Brinkmanship

By Trey Reik

[biiwii comment: very pleased to welcome Trey, a senior portfolio manager at Sprott, to our group of quality authors]

Over our two decades following global monetary affairs, we have often marveled at default confidence awarded the Federal Reserve. Don’t misinterpret us — the Fed’s power borders on surreal. Seven governors and twelve regional bank presidents set the price of money not only for the world’s largest economy, but through auspices of the dollar standard system, for the entire globe. No matter how practical “don’t fight the Fed” logic has proven over time, it does not diminish the folly that 19 capable and well-supported individuals might possibly price the world’s reserve currency more efficiently than free markets.

Record valuations for U.S. financial assets have inured investors to the daunting risks of unwinding eight years of QE and ZIRP. Because such radical monetary policy has never before been deployed, our 19 monetary mandarins, by definition, command no special insight into broad implications of Fed policy normalization. Into this unprecedented monetary vortex steps new Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, a seemingly low-key and forthright communicator bent on rational steps to normalize Fed policy. In this report, we share our perspective that the Fed’s dual policy agenda of simultaneous rate hikes and balance sheet reduction, rather than constituting some sort of scientifically-formulated policy elixir, amounts to little more than glorified brinkmanship — the Fed’s signature policy tool. Events of the past few weeks only serve to support our contention that Fed tightening is pinching global liquidity to a degree which threatens reigning valuations of traditional financial assets.

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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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“Fiat Franklin” D. Roosevelt Signed Gold Seizure Order In 1933

By Anthony B. Sanders

Purchasing Power Of US Dollar Destroyed (But Gold Prices Rise)

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (aka, “Fiat Franklin”) signed an exective order #6102 confiscating gold coin, bullion and certficates owned by private citizens. Why? So the Federal government could print and spend almost without constraint.

Executive_Order_6102_0

Between order #6102 and the Gold Reserve Act of 1934, gold held in Treasury and Federal Reserve Banks skyrocketed!

Continue reading “Fiat Franklin” D. Roosevelt Signed Gold Seizure Order In 1933

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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US/Global Stocks, Commodities, Precious Metals and the ‘Anti-USD’ Trade

By NFTRH

[edit] With the intensity of this week’s move I’ve already taken a couple quick profits in items that could be considered part of the ‘anti-USD’ trade.

The most recent leg of the US stock market rally and the bounces in global equities, commodities and precious metals are coming as part of an “anti-USD trade”. Certain US stock sectors, most global stock markets, commodities and precious metals were pressured by the USD rally that began in April and now, as the buck eases, a relief valve opens.

All charts below are as of Thursday’s close.

US – S&P 500

The S&P 500 – in essence a collection of sectors that are ‘pro’, ‘anti’ and ‘neutral’ the USD’s status – appears to be on the way to our target of 3000+, based on a conservative measurement of its daily chart pattern. This was the NFTRH alternate scenario after our expected summer drive to test the January top did not prove out a then favored view that the test would fail. As you can see, SPX broke out, dropped to test the breakout and off it goes. We have since been operating to the new favored plan.

Continue reading US/Global Stocks, Commodities, Precious Metals and the ‘Anti-USD’ Trade

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

Illicit Arbitrage Cut by Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Report 3 Sep 2018

By Keith Weiner

This week, we are back to our ongoing series on capital destruction. Let’s consider the simple transaction of issuing a bond. Party X sells a bond to Party Y. We will first offer something entirely uncontroversial. If the interest rate rises after Y buys the bond, then Y takes a loss. Or if the interest rate falls, then Y makes a capital gain. This is simply saying that the bond price moves inverse to the interest rate.

However, it is highly controversial for some reason, to note that X is on the other side of the trade. If Y takes a loss then it is X’s gain. If Y makes a gain, then it is X’s loss. Party X is short the bond, and Party Y is long. When the price of an asset moves up, shorts lose and longs win. When it moves down, shorts win and longs lose.

Continue reading Illicit Arbitrage Cut by Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Report 3 Sep 2018

Another Gold Bearish Factor, Report

By Keith Weiner

Last week, we said that the consensus is that gold must go down (as measured in terms of the unstable dollar) and then will rocket higher. We suggested that if everyone expects an outcome in the market, the outcome is likely not to turn out that way. We also said that this time, there is likely less leverage employed to buy gold and that gold is less leveraged as well. And this, combined with a contrarian perspective on the consensus view, means that this time gold won’t go down before going up.

Dan Oliver of Myrmikan Capital emailed Keith to say that people in the third world use gold as collateral on their loans. When they can’t repay, the gold collateral is sold by the creditors. This time around, there is likely to be a larger crisis in the so-called emerging markets and their currencies, and hence this selling of gold will be a bigger factor. With greater selling pressure on gold, we’re back to the bearish case.

Million Ton Rock, Meet Million Ton Force

The bottom line is that we have several forces pushing gold up, and several pushing it down. On the up side (not upside, sorry we couldn’t resist) these include creditors rightly fearing dreadful losses when debtors default, speculators wrongly thinking that an increase in the quantity of dollars causes gold to go up, and even the possible path to remonetizing gold if we are successful in help Nevada to issue a gold bond. On the downside, we have speculators who front-run the consensus that gold must go down first in a crisis, and we have forced selling by leveraged gold holders in the first and third worlds.

Continue reading Another Gold Bearish Factor, Report

Cross Asset Volatility

By Callum Thomas

This unassuming chart contains a wealth of information about the challenges we currently face with active asset allocation and the global macro backdrop.  Basically what it shows is an alternative measure of the average volatility across stocks, bonds, commodities, and currencies.  The bottom line is volatility across asset classes is starting to wake up from a deep sleep.

What’s driving this?  We can talk about how you should expect higher volatility as the market/business cycles mature (and indeed they are), but a big driver is and will continue to be politics and policy.  We’re in the middle of a major monetary policy experiment (quantitative tightening or QT) – if QE was a force for volatility suppression, it’s pure logic that QT should work in the opposite direction.  So investors need to start thinking about how to deal with this in their investment process, because with greater volatility comes greater opportunity.

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