July 24, 2024

How Would Gold Perform In A Full Blown Depression?

“We need to do massive stimulus, otherwise there’s going to be another Great Depression.  Things are getting worse, and the big difference between now and a few years ago is that this time around we’re running out of policy bullets.”  – Professor Nouriel Roubini

As the global financial system lurches towards financial Armageddon, would a safe haven asset such as gold maintain its value in a severe depression?

This and other questions were addressed in a Barron’s interview with Martin Murenbeeld, chief economist for Canada’s DundeeWealth, an asset management firm.  Murenbeeld has held senior positions with various gold mining firms for 40 years and turned bullish on gold in 2001.

In response to questions from Barron’s, Mr. Murenbeeld provided the following insights on the gold market and where he thinks prices are headed.

-Murenbeeld told Barron’s that the recent surge in gold prices was related to investor worries over impaired sovereign balance sheets, monetary reflation, global financial instability and strong demand for physical gold from Asia.  In addition, global gold production has barely increased.  Murenbeeld sees an average gold price of $2,200 in 2012 and only a 10% chance that gold will pull back to the $1,500 range.

-The current gold bull market could last another 10 years due to expanded Asian demand and unprecedented adverse financial conditions in the world economy.  Murenbeeld says history “has shown that gold prices…go through very long cycles.”  The last gold bull market of the early 1980’s was one of the shortest on record.

-Regarding the current disconnect between gold bullion and gold stocks, Murenbeeld notes that during times of severe financial stress, bullion outperforms gold stocks since investors avoid equity issues in general.  Over the long term, however, gold stocks have outperformed bullion.

-If the world enters a major depression, gold prices would likely drop since “demand for everything falls off.”  Murenbeeld notes, however, that monetary response to a depression would be fast and aggressive which would quickly propel gold prices higher.

-Murenbeeld says that current demand for gold in “unprecedented” and due to Federal Reserve policies, the introduction of gold ETFs and huge demand for physical gold by billions of consumers in Asia.

-In response to how world governments will deal with the current severe financial problems, Murenbeeld said “during my working life the risk of monetary debasement – the outright printing of money supply in the developed countries has never been higher.  Thus, we see the unprecedented interest in gold…Most likely governments will meet the bulk of their debt obligations with currency devaluations and the monetizing of debt”.

-As far as the possibility that investors will lose interest in gold, Murenbeeld says that could happen if “confidence in monetary and fiscal policies is restored”.   (Not much chance of that happening any time soon in this writer’s opinion.)

U.S. Currency At No Risk Of Becoming Sound – Gold Has Spoken

Ben Bernanke tells us he wants a sound dollar and Barrack Obama tells us he wants to cut entitlements and reduce the budget deficit.

I have no doubt that both gentlemen are honorable and doing what they believe is best for the country.  Others, perhaps less naive than myself, may be inclined to believe that the Fed Chairman and President are attempting to foist a distorted view of reality on the American public.  Credibility can depend on the public’s perception of reality, a fact well understood by politicians and central bankers.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister

“When it becomes serious, you have to lie”. – Jean-Claude Juncker, Euro Finance Minister

It’s not hard for politicians to fool the American public – they have had many decades of experience honing that skill.  It is another matter to fool the markets and using that scorecard , our dysfunctional and highly polarized government has failed miserably.  The gold market has not been fooled, holders of US dollars have not been fooled and the U.S. debt monster is visible to all.

Gold - courtesy stockcharts.com

US Dollar - courtesy stockcharts.com


After weeks of bitter debate, the best that the Washington elite could manage to do was agree to disagree at a later date and, of course, establish a commission to look further into the debt crisis, also at a later date.

The elegant solution to the nation’s debt problem, as described above, may finally allow John Q. Public to sleep more soundly at night.  Inquiring minds, however, can cite numerous reasons why the Nation’s debt crisis will be keeping all of us awake in the near term future.

-The ultimate compromise to the debt crisis will be more debt, following in the footsteps of the EU’s grand solution to the Greek debt crisis.  “I will gladly pay you tomorrow if you lend me more money today” attitude  is going to quickly wear thin with U.S. creditors.

-The U.S. is borrowing trillions to pump cash into a weakening economy that already can’t create enough income to service the debt we already have – this strategy is the ultimate Ponzi scheme.  The conviction that future economic growth will pay for today’s borrowings is false.  Burdensome levels of public sector debt have been proven to dramatically restrain future economic growth.

-The U.S. and world economies are looking at a replay of the 1930’s depression, except this one won’t be so gentle.  The American public, with the persuasion of politicians, has come to believe that the “richest nation on earth” can provide cradle to grave security based on mathematically impossible entitlement promises.  The financial chaos and social breakdown resulting from broken promises to pay by the government will severely test the foundations of our democracy.

-All of the proposed “solutions” to the country’s overwhelming debt problem involve increasing the national debt by trillions more and agreeing to phantom spending cuts at some point in the future.  The U.S. is on a debt treadmill and all of the political solutions coming out of Washington are equivalent to turning up the speed on  the treadmill and pouring oil on the belt.

-The Dodd-Frank Act, which was supposed to solve the problem of systemically risky institutions, ignored the biggest systemic risk of all to our financial future – the U.S. government.

-The Federal Reserve, which according to Bernanke, “saved  the entire world” from a depression in 2008, has strangely detached itself from the crisis by proclaiming that they are powerless and without policy tools to prevent the looming U.S. debt default.  (See this on Ron Paul’s view of the Fed).  If worse comes to worse, perhaps Bernanke should seek some advice from the insolvent States of California and Illinois on how to go about issuing vouchers.

China’s Emerging Influence in the Gold Market

China and its people have a long held interest in the gold market. The country’s history has been marked by periods of unrest, and its people have regularly chosen to heed history’s warnings when it comes to investment. Their general preference has been for investments that they perceive as safe and solid, as opposed to paper instruments. Thus, their top two investment choices are gold and real estate.

During the course of 2010, China’s gold imports grew nearly 500 percent. What is most surprising is that we have this information at all. Normally China is quite secretive about their gold investments and imports.

China Comes Out

Further information on the Chinese gold market reveals that turnover on the Shanghai Gold Exchanges for the first three quarters of 2010 exceeded total global identifiable demand. The number of individual customers on the exchange neared 1.6 million.

When you also consider the fact that China is the world’s top gold producer and the recent joint announcement of ministry promotion of the gold market—its easy to see why China is considered to be a force to be reckoned with in the 2011 gold investment market.

Searching for Gold

The gloves are finally off after all. China has announced its first gold mutual fund and investment demand in the country is increasing from both individual and governmental sources. The country has positively connected their future development of the gold market to the competitiveness of financial markets and made it known to the world that they don’t plan to keep their movements quiet anymore.

Sensible investors and analysts are taking China’s actions into account when trying to predict the movements of the gold market for the coming year. After all, no one wants to ignore one of the biggest players in the room.

The State of the Gold Market

Until quite recently, the gold market has been experiencing a strong rise in prices. This has been due to factors such as concerns regarding weak currencies and unstable foreign governments. Gold has been viewed as a safe haven investment and has been attracting an increasing share of investment dollars. Despite the recent cool down, many market experts are predicting a continued rise in prices over the long term.

The Most Recent Market Reports

As of November 26, SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) stated that its holdings remained unchanged from the previous trading day at 41,316,740 ounces. The IShares Silver Trust (SLV) stated that its holdings declined by 5,865,684 ounces to 344.374 million ounces. Market experts have suggested that the holding pattern, as well as the slightly lowered prices indicate a decrease in safe haven demand. Recent data on the economic situation in the US has at least temporarily arrested some of the more pressing fears about the economy, and the price of gold has typically risen and fallen inversely to the strength of the dollar.

Other Gold Related News

There are other potential considerations. For example: a major French gold supplier is launching a range of mini bars. There has been a growing interest in precious metal investments in the French market and this new approach is aimed to capture some of this market. In addition, Canadian company Infinito Gold Ltd has lost its gold concession after a Costa Rican court ruled that their mining was harmful to the local environment. Finally, the central bank in Vietnam is actively attempting to cool domestic gold market prices by granting additional quotas for domestic companies importing gold between now and year end.