing over a million dollars in the park:  In phase one, we built a new concession store (old store on left, our new store on right):

Park_storeexterior000  Store3

In phase two, just complete, we took an old tent-camping loop with no utilities and added 24 new cabins.  These cabins not only refurbish an aging and dated section of the campground, but they also add new amenities to the park to attract visitors who may not own an RV and who don't want to sleep in a tent.  In addition, since they are insulated and heated, these cabins will extend the camping season -- in fact, we already have a number of reservations for Thanksgiving, a time when no one would have wanted to tent camp here.

Cabin1    Cabin_inside2

Its a  win-win-win, where  we make money, the state gets lease revenues
from us that exceed their previous camping revenues, and the public
gets new amenities without any taxes or public spending.

So, in answer to the question I so often get, "why does a libertarian run a company that works with the government?"  Now you know why.  I will admit that from time to time I find myself on the losing end of libertarian-intellectual-purity debates because I choose this path rather than, say, living in a cabin in the wilderness and manufacturing rifle barrels for a living.  *Shrug*

Postscript:  One lesson I have also learned is that state governments are not always a monolith.  Texas and Florida, for example, while being beloved of libertarians for having no state income tax, can be horribly bureaucratic in certain areas (e.g. sales tax reporting and vehicle registrations).  California, on the other hand, which in many ways is one of the worst states to do business in, actually has what is probably the most innovative and business-friendly state parks organization in the country.  Go figure.

PS#2:  By the way, the cabins shown are actually modular buildings, built here in Phoenix by Cavco, and shipped to the site.  The classy interior work was done my by maintenance supervisor.

Paris Hilton Is a Better Investor than Harvard MBA

New SEC rules being drafted by the Bush administration are set to declare that Paris Hilton is a fully "accredited investor" with full freedom to invest in any way she likes.  I, who graduated near the top of my class at Harvard Business School, shall likewise be declared not capable of investing and the government will limit my options "for my own good"

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has just proposed
that the amount of liquid net worth an individual must have before
investing in hedge funds and other so-called risky investments be
raised to as much as $2.5 million.

The largest program the government has for protecting us from our own investing incompetence is called Social Security, which takes retirement savings from us by force and has the government invest it for us.   As I showed in previous posts, Social Security is returning -0.8% a year on our savings.  Thank god the government is investing this money for us - no way I could have beaten a -0.8% a year return during the greatest 20-year bull market of all time.

Tinfoil Hat Observation:  I use Google search to find old posts on my site.  Usually it is flawless.  For some reason, though, my post titled Social Security Ripoff is not indexed by Google.  A follow-up post on the same day is indexed, as you can see from this search, but not the original.  I have never failed to pull up a post before, even with inexact search words, and have never failed with the exact title in the search.  Weird.   Maybe something in the comments, I will have to check.

AZ Votes for Recreation Fee Increases

Tonight, it appears that AZ voters will pass Prop 202 to raise recreation use fees in Arizona.  Oh, you say that's not what Prop 202 was for?  It was minimum wage?  That's right.  Prop 202 raises the minimum wage in AZ by 31%. 

I have written about the minimum wage many times.  For a variety of reasons, many seasonal recreation workers in AZ, and in fact in the US, are retired folks who work for minimum wage and a camp site to take care of a facility.  They love the job, and do great work, while filling seasonal jobs that younger folks trying to raise a family can't really take on.  When you take all wage related costs -- wages, payroll taxes, unemployment insurances, workers comp, liability insurance, etc. -- wages drive about 2/3 of recreation costs.  That means that a 31% increase in wages equates to a 20% increase in recreation use fees for camping, boating, day use, etc.

What, you say?  That's not what we meant!  We consumers aren't supposed to pay this extra, you business guys are!  Well, my profit margin is about 5% of revenues, which is a pathetically low number for a service business.  Basically, I do this for fun -- I could probably make a better return investing in government bonds.  So, to avoid bankruptcy, wage increases get passed right through to use fees.  And since the law requires that the minimum wage be increased every year, it means that use fees will have to go up every year (for comparison, we have been able to hold many use fees flat for 3-4 years at a time, despite fuel and other costs).

Sorry.  My employees were happy to work for $5.15 an hour.  They did not ask for a raise.  In fact, I have a waiting list of people who want jobs at $5.15.  It was the voters of Arizona who decided that my employees could no longer legally accept this amount for their labor.  And, unfortunately, it is the voters of Arizona who will have to pay for this raise my employees did not even ask for.

Congressman Shadegg, What are you Doing?

My Congressman, John Shadegg, is a generally reliable opponent of taxes and expansions of government.  So why is he sponsoring this garbage:

The House last week overwhelmingly approved and sent to the Senate
bipartisan legislation by Congressmen Brad Sherman and John Shadegg to
fund joint research by Americans and Israelis into alternative energy
sources.

"Cutting-edge research by top scientists from the United States and
Israel could reduce our reliance on foreign oil by promoting more
efficient uses of traditional energy sources and by developing energy
alternatives," Sherman said.

The Shadegg-Sherman legislation would establish in the Department of
Energy an International Energy Advisory Board to advise the secretary
on the $20-million-a-year grant program authorized by the bill. The
United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act would encourage cooperation
on research, development, and commercialization of alternative energy,
improved energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Why, why, why?  I understand, but don't accept, the political pressure to increase alternative energy spending (though see here on its effectiveness) but why are we creating yet another program and grant bureaucracy?  And why should the funds not be spent on the most promising research out of the entire superset of possible projects but be narrowly focused on only investing in a portfolio of projects presumably combining US and Israeli citizens?

An Absurd Demand

Today, Microsoft came under fire from a number of activists:

Activists today accused Microsoft of spending all of its time focusing on software.  "All they want to do is write code for operating systems and applications".  Activists were complaining that Microsoft does not invest any of its huge profits into alternatives to software and operating systems.  "They have not invested one dime in trying to come up with computing technologies that don't require operating systems or business applications."  Activists also accused Microsoft of not investing in any alternative computational approaches, such as abacus research or mechanical calculators.

Makes no sense, right?  Well, that's because I made it up.  But I did not make this up, which is essentially the exact same charge, just against a different target:

Unlike
other major oil companies that essentially acknowledge the very real
threat of global warming and the need to transition to renewable energy
and off of a finite, non-renewable resource such as oil, ExxonMobil is
using its profits and its power to continue to keep this country
addicted to oil, as President Bush has noted," Hoover said.

ExxonMobil cares only about drilling for more oil, Hoover alleged

You hear this stuff all the time.  But why are the major oil companies responsible for investing to obsolete their own business?  Why are they obligated to invest in things like wind farms or whatever that they know nothing about?   Did we demand that railroads invest in aircraft research?  Do we require cable companies to invest in DirectTV?  For all of its size, ExxonMobil represents a tiny fraction of World GDP -- if all these alternative energy ideas are such great opportunities, let the other 99.99% of the world economy take it on.  Besides, do these guys who think that XOM is evil incarnate really want them controlling the next generation of energy production?

By the way, I thought this was hilarious:

"We
believe that ExxonMobil -- primarily through its former president and
CEO, Lee Raymond -- has been involved in conceiving of and then
promoting the invasion and occupation of Iraq," Reed said. "When the
Iraq war was being cooked up, we think ExxonMobil was in the kitchen."

I love the "we believe" part.  I am sure that half these folks also "believe" that aliens are alive and well in Area 51 and that George Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks.  Would it be too much to ask to bring some facts to the table?  Or how about even a motive?  I could maybe come up with a motive if the US invaded Nigeria, since Exxon has assets at risk there that are threatened by rebels and general chaos, but Iraq?  Since Iraq's output was limited before the invasion, invading Iraq only served to put more oil on world markets, which would depress rather than raise prices and profits.  In fact, if there was really an evil genius oil company pulling the strings of government to maximize their own profits, UN-sanctioned Iraq would be just about the last oil producing country in the world you would want your government puppets to invade.

Today XOM has its annual shareholder meeting, and if you ever want to see a great parade of barking moonbats, buy yourself a share of XOM and attend.  Lee Raymond caught a lot of grief for his compensation package, and it did seem overly generous to me, but I am not an XOM shareholder right now so its not my concern.  I will say that having seen one of the XOM shareholder meetings and the ridiculous grief the CEO must endure for a day, my guess is that the XOM CEO would likely knock several million dollars off his comp. package if he could call in sick today.

Carnival of Liberty

I am way overdue promoting the Carnival of Liberty.  This week it is hosted by Target Centermass, and it has a nice selection of posts related to free markets and individual rights.  As the Carnival of the Capitalists has shifted more towards investing and personal finance submissions, this newer carnival has lots of good posts on fundamental issues of Life, Liberty, and Property.

Carnival of the Capitalists 12/19/2005

Welcome to the Carnival of the Capitalists and my second time hosting the COTC.  Note that several people tried to submit multiple posts - when that happened, I picked just one to include this week.

Many thanks to Silflay Hraka for starting the Carnival of the Vanities, of which this is a spin-off, to showcase smaller blogs to a wider readership.  Look for future Carnivals of the Capitalists at these sites (you can submit articles here):

December 26, 2005      Multiple Mentality   

January 2, 2006      Chocolate and Gold Coins   

January 9, 2006      The Social Customer Manifesto   

January 16, 2006      Wordlab   

January 23, 2006      Patent Baristas   

January 30, 2006      PHOSITA   

While you're here, feel free to look around -- this post will tell you more about what I do at Coyote Blog.

In what has now become a tradition of my hosting the COTC, and, in true capitalist fashion, I have taken on a sponsor for this week's Carnival:

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Maker of fine anvils for over 50 years

Government Spending and Regulation

Here at Coyote Blog, I have been warning for years that government-funded health care is a Trojan horse for more regulation of your personal life.  I hate it when I am right.

Porkopolis,
a blog highlighting the insanities of pork barrel spending, offers an
out-of-the-box alternative to rebuilding New Orleans at government
expense.

BardsEyeView takes a look at the Federal Budget through the lens of Shakespeare.  Really.

Joshua Sharf at A View from a Height looks at government price and supply regulation of taxis, and wonders what's the point.

Taxes

Jeff Cornwall at the Entrepreneurial Mind gives us the happy news that 2006 will bring us more IRS audits and more people paying the AMT.

Property Rights

Multiple Mentality asks why a man in Atlanta was handcuffed and arrested for selling his own property.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escalating crises since 1952

Blogging and the Internet

Kicking over My Traces observes that robot blogs are clogging up Technorati, and that Google blog search does a better job of weeding these out

Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World is, not surprisingly given his blog's name, bullish on professional blogging and business blogs.

Similarly, ProHipHop is bullish on the business of podcasting.

Barry Welford
brings us a fable to illustrate that InternetLand or cyberspace can be
as complex and confusing to executives as Wonderland was to Alice

The China Stock Blog has the 12 hottest search term keywords in China.   Not sure the Coyote is doing well on any of these...

Gaurav Agarwal's Blog
observes that while computers have penetrated the developed world,
mobile phones have been much more popular in the develop ping world.

Marketing and Growth

Elisa Camahort in Worker Bees Blog reinforces the idea, via two customer service tales, that a bad customer experience can last a lifetime.

Fire Someone Today goes after the difference between "small business owner" and "entrepreneur", and posits that every self-described small business owner who is not focused on growth is probably a hobbyist, a slave, or an impending failure

Jim Logan advises aiming customer communications at the customers, not at grammatical nitpickers.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
The secret to Glenn Reynolds success

Business Opportunities

Jane's Fit by Five enjoys getting her first "press" credential and reviews the Fortune Innovation Forum

Anita Campbell at Small Business Trends is doing her annual trends series, and spoke by phone with noted futurist Watts Wacker who gave his forecast
of trends we can expect to see in 2006, along with a bit of advice
about how to interpret and use trends.

Starling David Hunter investigates the success of the $15 apple in Japan, and draws some broader conclusions about the nature of business opportunity.

Barry Ritholtz observes in the Big Picture that the film industry has been much savvier in responding to market and technology changes than has the music industry.

Personal Finance

My Money Blog deconstructs Ameriprise Financial and finds their hiring criteria and training seem to support his concerns about the company (Lots of interesting comments to the post as well with further information)

All Things Financial has a positive review of Lee Eisenburg's book "The Number", which discusses the dollar figure you need to have set aside to retire the way you want to retire.

Free Money Finance lists 10 questions you should be asking about your retirement

Why Homeschool discusses the importance of early economics training for your kids, and some approaches for teaching them outside of the classroom.

Searchlight Crusade responds to privacy concerns over real estate and mortgage forms, and explains why you have few alternatives to providing your information if you want to close the deal.

Jim at Blueprint for Financial Prosperity describes how he saved $200 on a car repair by ordering parts himself, but still letting the mechanic do the work.

David Porter advises you to make sure you understand your ARM in the light of recent interest rate increases.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Leader in dehydration technologies

Wall Street & Investing

Retired at 30 announces the brand-new Carnival of Investing, which seems like a pretty good idea given how many investing and personal finance posts the CotC is attracting.

George at Fat Pitch Financials discusses the phases associated with
publicly traded corporations going private to avoid Sarbanes-Oxley
regulations
.

The Internet Stock Blog analyzes what impact the new Google music search function may have on other search and music sales-related stocks.

Mike Price discusses his value-investing strategy

The Japan Stock Blog brings news that the XBOX 360 is not selling well in Japan, for reasons that may be bad news for Microsoft.

Triple Pundit reports that institutional investors are beginning to press insurance companies over their risks/exposure to global warming.

Michael Cale of Financial Methods argues that based on current inflation and interest rates, investors should
allocate more assets to bonds and gold and fewer assets to equities.

Triple Witching Friday has camera-phone pictures of the floor melee that ensued from MIzuho's $335 million trading error, potentially one of the most expensive typos in history.

Patri Friedman of Catallarchy argues that index funds using the S&P 500 are not true index funds as the composition of the index is actively managed by humans

Having just exercised some employee stock options, Early Riser explores potential investments for his money.

Economic Forecasts

Financial Options has a summary of economic indicators for release next week, with commentary.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Never be without a date on Friday night

Economic & Business Theory

James Hamilton in Econbrowser takes another stab at bringing sanity to the gas price "gouging" meme.

The Prudent Investor discusses a seismic shift in power in global financial markets from west to east.  "When a conflict-torn dwarf nation like Serbia can sell debt maturing in
20 years with a coupon of 3.75% while the USA has to pay 4.50% for the
same maturity it is high time to throw the old dogmas of investing
overboard."

Sophistpundit looks at the effect of tradition on journalism and the evolution of successful media companies.

The Common Room draws from a book written in the 1870s where 'Aunt Sophronia' advices her nieces on economic principles.

Thinking about Peter Drucker leads David Foster of Photon Courier to some conclusions about what is wrong with today's business schools.

Health Care and Malpractice

Good News!  InsureBlog reports that it may be getting easier for cancer survivors to get life and health insurance.

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
California Dreamin' with Earthquake Pills

Business Practices

David Daniels in Business and Technology Reinvention argues that companies' use of forced stack ranking of employees is out of date.

Ed at Daily Dose of Optimism observes that when a Japanese business struggles, its execs often get a pay cut.  He wonders why this logical practice is much rarer in the US.

Jack Yoest writes that corporations don't seem to be showing their traditional hesitation at firing employees before Christmas.

Joe Kristan tells us a tax fraud story and draws the moral:  Don't cheat on your taxes and then piss off the CFO who is helping you do it.

200Motels engages the Three Stooges to explain why Enron is pushing up daisies.

The Coyote Within (hmmm, coyotes and business blogs) provides us a business fable about finding out your true character.

Humor and Other

Wordlab looks at politically correct alternatives to "Christmas"

Noah Kagan advises the occasional reversal of holiday gift-giving.

Gill Blog has a picture of the portable inflatable meeting room

Closing Notes

Thanks to the Original Illustrated Catalog of Acme Products for the advertising copy.  You can find more ACME promotional material here.

Thanks, its been fun.  Gotta go...

This Carnival of the Capitalists is Proudly Sponsored by"¦
ACME
Escape from it all with the Smoke Screen Bomb

Did Anyone Notice...

...the spectacle of Congress calling oil executives on the carpet
for not investing enough in domestic oil exploration, and then 24 hours
later extending the ban on oil exploration in the ANWR

Priceless.

Orange County Moves to Ohio

If you thought the idiots who ran Orange County's finances into the ground were bad, wait until you meet these jokers:

Two months ago, reports emerged that $300,000 in rare coins was missing from a
collection in which the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) began
investing in 1998 as a peculiar form of stock hedge. That was bad enough. But
last week, word came that between $10 million and $12 million in coins had
disappeared. That caused BWC director Jim Conrad to announce his resignation,
and launched a flurry of accusations and calls for legal action.

As if my workers comp. rates weren't already too high.  There goes my idea to invest Social Security funds in beanie babies and 60's lunch boxes.  Apparently most of the major lawmakers in the state got large campaign donations from several large coin dealers, and they returned the favor by investing public funds in coins through these dealers.  I often make the argument not to let the government have control of large equity investment funds -- I did not even occur to me to include coins.  One of the things about coins - you have to hold them for a long, long time to make money, in part because commissions markups are so high vis a vis other investments (which explains why coin dealers so readily donated large sums of money for government business).

Reason has a good roundup.  Unfortunately, I am sure this will all lead to more restrictions on spending and speech in campaigns, though it appears the system is working fine - full disclosure of funding sources certainly has everyone running for their lives.

The real solution is to make elected officials take a real fiduciary interest in the state's investment funds (pensions probably being the largest).  What they would prefer to do is to legislate a set of rules and then leave managers to follow these rules, giving them plausible deniability.  What they should do is sit down once a quarter and review portfolio investment performance and asset allocations.

Perhaps the Best Reason for Private Accounts

Frequent readers will know that I have little patience with the argument against private Social Security accounts that goes something like "Americans are too dumb to be trusted with their own retirement funds".  Today, however, I am going to put that aside for perhaps a better question:

Can the government be trusted with our retirement funds?

This is the argument made by Brad DeLong and quoted in Marginal Revolution:

We need to raise our national savings rate. But if we just raise Social Security
taxes, Congress will treat these taxes as general revenue and spend them. Only
by funneling Social Security contributions into some vehicle that Congressional
representatives cannot interpret as a resource available to fund current
spending can we raise the national savings rate. And private accounts are the
best vehicle we can find to (a) accumulate contributions without (b) allowing
Congressional representatives to seize them as resources available to fund
current federal spending.

Congress has taken all the savings surpluses built up by Social Security over the past decades and it has spent them.  Republicans have spent the money.  Democrats have spent the money.  It is gone, spent on cruise missiles and welfare moms and ethanol subsidies and PBS broadcasts and snail darter studies.  No matter what verbal acrobatics people try to engage in to argue that there is a real "trust fund", the fact of the matter is that all that is in the Social Security till are IOU's that can only be redeemed by raising taxes. 

The situation with Social Security is entirely equivalent to having invested your money in a mutual fund and only later finding the directors of the fund spent your money on themeselves rather than investing it in redeemable securities.  The only differences are that:

  • The proprietors of that bogus mutual fund may go to jail, but Congress won't
  • Congress can raise taxes to get the money to bail themselves out of their malfeasance

Think of it this way: 

  • There were more real assets of value remaining in Enron in its bankruptcy to divide up among investors and creditors than remain in the Social Security "trust fund" to divide up among program contributors.
  • There were more real assets of value remaining in the Teamsters retirement fund after years of being raped by organized crime than remain in the Social Security "trust fund"

Stop handing over our savings to such unsavory racketeers (ie. Congress).  We certainly can't do a worse job for ourselves.

Myth of Peak Oil

Note:  I have posted a more recent article with updated data here.

Mises Blog has a good article on the "Peak Oil" meme.  You may have gotten investment solicitations urging you to invest in oil because production is supposedly going to peak in 2006.

Oil production will peak some day.  I do not know when.  I do know that when I was in high school debate in the late 1970's, the topic one year was on resource policies.  I read everything there was at the time on oil supply as well as other critical mineral supplies.  Most "experts" at the time were predicting that oil would "run out" in about 1985 or 1990.  As you can see below, folks who invested in oil in 1980, after a price run-up similar to the one we have seen lately, got slaughtered.

Usgasoilprices19181999_1

Think twice or maybe three times about this graph before you invest.  Notice that there is no long term trend in real oil prices, even over one hundred years!  To make money buying oil, you have to do it on timing, buying ahead of sharp temporary increases.  And given that we are at the top of one of those sharp increases, can now really be the time to buy?

You can never get all the oil out of a field, and the exact amount of oil you can recover is dependent on how much you want to spend to do it, which in turn is related to oil prices (or expectations of oil prices).  The first 20% of the oil in a field might just squirt out under its own pressure.  The next 20% might have to be pumped.  The next 20% might need high pressure water injection to help it.  The next 20% might need expensive CO2 injection to help it.  If you ask the field manager how much oil was left, he would give you different answers at $20 and $45 a barrel, because he would make different assumptions about how far along this investment curve he would go.

If you are still thinking about investing, do one more thing: Study the famous bet between Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon:

In 1980, economist |Julian Simon| and biologist Paul Ehrlich decided to put their money where their predictions were. Ehrlich had been predicting massive shortages in various natural resources for decades, while Simon claimed natural resources were infinite.

Simon offered Ehrlich a bet centered on the market price of metals. Ehrlich would pick a quantity of any five metals he liked worth $1,000 in 1980. If the 1990 price of the metals, after adjusting for inflation, was more than $1,000 (i.e. the metals became more scarce), Ehrlich would win. If, however, the value of the metals after inflation was less than $1,000 (i.e. the metals became less scare), Simon would win. The loser would mail the winner a check for the change in price.

Ehrlich agreed to the bet, and chose copper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungsten.

By 1990, all five metal were below their inflation-adjusted price level in 1980. Ehrlich lost the bet and sent Simon a check for $576.07. Prices of the metals chosen by Ehrlich fell so much that Simon would have won the bet even if the prices hadn't been adjusted for inflation. (1) Here's how each of the metals performed from 1980-1990.

Arrogance, Hypocrisy, and Choice

I am willing to make a bet.  I will bet that at least 90% and probably 100% of US Senators have money invested in equities.  Why?  Because, for long term investments, you would be insane not too.  Even with substantial drops in the market form time to time, equities outperform bonds and government securities by miles and miles.  From this chart, you can see that even if you had the misfortune at age 30 to invest all you savings in stocks the day before the 1929 stock market crash, you STILL would be better off by age 45 having invested in stocks than bonds and your investment would be worth 10 times more at age 65 than if it had been in bonds.  And remember, that is the case of investing on the worst possible day of the last century.  Any other comparison is even more favorable for stocks.  The difference in wealth between stocks and government securities at retirement age is staggering.  Any financial adviser who told a person under 50 saving for retirement not to invest some of their money in stocks should be fired on the spot for malpractice.

However, just like Senators who put their kids in private school but oppose school choice for the rest of us, Senators do not think the rest of us are mature or smart enough to invest in stocks.  Quoting Senator Specter:

On the issue of privatization, I had some time ago considered an idea to place a relatively small portion of benefits in an investment account, providing that the "security" aspect of Social Security was retained and the investment was under professional management. However, with the severe fluctuations of the stock market, I have since rejected that idea.

Men like John Kerry get most of their wealth from stocks, and would fire any financial adviser who did not invest a good portion of his wealth in equities. He understands that stocks will fluctuate from time to time, but that over decades (which is how one invests for retirement) they are the best choice. How hypocritical is it that he and others are saying "Stocks are great for me, they make me wealthy, but trust me, they're not right for you".  More on distrust of individual decision-making here.