Being a long time motor biker I am very conscious of the ever present threat that comes from being unaware of what is in front of you. Positioning is vital to have a clear view of what is coming your way and to avoid all the pitfalls that too many only learn about with hindsight and a trip to hospital…or worse. It is essential to pay attention to the ever changing conditions and to hone your skills accordingly.
Investing is little different although it is rarely fatal except to your wealth rather than your health; although a shortfall in the former often results in a similar effect on the latter. A high percentage of accidents happen within close proximity to home; familiar territory creates a false sense of security. And so it is in the investment world. We all remember the old adage that property prices never go down, which they didn’t for a long time, until of course they did…
The global financial system is in crisis but it won’t affect me seems to be the current mantra. Debates about the bonus for Stephen Hester, CEO of RBS, and the impending loss of peerage for the former incumbent are merely smoke screens hiding far more important issues that politicians, and those who have elected them, are unwilling or in many cases unable, to contemplate. Better to join the “blame game” rather than have a serious discussion.
We have been living for far too long on a diet of bail outs, money printing and flawed economic policies, which the politicians fervently want us to believe are the solutions that will “see us through”. Issuing more debt to solve the debt problem is just not going to work is it? Ask the Japanese. By 2013 their total government debt is estimated to reach one quadrillion yen – Y1,000,000,000,000,000 – that’s a lot of zeros and just as you were getting used to trillions. Debt to GDP will be close to 250% and yet we hear that Greece will still be struggling at 120% and that is after the heroic assumption that there will be more EU assistance and a further round of debt defaults!
Japan has got away with it for over 20 years by having a very strong export sector and a population of inveterate savers prepared to buy Japanese government bonds (JGBs). However they have just posted their first trade deficit since 1980 and the world is waking up to the fact that the emperor has no clothes. The US obviously thinks it can pull the same trick. Bernanke did not go so far as to announce QE3 last week, but has pushed back the date before he sees any rise in interest rates, by a year, to 2014. Gold rose nearly 5% by the close on Friday on contemplation of more clandestine money printing by the Fed.
But surely the US economy is booming is it not? The Financial Times headlined US GDP for the last quarter of 2011 as “surging” to 2.8%. Buried lower down the column it was mentioned that 1.9% of it came from a rise in inventories (thus far unsold and likely cannon fodder for the spring “sales”) and that analysts were expecting the number to be 3%; although the fact that they got it wrong should surprise no one… For those of you who only ever read the headlines Thomas Jefferson’s quote is as appropriate today as it ever was 200 years ago.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
Do your homework, position you portfolio for all likely hazards and please don’t forget to wear your crash helmet.
PS For those of you mystified by the title of this piece I should explain that apart from being an eminence grise in the investment world Jim Rogers is an inspiration to adventure motor bikers. In the 80s and 90s, way before Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor set off in 2004 on the “Long Way Round” – London to New York via Siberia – followed by yours truly (sans television crew but with equal trepidation) in 2009, Jim did a little trip of 100,000 miles across six continents on an aging BMW. Whether he wore his bow tie all the way around I don’t know but what I can tell you is that his book – Investment Biker – is worth a read whether you are into two wheels or not.
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