Bela Lugosi created the vision of vampirish evil in the 1931 classic movie, Dracula , and, as a Halloween costume, the vampire look has never gone out of style. But what if Dracula were more than just a scary character? If he were real, he'd be the perfect explanation for the goings-on in many boardrooms of public companies and on the streets of our neighborhoods (and I don't mean little kids wearing black capes and shouting gleefully, 'Moowah-ah-ahh').
After all, doesn't the back of your neck stand up when you hear the stories about blood-sucking CEOs who backdated their stock option grant dates to take home millions more with no extra effort? There they were in their offices late at night. The clock struck midnight, and out came their fangs. In the dead of night, these CEO vampires roamed their headquarters, searching for the document that listed their stock options. Once they found it, they sucked the blood from shareholders by changing the grant dates to more favorable ones when the company stock was at a low point for the year.
Now some daylight is being shed on their nocturnal habits, thanks to a Wall Street Journal report that led to SEC inquiries and internal investigations. These investigations are driving stakes through their hearts. So far, more than 20 have resigned or been fired from their companies – all because they had to have more than their fair share of the lifeblood of their companies.
The more serious threats to the economy and life as we know it, though, will come from the undead who will still roam the streets well after this year's Halloween candy has been eaten. They will be those folks who overextended themselves to buy a handsome Gothic mansion in a friendly subdivision. And they will have one thing on their minds – needing more cash to make their monthly mortgage payments, particularly after their adjustable-rate mortgages are re-set. One estimate suggests that 2007 will be the Year of the Vampire, as $1 trillion-worth of ARMs (or 12 percent of all U.S. mortgage debt) will be readjusted upward, increasing monthly payments and adding to homeowners' burdens. The mortgage companies will want more blood from their mortgagees, yet these homeowners have already been bled white: where will they find the cash to make the payments?
As prices of both new and existing homes fall in many parts of the nation, more ordinary people will become unwilling footsoldiers in the vampire empire, because they won't be able to refinance their homes. Or, to use the vampire vernacular: They won't be able to get any more blood from their houses, which will be cold relics of themselves.
Those who own their own homes or who can handle the mortgage or the rent payment may need to start carrying garlic and wearing crosses. Suppose your favorite sister calls to say that she and her husband need some help making ends meet with the mortgage. How will you respond – send the money each month or offer room in your own home? Suppose your friends receive an unwelcome letter coldly stating that their new monthly payment has just increased 50 percent. Will they lose all color from their faces? Will they suddenly feel a strong need for cash – or what Lugosi used to call 'blahd' in his thick accent? And — again — where can they find the cash?
They might try fixing their hypnotic stare on Google . With its stock price now approaching $500 a share, its stock market capitalization is more than $145 billion.
Or maybe they could fly after some of the military contractors who are awash in red-blooded contract money. According to the U.S. Defense Department, the Top 5 defense contractors for fiscal year 2005 are Lockheed Martin with $19.5 billion in contracts, Boeing ($18 billion), Northrop Grumman ($13.5 billion), General Dynamics ($10.6 billion), and Raytheon ($9 billion).
Ah, but the Federal Reserve is probably the best bet of all. It should be happy to hand out more credit. That's how we got in this fix in the first place. Ben Bernanke looks a little pale already, but Alan Greenspan should be rested now after his retirement and ready to give blood. But even he may find that this credit game is harder to play with so much national debt. More than a few market-watchers are less than sanguine about the future for the economy. Robert Prechter, of ElliottWave.com, has written about the wages of too much credit in his business best-seller, Conquer the Crash . Here's how he puts it in his November Theorist:
"We all know about the insane level of American indebtedness at all levels of society. We know that the national savings rate is below zero. We know that people have borrowed record amounts from home equity for spending and that the game is up. We know that declining real estate values are forcing a rash of foreclosures, and we all know that the reckless lending of the past two decades will stress the banking system. The credit bubble represents only potential for a bust – huge potential but just potential nevertheless. None of these conditions will matter to the economy until the stock market turns down in a big way. When it does, you will know that the social mood that kept the American financial casino going will then be working toward its destruction." [The Elliott Wave Theorist, published October 20, 2006]
Remember, with house-poor vampires on the loose, you want to stay financially healthy by living in a modest little castle that you can afford. Stay away from mortgage lenders who want to suck the blood out of you. Moowahh-ah-ahhh.
Susan C. Walker writes for Elliott Wave International, a market forecasting and technical analysis company. She has been an associate editor with Inc. magazine, a newspaper writer and editor, an investor relations executive and a speechwriter for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She is a graduate of Stanford University. For more information on Bob Prechter's book, Conquer the Crash, please click here.