Australia to Join the World’s Orgy of Currency Debasement?

Australia’s mining boom is fading. Demand from China is slipping. The economy is going to contract. Yet their dollar is strengthening.

Central bankers are Keynesian-mercantilists that get bent out of shape when their own currencies are “too strong.” Especially when the economy is threatening to slow down. The bureaucrats at the RBA are no different.

What are they going to do? Try to hold down the price of the Australian dollar. They will join Europe, Japan, China, America, and the Swiss in the frenzy of currency debasement.

This is… a bad idea. Yet it is to be expected, as are the negative consequences it will create.

It might be best to start trading your Aussie dollars for something better. For other currencies, few good choices exist. I used to like the yen before Abenomics. Now I like the Singapore dollar.

Hardly any central bank  can resist racing to the bottom. I don’t think Australia’s can resist.

— Continue reading at Sunday Morning Herald —

Mini-Review: CBC Documentary “The Secret World of Gold”

On April 18, CBC aired a documentary called “The Secret World of Gold.” Though flawed, the program was interesting and covered many issues.

Here are some things talked about in the documentary:

  • The Bank of Canada has sold almost all our country’s gold over the last 30 years.
  • Underwater treasure hunts for gold.
  • Secret government deals to control gold.
  • Futures market manipulation (this was by far the weakest part of the show — the futures market is not explained and the case made for manipulation is very thin).
  • Buildings with gold windows.
  • Wars for gold.
  • How Chavez got all Venezuela’s gold back from the US and Europe
  • Gold shifting to the East from the West
  • Death gold from Nazi extermination camps (some of which was used to fill Hitler’s teeth — WTF).
  • Allocation of central bank gold holdings — who owns the gold? Is the gold even there?

Think about taking 45 minutes out of your weekend to check it out. You can watch it here for free, the only drawback is there are a few dumb CBC ads.

UPDATE: You no longer need to watch it at CBC. The copyright police got to “The Secret World of Gold” on YouTube, so it looks like you have to watch on CBC…

Gold Is Better Protection than Silver

On March 6, I wrote about how gold holds up far better than silver when a panic hits.

Recent events seem to provide confirmation of this.

Silver at its peak was $48.70 in 2011. It is now at $23.29. This is a 52% loss — ouch. That is very painful for someone who bought near the top.

Gold has weathered the panic with much more success. In 2011, gold hit $1913 and it now is trading at $1391. This is only a 27% loss. Harsh, but not so harsh that you would want to throw yourself off a cliff.

As a speculative play, you could see big profits if you buy silver near the bottom. That’s because, relative to gold, silver is tremendously volatile. But you need to be careful: you may recall that during October 2008, silver traded below $9. Panics hits silver hard. Unless we enter Great Depression 2, I doubt silver will fall that low again — but I think it could certainly drop below $20 before this shake-up is resolved.

TSX Loses All Gains for 2013

The Canadian stock market was hit pretty hard as oil fell and gold got hammered. At the close, gold was down nearly $75 USD. The TSX lost all of its 2013 gains over the last few days.

I have predicted that North America will face recession this year, so a falling TSX is consistent with that. An economic correction is especially hard on capital goods industries and raw materials.

I also believe it is a reasonable expectation for gold to fall to $1200-$1300/oz as the economic error cycle matures. Then, when a panic hits, and Fed and other central banks will respond with further inflation, and the gold price will rise in response to that.

A commodity broker says: “the argument for gold as a safe haven or protection against inflation just isn’t there . . . It doesn’t look too good for gold.” This assumes there another crisis will not occur, and central banks will not inflate in response. At some point central banks will have to stop inflating to prevent currency collapse and preserve their nations’ banks, yes. Yet, I do not think that time is nigh because we have not yet seen massive consumer price inflation result from the monetary expansion since the ’08 financial crisis.

Read more at Financial Post.

Ron Paul in Calgary

Last Friday, I attended the Ron Paul speech at the “Making Alberta Safe for Capitalism” summit.  This was at the Westin Ballroom in downtown Calgary. I was among approximately 300 attendees, which included financial professionals, publishers, IT nerds, engineers, students, neocons, and more.

I would like to note how this attracted virtually NO media attention. I do not think there is any “conspiracy” here — rather, it is simply due to Ralph Klein’s memorial service being held at the same time. We all know how the media loves to fill its time with the glorification dead politicians whenever the opportunity presents itself. This week, they’ve got Thatcher.

Besides, Ron Paul’s ideas make Canadians uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to talk about such things.

Ron Paul’s speech was basically what you would expect if you’ve been following him for the last few years. I’ve been watching Ron Paul’s political career since 1998, so I was very familiar with all the themes: personal responsibility, free markets, small government, anti-war, and anti-central banking. Still, it was great to pay respects to someone who is more than just an honorable statesman (a contradiction in terms when applied to anyone else), but a man whose efforts have done more for the liberty movement than anyone else in the modern era.

Having retired from politics, this was Ron Paul without any filter that might have previously been imposed by the realities of being in political office. Yet since his message has always been fundamentally radical, there was no difference with post-politics Ron Paul. The message is just as unfavorable to economic, social, and imperial intervention as ever.

At various points throughout the speech, I would look around to gauge the response to certain statements. How delightful to see various attending neocons squirm uneasily when Paul declared there should be no income tax. Some folks scowled at the suggestion to replace government welfare entirely with private charity. Otherwise, the ideas of less spending, less tax, less regulation, and more civil liberties were received favorably. Paul age and manner makes is a kind, wise grandfatherly figure — part of his great success is due to his ability to convey radical arguments in favor of liberty while making them seem completely non-controversial.

The biggest opportunity that was missed in Dr Paul’s speech was HEALTHCARE. If there is a sacred cow in Canadian politics, it’s definitely government healthcare. Without a doubt, government healthcare is a disaster, and Canadians need to learn why it will always be awful regardless of the huge piles of money thrown at it. Unfortunately, healthcare was not covered at all in Dr Paul’s remarks. Too bad. Huge missed opportunity, I think.

He is a medical doctor and an economist who can speak with authority on the failings of public healthcare. He is also old enough to speak about American healthcare system before the government became heavily involved. Before Medicaid, Medicare, the HMO Act of ’73, and so on, there was relatively little government intervention with the provision of healthcare. Basic medical services were cheap and plentiful, and a greater portion of the population had health insurance compared with now. The audience would have greatly benefited from hearing his insights on this subject. He has effectively explained the necessity of free markets in medical care — it is a message Canadians desperately need to hear from somewhere. Virtually no one will touch the issue of public healthcare in this country. We will all be worse off as long as this condition persists.

I would have also liked to hear more war-related remarks. Essentially, anything that applies to the US wasting lives and money on Afghanistan applies to Canada as well. Paul spoke about Iraq more than Afghanistan — which is fine in and of itself, but Canada was not seriously involved in Iraq. Our participation in Afghanistan is another story. Sadly, Afghanistan is an issue that people barely seem to care much about. If they do, it’s because they are dumb enough to think we have Canadian forces there “fighting for our freedom.” Yuck. The lack of interest is even more critical now, because Obama has declared he is “bringing the troops home” in 2014. This is typical government strategy: declare “victory!” and suddenly no one cares anymore. Just like Iraq, where there was never any “victory”, and as I write this the country continues tearing itself apart.

Ron Paul’s speech included a few “fanservice” parts for the Calgarian audience:

He said, “Ralph Klein sounds like a guy I might have liked.” Fair enough, given the memorial was that day, and Klein actually did cut spending at one point.  So that’s cool, whether or not Klein was a principled friend of liberty.

He also gave his support to the Keystone XL — with the important qualification that one can get the permission of property owners, the government should not stand in the way of pipeline construction. This is an rather critical proviso, because in reality pipeline construction does involve government takings/expropriations. Remember: in Canada, the Crown owns all the land as a matter of law.

Anyone who attended this event specifically for Ron Paul could be described as “cutting-edge.” Canadians are not generally ready for the radical Paulian message. For many Americans, there is the emotional connection to ideas of independence, revolution and decentralization, even these are not embraced in practice. The Paulian message can get its hooks in that. For Canadians, the state is endlessly glorified in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There is no element within our culture that reinforces skepticism about state power. The closest thing to this is Albertans’ memories of the NEP, but that is a regional sentiment and it is being gradually overwhelmed with the pleas for more government.

I hope that the mere fact that Ron Paul has visited Canada to give pro-capitalism speeches indicates that there is a growing audience for the message of liberty in this country. Just as the 20th century demonstrated communism was a lie, the 21st century will show us that democracy is a lie. Democracy’s death throes will be earth-shattering. Liberty’s natural elite must spread and shine the light through dark times, so that a better age may yet emerge.

Cyprus: could something like that happen in Canada?

Marc Faber contends that at some point, everywhere will become like Cyprus.

It will happen everywhere in the world. In Western democracies, you have more people that vote for a living than work for a living. I think you have to be prepared to lose 20 to 30 percent. I think you’re lucky if you don’t lose your life … If you look at what happened in Cyprus, basically people with money will lose part of their wealth, either through expropriation or higher taxation.”

But in Canada? No way!

Well… maybe. Check out page 144 of the 2013 “Economic Action Plan” (I hate that term):

The Government proposes to implement a “bail-in” regime for systemically important banks. This regime will be designed to ensure that, in the unlikely event that a systemically important bank depletes its capital, the bank can be recapitalized and returned to viability through the very rapid conversion of certain bank liabilities into regulatory capital. This will reduce risks for taxpayers. The Government will consult stakeholders on how best to implement a bail-in regime in Canada. Implementation timelines will allow for a smooth transition for affected institutions, investors and other market participants.

The details are not made explicit in the budget document. But remember, your deposit is the bank’s liability. When the budget talks about “certain liabilities” being converted into “regulatory capital,” it kinda sounds like Canadian government might be willing to enact a Cyprus-esque solution to a banking crisis.

Apparently, this is not what they mean. Instead, Ottawa wants banks to issue “contingent capital bonds,” something Carney has advocated. These bonds would provide an above-average return. The catch is that if the bank gets into trouble, the bond is converted into shares. The bank would then have emergency capital without a taxpayer-funded bailout.

I think this is a stupid idea. Sure, I suppose banks should be able to issue whatever kind of bonds they want. However, Ottawa claims it wants to “limit the unfair advantage that could be gained by Canada’s systemically important banks through the mistaken belief by investors and other market participants that these institutions are “too big to fail.” The contingent capital bond doesn’t really do anything about that. The moral hazard still is there, because there remains an implicit assumption — which seems to permeate all Western nations at this time — that if anything bad happens to a bank that made bad investments, the entire world will explode. So the government or the central bank will have no choice but to intervene to “save the world (banks)”! We don’t even know that the government itself would not buy these bonds. Or, in a serious crisis, why they couldn’t just buy preferred bank stocks, like a Paulson plan style of bailout/bail-in.

If the implicit guarantee is still there (and why would it not be? Canada’s banks were bailed out in the financial crisis), then contingent capital bonds don’t address the moral hazard issue. Instead, they just let the moral hazard continue with a wink and a nudge, while someone gets a higher yield bond out of the deal. Meanwhile, the explicit generators of moral hazard, like the BoC, CDIC, and the CMHC, continue to exist without change.

Canada’s Big Five banks hold nearly $3 trillion in assets. Their capitalization is about 8%.  So their leverage is so great that they would not withstand even a moderate crisis on a “bail-in” of converted contingent capital bonds. A 20-30% hit on assets would crush them. The idea is a joke.

Yet, the Canadian government, for all its ineptitude, must reasonably fear that a critical Canadian bank failure is a plausible situation. Whatever their “bail-in” plan entails, you must remember that CDIC insurance covers only $100,000 of your chequing and savings deposits, and short-term GICs. It doesn’t cover your stock account or your RRSP accounts. Don’t count on the ‘geniuses’ in Ottawa to regulate the economy so effectively that all your money will be safe.

— Read more at CBC —

Is the gold price being manipulated?

When oil prices rise, many economically illiterate people will say something like this:

“Speculators and oil companies are manipulating the market to drive up the price of oil.”

When there is a price change that people don’t like, it’s often blamed on “manipulation.” Did the price of gas rise in the summer? It’s those monopolistic oil companies.

Of course, no one ever blames the manipulators when the price of oil falls.

When it comes to gold and silver, people behave in a similar way. The difference is that people decry the “manipulators” and “conspiracies” when the price goes down.

I read Ed’s Gold and Silver Daily in the morning because I like the charts. I find it hard to read his commentary, because he is always blaming “da boys” for any price decline. Price declines which, he claims, are “impossible” in the free market. (For example, it’s claimed to be utterly incomprehensible that gold would fall in the post-Cyprus crisis, unless the cause of the decline is manipulation.)

Yet you will never hear Ed, or anyone like him, use manipulation to account for a price increase.

Gold and oil often move together. If gold is down, see if oil is down as well. If you think manipulators are driving down oil prices, then at least you are being consistent if you claim manipulators are driving down gold also. Yet no one ever blames manipulators for driving down oil prices.

In my opinion, people should not worry themselves over gold manipulation. So short-term futures traders might cause the market to move around a bit. But every short has a long. Futures traders do not want to manipulate the price downward if prices “should” be going up with massive shorts, because if so the market will rape them when price rises. Secondly, the banks that are supposedly manipulating gold prices lend huge amounts of money to gold producers. None of the board members of mining companies that I know believe there is manipulation.

And really: if the price of gold is being manipulated to a lower-than-otherwise level, why not just buy more? If someone drives the price of a commodity below what its market price “should be”, it would be… below the price at which it should be. Good deal. If some idiot like Gordon Brown (who sold half of Britain’s gold at hilariously low prices) wants to drive the price down, good luck. They obviously can’t keep it the price down forever.

Forget the manipulators. Here is why I think the gold price is falling: the economy is slowing down. Europe, Japan, and China are in recession. I believe North America is fighting hard to avoid one, but by the end of the year there will be nowhere left to run.

A panic will cause central bankers to inflate even more, and gold will move up in response to new monetary expansion. Otherwise, slowing economies are rough on investments. People want to avoid losses and gather cash, so they sell stuff like gold and stocks. When  demand deteriorates, prices drop. This is totally normal and not at all related to “manipulation.”

Investing: Silver vs. Gold

Many people want to know about silver. They want to know how it compares to gold as an investment.

Some call silver a “poor man’s gold.” In other words, the average man on the street is more able to go to a dealer and buy a few ounces of silver than he is a few ounces of gold. Yet “poor man’s gold” is not a fair characterization, because it assumes silver and gold belong in the same category simply because they are both precious metals. The reality is that silver and gold are different in important ways.

I recommend that one’s precious metal holdings be MAXIMUM 25% silver. 15% is probably better. Gold should make up the rest.

First, I invite you to check out the Kitco charts and look at recent price behavior.

In April 2011, silver reached a high of $49. But by June 2012, it hit $27. As I write this, it is $29. Measured from the 2011 highs, this is a massive loss. Nearly 50%.

Now look at gold. In September 2011, gold hit a high of $1895. In May 2012, it bottomed at $1540. As of right now, it is $1580. Measured from the 2011 highs, this is a moderate loss. Nearly 20%.

The idea reflected here is that silver is much more volatile.

Look back to 1980. Silver fell from $50 to $3.60 in 1991. Gold, at its worst, fell from $850 in 1980 to $255 in 2001. It’s like losing your house and all your money, instead of just all your money.

So when gold sells off, silver will sell off  harder and faster. Silver bulls will argue that the potential gains are much, much higher with silver than with gold. This is plausible, if only because silver is 40% down from its all time high and gold is 17% down from its all time high, and there are strong reasons to believe that both will move upwards.

Why the volatility? The primary reason is industrial demand, which for gold is very small. It is significant for silver, however. During a panic, the price for raw materials plummets.

Gold is different. You could say it commands a premium. This is essentially because gold is regarded as a monetary metal even though it is not money. Central banks buy and sell gold. They have it in their vaults. Central banks don’t stock silver. Wealthy people want gold in a crisis, and silver is much less interesting. Indian families buy it when their daughters get hitched. Asians use it to protect against inflation.  Silver really doesn’t serve that purpose, and I do not believe it will in the near future.

Silver will probably have a bigger bull market than gold by the time Great Depression 2 hits. But if you want to buy precious metals because you are afraid of people like Bernanke and Carney, then you want gold. Silver is a higher risk trade. Gold will perform better in a panic, which is when silver will perform horribly.

In either case, your objective is to hold until the error cycle reaches its final moments before we enter a deflationary depression. Because at that point, you want to unload all your gold and silver and get currency and bonds from institutions that won’t go broke. It’s a trade that would be harder to time correctly with silver than with gold.

All this being said, there is one other important advantage gold has over silver: your wife or girlfriend will like gold jewelry more than silver jewelry.

WHOA — here comes QE3

There’s been a lot of talk on QE3 and not a lot of action. At least not in what was reflected in the net expansion of the monetary base.

That has changed quite dramatically. Check out the short-term monetary base at the Fed now:

Fed AMB feb 2013

That is a very notable change, because last year the Fed’s policy was actually deflationary. For the first time since the end of QE2, we are seeing Bernanke and the gang really firing up the presses, without a corresponding sell-off in other assets.

The Fed is expected to add about $1 trillion dollars to the economy this year. It is unlikely to cause a surge in monetary prices. It will help bolster the price of US debt and mortgage-backed securities. But as with previous QE’s, I expect commercial banks to stockpile this newly created money in their excess reserves.

This will not help the economy — it will merely sustain the grossly distorted world economic system a little bit longer.

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