What is happening to Gold and the Gold price?

It is time for us to check in on Gold and to note that whilst it is up just under 15% over the past year at US $1850 for the February futures contract it has hit a bit of a slump recently. Only a few days ago it was above US $1950 and back in early August last year it went as high as US $2089. One way of looking at things was expressed by Peter Schiff a few days ago.

To the extent that Bitcoin is actually taking any demand away from gold, that’s making Fed governors extremely happy. A rising #gold price is what central bankers fear most. #Bitcoin  is their best friend, which may explain why regulators aren’t in a hurry to help pop the bubble.

Actually central banks which have substantial gold reserves will be pleased and Bitcoin is far from their best friend. But the issue of Gold being replaced as a “safe haven” by Bitcoin is a live one as the tweet below indicates.

Even JPMorgan Chase has acknowledged that Bitcoin is taking market share from gold, the traditional haven asset. On Friday, one Bitcoin was worth more than 22 ounces of gold, which represents a new all-time high. ( @Cointelegraph)

In an article they went further.

According to multiple experts, one possible reason for Bitcoin’s remarkable recent price rise are massive investor outflows from another popular inflation hedge: gold.

Spot gold swooned over the past week, falling 4.62% to $1,857. The asset previously had been surging in unison with Bitcoin, which is up over 40% from $28,000 lows last week.

That narrative has had better Sunday nights and Monday mornings with Bitcoin some US $5800 lower at US $35,000 as I type this. But there is still some food for thought on the piece below.

The moves could be a sign of Bitcoin’s rising status as a legitimate asset class. Gold and Bitcoin have long been linked as both are seen as a way to protect wealth against inflation and macroeconomic uncertainty, but if the price movements over the last week are any indication, however, Bitcoin may be winning the narrative race.

The bull case for Gold

The macroeconomic uncertainty one is so clear we need spend little time with that but the inflation one is quite complex. It opens quite easily and as we recall my subject of Friday and this from Andrew Hauser of the Bank of England.

Since March of last year, G10 central bank balance sheets have risen by over $8 trillion.

In theoretical terms that should lead to inflation and a case for Gold but not so far.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis after being unchanged in October,
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.2 percent before seasonal adjustment. ( US BLS)

That seems likely to rise as we note a Brent Crude Oil price of around US $55 and the general outlook has led to this.

US Inflation Expectations (10-yr breakevens) continue their vertical ascent, now above 2% for the first time since November 2018. ( @charliebilello )

I counsel caution on the issue of inflation breakevens which are unreliable but the broad trend is useful. There is also the additional issue that official inflation measures are designed to avoid the areas where inflation is both most likely and most rampant.

​House prices rose nationwide in October, up 1.5 percent from the previous month, according to the latest Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Index (FHFA HPI®).  House prices rose 10.2 percent from October 2019 to October 2020. The previously reported 1.7 percent price change for September 2020 remained unchanged.

Here we find that there has been a strong case for Gold with uncertainty extremely high and evidence of asset price inflation all around us. I could go further and look at the rise in the price of some equities such as the FAANGs and of course Tesla. Then there is the issue of the way bond prices have soared.

Also the example of the problems in Zimbabwe raise the issue of the supply of Gold.

HARARE (Reuters) – Gold sales to Zimbabwe’s sole buyer and exporter of bullion Fidelity Printers and Refiners (FPR) fell 31% to 19 tonnes last year after lower deliveries from small-scale miners, official data showed on Monday.

FPR pays U.S. dollars in cash to small-scale gold miners, but a shortage of hard cash caused delays in payments most of last year. That forced many of the miners to sell their gold to illegal buyers, industry officials say.

Deliveries of gold, the top foreign currency earner, have been on the decline since reaching a record 33.2 tonnes 2018, mainly due to delays by FPR in paying miners.

The Bear Case

One factor would be a turn in the trend for the US Dollar and maybe we are seeing that as recently it has regained a little of its losses. But underneath that I think there is a bigger factor in that we have seen something of a shift in US interest-rates. I do not mean the official US Federal Reserve one which remains around 0.1% I mean this.

US 10Y yield is 17bp higher on the week ahead of the Dec jobs report, having done this:

Jan 7 +4.4bp

Jan 6 +8.1bp

Jan 5 +4.2bp ( @business)

The ten-year yield in the US is now 1.11% and whilst that is low in historical terms it is up quite a bit since the 0.5% or so of last March. Also it is taking place in spite of the fact that the US Federal Reserve is buying some US $120 billion of bonds of which 2/3rds are Treasuries each month.

From Gold’s point of view there is no some sort of cost of carry albeit not much as we find ourselves in a bit of a twilight zone. If you look at the inflation trend and expectations then bond yields should go higher, but the counterpoint is whether the US Federal Reserve would then increase its purchasing rate. Indeed it could implement a type of Yield Curve Control and we are at yields where some have expected this to be deployed.

Comment

As you can see from the points above the Gold price is at something of a nexus point and one road is rather familiar.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again ( Paul Simon)

On it we are back to the central banks being in control again as it would involve even larger purchases of US government debt by the US Federal Reserve. That would certainly be convenient considering the fiscal plans.

Biden has called the current USD 600 round of cash a “down payment,” and early last week he said USD 2,000 checks would go out “immediately” if his party took control of both houses of Congress. ( Financial Express).

So in a type of ultimate irony the US Federal Reserve now has its hand on the tiller of prospects for the Gold price and we are back to Friday’s theme of central banks being our new overlords.

Podcast

The RBA is financing the Australian government as well as pumping the housing market

It is time for another trip to a land down under as even commodity rich Australia has found its economy affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It raises a wry smile as I used to regularly reply to the World Economic Forum which periodically trumpeted Australia’s lack of a recession that with its enormous resources that was hardly a surprise and thus meant little about economic policy. However we eventually found something which did create a recession. From the Reserve Bank of Australia earlier.

The Australian economy is going through a very difficult period and is experiencing the biggest contraction since the 1930s. As difficult as this is, the downturn is not as severe as earlier expected and a recovery is now underway in most of Australia. This recovery is, however, likely to be both uneven and bumpy, with the coronavirus outbreak in Victoria having a major effect on the Victorian economy.

I would be careful about saying things are not as bad as expected after the reverse in Victoria if I was the RBA. So let us send our best wishes to those affected there as we note the detailed breakdown of the forecasts.

In the baseline scenario, output falls by 6 per cent over 2020 and then grows by 5 per cent over the following year. In this scenario, the unemployment rate rises to around 10 per cent later in 2020 due to further job losses in Victoria and more people elsewhere in Australia looking for jobs. Over the following couple of years, the unemployment rate is expected to decline gradually to around 7 per cent.

So they are expecting lower falls than in Europe but there is a familiar rebound next year which frankly feels based on Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout rather than any grounding in reality.

Financing The Government

Like so often this is what it boils down too.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to maintain the current policy settings, including the targets for the cash rate and the yield on 3-year Australian Government bonds of 25 basis points.

So even resources rich Australia found itself unable to resist the supermassive black hole pull of ZIRP and central bankers being pack animals. I suspect as I shall explain in a minute they have stopped slightly short of 0% because of fears for the banking sector. But the crucial point we are noting here is the control agenda for the bond market which mimics in concept if not level that applied by the Bank of Japan.

Why does the government need financing? Well there is this.

Government bond markets are functioning normally alongside a significant increase in issuance.

As to how much the Australian Office of Financial Management reinforced this last week.

On the 3rd of July we announced a weekly issuance rate for Treasury Bonds of $4-5 billion, with a weekly rate of issuance for Treasury Notes of $2-4 billion. We are confident this guidance will be reliable until the October Budget; absent of course a sharp unanticipated change in the fiscal position.

The major shift in fiscal policy is highlighted here.

Although to date we have only announced a weekly issuance rate and new maturities, the current plan for gross Treasury Bond issuance this year is around $240 billion.  This will comprise about $50 billion to fund maturing debt and $190 billion of net new issuance.  This is materially higher than the $128 billion issued last year, although almost $90 billion of that was issued in the last quarter.

So a near doubling as they went from not being that bothered about issuing debt.

Less than six months ago the AOFM was rationing issuance to best manage a market maintenance objective.

To a spell when they could not issue at all.

Temporary loss of access to funding markets is certainly something we had thought possible (and indeed likely at some point), but combined with the scale and timing of the increased pandemic financing task it was a more sobering experience than we could have imagined.

They would have been burning the midnight oil before International Rescue arrived.

We will never know how long the market would have taken to recover had the RBA not intervened.

If we return to the RBA statement let me present you with two outright lies.

Government bond markets are functioning normally alongside a significant increase in issuance.

If they are then why is this needed?

The yield has, however, been a little higher than 25 basis points over recent weeks. Given this, tomorrow the Bank will purchase AGS in the secondary market to ensure that the yield on 3-year bonds remains consistent with the target. Further purchases will be undertaken as necessary.

Then the next lie.

The yield target will remain in place until progress is being made towards the goals for full employment and inflation.

Actually it will remain in place until the government no longer needs financing. This may be open ended as we note that the only place which has this ( Japan) only ever seems to do more and never less. The initial salvo in Australia was this.

To date, the Reserve Bank has bought around $47 billion of government bonds ( April 21st)

The Precious! The Precious!

In another example of pack animal behaviour they have pretty much copied and pasted a Bank of England policy.

The Reserve Bank has established a Term Funding Facility (TFF) to offer three-year funding to authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs).

So they are avoiding calling them banks. Oh and whilst they get this.

to reinforce the benefits to the economy of a lower cash rate, by reducing the funding costs of ADIs and in turn helping to reduce interest rates for borrowers.

You may note how bank costs are “reduced” whereas it is “helping to reduce” them for others. We know who it will help and it is not these.

The scheme encourages lending to all businesses, although the incentives are stronger for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Well not unless they are in the mortgage or house price market. For those unaware of the UK situation when the policies were applied here small business lending did nothing but in a “completely unexpected development” mortgage rates plunged and lending surged.

So far just over 27 billion Australian Dollars have been supplied via this route.

Comment

Much here is familiar as we see a central bank implicitly financing its government and pumping up the housing market too. The RBA must have thought all its Christmases had come at once when the Aussie bond market had trouble at the shorter maturities and it could intervene at a place likely to impact on mortgage rates. It must feel the banks need help or it would have cut the official rate to 0%.

Thus has led to a money supply surge with narrow money going from 909 billion in June of last year to 1260 billion on June of this. Quite a shift for an aggregate which we had noted in the past was going nowhere and at times had fallen.

Switching to external events the Aussie Dollar or as some call it the little battler has been doing well. The trade weighted index which went as low as 49.9 on a day familiar to regular readers but the 19th of March for newer ones is now 61.4. As for influences I guess the relative hopes for the economy are in play as well as this.

Preliminary estimates for July indicate that the index increased by 0.9 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after decreasing by 0.2 per cent in June (revised). The non-rural and base metals sub-indices increased in the month, while the rural sub-index decreased. In Australian dollar terms, the index decreased by 0.2 per cent in July.

Over the past year, the index has decreased by 12 per cent in SDR terms, led by lower coal, iron ore, LNG and oil prices. The index has decreased by 12.1 per cent in Australian dollar terms. ( RBA earlier today)

So an improvement for the resources base and looking ahead Gold is 7.5% of the index. Although the compilers of the index have just reduced its weight from 8.7% and will now find themselves in the deepest dark recesses of the RBA bunker where the cake trolley never goes.

What is the case for Gold?

It is time to look again at a subject which pops up every now and then and this morning has done exactly that. From The Guardian

The price of gold hit $1,865 per ounce for the first time since September 2011 this morning.

Gold has surged by 20% since the depths of the pandemic, and some analysts reckon it could hit $2,000 for the first time ever.

A weak dollar is good for gold, given its reputation as a safe-haven from inflation and money-printing.

Let us start with the price noting that this is a futures price ( August) as we remind ourselves that there is often quite a gap between futures prices and spot gold these days. That leads to a whole raft of conspiracy theories, but I will confine myself to pointing out that in a world where interest-rates are pretty much zero one reason for the difference is gone. Strictly we should use the US Dollar rate which is of the order of 0.1% or not much.

Actually a rally had been in play before the Covid-19 pandemic as we ended 2019 at US $1535 and the rallied. However like pretty much all financial markets there was a pandemic sell-off peaking on March 19th a date we keep coming back to. My chart notes a low of US $1482. Since then it has not always been up,up and away but for the last 6 weeks or so the only way has indeed been up. Of course there is a danger in looking at a peak highlighted by this from The Stone Roses.

I’m standing alone
I’m watching you all
I’m seeing you sinking
I’m standing alone
You’re weighing the gold
I’m watching you sinking
Fool’s gold

What is driving this?

Weak Dollar

The Guardian highlights this and indeed goes further.

Marketwatch says the the US dollar is getting “punched in the mouth” – having dropped 5.1% in the last quarter.

It’s lost 2.3% just in July so far, partly due to a revival in the euro. And there could be wore to come:

There is some more detail.

The US dollar is taking a pummelling, sending commodity prices rattling higher.

The dollar has sunk to its lowest level since early March, when the coronavirus crisis was sweeping global markets. The selloff has driven the euro to its highest level in 18 months, at $1.1547 this morning.

Sterling has also benefited, hitting $1.276 last night for the first time in six weeks.

Here we do have a bit of a problem as whilst the US Dollar is lower it is not really weak. Of course it is against Gold by definition but it was not long ago we were considering it to be strong and it certainly was earlier this year especially against the emerging market currencies. At the beginning of 2018 US Dollar index futures fell to 89 as opposed to the 95.4 of this morning but the Gold price was US $1340. So whilst monthly charts are a broad brush our man or woman from Mars might conclude that a higher Dollar has led to a higher Gold price.

If we stay with currencies those from my country the UK have done much better out of Gold. Looking at a Sterling or UK Pound £ price we see £1465 this morning compared to a previous peak of less than US $1200 and before this surge a price of around US $1000. Another perspective is provided by India a nation with many Gold fans and those fans should they have owned Gold will according to GoldPrice.org have made 996% over the past 20 years.

Negative Interest-Rates

Whilst there has been a general trend towards this super massive black hole there are particular features. For example a nation renowned for being Gold investors cut its official interest-rate to -0.75% in January 2015 and it is still there. That is Switzerland and the Swissy has remained strong overall, so the weak currency argument fades here. We have a small pack of “Carry Trade” nations who end up with strong currencies and negative interest-rates including Japan and more recently the Euro.

The generic situation is that we have seen substantial interest-rate cuts. The UK cut from 0.75% to 0.1% for example reducing the price of holding Gold. But I think that there is more than that. You see official interest-rates are increasingly irrelevant these days as we note cutting them has not worked and the way that people have adapted for example the increased number of fixed-rate mortgages. If we look a my indicator for that I note that we have seen a new record low of -0.11% for the UK five-year bond yield this morning. So now all of the countries I have noted have negative interest-rates or if you prefer the 0% provided by Gold is a gain and not a loss.

As I pointed out in my article of July 10th the US does not have negative bond yields but is exhibiting so familiar trends. The five-year yield has nudged a little nearer at 0.26% this morning. That contrasts sharply with the (just under) 3% of October 2018. So a 2.7% per annum push since then in Gold’s favour.

Inflation

The arrival of the pandemic was accompanied by a wave of experts predicting zero and negative inflation. As I pointed out back then I hope I have taught you all what that means and this highlighted by @chigrl earlier links in with the Gold theme.

India can expect inflation to surge to more than double the central bank’s target and the currency could lose a quarter of its value if the Reserve Bank of India begins printing money to fund the government’s spending…….Rabobank estimates that inflation could surge to an average of 12% in 2021 if the RBI was to finance a second stimulus package of $270 billion, a similar amount to what was announced in the first spending plan earlier this year. The rupee could plunge 16% against the dollar from 2020 levels and almost 25% from 2019 under that scenario.

They are essentially making a case for Indians being long Gold although they have not put it like that.

In the UK last night saw the latest in an increasingly desperate series of attempts by the UK Office for National Statistics to justify its attempt to reduce the UK RPI by around 1% per annum. That would affect around 10 million pensioners according to the actuary who spoke. Indeed the economics editor of the Financial Times Chris Giles was reduced to quoting a couple of anonymous replies to one of his own articles as evidence.How weak is that? Still I guess that when you are impersonating King Canute any piece of wood looks like a branch.

But inflation is on the horizon which of course is why the UK keeps looking for measures which produce lower numbers.

Comment

As you can see there are factors in play supporting the Gold price. The only issue is when they feed in because having established an annual gain of 2.7% from lower US bond yields only an Ivory Tower would expect that to apply each year. In fact I think I can hear one typing that right now. In reality once we come down to altitudes with more oxygen we know that such a thing creates a more favourable environment but exactly when it applies is much less predictable. I have used negative interest-rates rather than the “money printing” of The Guardian because it is a more direct influence.

I have posted my views on the problems of using Gold ( the fixed supply is both a strenght and a weakness) before as a monetary anchor. It was also covered in my opinion by Arthur C. Clarke in 2061. So let move onto something that used to be used as the money supply and some famous British seafarers made their name by stealing.

Silver rallied Tuesday to finish at its highest level since 2014, up by more than 80% from the year’s low, benefiting as both a precious and industrial metal as it looks to catch up with gold’s impressive year-to-date performance…..In Tuesday trading, September silver contract SIU20, 3.26% rose $1.37, or 6.8%, to settle at $21.557 an ounce on Comex. Prices based on the most-active contracts marked their highest settlement since March 2014, according to Dow Jones Market Data. They trade 83% above the year-to-date low of $11.772 seen on March 18, which was the lowest since January 2009. ( MarketWatch)

So I will leave you with those who famously advised us that we may not get what we want but we may get what we need.

Oh babe, you got my soul
You got the silver you got the gold
If that’s your love, it just made me blind

India faces hard economic times with Gold and Liquor

Early this morning we got news on a topic we have been pursuing for several years now and as has become familiar it showed quite an economic slow down.

At 27.4 in April, the seasonally adjusted IHS Markit India
Manufacturing PMI® fell from 51.8 in March. The latest reading pointed to the sharpest deterioration in business conditions across the sector since data collection began over 15 years ago.

It caught my eye also because it was the lowest of the manufacturing PMI series this morning. Although some care is needed as the decimal point is laughable and the 7 is likely to be unreliable as well. But the theme is clear I think. Of course much of this is deliberate policy.

The decline in operating conditions was partially driven by
an unprecedented contraction in output. Panellists often
attributed lower production to temporary factory closures that were triggered by restrictive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

So that deals with supply and here is demand.

Amid widespread business closures, demand conditions were severely hampered in April. New orders fell for the first time in two-and-a-half years and at the sharpest rate in the survey’s history, far outpacing that seen during the global financial crisis.

So there was something of a race between the two and of course external demand was heading south as well.

Total new business received little support from international markets in April, as new export orders tumbled. Following the first reduction since October 2017 during March, foreign sales fell at a quicker rate in the latest survey period. In fact, the rate of decline accelerated to the fastest since the series began over 15 years ago.

The plunges above sadly have had an inevitable impact on the labour market as well.

Deteriorating demand conditions saw manufacturers drastically cut back staff numbers in April. The reduction in employment was the quickest in the survey’s history. There was a similar trend in purchasing activity, with firms cutting input buying at a record pace.

Background and Context

We learn from noting what had already been happening in India.

Real GDP or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at Constant (2011-12) Prices in the year 2019-20 is estimated to attain a level of ₹ 146.84 lakh crore, as against the First Revised Estimate of GDP for the year 2018-19 of ₹ 139.81 lakh crore, released on 31st January 2020. The growth in GDP during 2019-20 is estimated at 5.0 percent as compared to 6.1 percent in 2018-19. ( MOSPI )

Things had been slip-sliding away since the recent peak of 7.7% back around the opening of 2018. So without the Covid-19 pandemic we would have seen falls below 5%. In response to that the Reserve Bank of India had been cutting interest-rates. I would have in the past have typed slashed but for these times four cuts of 0.25% and one of 0.35% in 2019 do not qualify for such a description.

Before that was the Demonetisation episode of 2016 where the Indian government created a cash crunch but withdrawing 500 and 1000 Rupee notes. This was ostensibly to reduce financial crime but also created quite a bit of hardship. Later as so much of the money returned to the system it transpired that the gains were much smaller than the hardship created.

For newer readers you can find more details on these issues in my back catalogue on here.

Looking Ahead

On April 17th the Governor of the RBI tried his best to be upbeat.

 India is among the handful of countries that is projected to cling on tenuously to positive growth (at 1.9 per cent). In fact, this is the highest growth rate among the G 20 economies………For 2021, the IMF projects sizable V-shaped recoveries: close to 9 percentage points for global GDP. India is expected to post a sharp turnaround and resume its pre-COVID pre-slowdown trajectory by growing at 7.4 per cent in 2021-22.

He was of course running a risk by listening to the IMF and ignoring what the trade date was already signalling.

In the external sector, the contraction in exports in March 2020 at (-) 34.6 per cent has turned out to be much more severe than during the global financial crisis. Barring iron ore, all exporting sectors showed a decline in outbound shipments. Merchandise imports also fell by 28.7 per cent in March across the board, barring transport equipment.

On Friday the Business Standard was reporting on expectations much more in line with the trade data.

While acknowledging some downside risks from a lockdown extension in urban areas beyond 6 June, we maintain our GDP projection of 0% GDP growth for CY2020, and 0.8% for FY21,” wrote Rahul Bajoria of Barclaysin a report.

If we stay with that source then we get another hint from what caused the drop in share prices for car manufacturers today.

Shares of automobile companies declined on Monday as many firms reported nil sales in the month of April after a nationwide lockdown kept factories and showrooms shut.

At 10:11 AM, the Nifty Auto index was down 7.33 per cent as compared to 5.1 per cent decline in the Nifty50 index.

Monetary Policy

You will not be surprised to learn that the RBI acted again as the policy Repo Rate is now 4.4% and the Governor gave a summary of other actions in the speech referred to above.

 In my statement of March 27, I had indicated that together with the measures announced on March 27, the RBI’s liquidity injection was about 3.2 per cent of GDP since the February 2020 MPC meeting.

Those who follow the ECB will note he announced something rather familiar.

 it has been decided to conduct Targeted Long-Term Repo Operations (TLTRO) 2.0 at the policy repo rate for tenors up to three years for a total amount of up to ₹ 50,000 crores, to begin with, in tranches of appropriate sizes.

Oh and as we are looking at India by ECB I am referring to the central bank and not cricket.

If we switch to the money supply data we see that in the fortnight to April 10th the heat was on as M3 grew by 1.2% raising the annual rate of growth to 10.8%. But there was a counterpoint to this as there were heavy withdrawals of demand deposits with fell by 7.8% in a fortnight. We have looked before at the problems of the Indian banking sector and maybe minds were focused on this as the pandemic hit.

Gold

I am switching to this due to its importance in India and gold bugs there may be having a party as they read the Business Standard.

The sharp rise in the prices of gold —which almost doubled over the past one year —has been the only good for investors at a time when both equities and debt returns have been under pressure.

That price may be a driving factor in this.

India’s demand declined by a staggering 36 per cent during the January-March quarter, to hit the lowest quarterly figure in 11 years due to nationwide that has forced the closure of wholesale and retail showrooms.

Comment

The situation is made worse by the fact that India starts this phase as a poor country. Things are difficult to organise in such a large country as the opening of the Liquor Shops today has shown.

Long queues witnessed outside #LiquorShops in several parts of Chhattisgarh, people defy social distancing norms at many places: Officials ( Press Trust of India)

Also a problem was around before we reached the pandemic phase.

Armies of locusts swarming across continents pose a “severe risk” to India’s agriculture this year, the UN has warned, prompting the authorities to step up vigil, deploy drones to detect their movement and hold talks with Pakistan, the most likely gateway for an invasion by the insects, on ways to minimise the damage. ( Hindustan Times from March)

Now let me give you another Indian spin. The gold issue has several other impacts. No doubt the RBI is calculating the wealth effects from the price gain. However I think of it is another form of money supply as to some extent it has that function there. Also part of the gain is due to another decline in the Rupee which is at 75.6 to the US Dollar. Regular readers will recall it was a symbolic issue when it went through 70. This creates a backwash as it will make people turn to gold even more.

Let me finish with some good news which is that the much lower oil price will be welcome in energy dependent India.

Podcast

 

 

 

 

The Safe Haven Problem

At a time of crisis people look for what are considered to be safe havens. I say considered to be because this subject has been a regular feature on here in the credit crunch era and we have observed some ch-ch-changes in behaviour. For example we have seen investors be willing to take a loss by buying bonds with a negative yield suggesting that fear of losses elsewhere may be so high that a small one is preferable. Or that you expect to gain so much from that particular currency ( Euro, Swiss Franc or Yen) that the yield loss is minor.

Gold

This is a traditional if not the traditional safe haven and in a reversal of the trend above one of the costs of holding it has fallen substantially recently. If we look at it in terms of the world’s main currency the US Dollar the interest-rate cost has fallen to nearly 0%. The effective Federal Funds rate if 0.05%. Of course some currencies via negative interest-rates have for this area meant that you get a small annual gain from holding Gold although of course there are other costs.

That leaves gold, the traditional safe haven, whose supply is largely fixed, with annual production a modest proportion of the infinitely durable stock. Gold production in 2019 fell slightly to 3,464 metric tonnes, the first fall in 10 years according to the World Gold Council, as ore grades in the world’s major mines declined and mining costs rose. The year’s higher prices increased recycling, so total supply increased, but only modestly, by 2%.

That was from Reuters Breaking Views at the end of March and leaves us with a view of something with a fixed supply. There is a shuffle there from a fixed stock which does not get a mention although maybe the supply could change.

A major and prolonged price rise would increase production, but with mines having a high capital cost and a four or five year lead time, this would not happen quickly. Ultra-low interest rates, yet more global liquidity and fewer opportunities elsewhere should thus lead to a surge in investment demand and prices. Already, the price of Comex near-term futures has risen one-quarter in a year, to around $1,620 an ounce. The equivalent in today’s dollars of the January 1980 peak, though, is $2,826. There is further to go.

There has been a change since because as I type this the price of the June future is US $1770 per ounce. According to economo.co.uk there is a fair bit going on.

On the New York commodity market, gold has risen 17% since the beginning of the year, 10% less than the record set in 2011. During today’s trading, gold futures reached a price of 1,785 USD per ounce, its high level since October 2012.

When I looked at this before I noted some problems in the market so let me point out that between the June future and spot gold there is a gap of US $47. So taking that forwards would mean in simple terms a price some US $282 higher over a year or 16% which seems rather rich to me. There are costs to holding it such as storage and security but are they really that high?

For newer readers these are numbers I used to calculate for a living although not usually Gold. The reason why I have looked at a near month ( June) is that it is the most liquid one because as you go further out in time markets get less liquid and sometimes completely illiquid. But as you can see something looks wrong and in fact we are where we should not be.

The basis cannot theoretically exceed the carrying charge (the lion’s share of which is interest, usually calculated on the basis of LIBOR). If it did, speculators would be able to pocket risk-free profits in buying the cash gold and selling the futures contract against it. This arbitrage would quickly push the basis back to the level of carrying charge. ( Gold Standards Institute in 2012)

Oh Well! As Fleetwood Mac would say. We do have two of our buzzwords in play as I note this from the LBMA.

Gold Market “Resilient”

Gold’s Q1 2020 price rise included a brief period of exceptional volatility. In the eight trading days 6th – 17th March, the gold price fell 12.7% from a high of $1,687.00 per oz to a low of $1,472.35 oz before resuming its steady upward trend. “The gold market continues to be resilient….”

Ah resilient and of course the problems with getting hold of physical Gold were supposed to be temporary! As Lyndsey Buckingham would say.

I should run on the double
I think I’m in trouble,
I think I’m in trouble.

Swiss Franc

This is an issue that has persisted throughout the credit crunch era and if you are unfamiliar you might like to look at my articles on the Currency Twins and the Carry Trade. The Swiss National Bank has tried to punish those looking to buy the Swiss Franc via negative interest-rates ( presently -0.75%) and through what it called for a while “unlimited” foreign-exchange intervention. It had to abandon the latter in January 2020 due to.

Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets ( Queen)

Well like The Terminator it is back as I noted this morning as the sight deposits in Switzerland rose.

Swiss Domestic Sight Deposits (CHF) Apr 10: 552.0B (prev 535.6B) Swiss Total Sight Deposits (CHF) Apr 10: 634.1B (prev 627.2B) ( @LiveSquawk )

For those unaware it is a proxy for the intervention undertaken and as you can see the SNB has been trying to put a lid on the Swissy. It is at a significant level because at 1.0545 versus the Euro it is pretty much where it went after the “unlimited” intervention pledge was abandoned and the Swiss Franc soared.

Regular readers will note that I previously referred to the SNB trying to do this with the Swissy at 1.06.

Hold the line, love isn’t always on time, oh oh oh
Hold the line, love isn’t always on time, oh oh oh ( Toto)

So in spite of a -0.75% interest-rate and intervention demand for the Swiss Franc continues.

Comment

There are some sub-plots to today’s story. For example with equity markets where they are now really there should be little or no demand for safe haven investments. After all the US S&P 500 index future has risen from 2220 to 2788 which is quite a bounce. Yet as we have noted it seems to be like a Pantomime with investors continuing to shout “Behind You.”

There are other safe havens I have not mentioned. At the moment the Japanese Yen is not in play because it is to some extent a Japanese issue. What I mean by that is rallies involve fear of the Japanese repatriating some or all of their large foreign investments and hence large Yen demand. Investors front-run the expected demand and the party starts. It also seems that the Carry Trade reversals in the Euro have stopped so it has faded from view. We also have something of an anti safe haven in the UK Pound £ which has been having a good run as the situation in equity markets has calmed down.

Next comes sovereign bonds which are now one of the most complex safe haven issues of all. Where is the safe haven in a negative yield as so many place have? After all we now live in a world where even US Treasury Bills have seen a negative yield. As to bonds we have a real ying and yang in play. Firstly we expect an enormous amount of bond issuance to pay for all the government spending. But then you may be able to sell to that nice central banker who keeps buying them and breaking the price discovery chain.

And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain (Never break the chain) ( Fleetwood Mac )

Podcast

Loads of questions arrived this week so I did a second one yesterday. Also I am now on Spotify after various requests to do so.

 

The UK government plans to rip us all off

This morning has seen the publishing of some news which feels like it has come from another world.

The all items CPI annual rate is 1.7%, down from 1.8% in January…….The all items RPI annual rate is 2.5%, down from 2.7% last month.

Previously we would have been noting the good news and suggesting that more is to come as we look up the price chain.

The headline rate of output inflation for goods leaving the factory gate was 0.4% on the year to February 2020, down from 1.0% in January 2020. The price for materials and fuels used in the manufacturing process displayed negative growth of 0.5% on the year to February 2020, down from positive growth of 1.6% in January 2020.

There is something that remains relevant however as I note this piece of detail.

Petroleum products made the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of output inflation. Crude oil provided the largest downward contribution to the change in the annual rate of input inflation.

That is something which is set to continue because if we look back to February the base for the oil price ( Brent Crude) was US $50 whereas as I type this it is US $27.50. So as you can see input and output costs are going to fall further. This will be offset a bit by the lower UK Pound £ but I will address it later. In terms of consumer inflation the February figures used are for diesel at 128.2 pence per litre whereas the latest weekly number is for 123.4 pence which is some 7.7% lower than a year ago. So there will be a downwards pull on inflation from this source.

There is a bit of an irony here because the Russo/Saudi turf war which began the oil price fall on the supply side has been overtaken by the large falls in demand we are seeing as economies slow. According to The Guardian we may run out of spaces to put it.

Analysts at Rystad estimate that the world has about 7.2bn barrels of crude and products in storage, including 1.3bn to 1.4bn barrels onboard oil tankers at sea.

In theory, it would take nine months to fill the world’s remaining oil stores, but constraints at many facilities will shorten this window to only a few months.

The Rip-Off

The plan hatched by a combination of HM Treasury and its independent puppets the UK Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics is to impose a type of stealth tax of 1% per annum. How?

In drawing up his advice, the National Statistician considered the views of the Stakeholder Advisory Panel on Consumer Prices (APCP-S). The Board accepted his advice and that was the basis of the proposals we put to the Chancellor to cease publication of RPI and in the short term to bring the methods of CPIH into RPI.The Chancellor responded that he was not minded to promote legislation to end RPI, but that the Government intended to consult on whether to bring the methods in CPIH into RPI between 2025 and 2030, effectively aligning the measures.

The emphasis is mine and the plan is to put the fantasy Imputed Rents that are used in the widely ignored CPIH into the RPI. There is good reason that the CPIH has been ignored so let me explain why. In the UK the housing market is a big deal and so you might think what owner-occupiers pay would be a considerable influence on inflation. But in 2002 a decision was made to completely ignore it in the new UK inflation measure called CPI ( Consumer Prices Index).

Putting it in was supposed to be on its way but plans took a decade and the saga took a turn in 2012 when the first effort to use Imputed Rents began. It got strong support from the Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles at the time. He stepped back from that when it emerged that there had been a discontinuity in the numbers, which in statistical terms is a disaster. So the fantasy numbers ( owner-occupiers do not pay rent) are based on an unproven rental series.

Why would you put a 737 Max style system when you have a reliable airplane? You would not, as most sensible people would be debating between the use of the things that are paid such as house prices and mortgage payments. That is what is planned in the new inflation measure which has been variously called HII and HCI. You may not be surprised to learn that there have been desperate official efforts to neuter this. Firstly by planning to only produce it annually and more latterly by trying to water down any house price influence.

At a time like this you may not think it is important but when things return to normal losing around 1% per year every year will make you poorer as decisions are made on it. Also it will allow government’s to claim GDP and real wages are higher than they really are.

Gold

There is a lot going on here as it has seen its own market discontinuity which I will cover in a moment. But we know money is in the offing as I note this from the Financial Times.

Gold continued to push higher on Tuesday as a recent wave of selling dried up and Goldman Sachs told its clients the time had come to buy the “currency of last resort”. Like other asset classes, gold was hit hard in the recent scramble for US dollars, falling more than 12 per cent from its early March peak of around $1,700 a troy ounce to $1,460 last week.  The yellow metal started to see a resurgence on Monday, rising by more than 4 per cent after the Federal Reserve said it would buy unlimited amounts of government bonds and the US dollar fell.

So we know that the blood funnel of the Vampire Squid is up and sniffing. On its view of ordinary clients being “Muppets” one might reasonably conclude it has some gold to sell.

Also there have been problems in the gold markets as I was contacted yesterday on social media asking about the gold price. I was quoting the price of the April futures contact ( you can take the boy out of the futures market but you cannot etc….) which as I type this is US $1653. Seeing as it was below US $1500 that is quite a rally except the spot market was of the order of US $50 below that. There are a lot of rumours about problems with the ability of some to deliver the gold that they owe which of course sets alight the fire of many conspiracy theories we have noted. This further went into suggestions that some banks have singed their fingers in this area and are considering withdrawing from the market.

Ole Hansen of Saxo Bank thinks the virus is to blame.

Having seen 100’s of anti-bank and anti-paper #gold tweets the last couple of days I think I will give the metal a rest while everyone calm down. We have a temporary break down in logistics not being helped by CME’s stringent delivery rules of 100oz bars only.

So we will wait and see.

Ah, California girls are the greatest in the world
Each one a song in the making
Singin’ rock to me I can hear the melody
The story is there for the takin’
Drivin’ over Kanan, singin’ to my soul
There’s people out there turnin’ music into gold ( John Stewart )

 

Comment

Quite a few systems are creaking right now as we see the gold market hit the problems seen by bond markets where prices are inconsistent. Ironically the central banks tactics are to help with that but their strategy is fatally flawed because if you buy a market on an enormous scale to create what is a fake price ( lower bond yields) then liquidity will dry up. I have written before about ruining bond sellers ( Italy) and buyers will disappear up here. Please remember that when the central banks tell us it is nothing to do with them and could not possibly have been predicted. Meanwhile the US Federal Reserve will undertake another US $125 billion of QE bond purchases today and the Bank of England some £3 billion. The ECB gives fewer details but will be buying on average between 5 and 6 billion Euros per day.

Next we have the UK deep state in operation as they try to impose a stealth tax via the miss measurement of inflation. Because they have lost the various consultations so far and CPIH has remained widely ignored the new consultation is only about when and not if.

The Authority’s consultation, which will be undertaken jointly with that of HM Treasury, will begin on 11 March. It will be open to responses for six weeks, closing on 22 April. HM Treasury will consult on the appropriate timing for the proposed changes to the RPI, while the Authority will consult on the technical method of making that change to the RPI.

Meanwhile for those of you who like some number crunching here is how a 123.4 pence for the price of oil gets broken down. I have done some minor rounding so the numbers add up.

Oil  44.9 pence

Duty 58 pence

VAT 20.5 pence

What does Safe Haven mean in these troubled times?

We find ourselves yet again in a crisis and are reminded that some perspective is needed.  From CNBC at the end of last year.

The S&P 500 has returned more than 50% since President Trump was elected, more than double the average market return of presidents three years into their term, according to Bespoke Investment Group.

After that the equity market took the advice of Jeff Lynne and ELO as 2020 began.

And you, and your sweet desire
You took me higher and higher, baby
It’s a livin’ thing

Whereas a few minutes ago Bloomberg tweeted this.

European equities are poised for their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

So ch-ch-changes and another clear reminder of this came from Bloomberg as recently as the 20th of this month.

Virgin Galactic climbed again to a record high, defying analysts who say the stock is overdue for correction

We can stay with the theme of the man who fell to earth because since then the share price has halved from $41.55 to $21.30 after hours last night.

If we take this as a broad sweep ELO were on the case it seems.

It’s a terrible thing to lose
It’s a given thing
What a terrible thing to lose

Where can you go?

Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc and Euro

You may be questioning two of those so let me explain. If you look back in time I wrote quite a few articles on the “Currency Twins” the Yen and the Swissy. This was because they were borrowed heavily in before the credit crunch and people rushed to cover positions as it developed. This was equivalent to buying them and they surged building a safe haven psychology. Although it was more minor there was some of this in the Euro as well.

If we move forwards to now the simplest is the Swiss Franc based as it is in a country which is considered safe and secure, hence the demand at times of fear and uncertainty. The Swiss National Bank has returned to selling the Swiss Franc recently to try and keep it down. Switching to the Yen the main issue here is the large size of Japanese overseas private investments. At times of uncertainty the fear is that the Japanese will start to repatriate this and push the Yen higher so markets shift the price just in case. The Euro is not quite so clear but the area does have strengths as for example its current account surplus. Also at times like this it gets a bit of a German sheen as well.

You may have noted an interesting similarity here. This is that all these three currencies have negative interest-rates and I have posted before that there are avenues ahead where the SNB will cut to -1%.

US Treasury Bonds

There are two factors here of which the opening one is the effective reserve currency status of the US Dollar. So you can always buy commodities and the like in US Dollars with no risk of devaluation or depreciation. Next comes the fact that bonds offer a guaranteed return as in you will always get your nominal US $100 back as well as some interest, or if you prefer yield or coupon. So you get both the reserve currency and some interest, hence the knee-jerk rush into US Treasuries at a time like this.

The problem is the old familiar refrain that things aren’t what they used to be. In particular you get a lot less yield now as for example both the two and five-year yields have fallen below 1% overnight. I have chosen these because in a safe haven trade you tend  buy short maturity bonds. But it is also true that longer-dated bonds do not offer much these days as even the ten-year Treasury Note has seen its yield fall below 1.2% now. Some events here are contradictory because the two-year future is up 27 ticks this week and whilst that is really rather satisfactory for those who got in early it should not move like that if you are looking for stability. You do not want Blood Sweat and Tears.

What goes up must come down
Spinnin’ wheel got to go ’round
Talkin’ ’bout your troubles it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony let the spinnin’ wheel spin

Some of the logic above applies to other bond markets which have soared too. Although in some cases the logic gets awkward because both the German and Swiss bond markets have yields which are negative across all maturities. So here we are back to the currency being a safe haven and such a strong one that people are willing to accept increasingly negative yields to take advantage of it. My home country the UK has seen Gilt yields plummet too as a combination of factors are in play. The irony is that the safest UK  haven which is RPI linked Gilts already were extremely expensive and frankly having little relationship with inflation which seems set to fall in response to the present crisis.

Gold

This is something of an old curiosity shop in these times. In general we have seen a gold price rally which continues a phase we have been noting in recent months. But it is also true that just when we might have expected it to rally rally further the price of gold fell backwards.  There are an enormous number of conspiracy stories about gold and its price but for out purposes it is something of a patchy safe haven. Our favourite precious metal was of course “The Precious! The Precious! ” in Lord of the Rings but in our world the central banks give that title to other banks.They however are most certainly not a safe haven as we learn more about the use of the word “resilient ” by central bankers.

Comment

Let me add another factor in the safe haven world which is timing.If you had movd into any of the markets above earlier this week you would now be doing rather well. This comex with an implication that prices and levels matter which often gets forgotten in the melee and excitement.

There are also other winners which get given temporary safe haven status at times like these.For example those producigface masks or involved in teleconferencing.  I have to confess I had a wry smile at the price of teleconferencing companý Zoom rising as it did not work on my laptop when I tried it for Rethinking the Dollar.

Apologies to those affected by a blog misfire earlier as Windows 10 played up again.

UK GDP growth is services driven these days as manufacturing is in a depression

Today brings the UK into focus as we find out how it’s economy performed at the end of 2019. A cloudy perspective has been provided by the Euro area which showed 0.1% in the final quarter but sadly since then the news for it has deteriorated as the various production figures have been released.

Germany

WIESBADEN – In December 2019, production in industry was down by 3.5% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis)

France

In December 2019, output decreased in the manufacturing industry (−2.6%, after −0.4%), as well as in the whole industry (−2.8%, after 0.0%).

Italy

In December 2019 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index decreased by 2.7% compared with the previous month. The change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three months was -1.4%.

Spain

The monthly variation of the Industrial Production Index stands at -1.4%, after adjusting for seasonal and calendar effects.

These were disappointing and were worse than the numbers likely to have gone into the GDP data. Most significant was Germany due both to the size of its production sector and also the size of the contraction. France caught people out as it had been doing better as had Spain. Italy sadly seems to be in quite a mire as its GDP was already 0.3% on the quarter. So the background is poor for the UK.

Today’s Data

With the background being not especially auspicious then this was okay in the circumstances.

UK gross domestic product (GDP) in volume terms was flat in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019, following revised growth of 0.5% in Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2019.

In fact if we switch to the annual numbers then they were better than the Euro area.

When compared with the same quarter a year ago, UK GDP increased by 1.1% to Quarter 4 2019; down from a revised 1.2% in the previous period.

Marginal numbers because it grew by 1% on the same basis but we do learn a several things. Firstly for all the hype and debate the performances are within the margin of error. Next that UK economic growth in the two halves of 2019 looks the same. Finally that as I have argued all along the monthly GDP numbers are not a good idea as they are too erratic and prone to revisions which change them substantially.

Monthly gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 0.3% in December 2019, driven by growth in services. This followed a fall of 0.3% in November 2019.

Does anybody really believe that sequence is useful? I may find support from some of the economics organisations I have been debating with on twitter as their forecasts for today were based on the November number and were thus wrong-footed. Although of course they may have to deal with some calls from their clients first.

If we look into the detail we see that in fact our economic performance over the past two years has in fact been much more consistent than we might otherwise think.

GDP was estimated to have increased by 1.4% between 2018 and 2019 slightly above the 1.3% growth seen between 2017 and 2018.

Growth, just not very much of it or if we note the Bank of England “speed-limit” then if we allow for margins of error we could call it flat-out.

Switch to Services

Our long-running theme which is the opposite of the “rebalancing” of the now Baron King of Lothbury and the “march of the makers” of former Chancellor Osborne was right yet again.

Growth in the service sector slowed to 0.1% in Quarter 4 2019, while production output fell 0.8%.

So whilst there was not much growth it still pulled away from a contracting production sector and if we look further we see that the UK joined the Euro area in having a poor 2019 for manufacturing and production.

Production output fell by 1.3% in the 12 months to December 2019, compared with the 12 months to December 2018; this is the largest annual fall since 2012 and was led by manufacturing output, which fell by 1.5%.

Meanwhile a part of the services sector we have consistently noted did well again.

The services sector grew by 0.3% in the month of December 2019 after contracting by 0.4% in November 2019. The information and communication sector was the biggest positive contributor on the month, driven by motion pictures, with a number of blockbuster films being released in December (PDF, 192.50KB).

That is something literally under my nose as Battersea Park is used regularly for this.

Balance of Payments

There is an irony here because if we look internationally they do not balance as there are examples of countries both thinking they have a surplus with each other.

The numbers such as they are had shown signs of improvement but like the GDP data actually had a case of groundhog day.

The total trade deficit narrowed by £0.5 billion to £29.3 billion in 2019, with a £9.7 billion narrowing of the trade in goods deficit, largely offset by a £9.2 billion narrowing of the trade in services surplus.

The latter bit reminds me that I wrote to the Bean Commission about the fact that our knowledge of services trade is really poor and today’s release confirms this is still the case.

The trade in services surplus narrowed £5.1 billion in Quarter 4 2019 largely because of the inclusion of GDP balancing adjustments.

Let me explain this as it is different to what people are taught at school and in universities where net exports are part of GDP. The output version of GDP counts it up and then drives the expenditure version which includes trade and if they differ it is the trade and in particular services numbers in this instance which get altered. If they had more confidence in them they would not do that. This way round they become not far off useless in my opinion.

 

Gold and UK GDP

In the UK statisticians have a problem due to this.

For many countries the effect of gold on their trade figures is small, but the prominence of the industry in London means it can have a sizeable impact on the UK’s trade figures.

Rather confusingly the international standard means it affects trade but not GDP.

Firstly, imports and exports of gold are GDP-neutral. Most exports add to GDP, but not gold. This is because the sale of gold is counted as negative investment, and vice versa for imports and the purchase of gold. So, the trade in gold creates further problems for measuring investment.

So as well as the usual trade figures they intend to produce ones ignoring its impact.

Because a relatively small numbers of firms are involved in the gold trade, publishing detailed figures could be disclosive. However, within those limitations, we are now able to show our headline import and export figures with gold excluded.

A good idea I think as the impact on the UK economy is the various fees received not the movement of the gold itself, especially it we did not own it in the first place.

Oh and my influence seems to have even reached the Deputy National Statistician.

Gold, in addition to being a hit song by Spandau Ballet, is widely used as a store of value.

Comment

For all the hot air and hype generated the UK economic performance has in the past two years been remarkably similar. Actually the same is pretty much true of comparing us with the Euro area.As it happens 2020 looks as though we are now doing better but that has ebbed and flowed before.

Looking beneath this shows we continue to switch towards services and as I note the downwards revisions to net services trade I am left wondering two things. What if the services surveys are right and the switch to it is even larger than we are being told? Also it displays a lack of confidence in the services surveys to revise the numbers down on this scale. We know less than sometimes we think we do.

Meanwhile on a much less optimistic theme manufacturing has been in a decade long depression.

Manufacturing output in the UK remained 4.5% lower in Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2019 than the pre-downturn peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

 

 

The rise and rise of Bitcoin and the crypto currencies

On Friday the news in the UK was grabbed by the ransom wear attack called Wanna Cry. At first the media concentrated on the impact on the National Health Service but soon news that attacks were happening around the world filtered in as well. It was hard not to think of the large amount of funds that have been poured into NHS IT infrastructure which seemed somewhat at odds with the fact that it was still running Windows XP! Mind you as a person who was sold the Vista system by Microsoft I am someone who still thinks fondly of XP and think it was a better system.

However an intriguing part of the attack was the request to be paid in Bitcoin. Also I have to confess I was curious as to why the individual claims were small. From Wall Street Wires.

For instance, the ransomware is asking for $300 in Bitcoin.

Not much is it? Perhaps they hoped that it would be small enough that people would pay it discreetly and they would avoid publicity. Also if everyone paid up not doubt it would amount to a tidy sum indeed. It did bring Bitcoin back into mainstream news albeit in rather a seedy way. Although for our would be criminals there was something of a draw back which is that it turned out the world could watch them being paid. Indeed @actual_ransom is on the case.

Note: This bot is watching the 3 wallets hard-coded into ransomware. It tweets new payments as they occur, totals every two hours.

In some detail as this from a few minutes ago indicates.

Someone just paid 0.0045 BTC ($7.61 USD) to a bitcoin wallet tied to ransomware.

As of the time I am typing this the total paid is apparently as shown below.

The three bitcoin wallets tied to ransomware have received 151 payments totaling 24.75899797 BTC ($42,640.91 USD).

Of course the real boom will be in online security consultants who seem so far to be selected from a group who wear sunglasses indoors if the output of BBC News is any guide.

An Asset Bubble?

The Financial Times has been on the Bitcoin case.

Sky-high valuations for bitcoin have helped the value of crypto currencies burst through $50bn, raising fears of an asset bubble in the unregulated market.

A sky high valuation?

A sharp spike in the price of bitcoin, which has risen 55 per cent this month and is worth more than gold, pushed it past $1,900 on the Bitfinex exchange on Friday.

So the price has been very strong although I have to say that the idea that it “is worth more than gold” has a few issues with it. What is the unit of comparison for a start? After all gold is a physical commodity whereas Bitcoin is a virtual one. If we move to the aggregate level then if Only Gold is correct then all the gold so far mined is worth some US $7.4 trillion which rather dwarfs the US $50 billion value of the crypt currencies. Presumably they are comparing a singe Bitcoin with a troy ounce of gold. Also it is unusual for the FT to fear an asset bubble is it not?

A lot has been going on in this space including the fact that whilst Bitcoin is the most famous of the crypto currencies it is far from alone.

A growing number of alternative digital currencies — or “alt-coins” — is feeding the speculative frenzy with values in some rocketing as much as 500 per cent in the past week………Aside from bitcoin, there are more than 830 alt-coins ranging from Litecoin, a challenger to bitcoin, to MiketheMug, a coin that promises to make weekly payouts to holders.

There have been quite a few developments along the way.

An increase in initial coin offerings (ICOs) — unregulated issuances of crypto coins where investors can raise money in bitcoin or other crypto currencies — is fuelling the market and drawing attention from lawyers and financial professionals. Many fear ICOs, which are trying to market themselves as an alternative to venture capitalists as a way of raising cash for businesses, breach existing securities law.

Of course quite a lot of ordinary conventional offerings fail which poses quite a few questions for how you regulate such markets. Some seem to be the preserve of city professionals.

Observers say many individuals are trading alt-coins from corporate IT departments, concentrated in the financial sector and falling under the radar of senior executives. Many are sitting on virtual fortunes, but are unable to liquidate their cash as banks clamp down on measures to avoid money laundering.

There is an obvious problem with the phrase “virtual fortune” is there not? If they are legitimate it seems very odd that they are caught up in money laundering regulations so I suspect that there is more to this than meets to eye. After all the financial sector is ridden with financial crime of many sorts. Also I have seen plenty of supposedly bona fide markets where investors have been unable to realise the money they thought they had made. The case a couple of decades ago when investors put money into Italian shares is something of which I am reminded of by this. It was oh so easy to put money but, ahem, considerably more difficult to ever take it out.

Comment

If we step back for a moment we can compare Bitcoin with fiat money. On such a road we can see that the ground for Bitcoin has been fertilised by the way that central banks have been so keen on asset price rises. Compared to these assets which in concrete terms people face with the cost of housing but otherwise in bond and equity markets cash has depreciated in value. On that subject the UK FTSE 100 index has risen to an all time high of 7454 today again depreciating the value of cash money compared to it. Of course consumer inflation numbers look the other way from this.

There are obvious problems with the Bitcoin and crypto currency world. Firstly its role as a medium of exchange is limited as many places will still not accept it as a means of payment. That is why the recent news from Japan was welcomed by price rises. Also in an irony the recent price surge poses a question for its use as a store of value. It is not just the concept of “what goes up must come down” sung about by Blood Sweat & Tears in the song Spinning Wheel but also the issue that the price volatility means that the value is swinging wildly as Bloomberg point out.

Even during the huge run up this year, it has moved more than five percent on 21 different days, with nine of those being moves lower.

In the end it comes to the fact that Bitcoin fans have more faith in blockchain mathematics than central bankers. Of course some prefer the anonymity it provides and some just like the technological aspect. The main danger from authority must be from the likes of Kenneth Rogoff who must be very disappointed that the latest outbreak of financial crime is not being driven by high denomination bank notes. Of course there are other dangers which include it falling out of fashion and being replaced by other alternatives. Whilst there are obvious differences between this and the growth if the railroads back in the day there are similariites and how many succeeded again? Oh and as we stand it poses an increasing challenge to measures of money supply especially in areas where it is widely used.