My apologies if I fumble about a bit today. If I do, it is thanks to a couple of rather large firecrackers set off on a nearby street in the middle of the night. Here in the Argentine outback, they still sell what used to be called M-80s when I was a kid and America was a place where the careless were free to blow off the tips of their fingers.
It wasn't actually the fireworks going off that woke me, but the after-effect.
For reasons beyond my ken, the top half of my pillow has become the "safe place" for Dexter Woo, our micro-sized rat terrier. As a consequence, for the better part of an hour in the middle of the night, I was essentially wearing a toupee made out of a shaking, loudly panting dog, shown here in full panic mode.
Yet one must forge ahead, and so I do, boosted by a bowl of mate – the strong local herbal brew sipped by tradition out of an attractive gourd using a metal straw.
Well, since I brought it up, a quick aside on the topic of mate. If you have come to rely on a kick-start beverage in the morning and coffee upsets your stomach or causes you jitters, I highly recommend you give mate a try. Fortunately, it's increasingly available around the world. You can do the research on the stuff yourself, but in my direct experience, it is very mild on the stomach, offers a nice lift in the morning (or any time) and apparently contains healthful levels of anti-oxidants.
Plus, the actual tradition of preparing your mate and sipping it slowly from your mate bowl seems to me to be a far more refined way to start the day than tossing back a couple of quick cups of coffee from a mug or paper cup.
But enough of that. Turning up the music, this morning's selection being a regional favorite – Bebe, singing Me Fui, which you, too, can listen to by clicking here – I shift into work mode.
Watching the price action of gold on Wednesday after the Fed announced it was going to double down on quantitative easing, it was hard not to conclude that the precious metals were at risk of another leg down.
After all, here was Capt'n Ben announcing that the Fed helicopters were going to drop an additional $40 billion a month, bringing the dollar deluge to a whopping $85 billion a month – $1.02 trillion a year – and instead of soaring, the precious metals barely squeaked out any gains at all.
Sure enough, confirming my fears, in the overnight markets heading into Thursday, the prices of gold and silver were both smacked down smartly.
That this happened immediately on the heels of the Fed's announcement was concerning enough, but it's actually worse than that.
I say that because earlier this week Mark Carney, the incoming head of the Bank of England, the equivalent of the Fed, made a speech essentially stating that upon assuming his new job, he, too, would be advocating a large and open-ended quantitative easing.
Ditto, the sure-to-be-elected new prime minister of Japan is basing his successful campaign platform on much the same idea – an unlimited amount of new quantitative easing. Likewise, the ECB is shifting toward an accommodative policy.
In essence, in a deliberate attempt to spawn a global wave of inflation, it became clear this week that the Western world's major central banks have fallen lock-step behind a coordinated policy of extraordinary and unprecedented currency debasement.
Yet, gold and silver take it in the neck. What's going on?
A conspiracy-minded individual would no doubt blame "da boyz," and who knows, they could be right. After all, gold's role as the "anti-fiat" makes it a very inconvenient barometer for the monetary malfeasance committed by the grasping governments on a daily basis. Should attitudes about gold change to the point where the public loses faith in it as the currency of last resort, said governments could continue picking the pockets of the public pretty much unmolested.
Yet motive alone is insufficient to convict. Until I see a smoking gun – versus the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence being waved around – I can't say one way or the other if manipulation is going on.
In fact, there are other signs in the economy that something bigger is going on. For example, the VIX volatility index is acting positively schizophrenic. So, is that also being manipulated?
Here's a snippet from a very interesting and important article that appeared on PragCap.com this week and was brought to my attention by David Franklin of Sprott Asset Management.
To compare the current VIX levels to macro fundamental risk, we have performed a simple quantitative exercise: we compiled a list of 484 macro indicators published by Bloomberg that have a significant correlation to the VIX index and regressed them against the current reading of the VIX.
Results show that the current low VIX level is in stark contrast to virtually every macroeconomic indicator across the globe. These indicators include PMI, GDP, payroll and unemployment, housing, retail sales, consumption, inventory, business and consumer confidence, delinquencies, and other economic activity indicators. The 81 US macro series point to a VIX level on average 7.2 points higher, the 214 European indicators point to a VSTOXX level 9.7 points higher, and the 186 Asia economic indicators point to a VNKY level 8.9 points higher (Figure 8). While these results don't signal an imminent increase in the VIX, they do point to a large discrepancy between the market volatility and macro fundamentals.
You can read the full article here.
Simply stated, like the counterintuitive reaction of gold, the key indicator of volatility (and by extent, market risk), VIX, has broken free of long-standing correlations to other major market indicators. Whereas those other market indicators suggest that VIX should be much higher than it is, it is currently bouncing along at levels one would expect to see in a healthy economic climate, versus the veritable economic tuberculosis ward we live in with governments infecting each other, and their respective populations, with highly contagious and dangerous levels of debt.
The usually reliable bond markets are also asleep at the switch, despite the fact that the US government budget deficit for October and November, the first two months of the new fiscal year, were 24% higher than in the same two months last year. In other words, not only is government not addressing its deficit problems – it's significantly accelerating said deficits. Yet bond yields remain near all-time lows, a sure sign that all is well.
Couldn't the disconnects be signs that the economy is recovering? After all, in the months leading up to the US presidential election, the unemployment rate fell below the 8% mark – rather conveniently, some obstinate anti-Obama observers observed. Turns out they may have been right. Here's another snippet, from CNSNews.com, also forwarded by David Franklin earlier this week…
73% of New Jobs Created in Last 5 Months Are in Government
In June, a total of 142,415,000 people were employed in the US, according to the BLS, including 19,938,000 who were employed by federal, state and local governments. By November, according to data BLS released today, the total number of people employed had climbed to 143,262,000, an overall increase of 847,000 in the six months since June.
In the same five-month period since June, the number of people employed by government increased by 621,000 to 20,559,000. These 621,000 new government jobs created in the last five months equal 73.3 percent of the 847,000 new jobs created overall.
Read the full article here.
Meanwhile, the number of people receiving food stamps in America surged by over 600,000 in September, the latest reporting period, the biggest increase in 16 months.
So what's going on, really?
The situation reminds me of a time not all that long ago, in 2005 if memory serves, when the tandem US stock market and real estate bubbles left many states in the unusual position of posting a surplus.
It was on one of these halcyon days that the governor of Vermont waxed rhapsodically on the radio about the surplus and all the many plans being developed to spend it.
"It's a trap!" I well recall muttering to myself, adding something to the effect of, "Don't do it, you dolts!"
That's because it should have been obvious to anyone paying attention that the good days couldn't last.
Not when the twin bubbles were entirely the result of a massive misallocation of capital based on the notion that anyone with a pulse was entitled to live in their dream house… then further leverage themselves with nearly effortless home equity loans to ensure that the new abode was fashionably outfitted with fine furniture, including the requisite La-Z-Boy.
Simultaneously, to ensure that no one would suffer the indignity of having to park a used car in their new driveway, the automobile industry was offering loans requiring zero money down and no payments for two years.
Yet, remarkably to me then and even now, almost no one in government or in the dark towers of Wall Street saw the situation for what it was. Or at least if they did, they didn't say anything. Or do anything, other than continue with business as usual until the train left the tracks in 2008.
The situation today is, in my view, almost identical, with only the systematic pressure points having changed. The currency debasement is not an illusion, any more than the debt (which, for the record, has only gotten worse), but a massive and deliberate act of inflationary overkill on the part of governments that are otherwise reaching the end of their policy ropes.
Earlier this week, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) revised its estimate for third-quarter 2012 GDP growth in the US upward to 2.67%. Yet when you dig into the numbers, you find that the aforementioned surge in federal government spending is responsible for all of that growth and more. In fact, according to Consumer Metrics (and again, thanks to David Franklin for bringing this to my attention), take out the federal spending and you discover the consumer portion of the economy is shrinking at a rate in excess of 1%.
Yet, just as was the case leading up to the onset of this crisis, the big institutions are once again continuing with business with usual, in this case by buying up government debt instruments as a safe-harbor investment to ride out the storm. Today, this strategy is working for them, just as it has over the last four years.
But it is a huge mistake to think the situation will stay the same, just as it would have been to expect the housing and stock market bubbles to continue expanding back in 2005, or for state houses to expect windfall surpluses. In fact, with the structural challenges facing global governments – the seriousness of which can be divined by the mere fact of open-ended quantitative easing – it's guaranteed it won't.
That anyone assumes it will continue on this illusionary – or is it hallucinatory? – path of pretend prosperity is a classic example of the tendency of (most) humans to believe the status quo will go on forever.
Yet, there are signs that outside of the Pollyannish harpings of the popular press, a growing number of people are seeing through the charade of creating currency units from thin air and passing them off as tangible wealth.
In fact, though you'd never know it from reading the mainstream financial media, the holdings of the GLD ETF hit a new record high on November 27.
Which conveniently brings us back to the question of gold. A question, I am sure, many dear readers would like to see answered in the positive, and pretty damn soon.
Unfortunately, while the outlook for the monetary metal remains extremely positive, the timing of when it will stage its next big rally, or ultimately reach its peak, are unknowable.
Thus, for those among you with gold and associated holdings, your continued patience is required. Which is another way of saying, you will need staying power. Which, in turn, means that your positions need to be "right-sized" compared to your net worth and your income versus your expenses. If you find yourself needing to raise cash – perhaps to pay your "fairer" share of the tax burden – you could be forced to sell before the fun really begins, locking in a loss, and that would be most unfortunate.
As to how long it will be before gold plays the very role that history has assigned to it, it really is anyone's guess.
A member of the Federal Reserve Board or employee of the Treasury Department would tell you that there is no inflation in sight, and probably won't be for two or three years and maybe longer. They might be right, in terms of serious and widespread price increases (as opposed to the steady body blows of higher fuel and food prices), but that would be wrong in terms of the technical definition of inflation – the issuance of new currency units – of which there is aplenty. You simply can't have the sort of monetary debasement we are witnessing without a knock-on devaluation in the purchasing power of the currency units.
But the policy makers and their quislings amongst the punditry could very well be wrong, just as the vast majority were about the financial crisis. You could literally wake up tomorrow and discover that something has gone terribly amiss in all the sage postulations about the economy and the ability of the US government to keep interest rates next to zero and price increases modest.
That's an important concept.
Namely that while fighting the Fed is said to be a bad idea, and for good reason – it does, after all, have all of the coercive power of the state at its command – the way the world actually works is that the best-laid plans are regularly found to be flawed. In today's world, with trillions of dollars in obscure and indecipherable derivatives pools, massively underfunded pensions, bankrupt municipalities, hundreds of billions of bad mortgages parked on the balance sheets of banks and, increasingly, of the Fed… the list of possible trigger points for the complete loss of confidence in the financial system and for what passes for money these days is long indeed.
Thus, the name of this particular game is to prepare for what's surely coming, but be sure that your plans do not hamper your ability to survive financially while waiting. In other words, don't use a lot of leverage, or go "all in" on anything, even your favorite precious metal or gold shares.
But likewise, don't despair. Just because the future you expect and have prepared for hasn't yet materialized, don't think it won't. The very structure of the world's financial system has been fractured beyond repair, as have the foundations of the largest economies. The only thing holding it together is the fiat-currency system that was behind the fracturing in the first place and that is now being taken to an extreme and extraordinary level in an attempt to keep the whole shebang from literally collapsing.
While I am not going to tell you what to do with your money, I will tell you in broad terms what my family and I are doing with our money, as I think that is the best way of communicating not only what my views are, but the specific actions I am taking as a result of those views. In no particular order…
We have also taken the steps to set up an international trust while it's still permitted.
In short, as I have stressed in many previous articles, we have done everything we can to diversify between asset classes, financial institutions and political jurisdictions. I am very comfortable that a 25% allocation to precious metals investments, as well as other tangibles such as our foreign real estate, will be enough to see us through once the trap closes and the system goes through a truly epic reboot. Given the scale of the problem, that reboot will most certainly be one for the record books.
In the interim, worrying excessively is a waste of precious time. The short-term gyrations, or even longer periods of correction and consolidation in precious metals, should mean nothing – provided you don't go overboard and find yourself in a position where you have to sell something.
As you view the big picture, all that really counts is what the statists-in-charge are doing, and you don't have to look very far at all to see that they are determined to destroy the currency units that their many debts are denominated in. That's really all you need to know.
Whatever you do, don't step into the trap of believing that all is well… it very much isn't.
By Bud Conrad, Chief Economist, Casey Research
The Fed just announced an extension of its easing policies, confirming what most economists expected: a $45 billion per month extension of its Treasury purchasing program. This is now being dubbed QE4EVA.
The Operation Twist money that has been used to buy long-term Treasuries will be continued, but the sale of short-term Treasuries will expire. Combined with the purchases of $40 billion per month worth of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) set in place as part of QE3, this results in $85 billion per month, or about $1 trillion a year, being added to the Fed's balance sheet.
The chart below extrapolates these two programs to show that by 2016 the balance sheet of the Fed will grow to $6 trillion. The combined programs are a very big addition to the liquidity of the financial system and could become inflationary.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Additionally, Bernanke announced new guidelines of not raising rates before 2015, and not if the unemployment rate is above 6.5% or the CPI hasn't risen above 2.5%.
Gold did not take off in response to the obvious headline easing. Instead, it dropped below $1,700 overnight, though it has recovered some as I write this article. Why might that have been the case?
The gold market might be guessing that the new parameters on when the Fed might let rates rise could let them slow their money creation sooner than the 2015 promise for holding rates low. Calculations for how many jobs would need to be added to cut the unemployment to 6.5% do not make that a likely possibility. But inflation rising above 2.5% does seem possible. The Fed released its own Summary of Economic Projections, in which it suggests that the measure for inflation for Personal Consumption Expenditures will stay below that level.
Another observation is that the Fed has not really made good on its QE3 promise to buy $40 billion of MBS every month. They announced QE3 in mid-September, and now, three months later, they should have expanded their MBS holdings by $120 billion. They are only up $31 billion.
The chart below shows the weekly Fed balance sheet of MBS on its books in blue, and the target of what $40 billion per month should look like in red. I don't think this is enough to keep gold down, but it could be a contributing factor.
(Click on image to enlarge)
The Fed announcement was well telegraphed and already expected by the market. I have no reason to question the Fed's ability to turn up its printing presses, and the huge deficits of the federal government give it every reason to continue buying Treasuries.
In fact, the Fed has little choice but to support the government in buying its debt, because if it did not, rates would almost certainly begin to rise, making the deficit worse. This is inflationary in the long run and very supportive of my view that the safe alternative of precious metals and physical assets is the place to invest.
My latest article in The Casey Report focuses on the long-term aspects of the government deficits and on interest rates, and gives more insight on what we can expect in the future. Give it a risk-free try by clicking here.
The simple interpretation is that the Fed is doing its part in the game of supporting deficits 4EVA.
Thanks to dear friend and correspondent Ron for these apparently actual recorded exchanges.
Tower: "Delta 351, you have traffic at 10 o'clock, 6 miles!"
Delta 351: "Give us another hint! We have digital watches!"
Tower: "TWA 2341, for noise abatement, turn right 45 degrees."
TWA 2341: "Center, we are at 35,000 feet. How much noise can we make up here?"
Tower: "Sir, have you ever heard the noise a 747 makes when it hits a 727?"
From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long takeoff queue: "I'm f....ing bored!"
Ground Traffic Control: "Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!"
Unknown aircraft: "I said I was f...ing bored, not f...ing stupid!"
A student became lost during a solo cross-country flight. While attempting to locate the aircraft on radar, ATC asked, "What was your last known position?"
Student: "When I was number one for takeoff?"
A DC-10 had come in a little hot and thus had an exceedingly long rollout after touching down.
San Jose Tower noted: "American 751, make a hard right turn at the end of the runway, if you are able. If you are not able, take the Guadeloupe exit off Highway 101, make a right at the lights and return to the airport."
A Pan Am 727 flight, waiting for start clearance in Munich , overheard the following:
Lufthansa (in German): "Ground, what is our start clearance time?"
Ground (in English): "If you want an answer, you must speak in English."
Lufthansa (in English): "I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?"
Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent):"Because you lost the bloody war!"
The German air controllers at Frankfurt Airport are renowned as a short-tempered lot. They not only expect one to know one's gate parking location, but how to get there without any assistance from them. So it was with some amusement that we (a Pan Am 747) listened to the following exchange between Frankfurt ground control and a British Airways 747, call sign Speedbird 206.
Speedbird 206: "Frankfurt, Speedbird 206! Clear of active runway."
Ground: "Speedbird 206. Taxi to gate Alpha One-Seven."
The BA 747 pulled onto the main taxiway and slowed to a stop.
Ground: "Speedbird, do you not know where you are going?"
Speedbird 206: "Stand by, Ground, I'm looking up our gate location now."
Ground (with quite arrogant impatience):"Speedbird 206, have you not been to Frankfurt before?"
Speedbird 206: (coolly): "Yes, twice in 1944, but it was dark – and I didn't land."
I know in the PCW (Politically Correct World), this next joke isn't supposed to be funny but still kind of is.
With the holidays upon us, I would like to share a personal experience with my friends about drinking and driving. As you may know, some of us have been known to have brushes with the authorities from time to time on the way home after a "social session" out with friends.
Well, two days ago, I was out for an evening with friends and had several cocktails followed by some rather nice white wine. Feeling jolly, I still had the sense to know that I may be slightly over the limit. That's when I did something that I've never done before – I took a cab home instead of calling my sister.
Sure enough, on the way home, there was a police road block, but since it was a cab, they waved it past. I arrived home safely without incident.
This was a real surprise as I had never driven a cab before, I don't know where I got it, and now that it's in my garage, I don't know what to do with it.
To some people, my long-term friend and business partner Doug Casey is an erudite international man of mystery. To others an investment guru. To others, he's an outspoken champion of individual liberty and, by extension, an intellectual enemy of overreaching nation-states.
Well, he's all of those things and a couple more. For instance, he's really funny. And he's utterly fearless. Which means he'll always tell you exactly what he thinks, and he thinks a lot.
Totally Incorrect, his new book with Louis James and edited by Terry Coxon is therefore sure to amuse, insult and inform. But more importantly, it will cause you to think about the world and to do so through an absolutely unique lens, a perspective that is sadly missing from the politically correct media and academia.
Some of you will, I am certain, be totally offended by some of Doug's views – for example, on the military, religion, the environment, even the concept of America itself. But that makes it all the more important a read, because life is so much less interesting when you proceed through it with a narrow perspective.
You can order your book today either in paperback or electronic format, and be sure to order them for your relatives and friends with a sense of humor as well, by clicking here now.
Over the centuries, any number of individuals and organizations have tried to unlock the mysteries of human personality types. The Jesuits, for example, dedicated quite a bit of research to the topic.
The Sufis, an Islamic cult, identified nine different personality types, then mapped out the yin and yang of each in something they called the Enneagram, pictured here. The basic idea is that there is a personality type you gravitate to most strongly when you are mentally in a good place, and a not so good set of personality traits you gravitate to when you are degraded. For instance, if I recollect correctly, personality type #2, when in a good place, will literally give you the shirt off their back… but the dark side of that personality is that, when things aren't going so well, will deeply resent that people don't reciprocate and can act very nastily as a result.
All of that is well and good, but I think there is a simpler and more useful way to categorize people – by identifying them as positives or negatives. The positives are primarily upbeat, constructive, forward looking and altogether optimistic folks, and the negatives are the opposite, suspicious, cutting, negative and generally pessimistic.
Surprisingly, I have found that the Argentines, despite or perhaps even because of the crises they have regularly gone through, tend to be stereotypically positive. (By contrast, a number of the norteamericanos I have come into contact with are pretty much all negative, all the time. Nothing is good enough, and everything and everyone is of value only as a target for a snide aside.)
Case in point, this morning my favorite spot for coffee was closed, so I wandered across the street to the small artisanal ice cream maker that has been a fixture on the street for many years and that also serves a decent café con leche.
Being a curious sort, I asked the old man who owns it what he thought of the super-modern new Griddo ice cream franchise that has opened up literally next door to him and is now packing in the customers, whereas the old man's shop has become rather more sparsely populated.
In reply, he waved his hand with a flourish and said, in Spanish, of course, "It is like the wind, it sweeps into town and will someday blow away, and I will still be here doing what we do, making helado by hand, as it should be made." (Note to those of you in residence down here, the Coyote con Nueces at the Heladario Santa Barbara is a special treat.)
Now, I don't know if the old man's business will survive, but his optimistic fatalism is very typical down here. Sure, there's a problem, but that's life – so get over it and get on with it.
My friend Pelado, who owns the restaurant/bar next door, is cut from much the same cloth – always happy, always helpful, as is Miguel "Cupito," my favorite waiter at El Terruno. Noticing the latter's well-coifed hair, in stark contrast to my own at the time, I asked about his barber, and he bicycled over to the peloquero after work to arrange for him to cut my hair in the comfort of my own house at the cost of just $5.00.
I have often said that people do best when they work together, a critical factor in the success of any enterprise, in my opinion.
No real point to be made here, except that it might be worth doing a little self-assessment on your primary personality type. Positive or negative? If the latter, an attitude adjustment might do wonders for your career, your personal relationships and your overall enjoyment of life.
Likewise, I find it useful to periodically evaluate my acquaintances as to where they fall on the positive/negative scale and inch away from those in the solidly negative camp, and run toward the positives… they make far better companions, uplifting vs. dampening to the spirit.
Before signing off for the day, and the week, a couple of quick items.
Announcing the 2013 Harvest Festival at La Estancia de Cafayate, March 14 – 19. If you've never visited La Estancia de Cafayate, or have but haven't been here in a year or more (you won't believe how much the place has evolved), there is no better time to visit than during the annual harvest festivities. The 2013 event is shaping up to be the best one yet, with a fantastic array of activities. In addition to enjoying all the many amenities of La Estancia (golf, tennis, horseback riding, bocce, swimming, a truly world-class Athletic Club and Spa, fine dining, etc.), there will be a number of social events, including one at the stunning new Piattelli Bodega and a Casey Research Conference featuring Doug Casey and friends (confirmed so far are Bill Bonner, John Mauldin and Frank Trotter).
More information will be available soon, but as space is very limited, if you are at all interested in participating in the March 14 – 19 event, drop Dave Norden an email at dnorden@LaEst.com. The best hotel rooms always sell out quickly, so putting your name in the hat now is probably a good idea.
(P.S. There will also be a separate event for owners and their guests March 7 – 11… if you are an owner, watch the mail for more soon.)
Jacksonville Phyle? Herb C. has expressed a willingness to start up a phyle in Jacksonville, Florida. If you are interested in periodically getting together with other Casey subscribers to discuss the world we live in, investment markets, the economy, whatever, then drop us a note at phyles@CaseyResearch.com and we'll put you in touch with Herb.
Casey Investment Alert Open for a Limited Time. Our premium alert service dedicated to uncovering special opportunities in early-stage junior resource exploration companies is only rarely open to new subscribers. That's because the thinly traded nature of the markets only allows us to accept a very limited number of subscribers or risk overly influencing the price action.
If you are an active investor and a serious contrarian, then you'll want to take advantage of this opportunity because the junior mining sector has been hit pretty hard during the consolidation of precious metals over the past year. That has created a number of screaming buys for Louis James and his globe-trotting team. To learn more and to sign up, you'll need to act fast as the window for accepting new subscribers will close in just a few days, on December 18. Here's the link for more information.
And with that, I will sign off for the day and for the week by once again thanking you for reading and for being a Casey Research reader! If you make it down Cafayate way, look me up.