There is a kind of madness in the air, and not the harmless sort that inhabits the annual college basketball fest. Europe is closer to dissolution than tighter union. The United States has consigned itself to a self-imposed paralysis that originates in the nation's politics and terminates in its economics. In Asia, nation states have declared war -- over currency values -- an economic war that threatens to become a hot war and drag the United States into it. The Middle East, given last year's street riots, dreads the coming of a new Arab spring and what it might bring. The universal response from Berlin to Tokyo is to run deficits and print more paper money to cover them. Investors, inclined to believe none of this would resolve itself soon, responded by taking matters into their own hands. The U.S. Mint, a bell whether for international demand, reported record sales of American Silver Eagles in January, and the strongest month in two and a half years for the American Eagle gold bullion coins. The Mint reported continued strong demand for its bullion products in February -- up a robust 283% from February of last year.
Please note (below) the eye-catching spike in the monetary base since the end of 2012 -- a nearly 8% gain. We will be monitoring the data to see if this is a short-term move or something more permanent like the vertical trajectories of 2009 and 2011. Gold, as the chart illustrates, closely tracks but lags the monetary base. If nothing else, the extensive and on-going creation of money (whether or not it translates to double-digit price inflation) suggests that the Federal Reserve remains in crisis mode and that there might be volcanic risks in the banking and credit system rumbling just below the surface. Maybe the Fed knows something the rest of us do not -- something much more dangerous than the stubborn 8% unemployment rate. Economist Noriel Roubini (quoted above), who predicted the meltdown in 2008, warns of something worse in 2013.
Thus far all of the money created seems to have vanished into some unfathomable black hole. Disinflation/stagflation have persisted despite Ben Bernanke's yeoman effort to instigate the opposite. The cause and effect relationship between gold and the monetary base persists nevertheless, a direct result of gold being perceived as the ultimate store of value for all seasons. In other words, gold and the Federal Reserve are both reacting to the same stimuli, i.e., the presence of systemic risk. Gold's bull market has been fueled at its core by global physical demand from those who see coins and bullion as a refuge from those risks. It has proven to be just about the best disinflation/stagflation hedge available -- thus proving a utility that goes beyond its long-standing reputation as simply an inflation hedge. Should a virulent inflation suddenly appear, and that remains a possibility, gold likely will still follow the monetary base but for more established reasons.
Gold, in my view, has not reacted as yet to the roughly 35% expansion of the monetary base in late 2010-early 2011. Keeping the lag in mind, that reaction seems overdue. If gold were to react as it did to the 2009 surge in the monetary base, much higher prices could be in the offing over the next few years. Just as the credit crisis of 2008-2009 pre-dated gold's push to new all-time highs, a similar event, like the one Roubini forecasts for 2013, could serve as the launch pad for next leg in the bull market.
*** MarketWatch’ Mark Hulbert reports that “corporate insiders -- officers, directors and the largest shareholders” -- are aggressively selling shares at an “alarming pace." Such selling, he says, is usually a sign that market is about to sell-off. Notably, insider selling was a precursor to the 2000 point sell-off in 2011.
*** Of course the Wall Street mantra through all of this is that “we are not in a bubble.” Repeat after me: “We are not in a bubble.” The central banks have created layer upon layer of funny money now coursing through the economy. What doesn’t end up in the black hole of covered systemic risk ends up in one market or another. At the moment, the bubble is being blown full in the U.S. stock market, but with little of real value at these prices, one wonders how long it can last. A few warnings here and there have surfaced. Most of the action is in playing the indices rather than individual stocks or mutual funds. We have been told that this is a professionals’ market (read speculators’ market), i.e. the public isn’t participating. We all know what happens to markets like these and some of the old pros are calmly and quietly waiting for the hammer to fall.
*** It will be interesting to see how the upcoming introduction of gold ETFs affects demand in China. Traditionally, Chinese investors, like their American counterparts, prefer the physical metal to paper representations. However, institutions and investment funds tend to gravitate to the paper product. At present ETFs globally hold 2600 tonnes -- the fourth largest hoard in the world. The European Union owns the largest hoard at 10,800 tonnes. The United States is second at 8100 tonnes.
*** PIMCO’s Bill Gross recently told Barron’s magazine that gold is his top investment pick. "The Fed,” he says, “is buying 80% of the Treasury market today. It is remarkable to think that when the Treasury issues debt in the trillion-dollar-plus category, the Fed ends up buying most of it. The Treasury sells it to banks and primary dealers, who sell it back to the Fed at a higher bid."
*** The silicon had hardly gotten warm on last month’s newsletter (featuring currency debasement) when Venezuela announced a 32% formal devaluation of the bolivar against the dollar. The Venezuelan citizen who went peacefully to sleep with 1,000,000 bolivars in his or her bank account on Thursday, February 7t, awakened on Friday, February 8th, only to find that 680,000 bolivars in purchasing power had vanished by government fiat. The same individual who would have had the foresight to put away 1,000,000 in bolivars before the devaluation would have increased increased his or her nominal purchasing power by 47% to 1,470,000 bolivars. Of course, in real terms, the holder simply held on to his or her purchasing power. As the early 20th century economist Andrew Dickson White so succinctly put it with reference to the fiat money disaster in France just after the revolution: “There is a lesson in all this which it behooves every thinking man to ponder.”
*** Ernest Hemingway: "The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.” Here is another quote from Hemingway: “I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Inflation, in the end, is a process rather than a singular event. In the inflation and war quote, he leaves seven-eighths of the matter underwater. In his imitable way, though, he drops the words “permanent ruin” like a rock on the reader’s consciousness.
*** Even as Ben Bernanke does everything in his power to debase the purchasing power of the dollar, Jack Lew, the incoming Secretary of the Treasury, goes on record as saying: "Treasury has had a long-standing provision through administrations of both parties that a strong dollar is in the best interests of promoting U.S. growth, productivity and competitiveness." Yada, yada, yada.
*** Income for Americans dropped 3.6% in December, the largest drop since 1993 according to the Commerce Department.
*** Bespoke Investment Group charts the change in gold under the last four Fed chairmen. Gold rose 47.5% under G. William Miller; 65% under Paul Volcker; 14.5% under Alan Greenspan and 182.9% under Ben Bernanke. "This," says Bespoke, "is more than double the return of gold under any of his three predecessors, and nearly as much as the total change in gold during the combined tenure of the last three Fed Chairs (201%)!"
*** The New York Times reported recently that Richard W. Fisher, the head of the Dallas Fed, owns $1 million in gold. When you consider that Fisher is worth $21 million, his gold holdings add up to a judicious hedge, and, as the article points out, "not an extreme bet on economic catastrophe."
*** "China's foreign currency reserves," reports Bloomberg, "which have surged more than 700 percent since 2004, are enough to buy every central bank's official gold supply -- twice" If that's not a convincing argument for a radical adjustment in the price of gold, I don't know what is.
*** It is interesting to note that during the most recent fiscal year (September) for the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA), the central banks sold a grand total of 4 tonnes of gold out of a 400 tonne allotment. In the real world of gold mobilizations, central banks bought 534.6 tonnes of gold – the highest level of purchases in half a century. Central banks buy gold for the same reasons individuals do – as a hedge against currency devaluation.
*** Some analysts pinned the blame for gold’s drop on the release of minutes for the January meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. From the outside, it appears to have been a rather chaotic meeting. One imagines people standing on chairs in order to be heard. It seems that some members believe that the Fed should at least be thinking about taking its foot off the accelerator, if not outright stomping on the brake. This came as a surprise to the markets and gold was included in the fallout. First of all, I don’t know if anyone was counting votes, but if they were, I would like to know how all this might fall out if a vote were taken. Getting on the record as being a cautious fellow is quite a different thing than being responsible for a policy that might send the economy into a tailspin. Second, this is still Ben Bernanke’s Fed and we shouldn’t forget it -- a point he made very clear in subsequent Congressional testimony.
*** All of this brings me to my final note on the recent downturn in the gold price – a recommendation to read this well-conceived opinion piece by one of my favorite journalists, the London Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. It is titled “Gold’s Death Cross is a buy signal for China.” Says Pritchard, "Yes, the Chinese like the dollar again, but they already have a lot of dollars. They don't have much gold compared to their peers. So hold your nerve. The reality is that we have been moving for several years to an informal Gold Standard in which gold takes its place once again as a central store of value -- a currency of sorts -- in the mix of reserves."
*** Anytime gold corrects, there’s a bit of piling on and over-dramatization in the financial press. Much of the news centered around George’s Soros’ selling. The reports I read had him selling about 2 tonnes of gold – a figure representing roughly half of his $15 million in holdings. If so, Soros is minor player accorded way more status in the gold market than he deserves. John Paulson by way of comparison owns roughly $3.5 billion in ETF gold according to reports. There have been persistent rumors that Paulson is switching to physical ownership in the form of delivered bullion, although those rumors have not been confirmed.
Quote of the Month
"Mr. Bernanke is going to punish and relegate investors who are sitting in cash to negative real returns, not just for another five months or five quarters, but five more years, and therefore cash is arguably the least safe asset class to be in today."
-- David Rosenberg, Chief Economist, Gluskin, Scheff & Associates
The Investment Case for Gold, Part 2
USAGOLD's association with John Hathaway goes back to the early days of the Internet when we published a string of seminal essays that transformed people's thinking about gold and influenced a generation of gold advocates and investors. His contemporary work is no less influential. In this essay, "The Investment Case for Gold, Part 2″ (Part 1 was published in 2002), Hathaway offers what he terms "a compendium of my beliefs, observations, inferences, opinions and perceptions that lead me to conclude that the price of gold is headed substantially higher in terms of all paper currencies." As for the psychological state of the current gold market, he says, "Any price that attempts to go parabolic, as gold did in August of 2011, is bound to suffer from a hangover (as noted several times by John Mendelson of ISI) and we believe gold's hangover is in its final stages. All sentiment measures that we monitor are at rock bottom levels. The demoralization of gold investors is a sign, however painful and understandable, that further downside risk is minimal." It has been a long wait for Part 2 of "The Investment Case for Gold," but it could not have come at a better time.
by John Hathaway
Portfolio Manager and Senior Managing Director, Tocqueville Asset Management, L.P.
Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality
Every once in awhile an analysis is published that gets to the heart of an important matter. This essay -- or better put, deep background -- on the economic problem in Europe is such an analysis. When politics trumps economics, uncertainty rises and financial chaos becomes a potential result. Thus Dr. Friedman's essay starts with the peculiar decision of one Mr. Louis M. Bacon of Moore Capital Management -- peculiar not so much for its result, but for what prompted it. When we read of the recent decision of other prominent hedge fund managers, like George Soros and John Paulson, to greatly increase their gold holdings, it behooves us to understand what might be the underlying logic. This essay is a step in that direction, and thus an important addition to our Gilded Opinion Library.
by George Friedman, Stratfor
Readers' note: Both the Hathaway and Friedman articles are posted at USAGOLD's Gilded Opinion Library. The purpose of the web page is to house articles and essays of enduring value and importance to gold owners. It is well-worth your visit.
What's on the bargain table?
"OK Russell, then what are we to do in the face of today's over-valued stock and bond markets? I wrote all about this in my piece that you can read on the main page of my site. The article is titled, 'Rich man, poor man.' In essence this article advises that we employ one essential — patience. There is seldom a time when at least one asset class is not on the bargain table. Really, then Russell, what do you see that you consider on the bargain table now?
My answer is the precious metals, namely silver and gold are both on the bargain table. My thinking is that ten years from now we'll be knocking our knuckles against our heads and complaining, 'Back in 2013 what was I thinking? Gold was selling at 1,600 dollars an ounce and silver was selling at 30 dollars an ounce. What was I thinking? I should have — '"
by Richard Russell
Dow Theory Letters (highly recommended)
Food for thought
Every once in awhile I like to slip something into this report for the thinking man or woman. The two quotes that follow fit that description. The late historian Arthur Schlesinger reminds us that we are all carried by the march of history, while mathematician Benoit Mandelbrat reminds of how little we really understand about how the all-important financial system functions. The two quotes fit together nicely. Every gold owner who purchases the metal for safe haven purposes does so with a certain sense of humility and with it a bit of acquired wisdom.
"A true cycle is self-generating. It cannot be determined, short of catastrophe, by external events. Wars, depressions, inflations may heighten or complicate moods, but the cycle itself rolls on, self-contained, self-sufficient and autonomous . .The roots of cyclical self sufficiency lies deep in the natural life of humanity. There is a cyclical pattern in organic nature -- in the tides, in the seasons, in night and day, in the systole and diastole of the human heart." -- Arthur Schlesinger, Historian
"It is beyond belief that we know so little about how people get rich or poor, about how it is they come to dwell in comfort and health or die in penury and disease. Financial markets are the machines in which much of human welfare is decided; yet we know more about how our car engines work than about how our global financial system functions. We lurch from crisis to crisis; so little is our knowledge that we resort not to science but to shamans." - Benoit Mandelbrat, Mathematician
Goldfinger's famous description of gold
"The population of the world is increasing at the rate of five thousand four hundred every hour. A small percentage of these people will become gold hoarders, people who are frightened of currencies, who like to bury some sovereigns in the garden or under the bed. Another percentage needs gold fillings for their teeth. Others need gold-rimmed spectacles, jewelry, engagement rings. All these new people will be taking tons of gold off the market every year. New industries need gold wire, gold plating, amalgams of gold. Gold has extraordinary properties which are being put to new uses every day. It is brilliant, malleable, ductile, almost unalterable, and metals except platinum. There's no end to its uses. But it has two defects. It isn't hard enough. It wears out quickly, leaving itself on the linings of our pockets, and in the sweat of our skin. Every year, the world's stock is invisibly reduced by friction. I said that gold has two defects...The other, and by far the major defect, is that it is the talisman of fear. Fear, Mr Bond, takes gold out of circulation and hoards it against the evil day. In a period of history when every tomorrow may be the evil day, it is fair enough to say that a fat proportion of the gold that is taken out of one corner of the Earth is at once buried again in another corner."
by Ian Fleming
Gold chart staging areas
If you take a look at the monthly gold chart (below) you can see what I would call staging areas where conditions very similar to what we are experiencing today provided buying opportunities in the past. The first big opportunity came way back in the late 1990s, early 2000s when Britain sold off part of its reserves and drove the price back below $300. The second occurred in the 2006-2007 time period (just before the credit crisis) at roughly $550-$700 per ounce. The third came in 2008-2009 at the $800-$950 per ounce range. In each instance, the buying window lasted 12 to 18 months.
Now a similar chart pattern has developed at $1550 to $1700 range and we have been in it for about 18 months. Time will tell whether or not we are now sitting on a new launch pad, although yesterday's action serves as a reminder that there is still a large section of the gold market that considers corrections buying opportunities. In each instance, I should add, a chorus of naysayers called the range bound price behavior a "bull market top." At the same time, in each case, the price of gold roughly doubled during the ensuing years.
Details, caveat at link.
by Michael J. Kosares
Stick to the facts, hold gold tight
During short-term gold corrections, it's much more important to focus on the facts, including the fact that gold is increasingly viewed as a currency. Rather than buying real estate, lumber or diamonds, central banks around the world are buying gold. According to the World Gold Council (WGC), over 2012, central bank demand totaled 534 tons, a level we have not seen in nearly 50 years. Emerging market central banks have been adding gold to their reserves, including Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea and Russia. Over the past decade, Russia has accumulated a total of 958 tons of gold, making its gold reserves the eighth largest of all central banks, says the WGC.
Another fact about gold is the persistence of the Love Trade. As you can see below, jewelry demand declined slightly, about 3 percent in 2012, and more than half of this demand came from India and China, the countries with a cultural affinity toward gold. India's gold purchases declined 12 percent due to an import tax and a weak rupee. However, even though the gold price experienced a significant increase in local currency, India's demand is "all the more remarkable and serves to emphasise the importance of gold to Indian consumers," says the WGC. . . In 2013, the WGC expects both markets to remain strong, forecasting growth rates of about 10 to 15 percent. I believe as GDPs in China rise, so will their gold demand. And as long as the precious metal is attractive to both the fear trade and the love trade, hold tight to gold . . .
by Frank Holmes
Wealthy private investors, banks move gold from Switzerland to Dubai
Dubai is heating up as a gold trading and storage center due to increased costs for the same services at major Swiss banks. "Gold that is unallocated," reports The National, "or held on a bank's balance sheet as an asset, has traditionally held a book value of 50 per cent of its market value. Under the Basel III regulations, however, such unallocated gold becomes a so-called Tier One asset to be valued at 100 per cent. It therefore costs twice as much to keep unallocated gold on a bank's balance sheet under Basel III." "In Switzerland a lot of the gold that is held is actually unallocated gold. That is, it actually forms part of the balance sheet of that bank," said Gautam Sashittal, the chief operating officer of DMCC. "And what has happened over there is that in the past this unallocated gold was cheap for banks to keep. Gold could be lent out to gold producers so that they could hedge their future production. That was a big market for banks. But today producers are not hedging. What is more, hedge funds and gold funds are more often long gold, meaning they are invested because they think it will rise in value, which has further depressed the market for lending the precious metal."
by James Doran
Game-changer momentum developing in gold market
"I believe because of the physical market, even the type of announcements we have seen recently where South Korea bought a significant amount of tonnage, I think what we see now is a total change in the character of the market. The Friday $20 knockdowns have disappeared. Where are the early morning straight down and holding the price down trading patterns for gold? You can't deny that Mondays are a little nicer than they were, the last two Mondays in fact. You can't deny that the well-timed, twice-a-day $10 drops have stopped taking place.
You now notice that the market is popping back from selloffs, where it hadn't been doing that before. So the character of what you see, which means the momentum of what you see, is changing. When momentum changes price changes. And if momentum changes it certainly is a very significant indication that the maximum downside price has been accomplished in any item. So I firmly believe the bottom is in, and if it isn't it's coming very fast."
". . . . The character of what's in this gold market is so different from the bull market of the 1970s. The bull market of the 1970s was mostly traders and some central banks, but there wasn't a huge sovereign interest.
What you are dealing with now is China and Russia, who are doing what they are doing in terms of accumulating gold because they know the end game. The manipulators of the market will come face to face with that physical reality. When they mess with these markets now they are playing with China and Russia."
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
by Charles Mackay
In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple, and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity...
A Fool's Bargain
Tulip bulbs for gold
Money, again, has often been a cause of the delusion of multitudes. Sober nations have all at once become desperate gamblers, and risked almost their existence upon the turn of a piece of paper. To trace the history of the most prominent of these delusions is the object of the present pages. Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
In the present state of civilization, society has often shown itself very prone to run a career of folly from the last-mentioned cases. This infatuation has seized upon whole nations in a most extraordinary manner. France, with her Mississippi madness, set the first great example, and was very soon imitated by England with her South Sea Bubble. At an earlier period, Holland made herself still more ridiculous in the eyes of the world, by the frenzy which came over her people for the love of Tulips. Melancholy as all these delusions were in their ultimate results, their history is most amusing. A more ludicrous and yet painful spectacle, than that which Holland presented in the years 1635 and 1636, or France in 1719 and 1720, can hardly be imagined. Taking them in the order of their importance, we shall commence our history with John Law and the famous Mississippi scheme of the years above mentioned.
Editor's Note: Charles Mackay in his Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness of Crowds, written in 1841, unwittingly provides us one of the better studies of modern market behavior. I doubt Mackay would have guessed that his book would be read, digested and taken as revelation by readers in the 21st century. At the same time, he probably would have not been surprised that the pull of the same dark gravity that caused people to throw their fortunes at tulip bulbs in Holland, or land they never had a hope of seeing in the New World, would be omnipresent in the age of computers, instantaneous communication, and the nearly infinite availability of market analysis.
The highly successful speculator and gold investor Bernard Baruch put his blessing on this book as one of the secrets to his success on Wall Street.
Said Baruch: "Have you ever seen in some wood, on a sunny quiet day, a cloud of flying midges -- thousands of them -- hovering, apparently motionless, in a sunbeam? ...Yes? ...Well, did you ever see the whole flight -- each mite apparently preserving its distance from all others -- suddenly move, say three feet, to one side or the other? Well, what made them do that? A breeze? I said a quiet day. But try to recall -- did you ever see them move directly back again in the same unison? Well, what made them do that? Great human mass movements are slower of inception but much more effective."
So we bring you Charles Mackay and his Extraordinary Popular Delusions with our own sense of mission. If the rising generations now receiving their education, or even their more jaded elders, find application in their own investment philosophy, then the purpose of this Gilded Opinion entry has been served. Complicated and timelessly revealing, here you will find examples of herd behavior, delusion, mania, craftiness, and financial loss and gain. Solomon taught us that there are no new things under the sun. Mackay teaches us how we might recognize the signs and that the crowd gone mad is a matter to be reckoned with in almost every era.
This book's relevance to gold is simple and straightforward: Gold is the talisman in the portfolio which protects against these occasional bouts of social madness. There is an historical example which illustrates the point. Early 18th century French finance minister, John Law, who perpetrated perhaps the most notorious mania covered by Mackay, ruined the French currency and, with it, the French economy. Needless to say, citizens did whatever they could to shelter themselves from the rapidly depreciating paper scrip. Law in one of his final acts before fleeing the country abolished gold and silver coin as a medium of exchange, made gold ownership illegal and closed down the borders to anyone hoping to escape with hard assets.
Needless to say, both Law and the public understood the value of gold under such circumstances. Those who converted their paper early in the process preserved their assets; those who didn't were left penniless.
With that we welcome you to the extraordinary world of Charles Mackay. MK