SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – THE CASE FOR GOLD – FROM THE “TOP DOWN” TO THE “BOTTOMS UP” – HOW HIGH, AND WHEN?
With gold in the news again, there are lots of reasons provided by observers, most of them of minimal importance. Ask yourself what has changed recently to justify the sudden resurgence of gold related securities, and the answer is “not much”. For years now we’ve had low interest rates, a sluggish economy, geo-political concerns, rising deficits and debt, etc.etc. For us, as our readers know, it’s not been a question of IF, more a question of WHEN. The following article provides our reasons why gold related securities should be an important portion of one’s liquid assets.
Our conviction regarding gold, and gold related investments revolves around our conviction that gold is the real money, has been for thousands of years, and the reasons have not changed. Gold is limited in supply, durable, and accepted worldwide as a unit of exchange and a store of value. It is true that gold is useless in terms of being consumed or generating a return such as a dividend. However, it is the indestructibility and scarcity that have made it most useful in terms of backing paper currencies that could otherwise be diluted into oblivion by the politicians of the day. This has in fact been the consistent case throughout history and it is hard to conclude that today’s politicians, worldwide, will prove to be any more disciplined than those of the past.
A second part of our premise is that without a sound currency, there cannot be a sound economy. Unless the public has confidence in the buying power of the earnings that are received as a result of their effort, they will exert less effort in that pursuit. This has been reflected through the ages, before and including ancient Rome to the 21st century.
A corollary of the paper currency dilution is the inevitable higher price of goods and services. You don’t need a PHD in economics to understand that an increasing amount of currency chasing a fixed amount of product will result in higher prices. It so happens that this result is far more acceptable from a political point of view than the fiscal and monetary discipline necessary to avoid deficit spending. This predictable outcome produces a cruel tax on the working middle class (wealth gap?) that doesn’t understand why they are taking home a bigger paycheck but it just doesn’t seem to go as far as expected.
Another way to look at gold ownership as a long-term hedge against inflation: If we view gold as a currency/commodity, which competes with other similar “asset classes”. This includes the latest asset class which consists of over 2,000 cryptocurrencies led by the headline grabbing bitcoin. The amount of gold that is produced every year amounts to about $160 billion each year, and increases by about 2% annually (which happens to be approximately the rate of long-term real growth in the worldwide economy). Compare this production of gold, requiring substantial capital investment and risk, with the creation of trillions of dollars annually of unbacked (fiat) paper currencies that are produced with the click of a computer mouse. Which asset class do you think will hold its “value” better over the long term?
THE WEALTH GAP
The “wealth gap” that is decried by politicians around the world began to rear its head in the 1970s. We believe it is no accident that August of 1971, when Richard Nixon closed the gold window, ushered in this unfortunate phenomenon. The chart below shows this clearly.
THE CURRENCY AND THE DEBT
The following charts show how public and private debt has expanded since 1971 and how the US currency in circulation has expanded exponentially. It is interesting to observe how the US public and private total debt exploded in 1930 as the GDP sank 30%, fell back through the depression, stabilized through WWII and the post war industrial expansion, before taking off in the 1970s. As above, we believe it is no accident that a 1971 dollar has retained only about 15% of its purchasing power by 2019.
Some might argue that inflation has been subdued in recent years, running under the Fed target of 2%, even though deficits are rising. In fact, many PHDs are scratching their collective heads, wondering why this is so. However, while apparel and some consumer electronic products have not risen in price, the cost of large ticket items such as education, healthcare and rent have risen sharply during this period of monetary accommodation. The paper currency creation, worldwide, with the stated intention of a “wealth effect”, has inflated stock and bond prices. That wealth has predictably largely bypassed the middle class consumer, but allowed a Van Gogh painting to sell for $250 million and co-ops in New York City and London to trade for $100M or more. The suppression of interest rates has also affected the purchasing power of the upper class and fixed income dependent savers in that you need much more savings to maintain a previously enjoyed living standard.
Central bankers have no use for gold because gold, as a governing mechanism for the issuance of the paper currency, puts the central banker out of business. However, they know where the bodies are buried so let’s follow what they do, not what they say. The following charts show the consistent accumulation over the last ten years by the central banks, notably by Russia and China, two or our greatest adversaries. It is worth noting that reported Chinese gold holdings are assumed by many to be very much understated.
GOLD HOLDINGS vs. MONETARY BASE
The following chart shows the value of the gold held by the United States, since 1918 (shortly after the Fed was established in 1913), relative to the adjusted monetary base. You can see that from 1913 until just before the end of WWII, the value of the gold was about 35% of the monetary base. After the Bretton Woods agreement in 1944 whereby the US Dollar was established as the reserve currency, the percentage drifted down. The monetary base was growing steadily, and the US gold backing was declining, but the world was relatively unconcerned during a postwar recovery period. In the late 1960s, however, as US spending for the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society accelerated, US trade and operating deficits became widely anticipated. Over 50% of the US gold was exchanged for dollars within eighteen months prior to August, 1971, when Richard Nixon “closed the gold window”. At that point, our gold amounted to only 6-7 % of the US monetary base. This level is important because we are back to that same level today.
We are not suggesting that the US, or anyone else, will make their paper currency convertible into gold any time soon. It wouldn’t work for long, in any event, because deficits in all major trading countries are larger than ever, and paper currencies would once again be tendered for gold. No country could back their currency with gold, unless they were “balancing their books” or, at the least, that prospect was in sight. We do, however, feel that the value of the gold “in circulation” should have a relationship to the value of alternative currencies. You might be surprised to learn that the country most able to make their currency convertible into gold would be Russia, perhaps our most prominent political adversary and a consistently large buyer of gold.
WHAT PRICE GOLD??
We refer to a couple of charts to approximate a reasonable level for the price of gold, relative to (1) a percentage of foreign exchange reserves and (2) as a percentage of paper currency in circulation.The chart just above this section shows that the value of the gold relative to the paper currency in circulation has a history, during steady non-inflationary growth, of being in the range of 25-35 %. The chart below shows the value of central bank gold holdings as a % of total foreign exchange reserves.
The chart above indicates that 7% could be 35%, or five times the current price. The chart below indicates that 7% could be 45% or 6.4x the current price. These ballpark calculations indicate what we consider to be a rational value of 5-6x the current $1500/oz, or $7,500-9,000/oz. This ballpark price range objective is at the current time. Since the upward adjustment in the gold price will likely be over a number of years, the appropriate price would be even higher by then.
The following two charts provide insight into the possibility of an imminent major upward move. The first chart shows the high correlation of the gold price to the amount of worldwide sovereign negative yielding debt, now amounting to a cool $15 trillion. People, that’s a big number and even in Germany, the strongest European country, the entire yield curve is now negative. We believe that the amount of negative yielding debt will continue its upward march, and could even include some of the US debt. The continued upward trend of this indicator could be influential in breaking the gold price out above the previous all time high of $1911. That, in turn, could ignite the price toward the price objectives noted above.
The second chart shows a nineteen year price chart of gold. It shows the end of an 11-12 year bull market, ending in 2012, then a 6-7 year “consolidation”. The price has now clearly broken above $1400, the previous high. Chart technicians would say that the longer the base, the bigger the move. It is conceivable that a new bull market has begun that could last for quite a few years. This would tie in to our logic that the price of gold could be 5-6 times higher over a number of years.
You get the picture!!
P.S. We produced two YouTube videos back in 2012 relative to this subject matter, each of which remains completely relevant. They are each only three minutes long. We have provided those links below: