The Ultimate Stablecoin, Report

By Keith Weiner

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away we wrote a series of articles arguing that bitcoin is not money and is not sound. Bitcoin was skyrocketing at the time, as we wrote most of them between July 30 and Oct 1 last year.

Back in those halcyon days, volatility was deemed to be a feature. That is, volatility in the upward direction was loved by everyone who said that bitcoin is money, in their desire to make money. In the first instance of the word, the term money refers to bitcoin. In the second, it refers to the dollar. The same problem we see with gold:

  1. bitcoin is money
  2. bitcoin is going up
  3. buy bitcoin now
  4. sell bitcoin later at a higher price
  5. to make money

From what we remember from a logic class in the philosophy department back in university (in the halcyon days long before the halcyon days of bitcoin skyrocketing), there may be a fallacy or two in here that have Latin names.

Anyways, in our bitcoin articles, we were careful not to get into the game of setting price targets. We didn’t know (and no one else did either, as it turned out) where the price would go. Other than, we did say that bitcoin has no firm bid and its price will drop when the speculators turn. Bitcoin had just hit $3000 when our series began. We were careful to say that the price could go a lot higher, and we made no prediction as to how high or when it would turn.

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The Failure of a Gold Refinery, Report

By Keith Weiner

So this happened: Republic Metals, a gold refiner, filed bankruptcy on November 2. The company had found a discrepancy in its inventory of around $90 million, while preparing its financial statements.

We are not going to point the Finger of Blame at Republic or its management, as we do not know if this was honest error or theft. If it was theft, then we would not expect it to be a simple matter of employees or management walking out the door with the gold. $90 million is about 2.6 tons. Unless it happened very slowly, over many years, that seems like a lot of gold to disappear. And if it occurred over years, why didn’t regular audits and other internal controls catch the discrepancy until now?

We want to make a different point altogether. We define inflation as the counterfeiting of credit. Legitimate credit has four criteria. Most of the focus is on the latter two: the borrower has both the means and intent to repay. Did Republic have the means to repay? They had a good business for 38 years, so we will assume yes. Did they have the intent? Well, unless this was a simple theft and theft by the owners, then we have to answer yes again (with one quibble which we will get to, in a moment).

The other two criteria are often overlooked. Does the lender know he is extending credit, and does the lender agree to do so?

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Wizard’s First Rule

By Keith Weiner

Terry Goodkind wrote an epic fantasy series. The first book in the series is entitled Wizard’s First Rule. We recommend the book highly, if you’re into that sort of thing. However, for purposes of this essay, the important part is the rule itself:

“Wizard’s First Rule: people are stupid.”

“People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People’s heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.”

Does this not aptly describe the belief that the dollar will lose its reserve status, will collapse relative to other paper currencies, and is facing imminent hyperinflation with a skyrocketing gold price?

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What Can Kill a Useless Currency

By Keith Weiner

There is a popular notion, at least among American libertarians and gold bugs. The idea is that people will one day “get woke”, and suddenly realize that the dollar is bad / unbacked / fiat / unsound / Ponzi / other countries don’t like it / <insert favorite bugaboo here>. When they do, they will repudiate it. That is, sell all their dollars to buy consumer goods (i.e. hyperinflation), gold, and/or whatever other currency.

Redemptions Balanced With Deposits

No national currency is gold-backed today. In a gold backed currency, each currency unit begins life with someone who chooses to deposit his gold coin in exchange for the paper currency. And it ends life with someone redeeming the paper to get back the gold coin. A good analogy is bone in the human body. One process is constantly removing bone material. And another process is growing more. What seems to be a static bone, with fixed length and mass, is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. The seemingly stable bone is actually in equilibrium between two opposing forces.

So it is with the gold standard. Some people are redeeming paper to get the gold coin. Others are depositing gold coins to get paper. The seemingly stable gold standard is actually in equilibrium between two opposing processes.

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Useless But Not Worthless

By Keith Weiner

Let’s continue to look at the fiasco in the franc. We say “fiasco”, because anyone in Switzerland who is trying to save for retirement has been put on a treadmill, which is now running backwards at –¾ mph (yes, miles per hour in keeping with our treadmill analogy). Instead of being propelled forward towards their retirement goals by earning interest that compounds, they are losing principal. They will never reach their retirement goals. If you disagree, we encourage you to model it.

We say “fiasco” because living in retirement in Switzerland is like trying to live on a farm which does not grow crops. The farmer has to sell off pieces of the farm to buy groceries. As the Swiss retiree has to sell off pieces of his accumulated savings. Except the bank is also consuming his savings at -0.75%. It’s like a negative race.

Quantity Theory of Money

This disaster provides an interesting test of the quantity theory of money. Since mid-2013, the quantity of Swiss francs (as measured by M0) was around 380 billion. It went sideways until the end of December 2014. In January 2015, it was up to 450 billion. That move in itself, in 2-3 months, was 18%. But it first went off to the races, after that, hitting 561 billion by May 2017. In just over two years, it rose another 25%. Prices in Switzerland did not rise commensurately with these increases in the quantity of francs.

But we are interested in matters monetary. We want to see how the franc fared against the dollar, from which it ultimately derives (the US M0 admittedly rose faster during this period—44%). Here’s a graph of the price of the franc against Swiss M0.

Continue reading Useless But Not Worthless

You Can’t Eat Gold

By Keith Weiner

“You can’t eat gold.” The enemies of gold often unleash this little zinger, as if it dismisses the idea of owning gold and indeed the whole gold standard. It is a fact, you cannot eat gold. However, it dismisses nothing.

This gives us an idea. Let’s tie three facts together. One, you can’t eat gold. Two, gold is in backwardation in Switzerland. And three, speculation is a bet on the price action.

The fact that gold is inedible is supposed (by the enemies of liberty) to be proof positive that a gold standard wouldn’t work. Of course, there’s always the retort: You can’t eat dollars!

That may be emotionally satisfying, but there is a deeper issuer that the anti-gold crowd is missing. Yes, money makes terrible food but, also, food makes terrible money. A car makes a lousy airplane. And a shoe makes an awful TV. Cow poop is putrid as food for people, but it works well as fertilizer for plants. Each thing fits a particular purpose.

Why does food make terrible money? One reason is that it’s perishable. No one—other than a refrigerated warehouse—can make a bid on food beyond his own short-term needs. Without this robust bid, food has limited marketability. That is, it has a wide spread between its bid and offer prices.

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The Toxic Stew

By Keith Weiner

Last week, we shined a spotlight on a crack in the monetary system that few people outside of Switzerland (and not many inside either) were aware of. There is permanent gold backwardation measured in Swiss francs. Everyone knows that the Swiss franc has a negative interest rate, but so far as we know, Keith is the only one who predicted this would lead to its collapse (and he was quite early, having written that in January 2015).

Of course, in hindsight, it makes sense that durable negative interest rates would lead to permanent backwardation. What use to decarry gold—i.e. sell the metal, buy a future, and use the cash for some productive purpose—if there is no productive purpose? If no one bids a positive interest rate for said cash, then traders will not part with their gold to get the use of it.

There is an analogy to gold. In today’s world (other than us), the bid on the gold interest rate is negative. Gold typically serves no better purpose than to be stored. Which has a cost.

As an aside, this is how they manipulate the value of gold! How many people are like Warren Buffet, seeing no utility in gold because it pays no yield (and hence who own none)? If the government did not force people to stop using gold productively in 1933, then gold would still have the same utility today as it had then (and everyone would own some).

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Permanent Gold Backwardation

By Keith Weiner

Sometimes, one just needs to look in the right place. And often in those cases, it just takes a conversation to alert one where to look. We had a call with a Swiss company this week, to discuss gold financing for their business. They reminded us that there is a negative interest rate on Swiss francs. And then they said that a swap of francs for gold has a cost. That is, the CHF GOFO rate is negative (the dollar based 12-month MM GOFO™ is +2.4%).

Let’s review what GOFO means. The London Bullion Market Association described it:

“[the] rate at which contributors were prepared to lend gold to each other on a swap basis against US dollars.”

In other words, the bank gives you gold and gets dollars in exchange. This is not a sale, but a swap, which means that the gold and dollars return to their original owners at maturity. Here are the steps in the mechanics:

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NFTRH 518 Excerpt: Precious Metals

By NFTRH

In honor of the men staring at silver’s daily chart, let’s highlight NFTRH 518’s Precious Metals segment this morning. We have 60% of the new trading week in the books and not much has changed for the PMs since this was written. You’ll notice that this man who stares at charts gets a little wordy at the end. There is much context that would-be gold bugs need to have in hand.

First, the intro per our anniversary series of posts…

To celebrate NFTRH’s 10 year anniversary (Friday, Sept. 28) I’d like to present one segment from this week’s report, NFTRH 518 each day until Friday. These excerpts will give you an idea of what it takes to provide a top tier, best of breed product. But there is much more to a single weekly report than will be shown here publicly. Oh and don’t forget the dynamic in-week market updates as events dictate.

All for 30% less per day than you spend on your single cup of small regular coffee at Dunkin Donuts! Think about that. I mean, I don’t want to downplay the importance of coffee – it makes NFTRH run – but what is the value of consistent, focused and proven market intelligence at your fingertips day to day, week to week and year after year?

Precious Metals

Last week:

Here is how I see the precious metals situation. It’s one or the other of…

  1. US dollar declines short-term and the precious metals bounce with the rest of the anti-USD trade, or…
  2. US dollar rises (likely along with the Gold/Silver ratio) and the precious metals decline again into a real buying opportunity.

Continue reading NFTRH 518 Excerpt: Precious Metals

Why Are Wages So Low, Report

By Keith Weiner

Last week, we talked about the capital consumed by Netflix—$8 billion to produce 700 shows. They’re spending more than two thirds of their gross revenue generating content. And this content has so little value, that a quarter of their audience would stop watching if Netflix adds ads (sorry, we couldn’t resist a little fun with the English language).

So it is with wry amusement that, this week, Keith heard an ad for an exclusive-to-Pandora series. The symptoms of falling-interest-disease are ubiquitous.

Consumers love it. And why shouldn’t they? If a farmer throws a lavish feast to eat his seed corn, of course the revelers will praise him. As free-marketers praise the plethora of consumer products such as the iPhone and the all-you-can-eat Netflix video buffet. They believe these products are the benefit of capitalism. They’re not, of course. We don’t have capitalism. We have central planning of interest rates, and these phenomena are a product of this central planning.

So this week, let’s move to a different topic: Why are wages so low?

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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Avocado Toast

By Keith Weiner

For about ten bucks a month, Netflix will give you all the movies you can watch, plus tons of TV show series and other programs, such as one-off science documentaries. They don’t offer all movies, merely more than you can watch. Oh, and there are no commercials.

They don’t just give you old BBC reruns, which you know they can get for a pittance. Netflix is spending money (well Federal Reserve Notes) producing its own original content.

Did we mention that there are no commercials? How is this even possible? According to CNBC, Netflix is spending $8 billion to produce 700 shows. Assuming all of its reported 118 million subscribers pay $10, their production budget eats up more than half a year of their total subscription fee revenue.

CNBC reports that Netflix is exploring the idea of putting ads in its shows. Unfortunately, a quarter of its subscribers say they would leave if that happens. The economics of free vs the economics of losing 25% of your customers in one wrong move. It’s the tiger or the tiger.

Continue reading Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Avocado Toast

Why the Fed Denied the Narrow Bank

By Keith Weiner

It’s not every day that a clear example showing the horrors of central planning comes along—the doublethink, the distortions, and the perverse incentives. It’s not every year that such an example occurs for monetary central planning. One came to the national attention this week.

A company called TNB applied for a Master Account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Their application was denied. They have sued.

First, let’s consider TNB. It’s an acronym for The Narrow Bank. A so called narrow bank is a bank that does not engage in most of the activities of a regular bank. It simply takes in deposits and puts them in an account at the Fed. The Fed pays 1.95%, and a narrow bank would have low costs, so it could pass most of this to its depositors. This is pretty attractive, and without the real estate and commercial lending risks—not to mention derivatives exposure—it’s less risky than a regular bank. According to Bloomberg’s Matt Levine, saving accounts for large depositors average only 0.08% interest.
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