Da' Buy World: Considering "Blue Saturday"

by Jabulani Leffall on 28 November 2009 10 comments
Photo: Nakheel

Looking for bargain prices on items you know you don't need is kind of like building man-made islands in the Persian Gulf and Indian Oceans in the shape of the world, hoping that people will buy them for millions of dollars and live on them, despite rising sea levels.

Let me say that with the exception of a pancake breakfast for my son, I boycotted Black Friday.

For this post, I had planned to bang out a cautionary tale about Black Friday. I was going to talk about the potential bait and switches — at least those that are on the surface.

You know buy one TV, get one free and it turns out that they give away your grandma’s wood TV to set the new TV on top of.

Or the suits, buy one get one free. Only they don’t tell you what you’re getting is a suit with a lapel so low Matlock could wear it and a style so played out that Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs would meet you in Miami with matching Ray-Bans with a string attached to them to put around your neck.

That’s all well and good — personal finance news you can use with some nods to 1980s crime and punishment dramas — quirky stuff.

But that’s not what I’m going to do now because not only has it passed by already but I’m sure you’ve read a thousand Black Friday “beat-the-house” stories.

Consider this a post mortem.

What I saw out of my two pundit eyes and my third analytical winker was a potential metaphorical Blue Saturday. Blue for an economy still under water worldwide, and blue for the genre of music you play when you're sad because you've spent or borrowed too much and can't pay your bills.

I look and I foresee many hangovers from the continual devil-may-care, spend-until-you-feel-better mentality that helped cause “The Great Recession.”

There were two Black Fridays, just in case you didn’t know.

Even as shoppers — many of whom are probably behind on their bills, jobless, nearly jobless or underemployed — crowded the malls, rich sheiks a world away scratched their heads and wrung their hands because they can’t pay their bills either.

Dubai World, the sovereign wealth fund, of one of the Middle East’s richest governments, is as much as $80 billion in debt and has asked its banks for a six-month stay of execution — so to speak — on about $59 billion in debt repayments.

Basically they’re saying they can’t pay for six months and they are “restructuring.” This news sent the stock of every major bank and real estate company in the world down last week and many of these banks, we will soon find out, are more exposed to a Dubai collapse than they care to admit.

Back to the mall.

Am I trying to hate on your new cashmere sweater or clearance sale pumps or new television you got to put on top of your old one? Am I hating on your new fancy phone?

Certainly not, I told you in my last post to suit up so I'm not railing against capitalism and I'm definitely not saying what to do. It’s your money and life; plus we all live with the wicked paradox of an economy predicated on its citizens buying things they don’t need to keep a consumer-based economy on life support.

Back to Dubai.

Dubai World’s restructuring will affect Japan’s real estate companies adversely. Japan has price deflation problems already and is the world’s second largest economy, and the Yen is creaming the dollar right now.

Are you seeing the outside correlation yet?

Financial patterns, we have found, as well as weather patterns, travel east and then around the world. This cold front is already spreading west. Closer to home, British banks could be exposed to Dubai to the tune of $50 billion or more and those banks are already in trouble to begin with.

And over the Thanksgiving Holiday, American banks with potential exposure in Dubai were eerily quiet — perhaps PR folks and executives were out on Michigan or Fifth Avenues.

Right now you’re saying to yourself: "Dubai World? Are you kidding me J, this doesn’t affect me one bit and why am I reading this?"

Fair enough, but let me close with a little more info on Dubai World.

Dubai World is famous for the ostentatious man-made island plots of land in the nearby bay and Indian Ocean that they made for no reason, thinking they would sell like man-made islands shaped like a map of the world or hotcakes.

Dubai World and the government that funded it, didn’t anticipate gluts in demand and didn’t anticipate this big of a margin call either. British banks weren’t thinking about it, neither were Japanese or Australian real estate companies, so why would you be?

And that’s the problem right there. It takes more downturns for people to look again and see that this is not a game and that if the decisions of a few are affecting the masses, the masses, who set the agenda as consumers and the labor force need to change spending habits and approaches to consumption.

But is that in the cards?

Like Dubai World, with its own form of hyper-flashy uber capitalism, American retailers are famous for the ostentatious man-made phenomenon known as “Black Friday” where retailers try to break even for the whole year in what is the start of what they hope will be a 45-day buying spree to push full-year earnings numbers up.

The retailers, like the shoppers they serve, are reacting, reaching for short-term gratification, trying to right the ship with the ring of a cash register. Meanwhile not many are anticipating ancillary forces which can’t be accounted for when everyone’s busy buying things that in many cases, they didn’t or don’t need just to feel better.

All this instead of improving our station, mentally.  Setting financial goals or “Wise Breading,” as a verb, is about making the choice not only to be thrifty, but to use wisdom through experience and apply it in financial planning.

Yet a large part of the populous still remains visibly and invisibly chained to repeating self-destructive patterns, even amid the worst downturn in almost a century.

Ask yourself this: what do you think you’ll be pondering six months from now, when you look back on Black Friday of 2009?

Do you think it will matter a little, or a lot?

 

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Guest's picture
Rick

Six months from now, looking back on Black Friday, I will be pondering the same thing. Perhaps America's financial troubles could have been prevented. But more importantly they can be fixed. Obviously the first thing to do is to stop borrowing money to give away as tax credits for houses and cars. Consider what can be cut from every appropriation and eliminate unnecessary programs. Enforce this with a balanced budget amendment and a line item veto. In an economy as big as ours it should not be hard to balance the budget.

Next, tackle the debt by treating it like a 30 year mortgage. With a 3% loan the current monthly repayment would be $51 billion. Here are some other figures and payment schedules: http://www.rickety.us/2009/09/u-s-government-debt-as-a-mortgage/

It is so sad that we have the power to deal with our situation but for whatever reason it is not done. Granted, it doesn't have to be done the way I have outlined but action should be taken. Now.

Guest's picture

When they first created the Dubai World project I sat there and laughed that anyone would spend millions or tens of millions of dollars to live there. Having seen this idea repeated several times before, Las Vegas, Miami, etc. each time to initial fanfare and predictions of sell-outs, it was obvious it was just a matter of time before the economics caught up with a project like this. The problem with building super expensive real estate in places that have no real economy (I think that only 6% of Dubai's GDP is oil) is that it relies on the super rich from other places to keep values up. When that stops, like Las Vegas for instance, the plunge is incredible.

The amount of debt for Dubai World pales in comparison to the U.S. debt which surpassed $12 Trillion. Dubai World's debt is a mere 0.5% of our national debt. That debt is going to make the quality of life in the U.S. much lower than it has been for the rest of our lifetimes. While we think that the Dubai project is crazy, we have loads of projects, masked by a big guarantor, the U.S. government, which are far worse ideas. At least they were making something in Dubai.

All the more reason to live cheaply. If you want to know more about the debt, read :12 Trillion Reasons to Live Cheaply Today

There is still a huge gap between what people are currently spending and what they need to spend. That gap is closing but those manufacturers and retailers that are dependent on discretionary spending are seeing a huge outflow of dollars and their only ability is to cut prices and steal market share. Its a downward spiral. If you are in great financial shape and want to buy stuff, it is truly the Golden Age of the Consumer, but if like the Dubai World guys, if you borrowed up to your eyeballs, every day is another painful day.

Live Cheap

Guest's picture
funkright

Hmmm... doesn't work... you pay off the debt and you will suck all the money out of the economy.. It is only 'with debt' that money gets created in the current system.. Pick up Web of Debt (book) or watch some videos here: http://www.economicstability.org/joes-monetary-literacy-course you will definitely have your eyes opened.. For good and for bad..

Guest's picture
Rick

It would work because someone else would have the debt. The same as I have no debt but others around me do. There are plenty of other countries that would still be suckered into paying interest. It would work even better because it would free up money for the private sector to borrow instead of a hog of the Federal government feeding from its own trough.

Do not fear, it will never happen.

Guest's picture
Shane

I think another debt moratorium would be placed, and IMF and the Word Bank will absorb it. That means, innocent nations will share the burden as well.

Guest's picture

The necessity for corporate profit will keep us 'progressing' as a society. The need to increase these profits keeps pushing negative social trends forward, promoting and selling still more excessive, unneeded and even useless and harmful stuff. Business does not exist to improve society or to make their audiences healthier and happier. We have been programmed to buy!

Government interference is unlikely where wealthy politicians are part owners in these companies or industries, or feel indebted to them in other ways.

It's up to us but what are the odds?

Guest's picture

It has been said that the black on black friday signifies black ink that means profit in accounting. The reverse of it is red ink or "going in red" meaning the company is experiencing a loss.

Guess where retailers get the black ink from? The consumers who are happy they've struck out a bargain while unknowingly writing their whole financial statements in red.

Guest's picture
Olivia

In response to Rick. I would love it if we did what you suggest. But here are the hurdles. Government programs are inefficiently run and costly. (Anyone who's attempted to get consistant income tax info over the phone, can attest.) Inefficiency, because it's complicated, protects itself from dismantlement. (Seven organizations to cover national security that don't communicate with each other.) Do you think any candidate for office would be elected by saying he'd seek to steamline government, to dismantle the medicare system, social security, farm subsidies, school grants, etc? No, we love our programs. Do you really think seniors would give up Part D now that it's in place? Or those "free" scooters advertised on TV, at $9000 a pop? Or that Pell Grant recipiants would appreciate cuts? Or that school systems would turn down cash to build new buildings when they get no grant money to fix up existing structures even though that costs less? We Americans didn't turn down "cash for clunkers" or "help" with mortgages or "stimulus checks". We Americans expect "the government" to absorb so many things when actually these expenses are more accurately seen as "our tax paid" or "paid by money printed with nothing to back it". Would I personally spend $9000 of my own cash on a scooter? No. We can't afford that for a car. But somehow if someone else is footing the bill, it's OK.

Guest's picture
Laura

Another excellent article! Your writing is music to my eyes!!

Jabulani Leffall's picture

Woww, I like that.

Jabulani Leffall

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