Real Interest Rates
There is the slow realisation that the complacency of recent months was again misplaced. It remains obvious that the euro zone debt crisis is far from over and this will support gold in the coming months – especially in euro terms.
Gold in euro terms has been consolidating above €1,200/oz for six months now. With the eurozone crisis set to deepen and the continuing risk of contagion, we could see gold break out in euro terms prior to doing so in dollars, pounds and other currencies.
Before even taking into account the aftermath of the “unexpected” NFP result, it has been amazing to see over these past few months the number of experts, especially those that reside solely within the “science” of economics, proclaiming a successful engineering of the long sought-after recovery. That this has been the third such claim in as many years is lost in the noise of confusing “headwinds” that are somehow beyond the control of those that now control most everything within the financial arena. Stock speculators are beneficial components to the healthy financial transmission mechanism into the real economy (even when all they are supposed to do is provide liquidity 20,000 times per second), but anybody that dares speculate in the far more vital energy sector (or any real commodity) is the pure incarnation of evil. That these two apparently disconnected speculative classes are really one and the same shows just how obtuse (not always intentionally) economists and the pandering classes really are.
There are many reasons why gold is still our favorite investment – from inflation fears and sovereign debt concerns to deeper, systemic economic problems. But let's be honest: It's been rising for over 11 years now, and only the imprudent would fail to think about when the run might end. Is it time to start eyeing the exit? In a word, no. Here's why. There's one indicator that clearly signals we're still in the bull market – and further, that we can expect prices to continue to rise. That indicator is negative real interest rates.
In advance of ever louder demands for more, more, more NEWER QE-LTROs (as BofA's Michael Hanson says "If our forecast of a one-handle on H2 growth is realized, then we would expect the Fed to step in with additional easing, in the form of QE3") , it is an opportune time to demonstrate just what the traditional monetary "plumbing" mechanisms at the discretion of the Fed are, and more importantly, just how completely plugged they are. So without any further ado...
Gold has been trading in a tight box around $1,660/oz today, as eurozone finance ministers meet in Copenhagen to discuss the scale of the permanent “bailout fund” set for July. Gold has been stuck in range of roughly $1,630/oz to $1,700/oz in recent weeks as risk appetite has returned after the latest European debt “solution” which saw the battered can kicked down the shortening road once again. Nothing has been solved with regard to the European debt crisis, and debt crises in Japan, the UK and the US now loom. The misguided panacea of heaping debt upon debt and shifting debt onto government balance sheets, debt monetisation and currency debasement is leading to continuing currency devaluations internationally. Despite this or maybe because of this - risk appetite returned with a vengeance as evidenced in equities internationally rising to multi-month and multi-year highs and the slight weakness in gold in March. So far in 2012, gold has performed well and is set to end the first quarter in 2012 with gains in all major currencies. Gold is 6.3% higher in US dollars, 3.2% higher in euros, 3.1% higher in pounds, 2.25% higher in Swiss francs and 12% higher in Japanese yen which fell sharply in the quarter.
First it was Bob Janjuah throwing in the towel in the face of central planning, now we get the same sense from Bill Gross who in his latest letter once again laments the forced transfer of risk from the private to the public sector: "The game as we all have known it appears to be over... moving for the moment from private to public balance sheets, but even there facing investor and political limits. Actually global financial markets are only selectively delevering. What delevering there is, is most visible with household balance sheets in the U.S. and Euroland peripheral sovereigns like Greece." Gross' long-term view is well-known - inflation is coming: "The total amount of debt however is daunting and continued credit expansion will produce accelerating global inflation and slower growth in PIMCO’s most likely outcome." The primary reason for Pimco's pessimism, which is nothing new, is that in a world of deleveraging there will be no packets of leverage within the primary traditional source of cheap credit-money growth: financial firms. So what is a fund manager to do? Why find their own Steve McQueen'ian Great Escape from Financial Repression of course. " it is your duty to try to escape today’s repression. Your living conditions are OK for now – the food and in this case the returns are good – but they aren’t enough to get you what you need to cover liabilities. You need to think of an escape route that gets you back home yet at the same time doesn’t get you killed in the process. You need a Great Escape to deliver in this financial repressive world." In the meantime Gross advises readers to do just what we have been saying for years: buy commodities and real (non-dilutable) assets: "Commodities and real assets become ascendant, certainly in relative terms, as we by necessity delever or lever less." As for the endgame: "Is a systemic implosion still possible in 2012 as opposed to 2008? It is, but we will likely face much more monetary and credit inflation before the balloon pops. Until then, you should budget for “safe carry” to help pay your bills. The bunker portfolio lies further ahead."
The global economy remains on shaky ground. China’s manufacturing activity contracted for its 5th straight month, the US recovery is still very early to call, and the euro zone debt crisis may not be finished. Eurozone PMI data is due later today which will show how the economy is doing after Greece averted default earlier this month. Thomson Reuters GFMS have said that gold at $2,000/oz is possible - possibly in late 2012 or early 2013. Thomson Reuters GFMS Global Head of metals analytics, Philip Klapwijk, featured on Insider this morning and advised investors to "buy this gold dip”. Gold should be bought on this correction especially if we go lower still as we may need a shake-out of "less-committed investors." Klapwijk suggested that a brief dip below $1,600 is on the cards but the global macro environment still favours investment, notably zero-to-negative real interest rates and he would not rule out further easing by either the ECB or the Fed before year end.
Jewelers in India are protesting the tax hike on gold imports and plan to keep their shops closed for two more days. This is India’s first nationwide strike in seven years and shows how important the gold industry is in India. The excise duty hike is expected to lead to less demand however Indian demand may again prove to be robust despite tax increases. PDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed ETF, said its gold holdings remained unchanged at 1,293.268 metric tonnes for the 5th straight session on Monday, despite the drop in prices last week. Gold will have a “sharp” rally as the U.S. boosts monetary stimulus because of a faltering economy in the coming months, Societe Generale said in a report that was picked up by Bloomberg. Data on U.S. gross domestic product in the first and second quarters will “surprise dramatically to the downside,” the bank said today in a report. Meanwhile, ANZ has said that central bank gold buying may lead to a nominal gold record price in 2012 and prices to average $1,744/oz from $1,571/oz in 2011.
Citigroup have said that they believe that gold will rise to $2,400/oz in 2012 and by $3,400/oz in “the coming years”. However, Citi’s Tom Fitzpatrick warned of price weakness in the short term and said there is a “real danger” that there may be a correction to $1,600/oz which would provide an even better buying opportunity. Citi are also cautious near term on oil and silver. Production of gold in Australia slid again last year, despite gold fetching higher nominal prices than ever before. According to gold experts, Surbiton Associates, 264 tonnes of gold were produced last year, two tonnes less than in 2010. The 264 tonnes equated to about 8.5 million ounces and ensures that Australia remains a major player in gold, with only China producing more last year. The United States was the world's third-biggest producer with 240 tonnes. Australia's gold production was well below the nation's production peak in the late 1990s. This further suggests the possibility of peak gold production. Of the world’s four biggest gold producers (China, Australia, the U.S. and South Africa), only China has managed to increase gold production in recent years and this Chinese gold is used in China to meet the rapidly growing demand for gold jewellery and coins and bars as stores of value in China.
Analysts are questioning the "double-down effect" the ECB's LTRO exercises are creating in eurozone sovereign spreads. Citi notes a spike in the purchase of government securities since the initial take-up in December.
So far there are no dramatic consequences of the Greek default. The ECB did say they couldn’t accept it as collateral, but national central banks (including Greece’s somehow solvent NCB) can, so no real change. We will likely get a Credit Event prior to March 20th once CAC’s are used to get the deal fully done. Will the market respond much to that? Probably not, though there is a higher risk of unforeseen consequences from that, than there was from the S&P downgrade. It just strikes us that Europe wasted a year or more, and has created a less stable system than it had before. Tomorrow’s LTRO is definitely interesting. It seems like every outcome is now bullish – big take up is bullish because of the “carry” trade. Low take up is bullish because “banks are okay”. Any weak bank looking to borrow from the LTRO to buy sovereign debt would be insane to buy bonds longer than 3 years and take the roll risk, but on the other hand, the weakest and most insolvent, got there by doing insane things in the first place.
Bill Gross' monthly letters are always a fresh source of jovial imagery, although the bond king may have outdone himself in his latest monthly letter which collapses the principles of investing onto the football field: "My point about pigskin offense and defense is the perfect metaphor for the world of investing as well. Offensively minded risk takers in the markets have historically been the ones who have dominated the headlines and won the hearts of that beautiful gal (or handsome guy).... Canton, however, has an approximately equal number of defensive in addition to offensively positioned inductees, so there must be a universally acknowledged role for both sides of the scrimmage line. What fan can forget Mean Joe Greene, Deion Sanders or Mike Ditka? The old, now politically incorrect showtune laments that “you gotta be a football hero, to fall in love with a beautiful girl,” but football and any of life’s heroes can play on either side of the line, it seems." And it only gets better. While at its heart Gross' latest is merely yet another lamentation against the confines of the financially suppressive regime that arises from ZIRP and ends with what many expect is a whimper (when in reality they all forget to factor in the facility of hitting the CTRL+P keys as many times as necessary), the flourish of abandon this time around is palpable. We would not be surprised to soon see Gross hang up his offensive (and defensive) jersey, and sit back and enjoy the coming lunacy from a distance (but hopefully not before he allocates just a little to the Ron Paul SuperPAC).
Could Sweden or Finland be the scene of the next European financial crisis? It is actually far likelier than most people realize. While the world has been laser-focused on the woes of the heavily-indebted PIIGS nations for the last couple of years, property markets in Northern and Western European countries have been bubbling up to dizzying new heights in a repeat performance of the very property bubbles that caused the global financial crisis in the first place. Nordic and Western European countries such as Norway and Switzerland have attracted strong investment inflows due to their perceived economic safe-haven statuses, serving to further inflate these countries’ preexisting property bubbles that had expanded from the mid-1990s until 2008. With their overheated economies and ballooning property bubbles, today’s safe-haven European countries may very well be tomorrow’s Greeces and Italys.
We have been saying it for weeks, and today even the WSJ jumped on the bandwagon: the sole reason why crude prices are surging (RIP European profit margins: with EUR Brent at a record, we can only assume the ECB will pull a 2011 and hike rates in 3-4 months even as it pumps trillions in PIIGS, banks bailout liquidity) - is because global liquidity has risen by $2 trillion in a few short months, on the most epic shadow liquidity tsunami launched in history in lieu of QE3 (discussed extensively here in our words, but here are JPM's). Luckily, the market is finally waking up to this, and just as world central banks were preparing to offset deflation, they will instead have to deal with spiking inflation, because the market may have a short memory, it can remember what happened just about this time in 2011. And the problem is that when it comes to the inflation trade, the market, unlike in most other instances, can be fast - blazing fast, at anticipating what the central planning collective's next step will be, after all there is only one. And if Bank of America is correct, that next step could well lead to the same unprecedented economic catastrophe that we saw back in 2008, only worse: $200 oil. Note - this is completely independent of what happens in Iran, and is 100% dependent on what happens in the 3rd subbasement of the Marriner Eccles building. Throw in an Iran war and all bets are off. Needless to say, an epic deflationary shock will need to follow immediately, just as in 2008, which means that, in keeping with the tradition of being 6-9 months ahead of the market, our question today is - which bank will be 2012's sacrificial Lehman to set off the latest and greatest deflationary collapse and send crude plunging to $30 just after it hits $200.