Japan Is Engaged in a Ponzi Scheme – Marc Faber

Marc Faber, editor and publisher of “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report”, spoke with Bloomberg TV’s Trish Regan today. He commented on Bill Gross’ remarks about deflation and explained why he thinks Japan is engaged in a Ponzi Scheme. He also spoke on oil prices and the midterm elections.

Faber said that Japan is “engaged in a Ponzi scheme in the sense that all the government bonds that the Treasury issues are being bought by the Bank of Japan.”

On oil prices, Faber said: “The oil price decline is not necessarily very good for the United States. It helps the consumer to some extent, but a lot of capital spending has gone into oil and natural gas, and some of these companies are already today cash flow negative. So if oil prices went lower, it may actually have an adverse impact on the US economy.”

When asked about Janet Yellen’s first meeting with President Obama since becoming head of the Federal Reserve, Faber said: “She should immediately apologize that it took her so long to meet the president because Alan Greenspan was running to the White House repeatedly and very more often than any other Fed chairman.”

TRISH REGAN: Bond investor Bill Gross is saying deflation is a “growing possibility” as governments worldwide struggle to create inflation and to stimulate growth. In his second investment outlook since joining Janus Capital, Mr. Gross writes, “The real economy needs money printing, yes, but money spending more so. Until then, deflation remains a growing possibility, not the kind that creates prosperity but the kind that’s trouble for prosperity.”

Well is Mr. Gross right and should investors bid good bye to double-digit returns in this new normal? Joining me here to discuss via Skype, Marc Faber, editor and publisher of Gloom, Boom and Doom. Hello, Marc. Always good to see you. What do you think here about what Bill Gross is saying? Do you think in fact deflation is a real possibility for the United States?

MARC FABER: Well, I think the concept of inflation and deflation is frequently misunderstood because in some sectors of the economy you can have inflation and in some sectors deflation. But if the investment implication of Bill Gross is that – and he’s a friend of mine. I have high regard for him. If the implication is that one should be long US treasuries, to some extent I agree. The return on 10-year notes will be miserable, 2.35 percent for the next 10 years if you hold them to maturity in each of the next 10 years.

However, if you compare that to French government bonds yielding today 1.21 percent, I think that’s quite a good deal, or Japanese bonds, a country that is engaged in a Ponzi scheme, bankrupt, they have government bond yields yielding 0.43 percent. So –

REGAN: You say Japan is engaged – go ahead.

FABER: Well I think they’re engaged in a Ponzi scheme in the sense that all the government bonds that the Treasury issues are being bought by the Bank of Japan.

REGAN: So Japan’s engaged in a Ponzi scheme. What about the US? We’ve done our share of money printing. We’ve had record low interest rates for six years.

FABER: I think the good news is – for Japan is that most countries are engaged in a Ponzi scheme and it will not end well. But as Carlo Ponzi proved, it can take a long time until the whole system collapses.

REGAN: So all this QE in your view is a form of a Ponzi scheme. It’s going to take some while before it catches up with us, and yet, Marc, you look at the jobs numbers coming out of the US. You look at the GD print (ph). All this has actually been pretty good lately. So isn’t there a case to be made for some economic growth here?

FABER: I really have to laugh when I look at the economic statistics because they are published by the Obama administration, and there I would be very careful to take every figure for granted. The fact is simply that first-time home buyers in the US are now at the 30-year low. What does it tell you? That people don’t want to live in homes anymore? No. They can’t afford to live in homes anymore. That is the problem. And the whole exercise with quantitative easing has been to boost asset prices, but the bigger problem is the affordability. A lot of people are being squeezed very badly because the costs of living are rising more than their salaries and wages.

REGAN: You mentioned —

FABER: Not – not in the media. Not at Bloomberg. Their salaries go up and my salary also goes up because of money printing, not because I’m intelligent.

REGAN: You mentioned the economic numbers out of the US. You said people should take them – to not take them for granted. You also mentioned in the same sentence because they’re coming from the Obama administration. What is your concern there about what they’re telling us?

FABER: Well first of all, if we talk about GDP growth, we have to – the figures are adjusted essentially for inflation, the PCE in the case of the US. Now depending on how you weight the basket of goods and services that you take into your inflation measure, you will get completely different results. And if you print money and if you have large budget deficits, and last year up to October 13 of this year the total government debt in the US increased by over a trillion dollars. So I would say that is kind of a deficit figure that makes halfway sense, but it does not include the unfunded liabilities. That’s another Ponzi scheme we’ll have to talk about in a few years’ time.

In any event, the point is that (inaudible) improvement in the economy has taken place, there’s no question, from the 2009 lows. The question is more had we had a further decline in home prices, would actually affordability for most people have improved or not? And I would argue why do people rush out when there are sales in department stores? Because they get the bargain. At the present time when young people want to buy something, they buy the stock market at an expensive valuation. They buy bonds at miserable yields.

That I didn’t have to do when I started to work in 1970. In the early ‘70 the Dow Jones was yielding 4 to 6 percent. Bonds, they were yielding 6 percent on treasuries and they rose to 15 percent, add (ph) the benefit of a huge compounding effect. Not (inaudible) I’m smart, but $1 invested in 1970 at 100 years at 5 percent grows to $131.

REGAN: Let me ask you —

FABER: But now you don’t have that compounding impact.

REGAN: We’ve got midterm elections here in the US tomorrow. Do they matter for the markets? Does the configuration of the US Senate in your view really matter?

FABER: Well it will be perceived as positive if the Republicans gain the control, but I don’t think it really matters because on (inaudible) Democrats and Republicans, they’ve blown money away. It’s not that the Democrats – actually under Mr. Obama spending has been relatively muted partly because of the sequester and so forth. But nevertheless, as a percent of the economy it hasn’t grown much. It’s actually contracted.

REGAN: I know you have been bullish in gold for – well, pretty much forever, Marc. But now we’re in a situation where gold is at a four-year low. Goldman now predicting 10, 15 down (ph). Soc Gen saying $1,000. Where do you see gold finishing the year?

FABER: I would say Goldman Sachs is very good at predicting lower prices when they want to buy something. But that is a (inaudible) I would say, yes, we are down from $1,900 to $1,160 or something like this, and it’s been a miserable performance since 2011. However, from the 1990 lows we’re still up more than four times. So I just looked at performance tables over 10 years and 15 years. Gold hasn’t done that badly, has done actually better than stocks.

Now I personally, I think that we may still go lower. It’s possible. I’m not a profit, but I’m telling you I want to own some gold because I don’t trust the financial system anymore. I think the whole thing is going to collapse one day and then I’ll be happy to have some assets. But of course the custody (ph) is important. I wouldn’t hold my gold at the Federal Reserve because they will lend it out. I wouldn’t hold my gold in the US at all.

REGAN: Okay. So you want gold even at these levels. Where do you see – you still see it going lower however as we close out the year?

FABER: I don’t know whether it will go lower, but I think say – I’m now 68. by the time I die, and I don’t think it will be 100 (inaudible) I’m not that optimistic, but by the time I die it will be meaningfully higher.

REGAN: All right. Marc, we’re going to take a quick break. Stick with me. We’re going to talk a little bit more about the Fed. We’re going to talk about Asia and we’re going to talk about Europe. Marc Faber, editor and publisher of the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report, when Street Smart returns.

REGAN: I want to get back to Marc Faber, editor and publisher of the Gloom, Boom and Doom Report, who’s joining me right now via Skype. Marc, let’s talk a little bit about crude oil as we talk about some of these commodities here. You just told me you thought gold won’t necessarily be going higher any time soon, but over the long run a good investment. We’ve got crude oil now closing below $80 for the first time since June of 2012. Is there any floor in site here for oil or do you expect the slide to continue?

FABER: Well basically if oil falls below $75 to $70, I don’t think it will stay there because a lot of production will be cut and exploration will be cut, and actually some companies will get into serious trouble financially. The oil price decline is not necessarily very good for the United States. It helps the consumer to some extent, but a lot of capital spending has gone into oil and natural gas, and some of these companies are already today cash flow negative. So if oil prices went lower, it may actually have an adverse impact on the US economy.

REGAN: Do you think to a certain extent – and I actually wrote about – I wrote about this in – in my column in USA Today this week. I wonder to what extent, Marc, OPEC actually enjoys seeing lower prices right now because of the success of drilling in the US. In other words, it makes it far less attractive for drillers in the US to be investing in that sector.

FABER: Except too much of a good thing may not be very good for Saudi Arabia and the other oil producers. You can extract oil in Saudi Arabia at very low cost, but you have to understand the population of Saudi Arabia has now reached I think 25 million. So the social cost is very large. They need an oil price of around $80. If oil prices went down – and let me remind you oil hit a high in July 2008 at $147 and within six months it dropped to $32, but it didn’t stay there. It rebounded. And I think Saudi Arabia and most oil producers would be in trouble if the oil price went below $70 and stayed there.

REGAN: But you don’t anticipate that it will stay there. It’s – it’s supply and demand ultimately, and if it goes to $70 you see less investment and drilling and thus less supply here in the US. So $70 is the floor in your view?

FABER: Not necessarily the floor, but it won’t stay low for a very long time. I think it’s – at the present time, farmers are by and large losing money because the price of corn, wheat, soybeans has collapsed by around 50 percent from the highs and the costs are up substantially. I don’t think oil would stay down for very long because I live in an emerging economy. I can see one thing. The demand for oil in the regions of the emerging world where 80 perent of the population of the world lives is going up still from very low per capita consumption levels compared to say the European economy or the US.

So I think the long-term trend for demand is up, but obviously the decline of oil prices, some people blame it on Saudi Arabia and some other blame it on the US and who knows what, the fact is maybe the decline in oil prices tells you that the global economy is not recovering as all the bullish analysts think, but actually it’s weakening, yes, weakening. But some countries benefit from lower oil prices, particularly India.

REGAN: So in fact you see the global recovery as not really happening, that we are in an increasingly weak global environment as you look around. And certainly we see some poor data that indicates that out of Asia and Europe.

FABER: Yes. I think that in Europe we have essentially a flat (inaudible) economy. Now maybe a year they will grow at 1 percent and the next year they’ll contract at 1 percent, basically you can’t expect much growth from Europe. In China, we have now obviously – and this is well documented – a meaningful slowdown in economic growth. As a result, China also buys less resources from the resource producers in the world, from Argentina to Brazil, over (inaudible) Asia, central Asia, Russia (inaudible) and so on. And this has all an impact on these countries’ economies, and so they themselves are buying less goods from the Western world and you have the potential of a downside spiral.

REGAN: Janet Yellen, Marc, is meeting with the president for the first time since becoming head of the Federal Reserve today. Is there anything that she should be asking for from Washington right now?

FABER: She should immediately apologize that it took her so long to meet the president because Alan Greenspan was running to the White House repeatedly and very more often than any other Fed chairman.

REGAN: Anything else? A lot of people have made that point that the Fed has been somewhat backed into a corner in terms of having to be aggressive because they haven’t gotten any cooperation from Washington. Is there any truth to that?

FABER: Well it’s interesting that you raise this issue because I was on a panel with Alan Greenspan a week ago, and I knew Alan from my days at Y12 in 1970, 1971 when he was the consulting economist. And actually he even recognized me. He said you’re one of the few ones that always came to my presentations. I have to say one thing. I’m critical of him as a Fed chairman, but he’s a highly intelligent man and he’s actually a very nice man. But equally, he’s a diplomat. He’s a politician.

And I was allowed to ask him a few questions, so I asked him, Alan, you’ve been Fed chairman since 1987 until 2006. Would you have done anything different if you were again Fed chairman? And then he explained this and that, and then I interrupted him and I said, you mean to say that the Federal Reserve is not independent? He immediately said, Marc, I never said the Fed was independent. That’s what he said. I never said that the Fed was independent. In other words, the Fed and the treasury and the government is basically one and the same.

REGAN: Okay. Real quick before I let you go, I know you like gold. Anything else you’d be telling investors to buy right now in this uncertain global environment?

FABER: Because in this unsettled global environment nobody knows how the world will look like in five years’ time, Alan Greenspan said the same, he doesn’t know, I would be diversified. And my diversification is about a quarter in equities, not in US stocks. I like other equities better. And some bonds and cash and some gold and some real estate.

REGAN: All right. Marc Faber,we are out of time. Thank you very much for joining me today.

FABER: It is my pleasure. Thank you.

Bloomberg Television

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