Western central banks have tried to shake off the constraints of gold for a long time, which have created enormous difficulties for them. They have generally succeeded in managing opinion in the developed nations but been demonstrably unsuccessful in the lesser-developed world, particularly in Asia. It is the growing wealth earned by these nations that has fuelled demand for gold since the late 1960s. There is precious little bullion left in the West today to supply rapidly increasing Asian demand, and it is important to understand how little there is and the dangers this poses for financial stability.
The Hong Kong branch of Spink & Son, a British firm originally founded in the mid-1600s, was putting a series of Bruce Lee memorabilia under the hammer. When the bidding for the first lot opened, the price immediately surpassed the auctioneer’s initial estimates. It was a frenzy. Now, we know that modern auctions are supposed to be a pure form of the free market– buyers from around the world meeting for the purpose ‘price discovery’, with the item eventually going to the highest bidder. Further, economists and university finance often teach that such markets are ‘efficient’, meaning that prices always reflect the most relevant information and are hence an accurate reflection of an asset’s value. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The auction was an emotional frenzy. It’s not an efficient market. It’s full of fear, euphoria, and aggression. The stock market is the same way. Even though just about every rational metric suggests that many global markets (especially the US) are absurdly overvalued, emotional investors keep bidding prices up.
If you want to make a killing in the markets, you need to be willing to see the world the way it really is, NOT how you THINK it is. Most investors think the VIX measures the market’s risk, but really, it’s almost the opposite: a spike in the VIX almost always picks market bottoms!
UPDATE: BTC has rallied 26% off its lows in the last 55 minutes
From it's gold-matching highs at $1242 on Thursday night, the price of Bitcoin has collapsed over $400 (32%) to $840 on heavy volume. Of course, this is only a one-week low for the exuberant digital currency but still a significant plunge (as its smaller brethren Litecoin has collapsed 51% from its highs). Interestingly, this drops the price of Bitcoin in USD below the 'arb'-based price of Bitcoin in China ($965). It seems, all coincidence aside, that the BIS infamous plunge-protection-team has been re-trained...
Think of it this way: You’re a baseball player trying to break into the majors despite mediocre fielding skills, no foot speed, and a batting average that hovers around 250. Egged on by your friend, A-Rod, you think you can make it by using steroids and turning yourself into a power hitter. But it doesn’t work out as planned. After a year, you’re losing hair, your skull’s gotten bigger, there’s fatty tissue on your chest that wasn’t there before, and you’ve still only managed 18 home runs in a season. You finally accept that it’s not going to happen for you. In the baseball scenario, steroids didn’t show enough payoff before the side effects told you enough was enough. And you can say pretty much the same thing about our economic scenario and monetary steroids. We’re seeing dubious benefits and fast developing side effects from the Fed’s actions, causing many observers to recommend a rethink of the Big Experiment. Yet, the experiment continues...
This brings me back to an earlier point, that profits and earnings are likely peaking. All of these point to a top forming.
The correlation between stock prices and margin debt continues to rise (to new records of exuberant "Fed's got our backs" hope) as NYSE member margin balances surge to new record highs. Relative to the NYSE Composite, this is the most "leveraged' investors have been since the absolute peak in Feb 2000. What is more worrisome, or perhaps not, is the ongoing collapse in investor net worth - defined as total free credit in margin accounts less total margin debt - which has hit what appears to be all-time lows (i.e. there's less left than ever before) which as we noted previously raised a "red flag" with Deutsche Bank. Relative to the 'economy' margin debt has only been higher at the very peak in 2000 and 2007 and was never sustained at this level for more than 2 months. Sounds like a perfect time to BTFATH...
Valuations still matter. Assuming that one is 'investing' as opposed to 'speculating', initial valuation (i.e. the price you pay for the investment) remains the single most important characteristic of whatever one elects to buy. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, “initial valuation” in the US stock market is at a level consistent with very disappointing subsequent returns, if the history of the last 130 years is any guide. Without fail, every time the US market has traded on a cyclically-adjusted P/E (CAPE) ratio of 24 or higher over the past 130 years, it has been followed by a roughly 20 year bear market... but there are plenty of other fish to fry...
Once Gold was no longer pegged to world currencies there was only a single period in which stocks outperformed the precious metal. That period was from 1997-2000 during the height of the Tech Bubble (the single biggest stock market bubble in over 100 years).
However, the reality of higher inflation won’t show up in China’s inflation data (which clocks in at an absurdly low 3%). However, you can see clear signs of this in China’s civil unrest: you don’t get wage and labor strikes for nothing.
The big news that has somehow shocked the media is that the BLS was caught fudging the jobs numbers going into the 2012 election. How on earth is this news? Anyone with a working frontal cortex is aware that CPI, the unemployment numbers, GDP and virtually everything else reported by the Federal Government is massaged to the point of being fraudulent.
Putting to rest fears that today's Senatorial hearing on digital currencies would crater Bitcoin (if in the immediate term), moments ago the digital currency priced in USD on the Mt Gox exchange, rose to yet another unpredecented price, hitting $850 moments ago, or about 50% higher than where it was this morning. But you ain't seen nothing yet. Because at the same time, the Renminbi-denominated price of Bitcoin on BTC China, has the digital currency at 6780CNY. At a USDCNY exchange rate of 6.09, this means a price over $1100 per Bitcoin. Naturally, at this point we would suggest picking up the 20%+ free arb, however it is unclear how one can short the CNY priced leg of the transaction, or if for that matter, there is even an actual, liquid market in the currency. Because as the final chart shows, taken literally moments before we were going to post this article, BitCoin touched $900 on Mt Gox... and promptly tanked to just under $700, entering a bear market in the span of seconds on what appears to be about 10,000 trades.
It’s almost never openly admitted in public, but the reality is that few if any investors actually beat the market in the long-term. The reason for this is that most of the investment strategies employed by investors (professional or amateur) simply do not make money.
While the relentless multiple expansion (if not so much earnings growth and certainly not revenue contraction) looks set to push all three main stock indices over the key psychological levels of 16000, 1800 and 4000, with the all time bubble high on the Nasdaq increasingly looking like the next big target, the stock market mania has nothing on Bitcoin, which only yesterday crossed $500 for the first time ever, and as of this morning is already 20% higher, having just crossed $600 minutes ago. Which means that anything prices in Bitcoin has entered bear market in just the past day. How high BTC goes, is nobody's guess (Raoul Pal had a truly stunning price target): once the buying frenzy kicks in, step aside, especially since China is increasingly looking like it may be jumping on board the latest mania.
The third stage of bull markets, the mania phase, can last longer and go farther that logic would dictate. However, the data suggests that the risk of a more meaningful reversion is rising. It is unknown, unexpected and unanticipated events that strike the crucial blow that begins the market rout. Unfortunately, due to the increased impact of high frequency and program trading, reversions are likely to occur faster than most can adequately respond to. This is the danger that exists today. Are we in the third phase of a bull market? Most who read this article will say "no." However, those were the utterances made at the peak of every previous bull market cycle.