gold

All posts tagged gold

Unless you’ve just woken up from a week-long coma, you already know that Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, announced the Fed is going to maintain its Zero-Interest Rate Policy for the next 2-3 years. It is also going to buy $500 billion worth of mortgages every year until the economy improves.

One opponent of this measure was president and CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve, Richard Fisher. Fisher maintains that buying bonds probably won’t help stimulate the economy. Instead, it will however increase inflation, and expectations of inflation.

As one of the richest members of the Fed, we should probably listen to him. Worth an estimated $21 million, Fisher has worked as a Banker and a Hedge Fund Manager. And he’s been voicing inflation concerns since 2005.

While opposing the Fed’s stance on bond purchases, his personal portfolio is well positioned to benefit from any inflation that might occur due to it.

Fisher owns about $1 million worth of gold in the form of the gold ETF (GLD), $250,000 in uranium, and over 7,000 acres of land in the Mid-West.

In a prior post, I mentioned that everyone’s portfolio deserves an allocation to gold. As a percentage of his portfolio, Fisher’s allocation to gold is sitting at about 5%. In addition to gold, real estate is also inflation hedges. (While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend uranium as an inflation hedge, it is a commodity and thus being somewhat uncorrelated to either stocks or bonds, would provide some value in a portfolio).

So he’s definitely set up his investments to benefit from inflation.

What else does he own? Several million in Texas Municipal Bonds – earning him tax-free interest on his money. And a lot of blue-chip stocks like Eli Lily and Du Pont along with MLPs like Magellan Midstream Partners. You can check out the entire list here.

Nothing like a well-balanced portfolio to live out your retirement years in case your cushy government pension runs out!

But despite the panic of 2008, the belief that gold is a foolish “investment” still persists.

I’ve been a strong advocate of gold and silver since 2005. Back then, I sold my condo and used some of the proceeds to buy some gold coins. When I started buying, the price of gold was $495/oz. Today it’s hovering around $1,600/oz.

A lot of people I know complained that gold is relic from olden times. That it has no use in the modern era. Of course, this was before 2008 when it seemed like the entire financial system was about to crumble.

Even Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, took an opportunity to ridicule gold in his latest shareholder letter.

Buffett wrote,

“Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce — gold’s price as I write this — its value would be about $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.”

“Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?”

While I have a lot of respect for Buffett’s views and also own stock in Berkshire Hathaway, I’m going to have to disagree with him on this one.

Gold has always been a store of value. And a valuable hedge against monetary mismanagement – something we (and Europe) are currently experiencing.

David Einhorn, manager of Greenlight Capital, World Poker Champion and author of Fooling Some of the People All of the Time also disagrees. He had an excellent comeback for Buffett’s derision of gold.

In his recent shareholder letter, he referenced Buffett’s analogy, but with an interesting twist.

“The debate around currencies, cash, and cash equivalents continues. Over the last few years, we have come to doubt whether cash will serve as a good store of value. If you wrapped up all the $100 bills in circulation, it would form a cube about 74 feet per side. If you stacked the money seven feet high, you could store it in a warehouse roughly the size of a football field. The value of all that cash would be about a trillion dollars. In a hundred years, that money will have produced nothing. In a thousand years, it is likely that the cash will either be worthless or worth very little. It will not pay you interest or dividends and it won’t grow earnings, though you could burn it for heat. You’d have to pay someone to guard it. You could fondle the money. Alternatively, you could take every U.S. note in circulation, lay them end to end, and cover the entire 116 square miles of Omaha, Nebraska. Of course, if you managed to assemble all that money into your own private stash, the Federal Reserve could simply order more to be printed for the rest of us,”

As gold dropped 21% from its peak of $1,921 last summer, to $1,544/ounce in May, the media was quick to announce that gold was in a bear market, and that the massive bull-run in gold over.

But gold isn’t an investment. It’s a store of value. Just like cash. And over the centuries it is more likely to retain is purchasing power than any currency or business.

And despite short-term fluctuations in its price, gold will always be worth something. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Greeks!

Gold is also uncorrelated with other asset classes like stocks and bonds. Owning some in a diversified portfolio helps reduce your volatility.

In the past week, the S&P500 was down over 3%, while the gold ETF (GLD) was up 4%.

While I prefer owning gold and silver coins, owing an ETF like GLD is an easy way to get exposure to gold.

How much gold you should own depends on your risk tolerance and other investments. But as a general rule of thumb, gold should be between 2.5% and 15% of your portfolio. Although, Harry Brown’s Permanent Portfolio has done exceedingly well with an allocation as high as 25%.

Disclosure: I’m long BRK-B, GDX, and gold and silver coins

Gold broke another record today, closing just over $1,700/oz. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 634 points (5.5%) and not surprisingly, US Treasuries jumped.

This was the expected response to S&P’s cut in US credit rating.

The irony is the jump in US Treasury prices caused a decline in the interest rates.This is because bond prices and interest rates are inversely correlated.

Usually, when your credit rating is cut, the interest rate at which you can borrow goes up.  But, in the case of the US government, it has gone down.

The current yield on a 10-year Treasury is 2.31%.  Last month it was 3.02%. Similarly, the yield on a 30-year Treasury bond is 3.65%, down from 4.28% last month.

Maybe S&P should take down the US’s credit rating another notch, and cause interest expenses to fall even further!

Okay, I’m being facetious.

But I don’t like the way it’s playing out. The current economic scenario reminds me of Japan over the past two decades.

Will the US economy continue to flounder for the next several years just as Japan did?

Will the government continue to prop up failing banks and poorly run business at the expense of the tax-payer?

Will interest rates continue their downward spiral?

Will real estate continue to slide for the rest of the decade?

Are we really turning Japanese?

I really think so!

Let’s face it, European countries are bankrupt. First it was Greece and Ireland. Now it’s Portugal. Pretty soon it’ll be Spain and Italy.

Politicians will never admit there’s a problem. Portugal’s prime minister just said that they don’t need any financial assistance. Just like Greece’s prime minister said last March, he claims they want to help themselves out of this mess. And like Ireland’s minister of foreign affairs said last November, there’s no need to panic. Of course a couple of weeks later both prime ministers came begging for aid. Portugal will probably do the same.

Everyone wants someone else to bail them out, and pay for their transgressions.  And other nations are rushing in to buy the sovereign debt – using freshly minted money of course. Maybe these saviors know that their own balance sheets are somewhat murky and hopefully someone else will return the favor in the future?

After all, printing more money to buy another country’s debt is a splendid idea. Keeps the world economy chugging along without having to deal with any of the difficult issues. Like reducing debt. (I’ve never quite understood the notion of solving a country’s excessive debt problem by rolling it over in to more expensive debt. But financiers make money selling debt, so that’s what economists (who secretly harbor dreams of working on Wall Street) will advise the governments to do). But there is a crisis of sorts and whenever there is a crisis anywhere, people flock to the US and to the relative safety of US treasuries.

Everyone and their mother seem to be making financial and investment predictions for the rest of 2011. So I’ll do the same.

1. For the first half of the year the US dollar and government bonds will appreciate – especially against the Euro.

2. Also during the first half of 2011, Gold and Silver prices will drop from their spectacular highs as the US dollar appreciates. But I think Gold prices will stay above $1000/ounce.

3. But eventually, probably during late-summer, people will realize that all the major countries are printing money and using it to prop up failing countries and companies by buying debt, the US dollar and treasuries will slide. And Gold and Silver prices will start to rise again.

4. This collapse in treasuries will be precipitated by multiple bankruptcies in the municipal bond markets.
In the past 2 years, 15 municipalities have filed bankruptcy. According to a recent article in WSJ:

Mr. Bernanke downplayed the notion that many state and local governments run the risk of defaulting and that the municipal bond market could be headed for turmoil. The muni market, he says, has been functioning “reasonably well,” with lots of bond issuance and liquidity in trading. “We’re not seeing extraordinary stress,” he says. Some analysts have been warning that a crisis is looming in the muni market. Mr. Bernanke described these warnings as overly pessimistic. He also said the Fed, which has some limited authority to buy short-term municipal debt, has “no expectation or intention to get involved in state and local finance.” If states are to be bailed out, he said, “it would have to be Congress.”

Isn’t that exactly what he said right before Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went bankrupt? Let’s face it. There will be a muni-bond meltdown, and Bernanke will scare congress into bailing them out. Bernanke is just a bare-faced liar. Actually, he got tired of being called a bare-faced liar which is why he sports a beard. But regardless, the only reason he brought it up is because it is an issue that will become pertinent within the next 18 months.

Incidentally, previous Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, said exactly the same about the housing bubble back in 2005. That it wasn’t an issue and there was nothing to be worried about. As an economist, he should have seen it was a bubble, of his own creation.

This collapse of muni-bonds will scare the pants of regular Americans and foreign investors. As the last bastion of fixed income for the retired, the wealthy and global pension-funds, muni-bond defaults will trigger a major panic. Citizens and investors will realize that they’ve been hoodwinked by the government and Wall Street, and they can’t trust either of them.

5. This will cause a flight to gold and silver, possibly the last and most intense run in this bull market.
I predicted back in December 2005 that “the US is going to enter a period of inflation and recession brought on by the trade & budget deficit and precipitated by the devaluing dollar” and that at $508, it was a great time to buy gold. I still believe it is. If you haven’t already established a position, make sure you buy both gold and silver on dips. If you don’t know how to buy, read through the previous posts on gold and silver. Hopefully, this major rush in gold will not trigger the complete collapse of global currencies. And if it does, it’s still a few years away, so it’s not an 2011 prediction.

Disclaimer: I’m short a Euro ETF, long gold and silver (bullion and mining stocks). None of this should be construed as investment advice.

Gold closed at a record high today of $1,237/ounce but surged to nearly $1,250/ounce in intraday trading. The gold ETF, GLD, also reported record inflows this week of $2.3 billion dollars. The ETF also disclosed a record 1,185 tons of gold as distrust in global fiat currencies pushed investors to seek more tangible assets. Gold has hit a high against every major currency, with the exception of the Canadian dollar.

gold-record-price-2010-1250-ounce

Buoyed by gold’s action, silver has also seen some price movement. After dropping as low as $15.13 in February 2010, it has jumped nearly 30% to 19.52. (Silver prices hit $19.70 today in intraday trading).

Seems like Marc Faber was right about gold being a bargain at $950/oz! Since that post about 2 years ago, gold prices are up about 29% versus the S&P 500 which is down about 8%.

Here’s an interesting article by Dominic Frisby about Venezuela’s devaluation, the effect on a country’s currency and the relation with gold prices.

Gold bugs are forever telling you to buy gold because it is ‘nobody else’s liability’. It’s become one of those hackneyed phrases that has almost lost its meaning.

But recent events in Venezuela give us a nice illustration of what that phrase really means. And there’s a stark, but important message for savers everywhere.

Inflation is currently running at 27% in Venezuela. That’s just the official figure. You can expect the real number to be considerably higher.

Earlier this month, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, devalued the bolivar by half, from 2.15 per US dollar to 4.30 per dollar. There will be a second peg, subsidised by the government, of 2.60 bolivars per dollar for essential imports such as food, medicine and machinery.

This devaluation has effectively doubled the cost of imported goods and halved the Venezuelan people’s purchasing power in a single stroke. Savers – though I doubt there are that many given the country’s precarious situation – will have had half of their wealth effectively wiped out overnight.

Chavez is doing it, he said on state TV, ‘to boost the productive economy, to reduce imports that aren’t strictly necessary and to stimulate exports.’ But that won’t be the effect. All his actions will do is discourage people from working at all. Leaving aside the moral issue of whether government should have the power to do that (and, largely speaking, with our modern system of money and credit, they do), many Venezuelans will now ask themselves: ‘What is the point of my working at all, if the proceeds are going to be devalued so suddenly?’

But any Venezuelan who happened to have converted some of their wealth into gold would be protected from these government foibles – at least, as much as is possible under the circumstances. [LOD”s note: Not only gold and silver, but even real estate would hold its price in an event like this. Over the long term, real estate matches inflation, and to some degree population growth]. Chavez cannot suddenly devalue gold by half to ‘boost the productive economy’. So the proceeds of that individual’s labour would have been preserved. The purchasing power of gold against essential goods such as food, energy and shelter remains unchanged – in fact it’s probably risen.

I remember backpacking across South America in the early ’90s. Venezuela was one of the wealthiest, most advanced nations on the continent. It’s such a shame to now see the country on Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, or, worse still, to Zimbabwe.

“Chavez”, writes Daniel Cancel on Bloomberg, “is trying to maintain spending for his 21st century socialist revolution as South America’s largest oil exporter fails to emerge from its first recession in six years. The government is seeking to stem its falling popularity and the highest inflation rate among 78 economies tracked by Bloomberg, ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September.”

Well, isn’t our own government doing the same thing? Haven’t they boosted spending over the last three years in an attempt to stem falling popularity ahead of an election? Isn’t quantitative easing an elaborate form of currency devaluation? The effect of their actions has been that sterling has been losing its purchasing power. It buys us considerably less food, energy, medicine, industrial goods and anything else you care to mention (except mass manufactured goods from Asia) than it did five years ago.

It even buys us less foreign currency, as the chart below – which shows sterling against a basket of foreign currencies – shows. (I’ve drawn on that white line highlight the market direction) The only reason sterling has not fallen further is that other foreign central banks have been doing the same things to their own money. It is a race to the bottom.

british-pound-against-basket-of-currencies.ashx

Our currency has devalued many times before. Anyone who remembers 1976 can tell you about the sterling crisis then. Financial markets were losing confidence in the pound. (I believe that loss of confidence is coming again. If sterling drops below $1.57 against the dollar, look out below).

The UK Treasury could not balance its books, while Labour’s strategy emphasized high public spending. The newly-elected prime minister, Jim Callaghan, was told there were three possible outcomes: a disastrous free fall in sterling, an internationally unacceptable siege economy, or a deal with key allies to prop up the pound while painful economic reforms were put in place. What will David Cameron be told should he win in the summer? The parallels to today are uncanny.

In more recent memory, we have had the sterling lows of March 1985 (when we almost hit parity with the dollar), then another crisis with ‘Black Wednesday’ in October 1990, when we were forced to drop out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

What is worrying is that our current deficits, debts and spending are all at far greater levels than during any of the previous crises. So many toxic assets have been transferred from the balance sheets of banks to governments, that sovereign debt default – not just here, but throughout the Anglo-Saxon economies – is now a major risk.

You can read the entire article on moneyweek.

So Why should you care?
If you invest in US companies that do business with Venezuela, then your portfolio returns will definitely be adversely impacted. US companies that do business with Venezuela like Haliburton are likely to feel the impact of this currency devaluation. Haliburton CEO just announced that they may face a $30 million loss in the 1st quarter because of this.

While I liquidated almost my entire stock portfolio at the market open this morning (including Harvest Natural Resources which does business in Venezuela), I’m still keeping my gold and silver coins!  Talking the about market, its risen 50% since the March lows of last year. I might even go short some weaker stocks on any market bounces too.

Gold hit another record today and is currently trading over $1,100 as I write this. However, it hasn’t prevented several news stories coming out about how gold is a lousy investment. Investment stalwarts from Warren Buffet to Monish Pabrai have all denounced gold as an investment.

And despite the decent performance of gold over the past 10 years, they’re correct. Gold is a lousy investment. It creates no income and just barely keeps up with inflation.

But do you know what the best performing asset class was during the past 10 years? No, it wasn’t your stock portfolio or your real estate. It was gold, and it returned a decent 270% over that period.

10-year-returns-by-asset-class

Despite its out-performance of all major asset classes, gold still gets no respect from the investment community. That’s because it is only a store of value and typically only does well in periods of currency crisis, or times of poor monetary policy.

For example, during post-WW2 Germany and in post-Mugabe-school-of-economic-policy Zimbabwe, their currencies have faced severe devaluation and gold prices sky-rocketed against those currencies. Faced with hyperinflation and an inability to buy basic necessities, people flock to gold causing the price to soar.

But that wouldn’t happen in the US right?

Economic research has shown that consumer psychology is affected by the amount of wealth people feel they have. If they’re broke and living pay-check to pay-check, but have tons of equity in their homes, they still feel wealthy. But even if they still have a job, but are upside down on the mortgage and have negative equity in their home, they feel poor and their spending decreases. Since the US is a consumer spending driven society, with spending constituting 70% of our GDP, the Federal Reserve has been trying desperately to get the consumer to start spending again.  Part of this entails propping up housing prices by keeping mortgage rates low, and another part is keeping interest rates low on non-collateralized consumer debt (that’s credit cards and student loans).

In an effort to stem the free-fall in the housing market, the Federal Reserve has been trying to keep the interest rates for mortgages as low as possible. Historically, the Fed has tried to manipulate the short-end of the yield curve by adjusting the shortest of short-term rates – the Inter Bank Overnight Rate (also called the Federal funds rate in the US. The UK has something similar called the LIBOR). This is supposed to have a trickle down affect the interest rates of long-term interest rates (such as the 10 year and 30 year Treasuries).  The rates for 3o year fixed rate mortgages are impacted by the rates on the 10 year Treasuries. So by keeping the federal funds rate at zero (or 0.2% which is close to 0%), mortgages rates should stay quite low. However, given the fact that this is not a typical economic scenario, the fed isn’t quite sure that mortgage rates would stay below 5%. So it has been buying billions of long-term Treasury bonds as well as mortgages, which is a quite a bold move away from its historic stance. When the 800 pound gorilla starts buying bonds, the prices rise and the yields go down.  When the Federal Reserve decides to buy $300 Billion dollars worth of mortgages and government bonds, something is definitely wrong with the economy.

I’m  interested to see the effect on mortgage rates once the Fed stops buying Treasuries and mortgages.

The government is increasing its deficit spending at a steady clip. If this continues, eventually we will be unable to repay the debt and barely just able to service the debt. Obviously this is not a viable long-term strategy, but it doesn’t look like there is any other back-up just in case helicopter Ben’s strategy of throwing money at the problem doesn’t pan out.

Clearly, we are currently in a crisis period in regards to fiscal policy and gold prices are likely to keep going up. During times of good fiscal policy, gold does nothing. This does not seem to be one those times.

A well-known hedge fund manager (and world poker champion) David Einhorn shares the sentiment.  And someone else who agrees with him is Liu Mingkang, chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission. He recently said, “Low U.S. interest rates and a weaker greenback have “seriously affected global asset prices, fuelled speculation in stock and property markets, and created new, real and insurmountable risks to the recovery of the global economy, especially emerging-market economies.”

Someone I know who works at a very well-known bond fund company recently advised me to sell my gold holdings. He advised me the same thing last year when gold was only $800/ounce. And I told him the same thing I said last year – Not yet.

Disclaimer: I’m long gold/silver bullion, gold mining stocks and short long term treasuries.

Last week, gold prices briefly touched $1,100/oz before settling just under that number.  Apparently the Indian government decided to sell US dollars and make a 200 ton gold purchase from the IMF, which created the spike in gold prices. Right now, the spot price for the yellow metal is $1,106.

price_of_gold

The IMF still has another 203 tons of gold to sell and the hot favorite to make the purchase has been China.  However, according to a report by Reuters, its a lot cheaper for China to buy domestically mined gold than purchase bullion from the IMF at the current spot price. According to Li Yang, a former adviser to the People’s Bank, “China’s gold is much cheaper than that.”

You may not realize it, but China is the world’s No. 1 gold producer, and its mine costs are much less than $1,100 per ounce. And given China’s propensity to put national well-being over any private individual or firm, they’re likely to just pay for the gold being mined at cost, which would be a lot lower than the spot price.

According to another Chinese Central Bank official,

China is the world’s biggest gold producer, so there’s no urgency for us, as there is for India, to snap up big volumes whenever they come onto the global market. It’s cheaper for us to buy gold from the Chinese market, but it doesn’t help diversify our huge foreign exchange reserves.

To diversify our portfolio, we should spend dollars on things like gold. But the catch is that even if China bought half the world’s annual gold supply, it would only cost a few tens of billions of dollars, which is tiny compared to China’s huge reserves.

China has 2.27 trillion dollars in reserves. Spending 25 Billion a year buying gold is chump change. The question that’s relevant is whether they will, because that will put upward pressure on gold prices.

While no one knows whether China will or will not buying gold on the open market, the one thing we do know is that the monetary base of the US Dollar is growing exponentially making each existing dollar less valuable. Check out this graph from the St. Louis Fed:

money_supply

While its not obvious from the graph, the monetary base has in the past year. Its true that this money hasn’t worked its way in to the economy, but if and when it does we should expect higher inflation and a spike in prices of real assets like gold, silver and real estate.

If I had a few trillion dollars, I’d be buying a few hundred tons of gold every year!

Gold just broke the previous intraday record and touched $1,043 per ounce. It’s currently trading around $1,038.

 gold-hits-record-high

This spike may have been caused by a news report that appeared in the Independent today. It states that the Arab States in the Gulf have made secret plans with China, Russia, Brazil and France to stop using the US dollar for oil trading. While this isn’t immediate and it calls for a transition to occur by 2018, it seems to have set the stage for a pretty bad precedent – that gold will jump on these sort of rumors! Lets see if we get any official confirmation of this “news”.

So is this the beginning of the end for the US Dollar? I hope not, but I’m buying some silver and maybe some more gold, just to be safe!

According to Robert Zoellick, World Bank President  and former Goldman Sachs head and US Secretary of State, you shouldn’t take the US Dollar’s reserve currency status for granted. Swelling government deficits and the strength of emerging countries is weakening the demand for the dollar. Time to head for the exits?

So how should you diversify out of the dollar?

According to Zoellick, the Euro and the Chinese Yuan are good alternatives (source: BusinessWeek). But a lot of people think that investing in a basket of currencies is a better approach. In the short-term, currency volatility is unpredictable since exchange rates are more likely to be impacted by government policy than fundamentals. In the long term, all fiat currencies devalue and buying gold and silver is probably a better bet. But if you really want to park your savings in cash, consider a currency that has stronger fundamentals the the US dollar, the British pound and euro.

Until 2000, the Swiss Central Bank had a legal requirement to hold 40% of its reserves in gold. This requirement has been relaxed to around 20%, but in terms of volatility the Swiss franc is still one of the most stable currencies. You can purchase the Swiss franc via the Currencyshares ETF (FXF) quite easily.

The Canadian dollar (FXC) and the Australian dollar (FXA) are two more strong currencies. The governments are both fiscally conservative and have, until recently, been running surpluses instead of multi-trillion dollar deficits. They’re also commodity based economies, rich in natural resources with strong ties to the rest of the world. In a situation of high inflation, commodity-based currencies should hold up better than the US dollar.

With China being Jim Rogers’ favorite place, the Chinese yuan (or remnimbi) is a another alternative. As their internal economy grows, maintaining a stronger currency will make imports of raw materials cheaper. Of course, this is probably several years in to the future but with millions of Chinese rising out of poverty, its a likely scenario. Also, China has publicly said that they’re looking to diversify out of the dollar and are considering buying gold as one option. You can invest in Chinese yuan through Everbank.

Disclosures: I own gold, silver, Australian CurrencyShares ETF (FXA),  and a basket of currencies CD with Everbank.