Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post-election "green" investing outlook

Tuesday saw the end of some market uncertainty with the defeat of California’s Prop 23. Enactment of this proposition would have been a real blow to alternative energy and alternative fuel companies in the U.S. Solar company shares, which gain most of the mainstream media attention, were hard hit during the past 1 ½ weeks but saw an across the board bounce today.

One of the few solar stocks not sharing in today’s gains was First Solar(FSLR), which saw a $13.00 one-day drop last Thursday and further loss on Friday. Most of these stocks will take a few weeks to regain their late October price levels, if not longer. With demand and production continuing to grow, many solar stocks seem destined for new 52-week highs before the end of the year.

Much uncertainty remains among green investors after the election. The Republican party is well known for its support of big oil and coal. They are equally well known for their lack of support for energy efficiency/saving measures and alternative energy sources. Look for federal support programs for everything except ethanol to be slashed, particularly funds coming from the Department of Energy. At least the military branches do not need direct congressional approval to continue spending on alternative energy.

If Republicans were really as patriotic as they like to claim they would be using the U.S. military alternative energy initiatives as an example for the entire country to follow. Our biggest national security issue is more likely energy-dependence on other(often unfriendly) countries than terrorism. And we don’t and never will be able to produce enough oil domestically to meet our current demand.

Obstructing legislation to reduce domestic oil demand, such as higher mpg standards, higher lighting efficiency standards, higher energy efficiency for household appliances, etc…, does nothing but extend and exacerbate an already bad situation. Blocking federal and state incentives for alternative energy installations only lets China and the European nations widen their lead over the U.S. in implementation of these technologies. When the real petroleum crunch does come, those countries with the greatest percentages of solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear energy production will have huge strategic advantages.
America needs to grow food, not fuel

The reason ethanol receives so much support in the U.S. is its reliance upon Big Agriculture. No biomass-based petroleum substitute can be produced in the quantities needed without massive amounts of fertilizer, pesticides, genetically-modified seed stocks and millions of miles put on petroleum-powered tractors, harvesters and trucks. We need an innovative alternative to the internal combustion engine, not a biological substitute for petroleum fuels.

When did the U.S. become afraid of innovation? When did maintaining the existing business status quo become more important than being the world’s technology leader? When did saving a few dollars or a few jobs today start to overshadow the very future of the country? Our political leaders from both parties are bickering about ideological irrelevancies while our credibility with the rest of the world evaporates. When did being a Republican or a Democrat become more important than being an American?

Alternative energies are here to stay. Private industry leaders and the military see the writing on the wall and are taking the initiative to break away from petroleum dependence. But the process would be much faster and more integrated if there were national leadership rather than just national lip-service. For investors, alternative energy and smart-grid companies remain the wave of the future no matter what happens in Washington.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book review: "Plumbing" by Sunset Books

Every homeowner and every real estate investor should have at least a rudimentary level of plumbing. Such knowledge is useful during initial inspections(not to replace a professional inspection) prior to purchase and to be able to describe needed repairs to a licensed plumber after purchase. Many dollars can also be saved over the years by doing basic plumbing repairs and upgrades yourself instead of hiring a professional.

“Plumbing”, published by Sunset Books as part of their You Can Build series, is an excellent do-it-yourself book. It is written clearly and concisely by Esther Ferington and the editors of Sunset Books. All major topics are covered in depth along with illustrating color photos. This book is a good starting place for those with no knowledge of plumbing and also a good refresher for anyone that is out of practice.
A lot of money can be saved by doing simple plumbing jobs like installing a new faucet yourself instead of hiring a licensed plumber, especially if a problem occurs during the weekend.

The book starts by surveying the tools and materials used in common plumbing systems. The specific use of each tool and pipe material is covered, as well as the reasons for using them. Basic bathroom and kitchen repairs and upgrades come next, followed by a thorough chapter on sinks, clothes washers and water heaters. The final chapters are about installing new plumbing lines and outdoor plumbing projects.

For any homeowner, real estate investor and/or landlord trying to save money on simple plumbing repairs or upgrades, this is a great book that will get you through fixing a leaking toilet, replacing a faucet set or installing a low-flow shower head. Those more confident of their abilities will find detailed instructions and illustrations for replacing/installing new sinks, toilets, clothes washer connections, etc… At the very least, enough plumbing information can be gleaned from a thorough reading to know if a hired, licensed plumber is on the right track.

Suggested retail price for “Plumbing” is $24.95 in soft-cover. has it available for $18.21 new. Many local libraries will have it in stock as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The current state of the "green" stock market

Solar, wind and wave power are the future of energy

The upcoming elections, recent earnings reports, continued economic unrest and Prop23 in California have not been kind to my “green” stock portfolio. The past two weeks have seen pullbacks in several sectors even though the DOW and NASDAQ continue to see very slight gains on most days. I do not see a Republican majority in congress and/or the Senate doing “green” share prices much good but am not yet convinced that will happen.

Solar shares have taken a big hit across the board. A few seemed to be shaking it off and recovering last week but have since stalled again. I am predicting at least three to four weeks to start approaching the October 15 levels again. A Republican majority and passage of Prop 23 could make that a much longer road.

Mining stocks, and rare earth/lithium miners in particular, are also down and consolidating. These stocks should bounce back quickly as Chinese export concerns remain high along with high demand. If the overall market starts to falter, silver and gold miners should benefit most.

Water treatment and infrastructure shares barely stumbled and are already nearly recovered. The major players, such as Calgon Carbon(CCC), Veolia Environment(VE), Consolidated Water(CWCO) and Watts Water Technologies(WTS) should do well. Consolidated has had a bad year but seems to have turned around. Calgon and Watts are performing strongly.

Battery technology companies remain steady performers and could start to surge at any time. Demand will grow with increasing market penetration by electric vehicles and commercial solar/wind power installations. New research breakthroughs could put a company into leadership position quickly.

Most of the maritime shipping companies, particularly those based in Greece, saw a slight pullback last week. Continuing weakness of orders, rising fuel costs and Greek economic uncertainty remain issues for these stocks. Nevertheless, goods still need to be moved, international trade continues and I remain bullish on maritime shipping as the cheapest way of getting large amounts of product from here to there.

Wind power company shares are mostly flat. Even with increased demand, especially overseas, this is not likely to change anytime soon. Wind is just not glamorous enough for most investors and does not have as much perceived potential for use on individual homes or commercial buildings.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Office equipment review-the Epson Workforce 635

As an investor in both real estate and the stock market, office machines are part of my life. I regularly need to FAX documents to a bank or customer. I need to be able to receive a FAX. Being able to make copies without going through the computer can save a lot of time. And scanning documents to a hard drive file so that the paper original can be filed(hopefully permanently) saves a lot of desk and file clutter in the office.

This blog came to the attention of Walt & Co.(Epson marketing and promotions) last month and I was offered an Epson Workforce 635 for evaluation. I was clear with the contact person that I have used nothing but Hewlett Packard printers and all-in-ones for more than ten years. A week later the new Epson arrived at my door.

I was quite impressed by the easy set-up on a PC running Windows7. From opening the box to the first test print took less than 30 minutes with no glitches. I used a USB connection because there was already a cable in place. Other connection options for this printer are wired or wireless network.

The Workforce 635 has many features that save time and make business life easier. It will automatically copy and scan double-sided documents. Borderless printing is available. Text is very crisp and sharp and graphics/photos have accurate colors and fine detail without edge artifacts or banding in large, evenly colored areas. Text-only printing is very fast and graphics take only slightly longer.

This machine is obviously designed for heavy daily use. It is solid and very quiet when operating. The automatic document feeder will take up to 30 originals and the paper tray is designed for more than 200 sheets. It takes individual large-capacity ink cartridges for black, yellow, cyan and magenta that are very easy to change. The included software has a great driver interface for printing from a computer and the control panel on the printer makes access to any commands easy. Good optical recognition software is also included for converting scanned documents into editable text documents.  Prints can be made directly from all common types of digital camera flash memory cards.

I have used the Workforce 635 for three weeks and am pleased with all aspects of its performance. It has produced high-quality bordered and borderless letter-sized photographs on both glossy and matte photo stock. Post-card sized mail pieces on plain 110# card stock were no problem. Tri-fold brochures on heavy presentation paper and many house flyers and documents on my standard 24#, 30%-recycled bright white paper were quickly printed. After nearly 350 total pages there has not been a single mis-feed or paper-jam and I am still on the first set of ink cartridges. That is pretty impressive performance for any printer. Scanning and Fax operation have also been flawless.

I would not hesitate to recommend the Epson Workforce 635 to anyone looking for an office machine capable of handling scanning, copying, FAX and printing on a daily basis. It has a smaller footprint than some competitors and produces less than average vibration/wobble during printing. Just as important in a busy office is the low noise level during all operations. Pricing should be approximately $250 and this machine should stand up to many years of heavy-duty use.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My new commitment to writing

I have been writing an on-line real estate and real estate investing column with a focus on the Saint Petersburg area for for nine months. I started The Zen Estate blog to share my interests in both real estate and “green” stock market investing. A more recent addition is the Florida Image Tools blog concentrating on photography tips and personal experiences relating to Florida. I also contribute occasional personal opinion articles to and “green” articles to Greenwalacom.

The writing has been a thoroughly enjoyed pleasure, but inspiration and time have sometimes been lacking. This has led to short contribution gaps at both Examiner and The Zen Estate. I have worked hard on my schedule the past few months and arrived at a better place that seems to be working for me. My original goal was to post three to four articles and/or photos per week at each destination. I have now consistently achieved that goal for three months.

This morning I am rededicating myself to a new writing goal. Having seen a direct relationship between the frequency of new posts and number of readers, particularly at, I am now committing myself to a minimum of six new articles at each outlet every week. I am looking forward to this new challenge and will no longer accept time constraints or lack of topics as excuses.

I have recently expanded my stock market “green company” portfolio and am about to greatly expand that again next week. While taking considerably more time to manage the larger stock portfolio, I am also anticipating a wealth of new article material for this blog as things progress. I am setting aside at least one hour each early morning for quality time with my cameras and will continue to use that material for Florida Image Tools articles.

Please give me relevant feedback on blog post and articles so that I can continue improving the content. I welcome any ideas for new topics of interest. I am currently completing an in-depth on-line course covering options trading techniques, at which I am a complete neophyte. The first book review went live on Florida Image Tools this morning and I anticipate many more book reviews on a range of topics. What do you want to hear about? What do you think about what you have seen so far?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Green investing now

Solar power, wind power, wave power and advanced battery technology for electric vehicles are all the future of green investing. All of these industries are dependent on rare earth elements.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of consolidation going on in the green investing market. Solar, wind, batteries and rare earths/lithium have all stalled or pulled back. It seems the companies enjoying the fastest share price growth since July have been the hardest hit in the second half of October. This is all expected to be temporary as demand for all products continues to grow, though parts of the wind power industry seem to be faltering.

I do not follow wind as avidly as most green sectors because share performance has been lackluster for years. A-Power Energy Systems(APWR) shares are at early May levels and have not varied more than +/-$1 per share since that time. Vestas Wind Systems(VWDRY), once the darling of green energy companies, has been on a long, multi-year decline and recently hit a new 52-week low with no recovery in sight. China Wind Systems(CWS) has been essentially flat since late January and also shows no signs of imminent improvement. There are plenty of new wind farms being built and on order but that activity is not transferring to share price.

The solar power sector has been a great performer since early June, with a few companies outpacing the pack. JA Solar(JASO), Trina solar(TSL), Renesola(SOL), SolarFun Power Holdings(SOLF) and GT Solar(SOLR) have all set new 52-week highs in the past month. Most of the rest of the sector have seen increasing share prices since mid-summer. The past two weeks saw a significant pull-back that I do not expect to last past the upcoming election next week.

Rare earth element and lithium producers have been steady performers. Trading volume and volatility have increased in lockstep with anxiety over China’s rare earth exporting policy. My favorite companies in this sector are Great Western Minerals Group(GWMGF), Avalon Rare Metals(AVARF), Hudson Resources(HUDRF) and Western Lithium USA(WLCDF). All have been slowly but surely increasing share price except WLCDF, which has been more erratic. These are all very solid and well established companies with a guaranteed and growing market for their product. I remain strongly bullish across the board.

Battery technology is rapidly improving and battery demand is growing even more rapidly. More and more of our “can’t live without” gadgets require batteries and electric vehicles will be taking a prominent place within the transportation industry during the next decade. My top picks in this sector are Advanced Battery Technologies(ABAT), Valence Technology(VNLC), A123 Systems(AONE), Power One(PWER), Ener1(HEV) and Hong King Highpower Technology(HPJ). These companies are all carving out their own piece of the battery market pie and will all be major players for years to come. Expect share prices to follow the integration of electric vehicles. Batteries will also play a large role in the integration of large-scale solar and wind installation with the commercial electric grid.

While most green stocks seem stalled right now, and solar shares have really tumbled, I am not discouraged. These are relatively young growth industries and there are plenty of growing pains left on the way to maturity. Growth is the key word. There is huge world-wide demand for the products produced by all of the companies named above and that demand is going to increase, not go away.

Time is on the side of green. As petroleum prices increase, alternatives will become increasingly cheaper. As infrastructure is upgraded to accommodate the new green technologies, their rate of adoption and integration will increase proportionally. Anyone who still thinks that solar and wind power and electric vehicles are passing fads is just not willing to face reality. It will take time to fully phase out petroleum and coal from transportation and power production but the writing is clearly on the wall and investors getting on the boat early will get the best seats and the most benefits.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lighting news for investors

The lighting business is changing rapidly and that is creating opportunities for investors. Traditional companies are adapting rapidly or being left behind and new-tech companies are proving their worth or having short lives. Innovation is rampant and there is no clear technology or industry leader yet.

+Incandescent light bulbs are 130 years old, waste 90% of the energy used as heat rather than light and are on the way out in the U.S. The last plant making the bulbs in North America is closed. Companies in the lighting business are very much on-board with the change and ready to move forward.

+Rep. Joe Barton of Texas has introduced a bill to repeal President Bush’s energy efficiency standards but it is getting no traction. Others will try to get around the new reality in different ways-one German businessman is trying to sell incandescent bulbs as “heat balls”. Expect more creative sales techniques as the phase-out deadlines get closer.

+There is no single leader in the battle to replace the incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescents(CFL’s) are an established technology with a low price-point but contain mercury and other toxic components. LED’s are growing in popularity but are still quite expensive even though their long working life makes them cheap over the long-term. High intensity discharge(HID) metal halide bulbs have some advantage of their own for certain application. Combinations of the above are beginning to appear(halogen-CFL by General Electric). Organic light emitting diode(OLED) technology is just beginning to enter the lighting field and should have advantages in some areas.

+Research and innovation will continue. General Electric now has an LED bulb that uses jet engine technology to cool the LED’s instead of aluminum heat sinks. New technologies and new applications of existing technologies will allow new lighting products to come to market. There might never be just one “standard” type of light such as the incandescent bulb was for so many years. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Adapting firms that will retain a strong presence in the lighting industry are General Electric(GE) and Philips(PHG). The strongest player so far in the LED lighting field is Cree Inc.(CREE). Others in the industry are all jostling for position. A very large and unanswered part of the equation is consumer sentiment and how the public will spend its dollar/voting power. There will be more than a few winners and early investors, as always, will reap the greatest rewards.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rare earth elements are good investments now

Rare earth elements and lithium, usually pretty far under most investors’ radar, are making headlines lately. Because of China’s huge and growing domestic electronics and solar industries, they have needed to cut exports the keep Chinese businesses supplied. As China currently supplies more than 95% of the world’s rare earth elements, the diminishing exports are a cause for serious concern. The rest of the world is scrambling to find alternative supplies of these very important additives. Electric vehicles and the ever growing list of other battery-dependent products is driving the value of lithium.

Add to China’s reduced export quotas a growing tension about trade in general over allegations of currency manipulation and the stage is set for a lot of anxiety. That anxiety may be warranted is borne out by China’s total cut-off of exports to Japan for several weeks. There have also been rumors, denied by China, that the U.S. could be similarly cut off from rare earth supplies if they force the currency issue.

All of these recent happenings have been very good for the share prices of North America’s rare earth and lithium exploration, mining and production companies. Since rumblings of export reductions first emerged from China in the early summer, many of these U.S. and Canadian companies have watched their market values steadily climb. That climb should continue and possibly increase during the coming years as China further reduces exports and supplies of rare earth elements become even scarcer in the west.

There are many very small exploration companies, fewer mining companies and fewer still refiners for rare earth elements. Most I think of as background clutter because they are not traded on any major U.S. exchanges or as Pink Sheets. I track only a handful that are easily tradable in the U.S. with on-line software but always keep my eyes and ears open for new possibilities.

My personal favorite is Great Western Minerals Group(GWMGF). This is a very well positioned company that will probably end up being the only company outside of China to mine, grind and refine rare earths-real one stop shopping. Great Western shares have gone from $0.13 in mid-May to a new 52-week high of $0.47 this week. I expect this company to be a real player as China continues to choke off the world-wide rare earths supply.

The real rock star of the rare earth companies is Avalon Rare Metals. Shares of Avalon have risen from $1.09 in April to a new 52-week high of $4.87 this week. This is a solid, well managed company with a great track record and an established position. Its shares price should have many more new highs in the coming years.

Rare Element Resources has really seen its share price explode. REE has gone from $2.79 in August to an all-time new high of $13.71 this week. This is incredible considering what a struggle so much of the wider economy is going through.

Other companies on my personal radar are First Liberty Power(FLPC), Western Lithium USA Corp(WLCDF), American Lithium Minerals(AMLM) and Taseko Mines Ltd(TGB). Any of the much smaller and more difficult to trade exploration and mining companies could also hit a big strike at any time. Don’t be surprised if some of these rare earth and lithium specialists become buy-out target for the large multi-national mining companies looking to cash in on the coming rare earth shortage. I am watching this sector very closely.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Manipulated markets can cause ruin

Today we have another guest post by Ron Robins, founder and analyst of Investing for the Soul. Ron’s post warns of some of the dangers of governments trying to manipulate currency markets. This subject is the current cause of much tension between the U.S. and China and is also driving uncertainty on Wall Street and the precious metals markets.

Market manipulations eventually led to Soviet economic collapse. Though not as overt as the Soviets, it is the manipulation of currencies and interest rates by major economic powers that has mostly led to massive misalignments is investment and consumption that pose extraordinary dangers to global economic health.

Ask anyone if they believe that the Chinese currency, the renminbi, is manipulated. Almost everyone agrees that it is. Are US interest rates manipulated? Again, everyone knows they are. (Not too long ago it was only the short term rates that were controlled. Now the US Federal Reserve [the Fed] is buying longer dated US treasury bonds to bring their rates down too.) Countries all over the world are manipulating their currencies lower to gain export advantages and maintaining near zero interest rates to spur domestic demand and cheap government borrowing.

It is basic economics that where markets are manipulated, supply and demand are distorted. And one distortion creates the need for a further distortion, and so on. The longer the distortions continue the greater the possibility of total market failure. We are near that point today with currencies and interest rates.

The Chinese have scored a major mercantile advantage by pegging their currency, the renminbi, at a relatively set and undervalued rate to the U.S. dollar. Not only have US exports suffered, but the exports of many other countries have suffered as well. Under US law, the Chinese should probably have been labeled a “currency manipulator.” However, by bowing to Chinese demands that they not be labeled a currency manipulator, President Obama’s administration is losing credibility everywhere.

So, Americans are waking up to find that not only does China dictate U.S. foreign exchange policy, but China indirectly influences its domestic economic agenda as well. Everything from employment policies (export expansion) to government funding needs (requiring Chinese funding) are all partly defined by the present exchange rate policies.

Increasingly, Americans realize that on the foreign exchange front they have been “checkmated”-as in the game of chess-by China. Should difficult economic times continue, or worsen, increasing American anger is likely at this arrangement. It could pass the breaking point and encourage America to act unilaterally against China. Currency turmoil might then embrace the globe.

However, one never discussed but possible reason why the US government has been afraid to label China (and Japan previously) as currency manipulators may be because the US itself may be acting covertly to manage the dollar exchange rate.

According to the US government’s own legislation, it can act secretly in currency exchange markets to affect the dollar’s exchange rate using the Treasury’s Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF). The US Treasury say that the ESF, “with the approval of the President, may deal in gold, foreign exchange, and other instruments of credit and securities.” The ESF was established by the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 and then amended in the late 1970’s.

Also, the Fed engages in opaque currency “swaps” with other nations, and there is significant evidence of U.S. Treasury and Fed engagement in gold price suppression. Gold is the “anti-dollar” and barometer of confidence in the dollar. (See my August 24 column, “The Ethics of Gold,” at and

Another manipulation of the Fed is its control of short term rates-and now possibly long term ones as well-to smooth out the booms and busts of the economy. However, we see the falsity of this argument. After almost two years at a near zero per cent  federal funds rate the US economic quagmire continues-or worsens.

Induced low rates over the past ten years or so created a massive real estate boom and bust, discouraged savings, led to inordinate financial risk taking and moral hazard, unsustainable consumer debt, and now excessive, possibly uncontrollable government deficits and debt.

In their seminal work, “Growth in a Time of Debt,” published January 2010, Professors Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff found that when government debt/GDP ratios exceed 90 per cent, economic growth rates fall considerably. According to the BIS, U.S. government debt/GDP will be 92 per cent by the end of 2010 and 100 per cent in 2011.

Furthermore, on September 1, the International Monetary Fund said, “general government debt in the G-20 advanced economies surged from 78 per cent of GDP in 2007 to 97 per cent of GDP in 2009 and is projected to rise to 115 per cent of GDP in 2015.”

Unfortunately, the present and future private deleveraging of debt in the U.S. and some other developed countries means potentially continued high-or higher-government deficits as economic growth is retarded or declines further. The Fed has said that to counter any renewed softness in US economic activity it will significantly expand its purchase of US government bonds and possibly other assets. This has the potential for fueling a huge expansion of the money supply and creating high or even hyperinflation.

The U.S. and some other countries are following a path whereby every manipulation begets further manipulation, and which then begets even further manipulation. With China, perhaps Japan again soon, and other countries controlling their currency values, the U.S. may be forced overtly or covertly to counter their currency manipulations. And with continuing economic difficulties, with interest rate policy having created a debt nightmare and becoming increasingly ineffective, the Fed may institute money proliferation policies that have the possibility of leading to high or ever hyperinflation.

If a vicious circle of manipulations by US authorities and other countries occurs, given time, it might rival some aspects of the soviet command economy-and with a possibly similar tragic outcome. Hopefully, Americans and others wake up before it is too late and realize that manipulated markets can eventually cause ruin.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is MERS nothing but a scam?

MERS stands for Mortgage Electronic Registry System. This system was set up by banks and other financial institutions specifically to save themselves time and fees when selling mortgages to each other. It was intended from the very beginning to make an end-run around the requirement in every local jurisdiction in the country to transfer and record the original mortgage loan paperwork with each and every transaction. The headline on their web site home page says “Process loans, not paperwork.” They seem proud of being “created by the real estate finance industry.” MERS “eliminates the need to prepare and record assignments when trading residential and commercial mortgage loans.”

The problem is all those local and state laws still on the books everywhere across the entire country that do require the preparation and recording of assignments when trading any mortgage loans. It seems like everyone just decided to look the other way while the financial companies made things much easier and cheaper for themselves. To make things even worse, by no longer properly recording the mortgage loan assignments state and county registrars are shielded from knowing who the true owner is. Mortgage loans transferred through MERS list MERS as the mortgagee even though they don’t hold title to the land.

Which brings up another problem with MERS. Many of MERS member companies have MERS carry out foreclosures in MERS’s name. This despite the fact that MERS does not own legal title to the mortgages. MERS therefore lacks legal standing to foreclose. Foreclosure courts have a very difficult time disputing this because the mortgage loan assignments are not recorded so the actual owner cannot be found.

All of the above is further complicated by the fact that MERS has no employees. This means all actions taken by the company are out-sourced to third parties. The third parties are usually document processing companies such as LPS or DOCX or large attorneys’ offices specializing in document processing. Yes, the same ones under so much scrutiny in Florida and around the country for questionable signature, verification practices and notary stamps.

Given the way the real estate crisis has played out during the past few years, it is hard not to wonder if MERS wasn’t a planned scam from the first. If the financial companies wanted to be able to sell and trade and securitize mortgages as quickly as possible without scrutiny, what better way than to remove those sales and trades from public view. The true legal owners of any given mortgage loan could no longer be tracked down through any public records. No government regulators could track how or when or how often mortgage loans were assigned. It was as if a huge segment of the mortgage industry got sucked into a black hole never to be seen again. Until people started to default on those “hidden”, “off-the-books” mortgages, of course.