Greece Faces the Threat of a Bank Run

As Greece’s new government struggles with the EU to determine the fate of their debt, businesses and citizens are worried that the country will default and be forced to withdraw from the European Union. As explained in this article, smart people are taking their savings out of Greek banks so that they will still have Euros to spend if Greece should be forced to revert to the its own currency, possibly issuing the drachma once again.

With uncertainty clouding the immediate outcome, cash is likely to keep pouring out of Greek banks over the next few days. About 70 percent of the outflows can be attributed to Greek corporate accounts. And most of that is rushing out of the country via electronic transfers to bank accounts elsewhere in the euro zone, Switzerland or the United Kingdom.

But many Greek citizens—who account for about a third of the deposit outflow—seem to be taking their cash out of the bank and placing it in safe deposit boxes or even just taking it home and literally stashing it under their mattresses. Burglaries, not surprisingly, are on the rise.

Runs banks are self fulfilling prophesies that can quickly turn into death spirals.  Let’s say that 2 percent of the population worry that their money is at risk, so they go to the bank and start withdrawing all their cash.  They line up at tellers and ATMs.  People whoa re not concerned see this and wonder “Hmm, maybe I should be worried.” They decide to take some of their money out, just in case.  This leads to longer lines and to empty ATM machines, which causes even more people to worry.  In a matter of a few short days, banks run short of cash and have to limit withdrawals, which in turns creates more panic.  Before long, everyone wants to withdraw their money, but not only is their a shortage of cash, but the banks in a failing economy don’t have the credit they need to borrow more and they cabn;t liquidate their assets fast enough to cover the withdrawals.  They have no FDIC to reassure small savers, and the government can’t come to the rescue with Euros because it has none.  We may see this recipe for disaster in Greece over the next few days.

How can you protect yourself in a similar situation?  The key is to be early; make your withdrawal or transfer funds before the banks or the government puts in place rules, regulations and restrictions.  Here are other suggestions:

  • Have cash on hand to weather a bank holiday or other period in which you cannot access your money.  Keep in mind that your credit cards, debit cards and other electronic payment methods my be “turned off” in an economic collapse.
  • Have some assets such as real estate, precious metals or hard goods that will retain their value regardless of the currency of the day.  The ultra rich often invest in art, knowing they can auction it off to raise millions in whatever currency they want.  We many not be able to afford that, but you can tuck away some silver coins, gold, or investment grade gemstones.
  • Don’t rely on a bank’s safe deposit boxes as they may restrict access or governments may even try to confiscate goods.  Buy a safe, lease a vault from a non-bank third party, or take other actions to protect your valuables.
  • Have goods you can use for barter.  At a time when no one wants to accept your cash — be it Euros, dollars or drachmas — your goods can be traded for other goods or services, sold for sold or silver, or sold after the situation has stabilized.  (There are plenty of online lists of things for battering, including medicines, guns and ammo, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, batteries, fuel, health and beauty items, etc.  In general, you want things that will not deteriorate, spoil, or lose value over time.)
  • If you have significant assets, invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks of large, global companies that are likely to weather a localized economic disaster.  Your share of the company will have value regardless of what currency it is denominated in. And even if your country’s stock market closes down a global company may trade on other bourses.

Most importantly, learn from the past.  Keep an eye on what happens in Greece and watch for warning signs.  Fortunes can be made and lost when an economy collapses; Take steps to come out on the positive side.

Water Company to Pump Water Only Two Days Per Week

It’s like something you would expect from a movie that takes place in our dystopian future. A Mad Max- like system where water comes from the pipes only two days a week. But that’s what some 6 million people in San Paolo Brazil may expect in the new future as their local reservoir is down to only 5 percent of capacity.

dramatic sunset over cracked desertRead the entire AP Story here.

For decades, oil has been our life blood, the resource that we fight over. In the future, it may be water. (Actually, water is fought over now in much of the West, but in courts rather than battlefields.)

Keep water in mind when you prep.  Store it, have a place to harvest it from the wild, and have a way to purify it.  But if you live in an arid area or a region experiencing drought, have plans for what to do in a worst-case scenario.

How would you manage if you had access to running water only two days a week? What changes would you be forced to make in your life?

Drought also contributes to food shortages, as farmers can’t grow crops without water, either rainfall or for irrigation.  We’ve seen this domestically as vegetables harvests in California are down due to drought and herd size in Texas and much of the West is leading to rising beef prices.

Research recently published in the journal Ecology and Society shows that we have reached peak production on 16 out of 21 food studied, including wheat, rice, soybean and chicken. That means that as populations grow, the availability of these critical foods decreases.  Soylent Green, anyone?

Read this article in the Independent for more details on peak food production.

Lies, Damn Lies and Government Statistics

I recommend this excellent article from The Burning Platform that demonstrates how the media and government use statistics to distort the truth.  For example, the recent media coverage makes it sound like lower gas prices mean more money in our wallets.  Yet if you break down the statistics as they do in this article, you will see that the cost of food is “eating away” at those savings.  In 2014, prices for these food items rose as follows:

  • Butter – 22.5%
  • Meat – 12.7 %
  • Eggs – 10.7%

Costs for energy (gasoline, heating oil, propane and natural gas) dropped only 10.6 percent in 2014 while food costs grew 3.7 percent,so it may seem like you are coming out ahead.  But what do you spend more on, food or gasoline?  We spend several times more on groceries than we do on gasoline, so any savings we see at the pump is going right back out the door to pay the grocery bill.

One take-away is that the cost of cereal and grains did drop a little bit last year.  If you are planning to buy large quantities of wheat, rice, or other grains to put up in 5-gallon buckets for long term storage, this might be the time to do it.  Take some of that tax return and invest it in your future food security.

Inflation, Economic Unrest, and What you can do About it

Here are some articles on inflation and currency troubles that we, as preppers, can learn from.

In article one from Bloomberg, shoppers in Venezuela are finding it hard to find basics, including chicken and laundry detergent. The country is experiencing a 64% rate of annual inflation, and the plunging price of oil is limiting their access to foreign currency, causing further problems. This means the government cannot provide simple things like laundry detergent and toilet paper to its people because those goods are bought with dollars from other countries.

Newspaper headlines - financial crisis We also see that the “official” exchange rate is 6.3 bolivars to a U.S. dollar, but the black market rate is 30 times higher – 187 bolivars to the dollar.  This is a government that is sliding towards collapse.

Article two from the Wall Street Journal might appear to be similar to one, but is a little different. Women in Argentina cannot find tampon on the store shelves because there are not enough dollars available for importers to buy them from international manufacturers. An Argentine economist is quoted as saying “We gave ended up with a socialist system in which one bureaucrat decides what you can import or produce at which price and when.”

Other news reports state that supply and demand has driven the cost of tampons in Argentina to $30a box.

So, what can we learn from these articles?

First, all those lists and articles on what to store and what can be useful for barter were correct: Common, everyday items we take for granted are valuable in an economic collapse or a TEOTWAWKI situation. So stock your beans, bullets and bandages, but don’t forget soap, laundry and dish detergent, diapers, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper and other health and beauty items.

I can’t help but remember the scene from the Book of Eli in which the antagonist washes his wife’s hair using a tiny hotel-size bottle of shampoo they recovered. In the movie, this simple act that most of us do daily without a second thought is portrayed as a moving, major event.

Second, you need to know how to make these basics, how work around their absence, or how to live without them.

Fels-Naptha SoapFor example, you can make your own laundry detergent relatively easily. There are plenty or recipes and instructions the internet, including You Tube videos. All it really takes is some bars of Fels Naptha soap, Borax, and some washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda, even though it is made by Arm & Hammer), all of which are usually available from Walmart. You can stock these raw materials in your basement. There are also plenty of alternatives to disposable items, like cloth diapers. Prepare ahead of time and you will not be waiting in line at six different grocery stores like the woman in story one.

Third, governments and politicians of all parties lie to make themselves look better. Venezuela has figures no one believes about their currency exchange rate and we lie about the unemployment rate by changing the yard stick. Simply put: take everything the government says about the economy with a grain of salt.

Fourth, government intervention makes economic problems worse. Prices are determined by the natural law of supply and demand, and they float up or down based on a host of factors. Messing with the free market creates injustices and Man-made laws that seek to interfere actually force inequality into the marketplace and inevitably make the situation worse rather than better.

Let’s look at a simple example that is basic but sufficient for our needs: Imagine that the price of a dozen large eggs rises from $2 to $4 in a matter of weeks and the population is upset. Convinced that stores are over charging their customers, the government passes a law saying that you can only sell eggs at $2 a dozen. Does this result in more eggs on store shelves at lower prices? No. Why not? Because the store cannot buy them from farmers at a low enough price to make any money at $2 a dozen, so they stop selling them. Suddenly, instead of having to pay $4 a dozen for eggs, there are no eggs to be found and the price doubles again to $8 per dozen.

This is a high enough price that a black market in eggs is created. An enterprising guy we’ll call Joe sees that he can make a killing selling eggs for $8 a dozen, if only he can buy them for $4. He goes to Bob, a grocery store manager, and offers to buy all the eggs he has at $4 a dozen.

Angry at having to sell eggs at a loss, Bob decides it selling to Joe worth the risk, but he wants $5 a dozen. After all, he needs to recoup his losses after selling eggs for only $2, so he takes Joe up on his offer, but insist on $5 per dozen. Joe agrees.

Let’s say that Bob’s store gets a delivery of 1,000 cartons of eggs. To keep the government off their back, they sell 200 cartons in the store at $2 each, and then they put up a sign that says “Sold Out – No more eggs today.” 700 dozen eggs are sold to Joe at $5 per dozen and disappear out the back door only to be sold off the back of Joes’ truck for $8 or more per dozen to desperate people who cannot find eggs in the store. The remaining 100 dozen are given to employees as part of their pay and to keep them from reporting Bob to the pricing police. A few are traded to butchers and other vendors in return for meat, and some are probably given to the inspectors and government officials as bribes. At the end of the day, Bob is not losing money, Joe is making money, and the consumer got screwed. Again.

In the end, by trying to artificially control the price of eggs, the government has contributed to a doubling of the price, making things worse for the consumer. And just as people in Argentina are buying up all the tampons (thereby making a small shortage into a severe one) or people in the U.S. are buying up all the .22LR ammunition as soon as it hits the shelf, they market is knocked out of kilter and may take years to settle back down to a natural state.

Finally, we have story three from NBC News, which predicts that the rapid rise of food prices here in the U.S. will continue. Beef in 2015 will be about twice the cost it was in 2009 and for many families is considered a “luxury” item. Story four says the money consumers are saving thanks to lower gas prices is being consumed by rising grocery store prices.

To a certain extent, you can combat rising food prices by buying in bulk, eating more beans and rice, eating out less, and by cooking from scratch instead of buying prepared foods. But when the cost of meat and eggs keeps going up, you either need to cut back or spend more.

One option many preppers choose is to grow their own. Chickens provide eggs and occasional meat. With three does and a buck, rabbits can provide meat for one or two meals of good lean meat a week. Goats can provide milk and occasional meat. Hunting and trapping is another option, especially for those who live in more rural areas.

A final lesson: Keep preparing. We may not be Russia, Venezuela or Argentina, but we have seen double digit inflation in my lifetime, and the depression was less than a century ago. Economic collapse may or may not lie ahead, but even a bubble bursting can cause lasting economic damage if you lose your job, your house, or your savings.

Worth Reading: “How Ebola Roared Back” by the New York Times

I read the New York Times almost every day for 20 years. I started simply because it was required reading when I was in Journalism school back in the 1980s. (Seriously, there were weekly quizzes on current affairs based on what the NYT covered.) I continued reading it when I lived and worked in New York City, where it really was the official record of business.  I kept up even after I left the city for greener pastures. but over time, my fondness for The Grey Lady waned and my disgust increased as its politics and mine grew apart. Sometime after 9/11, I could no longer stomach their liberal view on topics like gun control, the War in Iraq, and politics, so I cancelled my subscription.

I should note that I continue to read the Wall Street Journal, which has grown in stature and in breadth of coverage during the same period in which the New York Times diminished. (Not unlike Fox News growing at the expense of CNN.)

Despite my disagreements with their editorial biases, I cannot ignore the fact that the NYT occasionally produce stories that are well worth reading. This lengthy piece on Ebola Viral Disease, how it grew undetected, and how it got to be the epidemic it is today, is one of those stories that rises to the top of that pile.  I encourage you to read it as one of your free 10 articles per month, per device.)

Ebola Warning SignThe results of a two-month investigation into why this outbreak was not contained after the initial outbreak =– like those before it — has heroes and villains, governments and NGOs, alarmists and those who downplayed the dangers, patient zeroes and patient 20,000. It’s an in-depth look mistakes, misunderstandings, and the inevitable dangers that are brought on by fear, denial, and a lack of knowledge.

It is also well produced in this online format, something they do not always get right.

A few basic takeaways from the article:

  • When it comes to disease, the government, NGOs, doctors and other learned men  may mean well but their mistakes can kill you.  As always, you need to look out for yourself and question everything.
  • Epidemics are best avoided. Even considering that this one is still quite mild, when viewed in a historical perspective, it may not remain mild, and it may not be the only epidemic we could face.  Be alert and be prepared.  Do not assume that a drop in media coverage equates to a reduction in danger.
  • There is no better answer to avoid contamination during and epidemic than social isolation and self-quarantine, with the possible exception of evacuation to an area where there is no disease.
  • Ignorance and assumptions (yours or someone else’s) can kill you.  Stay informed.

 

 

Russian Inflation Soars Above 10 Percent

This article in Bloomberg is a perfect example of the type of inflation we mention in our prior post.  Here’s an excerpt:

The rout of the ruble, the world’s worst-performing currency in the past three months, is raising the price of imported goods. Price growth, compounded by the effect of a ban on imports of some foods imposed by President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for the sanctions the U.S. and its allies enacted over Russia’s policy in Ukraine, has raced past a revised central-bank forecast of 10.1 percent.

Now keep in mind, if the Russian government is admitting they have 10.4 percent inflation, how high must ire really be?  Twice that?  Three times?

And while the government predicts it will start dropping after the next quarter, there is no explanation of why it would drop.  Such comments are wishful thinking or perhaps attempts not to alarm the populace or the markets.  Since they are measuring year-over-year, even a one-time rise in prices would persist for a year, if not quarter-over-quarter.

Not a good time to be a consumer in Russia.

As Ruble Falls, Russia Plays with Fire

When your currency drops 20 percent in a single day, you might be experiencing a currency collapse.

When you raise the interest rate you pay for deposits from 10% to 17% overnight, you might be getting desperate.

When your currency buys only a third of what it could purchase on the world market a year ago, you might be experiencing inflation.

When suppliers from other countries re-price the goods they sell in your country every few days, you know your currency is in freefall.

When the rich transfer their funds into dollars or Euros and the middle class seek out ATMs that dispense dollars and Euros, you know that not only is your currency is experiencing severe problems, but your people’s faith in your government is diminishing.

When people line up to buy cars, appliances, and other hard goods, it is because they lack faith that the money in their bank accounts will retain it’s in the future, you know it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

This 5,000 Ruble note is worth less than $900.

This 5,000 Ruble note is currently worth less than $90.

All of these things have or are happening in Russia, right now, right this week. We get a chance to watch, over a period of days and months, as the Ruble goes from being with 3 cents, to 2 cents to a single penny. We get to watch as their economy goes from robust to recession. And we may get to see a bank run and to observe what capital controls the government institutes to prevent good money from fleeing a bad environment.

If you are at all worried about fiat currencies and what a financial collapse will look like, you can look at Russia and the Ruble as a learning experience. If you watch with your eyes open, you might be able to prepare for how things could look in the U.S. one day in the future when people finally realize that our dollars and debt is a Ponzi scheme. (Keep in mind, Russia only about 1/25th of the debt that the U.S. carries.)

Here are a few lessons we can learn from them and from this situation:

  1. If you are holding a failing currency, convert it into a stronger foreign currency or precious metals as early in the downward spiral as you can. If that isn’t possible, buy hard goods that 1) have a decent shelf life, 2) will retain their value, and 3) people will want or need if there are no stores open. This could be basics such as food and diapers. It could be items like alcohol and tobacco. It could be antibiotics and other drugs, both legal and illegal. It could be tools, guns and ammo. If the problem persists long enough, it could be things like nails, screws, batteries, generators, fuels, wood stoves, firewood, etc. If you have lots of money and enough warning, invest in real estate – especially farmland – which has proven to be a good hedge in previous periods of inflation.
  2. Keep alert for warning signs such as a sharp rise in interest rates. If the Fed raises rates half a point, no big deal. If they jump it up more than two points at one time, look for an exit strategy, quick.
  3. Beware of bank withdrawal limits. During a bank run, banks may limit how much money you can take out at a single time. Banks or governments may prevent you from wiring money out of the country. The government may declare bank holidays in which the banks to no open and you have no access to your money. So keep some money available in cash, just in case.

    One possible way around this is to have accounts at multiple banks, like a big-name bank, a regional bank and a local credit union. If you withdrawals are limited, at least you can make a limited withdrawal from three banks, rather than a single withdrawal from one. That will get you your money faster.

    In Russia, there are recently tales of people who line up at ATMs and use very card in their wallet to withdraw the maximum they can in Euros or Dollars.

  1. Don’t put in a safe deposit box anything you might need to survive during a period of currency collapse or inflation because you may not be able to get it out or the bank may insist on inspecting its contents. Instead, buy a safe and hide it in your home or rent a safe deposit box at a non-banking institution that is not subject to Federal banking laws.

A Frightening Future

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not an economist and he apparently does not listen to economists. While the Ruble may stabilize for a few days or weeks, their economy will likely go into free fall in 2015, and this could result in a death spiral of job losses, bank failures, and collapse of companies and institutions.  This could tip Russia over into another collapse.

Putin is a bully, a liar and a blamer. He lies to his citizens, he lies to the United Nations, he lies to the European Union, he lies the U.S., and he lies to the media, many of which simply parrot his words with no fact checking. Often, tied up within his lies, he blames someone else, like telling the media that Russia had nothing to do with shooting down the Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine, but that it was Ukrainian forces . Like saying Russia not involved in the conflict in the Ukraine, even when faced with evidence that many of the so-called “rebels” are actually Russian soldiers.

Russia still has  large army.

Russia still has large army.

And one day, the lies will come tumbling down, the blame will become laughable, and then all we will have left is a bully. A bully with a large military and nuclear weapons. And no one knows what Russia will do then.

If Russia is smart, Putin will be removed from power before this happens. If Russia is not smart, it will find itself at war. Putin may well start a war simply to distract his people and to give him an enemy to blame for their misfortunes. War will not help their economy, and it will further alienate Russia from the rest of the world. Putin may think to use it to build his popularity, but in doing so, he will be tearing down everything he has built in the past 15 years.

We can expect Russia will enter a significant recession in 2015 because the price of oil is unlikely to soar back to $100 in the next six or 12 months,. We can imagine that they might default on their debt or at least threaten to do so and bluster seeking better terms. We can imagine they will distract us with fighter jets, bombers and submarines. But no one knows what they will actually do. And, even more unfortunate, no one knows how the U.S. will react. And that makes this a dangerous situation.

Much of this is out of our hand as preppers. We can’t change policy decisions, but we can prepare. I urge you to do so.

Here’s a few articles to read up on:

Russia Risks Soviet-Style Collapse

Ruble Rout Means Capital Controls Could be in the Cards

This is What a Currency Collapse Looks Like

On Not Becoming a Hostage

Great quote today by John Farnam, one of the trainers who had a great deal of influence on my readiness and mindset.

In his latest quip, written in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting in Jerusalem, he discusses how Islamic terrorists have been using the same tactics for decades, if not centuries.  They get a small group of fanatics, knock on a door, shoot whomever opens it, and take hostages whom they eventually murder.  His advice includes:

Don’t become a hostage! Hostages rarely fare well. Do not surrender to terrorists. Shooting it out with them is ultimately much safer, and infinitely more satisfying!

Can’t argue with that.

In the U.S., we usually assume that a hostage can be traded for something, so we negotiate with hostage takers.  That may be the case with an estranged husband or in a robbery gone wrong, but we are naive if we think Islamic terrorists want anything but the death of infidels.