By Keith Fitz-Gerald
Money Morning/The Money Map Report
SINGAPORE – By bailing out Wall Street and applying "band-aids" to the economy, the U.S. Federal Reserve may well be causing its own downfall – even as it hastens the demise of the greenback as a viable global currency, investment guru Jim Rogers told Money Morning during an exclusive interview.
Because of such strategic missteps, U.S. consumers could be facing a long and painful economic malaise, similar to the "lost decade" of 1990s Japan, or the stagflation-riddled 1970s in the United States, Rogers said.
Make no mistake: If that happens, there are two clear culprits – current Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan.
Bernanke "and Greenspan together will probably bring [about] the end of the Federal Reserve," Rogers said during the interview in this Southeast Asia city-state. "We've had two central banks in America that failed [and] this third central bank will probably fail, too, because of Bernanke and Greenspan. The Federal Reserve [just] put $200 billion more onto its balance sheet of mortgages. Now I don't know how big they can expand their balance sheet, but if they keep doing it, there's only so much – and they just bought Bear Stearns (BSC)."
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Rogers first made a name for himself with The Quantum Fund, a hedge fund that's often described as the first real global investment fund, which he and partner George Soros founded in 1970. Over the next decade, Quantum gained 4,200%, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed about 50%.
It was after Rogers "retired" in 1980 that the investing masses got to see him in action. Rogers traveled the world (several times), and penned such bestsellers as "Investment Biker" and the just-released "Bull in China." And he made some historic market calls: Rogers predicted China's meteoric growth a good decade before it became apparent and he subsequently foretold of the powerful updraft in global commodities prices that's fueled a year-long bull market in the agriculture, energy and mining sectors.
Given Rogers' prescience – not to mention all the uncertainty facing U.S. investors right now – we thought it was well worth a sit-down with the noted guru, even though it meant traveling all the way to Singapore, where he now lives with his family, to do so.
During that interview here in Singapore, Rogers also said that:
- Although the United States faces perhaps its most daunting economic challenges in at least a generation, "in America, most people do not understand that there is a problem."
- Because of these weak-dollar efforts – as well as the billion-dollar bailouts – "America is now the largest debtor the world has ever seen."
- Although the central bank seems intent on engineering a U.S. economic rebound by creating an ultra-weak dollar, no country in history has ever emerged from a serious financial crisis by "debasing its currency."
The bottom line: The strategies that the central bank is currently employing are nothing short of "outrageous," Rogers said.
"You know, I've read the Federal Reserve Act," he said. "Nowhere does it say [the central bank is] supposed to bail out investment banks! Nowhere does it say you should bail out Wall Street. Their mandate was to have a sound currency, and then it was later expanded to have employment – to help employment. But nowhere does it say: ‘Bail out investment banks.'"
Let's take a look at some of the highlights of the Money Morning interview with investor and author Jim Rogers.
Keith Fitz-Gerald (Q): There's a confluence of money flowing into and around China. Do you believe that the U.S., with all its current problems, will get left out?
Jim Rogers: Absolutely.
The U.S. dollar is a terribly flawed currency. I'm trying to get all of my money out of U.S. dollars. I don't know why anybody would put money into the U.S. dollar, and by extension into the U.S., as we stand here today. The U.S. is probably the largest debtor nation the world has ever seen!
The United States' foreign debts are increasing at the rate of $1 trillion U.S. dollars every 15 months. U.S. foreign debt is over $13 trillion, and rising rapidly. It's the official policy of the central bank to debase the currency. They're trying to drive down the value of the dollar.
Q: The government has succeeded wildly, so far.
Rogers: You haven't seen anything yet!
They're trying to drive down the dollar. I'm trying to be patriotic. I'm trying to sell dollars. That's what they want. I'm trying to help them drive down the value of the currency.
All Americans should. There are certainly probably good reasons to put some money in dollars. For instance, if you have to buy cotton, you have to have dollars.
But for the most part – I, anyway – am joining other people who're trying to avoid the U.S. dollar, because Washington has sent a very clear signal: "We want the dollar to decline. We're gonna do our best to make it decline."
Well, everybody has to make their own decision. I'm trying to do what the Federal Reserve wants me to do, and I'm selling dollars.
Q: My take is that former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and current Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke may go down as the worst central bank chairmen in history. Do you see it differently?
Rogers: [Bernanke] and Greenspan together will probably bring [about] the end of the Federal Reserve. We've had two central banks in America that failed. This third central bank will probably fail, too, because of Bernanke and Greenspan.
The Federal Reserve last week put $200 billion more onto its balance sheet of mortgages. Now I don't know how big they can expand their balance sheet, but if they keep doing it, there's only so much – [and] they just bought Bear Stearns.
There's just so much they can do. Maybe that balance sheet is infinite. I doubt it. And it can be said to be infinite; they just print money like Zimbabwe or someplace. But that has to come to an end, eventually.
Maybe Bernanke is going to get into his helicopter and fly around collecting rents now. Maybe when they repossess all the property, he's going to be the rent collector. But then when they eventually take on all the car loans, I guess he's going to be collecting car payments, too. And credit card debt, when they take over all the credit card payments, I guess he'll be hauling us all out saying: "Your credit card's overdue."
This is insanity.
Q: Is there a circumstance under which you could see the U.S. recovering, or do you think this country is doomed to be an economic also-ran?
Rogers: Historically, nations that have gotten themselves into this kind of situation have only gotten out following a crisis or a semi-crisis, or some gigantic stroke of luck.
The U.K. got out because they discovered the North Sea. Now you give me the largest oil field in the world, or one of the largest oil fields in the world, I'll show you a good time, too.
So if you have a stroke of luck [you can escape these kinds of problems], but otherwise, nobody's ever sorted out these problems without some kind of gigantic crisis or semi-crisis first.
In America, most people do not understand there is a problem! The few who know there's something going on don't understand what it is. Most of them who understand it actually think it's good that the currency's declining. America's not going to do anything until things get very, very bad.
Others that offer the rejoinder to this – that the declining dollar makes America competitive – [that] has worked in the short term. But no country has ever restored itself by debasing its currency, not in the long term, not even the medium term.
Many places have tried to debase their currency as a solution. It's never worked, other than maybe in the short-term, for a while.
Q: Are we looking at a Japanese-style lost economic decade?
Rogers: The Federal Reserve is making the same mistakes that the Japanese made. They're trying to say: "We won't let anybody fail. We'll print a lot of money. We'll drive interest rates to zero. And we don't want anybody to fail. We'll put on as many Band-Aids as we have to."
Well, putting Band-Aids on a cancer patient is not a good solution.
So whether it's like the '90s in Japan, or the '70s in America, remains to be seen.
[One-time U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman] Arthur Burns, who headed the central bank in the '70s, did exactly what Bernanke's doing. He raced in and printed money and said: "Oh, everything's gonna be OK."
But the economy never recovered, inflation went through the roof, and the dollar was under duress. Eventually they had to bring in Paul Volcker and interest rates went over 20%. And eventually they killed inflation and they solved the problem.
They're making exactly the same mistakes that Burns made. For whatever reason, though, this problem is going to last longer than previous difficulties in America. And it's probably going to be worse.
Because, now, America is a debtor nation. Now we're the largest debtor nation in the world. At least in the '70s, we were still a creditor nation. Japan could survive because they were the largest creditor in the world at the time. So they didn't fall off the face of the earth.
America's now the largest debtor the world has ever seen. What's happening in the U.S. is not going to be fun.
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Q: Should the Fed be stepping in like it has in recent months?
Rogers: It's outrageous that Bernanke's sitting there. You know, I've read the Federal Reserve Act. Nowhere does it say [the central bank is] supposed to bail out investment banks! Nowhere does it say you should bail out Wall Street. Their mandate was to have a sound currency, and then it was later expanded to have employment – to help employment. But nowhere does it say: ‘Bail out investment banks.'
Investment banks have been failing for centuries. The world hasn't come to an end… even when investment banks have failed. They just caused a setback, and so what!
Recessions are usually good for the system. They clean out the excesses. And my God there've been excesses on Wall Street in the past 10 years. You don't see a bunch of 29-year-old cotton farmers driving around in Maseratis and flying in private planes to exotic locations. Well, you see a lot of guys on Wall Street doing that.
And the idea that we're now supposed to bail them out is ludicrous! I don't see any of those guys sending their bonus checks back.
Huge amounts were made in the debt markets. We now know [that money was made] at least incorrectly, if not fraudulently, and yet, now we're supposed to bail them out. It's bad enough they get to keep their money. But the outrageous part is that it will cost more to try to prevent a recession than to have the recession.
We have safety nets in place, now. We did in the '70s in America and the Japanese did in the '90s. I think there's good evidence that it will cost more to try to prevent the problems than to have the problems.
Q: That's a very interesting thought that had not occurred to me before.
Rogers: Well, we'll see if it's right. In nature, there's the natural phenomenon of forest fires. The forest fires are pretty terrible when they're going on. But nature invented them to clean out the forest so that the forest could then come and grow from a new, sound foundation. That's what recessions do, too. They're a natural phenomenon.
Nobody likes it when we have them any more than anybody likes a forest fire. But in the end, everybody's better off. Bernanke thinks he can stop this; he's going to very well destroy the system by trying to save it.
Q: Could you see a segment of the financial system surviving this? Or do you think that there will be such catastrophic change that we won't recognize it till several years from now?
Rogers: Ask me again in five years, 10 years. That was true after the '30s, certainly. It was true even after the '60s. Very few people went to Wall Street in the '70s, very few. A whole generation ignored Wall Street in the '30s and in the '70s.
Will that happen again? Probably, because of things we've been discussing.
So there will be big changes, of course. If you're in the field that deals with – and works out – bankruptcies, you've got a great future – on Wall Street, or in the legal profession. If you're in commodities, you have a great future. Some sectors of the financial community are going to do well. Many others are going to disappear and/or do badly.
Q: How low could the dollar go?
Rogers: I have no idea. You just have to watch it as it evolves. Politicians and bureaucrats can do unbelievably stupid things, and have [done so] throughout history.
They will usually do things that are so stupid nobody can believe them, but it happens. You have to watch and see as it goes.
News and Related Story Notes:
Money Morning Economic Analysis:
With Bear Stearns Deal and New Game Plan, Fed Raises New Fears About Credit Crisis.
Money Morning Market Analysis:
Fed Plan Sends Dow Soaring Over 400 Points.
Money Morning Investment Research Report:
(Jimmy) Rogers and Me: The Latest Wisdom From a Global Investing Guru.
Arthur F. Burns.
Money Morning Investment Travelogue:
Snapshot From Singapore: In This Asian Tiger, Tiger Attacks Have Given Way to Construction and Capitalism.