Dear Mr. Berko:
My first question is about individual retirement accounts. Two professionals I know tell me that there will be a change in the way our IRAs are taxed beginning in 2014. One suggests confiscation. What do you think? My next question is about investing in Argentina. My brother is an investor there, and he advises me to invest $83,000 in Argentine government bonds and its stock market. I have been an American citizen since 1987. What do you say?
– B.B., Cleveland
As long as there’s money to be made by the scolds who despise President Barack Obama, there will be a litany of spurious proposals on the Internet that America’s stupids want to believe. There is no proposal to confiscate IRAs and 401(k) accounts. But with $11 trillion in public assets, this money is a juicy target for some members of Congress. This money has never been taxed, and under current law, it should not be until it’s distributed. However, a proposal floated by Alice Rivlin, former vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve and an important Obama administration adviser, might change the way an inherited IRA is taxed. Currently, when beneficiaries inherit an IRA, they can distribute the assets whenever they want. Ms. Rivlin’s suggestion would require that all distributions be made within five years after the benefactor’s death. Swell idea, Alice.
In the early 1980s, Argentina stopped payments on its debt, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) brokered bridge loans to prevent an Argentine collapse. In the late 1980s, the U.S. and the IMF were again compelled to rescue Argentina, but this time the rescue was achieved via Brady bonds, giving Argentina a second lifeline. In 2002, Argentina defaulted on $105 billion of sovereign debt, and several years ago, it settled with most bondholders for 30 cents on the dollar. Now those putzes in Buenos Aires are doing it again.
Investors can get 13 to 15 percent on Argentine government bonds, and some Argentine equities are paying handsome dividends. Argentina’s economy is in much better shape than Europe’s “Great Greek Fleece.” Corruption is so pervasive and well-orchestrated that the country’s government and judicial body have morphed into an efficient economy of scale. The Argentine government spends billions each year on social programs, such as free health care, monthly pensions, rental assistance and food distribution for children. And amazingly, the costs to distribute this largesse exceed the expenditures. And so it is with the government’s public service and infrastructure spending; every peso spent to repair a bridge or a sewer requires an equal peso to a bureaucrat. Even though Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow by 1 percent, its government continues to spend wantonly, while the sticky fingers of public servants collect their share. Meanwhile, inflation is more than 20 percent, and unions won’t allow businesses to reduce payrolls while stridently demanding higher wages and increased entitlements. Riots are breaking out, and folks are looting supermarkets and retail stores while the Peronist-led unions also demand lower taxes and increased pensions for members.
But because so much looks so bad, an $83,000 investment in Argentine bonds and equities might hit a sweet spot. The slide of Argentina’s stock market index, Merval, may have hit a wall temporarily, and the Argentine peso, which crashed by 29 percent, may have temporarily bottomed. The government reported a temporary trade surplus of $1.4 billion, and the World Bank believes that Argentina’s GDP may grow by 2 percent this year. So bond yields may decline, and the Merval may improve. The peso may strengthen. And if your brother’s a smart fellow, your $83,000 could be worth more a year from now. However, my grandfather, who once owned a large cattle ranch in Argentina, once told me, “Never be a long-term investor in this country.”