Three paths, seven signs, and five investments

James Rickards’s book, The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System, gives the signposts as to when the collapse of the dollar is eminent and which of three different paths the collapse will take. The three paths are:

The first is world money, the SDR; the second is a gold standard; and the third is social disorder. Each of these outcomes can be foreseen, and each presents an asset-allocation strategy best able to preserve wealth.

In the book he goes into detail on all three.

The signposts are (slightly edited for brevity):

  1. The first sign is the price of gold. Although the price of gold is manipulated by central banks, any disorderly price movements are a signal that the manipulation scheme is disintegrating, despite efforts at leasing, unallocated sales, and futures sales. A rapid price rise from the $1,500-per-ounce level to the $2,500-per-ounce level will not be a bubble but rather a sign that a physical buying panic has commenced and that official shorting operations are not producing the desired dampening effect. Conversely, if gold moves to the $800-per-ounce level or lower, this is a good sign of severe deflation, potentially devastating to leveraged investors in all asset classes.
  2. Gold’s continued acquisition by central banks. Purchases by China in particular are a second sign of the dollar’s demise. The announcement by China in late 2014 or early 2015 that it has acquired over 4,000 tonnes of gold will be a landmark in this larger trend and a harbinger of inflation.
  3. IMF governance reforms. This third sign will mean larger voting power for China, and U.S. legislation to convert committed U.S. lines of credit into so-called quotas at the IMF. Any changes in the SDR currency-basket composition that reduce the dollar’s share will be a dollar inflation early warning. … The acceleration of the baseline SDR-as-world-money plan.
  4. The failure of regulatory reform. A fourth sign will be bank lobbyists’ defeat of efforts by U.S. regulators and Congress to limit the size of big banks, reduce bank asset concentration, or curtail investment banking activities. … Absent reform, the scale and interconnectedness of bank positions will continue to grow from very high levels and at rates much faster than the real economy. The result will be another systemic and unanticipated failure, larger than the Fed’s capacity to contain it.
  5. System crashes. A fifth sign will be more frequent episodes like the May 6, 2010, flash crash in which the Dow Jones Index fell 1,000 points in minutes; the August 1, 2012, Knight Trading computer debacle, which wiped out Knight’s capital; and the August 22, 2013, closure of the NASDAQ Stock Market. From a systems analysis perspective, these events are best understood as emergent properties of complex systems. These debacles are not the direct result of banker greed, but they are the maligned ghost in the machine of high-speed, highly automated, high-volume trading. Such events should not be dismissed as anomalies; they should be expected. An increasing tempo to such events could indicate either that trading systems are going wobbly, moving to disequilibrium.
  6. The end of QE and Abenomics. The sixth sign will be a sustained reduction in U.S. or Japanese asset purchases, giving deflation a second wind, suppressing asset prices and growth. This happened in the United States when QE1 and QE2 were ended, and again in 2012 when the Bank of Japan reneged on a promised easing. However, as asset purchases are curtailed, a new increase should be expected within a year as deflationary effects develop.
  7. A Chinese collapse. The seventh sign will be financial disintegration in China as the wealth-management-product Ponzi scheme collapses. China’s degree of financial interconnectedness with the rest of the world is lower than that of the major U.S. and European banks, so a collapse in China would be mainly a local affair, in which the Communist Party will use reserves held by its sovereign wealth funds to assuage savers and recapitalize banks. However, the aftermath will include a resumption of Chinese efforts to cap or even devalue the yuan in foreign exchange markets to promote exports, create jobs, and restore wealth lost in the collapse. In the short run, this will prove deflationary as underpriced Chinese goods once again flood into global supply chains. In the longer run, Chinese deflation will be met with U.S. and Japanese inflation, as both countries print money to offset any appreciation in the yen or the dollar. At that point, the currency wars will be reignited, never really having gone away.

He goes on to point out:

Not all of these seven signs may come to pass. The appearance of some signs may negate or delay others. They will not come in any particular order. When any one sign does appear, investors should be alert to the specific consequences described and the investment implications.

And what I think is the most important section of the book are in the section Five Investments. This is his advice as to how to preserve your wealth in the coming collapse. Part of the reason for posting this is because a short time back one of my daughters said she wanted to discuss where to invest some money. I said I would be glad to discuss it with her, even though I did not consider myself an expert (by a LONG SHOT!). Before any discussion took place she proudly invested in Game Stop at, lets say, an unhealthy price.

Let the following be suggestions for my other daughters and the perhaps the first who invested before getting advise from her father.

Again, I have edited for brevity. Read the book for more elaboration on why he makes these recommendations:

  1. Gold. An allocation to gold of 10 to 20 percent of investable assets has much to commend it. The allocation should take physical form as coins or bullion in order to avoid the early terminations and cash settlements that are likely to affect paper gold markets in the future. Secure logistics, easily accessed by the investor, should be considered, but bank storage should be avoided, because gold stored in banks will not be accessible when most needed.
  2. Land. This investment includes undeveloped land in prime locations or land with agricultural potential, but it does not include land with structures. As with gold, land will perform well in an inflationary environment until nominal interest rates exceed inflation. Land’s nominal value may decline in deflation, but development costs decline more rapidly. This means that the land can be developed cheaply at the bottom of a deflationary phase and provide large returns in the inflation that is likely to follow.
  3. Fine art. This includes museum-quality paintings and drawings but is not intended to include the broader range of collectibles such as automobiles, wine, or memorabilia. Fine art offers gold’s return profile in both inflation and deflation, without being subject to the manipulation that affects gold. Central banks are not concerned with disorderly price increases in the art market and do not intervene to stop them.
  4. Alternative funds. This includes hedge funds and private equity funds with specified strategies. Hedge fund strategies that are robust to inflation, deflation, and disorder include long-short equity, global macro, and hard-asset strategies that target natural resources, precious metals, water, or energy. Private equity strategies should likewise involve hard assets, energy, transportation, and natural resources.
  5. Cash. This seems a surprising choice in a world threatened with runaway inflation and crashing currencies. But cash has a place, at least for the time being, because it is an excellent deflation hedge and has embedded optionality, which gives the holder an ability to pivot into other investments on a moment’s notice. A cash component in a portfolio also reduces overall portfolio volatility, the opposite of leverage.

Rickards further advises:

On the whole, a portfolio of 20 percent gold, 20 percent land, 10 percent fine art, 20 percent alternative funds, and 30 percent cash should offer an optimal combination of wealth preservation under conditions of inflation, deflation, and social unrest, while providing high risk-adjusted returns and reasonable liquidity. But no portfolio intended to achieve these goals works for the “buy-and-hold” investor. This portfolio must be actively managed. As indications and warnings become more pronounced, and as greater visibility is offered on certain outcomes, the portfolio must be modified in sensible ways.

The book was written in 2014. That is at least close to seven years ago. Before investing substantial assets please become informed using more recent and diversified sources and use your best judgment.


11 thoughts on “Three paths, seven signs, and five investments

  1. joe:

    as to assets. —

    i prefer brass, lead, gilding metal, and carbon, nitrogen and cellulose compounds, along with a modicum of steel, plastics and wood.

    and, plenty of it.

    p.s. how is old whatshisnames strategies going to work around any sort of population center when the shit hits the fan? if you cannot protect it, you cannot own it. simple as that.

    all of his books are pissing into the wind.

    • In my mind your preferred assets fall, at least partially, into Rickards’ category of “fine arts”.

      Rickards probably would plan on fleeing the area and/or the country in your scenario.

      I suspect a lot of his advice is intended for someone of a higher level of income than you or me.

  2. There are a number of things that could occur when the inevitable happens.
    The US dollar MUST collapse….sooner or later the world will lose faith in it
    because it is being inflated to the point where it’s green toilet paper. If the
    dollar wasn’t the worlds benchmark currency it would already have collapsed.
    Won’t be too long before the world gets tired of being ripped off due to that
    inflation being willfully forced onto us. When that happens they will choose a
    new benchmark currency…..probably the Chinese Yuan….and because the
    US is no longer the ONLY super power there won’t be anything we can do
    about it. And when that happens NOBODY can say for certain what will happen. But I have zero doubt that social upheaval and mass violence WILL
    be a part of whatever comes next.

  3. As noted above, I don’t see a lot here actionable for the small investor … Or, frankly, for anyone with less than maybe $10M to invest in non-retirement accounts. Any less than that and the upkeep and recording burdens will be very large relative to the base cost.

    Thanks to the revolution in finance tech, it’s pretty easy to invest in “alternative funds” (e.g. commodities, MLPs for pipelines, etc.) via ETFs and related vehicles, even down to fractions of a share. The problem for the small investor is, such funds often come with an additional record-keeping and paperwork burden at tax time as their income streams and gains/losses are treated differently than regular stocks and mutual funds.

    Gold and fine art are investments that provide no returns until sale, and can cost you significant money to acquire and maintain.

    Art, for instance, likely will need environmental control and you will want to insure it. And from what little I know, buying “art” without knowing what you’re doing (and maybe hiring an expert) is going to be a good way to get burned. IIRC it’s treated as a collectible by the tax code – so again different treatment and records maintenance.

    Gold is a commodity and is treated as such by the tax codes, so records must be kept or you will feel the pinch at tax time in a year when you sold. Again there’s the question of physical security.

    Unless you lease it out, land is a non-performing asset (no income generation) and in fact has a maintenance burden: property taxes, basic liability insurance against idiots being idiots while trespassing on it, regular inspections to make sure part of it doesn’t become public access by default of owner indifference, etc. Going to build on it or otherwise improve it? That takes money, and more money for the various government permitting, inspections, etc.

    And of course the returns on cash are so low today. You could invest in currency basket funds, but again, there can be extra details and records to be kept for tax time.

    Not to discourage anyone from investing however they choose; I just urge doing the research to understand what you’re getting yourself into initially, over time, and after you sell.

      • Get in touch with Jesus. He’s the only one who cares about the we-people.
        John Jay had some good ideas. But those are already off the table.
        Canned, and dry goods? As all investments come to not under communism. There’s almost nothing the government won’t steal, or control to their elite’s advantage. But everybody’s got to eat.
        Be ready to fight for what little you have left in your backpack. And you’ll do fine. Unless you don’t have Jesus.

  4. “…20 percent gold, 20 percent land, 10 percent fine art, 20 percent alternative funds, and 30 percent cash …”

    So….50% of what he recommends for investments are physical assets. Boris (above) makes valid points,but looking deeper, if one were flexible in defining ‘physical asset” it could easily encompass what john jay (above) recommends.

    I suspect the key point(s) are: assets, of whatever type, that offer long term value and the ability to maintain control over them: land must be fenced (for various values of “fence”), the borders enforced and a suitable purpose to which it can be put; gold must be securely stored, and accessible, and of easily transferable nature (e.g., Kruggerands vs 400 Troy ounce bars); “fine art” is susceptible to both definition (what is fine art? A Noveske AR-15 rather than a Palmetto State Armory version?) and the public perception of it, and its value; “alternative funds” is a somewhat slippery term – on a particular day GameStop stock was nearly worthless, some days later extremely valuable, next month, who knows; as for cash, in the U.S. dollars have value, the ruble or franc, maybe not so much.

    I can easily envision circumstances in which 1,000 rounds of 5.56, four bars of soap and a dozen cases of Mountain House out-value the Mona Lisa.

    A lot of what we term “value” is dependent upon functional related support systems, and that may be where the rubber meets the road. Stocks and bonds without an orderly stock market in which to buy and sell them aren’t worth much, gold without police, courts and prisons to deter those who would readily steal it, etc. are a key component often overlooked. “Survivor” may be an entertaining television show, but they never show the construction team who builds the “challenge” sets nor the caterers who feed the entire production crew 3X daily.

    • Your observations are spot on. I use to have a friend that would come in the shop and buy old 22’s and bricks of ammo.
      His reasoning was that in a crisis. What would a 22, and a brick of ammo be worth?
      Selco said one of the best trade items in Sarajevo was a can of corned-beef. As one got a good meal. And could render the grease for candle light.
      Investments Are a roll of the dice.

  5. Rickards suggestion about holding cash reserves generates a concern for me. In many currencies that have hit inflationary conditions, the government prints “new” money and makes the “old” money non-negotiable. Often times without any period for exchanging the paper for at least some return of value. IMHO a 30% cash investment puts a significant portion of your total reserves at a risk equal to any other investment type. I am sure that Rikards made the assumption that the government fiat currency would maintain some level of stability. I am not that optimistic.

    • Cash sounds good until you get 0% return which I often say to myself that the value of it. Yet, I hold too much of it.

      I am starting to think about hard assets like land or copper. Of course, the ability to sell depends upon the future environment,

      There were periods during the great depression where commodities were destroyed because there was no market. Even during my childhood, I remember one of our unharvested wheat fields being plowed under while a government official watched in the early 50s because we had exceeded our quota. Around the same time, I also remember seeing wheat being dumped on streets because there were not enough storage or railroad cars.

  6. The issue with land as an investment is that you can’t move it, hide it, you can’t even keep people from using it without either resorting to direct force or having the authorities use force on your behalf. And anything you own can easily be decreed as no longer yours. With guns, gold etc. you can at least hide it or move it where the governments minions can’t easily find it. With land that’s not possible. They just come and take it….and if you resist you’d better win or else you will die. Land is a good investment in a society with a stable and honest government. In the corruptocracy that America has become it is becoming less and less a safe investment.

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