Long-Term Price Targets Are Meaningless

By Steve Saville

Many commentators like to speculate on where the dollar-denominated gold price is ultimately headed. Some claim that it is destined to reach $3,000/oz, others claim that it won’t top until it hits at least $5,000/oz, and some even forecast an eventual rise to as high as $50,000/oz. All of these forecasts are meaningless.

Long-term dollar-denominated price targets are meaningless because a) they fail to account for — and cannot possibly account for, since it is unknowable — the future change in the dollar’s purchasing power, and b) the only reason a rational person invests is to preserve or increase purchasing power. To further explain by way of a hypothetical example, assume that five years from now a US dollar buys only 20% of the everyday goods and services that it buys today. In this case, the US$ gold price will have to be around $6,500/oz just to maintain its current value in purchasing power terms. To put it another way, in my example a person who buys gold at around $1300/oz today and holds it will suffer a loss, in real terms (the only terms that matter), unless the gold price is above $6,000/oz in April-2022. Considering a non-hypothetical example to make the same point, in 2007-2009 a resident of Zimbabwe who owned a small amount of gold and not much else would have become a trillionaire in Zimbabwe dollars and would also have remained poor.

The purchasing power issue is why the only long-term forecasts of gold’s value that I ever make are expressed in non-monetary terms. For example, throughout the first decade of this century I maintained that gold’s long-term bull market would continue until the Dow/gold ratio had fallen to at least 5 and would potentially continue until Dow/gold fell to 1.

The 2011 low of 5.7 in the Dow/gold ratio wasn’t far from the top of my expected bottoming range, although I doubt that the long-term downward trend is over. In any case, none of the buying/selling I do this year will be based on the realistic possibility that the Dow/gold ratio will eventually drop to 1. Such long-term forecasts are of academic interest only, or at least they should be.

If I were forced to state a very long-term target for the US$ gold price, it would be infinity. The US$ will eventually become worthless, at which point gold will have infinite value in US$ terms. But then, so will everything else that people want to own.

To Frexit or Not to Frexit?

By Keith Weiner of Monetary Metals

This was also a holiday-shortened week.

As we write this, the big news comes from the election in France. The leading candidate is a banker named Emmanuel Macron, with about 24% of the vote in a 4-candidate race. The anti-euro Marine Le Pen came in second with just over 21%. From the sharp rally in the euro, which was up about 2% at one point, we assume that observers believe the odds of France leaving the euro have just gone down.

Of course, France (and the other European countries) faces a false alternative (well they ought to consider Keith’s gold bonds proposal, but that is not on the table). Staying with the euro means ongoing wealth destruction, and a downward slope that leads to nowhere good. However, that raises the question. What would happen if they were to try to leave?

We believe that no matter which theory prevails, and what measures are taken by les dirigistes (central planners), all roads lead to an accelerated default of trillions in bad credit. To understand why, consider the balance sheets of the banks and other financial intermediaries in France.

Suppose the new French franc goes down relative to the euro (we won’t address here whether it is likely to go up or down). This means that any French entity who had borrowed from a bank in Germany or Italy or Spain now sees its liabilities spike up relative to its assets which are now redenominated in francs. It would not take that much leverage or a very large decline in the franc to cause some major bankruptcies. The initial round of bankruptcies could cascade causing yet other bankruptcies in a highly interconnected financial system.

On the other hand, suppose the franc rises. Then the French banks get hit the other way. Their euro-denominated assets outside France are going down, but their domestic liabilities to depositors and bondholders are firm.

A regime of floating currencies sounds good in Milton Friedman’s argument about being an easy way to adjust wages downwards which are otherwise sticky. However, an actual currency revaluation means a wealth transfer from parties A, B, and C to parties X, Y, and Z. That may seem to be good for the latter, until you realize that they are creditors of the former. And the former were already leveraged, and already surviving on thin margins compressed after decades of falling interest rates. There is scant capital to absorb such a shock.

Then there is the question of who will buy French government or corporate bonds? No matter how you slice it, inserting a new currency into a block that currently has one adds friction, which means trade and production will further slow. The market will shrink (and this could in itself push some marginal corporations under).

And there are other serious problems. One is the intra-euro balances. Will these be redenominated? Another is the political response by the European Central Bank and the members of the European Union. What will they do? Will they try to shut off funds flowing to and from France? It would be naïve to assume there will be no response, and France will get away with it consequences-free.

The euro patient may have cancer, and the cancer may be terminal. But that does not mean blowing up the patient with dynamite is going to help.

Of course, traders want to know how this will affect gold and silver. As we write this, we see that silver went down 30 cents before rallying back up to where it closed on Friday. Gold went down about $20, and then half way back up.

At this point, we are not sure if the metals are supposed to go up because more printing. Or go down because the euro constrains France from printing. Or silver at least should go up because the economy is going to be better with France remaining in the Eurozone. Or go down because the ongoing malaise will only progress as it has been. Or some other logic… and the price gyrations this evening show that traders don’t agree either.

Continue reading To Frexit or Not to Frexit?

Don’t Get Hung Up on Bull/Bear Labels

By Steve Saville

In the real worlds of trading and investing it’s best not to get hung up on bull and bear labels

Gold is probably immersed in a multi-decade bull market containing cyclical bull and bear markets. We can be sure that a cyclical bear market began in 2011, but did this bear market come to an end in December of 2015? In other words, did a new cyclical gold bull get underway in December-2015? I don’t know, but the point I want to make today is that the answer to this question is not as important as most gold-market enthusiasts think.

During the first half of 2016 my view was that although a new cyclical gold bull market had probably begun, it was far from a certainty. The main reason I had some doubt was that gold’s true fundamentals* were not decisively bullish. However, by November of last year I thought it likely that a new gold bull market had NOT begun in December-2015. This was mainly because the true fundamentals had collectively become almost as gold-bearish as they ever get. It was also because it had, by then, become crystal-clear that the US equity bull market did not end in 2015.

The cyclical trend in the US stock market is important for gold. During any given year the gold price and the US stock market (as represented by the S&P500 Index) are just as likely to move in the same direction as move in opposite directions, but over long periods they are effectively at opposite ends of a seesaw. As far as I can tell, it would be unprecedented for a cyclical gold bull market to begin when a cyclical advance in the US stock market is far from complete.

In any case, for practical speculation purposes there is never a need to answer the question: bull market or bear market? In fact, there is never a need to even ask the question. The question that should always be asked is: based on all the relevant evidence at the current time, should I buy, sell or do nothing?

For example, based on the extreme negativity that prevailed at the time, the length and magnitude of the preceding price decline and a number of other considerations, it could be determined in January-2016 that an excellent opportunity to buy gold-mining stocks had arrived. Coming to this conclusion did not require having an opinion on whether a new gold bull market was getting underway. For another example, during May-August of last year an objective assessment of the price action and the important sentiment indicators revealed numerous excellent opportunities to reduce exposure to the gold-mining sector, regardless of whether or not a new bull market had begun several months earlier. For a third example, the analysis of the salient evidence in real time during December of last year suggested that another sector-wide buying opportunity had arrived in the world of gold mining. Again, taking advantage of this buying opportunity did not require an opinion on whether a cyclical gold bull market had begun back in December-2015.

The upshot is that assertions to the effect that an investment is in a bull market or a bear market can make for colourful commentary, but in the real worlds of trading and investing it’s best not to get hung up on bull and bear labels. As well as being unnecessary, fixating on such labels can be problematic. This is because someone who is convinced that a bull market is in progress will be inclined to ignore good selling opportunities and someone who is convinced that a bear market is underway will be inclined to ignore good buying opportunities.

*In no particular order, the fundamental drivers of the US$ gold price are the real US interest rate (as indicated by the 10-year TIPS yield), US credit spreads, the relative strength of the US banking sector (as indicated by the BKX/SPX ratio), the US yield curve, the general trend in commodity prices and the US dollar’s performance on the FX market (as indicated by the Dollar Index).

Gold-Silver Divergence

By Keith Weiner of Monetary Metals

This was a holiday-shorted week, due to Good Friday, and we are posting this Monday evening due to today being a holiday in much of the world.

Gold and silver went up the dollar went down, +$33 and +$0.53 -64mg gold and -.05g silver. The prices of the metals in dollar terms are readily available, and the price of the dollar in terms of honest money can be easily calculated. The point of this Report is to look into the market to understand the fundamentals of supply and demand. This can’t necessarily tell you what the price will do tomorrow. However, it tells you where the price should be, if physical metal were to clear based on supply and demand.

Of course, two factors make this very interesting. One is that the speculators use leverage, and they can move the price around. At least for a while. The other is that the fundamentals change. There is no guarantee that the prices of the metals will reach the fundamental price of a given day. Think of the fundamentals as gravity, not the strongest force in the system but inexorable, tugging every day.

This week, the fundamentals of both metals moved, though not together. We will take a look at that below, but first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver
gold and silver prices

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It didn’t move much this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price
gold-silver ratio

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
gold and the us dollar

The scarcity (i.e. the cobasis, the red line) is in a gentle rising trend for about six months. This week, the cobasis was down slightly. Not a surprise given the (relatively) big price move of +$33. Nor does it appear to break the trend.

Our calculated fundamental price of gold is at $1,301, just above the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
silver and the us dollar

In silver, it’s much harder to say that there is an uptrend in the cobasis. Our indicator of scarcity is at the same level it was in October. Back then, the price of silver was $17.60 and on Thursday it was just about 90 cents higher.

The fundamental price back then was just under $15. Now it’s just under $16.50. This happens to be down about 40 cents this week.

With the fundamental of gold rising, and that of silver falling, it’s not surprising that the fundamental gold-silver ratio is up to a bit over 79.

Gold Resolves Some Bearish Divergences

By Tom McClellan

Gold vs Japanese yen
April 16, 2017

A week ago, it was not looking good for the gold bulls.  The dollar price of gold had not yet made a higher high, even though the Japanese yen had already pushed to a higher high.  When divergences like that happen, it is typically bearish news for both gold and the yen.

But what looked like a bearish divergence then has now been resolved in favor of the bullish case.  The price of gold has now joined the yen in making higher highs.

This is an important point for all chartists to understand: just because you see what looks like a divergence, that does not mean it has to persist.  Divergences do matter, and they deserve our attention, but they can resolve themselves so you have to keep watching and pay attention.

A similar divergence was also showing in the comparison between the dollar price of gold and the price measured in euros.

Gold priced in euros

A week ago, the dollar price of gold seemed to have stalled at a downtrend line, even though the euro price had already broken the equivalent long before.  And the price of gold as measured in euros had not yet made a higher high to confirm the dollar price’s higher high.  That is a problematic sign, and I like to say that whenever the two disagree, it is usually the euro price that ends up being right about where both are headed.  So it was troubling last week when we seemed to have a divergence.

Now that divergence has been made moot by the price of gold in both currencies moving higher.  Remember that all divergences in real time are only potential divergences.  One cannot call them “for sure” divergences until much later.  Apparent divergences are worth noting, but not worth panicking about absent more proof.  They can get resolved, as these examples illustrate.

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Related Charts

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Chart In Focus Archive

Mea Culpa

By Keith Weiner of Monetary Metals

Dear Readers,

I owe you an apology. I made a mistake. I am writing this letter in the first person, because I made the mistake.

Let me explain what happened. I wrote software to calculate the gold basis and cobasis (and of course silver too). The app does not just calculate the near contract. It calculates the basis for many contracts out in the distance, so I can see the whole picture. I developed a model for the fundamental price, based on the basis. My software calculates this, too (spoiler alert: the reported fundamental prices were high).

I have long since debugged it. It works reliably. So reliably, that every day I pored over the results, but I no longer checked the inputs and intermediate steps of the calculation. Now, in retrospect, I realize that I should have.

The root cause is simple. For as far back as I have ever seen, the symbol for a future has been a two-letter code for the commodity + a one letter for the month and one digit for the year. For example, gold is GC. December is Z. And 2017 is 7. So the December gold contract is “GC Z7”. Silver is SI, so December silver is “SI Z7”.

I did not expect my realtime quote provider to change year codes for contracts in 2018 and beyond. No longer is it one digit for year—8 in this case. Now it requires two digits. So the December 2018 gold contract is “GC Z18”. Even now that I have looked, I do not find any announcement of this change. I am not even sure it is an official COMEX change, or just a quirk of one quote provider.

This error was compounded because my software was not programmed to notify me of a problem. In software, the only thing worse than a failure in a system that is used in production is a silent failure that goes unnoticed, and hence goes uncorrected. This failure was unnoticed.

Before I get to the impact, I want to discuss how we will make sure this does not happen again.

My team and I have been working hard on a new website, and the centerpiece will be our ongoing data science work in the precious metals markets. We will publish about 45 graphs, with daily updates. Obviously, this is driven by a much more sophisticated software system than my humble application.

The new software is developed by one of the best coders in the world (not me, I’m rusty after not coding full-time in almost 15 years). Rudy Mathieu worked for my last company, a software company called DiamondWare.

Rudy has built a hardened, enterprise-grade software system (now undergoing extensive testing), and when it encounters an error, it does not fail silently. It is constantly checking the status of all key components, and has a dashboard so we can monitor how the software and the server running it are doing. It emails us if anything goes wrong. It will instantly detect problems, such as a change in the year code or even the Spanish Inquisition, which nobody expects (sorry, just a bit of humor).

For years, I have been publishing a unique view into the markets. Our new site takes it a thousand times further. I expect that it will become an essential tool for anyone who uses or trades gold. We need to ensure it is as reliable as clockwork.

I promise to make it so.

Continue reading Mea Culpa

The Much-Maligned Paper Gold Market

By Steve Saville

The “paper” gold market is not a problem to be reckoned with

The article “What sets the Gold Price — Is it the Paper Market or Physical Market?” contains some interesting information about the gold market and is worth reading, but it also contains some logical missteps. In this post I’ll zoom in on a couple of the logical missteps.

The following two paragraphs from near the middle of the above-linked article capture the article’s theme and will be my focus:

In essence, trading activity in the London gold market predominantly represents huge synthetic artificial gold supply, where paper gold trading is deriving the price of gold, not physical gold trading. Synthetic gold is just created out of thin air as a book-keeping entry and is executed as a cashflow transaction between the contracting parties. There is no purchase of physical gold in such a transaction, no marginal demand for gold. Synthetic paper gold therefore absorbs demand that would otherwise have flowed into the limited physical gold supply, and the gold price therefore fails to represent this demand because demand has been channelled away from physical gold transactions into synthetic gold.

Likewise, if an entity dumps gold futures contracts on the COMEX platform representing millions of ounces of gold, that entity does not need to have held any physical gold, but that transaction has an immediate effect on the international gold price. This has real world impact, because many physical gold transactions around the world take this international gold price as the basis of their transactions.

The most obvious error in the above excerpt concerns the effect of ‘dumping’ gold futures contracts on the COMEX. While this action could certainly have the immediate effect of pushing the gold price down, the short-sale of a futures contract must subsequently be closed via the purchase of a futures contract. This means that there can be no sustained reduction in the gold price due to the selling of futures contracts.

A related error is one of omission, since the gold price is often boosted by the speculative buying of futures contracts. Again, though, the effect will be temporary, since every purchase of a futures contract must be followed by a sale.

With regard to the massive non-futures paper gold market, the existence of such a market is a consequence of gold’s unique role in the commodity world. Whereas the usefulness of other commodities stems from the desire to consume them in some way, gold is widely considered to be at its most useful when it is sitting dormant in a vault. This means that to get the benefit of owning gold a person doesn’t necessarily need physical access to the gold. In many cases, a paper claim to gold sitting in a vault on the other side of the world will be considered as good as or better than having the physical gold in one’s possession. Furthermore, in many cases a piece of paper that tracks the price of gold will be considered as good as a paper claim to physical gold in a vault.

At the same time, there will be people who want ownership of physical gold — either gold in their own possession or a receipt that guarantees ownership of a specific chunk of metal stored in a vault. The gold demand of such people could not be satisfied by a piece of paper that tracked the gold price and was settled in dollars or some other currency. In other words, demand for physical gold could not be satisfied by the creation of so-called “synthetic artificial” gold.

The reality is that the existence of the massive non-futures-related “paper” gold market effectively results in a lot more gold supply AND a lot more gold demand than would otherwise be the case. To put it more succinctly, it results in a much bigger and more liquid market. This, in turn, makes it more feasible for large-scale speculators to get involved in the gold market and would not necessarily result in the gold price being lower than it would be if trading were limited to physical gold.

On a related matter, there is not a massive non-futures paper market in platinum and yet the platinum price is close to a 50-year low relative to the gold price. Also, the general level of commodity prices, as represented by the GSCI Spot Commodity Index (GNX), made an all-time low relative to gold last year. If the “paper” market is suppressing the gold price, why has gold become so expensive relative to most other commodities?

I view the whole paper-physical debate as a distraction from the true drivers of the gold price. The fact is that gold’s price movements can best be understood by reference to ‘real’ interest rates, currency exchange rates, and indicators of economic and financial-system confidence — what I refer to as gold’s true fundamentals. For example and as illustrated by the following chart, the bond/dollar ratio does a good job of explaining gold’s price trends most of the time.

gold_USBUSD_040417

In conclusion, the “paper” gold market is not a problem to be reckoned with. It is just part of the overall gold situation and, as noted above, a consequence of gold’s historical role. Moreover, it isn’t going anywhere, so it makes no sense to either complain about it or base a bullish view on its disappearance.

The Balance of Gold and Silver

By Keith Weiner of Monetary Metals

Last week, we discussed the growing stress in the credit markets. We noted this is a reason to buy gold, and likely the reason why gold buying has ticked up since just before Christmas.

Many people live in countries where another paper scrip is declared to be money—to picture the absurdity, just imagine a king declaring that the tide must roll back and not get his feet wet when his throne is placed on the beach—not real money like the US dollar. It should be obvious, but we have seen much disinformation out there promoting the idea that the dollar is collapsing. Most of the time, most of these people buy dollars as the escape hatch from their native currencies.

They buy the dollar first, and gold (for now) is a distant second.

That leads to the question of silver. Do they buy silver in equal measure as gold, or is silver a distant second to gold, as gold is a distant second to the dollar?

Theory tells us that gold is more portable. It is much, much more portable. First, the same weight of gold is about half the volume of silver. A 1oz gold Maple Leaf coin (which is pure gold) is much smaller than a 1oz silver Maple. And right now, the value of an ounce of gold is just about 70 times greater than the value of an ounce of silver. The math works out that the same value of silver is 126X more bulky than gold.

If you are paying for storage, that may be important. It sure is, if you are thinking you may need to carry it on your person. A gold bar worth $120,000 would fit in your trouser pocket (a bit heavy at 3kg, but you could do it). That much silver would be almost 7 of those big bars which are the size of small loaves of bread. Each. All that silver would weigh about as much as two heavyweight boxers.

Gold is also more liquid.

What does the data tell us about demand for silver relative to gold right now?

We will look at that below in the only true picture of supply and demand in the gold and silver markets. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver
gold and silver prices

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved down this week. Is it approaching a line of support?

Continue reading The Balance of Gold and Silver

Is Gold a Good Store of Value?

By Steve Saville

Gold’s purchasing power tends to experience massive swings

The answer to the above question is no, but it’s a trick question. Value is subjective and therefore can’t be stored, meaning that there is no such thing as a store of value. An ounce of gold, for instance, will be valued differently by different people. It will also be valued differently by the same person in different situations. For example, you might value gold highly in your present situation, but if you were stranded alone on an island with no hope of rescue then gold would probably be almost worthless to you. Rather than asking if gold is a good store of value it is more sensible to ask if gold is a good store of purchasing power in a modern economy, but this question does not have a one-word answer. It has a “yes, but…” answer.

Gold has been a good store of purchasing power in the past, but only reliably so when the initial purchase was made at a ‘reasonable’ price and the time period in question was extremely long. What I mean is that you can’t pay a ridiculously-high amount for an ounce of gold and reasonably expect the ounce to retain its purchasing power, even if the planned holding period is several decades. I also mean that if you buy gold at a time when it is being valued at a relatively moderate level you will be at risk of suffering a loss of purchasing power unless you are prepared to hold for decades.

Now, it’s not possible to come up with a single number that reflects the economy-wide change in the purchasing power of any currency, but by considering the change in the US$ gold price over time and making some basic assumptions about the change in the US dollar’s purchasing power we can get some idea of how gold’s purchasing power has shifted. Here are some examples.

First, from its September-2011 peak to its December-2015 bottom the US$ gold price fell by about 45%. There’s no way of calculating the change in the US dollar’s purchasing power over this period (the official CPI and all unofficial CPIs are bogus), but we can be certain that the US$ lost purchasing power. We can therefore be sure that gold lost more than 45% of its purchasing power over this roughly-4-year period.

Second, from its January-1980 peak to its February-2001 bottom the US$ gold price fell by about 70%. Again, there’s no way of calculating the change in the US dollar’s purchasing power over this period, but we can be certain that the US dollar’s purchasing power was much lower in February-2001 than it was in January-1980. We can therefore identify a 21-year period during which gold lost substantially more than 70% of its purchasing power.

Third, anyone who bought gold near the January-1980 top (37 years ago) and held to the present day would still not be close to breaking even in purchasing-power terms, even though the nominal price is now about 50% higher. Moreover, it’s conceivable that buyers of gold near the top in January-1980 will never break even in purchasing-power terms, regardless of how long they hold.

Fourth, by making the same type of rough-but-realistic assumptions about changes in the US dollar’s purchasing power it can be established that there were two periods of 8-10 years over the past 5 decades when there were huge increases in gold’s purchasing power.

The point is that when gold is not money (the general medium of exchange) it tends NOT to maintain its purchasing power over what most people would consider to be a normal investment timeframe. Instead, gold’s purchasing power tends to experience massive swings. By being knowledgeable and unemotional you can take advantage of these swings. What you can’t reasonably expect to do is conserve your purchasing power by mindlessly buying gold at any price.

Gold and Silver; Putting Pennies in the Fusebox

By Keith Weiner of Monetary Metals

Back in the old days, homes had fuse boxes. Today, of course, any new house is built with a circuit breaker panel and many older homes have been upgraded at one time or another. However, the fuse is a much more interesting analogy for the monetary system.

When a fuse burned out, it was protecting you from the risk of a house fire. Each circuit is designed for only so much current. The problem is that higher current causes more heat, and it can start a fire. So they put fuses in, which burn out before the wire gets hot enough to be dangerous.

The problem is that it’s annoying when a fuse burns out, especially when it’s the last one and the hardware store is far away and/or closed for the weekend. So people all too often put a penny in the place of the fuse. And then, human nature being what it is, they left it there long-term. As an aside, pennies in those days were solid copper, not the copper plated zinc they use today because it’s cheaper.

We would guess that a disproportionate number of house fires were started because an overloaded circuit became overheated, and the protective fuse was replaced with a penny that would keep the juice flowing no matter what.

So, what has that got to do with gold and silver? A penny in the fuse box is a perfect analogy for what President Roosevelt did in 1933. Many believe when he confiscated gold, it was to grab the loot. While we have no doubt that he and his cronies lusted for the gold of the people, he had a more serious purpose.

Until 1933, gold was the core monetary asset in the banking system. When people withdrew their gold coin—redeeming their gold, not buying gold—that forced the bank to sell a bond to raise the gold to redeem depositors. If a bank could not raise enough gold, perhaps because bond prices were going down, then the bank was bankrupt. Another problem is that falling bond prices mean rising interest rates.

Roosevelt was trying to stop the run on the banks, and trying to push interest rates down.

He did stop the run, and interest continued to fall through the end of World War II. However, his act was the monetary equivalent of the penny in the fuse box. In making it illegal to own gold, he made the dollar irredeemable for Americans. Gold is the only financial asset that is not someone else’s liability. Deprived of this outlet, people were forced to be a creditor. The only choice was to lend to the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, a commercial bank, a corporation, etc.

Continue reading Gold and Silver; Putting Pennies in the Fusebox