I Am Short The U.S. Government

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The United States has experienced high rates of inflation in the past and appears to be running the same type of fiscal policies that engendered hyperinflations in 20 countries over the past century. - Laurence Kotlikoff

Hyperinflation can take virtually your entire life's savings, without the government having to bother raising the official tax rate at all. - Thomas Sowell

The monetary managers are fond of telling us that they have substituted 'responsible money management' for the gold standard. But there is no historic record of responsible paper money management. The record taken, as a whole is one of hyperinflation, devaluation and monetary chaos. - Henry Hazlitt

I’ve been concerned about a hyperinflationary environment for close to a decade. My thought process is rather simple.

  • There is a significant amount of debt in the system that continues to increase at an exponential rate every year.

  • Politicians use a short-term view point when it comes to spending. If you want to get reelected you need to spend, spend, spend. No one will get reelected if they tighten up the budget during their time in office.

  • The United States monetary system operates under a fiat currency. The only thing giving the U.S. Dollar value is the full faith of the citizens who use it. If this faith in the monetary system collapses, the dollar will become utterly useless.

  • No fiat currency in the history of monetary history has stood the test of time. Every fiat currency ends up collapsing under the weight of inflation.

  • Money printer go brrr.

I’ve tried to position my portfolio and personal assets to withstand a potential inflationary environment. I mainly own companies with real assets (real estate, land, buildings, equipment). The majority of my portfolio is in asset rich, unlevered companies.

The level of Federal debt concerns me. I am under the belief that this debt will eventually need to be paid. The payment of the Federal Debt will either be done through:

  1. Spending cuts

  2. Higher taxes

  3. Hyperinflation

Spending cuts will not happen. Government officials, especially Presidents with four year terms, have incentives to keep spending rapidly in order to boost their own presidential rating and ensure they are reelected when their first term is up. Nobody ever votes for a President who cuts spending.

Higher taxes is definitely a possibility. Biden is already making plans to leverage the debt burden by raising taxes. But there is only so much a government institution can raise before it upsets the populace. If a government institution raises taxes too much it could result in riots, angst and potentially a Coup d'état.

Since a massive spending cut and higher taxes is not going to happen the only way to pay off the Federal debt is through inflation — the invisible tax. And this has already begun.

Did you know that 22% of all U.S. Dollars were created in 2020 alone? Read that again. 1/5th of all U.S. Dollars were created in 2020.

On December 2020 there were $15.4 trillion dollars in the world. At today’s date, there are $20.9 trillion dollars. In layman’s terms this is described as printing money.

In practice the Fed creates digital dollars to buy government bonds in the secondary market, known as quantitative easing. The buying of government bonds keeps bond prices high and yields low.

The federal funds rate is currently at historical lows (pretty much at zero) from the massive injection of cash into the bond market. Basically, the majority of the new money pumped into the system went directly into the bond market.

But how can you blame them? Federal debt levels have skyrocketed — now over $28.5 trillion — up from $23 trillion at the beginning of 2020.

Assuming the interest payment on the $28.5 trillion of Federal debt is 0.07% this implies the yearly interest payment is $18.9 billion. But what if we assumed the interest rate started to move? We mapped the potential annual interest obligations out below:

  • 1% - $270 billion

  • 2% - $540 billion

  • 3% - $810 billion

  • 4% - $1.08 trillion

  • 5% - $1.35 trillion

  • 6% - $1.62 trillion

  • 7% - $1.89 trillion

  • 8% - $2.16 trillion

  • 9% - $2.43 trillion

  • 10% - $2.70 trillion

  • 15% - $4.05 trillion

  • 20% - 5.40 trillion

The United States is in big trouble if interest rates move. A move to a measly 3% interest rate implies the yearly interest payable would be around $810 billion — a 4,185% increase from the current rate.

But what if inflation gets out of control, bonds are sold off and interest rates move back to the levels we saw in the 80s? Annual interest payable on $28.5 trillion in debt would be in the trillion dollar range.

But, but, but Federal Reserve economists say inflation will be “transitory”.

Transitory…

A word usage that tells investors that the Fed has gotten so deep into Project Zimbabwe the only word they have to describe the impending inflation is transitory.

Even the “Bond King” himself thinks the Fed has lost all control.

“I’m not sure why they think they know that it’s transitory,“ Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital LP said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg Tuesday. “How do they know that when there’s plenty of money printing that’s been going on and we’ve seen commodity prices going up really massively.”

“There’s plenty of indicators that suggest that inflation is going to go higher, and not just on a transitory basis, for a couple of months. So we’ll see how the Fed is trying to paint the picture, but they’re guessing.”

“Who’s going to buy all these many trillions of dollars of bonds? Foreigners have been selling for years and they’ve accelerated their selling in the last several quarters, domestic buyers are not exactly selling, but they’re not adding to their holdings. So what’s left to absorb all of the spawn supply is the Federal Reserve.”

Does transitory mean seeing the price of corn limit up everyday to now trade above $7.00?

Or how about the price of wheat which is now trading at an eight year high?

Or what about literally every commodity screaming to new all time highs? Is this purely transitory?

The point I’m trying to make is the Federal Reserve has experimented with this cheap money for far too long and eventually there is a point of no return. The entire global economy is awash in debt and inflation is starting to happen.

If inflation happens in a major way, the real interest rate on bonds will collapse into negative territory (I’d argue they are already there) and bonds get sold off. When bonds get sold off interest rates explode higher. The only thing holding interest rates down is the Fed’s massive quantitative easing practices. I can’t imagine any astute institutional investor is buying bonds at less than a 1% rate.

Some think interest rates will be at this level forever because the Fed can’t afford to let rates move higher. I’d argue that eventually free market forces will force the Fed to show its hands resulting in a global currency crises the world has never seen before.

For this reason alone I have been accumulating physical gold. I only have 3% of my portfolio in physical gold but targeting at 6-8% rate in the near to mid-term. And I’m not thinking of this gold accumulation as an investment, but more of an insurance policy. An insurance policy against the reckless monetary decisions world government have adopted. My gold position is a short against the entire system.

It’s not really an investment per se—It’s an escape from government imprudence. You don’t own gold because you expect it to do remarkable things—you own it because you are scared of your government doing remarkable things. Think of gold like the credit rating of world governments. It’s the CDS you buy if you don’t trust the politicians and their stewardship of the currency. - Kuppy, Adventures In Capitalism

Some might say, “why don’t you hold bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies?”

I simply don’t trust them. Everyone and their mother is piling into cryptocurrencies like it is the dotcom bubble of the late 90s. New cryptocurrencies are released everyday with price action in the tens of thousands of percentage points. Non-astute investors are buying. My mechanic neighbor who has no idea what a earnings report is buying. Hell, my 14 year-old brother in-law put $1,000 into Dogecoin and made $25,000.

I am too old school for cryptocurrencies and do not chase the next hype. Sure, there will probably be a couple cryptocurrencies that survive, but I can guarantee that 99% of these lose all of their value. And I am just not smart enough to find the ones that will survive.

Finally, if anyone can create a new cryptocurrency whenever they want, what make Bitcoin or Ethereum superior to some new future technology that could disrupt these lines of code 15 years from now? I have yet to find anyone intelligent enough to explain this to me.

So to short the U.S. Government I am going with the most boring asset class in existence. Gold. Physical gold that I hoard in my safe. I’m not expecting it to do much. And I’m praying I never have to use it as a last resort to buy goods and services. It is my sleep well at night insurance policy against reckless government spending that will likely never abate.

Short list of countries that have underwent hyperinflation

  • France 1795-1796

  • Austria 1921-1922

  • Soviet Union 1921-1922

  • Germany Weimer Republic 1922-1923

  • Poland 1923, 1989-1990

  • Greece 1941-1944

  • Philippines 1944

  • Malaya 1942-1945

  • Hungary 1945-1946

  • China 1943-1949

  • Bolivia 1970-1987

  • Chile 1971-1981

  • Argentina 1975-1992

  • Brazil 1985-1994

  • Peru 1988-1991

  • Yugoslavia 1989-1994

  • Angola 1991 – 1999

  • Yugoslavia 1992-1995

  • Belarus 1994-2002

  • Zimbabwe 2000-2009

  • North Korea 2009-2011

  • Venezuela 2016

One of my favorite books is Gone With The Wind. It is an incredible story of riches to rags and back to riches. A part in Gone With The Wind that really stands out to me is when the rich southern farmers lose all of their money because they held their wealth in Confederate currency that underwent a hyperinflationary state during the war.

After the war the ones who owned gold became extremely wealthy and in some cases were hunted down by the government so they could confiscate their wealth.

"I've made enough money, and it's in English banks and in gold. None of this worthless paper for me." - Rhett Butler, Gone With The Wind

The end game is simple to me. The U.S. fiat currency will eventually collapse and you will want to be holding a real asset than can’t be diluted into oblivion. I choose gold as my short against the entire system.