Has America Become a Socialist Country?

by The Curmudgeon

In a May 2, 1983 Barron's interview, Victor Sperandeo proclaimed, "I’m bullish on America."  Thirty years later, that's no longer the case.  Mr. Sperandeo ("the man of all markets") believes the U.S. is becoming a socialist country, while also restricting the freedom and privacy of its citizens.  The CURMUDGEON initially disagreed with Victor, but now the weight of the evidence seems to be in his favor. 

Debate.org (a free and open platform for people to challenge each other intellectually via debates and open forum communication) asked the following question:  Will Obama turn the U.S. into a socialist country? Surprisingly, 60% of respondents said YES; 40% said NO.  The CURMUDGEON found the comments very interesting and provocative.  But there's more, much more…


Here are a few alarming examples of socialism and loss of freedom in America that we've independently identified:

·         The U.S. government now controls the mortgage market, through majority stakes in Fanny Mae and Freddie MAC, along with the Fed ownership of $Bs of MBS's. 

·         The Federal government has and still owns large chunks of many public companies as a result of the 2008-2009 financial industry bailout, e.g. Fanny Mae, Freddy Mac, General Motors, AIG, etc. (formerly Citi Group, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs, etc.).

·         The Federal Reserve has distorted all financial markets by its QE debt monetization programs.  The Fed is now the largest holder of U.S. government debt, replacing foreign central banks.

·         In addition, the Fed has been rumored to have bought S&P 500 stock index futures contracts on market plunges, as well as selling gold futures contracts (to make it look like there's no future inflationary impact of its QE programs).

·         The U.S. Department of Education is the biggest student loan lender. Many former students or head over heels in debt.

·         A record 23,116,441 households get food stamps, each receiving an average monthly benefit of $274.30.  Please see graph below showing increase in food stamps plotted against relatively flat non-farm payrolls (courtesy of Richard Yamarone of Bloomberg)”



·         Multiple NSA programs snoop and spy on law abiding citizens. Many of these were recently exposed by Edward Snowden.  They are under the guise of the Patriot Act and a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).

·         The IRS has singled out certain political organizations (Tea Party and other conservative organizations) for audit and scrutinized their activities.

·         Overly burdensome regulation of business is stifling economic growth, as Harvard Professor Niall Fergusson (and others) have pointed out.

Let's expand on that last bullet point.  Sperandeo says that the U.S. federal government doesn't necessarily have to own private businesses to control them.  Instead, the government can and does regulate companies in such a manner as to achieve its policy objectives.


Victor sites his own company as an example of this pernicious procedure.   Alpha Financial Technologies, LLC (“AFT”) is a financial engineering firm that develops commodity and financial futures-based indexes which are licensed to sponsor companies.  AFT indexes are utilized in a broad array of products including mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), exchange-traded notes (ETNs), and UCITS III funds.   Each index that AFT creates as a product has to be approved by the SEC. 


Several years ago, AFT's Commodity Trends Index (CTI) was submitted to the SEC for approval as a new ETF.  The SEC has refused to approve or reject the CTI ETF, which remains in a "holding pattern."  To Sperandeo, that's "domination by regulatory control."  Victor thinks the SEC is under instruction from the administration NOT to approve any more commodity ETFs, because they think that could drive commodity prices higher- something that's anathema to the Obama administration.


The tax treatment of individually traded futures ("1256 contracts" is the IRS term) has been well known for many years: mark- to- market of open positions at year end and a 60/40 split between long and short term gains/losses.  Yet the tax treatment for new funds that use those contracts has not been specified by the IRS. As a result, some of AFT's sponsor companies (as well as other organizations) have asked the IRS for an opinion letter on new mutual funds and ETFs that trade commodity and financial futures.

Despite those requests, the IRS has not issued any letters of opinion on ("1940 Investment Company Act") mutual funds and ETFs that use futures contracts.  Hence, the tax treatment of gains and losses are uncertain.  The IRS could rule that such a "managed futures fund" is not a "pass through" entity under the "1940 Investment Company Act" and would thereby make the fund a corporation for tax purposes.  That would be a double taxation disaster for investors: the fund would be subject to a maximum 35% corporate income tax and any gains on futures contracts distributed to investors would be taxed as ordinary income (rather than the 60/40 capital gains treatment of individual 1256 contracts).


It's been two years since the IRS suspended the issuance of private letter rulings in this area (in June 2011) to review the policy issues.  Yet that review has not been completed and so all new managed futures funds and ETFs are on hold!  More details in this article.


Author's Note:  The CTI is available as an ETN from HSBC USA Inc. “ELEMENTS S&P CTI ETN" - symbol LSC.

However, there's a disclaimer stating that the "tax treatment is uncertain and no assurance can be given that the IRS will accept, or a court will uphold, the tax consequences described in the prospectus."  As a result, there is a very small market for the LSC ETN with a huge bid/ask spread that makes it an unattractive investment.


Sperandeo goes on to explain how regulatory uncertainty is stifling Venture Capital (VC) investments in start-up companies- the source of most new jobs and engine of  innovation in the U.S. 


"If you're a start-up company trying to raise money, you have gone to Venture Capitalists. You don’t go to commercial banks, because they won’t take the risk. The VC says, "OK, give me a pro forma expense and revenue report."  But the start-up can't do that today as they don’t know what ObamaCare is going to cost, the impact of current and future regulations!"

"If I wanted to raise money today, I could not give you a pro forma expense statement of what employees would cost me, because I don’t know what ObamaCare, new regulations and taxes are eventually going to cost. It’s impossible to plan for the future."


The CURMUDGEON doesn't want to be a perennial spoil sport or chronic complainer.  So we'll try to present something more positive in our next post.  Victor will describe the important takeaways from the Atlas Summit, which was held this past weekend in Washington, DC.  Sperandeo spoke at the conference and also participated in a panel session: “Ayn Rand and Business” hosted by John Stossel.  We'll catch up with Victor this week and summarize the conversations he had at the conference in our next article.

Till next time......................................


The Curmudgeon

Curmudgeon is a retired investment professional.  He has been involved in financial markets since 1968 (yes, he cut his teeth on the 1968-1974 bear market), became an SEC Registered Investment Advisor in 1995, and received the Chartered Financial Analyst designation from AIMR (now CFA Institute) in 1996.  He managed hedged equity and alternative (non-correlated) investment accounts for clients from 1992-2005.