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The Countdown to the Nationalization of Retirement Savings Has Begun – International Man

The Countdown to the Nationalization of Retirement Savings Has Begun – International Man.

By Nick Giambruno

Simply put, the new myRA program put forward by Obama is at best a sucker’s deal… or worse, it’s a first step toward the nationalization of private retirement savings. (Note: If you haven’t yet heard of myRA, I’d strongly suggest you read this excellent overview by my colleague Dan Steinhart.)

Even before the new myRA program was announced, there had been whispers about the need for the US government to assume some risk for US retirement accounts. That’s code for forced conversion of private retirement assets into government bonds.

With foreigners not buying as many Treasuries and the Fed tapering, the US government has been searching for new buyers of its unwanted debt. And this is where the new myRA program comes in.

In short, it’s ostensibly a new way for people to save for retirement. Of course, you can only invest in government-approved investments—like Treasuries—which probably won’t even come close to keeping up with the real rate of inflation. It’s like Jim Grant says: “return-free risk.”

In reality, a myRA doesn’t really provide any significant new benefits over existing options. To me it just looks like a way for the US government to pass the hot potato on to unsuspecting Americans in exchange for their retirement savings.

The net effect is the funneling of more capital to Treasury securities and thus helping the US government finance itself.

You’d be much better off using a precious metals IRA to save for retirement than participating in the government’s latest Ponzi scheme.

There are other protective strategies as well, such as internationalizing your retirement savings into assets that are hard, if not impossible, to confiscate on a whim—like foreign real estate and physical gold held abroad. More on that below.

Retirement Savings Are Always Juicy Targets

As bad as it is to deceive naïve Americans into trading their hard-earned retirement savings for garbage (i.e., Treasury securities), the myRA program potentially represents something far worse… the first step toward the nationalization of existing private retirement accounts.

I believe myRA is a way to nudge the American people into gradually becoming more accustomed to government involvement in their private retirement savings.

It’s incorrect to assume nationalization couldn’t happen in the US or your home country. History shows us that it’s standard operating procedure for a government in dire financial straits.

In just the past six years, it’s happened in some form in ArgentinaPolandPortugal,Hungary, and numerous other countries.

To me it’s self-evident that most Western governments (including the US) have current debt loads and future spending commitments that all but guarantee that eventually—and likely someday soon—they will try to unscrupulously grab as much wealth as they can.

And retirement savings are a juicy target—low-hanging fruit for a desperate government.

Naturally, politicians will try to slickly sell the idea to the public as something “for their own good” or as “protection from market instability.” This is how similar programs were sold to skeptical publics in the past.

In reality, governments take these actions not to “reduce the risk” to your retirement savings or whatever propaganda they happen to come up with, but rather to obtain financing—by forcefully dumping their unwanted debt onto seniors and savers.

Below are several ways it has happened or could happen. Of course, there could always be some sort of new, creative proposal that was previously unthinkable. No matter the method, however, the end result is always the same—the siphoning off of purchasing power from your retirement savings.

New Contribution Mandate: The government could mandate, for example, that 50% of new contributions to private retirement accounts must consist of “safe,” government-approved investments, like Treasury securities.

Forced Conversions: This is where a government will forcibly convert existing assets held in retirement accounts into so-called “safer” assets, such as government bonds. For example, if the US government forcibly converted 20% of the estimated $20 trillion in retirement assets (401k plans, IRAs, defined benefit and contribution plans, etc.), it would net them $4 trillion. Not a bad score, considering the national debt is north of $17 trillion.

Special Taxes: The government could look into levying special taxes on distributions from retirement, especially those deemed to be “excessively large.”

In order to be more effective, forced conversations probably wouldn’t happen until after official capital controls have been instituted. Once in place, capital controls would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for you to avoid the wealth confiscation that is sure to follow… like a sheep that has just been penned in for a shearing.

Since FATCA and other regulatory burdens already amount to a soft form of capital controls, it’s absolutely essential that you start implementing protective measures now.

It’s like I have always said: internationalization is your ultimate insurance against the measures of a desperate government. In the case that the government makes a grab for retirement savings, it’s much better to be a year or two early rather than a minute too late.

Internationalize Your Retirement Savings

It’s much more difficult for the government to convert your retirement assets if they’re outside of its immediate reach. If you have a standard IRA from a large US financial institution, it would only take a decree from the US government and Poof!: your dividend-paying stocks and corporate bonds could instantly be transformed into government bonds.

Obviously, this is much harder for the government to do if your retirement assets are sufficiently internationalized.

For example, you can structure your IRA to invest in foreign real estate, open an offshore bank or brokerage account, own certain types of physical gold stored abroad, and invest in other foreign and nontraditional assets.

In my view, owning an apartment in Switzerland and some physical gold coins stored in asafe deposit box in Singapore beats the cookie-cutter mutual funds shoved down your throat by traditional IRA custodians any day.

If and when there’s some sort of decree to convert or otherwise confiscate the assets in your retirement account, your internationalized assets ensure that your savings won’t vanish at the stroke of a pen.

There are important details and a couple of restrictions that you’ll need to be aware of, but they amount to minor issues, especially when weighed against the risk of leaving your retirement savings within the immediate reach of a government desperate for cash.

After placing a juicy steak in front of a salivating German shepherd, it’s only a matter of time before he makes a grab for it. The US government with its $17 trillion debt load is the salivating German shepherd, and the $20 trillion in retirement savings is the juicy steak.

Internationalizing your IRA has always been a prudent and pragmatic thing to do. And now that the US government has now officially set its sights on retirement savings, it’s truly urgent.

You’ll find all the details on how it to get set up, along with trusted professionals who specialize in internationalizing IRAs in our Going Global publication.

China’s Wake-Up Call from Washington by Stephen S. Roach – Project Syndicate

China’s Wake-Up Call from Washington by Stephen S. Roach – Project Syndicate. (source)

Yes, the United States dodged another bullet with a last-minute deal on the debt ceiling. But, with 90 days left to bridge the ideological and partisan divide before another crisis erupts, the fuse on America’s debt bomb is getting shorter and shorter. As a dysfunctional US government peers into the abyss, China – America’s largest foreign creditor – has much at stake.

This illustration is by Paul Lachine and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.
Illustration by Paul Lachine

It began so innocently. As recently as 2000, China owned only about $60 billion in US Treasuries, or roughly 2% of the outstanding US debt of $3.3 trillion held by the public. But then both countries upped the ante on America’s fiscal profligacy. US debt exploded to nearly $12 trillion ($16.7 trillion if intragovernmental holdings are included). And China’s share of America’s publicly-held debt overhang increased more than five-fold, to nearly 11% ($1.3 trillion) by July 2013. Along with roughly $700 billion in Chinese holdings of US agency debt (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), China’s total $2 trillion exposure to US government and quasi-government securities is massive by any standard.

China’s seemingly open-ended purchases of US government debt are at the heart of a web of codependency that binds the two economies. China does not buy Treasuries out of benevolence, or because it looks to America as a shining example of wealth and prosperity. It certainly is not attracted by the return and seemingly riskless security of US government paper – both of which are much in play in an era of zero interest rates and mounting concerns about default. Nor is sympathy at work; China does not buy Treasuries because it wants to temper the pain of America’s fiscal brinkmanship.

China buys Treasuries because they suit its currency policy and the export-led growth that it has relied on over the past 33 years. As a surplus saver, China has run large current-account surpluses since 1994, accumulating a massive portfolio of foreign-exchange reserves that now stands at almost $3.7 trillion.

China has recycled about 60% of these reserves back into dollar-denominated US government securities, because it wants to limit any appreciation of the renminbi against the world’s benchmark currency. If China bought fewer dollars, the renminbi’s exchange rate – up 35% against the dollar since mid-2005 – would strengthen more sharply than it already has, jeopardizing competiveness and export-led growth.

This arrangement fits America’s needs like a glove. Given its extraordinary shortfall of domestic saving, the US runs chronic current-account deficits and relies on foreign investors to fill the funding void. US politicians take this for granted as a special privilege bestowed by the dollar’s position as the world’s major reserve currency. When queried about America’s dependence on foreign lenders, they often smugly retort, “Where else would they go?” I have heard that line many times when I have testified before the US Congress.

Of course, America benefits from China’s outward-facing growth model in many other ways, as well. China’s purchases of Treasuries help hold down US interest rates – possibly by as much as one percentage point – which provides broad support to other asset markets, such as equities and real estate, whose valuation depends to some extent on Chinese-subsidized US interest rates. And, of course, hard-pressed middle-class American consumers benefit hugely from low-cost Chinese imports – the Walmart effect – that enable them to stretch their budgets in an era of unrelenting pressure on jobs and real incomes.

For more than 20 years, this mutually beneficial codependency has served both countries well in compensating for their inherent saving imbalances while satisfying their respective growth agendas. But here the past should not be viewed as prologue. A seismic shift is at hand, and America’s recent fiscal follies may well be the tipping point.

China has made a conscious strategic decision to alter its growth strategy. Its 12th Five-Year Plan, enacted in March 2011, lays out a broad framework for a more balanced growth model that relies increasingly on domestic private consumption. These plans are about to be put into action.  An important meeting in November – the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress – will provide a major test of the new leadership team’s commitment to a detailed agenda of reforms and policies that will be required to achieve this shift.

The debt-ceiling debacle has sent a clear message to China – and comes in conjunction with other warning signs. Post-crisis sluggishness in US aggregate demand – especially consumer demand – is likely to persist, denying Chinese exporters the support they need from their largest foreign market. US-led China bashing – a bipartisan blame game that reached new heights in the 2012 political cycle – remains a real threat. And now the safety and security of US debt are at risk. Economic alarms rarely ring so loudly. The time has come for China to respond with equal clarity.

Rebalancing is China’s only option. Several internal factors – excess resource consumption, environmental degradation, and mounting income inequalities – are calling the old model into question, while a broad constellation of US-centric external forces also attests to the urgent need for realignment.

With rebalancing will come a decline in China’s surplus saving, much slower accumulation of foreign-exchange reserves, and a concomitant reduction in its seemingly voracious demand for dollar-denominated assets. Curtailing purchases of US Treasuries is a perfectly logical outgrowth of this process. Long dependent on China to finesse its fiscal problems, America may now have to pay a much steeper price to secure external capital.

Recently, Chinese commentators have provocatively referred to the inevitability of a “de-Americanized world.” For China, this is not a power race. It should be seen as more of a conscious strategy to do what is right for China as it confronts its own daunting growth and development imperatives in the coming years.

The US will find it equally urgent to come to grips with a very different China. Codependency was never a sustainable strategy for either side. China just happens to have understood this first. The days of its open-ended buying of Treasuries will soon come to an end.

 

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