Tag Archives: GDX

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – IT’S GETTING INTENSE!

Download PDF

The general equity market had its worst December on record, with the averages down 10% and more. Gold related securities, however, began to prove their worth as an undervalued “safe haven” and an “uncorrelated” asset class. Gold bullion was up 4.9% and the gold mining stocks were up more than double that. One month of outperformance is not enough to establish a new trend, and the gold miners were still down for the entire year, but December does demonstrate how quickly trends can change. For lots of reasons which we outline below, we believe December may have been just the beginning of the resumption in the long-term bull market for gold related securities. The charts below provide a vivid picture of the most important long-term trends, and the prospects for substantial gains in our portfolio of gold mining stocks.                                                                               

While short term fluctuations and volatility can often dominate our thinking, we think the following charts provide valuable long-term context. There is no question that gold related securities are influenced by trends in the general capital markets, viewed as a “safe haven” from a decline in other assets, and heavily influenced by the direction of the US Dollar. The recent strength in the US Dollar, and the continuous rise in the general market have clearly undermined the performance of gold related assets. We believe the charts below show that the S&P average is likely closer to a long term high than a low, that the US Dollar is closer to a high than a low, gold bullion has been “consolidating” for 4-5 years, while gold related securities (represented here by the GDX ETF), are clearly near a long-term low, and may be emerging from its base.

First, the chart below shows the performance of the S&P 500 index, virtually straight up from the bottom in 2009, an unprecedented continuous rise. Most important, of course, is the decline which began in December, the sharpest correction in the last decade, and that has continued the first day of 2019. Should this decline continue, and there are lots of reasons why it should, gold related securities may be one of the very few safe havens.

The next chart is the performance of the DXY, the ETF representing the performance of the US Dollar, since 2005, versus other major trading currencies. You can see that the US Dollar has been trading very near its high and that has no doubt undermined the price of gold bullion in US Dollars. There is a lot of discussion as to whether our Fed, led by Jerome Powell, will be able to raise interest rates further at the same time the Fed balance sheet is reduced, both of which has contributed to the strong US Dollar. Should he decide to back off these programs, which we believe will be the case, that should contribute to a weaker US Dollar, and the chart shows the downside risk over time. A materially weaker US Dollar would be a strong tailwind to the price of gold related securities.

The next chart shows the price of gold bullion, represented by the GLD ETF, since its decline in 2012. You can see that the decline was 39% from the high to low. Since 2013, GLD has been in a trading range of about 20% from a little over 130 to a low of 105.  Right now GLD is trading about 8% below its “breakout” point of just over 130.

The following chart shows the performance of gold mining stocks, represented by the GDX ETF. You can see how substantially GDX has underperformed gold bullion, down 75% from the high of 2012 to the low in late 2015. The “trading range” since 2013 has been a very wide 56%, and you can see that GDX is still a lot closer to its low within the trading range than GLD. The “catchup” in GDX to get back to the high of the trading range in 2016, when GLD was a little over 130, would imply a 48% move, versus only 8% in GLD. We believe that December may have demonstrated the beginning of a positive move in GLD, and the beginning of the inherent upside leverage in GDX. We believe that the gold miners, which declined twice as much as GLD on the downside, could demonstrate even more leverage on the upside from this historically low base. Their December performance begins to demonstrate that potential.

Lastly, we provide a chart of Homestake Mining versus the Dow Jones Average during the depression of the 1930s, so even the prohibition of private gold ownership in 1934 was not sufficient to end that bull market in gold mining companies, even as the official gold price remained at $34./oz.

In terms of current news that supports our long term conviction, both bond and stock markets have had to digest lots of news in recent weeks, and it hasn’t always been pretty. Capital markets don’t like uncertainty, which exist relative to trade tariffs, the clearly slowing economies worldwide (US, Europe, Japan, China), the uncertainty regarding our Fed’s plan relative to interest rates, the exploding US deficits, Mario Draghi’s announcement of an end to QE in Europe, the ongoing political turmoil in and out of the White House, the collapse of Bitcoin and the crypto-currency market. The result has been more volatility, especially in the stock market, than we have seen in years. Intra-day moves of 3-4% have become common place, which in and of itself creates a level of discomfort among investors.

There are major macro developments, within the broad brush concerns above:

  • The new US fiscal year started in October, and the stated (now called “on-budget” by some) deficit was $100.5B in October, versus $63.2B last year. November came in at $205B vs. $139B last year. For two months, the deficit is $305B. vs. $202B, up 51%. The actual debt is up $334B, reflecting “off-budget” items, the largest of which is Social Security obligations. We continue to suggest that the “on-budget” deficit will be closer to $1.5 trillion in the current fiscal year, and the total debt will be well over $1.5 trillion, due to government spending (up 18% so far YTY),  higher interest costs, higher defense spending, higher VA support, health care support, THE WALL, etc. There seems to be rare bipartisan agreement right now regarding an unwillingness to talk about the explosion of the deficit and the debt. It is just too disturbing. All the deficit hawks have put their heads in the ground. THERE IS NO POLITICAL WILL in this area.
  • There is an ongoing move away from the US Dollar, the world’s dominant reserve currency since 1944. China, Russia, and mid-east countries are increasingly using the Yuan and gold for oil trades. There is also a consistent reduction within foreign exchange reserves, of US denominated securities. This has been accompanied by accumulation of physical gold, which can’t be diluted by a computer key-tap.
  • There are many indications that China is accumulating far more gold than they have announced. Recall that three years ago China announced that their Peoples Bank of China (PBOC) had increased ownership to 1600 tons from 1000 tons over the previous five years. Considering that China is the largest miner of gold on the planet, 400 tons per year, and nothing leaves the country, an increase of 600 tons over five years is obviously an understatement. It may be Chinese government agencies other than the PBOC that is holding it, but they are government “affiliates”. Various sources have reported that thousands of incremental tons have moved into the hands of various government agencies in recent years, and we would not be shocked if China announces at some point soon that they own 10,000 tons or more.  This would be substantially more than the 8,400 tons owned by the US, currently assumed to be the largest holder.  This would allow the Chinese to create a trading currency backed in some way by their gold ownership, joining, or even replacing the US Dollar as the primary trading currency worldwide. Surprisingly, based on reported gold holdings, Russia (which continues its aggressive gold purchase program) is in the best position to make their currency convertible into gold. Both China and Russia could have multiple political reasons to link the Ruble or Yuan to gold, provide more credibility to their currency than the US can provide.
  • Jay Powell’s newfound uncertainty over the pace of further rate increase provides the possibility that Quantitative Tightening is slowing down, if not stopping altogether should our economy weaken further. It is now clear that fourth quarter GDP will be more like 2% or so than the 4.5% in Q3. Especially in light of slowing economies elsewhere in the world, which will slow further if interest rates are moved higher, Powell may find that the next important course of action is “QE4” or whatever they choose to call the new monetary accommodation.
  • Since September, foreign purchases of US Treasury securities can no longer be made, financed by low interest (or negative interest) borrowing abroad, with currency hedging providing an overall positive carry. Borrowing costs abroad have gone up modestly, hedging costs as well, so the guaranteed positive return has gone away, removing some material portion of the $5-6 trillion of annual demand for US Treasury securities. Since $5-6T of US Treasury Securities have to be “rolled” over the next twelve months, the $1.5T of incremental government debt has to be financed, and the absence of perhaps $2-3T that was previously invested (and hedged) by foreigners, provide a total of something like an incremental TEN TRILLION of US securities that has to be bought in the next twelve months. People… ($10,000,000,000,000) this is a lot of money and could be a strain on the financial system, to put it really mildly.
  • The market for “leveraged loans” and high yield loans has shown serious signs of strain in just the last sixty days. Wells Fargo and Barclays Bank failed to sell $415 million of debt on Ulterra Drilling Technologies, a manufacturer of drilling bits. Blackstone received their funds to help in their buyout of Ulterra, but WF and BB are hoping to market the debt in a better environment in ’19. There were a number of other deals actually pulled from the market in Europe over the last several weeks. The Financial Times said today that the “’junk bond’ market, whether in loans or bonds – has frozen up, and the US credit markets have ground to a halt….not a single company has borrowed money through the $1.2T US high-yield corporate bond market through mid-December…..we haven’t seen the results at yearend, but if the freeze remained in place, it would be first month since November 2008 that not a single high-yield bond priced in the market..”

Our conclusion from all of the above is that our economy and, indeed, the worldwide economy will have very modest growth, at best. The debt load is too heavy, and the unintended consequences of ten years of monetary promiscuity have yet to play out. Equity investors right now assume that Jay Powell will more or less stick to his plan of generally higher interest rates, even if at a much slower pace. If he “cries wolf”, however, the equity markets would rally, but we don’t think for long. The last recession of ’08-’09 required “monetary heroin” to the tune of $4T in the US alone, but each hit has to be bigger to keep the addict functioning. Once capital markets realize that, a more major downdraft is likely. 

In the long run: we believe there will be a new monetary paradigm, and gold related securities will be an important part of a more disciplined fiscal/monetary approach. The ownership of gold has protected one’s purchasing power for the last five thousand years, the last two hundred years, the last 105 years (since the Fed allowed the US Dollar to be diluted by 98%), the last 47 years (since 1971, when the gold window was closed), the last 18 years (since 2000, when deficit spending accelerated once again).

It is of course true that since 2012 gold and gold related securities have been poor investments, but, in the sweep of history, that is a mere blip. With a new level of financial uncertainty compounded by geopolitical concerns and fiat currency dilution rampant around the world, it is only a matter of time before gold establishes itself again as “the real money”. Gold is not the only hedge against inflation, but, among the possibilities, it is currently the most undervalued.  As James Grant, the preeminent monetary historian has said: “A gold backed monetary system is not perfect, but it is the least imperfect system”. We don’t expect a new gold backed monetary system to be in place any time soon, but any small progress in that direction will allow for substantial appreciation in gold related assets.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!

Roger Lipton

 

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – MAJOR RISKS SURFACE

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – RISK & REWARD IN NEWLY VOLATILE MARKETS

Both bond and stock markets have had to digest lots of news in recent weeks, and it hasn’t always been pretty. Capital markets don’t like uncertainty, which exist relative to trade tariffs, the clearly slowing economies worldwide (US, Europe, Japan, China), the uncertainty regarding our Fed’s plan relative to interest rates, the exploding US deficits, Mario Draghi’s announcement of an end to QE in Europe, the ongoing political turmoil in and out of the White House, the collapse of Bitcoin and the crypto-currency market. The result has been more volatility, especially in the stock market, than we have seen in years. Intra day moves of 3-4% have become common place, which in and of itself creates a level of discomfort among investors.

There are major macro developments, within the broad brush concerns mentioned above:

  • The new US fiscal year started in October, and the stated (now called “on-budget” by some) deficit was $100.5B in October, versus $63.2B last year. November came in at $205B vs. $139B last year. For two months, the deficit is $305B. vs. $202B, up 51%. The actual debt is up $334B, reflecting “off-budget” items, the largest of which is Social Security obligations. We continue to suggest that the “on-budget” deficit will be closer to $1.5 trillion in the current fiscal year, and the total debt will be well over $1.5 trillion, due to government spending (up 18% so far YTY), higher interest costs, higher defense spending, higher VA support, health care support, THE WALL, etc. There seems to be rare bipartisan agreement right now regarding an unwillingness to talk about the explosion of the deficit and the debt. It is just too disturbing. All the deficit hawks have put their heads in the ground. THERE IS NO POLITICAL WILL in this area.
  • There is an ongoing move away from the US Dollar, the world’s reserve currency since 1944. China, Russia, and mideast countries are increasingly using the Yuan and gold for oil trades. There is also a consistent reduction within foreign exchange reserves, of US denominated securities. This has been accompanied by accumulation of physical gold, which can’t be diluted by a computer keytap.
  • There are many indications that China is accumulating far more gold than they have announced. Recall that three years ago China announced that their Peoples Bank of China (PBOC) had increased ownership to 1600 tons from 1000 tons over the previous five years. Considering that China is the largest miner of gold on the planet, 400 tons per year, and nothing leaves the country, an increase of 600 tons over five years is obviously an understatement. It may be Chinese government agencies other than the PBOC that is holding it, but they are government “affiliates”. Various sources have reported that thousands of incremental tons have moved into the hands of various government agencies in recent years, and we would not be shocked if China announces at some point soon that they own 10,000 tons or more. This would be substantially more than the 8,400 tons owned by the US, currently assumed to be the largest holder.  This would allow the Chinese to create a trading currency backed in some way by their gold ownership, joining, or even replacing the US Dollar as the primary trading currency worldwide. Surprisingly, based on reported gold holdings, Russia is in the best position to make their currency convertible into gold. Both China and Russia could have multiple political reasons to link the Ruble or Yuan to gold, provide more credibility to their currency than the US can provide.
  • Jay Powell’s newfound uncertainty over the pace of further rate increase provides the possibility that Quantitative Tightening is slowing down, if not stopping altogether should our economy weaken further. It is now clear that fourth quarter GDP will be more like 2% or so than the 4.5% in Q3. Especially in light of slowing economies elsewhere in the world, which will slow further if interest rates are moved higher, Powell may find that the next important course of action is “QE4” or whatever they choose to call the new monetary accommodation.
  • Since September, foreign purchases of US Treasury securities can no longer be made, financed by low interest (or negative interest) borrowing abroad, with currency hedging providing an overall positive carry. Borrowing costs abroad have gone up modestly, hedging costs as well, so the guaranteed positive return has gone away, removing some material portion of the $5-6 trillion of annual demand for US Treasury securities. Since $5-6T of US Treasury Securities have to be “rolled” over the next twelve months, the $1.5T of incremental government debt has to be financed, and the absence of perhaps $2-3T that was previously invested (and hedged) by foreigners, provide a total of something like an incremental TEN TRILLION of US securities that has to be bought in the next twelve months. People… ($10,000,000,000,000) this is a lot of money and could be a strain on the financial system.
  • The market for “leveraged loans” and high yield loans has shown serious signs of strain in just the last sixty days. Wells Fargo and Barclays Bank failed to sell $415 million of debt on Ulterra Drilling Technologies, a manufacturer of drilling bits. Blackstone received their funds to help in their buyout of Ulterra, but WF and BB are hoping to market the debt in a better environment in ’19. There were a number of other deals actually pulled from the market in Europe over the last several weeks. The Financial Times said today that the “’junk bond’ market, whether in loans or bonds – has frozen up, and the US credit markets have ground to a halt….not a single company has borrowed money through the $1.2T US high-yield corporate bond market this month….if the freeze continues until yearend, it would be first month since November 2008 that not a single high-yield bond priced in the market..”

Our conclusion from all of the above is that our economy and, indeed, the worldwide economy will have very modest growth, at best. The debt load is too heavy, and the unintended consequences of ten years of monetary promiscuity have yet to play out. Equity investors right now assume that Jay Powell will more or less stick to his plan of higher interest rates, even if at a slower pace. If he “cries wolf”, however, the equity markets would rally, but we don’t think for long. The last recession of ’08-’09 required “monetary heroin” to the tune of $4T in the US alone, but each hit has to be bigger to keep the addict functioning. Once capital markets realize that, a more major downdraft is likely.

In the long run: we believe there will be a new monetary paradigm, and gold related securities will be an important part of a more disciplined fiscal/monetary approach. The ownership of gold has protected one’s purchasing power for the last five thousand years, the last two hundred years, the last 105 years (since the Fed allowed the US Dollar to be diluted by 98%), the last 47 years (since 1971, when the gold window was closed), the last 18 years (since 2000, when deficit spending again took off).

It is of course true that since 2012 gold and gold related securities have been poor investments, but, in the sweep of history, that is a mere blip. With a new level of financial uncertainty compounded by geopolitical concerns and fiat currency dilution rampant around the world, it is only a matter of time before gold establishes itself again as “the real money”. Gold is not the only hedge against inflation, but, among the possibilities, it is the most undervalued right now. As James Grant, the preeminent monetary historian has said: “A gold backed monetary system is not perfect, but it is the least imperfect system”. We don’t expect a new gold backed monetary system to be in place any time soon, but any small progress in that direction will allow for substantial appreciation in gold related assets.

Roger Lipton

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – TRADE, IMMIGRATION, MUELLER, YADA, YADA, DEFICITS EXPLODE

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – TRADE, IMMIGRATION, MUELLER, YADA, YADA, DEFICITS EXPLODE

There is lots of economic/political/social news day to day, but we believe the underlying fiscal/monetary problems will soon dwarf the currently discussed issues. In this country alone, billions of dollars per day (in deficit spending) are being created out of thin air.   It’s been said that “money is the source of all evil”. That may be true, but a currency of some sort is necessary to exchange goods and services to make social progress. Since we are in the midst of the largest monetary experiment in the history of the planet, and we don’t believe it will end well, unfortunately, we continue to monitor developments.

While there was quite a bit of intra-month volatility in the capital markets in November, the changes were minimal over the entire month. The precious metal markets were much quieter, but there was one notable down day, November 23rd, the reason not quite clear, with mining stocks down 3-4% which was not recovered by month end.  In any event, the gold mining industry, represented by GDXJ (the small to mid-cap miners) and the three prominent funds, Tocqueville, Oppenheimer and Van Eck were down about 2.7%.

Every indication is that the long-term financial issues overhanging the worldwide economy are becoming more intense every day, any one of which could ignite the monetary embers:

(1) The US Treasury must raise over $100B every week, to finance the growing deficit and refinance the maturing debt, and the Federal Reserve is no longer a buyer but a seller of securities. The “bid to cover” ratio for two-year US Treasuries has been coming down in recent months, and last month was the lowest since December 2008, the peak of the financial crisis.

(2) Major foreign purchasers of our debt, including China, Japan & Russia have backed off or eliminated entirely their purchases of US Treasury securities, to some extent replacing that portion of their foreign reserves with gold. As a corollary, the US trade balance that President Trump is so desperate to improve, would reduce the US dollars in foreign hands, which would in turn reduce the demand for our debt, contribute to higher interest rates, slow our economy, and trigger greater stimulus.

(3) Only six to nine months ago, reporters were talking about “worldwide synchronized growth” with no sign of inflation, truly a “goldilocks” situation. Just two weeks ago, headlines in the Wall Street Journal said “GLOBAL ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN DEEPENS”, “INFLATION TICKS HIGHER…”, “INTERNATIONAL FIRMS IN US SEE AUTO TARIFFS AS A THREAT”. As a corollary, Japan and Germany reported GDP contraction in Q3, Chinese growth continues to slow. So much for Goldilocks.

(4) The US current deficit, is exploding, will clearly be over $1 trillion in FY ending 9/30/19, with the total debt going up by more like $1.5T including borrowing from the Social Security Fund. There is no chance of less government spending, especially the next two years with the two houses of Congress split. According to the Wall Street Journal, the US will spend more on interest in 2020 than it spends on Medicaid, more in 2023 than it spends on national defense, and more in 2025 than it spends on all non defense discretionary programs combined. THIS IS SERIOUS, AND IT IS IMMINENT. The relevance of the deficits and debt is that the higher the debt load, the chance of the economy breaking out with productive expansion is reduced.

(5) The long-term suppression of interest rates has serious unintended consequences. Among them is the “misallocation of resources” as investors large and small “reach for yield”.  The current news flow is starting to reflect it. The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago had the headline DEMAND FOR RISKIER DEBT LETS COMPANIES SHIFT ASSETS.  The text ….” Investors are literally giving away the store to squeeze out meager returns from picked over market for corporate debt. Demand for riskier bonds and loans has been so intense that companies…are able to move valuable assets beyond the reach of creditors. Investors continue to make it easier for them to do so by agreeing to terms …that offer fewer and fewer protections.” The financial community has a very short memory. Ten years ago, the phrase was “covenant light”, and mortgage companies were making NINJA loans to homeowners with No Income No Job, and No Assets. Who said, “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes”? Just this morning, this was described in the Wall Street Journal in relation to sub-prime Auto Loans.

(6) Don’t take it from me. I’m just a veteran restaurant analyst. What could I know? However, within the last few months: Richard Fisher, former Dallas Fed Chair said: “…interest expense and healthcare expenditures will soon be more than 50% of revenues. At some point you have to pay the piper…We (the Fed) have been suppressing the yield curve. it’s a ticking time bomb”.

Ludwig von Mises, the legendary Austrian economist long ago taught us: “There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The alternative is only whether the crisis should come soon as the result of voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.”

(7) Just last week Goldman Sachs came around (finally) to the view that markets offer an extremely attractive entry point for longs in goldWe see diversification value in adding gold to portfolios.” Goldman is (finally) forecasting a slowing US economy….at this stage of the business cycle, gold may be particularly appealing as a portfolio diversifier given that long-term bonds may be hurt if U.S inflation surprises to the upside … If U.S. growth slows down next year, as expected, gold would benefit from higher demand for defensive assets.”

Unfortunately, though Jay Powell, and other Central Bankers, might wish to persist in their collective attempt to contract credit, the politicians around the world can be expected to continue to kick the can down the road. Their unstated reality is “whatever happens will happen, but “not on my watch.” Politicians, economists, and capital market strategists, will soon be screaming “DO SOMETHING” and the Central Bankers will accommodate. Jay Powell gave us the first indication of that with his comments last week. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary, confirmed that just this morning, saying Powell is trying to position the Fed to stimulate when necessary.

Roger Lipton

 

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – GENERAL EQUITY MARKET VOLATILE – RE: GOLD, THE SPRING IS COILED, THE GUN IS LOADED

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – GENERAL EQUITY MARKET VOLATILE – RE: GOLD, THE SPRING IS COILED, THE GUN IS LOADED

November 1, 2018

The general equity market was volatile and weaker during October. Gold bullion, and the mining stocks were relatively quiet, all changes rather immaterial.  Gold bullion was up 2.2%; the mining stocks as represented by an average of the three mutual funds we track (Tocqueville, Oppenheimer and Van Eck) down an average of 1.8%, possibly weaker from the tail end of the Vanguard liquidation we have discussed. The two ETFs, GDX and GDXJ were up an average of 1%, so obviously their holdings did better than the broader mutual fund portfolios.  Though it’s our job to focus, and report, on small changes such as these, the longer term is obviously our major concern. The downside damage in the gold sector over the last several years obviously dwarfs a few points one way or another, and the upside when it comes will make our monthly reports seem immaterial.

The following bullet points summarize our current thoughts:

  • Gold, as a “safe haven” is not yet in great demand in “the West”, though major accumulation continues in China & India and all major Central Banks. North American investors will see the light sometime soon, especially if the equity market’s recent downside volatility persists.
  • The mining stocks continued to act a bit weaker than bullion in October, possibly representing the tail end of the Vanguard liquidation.
  • It is just a question of time until Jay Powell, Fed Chairman, backs off of his intention to keep raising rates, and reinstitutes an accommodative monetary policy (QE4, or whatever). This will happen when the stock market takes a more sustained tumble and the slowing worldwide economy becomes more apparent. Calendar ’19 will not have the tailwind of much lower tax rates, and the resumption of monetary stimulus should generate much more interest in gold related securities. The gun is loaded, the spring is coiled.
  • Central Banks, including Russia, Poland, Turkey, India, China, and others, are steadily increasing the gold bullion reserves within their foreign exchange holdings. Through September, the amount bought was the largest in six years, over 200 tons, and that doesn’t include China, who alone may be purchasing that much, or more.
  • Central Banks, on the other hand, are reducing their holdings of US Treasury securities, expressing dissatisfaction with our accelerating deficits.
  • China, allowing their currency to cheapen, has virtually offset the effect of the new tariffs. This demonstrates how major trading competitors can use their currency as an economic, and even political, weapon of sorts.
  • China, Russia, and Europe have set up alternate payment systems that do not require the use of US Dollars, undermining the credibility of the US Dollar as a reserve currency. The last time there was a major movement away from the US Dollar was 1971, when Richard Nixon ended the dollars convertibility into gold, inflation took off and gold went from $35 to $850/oz.
  • The recently announced merger of Barrick Gold and Randgold, both within our portfolio, is no doubt a reflection of what they perceive as a bargain price level, and their desire to be the very strongest participant in a dynamically evolving gold market. These kinds of transactions often occur at the bottom of a cycle.
  • Goldcorp, one of the premier gold mining companies, also in our portfolio, just announced a buyback of approximately $350M of their public shares, an obvious statement that their stock is considered substantially undervalued, and another possible indicator of an inflection point.
  • There have been hardly any major gold discoveries in recent years, as opposed to a decade ago. Since major new mines can take a decade or more before production commences, increased demand will not bring out more supply for many years, even at higher prices, and the upside price volatility will be that much greater.
  • Considering that the price of gold bullion, though down this year, has been fairly steady the last several months, even in the face of higher interest rates and a strong US Dollar, we believe the stage is set for a major rally in gold bullion and the mining stocks once the dollar weakens a bit (or more) and/or the stock market has its long overdue correction (or worse).

For the above reasons, and many others, we believe the stage is set for a major upward move in the most unloved asset class on earth.  Legendary investors like John Templeton are famous for saying that the time to buy is when there is “blood in the street”. It seemed that way to us a few years ago, but nobody can tell when the bottom will be put in. None of the concerns that we have been enumerating regularly have gone away. It’s not a question of “if”, just a question of “when?”.

Roger Lipton

P.S. As I finish this letter, at 10:18am on November 1, the dollar is weak, gold bullion is up 1.2% and the mining stocks are up about 3%. Every long trip has to start with a single step?

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – VANGUARD “RESTRUCTURING” PRECIOUS METALS FUND, SHADES OF 2001?

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – VANGUARD “RESTRUCTURES” PRECIOUS METALS FUND, SHADES OF 2001?

The general equity market was up in August, gold bullion was down about 3%. The mining stocks fared worse, with the two largest mining ETFs, GDX and GDXJ, down 12.9%.  Strange as it may seem, the apparent reason for the relatively poor performance of the miners may be a turning point. On July 31st, Vanguard announced it was “restructuring” its $2.3 billion Precious Metals and Mining Fund, and the newly named “Global Capital Cycles Fund” will start its new strategy in late September. Moves like this from a major institution are often a sign of “capitulation”, evidence of extreme negative sentiment, and marking a bottom as positions are liquidated. In particular, back in 2001, Vanguard removed the world “gold” from what was then its “Gold and Precious Metals Fund”, which coincided with a low in gold before a ten year rally. So, we’ll see.

If the facts had changed, we would have changed our strategy, but the underlying reasons are intact. The rampant creation of currency, and monstrous increase in debt, around the world, can do nothing but cause inflation in the long run, because it’s the only way out for the politicians who can’t admit to spending their constituents into financial oblivion. The amount of gold held by major central banks, relative to their circulating currencies, is approximately the same level as it was in 1970, before gold went from $35/oz. to $850/oz. There will be a “catch-up” again.

We believe, also, that the relationship between the price of gold and the US debt is valid, and the debt obligation as shown on the chart below is understated, not including monstrous unfunded entitlements. The price of gold moved in lockstep with the growing US debt, from 2000 until 2009, and for decades before that. In 2009, after a steady 9 year rise, because markets anticipate, gold ran sharply ahead when it became clear that the Obama administration was going to sharply increase the annual deficit. The price of gold diverged on the downside from late 2011 until the bottom of 2016, likely, because the annual reported deficits were lower, even though the debt steadily increased from “non-budgeted” spending. For example, this fiscal year ending September, the reported deficit will be about $800B but the increase In debt is already over $1 trillion. We think another inflection point is at hand, as the annual deficit and cumulative debt are accelerating again.

The gold mining stocks have fared even worse than bullion recently, down more than 50% since gold was at the current level four or five years ago.  That 100% catchup could be on top of the leveraged move that the mining companies, as operators, make when bullion changes price.  Financial markets can make shockingly rapid moves at certain times, as illustrated by the recent volatility in BItcoin, first up by over 20x and down by two thirds more recently. We believe this will again be the case with gold bullion, much more so with  the mining stocks, this time on the upside.

Roger Lipton

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – BITCOIN DOWN, GOLD ALSO, BUY ONE, AVOID THE OTHER

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – BITCOIN DOWN, GOLD ALSO – BUY ONE, AVOID OTHER

BITCOIN – FLIRTING WITH A NEW LOW,  A CORRECTION IN A LONG TERM BULL MARKET, OR AN END TO ITS RUN?

We wrote several articles on this subject, last summer and again in December. Our first cautionary notes were written 8/15/17 and 9/5/17 provided here, with Bitcoin trading just south of $5000:

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2017/08/bitcoin-must-next-big-thing-right/

Our last analysis was written 12/19/17, within a day of the high price above $19,000, provided here:

https://www.liptonfinancialservices.com/2017/12/semi-monthly-fiscal-monetary-update-bitcoin-revisited-flaw-really-simple/

In a nutshell, not today, not tomorrow, but over a few years from now, it’s over. Blockchain technology no doubt has its applications but cryptocurrencies will fade into oblivion, with most of the fundamental flaws previously described in the articles linked above. We are not always right, and sometimes we are right or wrong, but for the wrong reasons. In this case, we’ve got it right for the right reasons. For heaven’s sake, don’t get seduced now, just because Bitcoin is down from $19,000 to $6,000. It is still $6000 too high.

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH GOLD?

Gold bullion has hit a new low for the year, with the gold mining stocks following along, leveraged as usual to the price of gold. As we have previously written, there are all kinds of reasons that gold should be spiking higher, rather than lower, and it is only a few months ago that gold was on the verge of an upside breakout. Best we can figure, in addition to a very strong dollar, the downside pressure on the gold price has been from Central Bank selling, a result of turmoil in Turkey in particular.  We believe this will run its course shortly, if it hasn’t already.

Turkey’s commitment to gold had already been demonstrated to be less consistent than every other important Central Bank. While most other Central Banks have been steadily buying (or maintaining holdings) in recent years, Turkey’s holdings declined from 504 tons in July 2015 to 377 tons in Jan 2017, then built up steadily to 582 tons in Mid 2018. The most recent report shows they only hold 236 tons in July, so they have apparently liquidated 342 tons in the last couple of months.  The good news is that they don’t have much left, perhaps nothing by now.

Recall that the Central Banks in total have been steady buyers over the last nine years, in the range of 300 tons annually, up 36% YTY in ’17 to 366 tons, and running up 42% in Q1’18, the highest first quarter since 2014. Turkey’s disposition in Q2 will obviously skew that quarter’s result.

Let’s go through today’s top ten sovereign gold owners, and their change in reported holdings over the last several years. We say reported because China, in particular, is likely understating their holdings in a major way. The highlights are that the US, with over 8,000 tons is nearly as much as the next three countries combined. For six consecutive years, Russia has been the largest purchaser, increasing its holdings by 224 tons in 2017 and  overtaking China  to hold the fifth spot. Not every central bank is a buyer. For the second year in a row, Venezuela was the largest seller, 25 tons in 2017 apparently sold to pay off debt. Total  sales declined by 55% in 2017, the lowest since 2014, obviously overcome by purchases since the total net increase was 366 tons. This nine year old trend is obviously demonstrating that central banks consider gold to be an increasingly important store of value and safe haven asset.

India is the tenth largest holder, with 560 tons, representing 5.5% of their foreign reserves. This has been virtually constant since 2015. It is well known that the Indian public believes in gold as a long term store of value, with gold jewelry often part of a bride’s dowry.

Netherlands, at #9, owns 612.5 tons, representing 68.2% of their foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that the Dutch Central Bank recently repatriated a large amount of its gold from the U.S.

Japan, at #8, owns 765.2 tons, only 2.5% of its foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that they have been one of the most aggressive money “printers”, with interest rates in January 2016 below zero, helping to fuel worldwide demand for gold.

Switzerland, at #7, owns 1040 tons, 5.3% of its foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that while Switzerland for many years was a hub of gold trading with European counterparties, much of today’s trading is done with the increasingly important Hong Kong and China bullion markets.

China, at #6, reports 1842.6 tons, representing a mere 2.4% of its $3T of foreign reserves. After not reporting since 2009, the People’s Bank of China reported 1708 tons in mid 2015, up over 60 % in 6 years. Monthly reports were then provided for about a year, with an increase to 1842 tons with no change reported since the end of 2016. Since China is the largest miner of gold in the world, about 400 tons per year, and no gold seems to leave China, most observers believe that various government agencies are absorbing a great deal. It is not hard to conclude that the 1842 tons may be understating the true holdings controlled by the government by thousands of tons. The government has also encouraged public ownership with gold backed bank savings accounts.

Russia, at #5, reports 1909.8 tons, representing 17.6% of foreign reserves. The Russian Central Bank has been the largest buyer of gold for the past six years, just last year overtaking China’s reported holdings. They bought 224 tons in 2017, at the same time selling a large portion of its US Treasuries.

France, at #4, reports 2,436 tons, representing 63.9% of foreign reserves, constant since 2015. There has been political pressure to not only put a formal freeze on selling, but also to repatriate the entire amount from foreign vaults.

Italy, at  #3, reports 2,451.8 tons, representing 67.9% of foreign reserves, constant since 2015. European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, was the former Bank of Italy governor. He has described gold as “a reserve of safety”, adding, “it gives you a fairly good protection against fluctuations against the dollar.”

German, at #2, reports 3,371 tons, representing 70.6% of foreign reserves, virtually flat, down 9 tons since 2015. Last year, Germany completed a four year repatriation program to move 674 tons from France and the US back to its own vaults.

United States, at #1, reports 8133.5 tons, the highest percentage, at 75.2% of foreign reserves, holdings constant since 1971 when Richard Nixon closed the hold window. It is interesting, to us at least, that the value of our gold holdings, as a percentage of US monetary aggregates, is almost exactly where it was in 1971 before gold went up over 20x in value.

Taking the above into consideration, there is every indication that Central Banks other than Turkey, along with Chinese agencies in addition to the PBOC, and public buyers, in China, India and elsewhere will absorb Turkish sales (if they haven’t already). Especially in the case of China, India, Japan, and Switzerland, with low single digit percentages of their reserves invested in gold, obviously aware of the worldwide debasement of paper currencies, and the danger in most other asset classes, it makes sense to increase their gold allocation. We continue to believe that  gold will again emerge as a store of value and a safe haven. Gold bullion and gold mining stocks will catch up with the ongoing price inflation of virtually every other asset class. Money printing and deficit spending does not create long term prosperity.

Roger Lipton

 

 

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE !!

Download PDF

 

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – You Don’t Want to Know How the Sausage is Made !!

The general capital markets were fairly unchanged in June, gold bullion was down 3.4%. Interestingly, the gold mining stocks were down hardly at all. The gold mining ETFs, GDX and GDXJ, were almost exactly flat. The three major gold mining mutual funds were down an average of 0.8%.  Every indication is that substantial quantities of physical gold continues to move from West to East but the “paper” market, including options and futures, dominates the day to day price. The mining stocks acted noticeably better, when normally they could be down (or up) at least twice the price of gold. There was documented accumulation of GDX and GDXJ which is often a precursor of an upward move in bullion and an even larger move in the miners.

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF MACRO DEVELOPMENTS WITH LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS !!

In just the last few days, the following articles support our long held conclusions that a great deal of turmoil in the worldwide financial/capital markets is ahead, which we believe will cause our Fed and other Central Banks to “cave” and move back to monetary accommodation, which will spark a new run in gold related securities:

(1)    First Quarter GDP latest revision shows 2.0% real growth, down from the last estimate of 2.3% and the previous estimates in the high 2s. As for Q2’18, the latest NY Fed estimate is 2.7%, a lot lower than the highly touted 4% or more the Atlanta Fed and others have been talking about.  Even if Q2 comes in north of 4%, real GDP growth over the last year or so has been no higher that the “high 2s”, not much higher than the average of 2.3% average of the last 8-9 years and that modest increase from the “low 2s” is largely due to more government spending financed by more government debt and this is not healthy or sustainable over the longer term.

(2)  The global yield curve, the spread between 1-3 year and 7-10 year government securities, has just gone “negative”, per the JP Morgan GBI index. This yield curve “inversion” most of the time presages a recession within 6-12 months.

(3)    With the Chinese stock market down 20% from its early ’18 high, a Chinese government think tank (backed by the Chinese Academy of Social Science) has warned of a “financial panic” in the world’s second largest economy, caused by leveraged purchase of shares (as in 2015), rising US interest rates, trade tensions with the US, bond defaults and liquidity shortages in China. The Chinese government should “be willing to step in with full financial support, rather than taking piecemeal steps” the study said. Just yesterday, the Financial Times reported that the China Development Bank was tightening loan approvals for its “slum development” policy, a program which has provided (a cool) $1 trillion to homebuyers since (only) 2016. The implications of the monetary manipulations by the world’s second biggest economy are huuuge!. Our take: a much higher gold price will accompany future economic “adjustments” that will have been exacerbated by governmental interventions.

(4)    Russia has cut its US Treasury holdings over 50%, from $102.2B to $48.7B in just four months from 12/17 to 4/18. While these numbers are small relative to the trillions that China and Japan hold, US Treasury securities held by all foreigners, as a percent of their reserves, has declined from 64.59% in 2014 to 62.7% in 2017, so they are steadily diversifying away from dollar related securities. Gold, as a share of foreign exchange reserves has held steady. Central Banks have continued buying hundreds of tons annually, as they have since 2009. They bought 116.5 tons in Q1’18, the most in any Q1 since 2014 and up 42% YTY.

(5)    The Wall Street Journal, several days ago, headlined “UK Central Bank Warns on Debt Risk”. The article said “it sees pockets of risk to the stability of the financial system including US corporate borrowing, risky loans in Britain, foreign-currency lending and emerging markets….as central banks step back from the easy-money policies of the past decade and trade tensions escalate.” You can google the full article, but we don’t make this stuff up.

(6)    Just under the previous article, on June 28th, the headline read: “Fed’s Ability to Fine-Tune Interest Rates is Tested”. The Fed lost “control” of the markets in ’08, salvaged the situation with trillions of financial accommodation. In some ways, the problems are larger today and the Fed, with their hundreds of PHD economists, has had a poor forecasting record.

(7)    While many observers underplay “systemic” risks in today’s financial markets, leverage in derivative securities is larger, non-financial corporate debt is at a new high (exceeding the last high in ’08), ETFs made up of cap-weighted securities will have little liquidity in a downdraft, which especially could apply to high yield fixed income ETFs. Rising default rates on student loans and subprime auto loans, sharply rising US deficits, underfunded social security and federal health care obligations are all problematic whether the market overlooks these trends for the moment or not. The momentum in capital markets can turn, literally, on a dime. If someone doesn’t think the Chinese monetary manipulation has provided at least the possibility of “systemic risk” to the worldwide economy, they are living on the wrong planet.

(8)    The equity markets are highly valued by historical standards. Interest rates are still very low which means bond prices also have substantial downside risk, especially the high yield sector where investors around the world have been “reaching for yield” for a decade.

Conclusion:

Many of the above factors have been in play over the last four or five years, building over decades, and the timing of the unwinding of the worldwide credit bubble continues to be uncertain. It’s been said that in every crisis, you can look like a fool either before the event or after. Another advisor, when asked how a crisis develops, said “very slowly and then very quickly”. Just recently, we asked a highly regarded economist and market strategist, who agrees with us, when the turn will come. His response was as good as any: “On any given Sunday”. When it happens, a great number of people will say “how could I have not seen that?”

Roger Lipton

 

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – ECONOMIC STRENGTH “OVERSTATED”, CAPITAL MARKETS QUIET, PRECIOUS METALS “CONSOLIDATE”

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARYUPDATE – ECONOMY “OVERSTATED”, CAPITAL MARKETS FIRM FURTHER, PRECIOUS METALS “CONSOLIDATE”

June  4, 2018

The equity market firmed in May and the fixed income market strengthened late in the month, after sinking mid-month, ending modestly higher (yields lower) than at May 1. Precious metals related holdings were quiet overall. The gold miners did slightly better than gold bullion which was down 1.2%.  We can’t help but repeat last month’s statement, that we continue to feel that the gold mining stocks, which represent almost all of our portfolio, represent the best value (and most unloved) asset class of all. The “money” is being safely stored, in the ground.  It is just a question of when it will be brought north and exchanged for the “colored paper” of its time, and the quantity of green paper (in the US) will be a multiple of the current $1300 per oz. The dramatic increase in profits for the gold miners will put their stocks an order of magnitude higher than they are currently.

The thoughts that currently come to mind are as follows:

  • The economy, while firming, is not at the 3-4% GDP growth that the administration advertises. After several quarters last year that averaged about 3.0% of real GDP growth, Q1’18 finally came in at a modest 2.2%. It will obviously take GDP growth of well over 3% (far from certain) for the rest of the year to reach the 3% annual objective. The higher interest rates will hinder consumer spending as well as limit the government’s ability to stimulate. Also, an inhibition, the tariff/ trade negotiations continue to keep the business community and capital markets on edge.
  • The Fed is barely keeping up with the plan to shrink their $4.2 trillion balance sheet. While they are stretching to reduce by the current rate of 2.8% (big deal!) annually, interest rates are steadily moving higher which drags on the economy and insures that the current selling program won’t make much of a dent before the program gets abandoned, and it won’t be long.
  • Inflation (which is a good reason for owning gold) is not as dormant as commentators indicate. “Core Inflation”, the most commonly quoted indicator, excludes food and energy. You know what grocery and restaurant prices (heavily influenced by higher labor costs) are doing, and the recent gasoline price rise is absorbing a lot of the recent tax cut.
  • The US deficit in the year ending 9/30/18 is officially estimated at $825B, but I’ll take “the over”. Certainly at least $1 Trillion is in the cards for 9/30/19 with higher defense spending, higher interest costs, and lower taxes on an economy that remains sluggish.

We believe that, due to any number of possible catalysts, the Fed will back off. The inevitable new round of stimulus should finally spark gold related securities much higher. It’s just a question of time.

Roger Lipton

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – MODEST APPARENT CHANGES IN APRIL, HUUUGE DEVELOPMENTS UNDER THE SURFACE

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – Modest apparent changes in April, huge developments under the surface!

 

The results for all the capital markets changed only modestly in the month April, in spite of intra-month volatility. Gold bullion was down almost exactly 1%, Gold mining stocks were up about 1.2%. We continue to feel that the gold mining stocks, represent the best value (and most unloved) asset class of all. The “money” is being safely stored, in the ground.  It is just a question of when it will be brought north and exchanged for the “colored paper” of its time, and the quantity of green paper (in the US) will be a multiple of the current $1300 per oz. The increase in profits for the gold miners will be huuuge and the stocks should sell for multiples of the current price.

We believe that the lackluster price action in gold and the miners has been due to the expectation of much higher interest rates, an apparently stronger economy, the perceived lack of a need for gold as a “safe haven”, and the renewed strength in the US Dollar. We don’t believe any of these factors will last much longer, and none of which will preclude higher prices in the long run.

The US economy is not as strong as advertised. After several quarters last year that averaged about 3.0% of real GDP growth, Q1’18 came in at a modest 2.3%. It is important to note that government spending of $4.5 trillion is part of our $20 trillion GDP economy. When government spending of $150 – $200 billion (over perhaps H2’17) to repair storm damage, that adds 1.5 to 2.5 points to GDP growth. That means that something like half (or more) of the “growth” in the last six months (as a % of $10T of six months’ GDP) was due to storm remediation. (That’s correct, I checked the math three times.) As another example, an increase of $100 billion in defense spending, over a year, will add 0.5% to our annual GDP. So, the bigger the deficit (in turn increasing interest expense), the better the GDP appears. The apparently stronger GDP growth in H2’17 was also positively affected by the weaker dollar and this, too, has changed lately, probably contributing to the tepid 2.3% Q1’18 GDP real growth.

Interest rates have moved up steadily, as the Fed has simultaneously raised the short term Fed Funds rate and sold increasing amounts of its bloated $4.3 trillion balance sheet. The much higher interest expense, combined with government spending will explode the deficit, which in turn will burden the economy even further. The Fed will back off. We will have new round of stimulus, much bigger than the “financial heroin” hit of ’08-’09. That should finally spark gold related securities much higher. It’s just a question of time.

Roger Lipton

Download PDF

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – GOLD & MINERS SURVIVE VOLATILE MARCH MARKETS

To access this content, you must purchase Website Subscription.

INCLUDED IN YOUR ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTION:

  • Broad economic insight. As described in “Restaurants/Retail – Why Bother?” the restaurant and retail industries provide a leading indicator of far broader economic trends. You no longer have to be the last to know.
  • Two to three analytical pieces per week (“Roger’s Rap”) personally written by Roger Lipton describing corporate developments within his industry specialization, including their relevance to the broader economy.
  • Periodic “macro” discussions personally written by Roger Lipton, analyzing fiscal and monetary matters that will likely affect your investments and your business.
  • Opportunity to “Ask Rog” about your personal concerns, regarding individual companies or broader economic trends. Roger will use his best efforts to answer questions submitted, obviously limited by the number of requests . He may answer your question by email directly and/or include your question with his “Roger’s Rap” releases.
  • You are provided access to “Friends of Rog”, depending on your financial and operational needs. The outstanding individuals suggested here, have been personally “vetted” by Roger over decades. Roger receives no compensation based on whether or not use their services.
  • A free copy of the legendary best selling book, How you can Profit from the coming devaluation, as shown at right, written in 1970 by Harry Browne, which predicted the 2000% rise in the price of gold. This profound piece is more relevant today than ever, so Roger re-published it in 2012. This book will help you preserve the fortune you are in the process of accumulating.