As I said, I'm going to compile your comments, stories, and ideas in my letter to Congress and the President.
And since I think what you had to say really adds to the discussion, I want to start off today's Q&A session by sharing some of those with everyone.
Q: The obvious solution for the debt enslavement part is to change the law to allow discharge in bankruptcy. Let the racketeers eat the loss. ~ Tom S.
A: Thankfully, there is a movement towards allowing the discharge of student loans in bankruptcy. A
nd that's going to help. The fact that this hasn't been allowed before is a testament to the power of the moneylenders in America.
Q: It all starts in the home. There is way too much coddling going on out there with kids these days (strictly my opinion). They are graduating with no clue on how to get along out there in this big old world. No work ethic, no sense of responsibility when parents give them everything they want or desire. When does anyone have to "earn" what they get anymore? ~ Gomer
A: Gomer, I'm guessing you're talking about the U.S. for the most part. And if you are, I agree. However, in most other parts of the world, an education is a coveted, appreciated, and manifested endeavor, which l think you may be saying, that starts with parents instilling personal responsibility and ambition in their children.
Q: Sounds like an entitlement guru talking. We are talking LOANS here. Inherent in the concept of a loan is that it must be paid back. Do you understand that students are provided a contract when they borrow money for school? Perhaps if they did their due diligence about a field they seek employment in and READ the student loan contract prior to spending the money, they may understand these loans are not free money, cannot be forgiven, and the degree pursued may not result in employment. What ever happened to the notion of personal responsibility? ~ M.P.
A: M.P., you're not wrong. But there are other forces exerting outside influence on the inner intentions of a lot of "students" susceptible to being sold a bill of goods. Sometimes we're stupid for being conned, and sometimes the con is just so cleverly concealed.
Q: There is this misconception that college is for everyone. Truth is, not everyone has the capacity or desire to work through a college degree... Trade school at a community college would be more appropriate and more than adequate to meet the higher education needs of many college students, with the added benefit of leading to reasonable paying jobs. ~ Don (a tenured professor with 23 years in the system)
A: Don, thank you for lending your credibility as an educator to this discussion and for stating what a lot of your peers would likely not have the guts or honesty to say.
Q: The situation is worse than you depict. I have recently found out that when getting a loan, the lenders do not ask the cost of the educational program. The loan amount is often more than the students need, and as a result, they spend it on things they do not really require while getting educated (fancy accommodations, cell phones, etc., etc.). ~ Gordon
A: You're right. Lenders want to give out the money and don't care how it's spent, as long as they can force borrowers to pay them back. Sickening!
Q: Unless a kid is in a hard science or engineering school, I think the government should not give out any loans. Subsidize in areas that we need more people and the hard sciences are in dire straits trying to find qualified employees is difficult at best. ~ Sean B.
A: Sean, I like your idea. We should work on it because it makes sense and addresses a lot of the issues with too much liberal arts education funding. Not that there's anything wrong with liberal arts at all; it's just that today's world demands different, more "mechanical," if you will, skill sets.
Q: The education "problem" started years ago when the goal of education was shifted from improving the mind and learning for its own sake, to a philosophy of income enrichment. A degree was equated with more money and a financially improved life style. Schooling became synonymous with career advancement - real learning went out the window to be substituted by an "investment" in the future. Courses were "dumbed down" new "bird" courses sprouted up - anything to keep enrollment figures higher and higher - students became not scholars but numbers, and the educational empire expanded, like the housing market - where everyone was "entitled" to a college education much the same as everyone was "entitled" to a home with granite counter tops. And in both cases, the dreams turned into financial nightmares. ~ Jim
A: Jim, wow, that's hitting the nail on the head. Superbly said, sir.
Next, some interesting ideas and questions about what's happening in Europe.
Q: I expect the Greeks, and maybe the Irish to get fed up with austerity measures and choose to just outright default. I have no idea about the political fallout, and don't really care. It is up to the folks who live in Europe to work that out. But I expect European stocks to drop like rocks. At that time I am prepared to scoop up some of the better ones for pennies on the dollar. ~ Perry
A: Welcome to the club, Perry. I'll be picking up the penny stocks right next to you.
Q: Throughout Europe (including the UK) politicians are losing credibility with the electorate. Watch the Greek, French, and next year German election results, and you will see just how ephemeral and weak the current leadership is in all cases. When the first country leaves the euro, there will be massive financial chaos at ordinary consumer/citizen level as well as a breakdown in law and order in many places, particularly the big city ghettoes... I should welcome any other suggestions for coping with the forthcoming mess. ~ Charles V.
A: Charles, you echo my darkest fears. The people of Europe are only going to take so much. I'm afraid of a long, hot summer that breeds resentment and riots. Spain's unemployment is 25%. But worse, youth unemployment is 50%. The other "peripheral" Euro-zone countries aren't as bad, but they're pretty bad.
I can't help but think about that old Lovin' Spoonful song, "Summer in the City:" "All around people are looking half dead, staring out the windows, hotter than a match head." Heaven help us if that match ignites the dried up hopes of the unemployed masses.
Q: "Money for nothing and chicks for free." Currency can't be printed with abandon without consequences. To believe otherwise is to have faith in... well... central bankers. Regardless, if printing money could create thousands of productive companies developing wealth-producing technologies like Apple, we'd already be colonizing Mars and mining asteroids. ~ Phil S.
A: "Ah that ain't working, that's the way they do it..." Phil, have you heard the intro to this Dire Straits song? A lot of folks don't know, but it's Sting. Oh, and I agree with your point.
Q: Shah, can you see any kind of solution to the problems within the Eurozone Creditsystem? I am afraid by June we will have the break down. ~ Heidi
A: No, I can't see a solution at this time. And, that's what's got the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up.
Now for some other really good questions and comments...
Q [Re: Here's Why Earnings Season Can't Reflect Reality]: Seemed like a couple of years ago many companies were blamed for painting a too rosy financial picture and then disappointing investors when the numbers were reviewed. Some analysts were also blamed for interpreting a rosier outlook then should have been expected. Now the opposite is the case? ~ Mike B.
A: Yes, now the opposite has been exposed as another form of manipulation.
Q: Each day as I watch the markets move thinly higher I ask what is it that I am missing? ~
A: GREAT question. What's interesting to me is that as volatility increases on big down days, volume picks up considerably. Part of this is a function of volatility-based algorithmic (computerized) trading. I've noticed as volatility spikes and spreads widen across different instruments, the machines start stepping in, more and more. That's working now. But as these algos are "learning" that this is working and they're making money, they may be setting themselves up for the next Black Swan, fat tail event that they are "un-learning" themselves is still out there.
Volume on up days is less, besides the fact that there's very, very little "public" investing and participation, because the algos, the way they're written to value time-in-trade when there's less volatility, narrow spreads and at the same time thin out what's being bid for and offered. Volume metrics aren't what they used to be.
Q: It is my thought (maybe even my prayer) that $200 a barrel oil this summer is going to shock and shake America (as it has not been shocked or shaken before). And I fervently pray ( though I am not religious) that this turn of events will be so upsetting as to force Americans to go back to what they were born of (and have done more effectively than any other nation before or since). That is, an innate ability of realization, recognition, innovation and creation of new workable ways of getting down to business (and getting on down the road) when it's time to. ~ Philip H.
A: That's harsh medicine, Philip, and you are probably right. But that would inflict a lot of pain on a lot of people doing their best and struggling. Hopefully, there's an easier way to wake up America. Maybe we can start by putting most of our imbecile, blathering, lying, pimping, and pandering politicians to sleep.
Q: A question. Given the known practice and technique used in hammering the price of silver, how do we know that the like manipulation is not happening to certain stocks? Sudden rises and/or falls can be interpreted this way by suspicious minds that have been burnt in the past. ~ Benton M.
A: There is manipulation going on. In fact, there are so many different ways stocks and other tradable instruments can, and often are being manipulated, it would make most investors sick. What's dangerous for all of us is that manipulation is becoming part of the fabric of the markets. Mind you, I'm not saying it happens all the time, just that it happens.
Q [Re: The Markets Are About to Tell You Something]: Shah: if the markets go south, and inflation enters, what happens to commodities, and metals? ~ John S.
A: If the markets go south, in a steep swoon, commodities and metals will take a hard hit and inflation will give way to deflation. Don't forget, all the stimulus around the world was aimed at preventing deflation. Commodities and metals (basically the same asset class, with gold being the exception... sometimes) are fast-buck trading vehicles, especially with the advent of ETFs, so if there's a market plunge, all boats that investors have piled into will spring leaks. Inflation will be a problem once the world gets back on its collective feet. Then commodities will rise, and they will be the best investment vehicles around, for a long time. But that's going to take a lot of global growth, which is coming, just not yet.
Q: I too think disaster is brewing... Things are really not much better than 2008 except now I have a job after not having one for over two years. But I also make 50% less than I did in 2008 and the cost of living certainly isn't 50% less. Something has to give. ~ Corvette D.
A: Dear Vette, I'm glad you've gotten a job. I can only imagine how tough it's been. Not that getting paid half of what you're used to is a gift in any way. I believe you're right, something has to give. And, I think it will. I'm just afraid that it's going to get worse before it finally starts getting better. Keep hanging in there. You're a hero to me.
Q: Possibly shale gas could be enough to bring back manufacturing [and] help our balance of payments, due to less oil importing. But can it evolve fast enough to save us? We and Europe had better hope so. ~ Joanne R.
A: Yes, Joanne, it can happen. Sadly, I doubt it will. There's too much money in the old oil business, and it will take time for the oil majors to "capitalize" their existing investment in exploration, wells, pipelines, storage, etc., to see natural gas rise to where it is our go-to fuel.
Q: Only in recent times I am noticing your tilt towards a non-existent "free market" and against any extra-market intervention (howsoever imperfect it may be) in the workings of the imperfect markets. If governments and monetary authority intervene, there is a purpose beyond swindling and cheating. When a company like Goldman Sachs manipulates the market (financial or energy) the whole and sole purpose is swindling... I am hoping to see more sanity from you instead of pandering to the already mythological "free market." ~ Viswa G.
A: Viswa, please allow me to clarify my thoughts on free markets and regulation.
I'm for free markets with regulation. There's no such thing as one without the other, unless we're living in theory... but I just pinched myself, so I think I am, therefore... I get into heated debates with "theorists" who ridicule me for advocating free markets and regulation. They say I don't get real free markets if I am calling for regulation of them... How can they be free, I'm asked. To me, free means the least amount of "friction" with that friction being prudent, concise, and transparent regulatory oversight.
Q: Please continue your "Tell it the way it is, people" articles. I think it is what people already know but can't believe it until it is in black and white. You, my friend, get a trophy for your game face alone! ~ T.
A: I'm laughing, thank you. I get really angry at what I see sometimes, and I'm very fortunate to not care who hates me because I say what I say. And believe me, there are folks out there that hate me.
Q: Did you admit you were wrong last year about shorting bonds? ~ Ray
A: No, I didn't admit it. But I'll admit it now. Thankfully we didn't put on any big positions, but as usual, wanted to "leg" further into a hopefully profitable position. When it went against us by a digestible percent, we got out and stayed on the sidelines. However, the bond market has been almost as volatile as stocks in the past few quarters. There's a lot of money to be made in the bond market. We will focus more on that and I will throw out some trading ideas to you. I'm not always right. But I'm less wrong.
Q: I have a follow-up question concerning the housing market.If someone has a long investing horizon, say 5+ years, would it be prudent to invest now in real estate, whether directly or in related equities, or is there still significant downside risk?~ Dominick S.
A: Dominick, I think we have more to go before we bottom out in housing. But we're getting close, and a turn can happen any time. I just don't expect it to be a reversal. There will be a pop, but not a rocket ride. Taking positions now on housing and adding to them on dips isn't going to hurt you if you have a long horizon and can carry the positions.
Q: What happened to the real issues in America? Elect Romney and you will see a repeat of Bush but with even more incompetence and more extreme measures because that's the direction the Right has taken. The Left isn't much better, bending over and leaning toward the Right asking for permission to live. Democracy is in serious trouble. What do you think we can do?I'd really like to know.I feel paralyzed with fear and loathing. ~ Beverly J.
A: Super good question. You and I - and the rest of America - will be addressing the real issues wherever and whenever we can. It's just going to be hard to get our self-serving politicians to do the same. But, with your help, we'll reach out to as many of them as we can, and whack them with our furled-up flags.
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