Sunday, January 27, 2008

About using gold or other forms of foreign currency after the crisis (old post)

You’re the smartest son of a gun around, you bought some gold , silver, Euros or other form of currency which is not crumbing so as to keep your eggs in different baskets, as they say.

So one day you wake up, people are going nuts for whatever reason and they are cautiously trying to close their bank accounts..
Within hours they are not that cautious anymore “Give me my damn money!… or else” Of course there no liquidity to compensate for such a demand.
Banks close, ATMs run dry, no one accepts plastic or checks, good time to lay low, stay at home watching the news, eating popcorn and watch that movie with your wife again.

Careful! If she wants to see “Sleepless in Seattle” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan yet again… KEEP YOUR GUNS LOOCKED AND AMMO FAR AWAY… you MAY try to blow your brains out 5 minutes into the movie.

“Runaway Bride “ can cause brain damage too. You’ve been warned.

Sooner or later banks re open again, but they have a new set of rules you may not like that much, like not returning your property, your hard earned money.
Yup, some people don’t dig that, and they tend to get really pissed.
The good part is that banks immediately stop advertising on TV, you know all that BS about X Bank being there for you, helping your company grow , part of the community BS. It took nearly a year for banks to start advertising again, and until last year you could STILL see on some banks downtown clients banging the front of the bank buildings with hammers.

Ok, back to topic.
You’ll soon find out that it’s very hard to pull through with a 50 or 100 buck cash withdraw limit, and it may take days or weeks before even that is allowed.

But you have your savings, right?

What happened hear was that soon enough “street brokers”, money dealers, started popping up on boulevards and populated down town areas. You just walk by, see a guy doing nothing but whispering “change , change”, that’s your man.

It’s not really safe to make an exchange right on the street. It worked that way for years, but today most money dealers have a “front”.
The guy I deal with most of the time has a drug store. You walk in and you only see pens, candy, office supplies, watches and a few pocket knives, but the guy’s “real” business is buying and selling pesos, dollars and Euros. I don’t buy other currencies, but I’m sure he has Brazilian money to, and there are other guys that will take PM. Thousands and thousands of dollars go through this guy’s hands.
Those that have pawn or antique shops may specialize on dealing with PM, diamonds and expensive jewelry. But your average dealer works with paper money , gold and other PM in some occasions.

Why not go to the bank or exchange houses? Well, for many months or even years, there was a limit to how much money you could change (100 USD, if I remember correctly), and even then you had to leave all your personal information, and the exchange rate was better in the black market anyway, so that’s why most people still prefer the black market.

You wont be buying what you need with gold Pandas or 100 Euro bills, many folks will readily accept it , but you wont be getting much of a fair exchange rate, so that’s why you’ll usually prefer a money dealer.

Here’s some tips on how I generally handle things. Please guys, I’m just a regular guy that’s simply been doing this for a while now , but don’t expect any ninja BS touch of death or 007 secret password. Just some experience and common sense, take it or leave it, and come to your own conclusions and share if you come up with more advice. It’s worked ok for me so far.

1) Move around small amounts of currency if possible.

You may get a few points more if you exchange larger quantities of money ( it is a temptation sometimes), but you are also risking it much more. I’d rather loose 4 or 5 bucks and only change 100 Euros or 200 Euros or USD at a time. Same would go for gold and other PM. Don’t be stupid and show up with a pocket full of gold coins or jewelry. Anyone can notice, even the money dealer might be tempted into kidnapping you if he thinks you are loaded.

2) Try different dealers.
At least at first, deal with different kind of folks until you find one you like more, then deal with that guy more often, always checking you are getting a fair exchange rate.
If you have a friend or relative that can advice you on fair dealers, even better.
Once a few months went by and you feel you can trust that guy, deal with him the most.
This isn’t exactly a walk in the park, most of these guys are right there on the limit of law, expect to run into some less than pleasant people. Just make sure you don’t go into buildings far from public areas or out of sight from the sidewalk, always try to stay as public and as close from exits as possible.
I’ve dealt with over a dozen of guys like these, they are not all saints. I had a couple of risky encounters, do not do this kind of business while going along with family members ( wife, kids).
An “able-bodied” buddy.. shall we call him… would be a good idea.

3) Spend the collapsed currency fast!
The trick is not having the collapsed currency with you for long. It should burn your hands. Use it up right after you exchange it.
Example. If the USD crashes and you decide to sell some PM to buy a month’s worth of supplies, do it quickly, sell the PM or Euros or whatever other solid currency you have and use the dollars that same day or the following day at most.
You do this because the collapsed buck is like a sand castle, it can fall apart within hours.
Say you sold your Euros at a 1 Euro :3 USD rate, and the following morning Oprah said that she had a dream about a 1:6 rate and all of a sudden people loose even more trust in the currency and it falls to 1 Euro: 4 USD. Any silly or not so silly thing sinks the fallen currency even deeper.
Other than a few 100 bills for emergency use, don’t risk keeping large amounts of collapsed currency. It’ll rot faster than bananas.

4)Keep your BIG mouth SHUT!
Don’t tell ANYONE about your savings. While you are better off, there’s people out there that cant put food on the table, and its not some skinny kid in Africa, its your neighbor or the guy that works next to you. Desperate times call for desperate measures and some people will do anything. We often hear about people getting tortured during home invasions just to make sure he give up any booty they may have hidden.

5)Be careful and stay alert while doing business.
Leave the car in different parking lots, always take different routes while walking back to the car and driving back home, if possible walk into malls where you may loose people following you or drive through other places, anything you can do to blur any fixed route or schedule a person may notice.
Try not to use any clothes that can distinguish you from the rest or attract attention, apply the “gray man” approach more than ever.
I try not to have any bags or any other object in hand when doing this, so as to have both hands available in case someone wants to mug/kidnap me. Just an old pair of Nikes , worn jeans and T shirt, the car key, pocket knife and the money I’ll be changing.
When you have no other option but to sell larger quantities of currency, you may want to use concealed body armor and carry a concealed weapon.

6)Be fast.

Use a calculator to make sure you’re getting paid properly, walk in, say hi, make the transaction quickly, give a handshake and be done with it, try not to stay in there too long.
The more you stay, the greater the chances of someone spotting you or organizing something against you.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, FerFal. Your firsthand knowledge could very well come in very handy in the not so distant future.

I like to worry about everything beforehand, so that when it does hit the fan, I don't have to worry, because I've already done all of my worrying.

I guess I'll go worry some more. Keep up the good work!

Ryan said...

Good post. I think I would pack for all of these trips (i threw the .45 on to go to the convenience store). What are the laws about packing a weapon in Argentina?

Anonymous said...

You talk about having a home in another country. I live near Seattle, WA USA (a fairly safe area). I could ever afford to have a second home in Europe. And, I'm not even sure how I would go about setting up a bank account in Euros in a place like Germany or France. You talk about things of which I'm too provincial to understand, but I trust your instincts, even though I don't know you. I can only guess that your name is Fernando or Ferdinand or such. I love everything you say and I would be on the streets of Seattle selling copies of your book for you, should you ever publish one.

Anonymous said...

FerFal, thanks for all your info. I left a post for you on a different part of your "Surviving in Argentina" blog, so look for that. I wish I had known you when I went to BsAs 2 years ago. I would have done just about anything to sit down with you and your family and hear your stories. My husband and I would have taken you all out to dinner, or would have brought your child some presents. Happy Easter and I hope your country again becomes the beautiful land it was before 1:1. Hugs, Christina

Anonymous said...

Hi FerFal. Just wanted to thank you for everything you've written here and elsewhere. Very interesting and useful.

Hope you and your family are, and continue to be, safe and happy!

Best wishes from Canada,


Kir Janja said...

Oh, Dear... This sounds so familiar. Been there, done that. Different time, different place, same thing.
Greetings from Serbia.

Kir Janja