May 26, 2024

Federal Reserve May Cause Stampede Into Gold and Silver This Week

At the end of a two day Federal Reserve policy meeting, Fed Chairman Bernanke has scheduled a news conference on Wednesday that has the potential to rattle markets worldwide.   Every analyst and investor at the news conference is certain to focus their questions on Fed plans after the scheduled completion of QE2  in June.

Current market expectations are that the Fed will not announce a new program of asset purchases and will initiate steps to slowly reduce the size of its bloated $2.5 trillion balance sheet.  Through the end of June, the Fed will have purchased $600 billion of treasury debt using newly created dollars, after having purchased $1.7 trillion of assets under QE1.

The Federal Reserve has been supporting the skyrocketing federal deficit by purchasing 85% of all new treasury debt since QE2 was initiated.   Some analysts think that interest rates on US debt will increase once the largest buyer of treasury debt steps aside.  The withdrawal of massive stimulus by the Fed could also cause a sell off in stocks and bonds, and result in lower housing prices and higher unemployment.  Under this scenario, another round of quantitative easing by the Fed would become inevitable.

Chairman Bernanke’s comments on the Federal Reserve’s exit strategy from a super easy monetary policy could cause major moves in many markets, especially precious metals.  If the markets sense that the Fed may need to initiate another round of quantitative easing, gold and silver prices will explode to the upside.  This prediction is based on the results of the current QE2 program which benefited certain asset categories but did little to help the average American.

Since last August when it became clear that the Fed would initiate QE2, we have witnessed the following results.

  • Home prices have continued to decline.
  • The 30 year mortgage rate has increased from 4.2% to 4.8%.
  • New housing starts declined to all time lows.
  • The 10 year treasury note rate has increased from 2.6% to 3.4%.

The Fed has continued its policy of near zero short term interest rates at the expense of consumers who receive virtually no return on savings.  Banks, meanwhile have increased US treasury and agency securities to a massive $1.7 trillion, benefiting from the spread between short and long rates.

The Fed’s policy of overt currency debasement, while helping to increase exports and earnings for multinational corporations has resulted in the dollar declining to the all time lows reached in early 2008.   Foreign countries with dollar reserves are protecting themselves by diversifying out of dollars and into other currencies and hard assets.

The lower value of the US dollar, while helping multinational corporations, has resulted in higher oil and food costs which has put  additional strains on consumers already burdened with excessive levels of debt and declining incomes.

Unemployment has remained stubbornly high despite unprecedented fiscal and monetary stimulus.  The Fed can print money but it cannot directly create an increase in real incomes for the average American family.  Nor can the Fed fool the people – recent Gallup polls show that almost half of the public has little faith in the Federal Reserve’s ability to do the right thing.

The Fed’s explicit policies of dollar debasement and zero interest rates risks triggering a major collapse in the value of the dollar.   Since last summer the dollar has seen a decline of 16% as investors do the logical thing and dump dollars.

Huge US  budget deficits, uncontrolled spending  and money printing by the Fed resulted in a warning by S&P that a credit downgrade on US debt was possible, putting further pressure on the US dollar.

QE2 liquidity did result in higher stock and precious metal prices benefiting a minority of Americans while doing nothing to solve the problem of too much debt and too little income.  Reliance on the Fed to come to the rescue with ever increasing amounts of cheap money has become the last resort, self defeating option.

The gold and silver markets are reflecting the failure of  unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies which virtually guarantee further appreciation in the precious metals sector.  Any pullback in prices should be viewed as a long term buying opportunity.

Why There Is No Upside Limit for Gold and Silver Prices

The past decade has seen a virtually nonstop advance in the price of gold.  Silver, which lagged gold until last year,  recently hit a 31 year price high.  Gold and silver, both used as currency for thousands of years, have gained broad investor appeal as a hedge against paper currencies.

The increase in the value of gold and silver is due to the fiscal and monetary policies of nations struggling to deal with massive levels of debt – policies that virtually guarantee a continued rise in the price of gold and silver.

Central banks, having exhausted all conventional means of monetary easing, have moved on to the last resort option of quantitative easing and currency debasement.  Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke has twice resorted to the printing presses, and then shamelessly explained the “virtues” of his money printing policy (in convoluted terms) to a gullible public on national television.  The subsequent absence of broad public opposition to a policy that is certain to ultimately destroy the financial well being of most Americans seems based on ignorance and/or indifference.

One American who is not ignorant or indifferent to the Fed’s policy of printing money issued a dire warning this week on the dangerous path the Federal Reserve has taken.  The reason we should all pay great attention to this warning is because it was issued by a powerful policy maker at the Federal Reserve.

According to Reuters, Richard Fisher, President of the Dallas Federal Reserve stated in a speech that the debt situation in the U.S. is at a “tipping point.” He is quoted as saying, “If we continue down on the path on which the fiscal authorities put us, we will become insolvent.  The question is when”.   Bank President Fisher further said that no additional extraordinary measures should be taken when the current round of money printing ends in June of this year.

We shall see what happens comes mid year when QE2 is scheduled to end.  The problem facing the Fed is that they are out of conventional policy bullets to ease credit conditions with rates already at zero.  The ease and apparent lack of consequences in printing money has made additional quantitative easing a very seductive method of  allowing huge deficit spending by the government.  QE2 is a thinly disguised monetization of the Federal deficit in which the Federal Reserve purchases government debt from the primary dealers after they purchase the debt at Treasury auctions.

Government officials argue that unprecedented deficit spending and quantitative easing are necessary to stimulate economic  growth, but this theory has not worked in the real world.  Despite trillions in stimulus spending,  job creation and economic growth have been extremely weak and are likely to remain so according to economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart who wrote This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.  According to Rogoff and Reinhart, economic growth is subpar when public sector debt exceeds 90% of GPD which the U.S. and many other developed nations have already surpassed.  In addition, a recovery of the job and housing markets after a financial crisis take many years due to the burden of excessive levels of debt.  Ultimately, Rogoff and Reinhart predict that austerity measures will need to be imposed along with some type of debt restructuring.

Is the U.S. capable of reducing spending and  instituting austerity measures? Cutting deficits means cutting payments to a long list of incomeless recipients who really don’t care where the entitlement money comes from.  Those still actually paying taxes will object strongly to any proposed tax increase to fund government spending.  Unable to cut spending or raise taxes leaves the Government with one bad option – print more money.

Politicians, who value getting elected above all else, are likely to strong arm the reliably compliant Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “come to the rescue” again with QE3.   In the minds of politicians and Federal Reserve officials, there will always be very compelling reasons to continue borrowing and money printing.  With the expected retirement of Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas President Thomas Hoenig this October, the Federal Reserve will be dominated by dovish members who favor the easy money policies of Fed Chairman Bernanke.  President Hoenig is one of the few Fed members who oppose continued zero interest rates and quantitative easing.

The correlation between parabolic increases in government debt and the price of gold is clear.   Since 2000 both government borrowing and the price of gold have been closely correlated as seen below.  The increased value of gold directly reflects the decreasing value of paper money.

A nation that has reached the limits on taxation and borrowing has few viable policy options other than a continuing series of quantitative easing programs.  Current government policies, if left unchanged, virtually guarantee a continued increase in the price of precious metals.



Gold and Silver Recap: The Fed Gives a Helping Hand

So the Fed decides that quantitative easing was going to boost the economy, as if the way to prove that you’re really clever is to do the thing that wasn’t working before, just all over again.  This is naturally going to give precious metals a boost as investors realize that whether or not QE2 works for the economy, it’s definitely going to work for inflation.

Silver has always been a purer inflation hedge than gold, apart from in the days of the bi-metallic agitation, but no one’s really sure what that was about.  Those were the days, when to be a money crank was the minimum standard of a self-educated mind.  Of course the biggest money cranks of all, the fiat currency crowd, won.

But while gold is an inflation hedge as well, it’s also an “OMG the whole world’s going to end and I’m going to be living my life in a bunker” hedge.

The smart money is starting to notice silver, which could make things interesting.  The argument for gold to go up is that not every one’s really bought it yet.  How much more true is that of silver?

Anyway the crucial thing here is the gold to silver ratio.  Currently 52 ounces of silver will buy one ounce of gold (or pounds if you want to think big).  Historically it has been around 30 ounces of silver for every ounce of gold.  But recently there’s been manipulation that’s kept the price down through deliberate manipulation of silver short positions.  Well that’s what some investors are claiming and have named HSBC and JP Morgan in a lawsuit.

Well silver’s been the tearaway kid this week but there’s still some action in gold.  Diwali is over and the Republicans have been elected, which means both Indian jewelery buying and US government spending are going to take a short breather.  Although the dollar went up against a basket of currencies it really looks like these events have suppressed demand for gold.

Central banks are starting to notice gold with countries as diverse as the Philippines and South Africa slowly increasing their reserves.  How long will it be before the foreign currency giants such as China, Japan, Taiwan and the oil states start looking at the only currencies that are still standing five thousand years later?