John Jagerson Interview Follow-Up (4/4/12)

Back in January I was privileged to be granted an interview with currency/investment analyst John Jagerson.  He’s the first and only person I’ve interviewed whose livelihood depends on knowing what he’s talking about when it comes to investing.  That interview prompted a lot of discussion and I invited John back recently for a follow up discussion.

Sam: Breitling’s crowd has made some comments about things like “I bet John owns dinar” and “John ignores the fact that the CBI says it wants the IQD valued at $1”. How do you respond?

John: First – I get people asking me if I really own a bunch of dinar but I am not sure why. I think they are just incapable of believing that anyone wouldn’t be a believer in some kind of mythical RV. But really I have no idea why people ask me that so often. I can say that I don’t own dinar, haven’t owned any in the past, and don’t plan to in the future.

I don’t think I have much to say about the claim that the CBI wants the dinar to be equal to a dollar. I haven’t seen any official statements from the CBI about that. There is no link provided or anything in that response to my interview with you so I couldn’t give any comment about it but it sounds pretty fishy to me. I have seen stuff like that appear on message boards (usually sent to me as “proof” that the dinar is going to RV) but they are always quoting un-named sources at the CBI.

For instance I saw an article kind of like that recently in that quoted “a source” at the CBI saying that the goal is to get the dinar to a rate of 1-1 with the dollar after dropping 3 zeros from the currency. So what? Lets just assume that the source was real and that the CBI really does want to do that. It means they will redenominate the dinar (no gains for anyone there) to be worth 1.17 to the dollar or so and then try to push the currency another 14% against the dollar? Any currency could move that much against the dollar in 2012 and you wouldn’t have to pay a 20% spread.

But – let me defer a little bit on this one and I will admit that just because I haven’t seen an official statement from the CBI doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. If such a statement exists on the CBI’s website, lets take a look at it and discuss its implications. I would love to see a link to something that doesn’t go to a rumors news site, YouTube, or a message board.

Sam: What’s with the church connection – Babylon rising and all of that?

John: I get comments and letters quite a bit from people who got sucked into the dinar-vortex through their pastor or some other connection at church. First, I should mention that I am not picking on anyone’s religion. People can believe whatever their conscience dictates, but close-knit church organizations can also be a breeding ground for scams because members trust each other and don’t recognize the “wolf” in their midst.

The bible is full of references to a strong Babylon in the ‘last days’. You can find them in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Revelations. I will leave this to the religious to decide whether these references actually refer to a physical Babylon (Iraq) located in the same place or just general wickedness among modern nations. The idea promoted by the scammers is that if Babylon rises and the end is near (both very big assumptions) then why not profit by buying their currency (the dinar I guess).

This argument can be very persuasive because it builds on very strongly held religious beliefs. In other words the scammers are trying to make a logical connection between the truthfulness of biblical prophecy and the legitimacy of the dinar as an investment opportunity. However, this is actually a logical fallacy called a non-sequitur. In other words the argument’s conclusion does not follow from its premises.

Whether biblical prophecy is true (or even being interpreted correctly) is moot and is actually just a poorly disguised version of the “currencies = stocks” argument. Whether Iraq is the biblical Babylon or not doesn’t matter. The question investors should be asking themselves is whether a currency appreciates in value when an economy grows? If they will look at that argument objectively they will find that this does not follow. Most quickly growing economies have weakening currencies and those few that have had the opposite have tried to slow the growth as much as possible.

My assertion here should be easy to refute. Find an economy that is growing quickly with an appreciating currency over the last 30 years. There will be periodic spikes but even when it does happen we are talking about a few percentage points – nothing like what dinar investors are expecting and it almost never happens in the long term.

Sam: Why don’t growing economies want an appreciating currency? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? Why do so many of them avoid it?

John: Most economies want a stable currency not a growing one. In the case of oil economies they have to be very careful about a growing currency because their oil exports will exceed imports. Imagine that Country-X imports $10B (oil is priced in dollars mostly) of oil from Iraq in a given year. They pay for that oil in dollars that are then converted into dinar to pay the bill for the oil domestically. If the money supply in Iraq was kept stable and not increased this would mean demand for dinar would rise against a stable amount of dinar – which drives its value up. So then the next year, costs of production and such are still the same but the dinar has grown so much in value relative to the dollar that Country-X is going to buy cheaper oil from Saudi Arabia, Russia, the U.S. or Norway instead.

Oil exporting economies deal with this by sterilizing the money flow. If dinar is demanded for the oil transaction then the central bank will issue new currency (credited to the banks) to increase its supply in return for government debt. It doesn’t take that much debt to do this relative to the size of exports and has been shown to be quite effective with other exporters in the area. That way the dinar does not become anti-competitive with other oil exporters.

This is not a secret and is quite common among basic material exporters. For example, the Australians and Brazilians are two basic materials exporters who run into problems with appreciating currencies all the time but manage it (as loosely as they can) with the debt/money supply relationship I described. The issue everyone wants to avoid is a fast shift in the balance. If investors shift very quickly away from an economy and start pulling investment back out it can lead to a significant devaluation.

Sam: How do oil exporters freeze or peg their currency?

John: For a large economy it is impossible to completely freeze your currency but you can get very close. A central bank will lower the value of its currency if the ratio to the dollar is falling by buying foreign assets (government debt) with dinar. That increases the value of the other currency relative to the dinar. A depreciating currency can be managed by tightening monetary policy and setting higher interest rates, bank reserves, or by selling foreign assets. This is all done through open market activities by the central bank. Open market activities are almost always a loss but considered necessary by most modern economies. It is done on a day to day basis and can be quite predictable in normal market conditions.

Sam: Where do dealers get the dinar in the first place?

John: Same place everyone gets hard-currency – the banks. You can (please don’t) order bulk currency direct from several banks in Iraq. Shipping, registration and delivery is a little complicated but its certainly possible. In fact, some of the banks have teams in place to help dealers take delivery as easily as possible. My understanding is that this is a small business for most of them, but it can contribute to overall margin. This is not unique – you can order almost any other currency from banks around the globe. Again, there are some registration requirements to import hard currency in quantity but you can do it if you want.

I know the scammers have elaborate excuses for this but I have honestly never figured out why dinar investors don’t just open bank accounts in Iraq denominated in dinar. If an investor was convinced the dinar will appreciate why take the risk and costs of holding the physical currency? The scammers will say that deposits will be treated differently than hard currency in a future “RV” but doesn’t that sound self-serving? And of course you could look at other revaluations (discussed in the last interview) and redenominations to see if that ever actually happens that way and find out that it doesn’t.

My last comment is that some people are really keen on saying that my arguments are “full of holes” but they aren’t very specific. My challenge to Tony Elder (AKA Brietling) or Dorman or any of these pumpers is to put up or shut up. Get very specific about what I am not correct about and let’s pick a neutral third party to curate a debate. I am skeptical that they would do that for the same reasons they won’t even use their real names but I would be willing to do it.