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

The 2020 Currency War and the role of the US Dollar

As we step into June we have an opportunity to reflect on what has been on the media under card but only because so much has been happening elsewhere. Also we can note yet another fail for economics 101 because the advent of large-scale asset purchases or QE was supposed to cause a currency decline and maybe a large one. A higher supply of money leading to a fall in the price. The Ivory Towers of the central banks were keen on that one as they originally justified QE on the basis of being able to hit their inflation target partly via that route. Of course that has not gone well either as we noted with the ECB that has been on average some 0.7% below its holy grail of just below 2% per annum.

The US Dollar

So on that reading the world’s reserve currency the greenback should be in trouble as we observe this.

The Federal Reserve added $60 billion to its balance sheet last week, now totaling $7.097 trillion. Much of the increase this time (over $41 billion) was in corporate credit and commercial paper facilities. ( @LynAldenContact )

There is a sort of irony in US $60 billion in a week not seeming very much! Anyway the heat has been on.

The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has expanded a staggering $1.9 trillion since February 26, just days after the S&P 500 peaked. ( @USGlobalETFs )

So plenty of new US Dollar liquidity and as part of that we recall what we might call the external supply which are the liquidity swaps for foreign central banks or US $449 billion.

To that can add an official interest-rate just above 0% ( roughly 0.1%)

Added to those factors the Financial Time has decided to put on its bovver boots and give the Dollar a written kicking.

That begs a question that has been seen as controversial — are we entering a post-dollar world? It might seem a straw-man question, given that more than 60 per cent of the world’s currency reserves are in dollars, which are also used for the vast majority of global commerce. The US Federal Reserve’s recent bolstering of dollar markets outside of the US, as a response to the coronavirus crisis, has given a further boost to global dollar dominance.

The FT writer has rather fumbled the ball there and later again emphasises a US Dollar strength.

Among the many reasons for central banks and global investors to hold US dollars, a key one is that oil is priced in dollars.

Indeed and we have looked at efforts to make ch-ch-changes from the supply side ( Russia) and the demand side ( China) but it remains dominant. There are of course plenty of other commodity markets which have a US Dollar price.

Next is something which intrigues me because if it is true in the US how do you even start with Japan and then of course you get a really rather long list of other countries doing exactly the same.

Finally, there are questions about the way in which the Fed’s unofficial backstopping of US government spending in the wake of the pandemic has politicised the money supply.

Oh and for those of you with inflation concerns ( me too) then this is close to an official denial.

The issue here isn’t really a risk of Weimar Republic-style inflation, at least not any time soon.

Actually the main inflation risk is in asset markets with the S&P 500 above 3k, the Nikkei 225 above 22,000 and the FTSE 100 above 6100 I think we can see clear evidence tight now. But of course the economics editorial line under Chris Giles is that asset prices are not part of inflation and should be ignored as part of his campaign to mislead on this subject.

Emerging Markets

If they were hoping for a US Dollar decline then such hopes have been dashed. One country which has been under the cosh is Brazil where an exchange to the US Dollar of 4 as we began the year has been replaced by one of 5.35 and even that is a fair bit better than the 5.96 at the nadir. Things have been less dramatic for the Argentine Peso but it had a bad 2019 to a move from 60 to the US Dollar to above 68 is further pain and of course an interest-rate of an eye-watering for these times of 38% has been required to restrict it to even that.

India

We have a sub-category all to itself as we note the currency of over a billion people. Let me start with something being debated in so many places, and here is the Economic Times of India from last Tuesday.

The government stimulus package of Rs 20 lakh crore seems to be inadequate to revive the economy, as a large part of it accounts for liquidity-boosting measures by RBI. It is clear that the weak fiscal position forced the government to restrict the stimulus. It is in this scenario, that the need for monetisation of deficit has been widely debated.

In layman’s language, monetisation of deficit means printing more money. In other words, monetisation of deficit happens when RBI buys government securities directly from the primary market to fund government’s expenses.

The Rupee has been a case of slip-sliding away as we note it nearly made 77 and is now 75.3 and that is in spite of the impact of the lower oil price ( and for a while much lower) on India.

Euro

This has not done much at all as I note an annual change of all of -0.38%! We did see some moves as it went to 1.14 at the height of the pandemic panic as the Euro’s “safe haven”  role was stronger than the Dollar’s one. But we then had a dip and now a bounce. So loads of column inches about the world’s main currency pair have led to a net not very much as we stand here today.

Yen

This is really rather similar to the above as we note an annual change of -.0,52% this time after a safe haven spell. Actually 107 or so for the Yen feels strong for it as we remind ourselves that the QE, negative interest-rates and equity purchases of Abenomics were supposed to keep it falling.

UK Pound

The annual picture ( -2%) is a little more misleading here as we have seen swings. The UK Pound £ has been following equity markets so went below US $1.15 at the nadir but has hit US $1.24 as we have bounced. Troubling if you are like me wondering about the equity market bounce. Still we could be the UK media that once again declared this at the bottom.

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Places like the FT and BBC have proved very useful as when they have a “panic party” about the £ and claim it is looking over a cliff is invariably the time to buy it.

Comment

So we see that the situation is in fact one of where the various QE and interest-rate moves have offset more often than been different. In some ways the central banking “More! More! More!” culture means that differences in pace or size get ignored because they are all rocking a “To Infinity! And Beyond!” vibe as shown by the official denial below.

‘Comfortable’ Now, But On B/Sheet ‘Cannot Go To Infinity ( Jerome Powell via @LiveSquawk )

Let me conclude with another perspective which is the world of precious metals and another form of precious. One way of judging a currency is in this vein and as someone who recalls studying mercantilism which essentially revolved around country’s holdings of silver this provided some food for thought.

Those of us with longer memories have no faith in US paper dollars.  Prior to 1964, US coinage was made of 90% silver.  Today, a roll of 40 quarter dollar coins made of 90% silver, worth $10 in 1964, will cost you about $165.  The real purchasing power of the US dollar has plunged. ( h/t ahimsaka in the FT comments )

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