Economic punditry tends to fall broadly into glass-half-full or half-empty categories. Then there are those who see a cracked glass, teetering on the edge of a table just moments from a shattering fall. Enter Peter Schiff, the permabear president of brokerage Euro Pacific Capital and coauthor of last year's Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse. Schiff spent the past decade urging brokerage clients to jump ship from the American economy ahead of what he views as inevitable pain caused by a toxic cocktail of lax monetary policy, wayward spending, and tougher competition from all corners of the globe.
Even with some pain already felt as America's economy stumbles, Schiff saw nothing but downside in a recent chat with U.S. News. You'll want to buckle up for some characteristically apocalyptic talk from one of the gloomiest market watchers around. Excerpts:
Say something positive about the U.S. economy.
There's nothing good to say about our situation. The policies both the Fed and government are pursuing are making the situation worse. We've been getting a free ride on the global gravy train. Other countries are starting to reclaim their resources and goods, so as Americans are priced out of various markets, the rest of the world is going to enjoy the consumption of goods Americans had previously purchased. This is a natural consequence of this phony economy. If America had maintained a viable economy and continued to produce goods instead of merely consuming them, and if we had saved money instead of borrowing, our standard of living could rise with everybody else's. Instead, we gutted our manufacturing, let our infrastructure decay, and encouraged our citizens to borrow with reckless abandon.
So what are you doing about it?
I'm getting my clients' money outside of the United States as fast as they can send it to me. I've been recommending that to my clients for close to 10 years. You've got to own resources and energy. I was saying oil was going to $200 a barrel in 2002. I've been buying gold, silver, industrial metals, and all kinds of stocks. My main theme is the global economy will survive and the U.S. economy is a disaster. Everything is about how you benefit from the increased purchasing power and rising standard of living in the rest of the world.
OK, where are the best non-U.S. markets this year?
I still like Singapore, Hong Kong. Asian markets are the place to be. I like resource markets like Scandinavia. I'm spreading my chips around the world. I'm just avoiding the United States.
What are your best or worst calls through this downturn?
I've been bearish on bonds. U.S. bonds have lost a lot of real value but not nominal value. I still think that's going to be proven to be correct. While the housing bubble was inflating, I was telling people to rent. I was telling people to get out of tech stocks in 1998 and 1999. They kept rising, but then they collapsed, and I turned out to be right. The reality is I don't think I've been wrong on anything.
Most people disagree with that sort of pessimism. If you're staying in the United States, how do you invest?
If you want to be in U.S markets, you avoid anything connected with the American economy. You avoid retailers, the home builders, the financials—anything having to do with consumers buying something or paying back the money they borrowed. If you want to invest in U.S. markets, stick with exporters and resource companies. I've been saying that for five or six years; I haven't gotten anything wrong. We shorted subprime mortgages. I have clients that made 10 times their money. We've never sold an oil stock. We've never sold a gold stock.
Why don't you think soaring oil, grains, or commodities prices are the next bubble?
These prices do not constitute bubbles. They simply constitute the repricing of goods to reflect the diminished value of our money. The way you can tell there's not a bubble is that these markets are clearing. People are buying food and eating it. They're buying gasoline and using it. Speculators aren't buying gasoline and warehousing it in big facilities because they think the price is going to go up. At the same time, we've increased the supply of money dramatically, and the Fed is increasing it even faster now to deal with the bursting of the housing bubble. The only thing that can happen is for prices of commodities to rise to reflect the equilibrium of a greater supply of money. It's not even that oil prices are going up. Oil prices are staying the same. What's happening is the value of money is diminishing, so we need more units of currency to buy the same amount of oil or wheat or corn or whatever.