Jan 31 2009

Banker Assigns Responsibility for Meltdown

“I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies, and that the principles of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” – Thomas Jefferson

 

A friend of mine, who happens to run a local BB&T bank, sent me an interview of the recently retired Chairman of BB&T Corp, John A. Allison that was in American Banker – The Financial Services Daily.  I have read that Mr. Allison is a somewhat highly regarded bank executive and this might be debatable, but one thing is for sure – he is confident that he knows what caused the financial mess we are now living through.  I didn’t find this article online when I searched, so I thought readers would find some of what he said quite interesting.

 

Mr. Allison’s views on the root causes of the mess we’re now in:

“There are certainly individual financial institutions that have made some pretty serious errors.  But the root causes, however, are government policy, and I think there are four primary culprits in this regard: 1.  The Federal Reserve, which has, in my opinion, mismanaged the interest rates and monetary policy by driving rates down too low and raising them too high and that has distorted economic calculation.  2.  The existence of FDIC insurance, which has allowed people to raise money they couldn’t have in a true free market.  3. Housing in a broad context where the government tried to encourage above-market rate of homeownership under the theory that homeownership is always good.  Homeownership in general is good, but giving someone a home is not necessarily good, and particularly if they’re not able to pay for it…Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the No. 1 villians because of their magnitude…They were the ones who created the subprime crisis.  4.  Finally, the Securities and Exchange Commission is largely to blame.  Fair-value accounting has certainly accelerated the problems.  If we had had it in the early 1990’s, we would have had an economic collapse.  It is a very poor accounting concept.  Personally, I would just get rid of it tomorrow.”

 

Mr. Allison’s comments on which banks will survive:

“Through a very non-market-driven process, you have potentially created an oligopoly in the banking business, with four to nine institutions depending on how you look at it…Look at Citigroup.  It failed twice last year and even more times during my career.  That’s not good, and it creates a challenge.  While there are some economies of scale, you can say it’s not obvious that having more than a trillion dollars in assets is a good thing.  BB&T can compete very effectively against these big banks, but they have a…fundamental, long-term, potential competitive funding advantage if they are basically perceived as being subsidized or protected by the government.  It’s artificial, and you can argue that it is adverse selection.  Citibank shouldn’t be here…”

 

Mr. Allison’s thoughts on redeeming qualities to the Tarp:

“Only in one context.  Tarp wasn’t necessary except that the government created a panic and they probably had to do something about it.  But they didn’t need to create the panic to begin with.”

 

Mr. Allison’s views on when we will know we have hit bottom and how much longer until things get better:

“I think the biggest indicator will be the stabilization of real estate prices.  It is amazing to me how little focus has been put on fixing these real estate markets.  Until you bottom real estate, you’re not going to fix the economy.  I think the market will bottom in less than 18 months, but it will take at least 18 months before we see a meaningful recovery.  I think BB&T will be very advantaged on the other side.  We have an operating model and a culture that can compete more effectively over the long term.”

 

DBP Disclaimer: Although I generally agree with Mr. Allison’s comments, I am not suggesting they are correct, nor do I have any reason to believe that his timetable for recovery is valid in specific terms.

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Dec 31 2008

2008 – The Economic/Financial Year in Review

“And ye, who have been met with Adversity’s blast, And been bow’d to the Earth by its fury; To Whom the twelve months, that have recently pass’d Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury – Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime, The regrets of rememberence to cozen, And having obtained a New Trial of Time, Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.” – Thomas Hood

 

For me personally, and I suspect for countless others as well, 2008 was a year that will be hard to forget.  As with any period of time, there were good things that happened, but the widespread economic distress, a number of devastating world events and a particularly nasty U.S. presidential election leaves me grateful that 2008 is behind us.  I haven’t a clue what is just around the corner, but for the moment let’s all be hopeful that 2009 will be a better year.

 

Before we completely move on – I thought it would be fun to list a few events from each month…lest we forget completely.  So hold onto your seat!

 

January 2008 – 1.  Crude oil prices surge past $100/barrel on New York Mercantile Exchange; 2.  Gold reaches new record of $865.35/ounce; 3.  Dow Jones Industrial Average fluctuates around 12,000 with several significant drops upon news of probable recession.

 February 2008 – 1.  President Bush announces Federal Budget of $3.1 trillion and near-record deficit of $410 billion; 2.  U.S. Congress approves $168 billion Economic Stimulus Package; 3.  The Northern Rock Bank is formally nationalized by the British Government.

 March 2008 – 1.  A U.S. Dept. of Labor report shows that the U.S. economy lost 63,000 jobs in February; 2.  The price of Gold reaches $1,000/ounce for first time ever; 3.  U.S. investment bank Bear Stearns gets emergency funding from J.P. Morgan Chase with Federal Reserve Bank of New York backing.  Bear Stearns is ultimately purchased by J.P. Morgan Chase for $10/share.

April 2008 – 1.  EU announces investigation into bailout of Northern Rock Bank in United Kingdom; 2.  The World Bank announces a package of emergency measures to tackle the dramatic rise in basic food prices which has led to civil unrest in much of the developing world; 3.  The S&P/Case-Shiller Index of U.S. real estate pricing shows decline of 12.7% from February 2007 to February 2008 with 12 of 17 regions showing declines.

 May 2008 – 1.  U.S. Federal Reserve System auctions off over $24 billion in treasury securities to help relieve the subprime mortgage crisis; 2.  Crude oil futures contracts reach $120/barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange for the first time; 3.  The U.S. Fed reports that the industrial output of factories, mines and utilities fell by 0.7% in April in a broad-based decline led by motor vehicles.

 June 2008 – 1.  Bank of England says that new mortgage approvals in the U.K. in April were at record lows; 2.  Ireland’s ESRI says the country is in grip of a recession for the first time in 25 years; 3.  General Motors announces it will close pickup truck and SUV plants in Canada, U.S. and Mexico eliminating over 10,000 jobs.

 July 2008 – 1.  Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke assures U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in “no danger of failing”; 2.  Zimbabwe introduces new 100-billion-dollar bank note as annual inflation rate hits 2.2 million %; 3.  Governor of California Arnold Schwartzenegger acts to end budget crisis by firing 22,000 state workers and cutting the pay of 200,000 more.

 August 2008 – 1.  United Kingdom home repossessions rise by 48%; 2.  Unemployment in U.S. rises to 5.7% which is highest rate in 4 years; 3.  New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reaches a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup to buy back auction rate securities from about 40,000 clients.

 September 2008 – 1.  Despite growing unemployment and economic woes, Boeing machinists strike against Boeing over outsourcing, job security, pay and benefits; 2.  AIG seeks emergency $40 billion loan from the U.S. Federal Reserve; 3.  Bank of America negotiates to buy Merrill Lynch for $38.25 billion in stock; 4.  Lehman Brothers files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after British Bank Barclays and Bank of America pull out of emergency buyout talks; 5.  Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last two independent investment banks on Wall Street, become bank holding companies as a result of the subprime crisis.

 October 2008 – 1.  President Bush signs $700 billion bailout bill after it passes the House of Representatives; 2.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel announces that Germany will explicitly guarantee the deposits in banks held by its citizens; 3.  Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 800.06 points, its biggest intraday drop ever; 4.  Dow Jones Industrial Average falls to 8,579.19 points; 5.  Global markets fall steeply on fears of a major global recession; 6.  G7 finance ministers announce a plan to combat financial crisis by using “all available tools” to support key institutions and prevent their failure.

 November 2008 – 1.  Barack Obama is elected President of the United States of America and promises to do everything possible to stabilize the economy and bring greater prosperity to all Americans; 2.  U.S. Government announces second bailout of AIG Group for roughly $150 billion which is the single largest bailout of a private company in U.S. history; 3.  Crude oil futures close at $54.95/barrel; 4.  Citigroup announces it will cut 75,000 jobs by early 2009; 5.  IMF approves $2.1 billion rescue package for Iceland following its complete financial wipeout.

 December 2008 – 1.  U.S. Dept. of Labor reports non-farm payrolls contracted by 533,000 in November, worse since 1974; 2.  President Bush announces $17.4 emergency bailout of General Motors and Chrysler to protect each from bankruptcy; 3.  On the final day of the year, the Dow Jones Industrial average ends up 108 at 8,776.39.

 

Let us ring in the New Year with optimism and never in our lifetimes forget what created the Great Financial Tsunami of 2008.

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Dec 25 2008

‘Tis the Season

“What is Christmas?  It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.  It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”  – Agnes M. Pharo

 

Probably like you I am feeling slightly more subdued this Christmas.  This is not to suggest that I am not hopeful or that I don’t have much to be grateful for.  I realize that I am far better off than much of humanity and I feel blessed to have a great family, my health, a home, a job, etc.  At the same time this has been a sobering year for most Americans – present company certainly included.  All I have to do is check the value of my stock portfolio and suddenly a wave of queasiness washes over me.  The financial tsunami that has reached nearly every corner of the world by now started here in the good ole U.S. of A.  Our collective greed and short-sighted foolishness has at least temporarily knocked us way below the lofty position we enjoyed for so long.  As a student of history I know we can come out of this in a better place and I firmly believe we will.  For now we must deal with our mess by remaining optimistic, working hard to truly add value in whatever we do for a living, and helping as many others as we possibly can.

 

What is my point in saying all this?  Well I just want to spread the news that we are all on this ride together – now probably more than ever in the history of mankind.  So on this one day in the year of our Lord 2008, I suggest you push all this mess aside and find a reason to think about the meaning of Christmas.  A baby was born in a manger over 2,000 years ago and he grew into a man that would change the world forever.  He wanted us to care for one another and be willing to forgive.  He also made it quite clear that it is far more important to give than to receive.

 

Merry Christmas.  Peace on Earth and good will to all men.  May this day be the beginning of a brighter future for us all.

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Nov 29 2008

All’s Well That Ends Well

“There is no royal road to anything.  One thing at a time, all things in succession.  That which grows fast withers as rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.”  – J.G. Holland

 

A friend and fellow CeFiMS alum recently made me aware of a Viewpoint published on BBC News by Sir Evelyn de Rothchild.  The perspective of Sir Evelyn is one that has formed from living an amazing life in a world that only the most accomplished and privileged ever experience first hand.  He has also been in the game long enough to qualify his observations and recommendations at this critical juncture.  I strongly suggest you read his Calls for Action and make special note of what he says about oversight, modern executives and the reality of our predicament.

 

It’s amazing to consider that thanks to the Internet we have easy and rapid access to information on just about everything – but so much of it is exaggerated or filtered rubbish.   In fact, it is nearly impossible to know what to believe much of the time.  I suspect that beginning with the earliest European corporations of the 17th Century, exagerations and inaccuracies have been used to raise capital and keep investors in the dark.  There have been countless laws enacted over the decades in every country to thwart the unscrupulous.  Recently, after the MCI-WorldCom and Enron scandals, the U.S. enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 to address accounting accuracy and transparency among other things.  Unfortunately it apparently didn’t adequately address valuations, leverage, credit derivatives, and age-old greed at any cost.  So needless to say, we still have a great deal of work to do.  If you are not a Wall Street insider and would like a flavor of what was actually going on before the crash, read The Autumn of the I-Banker from New York Magazine.  You will be shocked and stupefied!

 

Finally, I received a letter from Charles Widger, Chairman & CEO of Brinker Capital.  I don’t know if Mr. Widger knows what he is talking about (I hope he does because his firm has some of my hard-earned money), but he believes now is a good time to consider your options.  According to Mr. Widger, “Historically, the stock market bottoms about one year into a recession caused by financial panics and well ahead of economic recovery.  Assuming recessionary slow growth began in the fourth quarter of 2007, the U.S. stock market should begin recovering in the first half of 2009.”  Let us all hope and pray that past observations are relevant in this case.  Happy Thanksgiving!    

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Oct 19 2008

What Have We Done!?

“Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.” – Warren Buffett (2002)

 

Clearly we are now in the grasp of a financial catastrophe of epic proportion.  Most people sensed the real estate bubble had been going on too long, but few could have predicted the storm we are now experiencing would reach nearly every developed nation in the world.  The fallout is certainly global and it is high time to focus on solutions, but in the U.S., thanks to the pending presidential election, it has become quite the political finger pointing exercise.  The Republicans are blaming initiatives supported by former President Clinton and other Democrates which made it easier for people of lesser means to obtain mortgage loans.  The Democrats are furiously pointing towards the efforts of Republican Phil Graham who pushed through a law that exempted financial derivatives from federal regulation.  There should be little argument that it became far too easy to qualify for mortgage loans, but without credit derivatives we would never have reached the global meltdown that will ultimately reshape our financial future.

 

So who is really to blame?  A whole lot of highly intelligent and clever financial wizards…and everyone else in a position to challenge what they came up with.  In other words, there is plenty of blame to go around.  The focal point, however, should probably be directed at former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan.  He was central in first creating the “easy credit” environment and then allowing the credit derivative to become such a popular form of “insurance” against borrowers defaulting on their debts.

 

I wrote the following in an essay on financial derivatives for a masters course I was taking in February 2006: “Ultimately there is a single major risk to be concerned about when dealing with financial derivatives.  There is the potential to lose a great deal of money over a short period of time on a “wrong” position.  As in the case of Barings, if adequate reserves are not available, this could result in bankruptcy.  Derivatives-related losses can typically be traced to an overly speculative investment strategy, a misunderstanding of how derivatives reallocate risk, an ineffective risk-management audit function and an absence of systems that simulate adverse market movements and help develop contingency solutions.”  I would argue that our current predicament confirms that relaxed mortgage loan requirements combined with the widespread use of credit derivatives was a poison pill the size of Manhatten.  Now we must hope the apparent antidote (which is closer to the size of Great Britain) works in a big fat hurry.

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Sep 30 2008

Bring Back the Sunshine…Please!

“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

 

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am the type of person that prefers to look at the bright side of most situations.  This is not to suggest that I don’t see the challenges, but I normally won’t let obstacles or setbacks derail what I am planning or working towards.  Throughout my life I have always looked forward to a better future with more opportunities for myself and my family.  Now for the first time, I am beginning to wonder if I will be able to maintain the positive momentum that I have enjoyed for so long.  This forces me to consider that many of us have been very fortunate to live in relatively stable societies where we can take career and financial success for granted.  Our parents and grandparents dealt with The Great Depression, world wars and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  For many of us born over the past fifty years, 9/11 was the first major event that forced us to pause and recognize how vulnerable global stability truly is.

 

Suddenly it feels like every week brings more disturbing news and I am beginning to feel like the whole world has just entered a dark tunnel with no obvious opening at the other end.  This begs the question – when should we expect the global economic environment to get better?  I don’t have any inside information here, but my gut tells me that collectively we are still trying to figure out how bad it really is.  Until we do, we can’t expect to know how long before it gets better.

 

It baffles me somewhat that Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke are convinced that $700 billion (plus $85 billion for AIG) will be enough to fix this massive financial disaster.  According to Stephen Lendman of the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinal, “A $700 billion bailout (called the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 – EESA) is just a down payment.  Trillions will be needed in the end.  Other nations contributing to help.  The problems are deeper and more intractable than anyone expected.  Before this ends, unimaginable amounts of capital will be written off.  Too much to even contemplate.  Bad investments contaminating good ones.  Threatening world financial structures with paralysis.  Severe economic damage to their economies as a result.”  Hopefully it isn’t quite this bad, but we know it isn’t good!

 

I certainly don’t like the idea of bailing out the greedy and foolish executives on Wall Street that were responsible for this mounting financial disaster, but I definitely don’t want to experience first hand what it feels like to live through a great depression either.  For this reason, I hope Congress passes the bailout and it works as well as Mssrs. Paulson and Bernanke have promised it will!

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Sep 28 2008

Safe with Upside

Published by under Investing,US Economy

“Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” – William Shakespeare from Julias Caesar

 

Suddenly I am asking myself if I have been abducted by a cruel supernatural prankster and placed in Bizarro World! Unbelievable…the run-up to the U.S. presidential election and the national political landscape looks more like a really bad reality TV show. Legendary Wall Street firms have either collapsed in the last two weeks or are on life support praying for an extensive government bailout. Americans that have been cast out of their homes due to foreclosure are moving into tent cities in various parts of the U.S. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad anounces, “American Empire in the world is reaching the end of its road” in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. I could go on but I don’t want to push anyone over the edge. In case you haven’t noticed, these are crazy times (really – I’m not kidding here). I for one long for the good ole days when everything felt so secure and the future seemed so promising. It wasn’t long ago that my biggest problem was finding enough time in my schedule to take an exotic vacation with my family!

 

I suppose what really chaps my butt more than anything is the fact that this whole mess could have been largely avoided – if only the brilliant minds on Wall Street and the government (probably not as bright) would have applied basic common sense. Hank Paulson summed it up well when he said, “I share the outrage that people have. It’s embarrassing to look at this. I think it’s embarrassing to the United States of America. There is a lot of blame to go around.” Personally I’m embarrassed, disgusted, angry and a little scared – how about you?

 

Enough already. It’s time to offer some useful information. After changing companies a few years ago, I had the option of keeping my money invested in my previous employer’s 401(k) plan or transferring it to another plan or IRA. Being the risk averse person that I tend to be – especially considering the economy and the wild swings in the stock market over the last two years – I was looking for something with a good chance for growth and limited downside risk. The other major consideration was the amount of time before I plan to retire. I am looking at 20 to 25 years, and although I am willing to suffer some losses here and there, I don’t want to finish with less than I started with and I want a reasonable chance for my investments to perform as well as the S&P. With my investment advisor’s assistance, I feel like I found exactly what I was hoping to find. I am referring to the MassMutual Transitions Select Variable Annuity with the guaranteed minimum accumulation benefit. I selected the MML Growth Allocation which means that if the market performs reasonably well, I stand to see growth of three to five times my original investment over a 20-year-period, but at the very least, I am guaranteed twice my initial investment after 20 years. MassMutual offers various other or additional riders, but you get the idea.

 

I have previous exposure to MassMutual and have often asked others about their experiences. To date I am pleased to report that I have never personally uncovered anything to be concerned about. I am not suggesting you should do anything without careful analysis and consideration, but you might want to look into this option. As we seem to learn over and over, there are few sure things in life, but this annuity can provide the best of both worlds – no real downside and the opportunity for significant growth. Let me know if you have other suggestions. I would also like to hear about your experiences with MassMutual (good or bad).

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Jul 23 2008

What To Consider About Credit

“Credit is a system whereby a person that cannot pay gets another person that cannot pay to guarantee that he can pay.”  – Charles Dickens

 

Credit…most of us cannot live without it; some of us wish we never knew it existed.  I suspect this sentiment goes back to the beginning of mankind – because with credit comes debt.  When managed carefully, credit is a powerful tool that allows both businesses and individuals to reach for and achieve beyond what could ever be possible if all payments were required up front or upon receipt.  Just stop and think about how your life would be different if you had zero access to credit.  You would need to save every dollar you could for over half of your life just to be able to buy your own home.  You would also have to pay for every purchase immediately or you would need to transfer money in advance of any service you intended to use.  This simply wouldn’t be practical in the world we live in today – you get the point.

 

As recently as mid-2007, it was so easy to qualify for significant levels of credit – in the form of business loans, lines of credit, mortgages, home equity loans, credit cards, etc. – that many a business or person fell into the “credit trap.”  Now you can’t watch the news without hearing about the soaring level of business and personal bankruptcies and mortgage defaults.  It is simply amazing how quickly the worm can turn.  Tony Pugh of the McCatchy-Tribune News Service reported this month that commercial bankruptcy filings for the first half of 2008 are up 45% from last year.  From April through June, 15,471 U.S. businesses ceased operations.  Today it was reported that quarterly losses for Wachovia were nearly $9 billion due almost exclusively to sub-prime mortgage defaults.  Considering this news, it is no surprise that credit is not quite so easy to come by suddenly.  Regardless of whether it is easy or hard, many of us need to do a better job of making sure we know what we could be getting into before taking the plunge.

 

As a general rule, it is usually better to avoid using credit if you have a choice – unless of course you are investing in an asset that will likely increase in value over time or the cost of rental exceeds the cost of financing (principal and interest) and you clearly have a long-term need.  If you can deduct the interest on your taxes it makes even more sense to utilize credit and finance…but do not let this be the only reason that you finance an asset.  Easy credit in any form can lead to overspending.  The resulting payments absorb funds that could or should be used for other needs or opportunities (see opportunity cost).

 

The number one rule of thumb regarding credit is: if you feel like you shouldn’t be purchasing something with credit, you probably shouldn’t.  This applies to personal and business situations.  And finally – never use credit on high-risk investments that would threaten your security if they do not produce the desired results.  I think now we should all go to work getting the economy back on track. 

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Jul 07 2008

The Economy – Blowing Some Steam

“The constant problem of the speculator or analyst is how to disentangle the cold, hard economic facts from the rather warm feelings of the people dealing with these facts.  Few things are more difficult to do.  The main obstacle lies in disentangling ourselves from our own emotions.” – Bernard M. Baruch

 

Emotions are clearly running high these days; unfortunately not in the warm and fuzzy sense.  Most of us that are tuned into the economy and the markets are sitting on pins and needles hoping to recognize a positive sign – just one.  I for one am confident it will get better – it always does.  When and for how long is yet to be determined.

From what I have been able to determine, there are three very serious underlying causes for the current economic storm.  Two are closely related and should ease up over the next two to five years.  The third is really tough.  All are either caused or magnified by ignorance, short-sightedness or extreme greed.  The sub-prime mortgage debacle and the speculative real estate bubble are clearly related and they will eventually be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.  The toughest of the three is none other than the increasing demand for black gold – and unless someone perfects a salt water-powered engine soon, the pain will only increase in years to come.

All of us are being hurt by the sub-prime mortgage mess and to be honest, it infuriates me to think about how many highly-paid financial professionals, entrusted with other peoples’ money, could believe that lenders with a history of not paying their bills would suddenly become responsible when approved for a loan worth several hundred thousand dollars.  At the height of the fury it is possible that my twelve-year-old daughter qualified for her own mortgage without credit or a job.  Utter foolishness that everyone around the globe is paying for right now!

Less than two years ago, the trick was to pay a deposit for a condo or home being constructed and then flip it for a nice profit before you had to start making monthly payments.  Well – those days are gone and now all of a sudden we have a glut of available properties with no buyers.  Worst of all, every day thousands of property owners are defaulting on their mortgages.  It seems that someone should actually buy a condo or house to live in once in a while – and have enough “real” income to pay for what they buy.

As I suggested above, the mortgage mess and the real estate bubble are likely to be short-term problems that will eventually get better.  I am truly concerned about oil over the long-term, however.  Prices will stabilize and possibly even decline in the short-term, but unless we dramatically curb global demand growth somehow, we are heading for completely uncharted economic territory.  I know most of you realize that petroleum derivatives make up or are used in just about everything that we all depend upon every day!  To support what I am saying here, the May 2008 issue of National Geographic contains a terrifying graphic that shows China’s oil imports in 1996 were 166 million barrels/year.  Ten years later in 2006, they were 1.065 BILLION barrels/year!  Considering only the automotive markets, in 2006 there were still only 30 million cars and light trucks on the road in China and the population was estimated to be 1.3 billion.  In the U.S. there were 240 million cars and light trucks on the road and the population was about 285 million.  I am no automotive market expert, but I would tend to believe that someone plans to sell more cars in China.  I don’t even want you to think about all the other potential markets in China – not to mention all the other developing countries throughout the world!

So what should WE do?  Some of us obviously have more influence than others, but for the most part we are all just along for the ride.  It is important to stay abreast of what is going on in order to make the best decisions – but I suggest (and I will do my best to take my own advice) that you avoid letting all this unsettling news eat at you.  Focus on the things in your life that you have control over and do your best to let go of what you cannot control.  You will likely live much longer and be happier – not to mention you will accomplish a great deal more in the process!

Boy do I feel better now…hope you can say the same.

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