What You Really Need To Know
This Guest Editorial is by Jeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst for Casey Research
In the January issue of BIG GOLD, I interviewed 17 analysts, economists, and authors on what they expect for gold in 2015. Some of those included what we affectionately call our Casey Brain Trust—Doug Casey, Olivier Garret, Bud Conrad, David Galland, Marin Katusa, Louis James, and Terry Coxon. The issue was so popular that we decided to reprint this portion.
I think you’ll find some very insightful and useful reading here (click on a link to read his bio)…
Jeff: The Fed and other central banks have kept the economy and markets propped up longer than you thought they could. Has the Fed succeeded in staving off crisis?
Doug: I’m genuinely surprised things have held together over the last year. The trillions of currency units created since 2007 have mostly inflated financial assets, creating bubbles everywhere. There’s an excellent chance that the bubble will burst this year. I don’t know whether it will result in a catastrophic deflation, extreme inflation, or both in sequence. I’m only sure it will result in chaos and extreme unpleasantness.
Jeff: Are we still going to get rich from gold stocks? Or should we face reality and start exiting?
Doug: The fact so many people are discouraged with gold and mining stocks is just another indicator that we’re at the bottom. Gold and silver are now, once more, superb speculations. And I think we’ll see some 10-to-1 shots in gold stocks—if not this year, then 2016. I can afford to wait with those kinds of returns in prospect.
Jeff: The crash in the general markets we warned about didn’t materialize. Have those risks dissipated, or should we still expect to see a major correction?
Olivier: Last October the risk of a very severe market correction was indeed very serious; hence our call to subscribers to batten down the hatches, tighten their portfolios, and have cash and gold on hand. We warned of further downturn across all commodities, including oil. We also highlighted the dollar would be strong and that an excellent short-term speculation was to be long 10- to 30-year Treasuries, as they would be considered a safe haven.
Let’s look at where we are today. Clearly, the S&P did not extend its correction after its initial dip in mid-October. In light of the possibility of a perfect storm coming, the Fed announced that it may not end QE in early 2015 as anticipated if the economy failed to continue to pick up. Then the Bank of Japan announced its version of QE infinity, followed by the largest Japanese pension fund’s decision to invest in equities worldwide.
The bulls were reassured and came back with a vengeance; the crash was averted. That said, fundamentals are still very weak, and market growth is concentrated within the largest-cap stocks. Mid- and small-caps are hurting, and many economic indicators are still concerning.
Jeff: What about lower energy prices—aren’t these good for the economy?
Olivier: In theory, yes. In practice, there is another crisis brewing. Most of the development of new shale resources in the US has been financed by debt based on oil prices of $80 and above. This easy debt was immediately securitized, just like home mortgages were in 2003-2006, and we have a monstrous bubble about to pop with oil around $55. The potential risk of another derivative crisis is as high or higher than in 2007.
Jeff: Does that mean the inevitable is imminent?
Maybe, maybe not. We know central bankers will do whatever it takes to provide liquidity to the markets. That said, I do not believe central bankers are wizards endowed with supernatural powers that enable them to stem all crises. Bernanke told us in 2007 and 2008 that there was no real estate crisis and that he had everything under control—will Janet Yellen be better?
My view is that our subscribers should be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Sacrifice a bit of performance for safety, and use money you can afford to lose to speculate on opportunities that could bring outsized upside. I believe subscribers should continue to hold cash (in dollars), gold (the ultimate hedge against crisis), and stocks in best-of-breed companies that are unlikely to collapse during a financial meltdown.
For speculations, I still believe that we should be invested in the best gold producers, in well-managed explorers with good management and first-class resources, in long-term Treasuries, and top-quality tech companies.
Jeff: As a former turnaround professional, what would signal to you that the gold market is about to turn around?
Olivier: Two things: market capitulation, and valuations for the best companies not seen in decades. The cure for low prices is low prices.
Cyclical markets do turn around, and I would rather buy low and hold on until the market turns around than buy in the later stage of a bull market. At this point, the gold market presents amazing value for the patient investor. In my opinion, that is all that matters. The gold market may take longer than I want to turn around, but I know I am near an all-time low.
Jeff: What role do big banks and government currently play in gold’s behavior? Is this role here to stay?
Bud: I’ve looked at the huge demand for gold from China, Russia, India, and private investors and been surprised the price has eroded over the last three years. My explanation is that the “paper gold futures market” sets the price of gold, with very little physical gold being traded. There are two parts of futures market trading: one is the minute-by-minute trading of only paper contracts that dominate 99% of the trading, in which every long position is matched by a short position. That is why the futures market is called “paper gold.” Almost all trades are unwound and rolled over to another contract. Only a few thousand contracts are held into the second process, called the “delivery process.” Just a handful of big banks dominate that delivery process, so they are in a position to affect the market. There is surprisingly little physical gold used in the delivery process compared to the 200,000 ongoing paper trading of the contracts not yet in delivery every day, where no physical gold is used.
Big players can place huge orders to move the “paper price” for a short term, but eventually 99% of these paper positions are unwound before delivery, so their effect in the longer term is canceled. The delivery process is the only time where physical gold is actually sold (delivered) or purchased (stopped). The gold price can be influenced in one direction in this process by bringing gold to the market from their own account (or the reverse).
Big banks gain a big benefit from the Fed driving their borrowing rate to zero with the QE policy. Banks lend that money at higher rates and have become very profitable. If gold were soaring, then the Fed would be less inclined to keep rates low, as it would be concerned that the dollar is purchasing less and inflation is returning. So banks are happy to have the gold price contained so the Fed is more likely to keep rates low.
The above chart shows that in the delivery process for the December 2014 contract, only three banks—JP Morgan, Bank of Nova Scotia, and HSBC—handled most of the transactions. Big banks can act as either traders for other customers or as trading for the banks themselves in their in-house account. In the December contract, 90% of the gold was purchased by HSBC and JP Morgan for themselves, and Bank of Nova Scotia provided over half of the gold from its in-house account. With so few players, the delivery market is prone to being dominated and price being set.
Jeff: So if the big players influence the market, why should we own gold?
Bud: I see the regulators issuing big fines to banks who have been caught manipulating foreign exchange, LIBOR, and even the London Gold Fix (which is being changed) as evidence that the methods used to influence the futures market will be curtailed by the regulators. So gold will become the recognized alternative to paper money issued in excessive amounts to fix whatever problems the governments want.
I also see the collapse of the petrodollar as leaving all currencies in limbo, which will lead to big swings in the currency wars, where ultimately gold will be the winner. Governments themselves are recognizing the value of gold, as I’m sure Russia does after the ruble collapsed in half since last summer.
Jeff: What personal benefits have you achieved from living in Argentina?
David: Most important, my stress levels have fallen significantly. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a high-stress type, I used to be on meds for moderately high blood pressure and for acid reflux… both of which I take as signs of stress. After a few months back in Cafayate, I am med-free.
Second, living in the Argentine outback provides perspective on what actually matters in life. Life in Cafayate is very laid back, with time for siestas, leisurely meals, and any number of enjoyable activities with agreeable company. There is none of the ceaseless dosing of bad news that permeates Western cultures. After a week of unplugging, you realize that most of what passes as important or urgent back in the US is really just a charade.
Finally, my personal sense of freedom soars, as life in rural Argentina is very much live and let live.
In sharp contrast, returning to the USA for even a short visit reveals the national moniker “land of the free” as blatant hypocrisy. There are laws against pretty much everything, and worse, a no-strikes willingness to enforce them. That a person can get mugged by a group of police over selling loose cigarettes tells you pretty much everything you need to know.
Jeff: Gold and gold stocks have been hammered. What would you say to those precious metals investors sitting on losses?
David: I doubt anything anyone can say will prove a panacea for the pain some have suffered, but I do have some thoughts. Like many of our readers, I have taken big losses as well, but because I have long believed in moderation in most things, especially the juniors, I have taken those losses only on smallish positions.
Specifically, about 20% of our family portfolio is in resource investments, with about half in the stocks and the rest held as an insurance position in the physical metals, diversified internationally. So a 70% loss on 10% of our portfolio, while painful, is not the end of the world.
I guess my primary message would be to continue to view the sector for what it is: physical metals for insurance, and moderate positions in the stocks—big and small—as speculative investments.
I remain convinced the massive government manipulations that extend into all the major markets must eventually begin to fail, at which time investors will come back into the resource sector in droves. When the worm begins to turn, I anticipate the physical metals will recover first—and $1,200 gold is starting to look like a fairly solid foundation. The BIG GOLD companies, which I’m starting to personally get interested in, will rally soon thereafter.
When the producers decisively break through resistance levels on the upside, it will be time to refocus on the best juniors.
But regardless, per my first comment, while these stocks can offer life-changing returns, being highly selective and moderate in the size of your positions is the right approach. Then you can sit tight and wait for the market to prove you right.
Jeff: I loved your book The Colder War. And I liked your concluding recommendation to buy gold. Are events playing out as you expected? And does the fall in the oil price change the game at all?
Marin: First off, thank you. A lot of personal time was spent completing the book. And yes, most of the events are playing out as expected in the book. I expect this trend to continue over the next decade, as the Colder War will take many years to play out.
As I stated to all our energy subscribers and to attendees at the last Casey Conference in San Antonio, we expected a significant drop in oil prices, but it has happened a lot faster than I expected. I think we will continue to see volatility in oil; we’ll probably get a rally to the mid-$60s for WTI, but I think it will hit $45 before January 1, 2016.
This definitely makes Putin’s strategy harder to implement—but we are in the Colder War, not the Colder Battle, and wars are made of many battles. Putin’s strategy is still being implemented, and it will play out over many years.
Jeff: You’re calling for the end of the petrodollar system. This is very bullish for gold, but won’t that process take many years? Or should investors buy gold now?
Marin: The process is well underway, and yes, as I point out in the book, the demise of the petrodollar will take many years—but it will happen.
Each investor must evaluate his position and situation, but I don’t believe anyone knows when the bottom in gold will happen, and I see gold as insurance. You never know exactly when you need health insurance, but speaking from personal experience, it’s good to have, and good to have as much as you can afford, because when you need it, trust me, you won’t regret it.
Resources are in the “valley of darkness” right now—but this is part of the cycle. The key is portfolio survival. If you can get to the other side, the riches will be much greater than you can fathom. I’m speaking from personal experience. I’ve been through this before, and while it was stressful, what happened on the other side blew away my own expectations. We are in a cyclical business, and this bottom trend has been nasty—longer and lower than most have expected—but I am excited, because this is what I have been waiting for and what will take my net worth to a new level.
I see no difference in the outcome for yourself, Louis James, and all of those who follow you and survive to the other side. I believe there will be significant upside in gold stocks, especially certain junior gold explorers and developers. Subscribers are in good hands with you and Louis in that regard, and I always read my BIG GOLD and International Speculator when I get the email, regardless of where I am—the most recent being in an airport in Mexico. Keep up the great work, Jeff; even though it’s a difficult market, you’re doing the right things. It will pay off—maybe not on our desired schedules, but it will pay off.
Jeff: The junior resource sector tends to progress in cycles. Is the current down cycle about over, or should investors expect the recovery to drag out for several more years?
L: That’s essentially a market-timing question—literally the million-dollar question we all wish we could answer definitively. That’s not an option, and I’m sure your readers know better than to listen to anyone who claims to be able to time the market with any precision or reliability.
That said, I don’t want to dodge the question; for what it’s worth, Doug Casey and I both feel that gold has likely bottomed. Yes, it’s true that I felt that December 2013 was the bottom—but it’s also true that most of our stocks are up since then. So, gold may have put in a double bottom, but our stocks outperformed the metal and the market.
Either way, if we’re right, the next big move should be upward, and that’s as good for BIG GOLD readers as it is for International Speculator readers.
I should also add that precious metals are not just “resources”—gold is money, not a regular commodity like pork bellies or corn. It’s the world’s most tested and trusted means of preserving wealth. So even though resource commodities tend to move as a group in cycles, gold and silver can be expected to act differently during times of crisis.
And 2015 looks fraught with crises to me… I am cautiously quite bullish for this year.
Jeff: Where will gold speculators get the biggest bang for their buck in 2015?
L: If you mean when, statistically the first and fourth quarters of the year tend to be the strongest for gold, making now a good time to buy.
As to what to buy, it depends on whether you want to maximize potential gains or minimize risk. The most conservative move is to stick with bullion, which is not a speculation at all, but a sort of forex deal in search of safety. For more leverage with the least amount of added risk, there’s the best of the larger, more stable producers that you recommend in BIG GOLD. For greater wealth-creation potential, as opposed to wealth preservation, there are the junior stocks I follow in the International Speculator.
As to where in the world to invest, I’d say it’s easier to get in on the ground floor investing in an exploration or development company working in less well-known countries—you always pay more of a premium for North American projects where the rule of law is well established. That’s obviously riskier too, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to a kleptocratic regime with a history of nationalization. There are stable places off most investors’ radars, like Ireland and Scandinavia. Africa plays may be oversold in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, but that story isn’t done yet, so even I am waiting before going long there again.
Jeff: In spite of profligate money printing over the past six years, there’s been minimal inflation. Should we give up on this notion that money printing causes inflation?
Terry: No, you shouldn’t. As Milton Friedman put it, the lags between changes in the money supply and changes in prices are “long and variable.” I’m surprised we haven’t yet seen the inflationary effects of a better than 60% increase in the M1 money supply. But the Federal Reserve has essentially guaranteed that those effects are coming, since they are committed to keep printing until price inflation shows up. And when it does appear, the delayed effects of all the money creation that has occurred to date will start to take hold. There won’t be “just a little” inflation.
Jeff: What do you watch to tell you the next gold bull market is about to get underway?
Terry: Beats me. I won’t know it is happening until it’s already started. But because high inflation rates are already baked in the cake, so is another strong period for gold. That’s a reason to own gold now, and the reason is compelling if you believe, as I do, that there’s little downside. At this point, given the metal’s weak performance since 2011, virtually everyone who lacks a clear understanding of the reason for owning it has already sold. So it’s safe to buy.
10 other analysts were also interviewed, plus Jeff recommended a new stock pick. Tomorrow’s BIG GOLD issue has another new stock recommendation—an exciting company that has the biggest high-grade deposit in the world. Now is the time to buy, before gold enters the next bull market! Check it out here.