Sunday, January 18, 2009

Silver And Gold

With all this recession talk and tales of doom and gloom you rarely hear anyone say that maybe everyone is getting exactly what they deserve.

I mean there is one basic rule about money - something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. With the proviso that you are not about to be the victim of fraud, it's Caveat Emptor all the way.

I've gotten stung a bit on shares, for example, but I'm not bitter about it. I contemplated bailing out of my CRH portfolio in the summer of 2007 and I was all set to sell as soon as they hit €40, which would have been a substantial profit on my investment.

However they never quite hit €40 and I hung on as they went on a downward slope ever since. I have recently sold the lot at €20 because I'm convinced that, in the current market, they're now overvalued and relying way too much on Obama ending the US recession soon.

I figure I'll be able to buy them all back at €12 or €13 by the summer, although I think I'll actually throw the proceeds into an ETF like the Dow Jones EuroStoxx 50, which will diversify my exposure so as to be positioned nicely from the return to growth in Europe.

My point is, though, that the market determined last week that my shares are worth €20, whereas I think they are only worth €13, so I sold up. That's my gamble.

Similarly it was my gamble not to buy a house until recently. I was going to sell my CRH shares and add the proceeds to my SSIA and contemplate using the total to fund a home purchase as I was wavering in my conviction about how far house prices could fall.

But I knew that I didn't think houses were worth what they were going for at that time, I was confident I was right in my assessment of the madness and I feel vindicated in making a 302K purchase of a house in 2008 - down over 70K from peak prices for similar. You could argue that I've offset my paper loss on the stock market a few times over in the property market. Then again maybe my house is already worth 5 - 10% less than what I paid for it, but I'm very unlikely to hit negative equity.

So I have zero sympathy for people who insisted property was worth what it clearly wasn't and jumped in like the lemmings they were without any rational assessment of what they were doing. I have zero sympathy for people who are getting burned alive in the rental market and even less (if that were possible) for people who bought off plans hoping to flip to the next mug that came along and are now paying mortgages for empty houses and apartments no one will either buy or rent. I have zero sympathy for people who have racked up massive personal debt on flash new cars and SUVs, foreign holiday homes, the best of clothes and the best of restaurants.

The banks have nearly broken themselves lending stupid amounts of money they didn't have to people who could only afford to pay them back for as long as the music kept playing. They were in a position to control people's indebtedness but they didn't through pure greed. The people who should have made sure the banks weren't out of control have failed us all badly and I hope the State, belatedly, has the balls to go through the executives' dealings with a fine tooth comb, drag the bastards through the courts for anything illegal they can find and have them jailed. It won't happen in this crony society, though. Maybe the Americans will try to extradite a few, if we're lucky...

But all that doesn't mean that ordinary citizens are in a position to abdicate repsonsibility for the mess they're now in. No one forced them to buy shoeboxes in some overloaded village 20 or 30 miles from town centres; no one forced them to buy SUVs and other luxury cars they didn't need; no one forced them to go to property expos for bloody India, Morocco, Cape Verde and all the rest.

In other words no one forced anyone to spend money they didn't have. If they're in trouble now then tough tits; and goddamn I'll be pissed off if any more of my money is taken off me to rescue fools.
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