FAREWELL AMERICA

GREETINGS,

I MUST TELL YOU THAT I DID NOT COME UP WITH THE TITLE OF THIS ARTICLE.A BANK DID!NO..NO I AM NOT LYING YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS KIND OF STUFF UP.AFTER THEY TOOK A DEEPER LOOK AT AMERICA’S DEEPER ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AND HER PAST,PRESENT,AND FUTURE BURDENS THEY CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT AMERICA IS ALL BUT DONE.SHE HAS HAD HER DAY IN THE SUN AND IT HAS NOW SET UPON HER REIGN…..PLEASE VIEW THIS;”Farewell America
1. A moral issue?
The agreement between the USA and Switzerland
under which Switzerland is to provide administrative
assistance with regard to 4,450 UBS
clients suspected of tax fraud is, in our view, remarkable
in three ways. Firstly, we note the way
both parties are dressing it up in the aftermath of
the battle. Everyone is talking of a “success”. The
IRS, the American tax authority, surely rightly,
for it has got what it wanted, namely access to a
large number of specific client names, combined
with persisting uncertainty on the part of all the
others as to whether they are among those names.
The UBS is happy not to have to pay another
fine, and to be rid of the heavy burden of legal
proceedings. And the Swiss government regards it
as a success inasmuch as from their perspective
the agreement preserves the rule of law and offers
the clients affected the possibility of legal recourse
to the federal administrative court.
But there are also losers, of course. These are the
people affected, who must now expect legal proceedings
against them as suspected tax cheats,
and who had, until relatively recently, been promised
that precisely this would not happen. Promised
by whom? By the bank concerned (among
others), which had generously interpreted and
intensively exploited an explicit gap in the 2001
“Qualified Intermediary” (QI) agreement; by the
supervisory authorities, which were fully cognizant
of all this activity, but never questioned it; by
the Swiss government, which only a few months
ago had spoken of the “brick wall” that foreign
authorities would encounter, were they to attack
Swiss banking secrecy – for example through
fishing expeditions, such as an application for
administrative assistance against several thousand
clients. Promises, connivance, a pretence of resolute
behaviour – and now collapse. The appearance
of success conceals the reality of a breach of
trust.
Trust: is this the right word at all for something so
disgraceful as tax evasion, or even tax fraud?
Serves them right, these bloated capitalists, if they
land in the dock! This is the position of the moralizers,
as frequently stated in the Swiss media,
among others. It is astounding, and this is the
second interesting observation, how completely
naturally those who claim the moral high-ground
rush to join forces with the authorities and their
financial requirements. At the risk of once again
winding up certain specialists in business ethics,
let us briefly recall the sort of tax authorities we
are dealing with, and the sort of state they serve: a
country that, over the last 60 years, has unquestionably
been one of the most aggressive nations
in the world. The USA has fought by far the largest
number of wars, sometimes with, but mostly
without a UN mandate. It has broken the international
laws of war, maintained secret prisons, and
fought an absurd war against drugs, with serious
consequences both abroad (Columbia, Afghanistan)
and at home (according to reliable sources,
the tentacles of the narcotics mafia now reach
well into political circles). With breathtaking
moral duplicity, the USA maintains enormous
offshore havens in Florida, Delaware and others
of its states. The moralizers have joined sides with
a nation that still makes extensive use of the
death penalty, and that has a legal system under
which lawyers can get rich on the misfortunes of
their clients. Liability cases often end in verdicts
with exorbitant damages, which makes business
activity extremely risky, for medium-sized enterprises
in particular. The moralizers provide intellectual
support for a country that allows its infrastructure
to collapse, and then stuffs convicts into
hopelessly overfilled jails, after what are not infrequently
dubious proceedings. They fund a
nation that tolerates – or rather, causes – regular
crises in the global financial system that it manages.
A country whose underclass enjoys neither
the benefits of an adequate education, nor a halfway
functional healthcare system; a country
whose economic system is increasingly inclined to
overconsumption, and in which saving and investing
have increasingly become alien concepts, a
situation that has undoubtedly been one of the
driving forces behind the current recession, with
all its catastrophic consequences for the whole
world.
Those who wish to wield the sword of morality
against tax evaders cannot avoid facing some
critical questions with regard to the morality of
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Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 2
resource allocation. Were such questions to be
excluded, we would be left with nothing but the
issue of just taxation, which also arises, as we well
know, when, in Sicily, one baker must make a
contribution to the honourable society, and another
not … It is more productive, particularly in
matters of taxation, to leave morality aside, and
to take a non-judgmental view of tax liability, the
meeting of obligations, and, if need be, the various
forms of evasion, as givens resulting from the
prevailing legislation and its enforceability.
Which brings us to the third thing that seems
remarkable. What exactly was the “prevailing
legislation”? And what about its enforceability?
In 1996, the USA concluded a new double taxation
agreement with Switzerland, which, among
other things, regulated the conditions for administrative
assistance in matters of taxation. Switzerland
agreed to provide assistance with regard to
“tax fraud and the like”. In other words, the extension
of the concept of “tax fraud” had long
been pre-programmed; the USA had to wait for
its enforcement only until Switzerland had apparently,
and perhaps in reality, been driven into a
corner by the activities of the accident-prone
UBS. In fact, truth to tell, we should have known:
Swiss banking secrecy with regard to the USA
was well and truly relativized not in 2009, but
already in 1996.
What we need to do now, sine ira et studio, (and
putting aside all politically motivated windowdressing,
all genuine, or merely nominal, moral
issues) is to analyze the situation, draw conclusions
and, where necessary, act upon them. This is
exactly what we intend to do in what follows, by
taking a closer look at two important components
of American tax law. And, surprise, surprise; the
next round of fiscal enforcement staged by the
Americans will be devoted not to the American
super-rich, but to non-Americans who never in
their lives had any intention of evading taxes.
2. Hans Rüdisühli and Muhammad Abdullah:
liable to inheritance tax?
To get some idea of how the inheritance tax of a
foreign state can become a serious problem for
third parties, we need to start with a fundamental
difference between continental and Anglo-Saxon
inheritance law. On the continent, the view prevails
that the logical recipients of assets left by the
deceased are their descendants. Accordingly,
continental inheritance law provides for forced
heirship, whereby a portion of the estate is legally
required to be left to close relatives. Under such a
system, it is not difficult to see where any taxation
of the inheritance should occur: with these heirs.
Things are different under Anglo-Saxon law.
There is no forced heirship, so American inheritance
tax is levied on the “estate”; that is, the
physical goods, such as property, goods and chattels,
and securities. If they are US securities, then
they are liable to tax, regardless of the final domicile
or main place of residence of the deceased.
US securities are basically defined as securities
issued in the United States, such as the stock of
American companies like Apple, General Electric
or Pfizer and US funds and US bonds, in particular
Treasury bills. American inheritance tax law
makes specific reference to both US citizens (including,
particularly, US citizens resident abroad)
and “non-resident aliens”. These latter are foreigners
with no permanent residence in the
United States; in other words, all non-Americans
in possession of US securities.
American inheritance tax rates are variable, with
the top rate at 45 percent. Significant exemptions,
of over 1 million US dollars, are allowed for US
citizens; the limit for non-Americans is 60,000 US
dollars, unless there is a double taxation agreement
setting a higher limit. For Switzerland, the
limit is calculated on the basis of the double taxation
agreement of 1951, based on the proportion
of the entire estate represented by the assets in
the United States. To claim the allowance, the
“estate” – that is, in continental terms, the heirs –
must disclose the entire, global legacy to the IRS.
On account of the IBM shares that he was so
attached to, the children of the late Hans Rüdisühli
of Melchnau must file with the IRS and
present a valuation of all other family assets.
There is a remarkable lack of double taxation
agreements with the countries of Latin America,
Asia and the Middle East. Mr Abdullah of Dubai,
let’s say, a typical owner of treasuries, industrial
bonds and GM shares, is liable to American inheritance
tax on his decease. Not his problem, but
it may well become one for his 12 sons, Omar,
Yakub and all.
Or maybe not? For he had placed his securities in
an institutional structure, a trust or a company
domiciled on one of the Caribbean islands – and
institutions cannot die, can they? Indeed not.
However, the Americans are increasingly going
over to regarding such structures as look-through
entities, and trying to get access to the beneficiaries
and their tax liabilities.
Another common objection: it’s impossible anyway.
How on earth can the IRS make the connection
between a US security and a deceased foreigner?
The USA is not even capable of registering
its own residents, so how should it be able to
control the rest of the world? Simple answer: it
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Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 3
doesn’t have to. Rather, American inheritance tax
law focuses on the executor. If there is no executor,
the role is fulfilled by the custodian bank,
which is liable for the tax due. In order to exclude
this liability, the American custodians of foreign
banks will go over to requiring their partners
abroad to freeze the estate when one of their
clients dies.
Final objection: it was a dead letter for foreigners
anyway. Yes indeed. But with the revised provisions
of the Qualified Intermediary agreement,
the USA will require the signatory banks to enable
an American auditor to control their compliance
with the agreement, which entails giving
such auditors access to all files, including client
data. This will create the means of directly linking
US securities with non-American owners. Anyone
who believes that this will not soon result in
obligatory reporting by the US auditor is as naive
as those who failed to realize that “fraud and the
like” would eventually be interpreted to the almost
unlimited advantage of the tax authorities.
An act passed in 2001 by the previous President
Bush envisaged a “sunset clause” for the then
controversial but reintroduced inheritance tax.
Unless extended, the Estate Tax would expire in
2010 and, if not reformed, come into effect again
on 1 January 2011. The Obama administration is
currently working not merely on an extension, but
on making the law stricter with regard to recognized
loopholes. The possibility of further unpleasant
surprises can certainly not be ruled out.
3. A “qualified extended arm”
Next, we need to look more closely at the alreadymentioned
Qualified Intermediary agreement. In
2001 the USA introduced a new withholding tax
system, with the aim of avoiding the complicated
and expensive reimbursement of tax levied on
those not liable to taxation, and thus to give foreigners
easier access to the American capital market,
and also of obliging US persons with securities
deposited with intermediaries whose countries
had no automatic exchange of information
with the USA to include all their US holdings in
their tax declarations. This was done by imposing
a withholding tax of 30 percent, which US persons
could avoid entirely by full disclosure, and non-
US persons could avoid in part or, depending on
the double taxation agreement, entirely, by selfdeclaration
to the Qualified Intermediary.
The 2001 QI agreement took account of countries
with banking secrecy to the extent that clients
could be assigned to their individual categories by
the QIs themselves. Compliance with the agreement
was, though, monitored by a special audit
following a process laid down by the US tax authorities.
Our bank was among the signatories to
the agreement from the start and passed the subsequent
audits, in 2002 and 2007, with flying colours.
There are three definitions in this QI agreement
that are of decisive importance: that of a US person,
that of a US security, and that of a legal entity
belonging wholly or in part to a US person.
The definition of a US security is fairly unproblematic,
in that it is effectively determined by the
retention of the withholding tax by the custodian.
The other two definitions, however, have caused,
and continue to cause, almost insurmountable
problems for QIs, and thus generate considerable
legal uncertainty.
Sadly, it is entirely unclear who actually counts as
a US person and who does not. In addition to the
clear case of US citizens resident in the USA, the
American understanding of the category also
includes foreigners living in the USA, those in
possession of a social security card, holders of a
“green card”, US citizens not resident in the
USA, and also those who pass the so-called “Substantial
Physical Presence Test”. This “Presence
Test” has a particularly delightful design: it is
passed when someone has been in the USA for at
least 31 days in the current year and a total of 183
days over a period of three years; in the first year
the days count for 1/6, in the second for 1/3, and
in the third year they are counted full. By this
definition, a student, perhaps Muhammad Abdullah’s
son Omar, who is doing an MBA at Harvard,
very probably counts as a US person. The
problem is that the QI has to know whether he
does or not. For the agreement has turned the QI
into the extended arm of the American tax authorities.
Even trickier is the question of how far the beneficiaries
of legal entities are liable to withholding
tax. Clearly liable, according to the text, are active
businesses; an American company holding securities
in Switzerland, for example. Trusts, institutions
and foundations are exempt if they meet
certain – naturally highly complex – conditions.
This was probably the trap in which the UBS
clients were caught. Once the trap had closed, the
American tax authorities shouted “Abuse, fraud
(and the like…)!” They set the trap themselves.
Matters become really awkward when an impeccably
non-American legal entity suddenly becomes
“contaminated” by a US person. Let’s
assume that Mr Abdullah has named his son
Omar, as well as some of his other adult sons, as a
beneficiary of his trust. As American tax law has
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Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 4
turned him into a US person, Omar renders the
trust liable to tax, and when Mr Abdullah dies,
this may mean that the entire inheritance becomes
liable to US estate tax, possibly at 45 percent,
for Mr Abdullah was extremely wealthy.
Perhaps, and then again, perhaps not. But that
doesn’t matter – the QI should have known.
The QI agreement of 2001 already exposed all the
signatory banks worldwide to significant legal
risks vis-à-vis the American tax authorities. Even
without actively canvassing for clients in the
USA, as the UBS did with Alinghi and by other
means, the mere fact that someone can mutate,
almost unnoticed, from a non-US person into a
US person is an unacceptable situation. For the
result can be an entirely innocent misdeclaration.
4. Green book; red content
The Obama administration set out its intentions
with regard to various tax matters in May 2009, in
a “green book” entitled “General Explanations of
the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2010 Revenue
Proposals”. In addition to the notion of forcing
American businesses operating abroad to pay
more tax in America, the focus was on the extension
of the “Estate Tax” and the tightening up of
the QI system. Essentially, the Obama administration
is seeking to expand the application of
the QI system, and to plug all known and conceivable
loopholes. Seven significant changes
deserve comment:
1. The definition of a US security has been expanded.
In future, the QI system will also include
equity swaps on US securities and on
securities lending. This should prevent US
persons from entirely, and non-US persons
from partly, avoiding withholding tax by
means of an OTC contract. According to the
“green book” the QI agreement is not (for
the time being?) being expanded to cover
non-US funds or derivatives that replicate US
securities.
2. US persons are now required to report earnings
and gross revenue from non-American
sources. This will extend the QI agreement to
cover the entire global financial universe, and
enforce disclosure by all US persons, in particular
those who, by not holding US securities,
had previously remained outside the QI
agreement. Should an intermediary wish to
remain outside the QI system, withholding
tax at 30 percent is levied compulsorily, and
may only be reclaimed by the beneficiary, not
the intermediary.
3. The “green book” seeks the compulsory imposition
of withholding tax at 30 percent on
US securities held by non-American companies.
Any reclaiming would have to be done
by the company itself, and involve disclosure
of its ownership structure. According to the
“green book”, exceptions would be possible
for pension funds, listed public companies
and the like.
4. Also stipulated is the introduction of withholding
tax at 20 percent on all gross revenue
from transactions via a non-QI intermediary
and in a country with no double taxation
agreement or inadequate exchange of information.
5. The “green book” envisages compulsory declaration
of transactions over 10,000 US dollars
involving US persons via a non-QI intermediary.
6. Notification to or recording by the IRS of the
acquisition or foundation of an “offshore entity”
on behalf of a US person is now also
prescribed.
7. Lastly, the involvement of an American auditor
to monitor compliance with the QI agreement
is envisaged. The report will have to be
signed by this auditor.
This list of the intended amendments is not necessarily
complete, and may also contain minor inaccuracies.
What is clear, though, is that the USA is
attempting to exploit its almost unlimited position
of strength with regard to the international transaction
systems (Swift, clearing systems, custodians)
and the fundamental attractiveness of its
capital market to impose its ideas on the rest of
the world. There is no question that signatories to
this new version of the QI agreement will need to
revise their business models for cross-border
wealth management, at least as far as US persons
are concerned. Both Swiss-style banking secrecy
and the Austrian and Luxembourg versions, and
indeed all Anglo-Saxon-style structures, whether
managed from London, Dubai, Singapore or
Hong Kong, are called into question. As far as US
persons are concerned, the USA aims to abolish
cross-border business.
It might reasonably be observed that so long as
this really only affects its own citizens, the USA is
absolutely entitled to do this. And to the extent
that it can exploit its position of power in the
world to enforce its intentions, we must – as we
have decided on as non-judgmental an analysis as
possible – take note of this and adapt, or possibly
redimension our own business activities. The
concept of the “green book” is extraordinarily
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Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 5
intelligent. The aim must have been “no way out”
– no loopholes. Sadly, however, the matter has
not been properly thought through. The real
problem lies not in the rigour of the law, but in
the lack of clarity about actual tax liability, and
the resulting disproportionate effort required for
monitoring and management. The enormously
expansive view of what constitutes a US person,
and the potential, imperialist, expansion of inheritance
tax liability to cover the whole world substantially
increase the risk of investing in America,
and thus on the US capital market. This applies
for investors, but even more so for intermediaries.
While the old QI agreement put the
thumbscrews on them, the intended agreement
will crush them in a vice. It is becoming clear that
it will be simply too dangerous to own US securities,
to hold them as a custodian for third parties,
or to trade them as a bank.
5. The USA’s Achilles’ heel
The sensibilities of their own capital market: this
is what the smart guys in the IRS have very
probably failed to take into account. Their onesided
regulatory proposals, focused on maximizing
the tax take, are based on the entirely unproblematic
and undisputed attractiveness of the USA
as a place of investment for investors from all
over the world. We believe this assumption to be
utterly wrong. Why?
A glance at the USA’s debt situation suffices to
show that apart from oil, there is really only one
element of strategic importance that the USA will
need in the coming years: capital. The (declared)
public debt – national, state and community –
amounted to some 70 percent of GDP in 2008.
With the absorption of further debt in the wake of
the financial crisis, by 2014 the level of explicit
debt is likely to be significantly above 100 percent
of GDP. By then the interest will have doubled
from around 10 percent of total public revenue to
around 20 percent, on moderate assumptions.
This is generally well known. What is generally
less well known is that in the USA too, as in so
many ailing European states, this explicit perspective
reveals less than half the truth about what has
been implicitly promised by the state in the way
of future benefits. Correctly accounted – that is,
as probable future payment flows discounted to
present values – the picture would look a good
deal bleaker. There are studies, such as the one
by the Frankfurt Institute in November 2008, that
reckon with a total level of debt for the USA of
up to 600 percent (!) of GDP.
But that too is only part of the truth. A look at
who are the most important creditors of America’s
highly indebted public finances reveals
something truly remarkable. It is the public authorities
themselves! A study by Sprott Asset
Management, a Canadian asset management firm
distinguished for its intelligent macroeconomic
analyses, showed that in 2008 over 4 trillion of the
total outstanding public debt of some 10 trillion,
or around 40 percent, was in the hands of socalled
“intragovernmental holdings”. These holdings
include social welfare institutions, whose
assets, accumulated in order to be (halfway) able
to meet future liabilities, are invested in special
Treasury debt instruments, known as “intragovernmental
bonds”. In other words, the paying
recipient of, say, Medicare, the American health
service, is an indirect source of finance for the
Treasury. Unusual, remarkable, or rather, alarming?
Debtors are now simultaneously creditors.
An unusual form of self-financing
7.2%
4.9%
4.6%
4.3%1.2% 1.0%
28.8%
7.7%
40.3% Intragovernmental holdings
Foreign
Other
Funds
States
Fed
Pension funds
Insurance companies
Banks, savings banks
Ownership of US state debt
Note: Figures as of 31 December 2008
Source: Financial Management Service (Bureau of the United
States Department of the Treasury). Ownership of Federal
Securities and Federal Reserve Statistical Release.
These “intragovernmental bonds” are certainly
not assets of genuine intrinsic value. Were we to
consolidate both balance sheets – that of the
Treasury and that of the institution concerned – it
would produce a tautologous situation that would
only not result in the total loss of value of the
social welfare trust’s assets if the Treasury were in
a position to avail itself of the capital market to
an ever greater extent. So let us look at this absolutely
decisive cash flow situation.
According to the Canadian study quoted above,
the American Treasury had to finance new debt
of 705 billion dollars in 2008. This was needed to
cover the budget deficit of 455 billion dollars and
a special deficit for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan
of 250 billion dollars. New debt in 2009 will
amount to somewhat more than 2,000 billion dollars,
with some 200 billion going to the Middle
Eastern war chest and 1,845 billion to the “regular”
budget deficit. This debt must be bought,
WEGELIN & CO.
Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 6
financed, by someone. So how are the individual
categories of creditors behaving? Number 2 in the
ranking of creditor groups are the “Foreign and
International Holders”; that is, the total of all
foreign creditors, including central banks, sovereign
wealth funds, private investors and so on. In
2008 they bought some 560 billion dollars’ worth;
in this year so far, just 460 billion. In March and
April they were net sellers of government securities.
Other categories, such as pension funds,
states, communities and investment funds, also
seem to be tending to unload government paper
this year. This means that the usual sources of
finance for the American state are drying up. The
last hope of salvation comes from the Fed, which,
with its quantitative easing programme for printing
money, is currently having to buy up to half
the newly issued debt, month after month.
This will be OK as long as it’s OK. A Ponzi
scheme, for that is undoubtedly what we are talking
about, goes on working as long as its growing
overindebtedness does not arouse any doubt
among the public as to the scheme’s continuing
performance, and the flow of funds to the scheme
is not significantly disturbed by other influences.
As we know, Madoff’s scheme only collapsed
when individual creditors had liquidity problems
and were obliged to withdraw funds.
Hopelessly in debt
0%
50%
100%
150%
200%
250%
300%
350%
400%
1952 1957 1962 1967 1972 1977 1982 1987 1992 1997 2002 2007
Government
States
Financial sector
Businesses
Households
Debt as % of US GDP
Source: Federal Reserve. Flow of Funds Account.
We now believe that the combination of the US
tax authorities’ anti-capital-market plans with the
Treasury’s specific financing problems could result
in such a situation. For the growth of debt
alone would give sufficient cause for doubt as to
performance. The figure above shows the longterm
development of overall US debt – that is,
public, household and business debt – compared
to economic performance. It is obvious that, for
about 30 years now, additional growth has only
come at the cost of ever-higher debt. Today,
every dollar of growth comes with about 4 dollars
of debt.
And nota bene: we have not yet discussed the
quality of the growth. Over the last 15 years it
has, as we know, increasingly come mainly from
consumption and state expenditure; investment in
the USA is extraordinarily weak. Far too little
potential for the future is being created.
6. Rats leaving the sinking ship
It can hardly be a coincidence that two of the
most prominent and most successful American
investors, Warren Buffett and Bill Gross, chose
precisely the same moment to speak out very
clearly against their own domestic currency and
against investments in US government securities.
In an op-ed article in the New York Times on 18
August 2009, Buffett described the Treasury’s
current financing problems, with similar assumptions
and observations to those of Sprott Asset
Management, and lamented the necessity for the
Fed, as the lender of last resort, to intervene so
extensively, by means of the printing press. In his
own words: “The United States economy is now
out of the emergency room and appears to be on
a slow path to recovery. But enormous dosages of
monetary medicine continue to be administered
and, before long, we will need to deal with their
side effects. For now, most of those effects are
invisible and could indeed remain latent for a
long time. Still, their threat may be as ominous as
that posed by the financial crisis itself.” Buffett
fears high inflation, and consequently advises
against the purchase of long-term Treasury bills.
Bill Gross of Pacific Investment Management Co.
(Pimco), which manages the biggest bond fund in
the world, advises investors to sell dollar investments
“before the central banks and sovereign
wealth funds do”. It’s time to take advantage of
the recovery of the US dollar to get one’s currency
diversification in order. The somewhat
strident commodities specialist Jim Rogers takes
the same line, and also announces his new favourite
currency – the Chinese yuan. He is seconded,
with a good deal more substance, by Hossein
Askari, a professor at George Washington University.
In a very readable article in the Asia
Times on 6 August 2009, he also advocated a
global currency, which “would not be allowed to
be used to finance state debt or stimulation measures”.
Without in any way wishing to overdramatize
matters, we do believe that such signals should be
taken seriously. In exactly the same way as it is
inadvisable to ignore rats leaving a sinking ship.
For they often know the crucial aspects of the
ship better than the captain and the officers. The
least worst outcome that we expect for the USA,
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Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 7
and for the Treasury in particular, is significantly
higher financing costs for debt incurred in the
future. We calculate the medium-term contribution
by the American tax authorities to this added
expense, as a result of the “keep foreigners out”
strategy described above, at around 50 basis
points. And this is precisely the Obama administration’s
miscalculation. Their aggressive attitude
to tax exiles will generate extra funds, perhaps
running into billions, but the price they pay will
be exorbitant. An increase in the credit spread of
50 basis points on total public debt of over
10 trillion US dollars represents increased costs of
50 billion per annum. The sums don’t work: to
make up for this would require additional taxable
funds of some 2 trillion US dollars.
7. Unattractive anyway
Furthermore, the stupendous increase in American
debt is by no means a problem only for the
Treasury, but affects the economy as a whole. The
state’s ravenous appetite for debt is preventing
private borrowers from getting access to the available
finance. This is known as the “crowding-out
effect”. The aim of the Fed’s quantitative easing
policy is to counter this effect. At the same time,
distressed banks, and whole industry sectors, like
car manufacturers, are being subsidized with
enormous sums, which ultimately must result in
further distortions, and crass disadvantages for
the unsubsidized part of the economy.
This generally anti-entrepreneurial policy of discouraging
investment is further reinforced by
wholly disproportionate efforts to intensify the
regulation of small businesses. From the Wall
Street Journal, we learn that legislation already
exists in Washington that would impose reporting
obligations on small venture capital enterprises –
exactly those that have powered the rise of Silicon
Valley – whose administrative burden would be
simply unsupportable. And this just because of
the concern that hedge funds, which, rightly or
wrongly, are felt to require greater control, might
be able to operate in the guise of such venture
capital companies. If Washington gets its way, this
will mean the end for many small businesses with
10 to 20 employees.
In this economic crisis, the Obama administration
is making exactly the same mistake as its great
hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made in what is
quite wrongly regarded as the exemplary “New
Deal”. Driven by Keynesian ideology and a belief
in the possibility of an upturn caused by appropriate
state intervention, in the course of the
1930s, Roosevelt deprived businesses of any hope
of being able to make money again through their
own efforts. Those who produced too cheaply
were taken to court, big businesses were given
blatantly preferential treatment, and property
rights increasingly threatened. Without the external
event of the Second World War, Roosevelt
would have been numbered among the most unsuccessful
American presidents of all time.
The financial crisis has given momentum to anticapitalist,
and thus anti-market forces in the USA
(and elsewhere). That promises little good for this
part of the world, but it makes it somewhat easier
for investors to take their leave. Our bank is in
the process of recommending our clients to exit
from all direct investments in US securities. This,
on the grounds of the threat of inheritance tax
coupled with the uncertainty as to whether one
might not, one way or another, be turned into a
US person.
We do not deny that by doing this, we hope to
significantly reduce the risk carried by our bank
as an intermediary. Should we maintain QI status
under the new, more rigorous conditions, we will
have so far reduced our holding of US securities
that we shall effectively be spared most dealings
with these cumbersome foreign authorities. Investors
who need US exposure on diversification
grounds, can obtain it via non-US securities – the
“green book” explicitly excludes derivatives and
non-US funds from withholding tax. And as we
assume that we are not the only ones who will be
pursuing a policy of exit from the American capital
market, we expect that the range of non-US
securities with American exposure will expand
significantly. This may be good news for Mr Abdullah
of Dubai.
But then again, it may not. If this picture of a
tautologous construct round the US Treasury is
correct, then we must at the very least be extremely
cautious about nominal values. For
Treasury bonds and bills would then be seriously
overvalued, as would the US dollar itself, which
would naturally argue against all other US bonds.
In our view, not even an engagement in US stocks
is really worthwhile. Despite depreciation in the
financial crisis, according to our calculations they
are still valued at around 12 percent above the
long-term fair price, whereas European stocks are
undervalued by almost 17 percent. And these
calculations do not include the impact of any future
increases in taxation or interest rates.
We live at a time of shifting power and influence
in the world. Asia is on the rise, and Brazil too,
probably. Australia will catch on to their coattails,
and Europe may once more be able to position
itself within these countries’ recoveries. The USA
will remain the unquestioned military power and
WEGELIN & CO.
Investment Commentary No. 265 Page 8
also an enormous repository of debt and other
problems. Because they are painful, and there
is always an inclination to shift the blame for
them onto third parties, redimensioning processes
always harbour the potential for aggression. Switzerland
is currently experiencing just this. But it
won’t end there. Potential aggression and economic
progress are mutually exclusive. Which is
why we are well advised to take a general farewell
of America. This will be painful, for the USA was
once the most vital market economy in the world.
But for now, it’s time to say goodbye.
KH, 24.08.2009
W E G E L I N & C O . P R I V A T E B AN K E R S P A R T N E R S B R U D E R E R , HUM M L E R , T O L L E & C O .
CH-9004 St. Gallen Bohl 17 Telephone +41 71 242 50 00 Fax +41 71 242 50 50 wegelin@wegelin.ch www.wegelin.ch
S T . G A L L E N BAS E L B E R N E C H U R G E N E V A L A U S A N N E LOC A R N O LUGAN O S C H A F F H AUS E N Z U RI C H”

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One Response to FAREWELL AMERICA

  1. Zack Acquaviva

    September 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Nice content… I may easily benefit from of the facts.Thank You.

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