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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – GOLD TAKES OFF, FOR GOOD REASON !!

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – GOLD TAKES OFF, FOR GOOD REASON !!

The general equity markets were down materially in May, the worst month in about eight years. The bond market firmed up, as it becomes clearer that the economy is slowing and Quantitative Tightening (QT) is ending. Gold bullion was higher by 1.5%. The average of the gold mining ETFs (GDX and GDXJ) were up 2.0%. The three precious metal mutual funds that we monitor (TGLDX, OPGSX, and INIVX) did a little better on average, up 3.7%. Considering how strong the US Dollar has been, and the strength in the stock market until just recently, gold bullion and the gold mining stocks have held up pretty well for the month and the year. Once again, the prospect for a major move in gold bullion and an even larger move in the gold mining stocks has only improved with time. The longer the fundamental fiscal/monetary trends that we have discussed continue, the larger the upswing  will be. Gold bullion broke above $1300 per oz. just last Friday and is up over 1% today. The gold miners are also trading higher. The “consolidation” in the price of gold, and the gold miners, has been longer than we anticipated, but the last few days could be the resumption of the long term bull market in precious metal related assets. It’s been said that “in any crisis, you have a choice or either looking like a fool before, or after, the event.  Based our long stated conviction that gold related securities represent the most underpriced  asset class, we are in the former group at the moment. We believe that there will be a great number of observers who, upon reflection, say: “How could I have not seen this coming?”

The fundamental developments over the last month that come to mind are the following:

  • The economy is weakening and tighter money is behind us. A renewed era of easier money and lower interest rates should be a tailwind for precious metal prices.
  • Gold bullion continues to be aggressively accumulated by Central Banks, China (way understated) and Russia most notably. Russia has bought over 200 tons annually for four years in a row, at the same time almost eliminating their holdings of US Treasuries.
  • The US deficit for the year ending 9/30/19 will be comfortably over $1 trillion. Be aware that the cumulative deficit is frozen” at just over $22 trillion because the US has reached its debt “ceiling”. The cumulative number will stair step to close to $23 trillion when Congress acts in the next few months. Furthermore, it is virtually guaranteed that the US is within a year of $24 trillion, and not far from $25 trillion by January 2021 when a new (or old) administration could consider adjustments. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor any of the Democratic candidates seem likely to reduce entitlements, which is the only remedy. Compounding the problem, the fiscal/monetary trends so evident in the US are also in place in Europe, China and Japan, the next three most important economies.

There are only two ways out of the worldwide debt burden. One option is outright default. The alternative is “unstated” default by paying off the debt with paper currencies depreciated by major inflation, and that is the new stated mandate of central banks worldwide. The gold price and the gold mining stocks will be major beneficiaries.

Roger Lipton

 

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – THE BEAT GOES ON !!

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – THE BEAT GOES ON !!

The general equity markets were up modestly in April. Gold bullion was down a fraction of 1%. The miners, which had outperformed gold bullion in the first quarter gave back their gain. For the year to date both gold bullion and the gold mining stocks are essentially flat. Considering that the US Dollar is at a high and the general equity market has been strong, that is reasonably good performance for a non-correlated asset class.  Fundamentally: nothing has changed regarding the long term fiscal/monetary trends. In fact, the prospect for a major move in gold bullion and an even larger move in the gold mining stocks has only improved. The longer the fundamental factors that we present prevail,  the larger the price move in gold bullion and the mining stocks will be.

 Over the last month, the following bullet points come to mind:

  • Ten years after the sub-prime bubble of ’08-09, new financial excesses have arisen, including a private equity mania (Lyft, Uber,  Wework, etc.), a subprime auto bubble, a student loan bubble, a sovereign debt bubble among emerging economies, a “levered loan” bubble.
  • Central Banks continue to buy record amounts of gold bullion. They understand that the paper currencies are being diluted and are increasingly aggressive in diversifying their foreign exchange reserves away from US Dollar. China and Russia, increasingly considered our adversaries, are the most prominent gold bullion buyers. In India, where the public traditionally accumulates gold, the central bank has again become a substantial buyer, increasing their holdings by 50 tons (the total by over 10%) in just the last 15 months.
  • Debt creation as a GDP stimulant is increasingly impotent. As calculated by highly regarded economist, David Rosenberg, since 2007 “global debt has ballooned by $140 trillion while global GDP has risen by only $20 trillion. The “bang for the debt buck” is clearly diminished, and that will only get worse over time.
  • The highly touted 3.2% growth in US real GDP was largely dependent on non-recurring factors. Inventory build, government spending, and lower imports together contributed 2/3 of the total. The 3.2% number was also calculated based on only 0.8% annualized inflation, and that assumption is questionable. One thing we can count on, however,  is that economic performance in the US will continue to be presented in the most favorable possible  light between now and November, 2020.
  • Following on the previous point, just this morning Steven Mnuchin, Sec’y Treasury, pointed out that the US debt limit, which has already been exceeded, will have to be raised within six months, because our financial flexibility will have been utilized. $22 trillion is comfortably in the rear view window, and $23 trillion is months away.

The following discussion is a bit “technical” in nature, but we feel is crucial in terms of long term expectations for financial markets.

CENTRAL BANKS BUY STOCKS AND BONDS – A RECIPE FOR LONG TERM DISASTER !! – A LESSON IN “MARKET MAKING”

It’s been a number of years since we had an active market in the US for initial public offerings. Decades, and a number of stock market cycles ago, this then young analyst watched quite a few small companies come public, in many cases underwritten by brokers much smaller than the surviving investment bankers of today. Some of those underwriting firms, well intentioned to be sure, supported the brand new issue with a supporting bid, figuring it was just a question of time before the market figured out that the stock was attractive, the supporting bid could be removed, the stock would be freely trading and move up, the public customers would be happy, and the broker might even make a profit when selling their acquired inventory. Other underwriters, not so committed to supporting the new issue price, allowed the stock to trade freely immediately, tolerating the higher volatility, and allowing the free market to establish (“discover”) the price, for better or worse.

The interesting aspect of these two approaches was as follows: The firms that intervened in the marketplace in many cases finally choked on the inventory, their capital was not sufficient to buy the stock forever, and they ultimately went out of business. The more prudent underwriters that allowed for “price discovery” (as the PHDs would put it) by the normal supply and demand of the marketplace lived to play another day.

This small scale example applies to the trading habits of worldwide central banks today. As the US government builds its debt over $22 trillion, which is more than 100% of our GDP, lots of observers say it is no big deal since Japan, for example, has government debt at 250% of their GDP. The Japanese economy is still functioning, with slow growth to be sure, but there is no evident crisis. This reminds me of the cartoon where the guy jumps off the cliff, and, while in the air, calls out: “I feel fine !!”

There are over $10 trillion of government securities trading with less than a zero percent yield. This is as a result of the US, ECB, Japanese and Chinese central banks buying stocks and bonds, supporting the price of stocks and bonds, and suppressing fixed income yields. In this absence of true price discovery by the marketplace, fixed income savers have been penalized, to the benefit of stock and bond holders, creating a wealth effect for the latter. This good fortune on paper could (and will) be temporary, but for the moment, just like the guy who jumped off the cliff, we feel fine !!

Where are we in this process ??  In addition to the negatively yielding fixed income government securities, the Bank of Japan (that has been doing this for almost thirty years) now owns about $250 billion of Japanese ETFs, or 75% of that entire market of ETFs. On the fixed income side, the Bank of Japan owns about 45%, or $4.5 trillion worth of all the Japanese government bonds outstanding. With it all, the Japanese economy is still running well below 2% real growth, with inflation at well under the 2% objective. It is of course an important sub-text that central banks worldwide are trying to stimulate inflation, rather than subdue it, which was the original objective.  Closer to home, we have been informed that our Fed is abandoning QT, preparing for a new form of QE, which, some have suggested, could include the purchase of US equities as well as bonds.

Here’s a quick economic lesson for the hundreds of PHDs that are working within central banks, which we guess isn’t part of the new Modern Monetary Theory. Don’t intervene in a market unless you are prepared to BUY IT ALL, because you will, eventually. Witness the holdings of the Bank of Japan, who have been at this game the longest, still without the result they have been reaching for. Aside from a long list of unintended consequences that have yet to play out, the attempt to lighten the inventory, (Sell to whom?) has just been demonstrated in the US. One down month in the stock market (December) with the two year treasury rate approaching 3% and the US Fed caved. Whom do you think the Japanese Central Bank can sell to?

The above described central bank intervention in capital markets will inevitably destroy most international currencies, including the US Dollar, because the money will have to be created to support the capital markets and the presumed wealth effect that will prevent economic collapse and that will be highly inflationary. This is the “bubble” that Donald Trump described when he was campaigning but that he has forgotten about since he is in office. The politicians and central bankers will continue to chase their long term (NEW) goal of creating inflation substantial enough to service long term debt obligations. We described early in the article how the debt increase in increasingly impotent in terms of stimulating GDP growth. The corollary is that the debt, worldwide, is far too large to be paid off in the currencies of today. Substantial inflation is the only politically acceptable remedy, since outright default is too obvious to the voting public.

Roger Lipton

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – IGNORE HISTORY AT YOUR OWN PERIL !

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – IGNORE HISTORY AT YOUR OWN PERIL

The general market was up modestly in March while gold and the gold mining stocks were down modestly. For the year to date, in the first quarter, the gold mining stocks were up about 5-6%, fairly good considering the gold bullion was only up 0.6%, also considering that the general market and the US Dollar were strong, both of which normally track inversely to gold related assets. Monetary conditions are clearly becoming more accommodative, as central banks, worldwide, back off from raising interest rates and reducing  balance sheets. The discussion below provides only a portion of the argument why there should soon be a resumption of the long term bull market for precious metal related assets.

IGNORE HISTORY AT YOUR OWN PERIL

John Maynard Keynes had some good ideas back in the 1920s: the Federal Reserve Bank had been formed in 1913, and would manage the economy, control inflation, reduce the frequency and severity of booms and busts, stimulate the economy in hard times, and pull back the accommodation in good times.

Keynes articulated this very well, in 1923: “Markets cannot work properly if the money, which they assume as a stable measuring-rod, is undependable. Unemployment, the precarious life of the worker, the disappointment of expectations, the sudden loss of savings, the excessive windfalls to individuals, the speculator, the profiteer–all proceed in large measure, from the instability of the standard of value”.

Harry Browne, the brilliant economist, and writer, who wrote “You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation” in 1970 (which I republished in 2012), anticipating the devaluation of the US Dollar when Nixon closed in the gold window in 1971, put it another way. He said that “you can’t have a sound economy without a sound currency”.

Starting with the longer term view, under the management of our Federal Reserve, the 1913 Dollar (when the Fed was formed) has become worth about $.03. (In contrast, an ounce of gold still has roughly the same purchasing power.) More recently, over the last ten years, our Fed (with imitation by the ECB, Japan, and China) has given us several “QE’s”, during which short term interest rates have gone to zero, there is still something like TEN TRILLION of sovereign debt with rates at ZERO or less, and the Fed balance sheet went from $900B to $4.5 TRILLION

After several Quantitative Easings over the last ten years, a little over eighteen months ago the Fed announced that they would raise interest rates to “normalized” levels (presumably upwards of 3% for short rates and above 4% for  thirty year paper) and, on an automatic programmed basis, reduce the balance sheet to a more tolerable $2.5 trillion (still almost a triple from where it started in 2008). We predicted that this program wouldn’t go far, because the economy couldn’t tolerate it, and interest rates on (now) $22 Trillion of debt would wreck the US budget. Sure enough: it is now clear that the interest rates will not rise further, and the Fed balance sheet will only shrink perhaps another $200B this year, down to about $3.7 trillion. This latest objective apparently provides comfort that the economy will not be choked off from the “steady” growth: one year, in 2018, at 3.0% (with lower tax rates, repatriation of $800B of dollars overseas, and reduced governmental regulation), projected from this point to be back to the 2.3% range of the Obama administration.

Back to John Maynard Keynes and Harry Browne:

Keynes: “Markets cannot work properly if the money, which they assume as a stable measuring-rod, is undependable. Unemployment, the precarious life of the worker, the disappointment of expectations, the sudden loss of savings, the excessive windfalls to individuals, the speculator, the profiteer–all proceed in large measure, from the instability of the standard of value”.

Browne “you can’t have a sound economy without a sound currency”.

Does any of this sound familiar? These days it’s called a “wealth gap”, and politicians are calling for rich people to “pay their fair share”. Savings haven’t been “lost”, but they are earning next to nothing unless large risk is undertaken.

THE STATED DEFICIT IS THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

We’ve written extensively that the actual debt is increasing much faster than the “operating” cash flow statement implies. Some uninformed observers have said that this is just a question of short term working capital changes which even out over a number of years. The facts are (1) this phenomenon has happened almost every year. (2) Over the last decade, the increase in debt, above and beyond the total of annual deficits has amounted to a total over THREE TRILLION DOLLARS. That’s $3,000,000,000,000. A lot of zeros. (3)  It is a result of “Intragovernmental Borrrowing”, which doesn’t run through the annual operating budget. Specifically, as of 9/30/18, there was about $6 trillion of “Non-Public Borrowing”. 51% of that is from the Social Security Trust Funds. 17% from Military Retirements and Health Care Funds, 16% from Civil Service Retirements and Disability Funds, 6% from Medicare Trust Funds, and 11% from other Trust Funds. So our legislators are hollowing out the various funds that should be safely set aside to meet their intended purposes. Before we leave this subject, it is important to know that certain observers have opined that the US is not really in debt by $22 trillion, it’s only $16 trillion, a much lower percentage of our GDP, not nearly so dangerous. After all, we owe that $6 trillion to “ourselves”, the implication being that it doesn’t have to be honored. Tell that to the social security recipients, military veterans, civil servants and medicare recipients.

We provide below a table showing the most recent monthly deficits and increase in debt. You can see that in the fiscal year ending 9/30/18 the monthly deficits totaled $779B, but the debt increased by $1.27T. We say again: this is not a one year phenomenon. Three trillion, over ten years, has been “borrowed” from various trust funds. This year, through February, the operating deficit was $234B in February, up from $215B a year ago. Cumulatively the deficit for the year through February is $544B, up 39.1%. Relative to the increase in debt, it is up $599B cumulatively, actually decreasing by 2%, but still on track to run something like $1.3T for the year versus an advertised estimated deficit of about $1 trillion.

The last point, on the specific subject of deficits and the possibility of progress: It should be clear to all of us that both political parties are already in full “positioning” mode for the 2020 election. There will be no substantive improvement in the fiscal/monetary position of our country, especially since that would require reductions in entitlements, defense, or interest rate spending, none of which will occur. By the end of fiscal 2020, at 9/30/20, the total debt will be on the order of $24 trillion and growing. The financial, social, and political implications of that reality have yet to play out.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

We go to Quantitative Easing again, BUT MUCH LARGER. When an addict is hooked, each hit has to be bigger than the last, to maintain the high. The Fed balance sheet went from $900B to $4.5T, a quintuple, and will only have come down by about 18% to about $3.7T. Never before in the history of the planet has ongoing monetary accommodation (including $1 trillion current deficits) been necessary in the middle of a (relatively) strong economy.  In addition to the modest reduction in the Fed balance sheet, short term interest rates, after going slightly negative, have only risen to 2.7% before the Fed said “basta” as the economy threatens to roll over. We can only imagine how much capital will need to be injected by the Fed, and how low or negative interest rates will be taken to counter the next recession.

In conclusion: Don’t believe the economic fiction that we need not fear inflation, from accommodation of the past or from further stimulation, that deficits don’t matter, that the new Modern Monetary Theory (described in today’s Wall Street Journal) will keep things under control. All kinds of assets have already been inflated in price, and that wealth effect has clearly been enunciated as a goal of the Fed. Unfortunately, the benefit has not been spread equally among citizens, and this is a worldwide problem. The saddest part is that the politicians of today, just as in the past, show no inclination to correct the fiscal/monetary policy in a constructive way. The longer this financial party continues, the worse will be the hangover. Nobody knows exactly what the “end game” looks like, but it is probable that gold related securities will be among the very best performing assets.

Roger Lipton

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – PRECIOUS METAL PRICES CONSOLIDATE – WHY GOLD?

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – PRECIOUS METAL PRICES CONSOLIDATE – WHY GOLD?

The general equity market continued strong in February, while the precious metals complex consolidated the strong gains of December and January, with hardly any change. Gold bullion was down 0.6%, the gold miner ETFs (GDX and GDXJ) were down an average of 1.8%, the three mutual funds that we track (Tocqueville, Oppenheimer and Van Eck) were up an average of 0.6%. Our gold mining oriented investment partnership is performing in line with those ETF and mutual fund benchmarks, for the month and the year to date.

While we have a lull in marketplace volatility, it seems worthwhile to reflect on at least part of the essence of our conviction, why gold is the “real money”, proven to be so over literally thousands of years, currently representing probably the most undervalued asset class of all. It is true that there are other asset classes that have protected purchasing power as well or better than gold over chosen periods of time, such as: stocks of well run companies, well situated real estate, art created by legendary artists, to name just a few. Gold, however, the same gold that was produced in the days of King Tut (1341-1323 B.C.E.) has protected purchasing power without the uncertainty of stock picking, location analysis, or artist selection. An ounce of gold reflects roughly the same number of hours worked, and value of goods and services as it did 3,000 years ago, 200 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and 20 years ago. (Not 6 years ago, to be sure, but give it time!)

Everyone talks about how inflation is “non-existent”, in spite of the monetary “accommodation”, which means money printing, unbacked paper currency creation with no limitation, debt levels worldwide still increasing. Even our Federal Reserve PHD’s are scratching their collective heads as to why inflation has not resulted from the trillions of paper dollars injected into the monetary system by the Central Banks. The new theory, dubbed Modern Monetary Theory, is postulating that the paper unbacked currency creation doesn’t matter. Remember the last “new paradigm”, the dotcom bubble of 1999-2000?

Let’s keep it simple. Put a few people in a small city, perhaps on an island, with a fixed amount of goods and services, and a fixed amount of money in circulation. If suddenly the money supply doubled, and there was no change in the goods and services available, what do you think would happen to prices? Of course everyone would have more “money” to spend, and they would compete for the “stuff” and prices (the quoted required paper exchange value) would of course rise. By the way: it’s the currency creation that’s the inflation, the cause, which we’ve already experienced.  The price rise is the effect of the inflation (insertion of more currency), and is coming.

So why hasn’t the price rise, following the “inflation” happened in the last ten years? The answer is, IT HAS! The Central Banks created trillions, which governments used to buy bonds and stocks around the world, keeping interest rates low in the bond markets, forcing fixed income buyers to reach for yield in the bond market and sometimes buy stocks in desperation while governments (Switzerland and Japan & others) bought stocks as well. This “misallocation of resources”, this “financial promiscuity”, this unprecedented monetary “experiment” has created not only artificially high stock and bond markets but private market valuations approaching $100 billion for unprofitable companies such as Uber and WeWork. Why do you think $100M (and higher) transactions in residential real estate are becoming commonplace and $200M was spent for a Van Gogh. People of substantial means are trying to get at least some of their resources out of “cash”, which they know is being diluted all the time. They don’t know what their Central Park West apartment or Van Gogh will sell for fifty years from now, but they are certain that the colored paper in their pocket will buy a very small fraction of today’s purchasing power. Grocery prices, certain Chinese or Mexican produced apparel, or increasingly powerful consumer electronics may not be quoted higher in price, but almost every important asset class other than gold has appreciated substantially, especially over the last ten years.

One last point for this installment:

While the hue and cry for a higher minimum wage has been a constant feature of our political and economic dialogue, let’s think for a moment about the way the economic world really works, and always has. Workers get a raise, $15 minimum hourly wage now in 20 states, and feel good for a little while, because they immediately have more discretionary income. However, the higher wage comes from their employer who produces goods and services and that production has to generate a return on investment. Since that employer’s profit margin has just been materially reduced, in probably a matter of months they will raise the price of whatever they are selling. So the employee who received higher pay fairly quickly finds that he or she is paying more for the stuff they are buying. This is why, it’s the middle class that really gets screwed by the inflationary process. The wealthy have their stocks, bonds, homes, art, stock options, etc. The impoverished have their various government benefits, food stamps, and emergency care at the hospital if they really need it. It’s the middle class, playing by all the rules, that can’t seem to get ahead. They are making more “money”, but don’t ever seem to get ahead.

Wrapping this up, the “Inequality of Wealth, the “Wealth Divide”, as the rich get richer and the poor left behind, that everyone talks about has been a feature of the last 47 or 48 years. Various charts clearly show that prior to the 1970s the purchasing power of the rich and poor was increasing at just about the same rate. The divergence in discretionary purchasing power clearly began in the late 1970s.

I don’t believe it is coincidental that Richard Nixon “closed the gold window” in August of 1971, eliminating convertibility of the dollar into gold. This predictably allowed for unfettered money creation, kicking off the double digit inflation of the 1970s, a fed funds rate that was 18% when Ronald Reagan took office, and the move in gold from $35 to $850/oz. The 1971 Dollar is worth about $0.15 today in purchasing power, and that seems to me like just yesterday. This is why it’s been said that “inflation is the cruelest tax”.

It just so happens that the gold owned by the US Treasury as well as the major trading countries collectively, relative to the unbacked (fiat) paper currency that is circulating, is almost the same very low percentage (6-7%) that it was in 1971, before gold went from $35 to $850/oz. in eight years. Most economists, even non “goldbugs” would agree that gold represents an alternative currency. This particular currency, gold, is mined, with great investment and risk, at the rate of about $140 billion per year. The colored paper that we all carry around in our pocket is being created worldwide, with the tap of a computer key, at the rate of trillions of dollars annually. Which currency would you suspect will maintain its purchasing power better over time?

Sincerely,

Roger Lipton

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

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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

 

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SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – MAJOR RISKS SURFACE

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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

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

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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

 

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

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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?

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

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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

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

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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

 

 

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