Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Why Japan Is In Worse Shape Than the U.S.

Another on target analysis and the reason why it makes sense for all investors to protect themselves from an inflationary spiral in the U.S.  Secondly, many investors are looking to diversify out of dollars, are Yen really that better a choice?  What about the pound or the euro? lots of issues there as well. 

Japan appears vulnerable, because it is even more indebted and its poor demographics are a decade ahead of ours. Japan may already be past the point of no return. When a country cannot reduce its ratio of debt to GDP over any time horizon, it means it can only refinance, but can never repay its debts. Japan has about 190% debt-to-GDP financed at an average cost of less than 2%. Even with the benefit of cheap financing the Japanese deficit is expected to be 10% of GDP this year. At some point, as American homeowners with teaser interest rates have learned, when the market refuses to refinance at cheap rates, problems quickly emerge. Imagine the fiscal impact of the market resetting Japanese borrowing costs to 5%.

Over the last few years, Japanese savers have been willing to finance their government deficit. However, with Japan’s population aging, it’s likely that the domestic savers will  begin using those savings to fund their retirements. The newly elected DPJ party that favors domestic consumption might speed up this development. Should the market re-price Japanese credit risk, it is hard to see how Japan could avoid a government default or hyperinflationary currency death spiral.

For years, the discussion has been that our deficit spending will pass the costs onto “our grandchildren.” I believe that this is no longer the case and that the consequences will be seen during the lifetime of the leaders who have pursued short-term popularity over our solvency. The recent economic crisis and our response has brought forward the eventual reconciliation into a window that is near enough that it makes sense for investors to buy some insurance to protect themselves from a possible systemic event. To slightly modify Alexis de
Tocqueville: Events can move from the impossible to the inevitable without ever stopping at
the probable. As investors, we can’t change the course of events, but we can attempt to protect
capital in the face of foreseeable risks.

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