James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

The bear case for gold

Dec 9, 2009 18:03 UTC

Mike Darda of MKM Partners gives it his best shot:

If there were ever a crowded trade, long gold and shor the dollar certainly fits the bill (no pun intended). Indeed, zero percent short rates and huge deficits as far as the eye can see have been important tailwinds for the yellow metal. And they remain in place. However, gold appears expensive relative to industrial commodities and has risen much more than bond market inflation expectations or the money stock over the course of the last year (the monetary base has exploded higher, but M2 growth has been more modest).

If the U.S. recovery is stronger than expected and the labor market turns in a material fashion, gold could begin to underperform industrial commodities and the dollar may catch a bid, at least against G7 currencies. The tight inverse correlation between the dollar and the stock market observed over the last 17 months may unhitch under such a scenario, as the long-term correlation between the DXY Index and the S&P 500 is zero. While a sustained gold correction may appear to be a low-probability event, if the 2008-2009 experience has taught us anything, it is to question the conventional wisdom in a repeated and rigorous fashion.

On gold and asset bubbles and inflation

Nov 17, 2009 18:56 UTC

The great David Goldman. First on the US asset bubble:

BOTH bond and stock prices are driven by the dollar. 17.5% unemployment by the broad measure keeps wages down and keeps the CPI low, despite the surge in commodity prices, while the cheap dollar makes US assets a bargain. Well, not exactly: the enormous reserve growth on the part of Asian central banks means that the Treasury’s debt-buying program has been outsourced to America’s Asian trading partners! No-one dares pop the bubble. It’s like what Woody Allen said about death. He wasn’t afraid of it; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened.

Now on gold:

What’s the price of the last ticket on last train out of Paris on the night the Germans march in? Whoever is carrying the most cash will get it, and that will be the price.  … As I have tried to show in several recent articles, most recently this Sept. 15 essay at Asia Times, gold is a hedge against the collapse of America’s central role in world affairs.

What is the correct price? Central banks alone own about 4.8 million tons of gold. The world produces about 2,200 tons. Suppose that central banks wished to increase their gold holdings by 1 percent. That’s 48,000 tons or so, or more than 20 times annual mining production. What’s the price elasicity on that sort of thing?  How badly do you need that ticket out of Paris? … If the whole world, including the Asian central banks, man the bucket brigade–except with kerosene in the buckets rather water–the prices of real assets are going to rise. The best real assets to hold are the ones most sensitive to the degradation of the dollar.

PelosiCare could be bad news for the dollar

Nov 9, 2009 20:23 UTC

If the Reserve Bank of India’s directors had any doubts about the wisdom of buying 200 tonnes of IMF gold — and likely dumping some U.S. Treasuries in the process — they had only to watch last weekend’s legislative activities on Capitol Hill. The proceedings provided plenty of reassurance that the move was a smart play.

Nothing in the healthcare reform bill that passed the House of Representatives should give investors in dollar-denominated assets any confidence that U.S. policymakers are serious about tackling the government’s structural budget deficit.

And if the dollar’s gradual decline hastens dangerously, deficit fears might well be the catalyst.

Yes, the healthcare plan does slightly trim the 10-year budget deficit from where it would be otherwise. But America’s long-term entitlement problems are such that healthcare reform needs to cut long-term health costs substantially rather than just being “deficit neutral”.

Even worse, to believe in even the modest claims of deficit neutrality, one has to also possess faith that some $500 billion in 10-year Medicare cuts will really happen. That is a monstrously tall order when Congress is working feverishly to restore those cuts in legislative side deals.

Another way the House proposes to pay for reform is through a 5.4 percent income surtax on wealthier Americans and small businesses.

Like America’s alternative minimum tax, this surtax is not indexed for inflation. So every year, the levy will affect more and more taxpayers. Unless, of course, Congress passes a temporary fix every year, as it does with the AMT. Such a move would protect the middle class, but it would also make expanded healthcare coverage a fiscal fiasco.

The House plan will surely be altered by whatever the Senate passes, assuming the Senate is able to pass anything. But the House bill is still a disturbing sign that fiscal rectitude is a low priority for at least half of the legislative branch.

Higher gold prices seem to go hand in hand with bad U.S. economic policy, be it the higher inflation of the Carter years or the budget busting of the Bush II years. And surging gold prices may be giving a thumbs down to Washington economic policy this time as well

COMMENT

what happens to Medicare, and I can not afford health Insurance for my wife

Posted by Chad | Report as abusive

Tobin taxes, the dollar and gold

Nov 9, 2009 19:05 UTC

Perhaps the real reason Gordon Brown suggested a securities transaction tax was to tamp down on currency speculation that driven down global currencies vs. gold. Willam Rees-Mogg explains:

At St Andrews, Gordon Brown unexpectedly advocated the adoption of a global Tobin tax. He was immediately repudiated by Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF. The proposed global Tobin tax has the support of Oxfam and of some left-wing economists, but without American support, it does not have the least chance of being adopted.

The Swedes experimented with a national transaction tax in the 1980s. It did not work because bankers avoided paying tax by transferring transactions to markets in which it was not imposed. The tax had to be abandoned in the early 1990s. This negative history must have been known to Mr Brown; perhaps the clumsiness of his diplomacy reflects the pressure he is feeling.

In Britain, there is an urgent need for a new tax base. One can take almost any very large figure as the sum needed to balance the budget. At some point, Britain will have to raise taxes and cut expenditure. It is hard to see where this additional revenue can be found.

No doubt it would be helpful to Mr Brown if the other governments of the world would join him in policing a worldwide transaction tax on the banks. Britain would be a major beneficiary. Like the US, Britain has a combination of very large bank debts with a very large budget deficit. As a response to the recession, large sums of money have been injected into these economies. That has eroded global confidence in the pound and dollar.

If there is no Tobin tax, it will be difficult to rebuild confidence in these currencies, and the Tobin tax is not going to happen, if only because it would not work. Two factors emerge. Gold will be a stronger reserve currency than paper, and the market will increasingly decide national policies. “You can’t buck the market”, whether in taxes, in dollars or in gold.

COMMENT

If the government’s need more money, put a tax on those firms themselves. Taxing every transaction slows down business. It cuts down the money individuals put into company’s stock, thereby hurting private industry. Why slow down business to get more tax money? It’s stupid.

Posted by Jack Pearson | Report as abusive

Obamanomics, Big Government, inflation and the price of gold

Nov 5, 2009 14:43 UTC

Ed Yardeni says the rising price of gold is sending a message about the political economy:

Yesterday, I observed that gold tends to be a hedge against reckless governments as measured by their widening deficits and mounting debts. It is also a hedge against governments that either cause or enable inflation to rise. It is interesting to note that:
(1) The price of gold soared from a cyclical low of $104 on August 31, 1976 to a high of $737.5 on January 22, 1980. President Gerald Ford left office in January 1977, near the low for gold. Jimmy Carter was President from 1977 to 1981, when gold soared.
(2) By the time Ronald Reagan left the White House in January 1989, the price of gold was down to $408.3. It fell to $330.9 when George H. W. Bush left Washington.
(3) It continued to drop during Bill Clinton’s two terms, and actually bottomed almost the day George W. Bush moved into the White House.
(4) From then on it was mostly straight up with a brief drop late last year.

Draw your own conclusions, or else, let gold be your guide. Confidence in currencies in general, and the dollar, in particular, was lowest during the Carter and Bush Jr. years, and the first 10 months of the Obama Administration. Confidence was highest during the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton years, when the federal deficit was shrinking and turned into a surplus. During those years, the US government was mostly pro-business, and the public was mostly pleased with the government’s economic policies.

COMMENT

Gold is only one signal among many that informs economic policymakers. When the economy is performing significantly below capacity, when unemployment levels are uncomfortably high and expected to remain so, when the spectre of deflation remains a possibility however slight, why do some OBSESS over the price of gold? The nascent recovery in the economy looks quite fragile thus far, so why take any chance at all of further impeding that recovery by defending the dollar now or reducing deficits now on the altar of blind homage to gold? Yes, gold may well be signaling problems in the future. But we have to survive the present before we even get to that future. So screw gold, let’s get back on the path to sustainable economic growth. Then we’ll be strong enough to respond to what gold may be telling us.

Posted by Bill, Fairfax, VA | Report as abusive

Barney Frank’s wrongheaded assault on the Fed

Nov 3, 2009 18:20 UTC

When you’re a nation getting ready to borrow $10 trillion or more over the next decade, you don’t want markets questioning your central bank’s commitment to controlling inflation.

But Congress continues to risk just such a scenario, whether through aggressively questioning Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke or pushing a bill to audit Fed monetary policy.

Now Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has suggested curbing the authority of the 12 Fed regional bank presidents.

As Frank sees things, monetary policy should not be influenced by “inappropriately placed private businessmen — or women, occasionally — picked by other private businessmen, and occasionally women.”

Drill down a bit and it’s clear that what really bugs Frank is not so much that regional bank presidents are selected by a nine-person panel, six of whom are elected by bankers. He just thinks they’re too hawkish.

Frank even commissioned and publicized a study that found that 97 percent of the hawkish dissents at Federal Open Market Committee meetings during the past decade were from the regional bank presidents.

Of course, higher rates would have been a good thing, given that the Fed’s extraordinarily easy monetary policy was a huge contributor to the financial crisis. And going forward, the Fed will face the economically and politically challenging task of withdrawing monetary stimulus when economic growth may well be sluggish and unemployment high.

But such medicine may be necessary to prevent an inflation outbreak. Congressional threats and bullying will make a hard job even more arduous.

Moreover, one reason the Fed has a decentralized structure is because of historic concerns about monetary policy serving only Washington and Wall Street.

Yet citizen concerns about the concentration of financial power are as alive today as they were in 1913 at the Fed’s creation. Monetary policy set solely by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed Board of Governors should certainly set off alarm bells with bond vigilantes concerned that Washington may try to inflate its way out of its debt problems.

If Congress wants to look at how the Fed conducts its  business, better to focus on better ways to make monetary policy reflect forward-looking market gauges such as commodity prices rather than the unemployment rate or output.

Ultimately, though, the Fed’s problem isn’t too much influence from bankers in Kansas City or Atlanta or Chicago. It’s too much influence from politicians in Washington.

COMMENT

The Federal Reserve & its system of usury is the greatest scam in world financial history & I can’t understand why highly educated people & economists fail to see the bare truth for what it is. As an irony, not too far into the future, the common masses may well become more aware of what the Fed truly stands for, while educated MBAs continue to argue in vain.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Gold is nowhere near its old highs

Sep 3, 2009 18:36 UTC

A great factoid from the Calafia Beach Pundit, Scott Grannis:

Gold prices peaked in January 1980 at $850. In today’s dollars, that would be equivalent to $2,300. (The chart shows a peak of $1,800 because it uses month-end data.) So in rough terms, let’s say that gold today is worth about half of what it was at the peak of the inflation fears in early 1980.

Gold prices rise when there is “too much money” in the system; when people fear that an excess of money will depress the value of their money. Gold prices also rise when people are just plain scared about something going very wrong.  …  Could gold rise above $1000? Why not? Could it get to $2000? Perhaps, but I think things would have to get an awful lot worse than they are today.

COMMENT

Great article. We’ve got a long way to go. Thank the Lord I’ve been stashing away bullion throughout the past few years. I really like the Pamp Gold bars and my favorite silver is the Buffalo Rounds that Scottsdale Silver sells. I live in the US, work int he US, and plan on retiring in the US. A little precious metal goes a long way to diversifying my life.

Kudlow on Bernanke and the dollar

Aug 26, 2009 14:04 UTC

The great Lawrence Kudlow is skittish about Ben Bernanke’s seeming disinterest in a robust greenback:

I have never heard Mr. Bernanke proselytize for a stable-dollar currency value of money. Never. Of course, like any central banker, he says he’s for price stability. But the question remains how to get there and what model to use. Supply-siders like myself strongly support a price-rule model, where markets tell government what to do. But all too often it seems like Mr. Bernanke — who has been out there buying Treasury and mortgage bonds in a futile attempt to control their yields — prefers the model where the government tells markets what to do. This is a loser, as we have painfully learned in the past.

Paul Volcker watched gold in the ’80s. So did Alan Greenspan for most of the ’90s. But I don’t think Mr. Bernanke watches gold at all. And I don’t think he worries much about the fate of the dollar.

Asia, the dollar and gold

Jun 4, 2009 16:10 UTC

OK, so it looks like Rising Asia is trying to get on the same currency page. Now lots of people think rumblings of the region dumping the dollar are empty threats. Where are they going to go, right? The euro? Please. David Goldman of the fantastic  Inner Workings blog thinks he has it figured out bold is mine):

The Asian exit from the dollar will be turtle-slow and gradual. China and Japan between them have nearly $2 trillion worth of US Treasury securities and will do nothing to jeapordize their existing investment. But the collapse of governance in the United States and the Obama administration’s response have turned the US into a zombie economy, and the dollar into a zombie currency. The Euro offers no alternative. Demographically Europe is dying, and Europe’s economic misery is worse than America’s. … Apart from the problem of protecting a massive existing investment in the dollar, Asia has another problem in existing from the dollar: there exists no natural alternative. An alternative would have to be constructed.  … Asia may have passed a milestone in monetary cooperation, but China, India and Japan never will establish the sort of political rapport that allows for currency union along European lines. To link their currencies would require an agreement to employ an objective benchmark for monetary policy, and the obvious choice would be some basket of commodities. … This is a five, perhaps a ten-year project, to be executed very gradually and very carefully as the Treasury’s largest foreign investors gradually reduce exposure to the US market and create their own financial markets.

COMMENT

Nice post. Keep it up.

Cheers,
Sandy

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