Tag Archives: The Fed

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – NOT A QUESTION OF “IF”, JUST “WHEN”

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – NOT A QUESTION OF “IF”, JUST “WHEN”

There have been numerous ongoing fundamental developments that support our long held view that a day of reckoning is an inevitable consequence of the unimaginable mountain of debt that has been created by Central Banks, worldwide, over the last forty years. As our readers know , we view gold and the gold mining stocks as one of the best hedges against the prospective financial/political/social upheaval that lies (somewhere) ahead. It’s been said that a bet on gold is a bet against Central Bankers’ colored paper. Central Bank credibility continues to be at stake, and we suggest, in summary, that you can’t get out of a hole by continuing to dig.

Several current developments, which we have not recently discussed, support  our long term strategy.

First, Central Bankers collectively continue to purchase large quantities of gold bullion. purchasing 333.2 tons, an increase of 39% over the 5-year average in the first half, and about 199.9 tons during Q2. The largest purchases were recorded in Germany, Thailand, Hungary and Brazil. We should note that Russia and China, the most obvious political, economic, and military adversaries of the USA, have consistently added to their gold reserves over the last ten years. China updates their gold holdings only sporadically, supposedly owning only about 2,000 tons, but they are the world’s largest miner, about 400 tons annually, and none of it gets out of China.  When pressed as to what event might finally ignite the price of gold, we suggest that China, who has indicated their plans for a digital currency in 2022, will, in one form or another back their currency or their debt with gold bullion. They have encouraged the Chinese public to use gold backed savings accounts and demand for gold jewelry doubled in China in the first half of 2021. Central Banks are voting with their wallets as to whether they prefer fiat paper currencies or gold bullion as the real money over the long haul.

Secondly: The debate continues as to whether all the new money being printed will finally ignite inflation, which (up until the pandemic driven shortages) it hasn’t. Something like $20 trillion has been created by worldwide Central Banks since 2009. However, what happened in the US, for example, is that while the Fed printed money, at the same time they raised the capital and reserve requirements in banks, reducing the “velocity” of the new funds. The Fed bought Treasuries, created money, which wound up in the banks and then was redeposited at the Fed. The money, therefore, never really entered the money supply so wasn’t inflationary. However, in the last twelve months the M-2 money supply was up about 25 per cent last year and could well be the precursor of inflation such as we had in the 1970s (when gold went from $35 to $850/oz.).

You don’t need a PHD in economic. It’s common sense.  What if the Central Banks were to create $100 trillion of new currency, with no increase in available goods and services? Prices would be sure to go up, right? Well, $20 trillion didn’t do it over the last ten years but $100 trillion would. Somewhere between $20T and $100T is “ignition” and we suspect it is closer to the former.

We wrote the above commentary a couple of days ago. This evening we read the September 1st  commentary of James Grant, publisher of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and among the world’s most respected monetary historians. While he would be the first to admit that is timing is often in question, his views over the last forty years have been consistently borne out.  We hope he won’t mind if we quote a few sections of the current issue. The underlining is of our choosing.

Grant describes how the suppression of interest rates distorts economic activity, and ends badly:

“Chair Powell last Friday ignored the dollar mountain that figuratively rivals the Grand Tetons. He acknowledged no such thing as the inflation of credit, which leads to the inflation of asset values and thereby promotes overleverage, misdirected investment and financial fragility. He neglected to mention that a zero-percent interest rate in a resurgent economy is one for the monetary record books. And he omitted reference to the thinkers who correctly posit that when the central bank’s policy interest rate is pitched artificially low—e.g., below the expected rate of return on capital—boom and bust surely follow. Everyone living today knows about booms: Credit proliferates, eager financiers swarm venture capitalists, construction cranes ascend and YouTube influencers get their pictures in The Wall Street Journal. But as the boom roars on, the structure of enterprise becomes distorted. Negligible borrowing costs (and the expectation that they will long so remain) bring forth SPACs, NFTs, towering equity valuations, grandiose M&A activity and uninhabited luxury residential towers. The bust starts when credit stops.”

Grant talks about the unprecedented recent growth in the money  supply, with the likelihood that inflation will follow:

“In the two years to May 2021 M-3 broad money rose by 35%, by far the highest number for such a short period since the Second World War. On the basis of the money supply developments, we have argued that the annual rate of U.S. consumer inflation will lie between 5% and 10% until at least the end of 2022. Views are shifting, but our forecast remains far above the prevailing consensus.” Milton Friedman was sometimes wrong, but perhaps now, when his monetary-policy legacy is either forgotten or derided, and when the money-supply data certainly look alarming, he could be a little right.”

Grant describes the unbelievable leverage involved in the Fed’s “business model”, how dangerous it is, and how uncontrolled market forces (i.e. when “bond vigilantes” will say “basta” and require a much higher return to invest in US debt) will eventually end the party:

“Systemwide, the Fed shows assets of $8.33 trillion versus capital of $39.8 billion, for a leverage ratio of 209:1. If the average conscientious Federal Reserve bank examiner encountered such a balance sheet as this one, he or she might dial 911. However, the New York Fed, with assets of $4.156 trillion and capital of $13.3 billion, exhibits a leverage ratio of 311.6:1. For perspective, on June 30, JPMorgan Chase showed a ratio of assets to stockholders’ equity of 12.9:1. What makes the New York Fed so confident that it can manage a balance sheet almost nine times more distended than the one that almost took down Morgan Stanley in 2008? Footnote 15 on page 7 of form H.4.1—the weekly Federal Reserve balance sheet emission— dated Jan. 6, 2011, has the answer. It discloses that future losses at the central bank will be treated as a negative journal entry to the Treasury rather than a reduction in the Fed’s capital and surplus account. In the ordinary course of business, the Fed remits its operating income to the Treasury—the New York Fed, just this past week, journaled $728 million over to Janet Yellen. In case of a substantial loss, for example, an inflation-induced markdown to bond prices, the central bank would effectively draw a government loan. Fearless in the face of its extreme leverage, the Fed is a kind of financial free agent. It formally answers to Congress and may one day soon have to answer to Mr. Market.”

Back to a conclusion, our way:

Just as Grant described, huge distortions in financial markets are taking place. Around the world, $15.9 trillion’s worth of bonds are priced to yield less than zero, though not in the US (yet). An illustrative example of this absurdity is that the Greek government zeros of 2026, for example, are priced to yield negative 0.08% versus the positive 0.77%  from five-year Treasuries and that is why US Treasuries, surely safer than Greek debt, are a relative bargain. This is the definition of “the best house in a terrible neighborhood”. Another description goes “a race to the bottom”.

Step back for a moment. The US Treasury needs more capital to finance the $3-4 trillion annual deficit, so sells bonds to the Fed, which prints it out of thin air and lends it to the US government at a minimal interest rate. There is no limit to how much currency can be created so there is no limit to how much money the US politicians can piss away. The interest (even at the low rate) earned by the Fed is periodically rebated (after the Fed’s billions of administrative overhead) back to the US government, reducing the deficit just a little from what it would have been. The interest on the debt has therefore been recycled (after paying the salaries of hundreds of economic PHDs and thousands in staff) and the principal borrowed (forgetting about the wasteful spending) doesn’t ever need to be repaid, except by newly created Fed currency. This is how the Fed’s balance sheet has gone from $1T ten years ago to over $8T today and the annual US deficit, which was $100B in 1980 is $3-4T today.

Does this “scheme” seem sustainable to you? Well, sort of, except that a 1913 dollar is worth $.02, and a $1971 dollar is worth about $0.15. In the history of the planet, there has never been an unbacked “fiat” currency that has survived. It is just a question of how long it will take the politicians of the day to destroy it and nobody would suggest that today’s politicians are any different. An important caveat, however, is that a deflationary bust could interrupt the inflationary party, ala’ the deflationary 1930s, before a new monetary system (with at least some temporary restrictions) takes shape. This brings us back to gold related assets, that have proven over the centuries to protect purchasing power in both inflationary and deflationary times.

Roger Lipton

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – DEFICITS EXPLODING, INFLATION UPTICKING, CRYPTOCURRENCIES LOSE THEIR LUSTER, WHILE GOLD RESUMES ITS UPWARD RUN

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – DEFICITS EXPLODING, INFLATION UPTICKING, CRYPTOCURRENCIES  LOSE THEIR LUSTER, WHILE GOLD RESUMES ITS UPWARD RUN

I cannot resist commenting on, and correcting the latest version of revisionist economic history.

Just yesterday Maria Bartiromo was interviewing Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump’s Director of Trade and Manufacturing and a frequent economic spokesperson. After predictably predicting a weak stock market, burdened by the poor policies of President Biden, his description of the last ten years went like this: “Under President Obama, coming out of the 08-09 crash, the GDP grew by a meager 2%, and the debt doubled. Under Donald Trump, we grew at 3% and the economy was roaring before the pandemic hit.”

Not quite:

Under President Obama, the GDP grew by an average of 1.6%, held down by a negative 2.5% in ’09, coming out of the crash. Excluding ’09, GDP grew at an average of 2.2% over seven years.

Trump’s four years went +2.3% in ’17, +3% in ’18, +2.2% in ’19 and -3.7% in pandemically driven 2020. Excluding the last year, out of Trump’s control, just as Obama’s first year, Trump’s economy grew at an average of 2.5%.

So: A reasonably fair comparison would be that Trump’s economy, buttressed by lower taxes, a trillion dollars of overseas corporate capital repatriated, less legislative burden, and a friendlier business climate, grew three tenths of one percent faster than Obama’s. If one wants to include the first year under Obama and the last under Trump, under control of neither, the average would be 0.95% under Trump and 1.6% under Obama.

As far as the debt is concerned, under Obama the debt went from $10.6 trillion at 1/20/09 to $19.9 trillion at 1/20/2017, an increase of $9.3 trillion over EIGHT YEARS. The debt under Trump increased to $27.8 trillion at 1/31/21, an increase of $7.9 trillion over FOUR YEARS.

Don’t believe anything you hear and very little of what you read!

With that off my chest, the fiscal/monetary chickens are coming home to roost. The factors that we have been discussing for years are becoming too obvious for the financial markets and policy makers to ignore.

The table just below shows the monthly deficit numbers. For the month ending April, the deficit was “only” $226B, down from the explosion of $738B in the first full month of the pandemic last year. Still, we are running 30% ahead of a year ago, which finished in a $3.1 trillion hole, and there is huge spending ahead of us this year. With the trillions that are being thrown around, it seems likely that the deficit for the current year will be over $4 trillion. Keep in mind that our Federal Reserve is buying the majority of the debt that we are issuing to fund this deficit, so we are literally “monetizing” the debt by paying for the deficit with freshly printed Dollars. It is in this context that we have suggested that there is no need to raise taxes on anyone, rich or poor. None of it will supply more than a few hundred billion dollars per year, and there is much less aggravation for everyone if one of Jerome Powell’s hundreds of PHDs pushes a computer button and produces the US version of a digital currency. Of course, inflation will be the cruelest tax, especially on the middle and lower class citizen, but they will likely never understand the cause.

Inflation in consumer goods, rather than the asset inflation we have seen in the last ten years, is finally rearing its beautiful (as far as the Federal Reserve is concerned) head. Post pandemic demand, along with looser purse strings as pandemic relief checks are distributed, is replacing the pandemic induced reduction of demand that has suppressed the economy over the last year. As we wrote last month, some very bright economists are agreeing with Jerome Powell that inflationary indications are “anchored” and “transitory”, but we believe transitory may last longer and not so well anchored as expected. The last twelve months of the CPI are now above 4%, and the CPI is widely considered to be understating the inflationary facts of life.

We consider that there has been an undeniable bubble in all kinds of assets, from Tesla to Bitcoin, to collectible homes worth a hundred million dollars to crypto-art and lots of individual stocks that trade for 50x sales instead of a more modest multiple of earnings or cash flow. Investors of all stripes are reaching desperately for a “return”, as evidenced by the historically low yield spread between high yield debt and US Treasury securities, as well as the asset classes referred to above. As we write this, a number of these upside distortions are in the process of being corrected. Tesla is down from over $900 to under $600. Bitcoin is $43k, down from $64k three weeks ago, the bloom is coming off the SPAC rose, and GameStop is down well over 50% from its ridiculous high. However, the process has just begun and will no doubt play out over a number of years.

Gold and gold mining stocks seem to have consolidated adequately since last August, when interest rates went modestly higher, and have just now established new bullish chart patterns. Negative “real interest rates”, subtracting the inflation rate from the yield on short term treasuries, has a strong correlation with the price of gold. The more negative the “real” interest rate, the more attractive is gold bullion, with no dividend or interest. Almost to the day, last August, when interest rates moved higher, reducing the degree of negativity, the gold price started drifting lower. Real treasury rates never turned positive, but the smaller degree of negativity reduced the urgency for ownership of gold. While interest rates have not gone back down to levels of nine months ago, inflation has picked up substantially, so short term treasuries yield several points less than the 4.2% trailing twelve month inflation rate and gold therefore protects purchasing power very well without paying interest or a dividend. The result is that gold bullion, as well as gold mining stocks have now broken out above their 200 day moving average price lines, so technicians will reprogram their algorithmically driven computers. While gold bullion is still down a percent or two for the year, gold mining stocks are positive for the year and have never been fundamentally cheaper.

It continues to be our conviction that gold mining stocks, in particular, are the single best place to protect one’s purchasing power over the long term, and our investment partnership is invested accordingly. Since there seems to be an increasing interest in this subject, in very quick summation:  I am personally the largest Limited Partner, by far, as well as the Managing General Partner of RHL Associates LP, as I have been for the 28 year life of the Partnership. The minimum investment is $500k and the fee structure is “1 and 10”. Funds can be added on the first of any month and withdrawn at the end of any quarter with 30 days written notice. We remain open to new investors, keep our investors apprised on a monthly basis as to our performance, and can be contacted through this site or by email at lfsi@aol.com.

Roger Lipton

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT- CAN THE FED “CONTROL” THE SITUATION?

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT- CAN THE FED “CONTROL” THE SITUATION?

The capital markets traded to the upside in April, as the Biden administration lays out their agenda and the Federal Reserve assures everyone that they continue to have everything under control. We suggest that you come to your own conclusions. Ben Bernanke had no clue that the financial crisis of ’08-’09 was coming, though there were quite a few warning bells ringing. You never know which snowflake will start the avalanche.

THE DEFICITS AND THE DEBT

For those of you that like to know the latest deficit and debt numbers look like, the US deficit for the month of March was $660 billion, up from $119 billion in ’20, just before the pandemic related spending took off. The deficit for the first six months of the current fiscal year has therefore been $1.7 trillion, up from $741 billion in ’20. Since the comparisons from here will be up against the huge spending from April through September of the fiscal year ending 9/30, the comparisons will be “tougher”, depending on what stimulus programs are implemented.

Safe to say that the deficit for the current year ending 9/30/21 will be substantially more than the $3.1 trillion of last year. No doubt the total debt, not including unfunded entitlements, will be in the area of $30 trillion somewhere in the fourth calendar quarter of 2021. This continues to be of prime importance because heavy debt burdens the recovering economy and enormous spending, mostly financed by our Federal Reserve’s currency creation, will be necessary to keep the economy from collapsing. With the 2022 very important congressional election season beginning in just a matter of months, you can bet that the Biden administration will spare no expense to make the economy look good.

INFLATION OR DEFLATION?

There is an increasingly active debate developing as to whether inflation, or possibly some form of deflation, is in our future, and when. Keep in mind that both can happen, just as we have already seen higher prices in assets such as stocks, bonds, real estate and others. On the other hand, general income levels have not moved by much and “core inflation”, excluding food and energy, is still subdued.

Both inflation and deflation can be good for gold. The miners did very well during the deflationary 1930s, in spite of a fixed gold price, because their costs were coming down as the worldwide economy collapsed. Gold did even better in the inflationary 1970s, moving from $35 when Nixon eliminated convertibility in 1971 to $850 early in 1980. On balance, we prefer inflationary trends and that is what central banks around the world are desperately trying to provide.

There are some very obvious short term trends that point to inflation. There is major upward pressure on the minimum wage, with an apparent shortage of workers. There have been shortfalls in supply, and higher prices for semiconductors, lumber, copper, agriculture, gasoline, used cars, and housing. Interest rates, while still low, have moved upward, which could signal the bond market’s expectation of higher inflation. The M-2 money supply has moved up by 24% in just the last year, the most rapid rate in 150 years, and economics 101 dictates that more money chasing the same amount of goods should be inflationary at some point. Most importantly, consumers increasingly expect inflation to accelerate, and that expectation alone can be a critical ingredient. Lastly, the weakness in the US Dollar points to higher domestic inflation.

On the other hand, some of the most intelligent observers, including Lacy Hunt, Gary Shilling, and David Rosenberg, believe that the likely inflation coming out of the pandemic, over the next six months, will be modest. Fed Chairman, Jerome Powell, calls it “anchored” and “transitory”. Hunt and Schilling have had three decades of accurately calling for low interest rates, a sluggish economy, and subdued inflation, largely as a result of the debt burden. David Rosenberg, perhaps the economic commentator with the most well documented view, is looking for a short term economic bounce, accompanied by a modest uptick in inflation, but a return to economic malaise within six months.

Powell believes the Fed can control inflation by reversing the accommodation, allowing interest rates to rise, just as Paul Volker did in from 1979 to 1982. Hunt and Shilling and Rosenberg believe that the economy will go nowhere because of the debt and the aging demographics. The debt, in their mind, is a huge problem over the long term, but the Fed activities preclude a full scale  economic collapase. It seems to us that one of the most important ingredients in the reasoning of Powell, Hunt, Shilling and Rosenberg is that inflation is been “anchored” for the last ten years, even though the deficits and debt have gone through the roof. Therefore: the same beat can go on for the foreseeable future.

Though these are very smart people that we are trying to interpret and “second guess” to a degree, we are inclined to think that inflation will be higher, and longer, than is suggested above. Historical precedents may not apply because this monetary experiment is of a different magnitude than has ever been seen before.

Firstly, the Fed can’t “pull a Volker”, if inflation takes off, because the $28 trillion of debt now compares to $1 trillion in 1980, and today’s many trillions of unfunded entitlements were of little concern forty years ago. The annual operating deficit was only about $100 billion in 1980 compared to perhaps $4 trillion today. Even with an economy that is 6-7 times larger today, the problems are of a different order of magnitude. Raising interest rates, as Volker did, would trigger a massive decline in asset prices and a terrible depression.

The assumption by Powell and the others is that, based on the lack of inflation the last ten years, as deficits and debt built up, there is reason to believe that further monetary accommodation will, similarly, not create an inflation problem. We have seen that, though the Fed took its balance sheet from $1 trillion to $8 trillion in the last ten years, financing most of the annual deficit with newly printed dollars, the “velocity” of the monetary aggregates collapsed at the same time so the new currency did not pressure the CPI upward.

The Fed wants 2%+ inflation, and $7 trillion of new currency did not get the job done. In an extreme example, do you believe that $100 trillion of new currency, chasing the same amount of goods and services, would drive prices higher? We would say: highly likely. Seven trillion dollars didn’t get the job done. One hundred trillion dollars probably would.

The only remaining question becomes: What amount of new currency, between $7 trillion and $100 trillion, would kick off inflation? We think we are going to find out. Nobody knows how the above discussed elements will interact, but we expect a stagflationary period during the foreseeable future, likely with an even weaker economy and higher inflation than in the 1970s.  We also expect gold and the gold miners to be among the very best asset classes to own in the turbulent period ahead.

Roger Lipton.

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – THE VIRUS IS CONTROLLABLE, THE FED IS NOT !

SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY REPORT – THE VIRUS IS CONTROLLABLE, THE FED IS NOT !

FOREWORD: This report is early because major developments are practically daily, all very supportive of higher gold prices.  Gold bullion, and the gold miners are up sharply this month. Relative to our Investment Partnership, RHL Associates, LP (almost entirely invested in gold mining stocks):  Considering the pace of news and the volatility  of prices, new investors (minimum $250,000), or additional investment by existing investors (no minimum), will be allowed to add funds as of closing prices on Wednesday, April 15th. If interested, call at 646 270 3127 or email at lfsi@aol.com. (This is not a solicitation, which can only be made by way of an offering circular, to be provided.)

UPDATE

We have long held the view that the worldwide economy  has been built, for forty years but especially over the last ten years, on an  increasingly dangerous foundation of credit and debt. The necessary financial measures to deal with the current health crisis are being imposed on a system that is already loaded down with far too much debt, short term and long term. With interest rates artificially suppressed, many trillions of dollars have been mis-allocated as investors in both equity and debt have reached for yield in increasingly risky ventures. Governmental deficits, after ten years of steady, if tepid, worldwide growth, were already approaching record levels. The US Federal Reserve asset base, which expanded from $1T to $4.5T to cope with the last financial crisis in ’08, had been lately reduced to  only $3.7T. So much for Keynesian economics, where the central bank stimulates the economy in bad times, and removes the stimulus in better times. The result, predictably, is that there is now no margin for error.

Less than six weeks ago, on March 3rd, when the coronavirus crisis was just emerging, we said:

“It is important to note that the monetary stimulus that supported the worldwide economy ten years ago……will of necessity be dwarfed by today’s needs.

“Today’s starting point for the Fed balance sheet is just over $4T and the ending point could be $10T. It always takes more (financial) heroin to maintain the (monetary) high.

” Our conviction is that the Fed, and the other Central Banks around the world have become impotent. Each round of stimulus the last twenty years has been increasingly less effective in stimulating growth. It is called a “diminishing marginal return on investment”. Monetary stimulus has run its course. It then falls back to the need for more fiscal stimulus, in the form of tax cuts, etc. That will have a limited effect, also, but will explode the deficit.”

WE WERE WRONG: WE SUBSTANTIALLY UNDERESTIMATED THE NEED

The US government (followed by others worldwide) are throwing trillions of dollars around like confetti. We are together watching the daily news as everybody, large and small, is being supported for an indefinite period. (Turns out that Bernie Sanders didn’t have to get elected.) The Fed assets are already over $6T, up almost $1T in the last two weeks alone. Ten trillion dollars is the consensus, but our bet is at least $15T within a year, and more later.  They have to purchase most of the US  Treasuries that will be sold to finance a US operating deficit that will be something like $4-5T this year. They are also buying securities of all types, including High Yield Debt, Mortgages and Municipal Bonds. Since capital gains tax receipts are important to cities, states, and the Federal government, their absence will compound the problem for all. We have seen no discussion yet on the news about the $6T of underfunded pension liabilities, which the Fed will be called upon in a declining stock market.

ONE YEAR AGO, ON 4/15/19, WE WROTE AN ARTICLE ABOUT INTERVENTION IN NORMAL SUPPLY/DEMAND RELATIONSHIPS, E.G. GOVERNMENTS NOT  ALLOWING FOR TRUE “PRICE DISCOVERY” . PART OF THE ARTICLE IS AS FOLLOWS:

“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. 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 ’18) with the two year treasury rate approaching 3% and the US Fed caved. Whom do you think the Japanese Central Bank can sell to?”

BACK TO TODAY,  APRIL 13, 2O20

Governments and Central Banks, around the world, are doing precisely what is described above, buying all kinds of securities at prices higher than the free market would call for.  The end result is that they will own it all. The previous owners are getting a gift, with an unnaturally high price. 

CONCLUSION AND STRATEGY

It’s been said that “In every crisis, you can look like a fool either before, or after”. The fiscal/monetary trends we have been “foolishly” describing “before”, along with the predictable consequences, are now being all too vividly demonstrated.  However, there is another, unexpected by all of us, consequence.

The long term trend of increasing deficits and increasingly sluggish growth (burdened by the higher debt) is now being compressed in time and very substantially magnified. What might have played out over ten years is now taking place in a matter of months. The Fed balance sheet, for example, which we always believed would get to $10T, perhaps in 5-7 years, will now get there late in 2020.  Operating deficits, scheduled to grow steadily in the 2020s from comfortably over $1T this year to $2T or more by 2030, will now have a much higher baseline. Just as we have said, however, the economy will be far too burdened by debt to grow strongly, if at all. There may well be a short term rebound when the cabin fever breaks, but it will be short lived. Consumers will have been traumatized. Businesses will be trying to rebuild balance sheets, and there will be new rules for all to play by.

Stock investors, at Thursday’s closing prices , have generally given back about five years of gains, and could give up the previous five as well if there is another downleg.

On the other hand, gold, the “real money”  has protected purchasing power over the very long term. Gold bullion after bottoming several years ago at $1050, has been steadily higher and is now selling only about 15% below its all time high of $1900 in 2011. Our preference, the gold mining stocks, have not done as well since 2012, still down more than 50% from their highs in 2012. Our choice has been admittedly costly, but we wanted the operating leverage that the mining companies provide with a rising gold price.  This continues to be the case, and we think the upside opportunity in the gold mining stocks is greater than ever. Coming off the lows of early ’09, gold bullion doubled in price and the miners more than quadrupled. The opportunity is even larger today since (1) balance sheets are better (2) management teams are improved (3) energy prices represent 15-20% of operating costs. Crude oil was between $80-120 per barrel back in ’09-’11, now a fraction of that, so profits at these higher gold prices will be that much more impressive.

We have been heavily invested in this area for 6-7 years, writing on this subject for the last four years. The articles are available, for FREE, on this website.

We believe that gold bullion will go up 3-4x or more and the gold mining stocks by a multiple of that.  We can not think of any other asset class that offers nearly as much opportunity. We had previously thought that this would play out over perhaps five years, we now believe that it could be a much shorter time frame.

Roger Lipton

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

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