The World Gold Council released its quarterly report today, Q2 2012 Gold Demand Trends Report and can be read in full on the World Gold Council website here. Accumulation of gold bullion from central banks was the bright spot in demand last quarter, as total demand fell 7% globally, which was driven by a 38% fall in consumer demand from India. Price sensitive Indians have been shunning gold and many have been opting for far cheaper poor man’s gold – silver. Jewellery and investment demand both fell. Jewellery consumption was down 72.3 tonnes at 418.3 tonnes, while investment fell 88.3 tonnes to 302 tonnes. The report shows how while record levels of demand from western markets, China and particularly India have been followed by a decline – the seismic shift that is central banks going from being bet sellers to net buyers has provided a new fundamental pillar of support for the gold market. Physical demand slowed down in western markets and especially in India in recent months but large buyers continue to accumulate - both hedge funds and central banks and this is providing fundamental support to gold above the $1500 to $1,600/oz level. 2Q total central bank gold purchases were double the level reported a year ago as emerging market sovereign nations sought to diversify away from the dollar and euro and heightened economic insecurity. Gold purchases among central banks hit its highest quarterly levels (157.5 metric tons) since the sector became a net buyer of the yellow metal in 2Q 2009.
There are already three former European central bankers who criticize more or less openly the European Central Bank (ECB). All these older central bankers experienced the inflationary periods in the 1970s in detail, whereas the younger ones seem not to grasp what inflation means. Modern central bankers seem to think that monetary inflation will not lead to price inflation in the long-term. This might be true in countries where asset prices need to de-leverage after the bust of real-estate bubbles. But it is certainly not true in states like Germany, Finland or Switzerland, that did not have a real-estate bubble till 2008. With current low employment and the aging population, qualified personnel who speaks the local language will get rare. PIMCO’s Bill Gross might be right saying that soon employees want to get a part of the cake and not only the stock holders. This essentially implies wage inflation, the enemy of the 1970s.
It is important to consider how beneficial a debt reset — so long as society comes out of it in one piece — will be in the long run. As both Friedrich Hayek and Hyman Minsky saw it, with the weight of excessive debt and the costs of deleveraging either reduced or removed, long-depressed-economies would be able to grow organically again. This is obviously not ideal, but it is surely better than remaining in a Japanese-style deleveraging trap. Yet while most of the economic establishment remain convinced that the real problem is one of aggregate demand, and not excessive total debt, such a prospect still remains distant. The most likely pathway continues to be one of stagnation, with central banks printing just enough money to keep the debt serviceable (and handing it to the financial sector, which will surely continue to enrich itself at the expense of everyone else). This is a painful and unsustainable status quo and the debt reset — and without an economic miracle, it will eventually arrive — will in the long run likely prove a welcome development for the vast majority of people and businesses.
It is important to note that markets were also unusually calm during the two weeks of the Chinese Olympics in 2008. The 2008 Summer Olympic Games took place slightly later in August than the London Olympics – starting August 8 and ending August 24. Only days after the ending of the Chinese Olympics came massive market volatility in September and then seven months of market turmoil. Similarly to this Olympic year, in Olympic year 2008, gold traded sideways to down in a period of consolidation prior to further gains. Gold bottomed in September 2008 in euro and sterling terms. Another brief bout of dollar strength saw gold bottom in November 2008 in dollar terms. Besides the eurozone crisis (and the significant risk of the German Constitutional Court deciding on September 12th to reject the recently cobbled together alphabet soup response to the crisis (ESM etc etc) and significant instability in the Middle East, there is also the not inconsequential risk from the US Presidential campaign and the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff’.
In attempting to stimulate risk appetite by taking “safe” assets out of the market, the Fed has actually achieved precisely the opposite of stimulating productive investment. First, it has turned bond markets into a race to the bottom as bond flippers end up piling into the very assets that the Fed is trying to discourage ownership of — because who care about low yields when the Fed will jump in at an even lower price floor, thus assuring the bond flippers a profit? Second it has energised other safe asset markets (such as gold) as longer term investors look for alternatives to preserve their purchasing power in the context of a global economic depression. The Fed is firing at the wrong target; the real problem — the thing that is causing investors to scramble for safe assets — is an economic depression brought on by (among other non-monetary causes) the deleveraging costs of an unsustainable debt bubble.
Confused what the Fed may or may not do in 3 weeks? Join the club (although the answer at this point is a definite nothing especially with food prices soaring not only in the US but around the world). There are those - banks - who as we have said repeatedly are in desperate need not of promises of further easing, but of cold, hard, free, electronic reserves. Then there is everyone else who doesn't care what the Fed does because it will have no impact on the economy, but at least it may raise 201(k)'s for a little longer, preserving the myth that asset values may still increase, and feed the illusion of wealth. At least until the impact of the latest Fed (non) intervention fizzles. Then there is Art Cashin, who deserves to be heard, if for no other reason, than because he is the true Chairman (of the fermentation committee).
The lunatics are running the asylum. This is the only conclusion one can come to when considering the nonchalance with which what was once considered an extraordinary policy with a firm 'exit' in mind is now propagated as a perfectly normal 'tool' to be employed at the drop of a hat. We refer of course to so-called 'quantitative easing' (QE), which really is a euphemism for money printing. Apart from his sole focus on short term outcomes, an important point that seems not be considered by the FOMC's Rosengren this week is the question of what should happen if the 'open-ended' QE policy were to fail to achieve its stated goals. He seems to assume that it will succeed in lowering unemployment and creating 'economic growth' as a matter of course. It goes without saying that money printing cannot create a single molecule of real wealth. If it could, then Zimbabwe wouldn't be a basket case, but a Utopia of riches. We must infer from Rosengren's idea of implementing open-ended QE until certain benchmarks in terms of unemployment and 'growth' are achieved, that in case they remain elusive, extraordinary rates of money printing would simply continue until the underlying monetary system breaks down.
The easing of credit conditions (in other words, the enhancement of banks’ ability to create credit and thus enhance their own purchasing power) following the breakdown of Bretton Woods — as opposed to monetary base expansion — seems to have driven the growth in credit and financialisation. It has not (at least previous to 2008) been a case of central banks printing money and handing it to the financial sector; it has been a case of the financial sector being set free from credit constraints. Monetary policy in the post-Bretton Woods era has taken a number of forms; interest rate policy, monetary base policy, and regulatory policy. The association between growth in the financial sector, credit growth and interest rate policy shows that monetary growth (whether that is in the form of base money, credit or nontraditional credit instruments) enriches the recipients of new money as anticipated by Cantillon. This underscores the need for a monetary and credit system that distributes money in a way that does not favour any particular sector — especially not the endemically corrupt financial sector.
The silver market was affected by “devious efforts” to move the price of the precious metal, according to Bart Chilton, a member of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as reported by Bloomberg. “I continue to believe, consistent with my previous statements and information from the public, that there have been devious efforts related to moving the price of silver,” Chilton said by e-mail today in response to questions from Bloomberg. “There have also been silver and gold market anomalies outside of the silver investigate window that have raised, and continue to raise, market concerns.” The enforcement division of the Washington-based agency, the main U.S. overseer of derivatives markets, began pursuing allegations of manipulation in the silver market in September 2008. Investigators have analyzed more than 100,000 documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, the CFTC said in a November 2011 statement. Chilton said last month the investigation may be completed as early as September.
Putting our trust and faith in a few unelected bureaucrats and bankers, who use their obscene wealth to buy off politicians in writing the laws and regulations to favor them has proven to be a death knell for our country. The captured main stream media proclaims these men to be heroes and saviors of the world, when they are truly the villains in this episode. These are the men who unleashed the frenzy of Wall Street greed and pillaging by repealing Glass Steagall, blocking Brooksley Born’s efforts to regulate derivatives, encouraging mortgage fraud, not enforcing existing regulations, and creating speculative bubbles through excessively low interest rates and making it known they would bailout recklessness. They have created an overly complex tangled financial system so they could peddle propaganda to the math challenged American public without fear of being caught in their web of lies. Big government, big banks and big legislation like Dodd/Frank and Obamacare are designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. The system has been captured by a plutocracy of self-serving men. They don’t care about you or your children. We are only given 80 years, or so, on this earth and our purpose should be to sustain our economic and political system in a balanced way, so our children and their children have a chance at a decent life. Do you trust that is the purpose of those in power today? Should we trust the jackals and grifters who got us into this mess, to get us out?
If ever there was a name and a face synonymous with Einstein's famous definition of repeating the same action and expecting a different unicorn-full world of happiness, it is Boston Fed's Eric Rosengren. Thankfully far from consensus among the Fed heads - though worrying fanatical - the hyperinflationary head used the propaganda channel this morning to pump hope into an increasingly skeptical market. In an effort to pre-empt a possible slowing global economy, his prescription is "open-ended quantitative easing triggered on economic outcomes". Fearful of the US merely treading water, Rosengren sounds like he admits that it's all about the flow when he shuns pegging interest rates as a 'trigger' since this removes control of the Fed's balance sheet to market forces (in other words - we need to keep printing and expanding the balance sheet no matter what rates or stocks are doing). Stunningly, the only limiting factor he sees to this open-ended print-fest is the size of the asset markets they are buying in - which he would like to see in MBS (and suggests his disappointment at the limited scope of assets available to the Fed). Just under nine minutes sums up the extremely dangerous experimental mind of an eternal optimist "if at first (or second, or third) you don't succeed..." as he shuns the impact on (transitory) energy price rises by pointing at the lack of inflationary pressures.
The idea of “collapse”, social and financial, comes with an incredible array of hypothetical consequences ranging from public dissent and martial law, to the complete disintegration of infrastructure and the devolution of mankind into a swarm of mindless arm chewing cannibals. In an age of television nirvana and cinema overload, I have found that the collective unconscious of our culture has now defined what collapse is based only on the most narrow of extremes. If they aren’t being hunted down by machete wielding looters or swastika wearing jackboots, then the average American dupe figures that the country is not in much danger. Hollywood fantasy has blinded us to the tangible crises at our doorstep. In 2012, we still await that trigger event, which I believe will be the announcement of QE3 (or any unlimited stimulus program regardless of title), and the final debasement of the dollar. At the beginning of this year, I pointed out that we were likely to see such an announcement before 2012 was out, and it would seem that the private Federal Reserve is right on track. Last month, the Fed announced that it was formulating a plan to “expand its tool kit”.
In the weeks and months directly ahead, we need to monitor the tone of business capital spending and hiring. If businesses freeze up, economic growth will slow even further. This may be great for Bernanke in terms of providing cover to implement more QE, but for the real economy and financial asset investors it’s another story entirely. In fact it’s a story that stands in direct contrast to outcomes in the latter parts of 2010 and 2011. Moreover for equity investors, we need to remember that in the latter half of 2010 and 2011, the trajectory of corporate earnings growth was very strong. That’s not the case any longer in terms of growth rate. That tells us that economic growth must reaccelerate in good part to justify the already seen upward movement in financial assets largely driven to this point by QE sugar plum fairies dancing. Stay tuned. We know the key drivers to monitor. In the months ahead, it’s all about the interaction of key economic drivers, central bank QE drive by’s, and potential US fiscal cliff dives.
Eventually — because the costs of the deleveraging trap makes organicy growth very difficult — the debt will either be forgiven, inflated or defaulted away. Endless rounds of tepid QE (which is debt additive, and so adds to the debt problem) just postpone that difficult decision. The deleveraging trap preserves the value of past debts at the cost of future growth. Under the harsh discipline of a gold standard, such prevarication is not possible. Without the ability to inflate, overleveraged banks, individuals and governments would default on their debt. Income would rapidly fall, and economies would likely deflate and become severely depressed. Yet liquidation is not all bad. The example of 1907 — prior to the era of central banking — illustrates this. Although liquidation episodes are painful, the clear benefit is that a big crash and depression clears out old debt. Under the present regimes, the weight of old debt remains a burden to the economy.
While markets await details on the next round of quantitative easing (QE) -- whether refreshed bond buying from the Fed or sovereign debt buying from the European Central Bank (ECB) -- it's important to ask, What can we expect from further heroic attempts to reflate the OECD economies? The 2009 and 2010 QE programs from the Fed, and the 2011 operations from the ECB, were intended as shock treatment to hopefully set economies on a more typical, post-recession, recovery pathway. Here in 2012, QE was supposed to be well behind us. Instead, parts of Southern Europe are in outright depression, the United Kingdom is in double-dip recession, and the US is sweltering through its weakest “recovery” since the Great Depression. QE is a poor transmission mechanism for creating jobs. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.