August 15, 2022

The Fed’s Outrageous Attempt To Debase The Dollar Will Send Gold Soaring

By Axel Merk

Doubling down on QE3, the Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Bernanke tells China and Brazil: allow your currencies to appreciate. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that Bernanke wants the U.S. dollar to fall. Is it merely a war of words, or an actual war? Who is winning the war?

The cheapest Fed policy is one where a Fed official utters a few words and the markets move. Rate cuts are more expensive; even more so are emergency rate cuts and the printing of billions, then trillions of dollars. As such, the Fed’s communication strategy may be considered part of a war of words. Indeed, the commitment to keep interest rates low through mid 2015 may be part of that category. But quantitative easing goes beyond words: QE3, as it was announced last month, is the Fed’s third round of quantitative easing, a program in which the Fed is engaging in an open-ended program to purchase Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS). To pay for such purchases, money is created through the strokes of a keyboard: the Fed credits banks with “cash” in payment for MBS, replacing MBS on bank balance sheets with Fed checking accounts. Through the rules of fractional reserve banking, this cash can be multiplied on to create new loans and expand the broader money supply. The money used for the QE purchases is created out of thin air, not literally printed, although even Bernanke has referred to this process as printing money to illustrate the mechanics.

Why call it a war? It was Brazil’s finance minister Guido Mantega that first coined the term, accusing Bernanke of starting a currency war. Here’s the issue: like any other asset, currencies are valued based on supply and demand. When money is printed, all else equal, supply increases, causing a currency to decline in value. In real life, the only constant is change, allowing policy makers to come up with complex explanations as to why printing money does not equate to debasing a currency. But even if intentions may have a different primary focus, our assessment is that a central bank that engages in quantitative easing wants to weaken its currency. It becomes a war because someone’s weak currency is someone else’s strong currency, with the “winner” being the country with the weaker currency. The logic being a weaker currency promotes net exports and GDP growth. If the dollar is debased through expansionary monetary policy, there is upward pressure on other currencies. Those other countries like to export to the U.S. and feel squeezed by U.S. monetary policy. Given that politicians the world over never like to blame themselves for any shortcomings, the focus of international policy makers quickly becomes the Fed’s monetary largesse.

Bernanke speaking at an IMF sponsored seminar in Tokyo pointed to the other side of the coin: if China, Brazil and others don’t like his policies because they create inflation back home, they should allow their currencies to appreciate. But these countries are reluctant as stronger currencies lead to a tougher export environment.

Now keep in mind that it is always easier to debase a currency than to strengthen it. Switzerland, the previously perceived safe haven by many investors, has taken the lead. Using a central bank’s balance sheet as a proxy for the amount of money that has been printed, the Swiss National Bank’s printing press has surpassed that of the Federal Reserve considering relative growth since August 2008. Again note that no real money has been directly printed in these programs; also note that some activities, such as the sterilization of bond purchases by the European Central Bank, cause a central bank balance sheet to grow, even if sterilization reflects a “mopping up” of liquidity:

Japan has warned about intervening in the markets on multiple occasions, but the size of the Japanese economy as well as the lack of political will make an intentional debasement more difficult. Indeed, the Japanese did their money printing in the 1990s, but forgot we had a financial crisis in recent years.

Bernanke does acknowledge the concerns of emerging markets, but argues they are blown out of proportion. He elaborates that undervaluation and unwanted capital inflows are linked: allow your currencies to appreciate (versus the dollar) and you won’t have to be afraid of excessive capital inflows, inflation and asset bubbles. Ultimately, and importantly, Bernanke says the Fed will continue its course, suggesting that it will strengthen the U.S. economic recovery; and by extension, strengthen the global economy.

Let’s look at the issue from the viewpoint of emerging markets: policy makers like to promote economic growth, among other methods, through a cheap exchange rate, up to a certain point. They don’t want too much inflation or too many side effects. Historically, they manage these side effects with administrative tools. However, taking China as an example, taming price pressure through, say, price controls, has not been very effective. We believe that’s a good thing, as China would otherwise experience product shortages akin to what the Soviet Union experienced. Conversely, however, China must employ a broader policy brush to contain inflationary pressures. We believe – and Bernanke appears to agree – currency appreciation is one of the more effective tools.

So how will this currency war unfold? The ultimate winner may well be gold. But as the chart above shows, it’s not simply a race to the bottom. If one considers what type of economy can stomach a stronger currency, our analysis shows an economy competing on value rather than price has more pricing power and therefore the greater ability to handle it. Vietnam mostly competes on price; as such, the country has, more than once, engaged in competitive devaluation. At the other end of the spectrum in emerging markets may be China: having allowed its low-end industries to move to lower cost countries, China increasingly competes on value. Within Asia, we believe the more advanced economies have the best potential to allow their currencies to appreciate. It’s not surprising to us that China’s Renminbi just recently reached a 19-year high versus the dollar.

What we have little sympathy for is an advanced economy, e.g. the U.S., competing on price. We very much doubt the day will come when we export sneakers to Vietnam. As such, a weak dollar only provides the illusion of strength with exports temporarily boosted. Yet the potential side effects, from inflation to the sale of assets to foreign investors with strong currencies, may not be worth the risk.

Please register to join us as we discuss winners and losers of the unfolding currency wars in our Webinar this Thursday, October 18, 2012.

Axel Merk is President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds.

Is Gold The Only Protection From The Fed’s Monetary Madness?

By Axel Merk

Investors are concerned about inflation. But how can investors attempt to inflation-proof their portfolios? Buy TIPS? Short Treasury bonds? Stocks? Real Estate? Commodities? Gold? Currencies? Or should investors regard those warnings about inflation as fear mongering?

Indeed, as the Federal Reserve (Fed) announced its latest round of quantitative easing (“QE3”), gauges of future inflation expectations spiked. In our assessment, the market reacted strongly as it became apparent that the Fed is moving away from its focus on inflation to a focus on employment. We believe the Fed wants to raise the price level so as to bail out millions of homeowners that are ‘under water’, i.e. owe more on their homes than they are worth. Fed Chair Bernanke considers a healthy housing market to be key to healthy consumer spending (see our Merk Insight Don’t worry, be Happy).

Judging from the market reaction to QE3, fears about future inflation are warranted. Having said that, market fears about looming inflation have calmed down a bit since the initial flare up. Could it be this calming of the market is due to the fact that the Fed is intervening in the TIPS market? TIPS are “inflation protected” Treasury securities that are linked to the Consumer Price Index. Investors buying TIPS do so in the hope that their purchasing power might be protected. When the Fed intervenes in the market to buy TIPS (or any other security for that matter), such securities are intentionally over-priced, raising doubt as to whether investors are truly “protected” from inflation. It’s not just investors that now have more limited access to measuring inflation expectations – it’s also the Fed itself. By managing the entire yield curve (short-term through long-term interest rates), we believe the Fed has blindfolded itself, as it has taken away one of the most important gauges about the health of the economy. Aside from the Fed’s intervention in the TIPS market, the government is free to change the inflation adjustment factor employed in TIPS before the securities mature. TIPS payouts are adjusted using the consumer price index (CPI), which has seen methodology changes many times. When the recent debt ceiling impasse was discussed, both Republicans and Democrats talked in favor of changing the CPI definition so that it would nominally live up to inflation linked entitlement promises while clearly eroding the purchasing power of such payouts. Even without such gimmickry, the CPI may not be reflective of the basket of goods and services consumed by investors as they approach retirement given, for example, that healthcare may comprise an ever-increasing part of one’s spending. Alas, much of investing is about trying to preserve purchasing power and, alas, buying TIPS may not provide adequate protection.

If one is negative about the inflation outlook, why not simply short Treasuries, either directly or through ETFs? While we are pessimistic about the long-term outlook of Treasuries, it can be very costly to short them, given that – as a short seller – one has to continuously pay the interest of the securities one shorts. If one buys an ETF shorting Treasuries, the cost of the ETF is to be added. Shorting Treasuries might make sense for investors that are good at market timing. However, calling the top in major bubbles is rather difficult, just reflect on former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” speech years ahead of the stock market collapse in 2000; similarly, those that saw the bubble in the housing market coming didn’t necessarily get the timing right.

If TIPS don’t provide enough bang for the buck, and shorting Treasuries can be costly, what about buying stocks? Bernanke appears to use every opportunity possible to praise the benefits QE has on rising stock prices. While we agree that QE has pushed stock prices higher, it may be dangerous for the Fed to praise this link given that it raises expectations of more Fed easing whenever the markets plunge (see Merk Insight: Bernanke Put). For example, how many investors buy Cisco 1 shares because of the great management skills of CEO John Chambers as compared to those who buy because of QE3? We pose this question because stocks are rather volatile; not only are stocks volatile, but the volatility of stocks can be all over the place. Historically, the annualized standard deviation of the S&P 500 index hovers in the mid 20% range, with outbursts into the 40% range in 2008. So why are investors taking on the “noise” of the stock market, when the reason they invest is because of QE? Indeed, our analysis shows that investors appear to be ever more chasing the next perceived intervention by policy makers rather than investing based on fundamentals. That’s not only bad for capital formation (these misallocations are summarily referred to as “bubbles” these days), but also suggests that we might want to look for a more direct way to take a position on what we call the “mania” of policy makers.

Talking about policy makers: you might not agree with them, but if there is one good thing to be said about our policy makers, it is that they may be quite predictable.

What about real estate? In the U.S., depending on where one lives, the real estate market has bottomed out or appears to be bottoming out. With what appears to be the Fed’s razor sharp focus on real estate, it might be foolish to bet against the Fed. Indeed, yours truly bought a property in Palo Alto in late 2009. Unlike other real assets, keep in mind that real estate is often purchased with borrowed money; as such, it is prone to speculative bubbles such as the most recent episode. Investing in REITs might allow one to allocate a smaller share of one’s portfolio to real estate; a downside of REITs is that they tend to be highly correlated with equity markets. As policy makers steer equity prices, everything appears to be ever more highly correlated, investors may want to look for something that offers low correlation to other investments.

That brings us to commodities. In a world where policy makers appear to favor growth at just about any cost, commodity prices have been beneficiaries. As we have seen in recent weeks, it is not a one-way street, as dynamics within the market can be rather complex. The dynamics for commodities within agriculture differ from those in metals or energy. There are special considerations in storing and delivering many commodities, creating challenges for investors. We agree that commodities might do well in the long run, but urge investors to consider all the risks that come with investing in commodities. Notably, commodities can have stretches of low volatility, luring investors to jump in, only to be greeted with a jolt that can be rather hazardous to one’s wealth. As a simple rule of thumb: if you can’t sleep at night with your investment, you own too much of it.

Gold is worth singling out as the one commodity that has arguably the least industrial use. Rather than writing gold off as a barbaric relic, we like gold: its relative simplicity might make it the investment purest in reflecting monetary policy. In the medium term, we believe gold may be a good inflation hedge. But, again, keep in mind that price movements can be rather volatile. Even staunch gold bugs rarely have all their assets in gold.

This leads us to currencies as a potentially attractive way to diversify beyond gold. The Chinese have long diversified their reserves to a basket of currencies, in an effort to mitigate their U.S. dollar exposure. Some say currencies are difficult to understand. We argue that it is far easier to understand the dynamics of ten major currencies, as well as others worth monitoring, than to understand the dynamics of thousands of stocks. Importantly, we believe the currency markets might be an ideal place to take a position on the mania of policy makers. Indeed, as we believe that the Fed might want to debase the U.S. dollar (Please see Fed may want to debase dollar), why not express that view in the currency markets? Unlike their reputation, currencies are far less volatile than equities: if one does not employ leverage, a move in the euro by 1 cent is rather small on a percentage basis. The U.S. dollar index has historically had an annualized standard deviation of returns in the low teens; in 2008, that volatility rose a tad, approaching the mid-teens. For investors looking for predictability on the risks in a portfolio, the currency markets have historically shown a far more consistent risk profile than equities or many other asset classes. A corollary is that during market downturns, unlevered currency strategies may offer some downside protection given the lower risk profile. This clearly doesn’t mean an investment in currencies is safe; but managed currency risk can be seen as an opportunity given the purchasing power risk taken by holding U.S. dollars.

If investors agree that the Fed: a) may want to have – or at least accept – higher inflation; and b) may not readily see the warning signs of higher inflation, then it appears to us prudent to take the risk of higher inflation into account. Indeed, for those managing money on behalf of others, it might be their fiduciary duty to take that risk into account. Those that ignore the risk of inflation might do so at their own peril. Many investors might feel they can take action once inflation is obvious. “Obvious” is in the eye of the beholder: just as we preferred to be early in warning about the crisis in 2008, it appeared rather challenging to reposition one’s portfolio in October 2008. Gold has gone up by a factor of about 7 since its lows. The dollar has fallen relative to a basket of currencies over the past 10, 30 and 100 years: in our assessment, we simply have the better printing press. Hedging inflation risk isn’t about being right about the future; it’s about the risk of being right.

Axel Merk
Axel Merk is President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds

Ron Paul Accuses The Federal Reserve of Devastating America

While Wall Street cheers the Federal Reserve’s decision to engage in perpetual quantitative easing, Congressman Ron Paul says the Fed is devastating the U.S. economy through its blatant manipulation of interest rates.  According to Ron Paul, manipulating interest rates to the zero bound level has caused a massive misallocation of capital, destroyed the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar and will eventually lead to another financial crisis.

Ron Paul’s warnings have been routinely dismissed by both Wall Street and his colleagues in Congress.  The majority of the American public know that something is seriously wrong with our financial system but can’t quite connect the dots between the Fed and lower wages and higher prices.  Those who do understand how the Fed is destroying the U.S. economy and are worried about preserving their wealth, should simply copy the investment strategy of Ron Paul who has gone all in on gold and silver.

By Ron Paul

One of the most enduring myths in the United States is that this country has a free market, when in reality, the market is merely the structural shell of formerly free institutions. Government pulls the strings behind the scenes. No better illustration of this can be found than in the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates.

The Fed has interfered with the proper function of interest rates for decades, but perhaps never as boldly as it has in the past few years through its policies of quantitative easing. In Chairman Bernanke’s most recent press conference he stated that the Fed wishes not only to drive down rates on Treasury debt, but also rates on mortgages, corporate bonds, and other important interest rates. Markets greeted this statement enthusiastically, as this means trillions more newly-created dollars flowing directly to Wall Street.

Because the interest rate is the price of money, manipulation of interest rates has the same effect in the market for loanable funds as price controls have in markets for goods and services. Since demand for funds has increased, but the supply is not being increased, the only way to match the shortfall is to continue to create new credit. But this process cannot continue indefinitely. At some point the capital projects funded by the new credit are completed. Houses must be sold, mines must begin to produce ore, factories must begin to operate and produce consumer goods.

But because consumption patterns have either remained unchanged or have become more present-oriented, by the time these new capital projects are finished and begin to produce, the producers find no market for their goods. Because the coordination between savings and consumption was severed through the artificial lowering of the interest rate, both savers and borrowers have been signaled into unsustainable patterns of economic activity. Resources that would have been used in productive endeavors under a regime of market-determined interest rates are instead shuttled into endeavors that only after the fact are determined to be unprofitable. In order to return to a functioning economy, those resources which have been malinvested need to be liquidated and shifted into sectors in which they can be put to productive use.

Another effect of the injections of credit into the system is that prices rise. More money chasing the same amount of goods results in a rise in prices. Wall Street and the banking system gain the use of the new credit before prices rise. Main Street, however, sees the prices rise before they are able to take advantage of the newly-created credit. The purchasing power of the dollar is eroded and the standard of living of the American people drops.

We live today not in a free market economic system but in a “mixed economy”, marked by an uneasy mixture of corporatism; vestiges of free market capitalism; and outright central planning in some sectors. Each infusion of credit by the Fed distorts the structure of the economy, damages the important role that interest rates play in the market, and erodes the purchasing power of the dollar. Fed policymakers view themselves as wise gurus managing the economy, yet every action they take results in economic distortion and devastation.

Unless Congress gets serious about reining in the Federal Reserve and putting an end to its manipulation, the economic distortions the Fed has caused will not be liquidated; they will become more entrenched, keeping true economic recovery out of our grasp and sowing the seeds for future crisis.

$10,000 Gold Possible As Fed Ramps Up Money Printing

In the wake of the near death of the financial system in 2008, the Federal Reserve engaged in two rounds of quantitative easing and pumped trillions of dollars into banks and other financial institutions.  Ben Bernanke insists that such drastic actions by the central bank were necessary to prevent a depression, a claim that economists will no doubt be debating for decades.

What may not be open to debate, however, is the wisdom of the Fed’s decision to engage in non stop money printing with the announcement of QE3.  A policy tool previously applied to prevent a financial collapse has now become a routine operation in a desperate attempt to ramp up economic growth.  The Federal Reserve seems oblivious to the fact that no nation in history has ever increased its wealth and real economic growth by resorting to the printing presses.

Three most probable outcomes of the Fed’s open ended money printing operations:

1. Continued decline in economic growth.

Following the Fed’s announcement of another round of permanent QE, Egan-Jones Cuts U.S. Rating.

Egan-Jones Ratings Co. cut its credit rating for the U.S. one level to AA-, citing the potential for the Federal Reserve’s third round of large-scale asset purchases to weaken the dollar and drive up inflation.

U.S. debt to gross-domestic-product has risen to 104 percent from 66 percent in 2006, Egan-Jones said today in a report. The firm lowered the U.S. to AA in April. Yields on 10- year Treasuries have fallen five basis points since the end of that month to 1.86 percent.

The Fed’s latest program will “stoke the stock market and commodity prices, but in our opinion will hurt the U.S. economy and, by extension, credit quality,” Egan-Jones said. “The increased cost of commodities will pressure profitability of businesses, and increase the costs of consumers, thereby reducing consumer purchasing power.”

The Fed yesterday announced its third round of large-scale asset purchases since 2008, saying it will buy $40 billion of mortgage debt a month. The central bank didn’t set any limit on the ultimate amount it would buy or the duration of the program. Policy makers also extended the prospect of near-zero interest rates until mid-2015 and said policy will stay accommodative “for a considerable time” even after the economy strengthens.

2. Continued destruction of the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. 

Federal Reserve policies have contributed to a dramatic decline in the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar for decades, resulting in a lower standard of living for Americans.  Expanded money printing will accelerate this trend.

3. Continued increase in the price of gold.

Courtesy: Kitco.com

The decade long rally in gold will dramatically accelerate.  A Barron’s interview asks Could Fed Miscalculations Lead to $10,000 Gold?

These are times that try an asset manager’s soul. The world’s economy is a soft-paste porcelain vase set on a wobbly plant stand in the heart of an active earthquake zone. The Middle East is sending out foreshocks of war. The South China Sea is a smoking caldera of tension. Social unrest in the EU threatens tidal waves. And, according to the agitated rats and snakes of the financial press, China is headed into a recession.

Hedging against the most pessimistic case without crippling the upside potential of a better or even miraculous case appears to be as unsolvable as the proverbial Gordian knot. Alexander the Great “solved” the intellectually challenging knot riddle by severing it with his sword. Scott Minerd, chief investment officer of Guggenheim Partners, offers a more reasoned but equally simple solution to the hedging conundrum: gold. In extreme circumstances—like miscalculations regarding inflation by the Federal Reserve—the metal could hit $10,000 per troy ounce, he asserts. Thursday, after the Fed disclosed its latest financial-stimulus scheme, the metal rose about 2% to $1,768.

Minerd frets about the Fed’s ability to reduce its swollen $2.9 trillion balance sheet if rates suddenly were to rise. Because the assets have longer-term durations, their market value immediately would tumble. If rates rose 1%, the Fed would have a $150 billion capital deficit, he says. This would have negative ramifications for the dollar. Minerd says the über-wealthy have been migrating toward hard assets like gold, real estate, and art. Every portfolio should be partially composed of such assets, he asserts. Is yours?

Gold and Silver Blog has long argued that gold would eventually advance to at least $5,000.  The latest Fed actions make that price target seem conservative.

Fed’s Open Ended Money Printing Will Destroy The Purchasing Power Of U.S. Dollar

By Axel Merk

May we suggest a Twitter version of today’s FOMC statement: “Don’t worry, be happy! ” – No, the economic outlook hasn’t improved. In fact, the Fed may want you to take a valium to stomach the ride ahead. Alternatively, if you don’t get mollified by the Fed’s “communication strategy”, you may want to consider taking action to protect the purchasing power of your hard earned dollars.

Here’s the challenge: the Federal Reserve (Fed) wants to keep interest rates low across the yield curve (from short-term to long-term rates) to aid the economic recovery. But good economic data might send the bond market into a tailspin, i.e. raise long-term rates and thus cause massive headwinds to the economic recovery. We got a taste of how quickly the bond market can sell off earlier this year when the economy appeared to pick up some steam. Higher interest rates would further encourage the major deleveraging that market forces still warrant, not a desirable scenario from our understanding of Fed Chairman Bernanke’s thinking.

Engaging in further rounds of asset purchases (“Quantitative Easing”, “QE3”, “QEn+1”) may alleviate some of those upward pressures on interest rates, but the moment a program is announced, the market prices it in and looks ahead, threatening to mitigate any lasting impact of QEn+1. Picture the Fed as trying to hold a carrot in front of the donkey, well, market, to make us believe another stimulus is coming, without actually giving it. That way, the Fed can print less money to achieve its goals. The Fed calls it communication strategy.

Some have suggested a more open-ended approach to asset purchases. But that would likely come with some sort of guidance as to when to stop it, such as when a certain level of unemployment or nominal growth is reached. Given that everything Bernanke has done has been signaled well ahead of time (the blogosphere is full of the “best kept secret”, the likelihood of more QE), introducing a completely new concept is rather un-Bernanke-ish. You may not agree with Bernanke, but as an investor please don’t act surprised.

In recently released FOMC minutes, the Fed tells us that it might communicate to the market that rates may remain low even as the economy recovers. Bingo! We have long argued that Bernanke considered the early monetary tightening during the Great Depression as a grave mistake, as it undid all the “progress” that had been achieved. But more to the point, the Fed needs to get our attention away from the economy. By keeping the link to the economy, the Fed will always struggle to keep the upper hand on the bond market. So forget about the carrot: we need valium, not carrots. By communicating with the market that rates will remain low independent of how the economy might perform, the bond market just might not be selling off as aggressively as economic growth picks up.

That’s exactly the path we believe the Fed is going to go down. It will be interesting, however, to see what the Fed’s explanation will be. We doubt they will use the valium analogy. Some Fed watchers would like to see a nominal GDP target or something similar, but don’t bet your donkey on Bernanke going that far.

The basic challenge is – and we are interpreting here as we don’t think the Fed or any central banker in office would ever frame it this way: the Fed wants to have inflation, wants to move the price level higher to bail out home owners, wants to push up nominal wages, and wants to push up nominal GDP to make the debt burden more bearable. But the Fed doesn’t want the market to price in inflation, as that would push interest rates up.

That’s why we may be heading ever more into the “Land of Make-Believe.” But as investors enjoy their valium, the U.S. dollar is at risk of melting away under their feet. Drugged up, we are too busy laughing at Greece and doling out advice to Europe to notice that our “don’t worry, be happy” approach might lead to rather unhappy purchasing power. If you think you are above the fray, let me just ask whether you have watched the euro in recent months? As of late, that perceived weakling of a currency appears to be giving the greenback a run for its money. We are not suggesting that investors dump their U.S. dollars and exchange them all for euros. However, we would like to encourage investors to consider embracing currency risk, for example through a managed basket of currencies, as a way to manage the risk posed to the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. Adding currency exposure to a portfolio may have valuable diversification benefits.

Some sympathize with the ever greater complexity of monetary activism around the world. But it’s really rather simple: there’s too much debt in the world. To deal with the debt, countries may deflate, default or inflate. In the US, we have what both Bernanke and his predecessor Greenspan have called the printing press; as such, so their argument goes, the U.S. dollar is safe – in nominal terms at least. Greece is not capable of procuring valium, which creates a different set of challenges. But stop pitying Greece and consider taking action to protect your purchasing power at home.

Please sign up to our newsletter to be informed as we discuss global dynamics and their impact on gold and currencies. You can also engage with me directly at Twitter.com/AxelMerk where I provide real-time updates on the economy, currencies, and global dynamics..

Axel Merk
President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds

Why Gold Will Outperform Bonds

By Vin Maru

This past week was a major catalyst for the precious metals, as they closed the week up strongly based on strong fundamentals for the sector. We have been anticipating the next catalyst for the PM sector to start making a strong advance, and we got it with a coordinated effort from central banks around the world. They will print whatever is necessary to fight off deflation and another financial collapse. Here are a few headlines we saw from the media lately:

“Gold Prices Gain on German Ruling”, “ECB to launch ‘outright monetary transaction’ plan”, andIMF’s Lagarde backs ECB-bond buying plan”

This afternoon, the FOMC meeting concluded and was followed by a press conference by Ben Bernanke. The precious metals market has been on a strong uptrend over the last month in anticipation of additional bond buying and stimulus (AKA Quantitative Easing).  Over the last month, the fed has hinted that they will stimulate if needed but never actually pulled the trigger. Precious metals still rose in anticipation of coming QE.  Well, he finally did it and the metal prices are up on this news, below is some commentary on what the fed announced. See Reuters article about this QE.

This looks to be stimulus like the original QE 1 and 2 and this is super bullish for gold, like it was back in 2009 and 2010.  This starts off another major uptrend for gold and it will be going to $3500 over the next few years.  Now is the time to be getting invested again, it’s almost an all in moment on any pullback and then its onwards and upwards from here.  We can expect this QE to last indefinitely just like we can expect a low interest rate environment for an extended period of time.  It’s QE to infinity and gold will definitely shine.

ECB Bond Buying Program

With headlines like these, the world markets are proven to be irrational in their approach to dealing with debts; the central banks around the world will print and by up bonds as needed. The West may have saved themselves for the moment, but this really opens up the door for moral hazard and the mindset that debts don’t matter has been rationalized around the world. The Western central planners rationalize their action by stating the bond buying program will be sterilized. The hazard is that other central bankers around the world will also engage in sterilized bond buying and supporting of governments, all of which is backed by nothing except faith. They claim the bond buying is sterilized because the central banks print money to buy bonds of the governments to keep yields low and then make up new bonds to sell to other central banks and all of this financial alchemy is based on buying and selling of foreign currency bonds. To learn more about currency intervention and how the bonds could be sterilized, you can read about it here.

They claim the net effect is there is no increase in the monetary base, but any rational human can see this is pure manipulation and gaming the system. With no new monetary base, the money supply in the system does not increase and it is very similar to Operation Twist. The net effect of the new bond buying program is there will be no direct stimulus to the economy and the governments will continue to be supported by the central banks. The new bonds issued by the government will carry lower interest rates, which will then be supposedly paid back to the CBs over an extended period of time. The old government debt will be rolled over and extended from this bond buying program and only small amounts of additional interest will be paid on these new bonds, which tax payers will eventually have to pay one way or another. The governments will then have to accommodate the additional interest payments on the new debt which could eat into budgets, so they will either tax more or reduce some of their spending. The paper currency Ponzi scheme will be allowed to continue and coup d’état over the financial system has been accomplished by the central bankers. The idea is that bad loans and debts do not matter anymore in an attempt to keep the system afloat, eventually that will fail and precious metals will prosper as a result.

With keeping interest rates low, bonds have virtually no upside from here since interest rates can’t go much lower from here.  Savers will be forced to speculate in order to create yield and precious metals will benefit over the next few years from a negative yield interest rate environment.  Business with tons of cash on the sidelines will be forced put that money to work in search of economic returns and banks with tons of cheap cash on hand will be loaning out more money to qualified people and businesses. Deflation and collapse is no longer an option, the system will be supported and soon the market will be talking about expansion and growth again. Money will be put to work even though the western economies may stagnate over the next decade. The market will soon look beyond the Euro and US mess and move forward in search of yield.  It may continue looking at emerging markets for growth and opportunities, but it definitely look to precious metals for safety from the depreciation of paper currencies.

Once we start seeing this money turning over in the system, the velocity of money will increase significantly which will then lead to higher inflation, this is when we can expect gold to really shine.  While the upside for bonds will be limited in a low interest rate environment, the upside for gold is unlimited from endless printing of fiat currencies and bonds by all central bankers and governments around the world.  The upside for the price of bonds is limited to interest rates going to zero and they can be printed to infinity.  The amount of gold available in the world is fixed to current inventory plus expected additional supply.  Because supply is limited, gold’s price could go to infinity to equally match the unlimited printing of bonds and currency units which are used to purchase them. So in the end, bond prices are limited on the upside while supply is infinite, while gold supply is limited and it’s price is limitless in a world based on fiat currencies—which would you rather own?

Gold Update

In the last 2 weeks, gold has made a great break out move above $1620 and then $1660-$1680. The price is now holding strong above $1720 as central bankers are planning on bond buying programs and additional stimulus in a coordinated effort to avoid a deflationary spiral. This opens up the door to QE to infinity, they will print since there is no other option and precious metals will benefit from this. Gold and silver are going much higher in the years to come, but it won’t be in a straight line. Expect volatile moves to the upside and swift corrections, but the general trend for the next few years is towards higher prices. Keep with the trend and buy the dips and sell into major strength if you plan on trading the paper markets. If you purchased the physical metals during this past summer, you may want to consider holding on to them, we may not see these prices again, ever.

The RSI is rising and starting to move above 80, which could be getting into overbought territory, however the MACD is in a slow steady trend higher over the last couple of months. Look for new support to be around $1680 (which would be a good opportunity to add to positions) and short term overhead resistance to be at $1780-1800 (sell trading positions currently open) which has been overhead resistance back in November and February, at which time we could see a significant correction. If the gold market clears $1800 and holds on a closing weekly basis, we could retest the previous highs and go on to make new highs .

The HUI Gold Miners Index

The HUI clearly broke the downtrend line by gapping up above it late last week. The RSI is still rising and so is the MACD. If gold makes a move to $1800, expect the HUI to rise towards 500 before taking a break and correction. This would be a great time to sell open trading position in the next few weeks, especially after any news from the Fed about stimulus and QE. The fact that gold and the HUI has risen so much in the last month based on expectations for QE and the indicators are getting close to  overbought territory.  We may see an initial jump in price for the HUI index after any announcement, then a minor correction as much of this news could be priced into the metals and the miners.  Watch the reaction of the metals and the HUI later this week and next, but if the advance higher starts stalling out, you may want to consider closing trading positions and book some profits.

More than likely towards the end of this month/early next month, we could start to see a minor correction going into October and November as election approach, the market may take a breather. We may also see some strong year end selling this year, especially coming from the US as their tax laws on capital gains are scheduled to change next year. It would be a good time to start new positions or add to current holdings during that correction.  We can expect the trend to continue higher as the metals go on to make higher highs and higher lows over the next 6 to 9 months.

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Gold and Debt – What Would Benjamin Franklin Have Said?

Benjamin Franklin, one of the most eloquent wordsmiths in American history, coined one of the most famous quotations of all time in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789.

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Contemplating the nation’s growing indebtedness lead me to wonder what immortal phrase Ben Franklin would conjure up to describe the current state of our financial affairs.

Recently and without much public drama, the national debt ticked up by another trillion dollars.  Including off balance sheet liabilities for social security, medicare and a host of other government guarantees brings the true national debt figure up to around a cool $70 trillion.

The majority of the public is either unable to comprehend how much a trillion is or doesn’t much care.  One way or the other, however, the debt falls upon the backs of American families who are already being crushed by zero rates on savings, job losses, lower income and a higher cost of living.  Viewing the debt burden per household gives us a perspective on how bleak our economic future may become.

The official national debt per America’s approximately 118 million households is $136,000.  Throw in the off balance sheet liabilities and we get up to $593,000.  Consider that the median annual household income is only $49,445 and has been declining for the past 20 years.

Are things really as hopeless as they look?  Doesn’t the United States hold the world’s largest amount of gold reserves?   The good news first – yes the U.S. owns 8,133.5 metric tonnes of gold, more than twice as much as second place Germany with 3,395 metric tonnes.   The bad news is that at today’s undervalued gold price, total U.S. gold reserves are only worth $454 billion.  Gold reserves per American households amount to only $3,847, a fraction (0.65%) of total household debt.

Exactly how the Fed’s Frankenstein experiment in fiat money creation will end, nobody knows – but it won’t end well for most of us.  Right now, increases in both the value of gold and the amount of debt seem as certain as death and taxes.  I wonder how Ben Franklin would have phrased it?

Ron Paul – “The World Will Abandon The Dollar As The Global Reserve Currency”

In August Ron Paul accused the U.S. Treasury “guilty of counterfeiting dollars” by virtue of its monopoly power on money in America.  Paul noted that the expanding role of the Federal Reserve in monetizing government debt has resulted in a massive debasement of the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar.

Continued reckless money printing by the Federal Reserve and massive government deficits will ultimately result in the loss of confidence by holders of  U.S. dollars.  Ron Paul sees the U.S. dollar inexorably losing its status as global reserve currency unless the dollar is backed by precious metals or commodities.

Evidence of the horrendous loss of purchasing power by the U.S. dollar is not hard to understand.  The average citizen sees it everyday as higher prices and lower incomes relentlessly lower our standard of living.   The systematic destruction of the U.S. dollar’s purchasing power can be seen in a chart published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

How Long Will the Dollar Remain the World’s Reserve Currency?

By: Congressman Ron Paul

We frequently hear the financial press refer to the U.S. dollar as the “world’s reserve currency,” implying that our dollar will always retain its value in an ever shifting world economy.  But this is a dangerous and mistaken assumption.

Since August 15, 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window and refused to pay out any of our remaining 280 million ounces of gold, the U.S. dollar has operated as a pure fiat currency.  This means the dollar became an article of faith in the continued stability and might of the U.S. government.

In essence, we declared our insolvency in 1971.   Everyone recognized some other monetary system had to be devised in order to bring stability to the markets.

Amazingly, a new system was devised which allowed the U.S. to operate the printing presses for the world reserve currency with no restraints placed on it– not even a pretense of gold convertibility! Realizing the world was embarking on something new and mind-boggling, elite money managers, with especially strong support from U.S. authorities, struck an agreement with OPEC in the 1970s to price oil in U.S. dollars exclusively for all worldwide transactions. This gave the dollar a special place among world currencies and in essence backed the dollar with oil.

In return, the U.S. promised to protect the various oil-rich kingdoms in the Persian Gulf against threat of invasion or domestic coup. This arrangement helped ignite radical Islamic movements among those who resented our influence in the region. The arrangement also gave the dollar artificial strength, with tremendous financial benefits for the United States. It allowed us to export our monetary inflation by buying oil and other goods at a great discount as the dollar flourished.

In 2003, however, Iran began pricing its oil exports in Euro for Asian and European buyers.  The Iranian government also opened an oil bourse in 2008 on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf for the express purpose of trading oil in Euro and other currencies. In 2009 Iran completely ceased any oil transactions in U.S. dollars.  These actions by the second largest OPEC oil producer pose a direct threat to the continued status of our dollar as the world’s reserve currency, a threat which partially explains our ongoing hostility toward Tehran.

While the erosion of our petrodollar agreement with OPEC certainly threatens the dollar’s status in the Middle East, an even larger threat resides in the Far East.  Our greatest benefactors for the last twenty years– Asian central banks– have lost their appetite for holding U.S. dollars.  China, Japan, and Asia in general have been happy to hold U.S. debt instruments in recent decades, but they will not prop up our spending habits forever.  Foreign central banks understand that American leaders do not have the discipline to maintain a stable currency.

If we act now to replace the fiat system with a stable dollar backed by precious metals or commodities, the dollar can regain its status as the safest store of value among all government currencies.  If not, the rest of the world will abandon the dollar as the global reserve currency.

Both Congress and American consumers will then find borrowing a dramatically more expensive proposition. Remember, our entire consumption economy is based on the willingness of foreigners to hold U.S. debt.  We face a reordering of the entire world economy if the federal government cannot print, borrow, and spend money at a rate that satisfies its endless appetite for deficit spending.

Gold and Silver Bullion Coin Sales Jump 25% In August, San Francisco Silver Eagle Set Sold Out

The latest sales figures from the U.S. Mint for August show a significant increase in sales of both gold and silver bullion coins.

Sales of gold bullion coins during 2012 have varied dramatically from month to month with a high of 127,000 ounces in January to a low of only 20,000 ounces in April.  Monthly gold bullion sales through August have averaged 51,625 ounces.

Monthly sales of silver bullion coins have been more consistent during 2012.  The U.S. Mint sold over 6 million ounces of silver bullion coins in January, but the monthly pace has tapered off to under 3 million ounces.  The average monthly sales of silver bullion coins through August is 2,817,500.

American Eagle Gold Bullion Coin Sales

Total sales of the American Eagle Gold bullion coins during August totaled 39,000 ounces, up 27.9% from July’s total of 30,500 ounces.  Total sales of gold bullion coins by the U.S. Mint through August totaled 413,000 ounces, valued at approximately $700 million based on today’s closing gold price.

On an annualized basis, the U.S. Mint will sell almost 620,000 ounces of  gold bullion to investors this year valued at $1.0 billion if the price of gold remains at $1,692.  During 2009, the peak year of gold bullion coin sales by the U.S. Mint, investors purchased 1,435,000 ounces valued at $1.4 billion based on the average price of gold of $972 per ounce.

Investors who have reduced gold bullion purchases due to the increased cost per ounce will no doubt regret this decision as the price of gold continues to increase.  The value of gold should be viewed in the context of the reduced purchasing power of the dollar – as the Federal Reserve constantly destroys the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar, the “dollar cost” of gold will naturally increase.  The price of gold is merely reflecting the fact that paper dollars are worth less and less every day.

As the Fed continues to do what it does, expect the bull market in gold to continue.

Listed below are yearly sales figures for the American Eagle gold bullion coins since 2000.  Sales for 2012 are through August 31st.

Gold Bullion U.S. Mint Sales By Year
Year Total Sales Oz.
2000 164,500
2001 325,000
2002 315,000
2003 484,500
2004 536,000
2005 449,000
2006 261,000
2007 198,500
2008 860,500
2009 1,435,000
2010 1,220,500
2011 1,000,000
2012 413,000
Total 7,662,500

American Eagle Silver Bullion Coin Sales

Sales of the American Eagle Silver bullion coins by the U.S. Mint during August totaled 2,870,000 ounces, up 25% from the July total of 2,278,000 ounces.  Investor demand for silver has remained strong, with many investors taking the opportunity to purchase additional silver below the highs reached during 2011.  Sales of the silver bullion coins remain near record levels and total sales for 2012 should be well in excess of 30 million ounces for the third consecutive year.

Total annual sales by the U.S. Mint of the silver bullion coins since 2000 are shown below.  Sales for 2012 are through August.

American Silver Eagle Bullion Coins
YEAR OUNCES SOLD
2000 9,133,000
2001 8,827,500
2002 10,475,500
2003 9,153,500
2004 9,617,000
2005 8,405,000
2006 10,021,000
2007 9,887,000
2008 19,583,500
2009 28,766,500
2010 34,662,500
2011 39,868,500
Jul-12 22,540,000
TOTAL 220,940,500

U.S. Mint Numismatic American Eagle Gold and Silver Coins

Both the American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins can only be purchased from the U.S. Mint by Authorized Purchasers who in turn resell the coins to other dealers and the general public.  The numismatic versions of the American Eagle series coins can be purchased directly from the U.S. Mint.

Many of the numismatic silver coins produced by the U.S. Mint attract strong demand and often times, the coins will sell at a premium in the secondary market.  A recent example of this is the 2012 San Francisco Silver Eagle Set.  According to the Mint News Blog:

The 2012 San Francisco Silver Eagle Set was one of the United States Mint’s most anticipated product releases of the year. Each set contained one 2012-S Proof Silver Eagle and one 2012-S Reverse Proof Silver Eagle.

Product sales began on June 7, 2012 at 12:00 Noon ET with pricing of $149.95 per set. Rather than establishing a maximum product limit, as had been done for similar products in the past, the US Mint would accept orders during a four week ordering window and produce the sets to meet the total demand. A sales odometer which was updated daily gave collectors an indication of the progress of the offering. Sales officially closed on July 5, 2012 at 5:00 PM ET. The last indicated sales total was 251,302 sets.

On the secondary market, prices for the sets remain above the issue price. A quick survey of eBay auctions completed within the past few days show the prices realized for raw sets mostly falling into a range of $180 to $190, compared to the issue price of $149.95.

Sets which have been graded by PCGS or NGC and received the top grade of Proof-70 have sold for premiums above raw sets. Sets with the two coins graded PCGS PR70DCAM and PR70 have recently sold for prices around $425 to $450. Sets with the two coins graded NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo and PF 70 have sold for prices around $300 to $325.

Fed’s Easy Money Policies Will Continue – Why Bernanke Must Err On The Side Of Inflation

By Axel Merk

To print or not to print? Odds are that Fed Chairman Bernanke has been contemplating this question while drafting his upcoming Jackson Hole speech. The one good thing about policy makers worldwide is that they may be fairly predictable. As such, we present our crystal ball as to what the Fed might be up to next, and what the implications may be for the U.S. dollar and gold.

First off, we may be exaggerating: on process rather than substance, though. That is, Bernanke isn’t just thinking about whether to print or not to print as he is sitting down to draft his speech. Instead, he considers himself a student of the Great Depression and has been pondering policy responses to a credit bust for some time. Consider the following:

  • Bernanke has argued that going off the gold standard during the Great Depression helped the U.S. recover faster from the Great Depression than countries that held on to the gold standard for longer.
    • Bernanke is correct: subject to many risks, debasing a currency (which going off the gold standard was) can boost nominal growth. Think of it this way: if the government takes your purchasing power away, you have a greater incentive to work. Not exactly the mandate of a central bank, though.
    • Note by the way that by implication, countries that hold on to the gold standard invite a lot of pain, but have stronger currencies. Fast forward to today and compare the U.S. to Europe. While neither country is on the gold standard, the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has increased more in percentage terms than that of the European Central Bank since the onset of the financial crisis. Using a central bank’s balance sheet as a proxy for the amount of money that has been “printed”, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the Eurozone experiences substantial pain, but the Euro has been comparatively resilient.
    • Possibly the most important implication: Bernanke considers the value of the U.S. dollar a monetary policy tool. When we have argued in the past that Bernanke might be actively working to weaken the U.S. dollar, it is because of comments such as this one. This is obviously our interpretation of his comments; a central banker rarely says that their currency is too strong, although such comments have increasingly been made by central bankers around the world as those pursuing sounder monetary policy have their economies suffer from competitive devaluations elsewhere.
  • Bernanke has argued that one of the biggest mistakes during the Great Depression was that monetary policy was tightened too early. Here’s the problem: in a credit bust, central banks try to stem against the flow. If market forces were to play out, the washout would be severe and swift. Those in favor of central bank intervention argue that it would be too painful and that more businesses than needed would fail, the hardship imposed on the people is too much. Those against central bank intervention point out that creative destruction is what makes capitalism work; the faster the adjustment is, even if extremely painful, the better, as the recovery is healthier and stronger.
    • If the policy choice is to react to a credit bust with accommodative monetary policy, fighting market forces, and then such accommodation is removed too early, the “progress” achieved may be rapidly undone.
    • We are faced with the same challenge today: if monetary accommodation were removed at this stage (interest rates raised, liquidity mopped up), there’s a risk that the economy plunges right back down into recession, if not a deflationary spiral. As such, when Bernanke claimed the Fed could raise rates in 15 minutes, we think it is a mere theoretical possibility. In fact, we believe that the framework in which the Fed is thinking, it must err on the side of inflation.

Of course no central banker in office would likely ever agree with the assessment that the Fed might want to err on the side of inflation. But consider the most recent FOMC minutes that read:

  • An extension [of a commitment to keep interest rates low] might be particularly effective if done in conjunction with a statement indicating that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy was likely to be maintained even as the recovery progressed

As the FOMC minutes were released three weeks after the FOMC meeting, many pundits dismissed them as “stale”; after all, the economy had somewhat improved since the meeting. Indeed, it wasn’t just pundits: some more hawkish Fed officials promoted that view as well. But to make clear who is calling the shots, Bernanke wrote in a letter dated August 22 (the same date the FOMC minutes were released) to California Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “There is scope for further action by the Federal Reserve to ease financial conditions and strengthen the recovery.” Various news organizations credited the faltering of an incipient U.S. dollar rally on August 24 with the publication of this Bernanke letter.

For good order’s sake, we should clarify that the Fed doesn’t actually print money. Indeed, printing physical currency is not considered very effective; instead, liquidity is injected into the banking system: the Fed increases the credit balances of financial institutions in accounts held with the Fed in return for buying securities from them. Because of fractional reserve banking rules, the ‘liquidity’ provided through this action can lead to a high multiple in loans. In practice, one of the frustrations of the Fed has been that loan growth has not been boosted as much as the Fed would have hoped. When we, and Bernanke himself for that matter, have referred to the Fed’s “printing press” in this context, referring to money that has been “printed”, it’s the growth in the balance sheet at the Federal Reserve. That’s because the Fed’s resources are not constrained; it’s simply an accounting entry to pay for a security purchased; that security is now on the Fed’s balance sheet, hence the ‘growth’ in the Fed’s balance sheet.

Frankly, we are not too concerned about the environment we are in. At least not as concerned as we are about the environment we might be in down the road: that’s because we simply don’t see how all the liquidity can be mopped up in a timely manner when needed. At some point, some of this money is going to ‘stick’. Even if Bernanke wanted to, we very much doubt he could raise rates in 15 minutes. To us, it means the time for investors to act may be now. However, talking with both existing and former Fed officials, they don’t seem terribly concerned about this risk. Then again Fed officials have rarely been accused of being too far sighted. We are concerned because just a little bit of tightening has a much bigger effect in an economy that is highly leveraged. Importantly, we don’t need the Fed to tighten: as the sharp selloff in the bond market earlier this year (and the recent more benign selloff) have shown, as soon as the market prices in a recovery, headwinds to economic activity increase as bond yields are rising. That’s why Bernanke emphasizes “communication strategy”, amongst others, to tell investors not to worry, rates will stay low for an extended period. This dance might get ever more challenging.

In some ways, Bernanke is an open book. In his ‘helicopter Ben’ speech a decade ago, he laid out the tools he would employ when faced with a collapse in aggregate demand (the credit bust we have had). He has deployed just about all tools from his toolbox, except for the purchase of foreign government bonds; recently, he shed cold water on that politically dicey option. Then two years ago, in Jackson Hole, Bernanke provided an update, specifying three options:

  • To expand the Fed’s holdings of longer-term securities
  • To ease financial conditions through communications
  • To lower the interest rate the Fed pays on bank reserves to possibly 10 basis points or zero.

We have not seen the third option implemented, but the Fed might be discouraged from the experience at the European Central Bank: cutting rates too close to zero might discourage intra-bank lending and cause havoc in the money markets.

As such, expect Bernanke to give an update on his toolbox in Jackson Hole. The stakes are high as even doves at the Fed believe further easing might not be all that effective and could possibly cause more side effects (read: inflation). As such, we expect him to provide a framework as to why and how the Fed might be acting, and why we should trust the Fed that it won’t allow inflation to become a problem. For investors that aren’t quite as confident that the Fed can pull things off without inducing inflation, they may want to consider adding gold or a managed basket of currencies to mitigate the risk to the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar.

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Axel Merk
President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds