Warren Buffet redux

Warren Buffet is worshiped by many investors.  Personally, I respect his ability, follow some of his principles, but remain nevertheless skeptical.  I’ve criticized him for his support of the Obama presidency, saying it was the most costly decision he ever made.  But it turns out I’m wrong, if those who say that he profited from the bailouts, stimuli and generally easy government money that has been handed out, saving the butts of banks in which he had invested (see e.g., Barry Ritholtz).  At Forbes, Drew Mason castigates Buffet aptly over his comments about gold which have apparently led many to forgo precious metals as a hedge against currency inflation, thus allowing government to rob the people through the devaluation of their savings.

But the most damning article that I’ve ever read against Buffet appeared yesterday at the American Thinker.  In it, Christopher Chantrill accuses Buffet of being a robber baron.  The life insurance lobby is apparently vying to have Congress reinstate inheritance taxes in the US.  That’s because life insurance is exempt from taxes at death, and so people with larger inheritances must protect their heirs by taking out expensive life insurance policies.  Chantrill shows how a mega-billionnaire like Buffet feeds upon the small business owners and other little people who manage to put together a nice little fortune through risk, sweat and sacrifice–at their death Buffet buys up their business which the heirs must sell to pay the death tax, or before they die, he rakes in the big bucks through expensive life insurance policies.  It should be criminal, but instead, it is the government which enforces this robbery.

In Canada we don’t have death taxes. No, the law here states that immediately upon death the estate must pay the full amount on RRSP (retirement) savings accounts and retained earnings in any companies that the deceased may have built up.  “Retained earnings” refers to the increased book value/equity that the business owner has in his business.  Let’s say you started a business from nothing 50 years ago and today it is worth $10,000,000 and you own a 100% stake in that business.  Your retained earnings could be as much as $10,000,000 and you would have to pay all the tax all at once the day you die (only a spouse, as with the RRSP, may inherit it without paying the tax).  This has the same evil effect on business in Canada as does the death tax in the US.  I know because someone close to me is forced to pay for a large life insurance policy because when he and his wife have finally both died, all the taxes on the retained earnings are immediately due, and the heirs, his children, would have to shut down the family business to pay the taxes, putting 30 people out of work; his life insurance policy thus is to pay these taxes so that the company can remain intact.  This is a great thing to fear if you are working in a second generation family company, but to be welcomed, if you like Buffet, are selling life insurance.

If that is what it takes to invest like Warren Buffet, then please count me out.  I think righteous investors should steer clear of investments which prey upon hard working business people in collusion with state power.  That just doesn’t seem righteous at all.

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The gold ponzi scheme II: Jim Rickards’ anecdotal evidence

A few days ago, I suggested that paper gold was ponzi scheme.  Banks are selling unallocated gold certificates to customers on a fractional reserve basis.  This is what is called a “naked short”.  It is naked because the banks don’t have access to the assets to cover their short.   Jim Rickards reported an anecdote that would verify this very point in an interview with (hat tip Business Insider’s Gus Lubin):  The owner of a ton of physical gold, who had placed it in safe keeping at a Swiss bank, recently asked for delivery, and it took the bank a month to comply with his request, only after requests from lawyers and threats to expose the bank publicly.  The story is told at about the half way point on the MP3 that can be heard here.  The best explanation for this delay in delivering their client’s gold is that that the bank had shorted it, and it literally took them a month to buy back the ton of gold; but they were supposed to be holding it in their vault for the client.

Needless to say, I’m not investing in banks–even the “safe” Canadian banks like the Bank of Nova Scotia; my last position was closed when I bought back a put option on BNS on 21 Oct–I’ve become convinced that banks are far too complicated for a simple guy like me to own.  When they have to cover the gold and silver that they’ve shorted, it will make the sub-prime mortgage crisis seem insignificant by comparison.  Yes, they have shorted silver too.  This is the conclusion of this video (@ 26:35):

Peter Schiff is a mensch

I enjoy the tenacity of Peter Schiff and his willingness to speak against the consensus. Schiff has been consistently critical of the debt bubble in the US and he predicted the fall of housing prices in the face of mocking and shouting down by other “experts”.  Consider this 2006 video from Fox News:

For a long time, Schiff has recommended precious metals and continues to do so despite many who say that gold is “hyper-overbought” (Dennis Gartman, September 29–when gold was trading at $1300).  Against those who think that there is a gold bubble, Eric Sprott claims, “I am pretty convinced that gold will go a lot higher because it is under-owned as only 1 per cent of people’s money is in it.”  Now, there is a new Tech Ticker debate between Peter Schiff and Gary Schilling.  If it is appropriate to call people who insist that gold is the best investment as “gold bugs”, then Gary Schilling is a “bond bug” because he is inflicted with a disease now appropriately named as “Fiat Currency Fever“, the irrational view that the US dollar is a the best and safest investment–despite the severe and secular bear market that the dollar has suffered since 1971 when it was taken off the gold standard.  At a certain point, Gary Schilling claims that the Federal Reserve doesn’t create money–a trillion dollars that banks have received from the Fed is just sitting in the banks.  But unfortunately Schilling seems to be dead wrong on this point, because the banks have been lending this money to the US government, and it has actually gone out into circulation in the form of food stamps, federal employee wages, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, etc.  There is some serious monetization of debt going on in America (cf. Monty Pelerin), for Bernanke is trying to re-inflate all the bubbles.

Despite being right most of the time, Peter Schiff still faces fierce opposition from critics, including economists–you know the guys with PhDs, who claim that gold is barbarous relic.  I agree with Schiff.  For I believe that only God can create something out of nothing, and when a central bank expands the volume of fiat money inflation is the inevitable result.  This is an immutable law of economics.  When hyperinflation hits in earnest, then all those who own precious metals will be very thankful that they listened to Peter Schiff.