MacroScope

Bernanke channeled Keynes to deflect Paul

Remember that exchange a couple of months ago between Congressman Ron Paul and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke over the definition of money? Pressed by the congressman during testimony, Bernanke said gold is not money. Paul retorted: “Why do central banks hold it?”

Bernanke paused and said: ”It’s tradition, long-term tradition.”

One of the interesting things about the episode was how disparately it was perceived among different audiences. To most economists, Bernanke was stating the obvious. Gold is not money. You can’t walk into a coffee shop and pay for your doughnut with a raw piece of bullion. Not without at least eliciting a “let me get my manager” from the cashier. To Ron Paul’s libertarian supporters, however, this was a major ‘gotcha’ moment for the presidential hopeful.

What most observers do not realize, however, is that Bernanke was not only dismissing the suggestion that gold is equivalent to money, but also doing so by echoing Paul’s ideological nemesis: the late economist John Maynard Keynes.

In 1930, Keynes, a vocal opponent of a post-World War One attempt to return major world economies to the gold standard, wrote the following:

The meaning of a dollar

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The harshest congressional critic of the Federal Reserve faced the toughest internal questioner of central bank policy across a witness table on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Surely there would be a meeting of the minds. Alas, it was not to be.

As Congress remained stalemated over avoiding a catastrophic U.S. debt default with a crucial deadline days away, Representative Ron Paul grilled a top Fed official over an issue that has been troubling him: Why is the dollar money and gold not? As Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig testified before the House Financial Services domestic monetary affairs committee, which Paul chairs, the congressman told him:

Last week I learned that gold is not money. I’ve been able to put that out of my mind … so I’m still trying to find out what money is.

Did France cause The Great Depression?

Economist Douglas Irwin of Dartmouth College has stirred up a bit of a fuss by concluding in some academic research that it was France, not the United States, that was most to blame for The Great Depression.

Irwin’s theory, in a paper posted here by the National Bureau of Economic Research, is that France created an artificial shortage of gold reserves when it increased its share from 7 percent to 27 percent between 1927 and 1932.  Because major currencies at the time were backed by gold under the Gold Standard, this put other countries under enormous deflationary pressure.

To prove his point, Irwin ran a model looking at what would have happened without the French move. The results:

from Global Investing:

Bad economic data, please

Interesting twist at the moment - how are financial markets going to view not-so-bad or good data out of the United States in the run-up to the next Federal Reserve meeting.

Investors have been pricing in a chunky operation by the Fed to feed the markets with cheap cash – look at the gold, silver, the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar. Bad data from the United States will keep investors confident of such Fed action and support the flows into high yielding assets.

But any data showing the pace of recovery in the world’s largest economy is not in such a bad shape. Investors will adjust their expectations and positions, causing a sell-off in equities, speculative-grade credit and high-yielding currencies.

Should central banks now sell gold?

Central banks in debt-strapped countries have a golden opportunity ahead of them, if you will excuse the pun, to help their countries’ finances by selling their yellow metal holdings.

At least, that is the message that Royal Bank of Scotland’s commodities chief Nick Moore has been giving in recent presentations — and he thinks it might happen.   The gist is that gold is now at a record price but banks have not come close to  meeting their sales allowance for the year.

Under the Central Bank Gold Agreement there is a quota of 400 tonnes that can be sold by central banks within a 12 month period and with only about three months to go in the latest period less than 39 tonnes has been sold.  At today’s price that remaining 361 tonnes is worth some $14 billion.

from Global Investing:

What fund managers think

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.

Gold is too expensive.  A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.

The fall in the euro should be tailing off. A net 14 percent reckon the single currency is still overvalued, but that is way down from the net 45 percent who thought so in the May poll.

from Summit Notebook:

That’s rich. I meant the wine.

Jeffrey Rubin

What do gold and wine have in common?

Price.

Well, too high of a high price, according to Jeffrey Rubin, director of research at Birinyi Associates, the stock market research and money management firm.

Rubin told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit on Tuesday that he thought gold prices were "certainly a little frothy" at current levels and that he would rather be a buyer of the gold miners such as Newmont Mining Corp, Barrick Gold Corp, or Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. Gold hit an all-time high  above $1,250 an ounce on Tuesday as investors piled in due to fears that European credit contagion could lead to a double-dip recession.

Rubin isn't expecting a double-dip U.S. recession, saying the chances are slim. He also felt stock prices were likely near a bottom. Not so for the price of a wine? A good year is already priced in, so to speak.

Former Head of U.S. Mint Goes for Gold

You know the American dollar is in trouble when… 
There is plenty of discussion about the fate of the U.S. greenback these days, what with multi-trillion dollar rescues still flowing through the financial system. But dollar bulls might feel just a little trepidation to see Jay Johnson, former head of the U.S. mint — the folks that print the stuff — become a spokesperson for gold. Johnson actually passed away last month, but he can still be seen on TV infomercials, singing gold’s praises.  

Gold this week rallied to a new record high above $1100 an ounce, even as the dollar sank to a 15-month low against a basket of major currencies. 

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said this week he was mindful of the possibility that the central bank’s pledge to keep interest rates at rock-bottom lows for an “extended period” might be fueling the carry trade. That’s when investors use a “cheap” low-yielding currency to fund trades on riskier assets with loftier returns.

Gold to go

Automatic teller machines (ATMs) — 500 of them — dispensing pieces of gold will be available around Germany, Switzerland and Austria by the end of this year.

That at least is the plan of German precious metals online trading company TG-Gold-Super-Markt.de. The ATMs, to be located at airports, railway stations and shopping malls, are intended to accustom ordinary people to the idea of investing in a physical asset such as gold, the thinking goes.
 
Thomas Geissler, the company’s chief executive, said the gold ATMs might even improve relations between the sexes.
 
“I have yet to meet a woman who does not like a gift of gold. It’s better than flowers. Flowers are more expensive. They wilt and you (as a man) don’t get as many points at home as if you bring gold,” he said.
 
A prototype ATM on display for a one-day marketing test at the main railway station in Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, did indeed reward your correspondent with a 1-gramme (0.0353 ounce) piece of gold.
 
It cost the equivalent of $42.25 — a 30 percent premium over the spot market price.

from Global Investing:

Big Five

Five things to think about this week:

VALUATIONS
- The MSCI world stocks index has rebounded 37 percent since March, the VIX fear gauge has hit its lowest level since September 2008, and positive earnings surprises in Europe are marginally outstripping negative ones. But there are serious questions over the equity market's ability to sustain its rise.

MACRO SIGNALS
- Trade data from the U.S., Canada and the UK, all out in this week, will be combed for signs of any recovery in global commerce. Also due are flash GDP data from the euro zone, industry output for the U.S., France, Italy, the euro zone and the UK, and Japan machinery orders.  
  
QUANTITATIVE EASING
- The ECB has finally shown willingness to deploy unconventional easing measures but it's hard to judge the success of such steps. Narrowing credit spreads, stock markets' bounce and gains in emerging market assets all show efforts to restore confidence in the financial system are having an effect. But if getting and keeping bond yields down is the yardstick for success, it's unfortunate that 10-year UK and U.S. government bond yields are back up to levels seen before the announcement of quantitative easing in those countries. And diminishing returns on further balance sheet expansion raise questions over how much more money central banks can print before inflation fears start to preoccupy policymakers and markets.
  
COMMODITIES
- Confusion over the reasons for the commodities rally has reduced the usefulness of commodities prices as indicators of the industrial outlook. An apparent economic recovery in China has helped to boost the CRB commodities index by 21 percent from February's lows. But how much does the rise reflect a change in supply/demand for commodities, and how much is it simply due to idle money flooding back to unstable markets? Similarly, why has spot gold remained strong above $900 as jitters over the financial system decrease? Gold could be reflecting expectations that recovering economies will boost physical demand for the metal, but it may also be responding to fears of currency debasement after central banks' radical monetary easing.

EMERGING MARKETS 
- Rising commodity prices and an easing dollar have offered a perfect environment to re-enter emerging markets. The coming week's  EBRD meeting will focus attention on central and eastern Europe and how it is coping with a nasty period of refinancing (albeit less dire than the IMF initially estimated).