Posts filed under ‘Commodities’
When it comes to Lent, most Christian denomination followers give up a vice, such as food, alcohol, or now in more modern times…Facebook (FB). Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday this year (February 22, 2012), investors have given up something else – gold (GLD). As a matter of fact, the shiny metal has declined by about -8% since Lent began. Stocks, on the other hand, as measured by the S&P 500, have outperformed gold by more than 10% over this period (the Lent period damage is even worse, if you look at the NASDAQ).
If you go back further in time, the underperformance is more extreme, once you account for dividends, which gold of course does not provide. For example, since the peak of the financial crisis panic in March of 2009, S&P 400, S&P 600, and NASDAQ stocks have outperformed gold by more than +40%. Yet, I am still waiting for the sign-spinning guy at the corner of First St. & Main St. to advertise stock trade-in opportunities. Contrarians may also get a kick out of the top investment CNBC survey too.
Last Friday’s jobs data was nothing to write home about, so gold cheerleaders might wait for more fiat currency debasement to come in the form of QE3 (i.e., quantitative easing or printing press). But once again, while this potential added monetary stimulus may not be bad for gold, let’s not forget that stocks still outperformed gold under QE1 & QE2.
As I have always stated, I can’t disagree with the inflationary pressures that are brewing. Stimulative monetary and fiscal policies, coupled with emerging market expansion and undisciplined government spending don’t paint a pretty inflationary picture. So if that’s the case, why not focus on other commodities that provide real utility besides just shininess (e.g., agricultural goods, copper, aluminum, oil, and even silver).
The gold bugs may still have a little post-Lent party, until rates start going up and panic insurance premiums go down, but once the Fed’s easing policy stance changes (see Paul Volcker Fed Chairman era) and fiscal sanity eventually returns to Washington, investors may look to another vice to gorge on.
See also some other items to gorge on: CLICK HERE
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap ETFs, mid cap ETFs, energy ETFs, commodity ETFs) , but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GLD, FB, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Ask any average Joe off the street what investment category is at or near record all-time highs, and a good number of them will confidently answer “gold,” as prices recently eclipsed $1,600 per ounce. But of course this makes perfect sense, right? The Fed is printing money like it’s going out of style, the dollar is collapsing like a drunken sailor, inflation is about to sky-rocket to the moon, and China is on the verge of becoming the world’s new reserve currency. Never mind that Greece, Portugal and Ireland are in shambles with the Euro on its death bed. Or Japan has achieved a debt to GDP ratio that would even make U.S. vote grubbing politicians blush. A sub-3% 10-Year Treasury Note doesn’t appear to discourage fervent gold-bugs either.
While gold has experienced an incredible sextupling in prices over the last decade and hit new-all time highs, believe it or not, there is an unlikely asset class that is reaching new historic highs and has outperformed gold for almost 2.5 years. Can you guess what asset class star I am talking about? If I said U.S. “stocks,” would you believe me? OK, well maybe I’m not referring to large capitalization stocks like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Intel Corp. (INTC), and AT&T Inc. (T), all of which have effectively gone nowhere in the 21st Century. However, the story is quite different if you look at small and mid capitalization stocks, which have received about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield.
As a matter of fact, the S&P 400 (MidCap Index) and S&P 600 Index (SmallCap Index) have more than doubled gold’s performance since the lows of March 2009 (SmallCap +149.0%; MidCap +145.1%; Gold/GLD +71.0%). Given the spectacular performance of small and mid-sized companies, I’m still waiting with bated breath for a telemarketer call asking me if I have considered selling my small and mid cap stock certificates for cash – since everyone has melted their gold chains and fillings, a new hobby is needed.
Has the fear trade ended? Perhaps not, if you consider European sovereign debt and U.S. debt ceiling concerns, but what happens if the half empty glass becomes half full. The early 1980s may be a historical benchmark period for comparison purposes. An interesting thing happened from 1980-1982 when Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker began raising interest rates to fight inflation – gold prices dropped -65% (~$800/oz. to under $300/oz.) from 1980-1982 and the shiny metal lived through approximately a 25 year period with ZERO price appreciation. Since there is only one direction for the Fed’s zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) to go, conceivably history will repeat itself once again?
In hindsight gold was a beautiful safe haven vehicle during the panic-filled, nail-biting period during late-2007 throughout 2008. Since then, small and mid cap stocks have trounced gold. Like stocks, Rodney Dangerfield may have gotten no respect, but once fear has subsided and rates start increasing, maybe stocks will steal the show and get the respect they deserve.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap and mid cap ETFs), and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JNJ, MSFT, INTC, T, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
It’s amazing how quickly the long-term secular growth winds can reverse themselves. Just a week ago, nuclear energy was thought of as a safe, clean, green technology that would assist the gasoline pump pain in our wallets and purses. Now, given the events occurring in Japan, “nuclear” has become a dirty word equated to a life-threatening game of Russian roulette.
Despite the spotty information filtering in from the Dai-Ichi plant in Japan, we are already absorbing knee-jerk responses out of industrial heavyweight countries like Germany and China. Germany has temporarily closed seven nuclear power centers generating about a quarter of its nuclear capacity, and China has instituted a moratorium on all new facilities being built. How big a deal is this? Well, China is one country, and it alone currently accounts for 44% of the 62 global nuclear reactor projects presently under construction (see chart below).
As a result of the damaged Fukushima reactors, coupled with various governmental announcements around the globe, Uranium prices have dropped a whopping -30% within a month – plunging from about $70 per pound to around $50 per pound today.
Where does U.S. Nuclear Go from Here?
As you can see from the chart below, the U.S. is the largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, but since our small population is such power hogs, this relatively large nuclear capability only accounts for roughly 20% of our country’s total electricity needs. France, on the other hand, manages about half the reactors as we do, but the French derive a whopping 75% of their total electricity needs from nuclear power. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, Japanese reliance on nuclear power falls somewhere in between – 29% of their electricity demand is filled by nuclear energy. Like Japan, the U.S. imports most of its energy needs, so if nuclear development slows, guess what, other resources will need to make up the difference. OPEC and various other oil-rich, dictators in the Middle East are licking their chops over the future prospects for oil prices, if a cost-effective alternative like nuclear ends up getting kicked to the curb.
As I alluded to above, there is, however, a silver lining. As long as oil prices remain elevated, any void created by a knee-jerk nuclear backlash will only create heightened demand for alternative energy sources, including natural gas, solar, wind, biomass, clean coal, and other creative substitutes. While we Americans may be addicted to oil, we also are inventive, greedy capitalists that will continually look for more cost-efficient alternatives to solve our energy problems (see also Electrifying Profits). Unlike other countries around the world, it looks like the private sector will have to do the heavy lifting to solve these resources on their own dime. Limited subsidies have been introduced, but overall our government has lacked a cohesive energy plan to kick-start some of these innovative energy alternatives.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
We saw what happened on our soil in March 1979 when the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania consumed the hearts and minds of the country. Pure unadulterated panic set in and new nuclear production ground to a virtual halt. When the subsequent Chernobyl incident happened in April 1986 insult was added to injury. As you can see from the chart below, nuclear reactor capacity has plateaued for some twenty years now.
The driving force behind the plateauing nuclear facilities is the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon. The Three Mile Island incident is still fresh in people’s minds, which explains why only one nuclear plant is currently under construction in our country, on top of a base of 104 U.S. reactors in 31 states. I point this out as an ambivalent NIMBY-er since I work 30 miles away from one of the riskiest, 30-year-old nuclear plants in the country (San Onofre).
The Sendai disaster is home to the worst Japanese earthquake in 140 years, by some estimates, but history will prove once again what unintended consequences can occur when impulsive knee-jerk decisions are made. Just consider what has happened to oil prices since the moratorium on offshore drilling (post-BP disaster) was instituted. Sure we have witnessed a dictator or two topple in the Middle East, and there currently is adequate supply to meet demand, but I would make the case that we should be increasing domestic oil supplies (along with alternative energy sources), not decreasing supplies because it is politically safe.
Time will tell if the Japanese earthquake/tsunami-induced nuclear disaster will create additional unintended consequences, but I am hopeful the recent events will at a minimum create a serious dialogue about a comprehensive energy policy. If the comfortable, knee-jerk reaction of significantly diminishing nuclear production is broadly adopted around the world, then an urgent alternative supply response needs to occur. Otherwise, you may just need to enjoy that bike ride to work in the morning, along with that nice, romantic candle-lit dinner at night.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and alternative energy securities, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BP, URRE, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Warren Buffett is kind enough to occasionally grace investors with his perspectives on a wide range of subjects. In his recently released annual letter to shareholders he covered everything from housing and leverage to liquidity and his optimistic outlook on America (read full letter here). Taking advice from the planet’s third wealthiest person (see rankings) is not a bad idea – just like getting basketball pointers from Hall of Famer Michael Jordan or football tips from Pro Bowler Tom Brady isn’t a bad idea either.
Besides being charitable with billions of his dollars, the “Oracle of Omaha” was charitable with his time, spending three hours on the CNBC set (a period equal to $12 million in Charlie Sheen dollars) answering questions, all at the expense of his usual money-making practice of reading through company annual reports and 10Qs.
Buffett’s interviews are always good for a few quotable treasures and he didn’t disappoint this time either with some “gold fondling” and “elephant hunting” quotes.
Buffett on Gold & Commodities
Buffett doesn’t hold back on his disdain for “fixed-dollar investments” and isn’t shy about his feelings for commodities when he says:
“The problem with commodities is that you are betting on what someone else would pay for them in six months. The commodity itself isn’t going to do anything for you….it is an entirely different game to buy a lump of something and hope that somebody else pays you more for that lump two years from now than it is to buy something that you expect to produce income for you over time.”
Here he equates gold demand to fear demand:
“Gold is a way of going long on fear, and it has been a pretty good way of going long on fear from time to time. But you really have to hope people become more afraid in a year or two years than they are now. And if they become more afraid you make money, if they become less afraid you lose money, but the gold itself doesn’t produce anything.”
Buffett goes on to say this about the giant gold cube:
“I will say this about gold. If you took all the gold in the world, it would roughly make a cube 67 feet on a side…Now for that same cube of gold, it would be worth at today’s market prices about $7 trillion dollars – that’s probably about a third of the value of all the stocks in the United States…For $7 trillion dollars…you could have all the farmland in the United States, you could have about seven Exxon Mobils (XOM), and you could have a trillion dollars of walking-around money…And if you offered me the choice of looking at some 67 foot cube of gold and looking at it all day, and you know me touching it and fondling it occasionally…Call me crazy, but I’ll take the farmland and the Exxon Mobils.”
Although not offered up in this particular interview, here is another classic quote by Buffett on gold:
“[Gold] gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”
For the most part I agree with Buffett on his gold commentary, but when he says commodities “don’t do anything for you,” I draw the line there. Many commodities, outside of gold, can do a lot for you. Steel is building skyscrapers, copper is wiring cities, uranium is fueling nuclear facilities, and corn is feeding the masses. Buffett believes in buying farms, but without the commodities harvested on that farm, the land would not be producing the income he so emphatically cherishes. Gold on the other hand, while providing some limited utility, has very few applications…other than looking shiny and pretty.
Buffett on Elephant Hunting
Another subject that Buffett addresses in his annual shareholder letter, and again in this interview, is his appetite to complete large “elephant” acquisitions. Since Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA/B) is so large now (total assets over $372 billion), it takes a sizeable elephant deal to be big enough to move the materiality needle for Berkshire.
“We’re looking for elephants. For one thing, there aren’t many elephants out there, and all the elephants don’t want to go in our zoo…It’s going to be rare that we are going find something selling in the tens of billions of dollars; where I understand the business; where the management wants to join up with Berkshire; where the price makes the deal feasible; but it will happen from time to time.”
Buffett’s target universe is actually fairly narrow, if you consider his estimate of about 50 targets that meet his true elephant definition. He has been quite open about the challenges of managing such a gigantic portfolio of assets. The ability to outperform the indexes becomes more difficult as the company swells because size becomes an impediment – “gravity always wins.”
With experience and age comes quote-ability, and Warren Buffett has no shortage in this skill department. The fact that Buffett’s investment track record is virtually untouchable is reason enough to hang upon his every word, but his uncanny aptitude to craft stories and analogies – such as gold fondling and elephant hunting – guarantees I will continue waiting with bated breath for his next sage nuggets of wisdom.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including commodities) and commodity related equities, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BRKA/B, XOM or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Shhh, if you listen closely enough, you may hear the sound of your portfolio disintegrating away due to the quiet killer…inflation. Inflation is especially worrisome with what we’ve seen happening with commodity prices and the drastic fiscal challenges our country faces. Quantitative Easing (read Flying to the Moon) has only added fuel to the inflation fear flames.
Whether you’re a conspiracy theorist who believes the government inflation data is cooked, or you are a Baby Boomer just looking to secure your retirement, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that movies, pair of jeans, a tank of gas, concert tickets, or healthcare premiums are all going up in price (See also Bacon and Oreo Future).
Companies are currently churning out quarterly results in volume and seeing the impact from commodity prices, whether you are McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) facing rising beef prices or luxury handbag maker Coach Inc. (COH) dealing with escalating leather costs, margins are getting crimped. Investors, especially those on fixed income streams, are experiencing the same pain as these corporations, but the problem is much worse. Unlike a market share leading company that can pass on price increases onto its customers, an investor with piles of cash, and low yielding CDs (Certificates of Deposit), and bonds runs the risk of getting eaten alive. Baby Boomers are beginning to reach retirement age in mass volume. Life spans are extending, and this demographic pool of individuals will become ever-large consumers of costlier and costlier healthcare services. If investments are not prudently managed, Baby Boomers will see their nest eggs evaporate, and be forced to work as Wal-Mart (WMT) greeters into their 80s…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Every day investors are bombarded with a hundred different scary headlines on why the economy will collapse or the world will end. Most of these sensationalist scare tactics distort the truth and overstate reality. What is understated is what Charles Ellis (see Winning the Loser’s Game) calls a “corrosive power”:
“Over the long run, inflation is the major problem for investors, not the attention-getting daily or cyclical changes in securities prices that most investors fret about. The corrosive power of inflation is truly daunting: At 3 percent inflation – which most people accept as ‘normal’ – the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in 24 years. At 5 percent inflation, the purchasing power of your money is cut in half in less than 15 years – and cut in half again in 15 years to just one-quarter.”
In order to bolster his case, Ellis cites the following period:
“From 1977 to 1982, the inflation-adjusted Dow Jones Industrial Average took a five-year loss of 63 percent…In the 15 years from the late 1960s to the early 1980s the unweighted stock market, adjusted for inflation, plunged by about 80 percent. As a result, the decade of the 1970s was actually worse for investors than the decade of the 1930s.”
Solutions – How to Beat Inflation
Although the gold bugs would have you believe it, we are not resigned to live in a world with worthless money, which only has a useful purpose as toilet paper. There are ways to protect your portfolio, if you are properly invested. Here are some strategies to consider:
- TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protection Securities): These government-guaranteed tools are a useful way to protect yourself against rising inflation (see Drowning TIPS).
- Equities (including real estate): Bond issuers do not generally call up there investors and say, “You are such a great investor, so we have decided to increase your interest payments.” However, many publicly traded stocks do exactly that. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is an example of such a company that has increased its dividend for 37 consecutive years. As alluded to earlier, stocks are unique in that they allow inflationary pressures placed on operating profits to be relieved somewhat by the ability to pass on price increases to customers.
- Commodities: Whether you are talking about petroleum products, precious metals (those with a commercial purpose), or agricultural goods, commodities in general act as a great inflationary hedge. Another reason that commodities broadly perform better in an inflationary environment is because the U.S. dollar can often depreciate, which commonly increases the value of commodities.
- Short Duration Bonds: Rising rates are usually tied to escalating inflation, therefore investors would be best served by reducing maturity length and increasing coupon.
There are other ways of battling the inflation problem, but number one is saving and investing across a broadly diversified portfolio. If you want to secure and grow your nest egg, you need to use the silent power of compounding (see Penny Saved is Billion Earned) to combat the silent killer of inflation.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, WMT, TIP, equities, commodities, and short duration bonds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
The say keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the NYU Stern School of Business, is not an enemy, but I think his fluctuating views (see previous story) and Armageddon expectations are off base. Perma-bears like Roubini and Peter Schiff (view article) have gloated and danced in the media limelight due to their early but eventually right calls. Over the last seven months or so, their forecasts on the U.S. economy and markets have been off the mark. With that said, even those with competing views at times can find common ground. For Nouriel and I, we currently share similar beliefs on gold (see my article on gold).
Here’s what Professor Roubini has to say:
“ I don’t believe in gold. Gold can go up for only two reasons. [One is] inflation, and we are in a world where there are massive amounts of deflation because of a glut of capacity, and demand is weak, and there’s slack in the labor markets with unemployment peeking above 10 percent in all the advanced economies. So there’s no inflation, and there’s not going to be for the time being.The only other case in which gold can go higher with deflation is if you have Armageddon, if you have another depression. But we’ve avoided that tail risk as well. So all the gold bugs who say gold is going to go to $1,500, $2,000, they’re just speaking nonsense. Without inflation, or without a depression, there’s nowhere for gold to go. Yeah, it can go above $1,000, but it can’t move up 20-30 percent unless we end up in a world of inflation or another depression. I don’t see either of those being likely for the time being. Maybe three or four years from now, yes. But not anytime soon.”
My thoughts on oil are less bearish, but nonetheless more cautious given the massive price bounce to around $80 per barrel. Could I see prices coming down to $50 like Roubini feels is appropriate? Certainly. With the $100+ per barrel swing we saw last year, I cannot discount completely the possibility of that scenario. However, unlike gold, oil has a much stronger utility value, and based on the slow adoption of more expensive alternative energies, this commodity will be in strong demand for many years to come. The pace of global economic recovery, especially in countries like China, India, and Brazil provide an underlying demand for the petroleum product. In order to understand the underlying bid for this economic lubricant, all one has to do is look at the appetite of emerging economies like China when it comes to this black gold (see my article on China).
And where does Roubini think markets go from here?
“If the recovery of the economy is going to be anemic, sub-par, below-trend and U-shaped, there is going to be a correction. And therefore my view is to stay away from risky assets. Stay in liquid assets. I don’t know when the correction is going to occur, it could be a while longer, but eventually it will be a pretty ugly correction, across many different asset classes.”
Perhaps Roubini’s “double dip” fears will eventually come true – and he leaves himself plenty of room with vague loose language – however, I follow the philosophy of Peter Lynch: ‘‘If you spend more than 14 minutes a year worrying about the market, you’ve wasted 12 minutes.” Great companies don’t disappear in challenging markets – they become cheaper – and new innovative companies emerge to replace the old guard.
As much as I would like to be right all the time, that’s not the case. In order to learn from past mistakes and continually improve my process, it’s important to get the views of others…even from those with clashing perspectives.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct long or short positions in gold positions, however accounts do have long exposure to certain energy stocks and ETFs. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
There I am, strolling through Costco (COST) with a pallet full of toilet paper, Diet Coke, and a garbage bag-sized bag of tortilla chips on my flat orange cart. As I roll into the cash register, I feel a cold panic grab me, only to realize I forgot my 25 pound gold brick in my car trunk as a method of payment for my necessities. Sound far-fetched? Probably not, if you are a part of the hyper-inflationary “Three Musketeers”: Peter Schiff, Jimmy Rogers, and Marc Faber.
Here is what some of the “world-is-ending” crowd is saying:
Peter Schiff (President of Euro Pacific Capital – Connecticut Senator Candidate): He sees the market potentially going much higher, but “it doesn’t matter how much money we have because we’re not going to be able to buy anything with it.”
Marc Faber (a.k.a.,“Dr Doom”, creator of the Gloom Boom & Doom Report): When asked by faux frog boiler and Fox News reporter Glenn Beck if he believes “it is 100% guaranteed that we are going to have hyper-inflation like Zimbabwe,” Faber’s short and to-the-point response was simply, “Yes, that’s correct.”
Jimmy Rogers (Chairman of Rogers Holdings): “I’m afraid they’re printing so much money that stocks could go to 20,000 or 30,000,” Rogers said. “Of course it would be in worthless money, but it could happen and you could lose a lot of money being short,” he adds. Mr. Rogers likes gold too: “I own gold, I’m not selling it.”
PRICING IN GOLD
One consistent theme heard from these three economic bears is that the Dow and other market indexes should be measured on a gold adjusted basis. Since Peter Schiff’s Dow 10,000 to 3,000 forecast never came to fruition (See Schiff’s other questionable predictions), he rationalizes it this way, “So if you price the 2002 Dow in gold, the Dow is at 3,000 now.” Marc Faber makes a similar argument by saying the Dow could double from today, but with gold tripling your worth will be down. That’s funny, because if I price the Dow based on 2002 lumber prices (rather than gold), the Dow would actually be up to about 20,000 (more than 2x its value today)! If prices should truly be measured in gold, then why doesn’t Goldman Sachs’ (GS) and others provide inflation adjusted price targets on their research reports? If gold is the true measure of value, then why can’t I pay off my American Express (AXP) bill by mailing in my gold necklace?
With the effective quadrupling of gold prices in the last seven years (~$250/oz to ~$1,000/oz), gold bugs are more confidently pounding their chests and throwing out multi-thousand, frothy price targets. For example, Peter Schiff predicted $2,000 per ounce by 2009 (who knows, maybe he’ll be right and gold will be up another 100% in the ne next 90 days…cough, cough). Not only are you hearing the strategists and investors bang their drums more loudly, but gold advertisements are plastered all over the radio, television, and internet. Here are a few excerpts*:
- “Watch your gold investments be “on the money” every 9 out of 10 times.”
- “Gold prices could reach $2,300 an ounce or more before it’s over. Buyers of gold bullion at $900 an ounce could earn a return of +155%. That’s very good. But there’s an even BETTER WAY!”
- “Discover Our Little Known “Gold Price Predictor” That Has Been Spot On Every Single Time… Since 1901..!”
- “Turn EVERY $1 Of GOLD Into $10…Or MORE!”
Sources: streetauthority.com and soverignsociety.com
Another scenario to consider is a complete collapse in gold prices (and surge in the dollar) like we saw in the early 1980s We experienced about a -65% drop in gold prices (~$800/oz. to $300/oz.) from 1980-1982 and saw ZERO price appreciation for about a 25 year period. When did this abysmal period for gold begin? Right about the same time that Paul Volcker raised interest rates to fight inflation. Hmmm, I wonder what next direction of interest rates will be, especially with the Federal Funds rate currently at effectively 0%? Could we see a repeat of the early ‘80s? Seems like a possibility to me. Certainly if you fall into the Marshal Law, civil unrest, soup kitchen, and bread line camp, like the “Three Musketeers,” then burying tons of gold in your homemade bunker may indeed be an appropriate strategy.
Another head scratcher is all the talk revolving around an inflation driven market rebound. If inflation is truly the worry, then shouldn’t the “Three Musketeers” be massively short and be concerned about declining PE (Price/Earnings) multiples, like the single digit PE levels we saw in the late-1970s and early-1980s (when we were experiencing double-digit inflation)?
As I have chronicled, there can be some mixed interpretations regarding the direction of future gold prices. If you think a repeat of Volcker driven gold price collapse of the early ‘80s is possible, then establishing a heavy short position may be the ticket for you. If on the other hand, you are in the gold $4,000 camp, then it might be best to carry a few extra gold bars in the trunk for your next Costco trip.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct long or short positions in COST, GS, AXP or gold positions. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
So wait a second, let me get this right. A company pays billions of dollars to buy insurance, and then decides to sell $3.5 billion in dilutive ownership rights (current stockholders losing more than 10% of their ownership) so that they can pay somebody else another $5.6 billion to take that same insurance they previously loved away. In my book, I call that lunacy. This madness is exactly what Barrick Gold (ABX) just decided to do. The world’s largest gold miner issued approximately 95 million common shares at $37 per share to remove gold price hedges (used to lock in gold prices at a certain level), so if gold prices spike Barrick will now be able to participate fully without the drag of the hedges.
Effectively, management has decided to turn the mining company into a Vegas casino, where shareholders can now freely speculate in the price of gold without the volatility reducing hedges in place. Does this outlandish behavior signal a top in gold prices (now hovering around $1,000 per ounce)? I’m not stupid enough to call the end of frothing, speculative behavior – just witness Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” speech in 1996 when the NASDAQ traded at 1,300 (then went on to peak above 5,000). But what I am bold enough to do is call a spade a spade and to point out how ridiculous this reverse hedging activity is.
Other signs of speculation beyond the 4x price increase over the last 8 years or so, is the fact that gold prices have risen in the face of incredibly weak gold jewelry demand, -22% year-over-year globally in Q2 according to the Gold Demand Trends. This leaves the remaining demand coming largely from speculators and global central banks. If you need more evidence for the gold speculation, just turn on your local AM radio station and listen for the endless number of get-rich-quick on gold advertisements – some stations need to fill the gaping hole once held by those advertisers hawking mortgages.
From a gold investors’ perspective, I would say I fall more into Warren Buffett camp of thinking. Unlike other commodities (some of which I believe will be driven upwards by my emerging market demand and other forces) , gold is something dug up from the dirt in South Africa, melted, transported to another hole, buried in the ground (central bank), and then storage costs are incurred to guard the shiny metal. Sure, jewelry and small commercial applications are drivers for real demand, but the majority of demand is derived from intangible desires. Other commodities, for example oil, copper, uranium, and natural gas offer a lot more utility.
So what’s next when it comes to the price of gold? Peter Schiff an uber-gold bull broker at Euro Pacific Capital believes Armageddon is coming for the U.S. economy and hyper-inflation will drive gold upwards to the $4,000 per ounce price range (See How Peter Schiff’s Other Forecasts Have Performed). Another possibility to consider is a complete collapse in gold prices (and surge in the dollar) like we saw in the early 1980s after Paul Volcker raised interest rates and gold prices did not appreciate for a 25 year period. Hmmm, I wonder what direction interest rates are going next with the Federal Funds rate currently at effectively 0%? Could we see a repeat of the early ‘80s? Seems like a possibility to me. Certainly if you fall into the civil unrest, soup kitchen, and bread line camp, like Schiff and other U.S. bears, then piling into the diluted Barrick Gold shares may not be a bad strategy.
Given the massive stimulus, debt loads, money supply growth and legislative agendas currently in place, inflation is a major medium and long-term concern. My remedy is government guaranteed Treasury Inflated Protection Securities (TIPS) that not only compensates investors with interest payments (unlike gold), but will also see principal values increase in tandem with principal if inflation indeed rears its ugly head. For those conspiracy theorists that believe the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is rigged, there are alternative international flavors of TIPs that reset according to other inflation benchmarks. As a kicker, some of these particular securities offer a hedge against a sliding U.S. dollar, which may or may not continue.
So as I lie in my recliner with my popcorn and TIPs, I’ll watch Barrick and other speculators continue the gold buying frenzy, wondering when and how ugly the gold finale will be?
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct long or short positions in ABX or gold related securities or BRKA/B at the time the article was published. Sidoxia Capital Management and its clients do have long exposure to TIP shares. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
The cost of a sugar coma has gone up, making my Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries craving a pricier endeavor. It’s seems like almost yesterday when I was crouched over my sugar cereal on a Saturday morning watching cartoons – hey wait, maybe that was last weekend? Regardless of the timeframe, prices for sugar have not been this high since Coke and Pepsi used sugar, rather than corn syrup, in their 1970s formulations and Cuba was the world’s largest sugar producer.
What’s the reason for the +67% price rise in sugar this year*? There are several reasons:
1) Disappointing Crops: India is the largest consumer of sugar at 23.5 million tons and a very significant producer of the sweetener. Due to deficient rainfall in the northeast and southern regions in India (caused in part by El Niño conditions), the country is estimated to need more than double the imports of the good this year. Disappointing crops in Brazil have also contributed to the tightening global supply. India and Brazil account for about 40% of global sugar supplies.
2) Forward Buying / Hedging: The supply-demand dynamics of the sugar market have caused certain high sugar-consuming countries, like Egypt and Mexico, to buy large stockpiling purchases – further pushing up prices. Beyond consumer and speculators, global food and beverage companies from the likes of Kraft, General Mills and ConAgra Foods have been purchasing futures to hedge the risk of additional price hikes.
3) Oil Increase Buoys Ethanol: Oil’s +59% price increase this year to about $70 per barrel has provided additional price support through increased demand for sugar-based ethanol.
Weather, oil demand, and sentiment may change thereby easing the cost burden of higher priced sugar goods, but irrespective of sugar prices you can rest assured my Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries addiction will remain resilient.
*Source: The Financial Times (8-7-09).
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.