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The Golden Rule Reinterpreted
Posted by Peter Schiff on 05/07/2012 at 11:08 AM

 In an April speech in Berlin, Dr. Andreas Dombret, a member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank (the German central bank), offered a startlingly frank assessment of the current problems in Europe.  Although his comments were meant to apply to the tensions and imbalances that exist between the northern and southern tier of the 17-member eurozone, they shed inadvertent light on the broader global economy.

 

Rebuffing calls that Germany do more to support the faltering southern economies, Dr. Dombret said:

 

...Exchange rate movements are usually an important channel through which unsustainable current account positions are corrected....In a monetary union, however, this is obviously no longer an option. Spain no longer has a peseta to devalue; Germany no longer has a deutsche mark to revalue. Other things must therefore give instead: prices, wages, employment and output.

 

The question now is which countries have to shoulder the adjustment burden. Naturally, this is where opinions start to differ. The German position could be described as follows: the deficit countries must adjust. They must address their structural problems, reduce domestic demand, become more competitive and increase their exports.

 

In economics it is axiomatic that positive and negative current account balances will ultimately be offset by changes in relative currency valuations. The currencies of surplus countries are supposed to rise and the currencies of the deficit countries are supposed to fall. But the current global political alignment has altered this process. Like many of his German and continental peers in government and finance, Dombret is likely in favor of maintaining a common currency at all costs. But as he outlines, when currencies fail to adjust something else has to give. He insists that the giving come from those who have been getting.

 

Given their weak economies and strained fiscal positions, it should be evident that citizens of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have been living beyond their means. Their relative prosperity over the last decade has largely been maintained by the purchasing power of the euro which itself has been buoyed by the strong German economy. Rather than forcing Germans, whose savings rates and current account surplus results from years of fiscal prudence, to lend even more money and suffer higher inflation so that the southern tier can receive more monetary stimulus, Dombret argues the citizens of deficit economies must spend less while working, producing and saving more.  In other words, their living standards must match their productivity.

 

Economic dynamics do not change with scale. And as it happens, there is a much bigger and equally flawed currency bloc in the world than the one Dr. Dombret is seeking to cure. In that larger bloc, the exact same dynamic of surplus and deficit nations is playing out within an inflexible monetary straightjacket.

 

In order to maintain exports and to manage economic expectations, many nations (most notably China) have instituted fixed exchange rates between their own currencies and the U.S. dollar. Although this system is not governed by a formal treaty like the one that binds the 17-nation eurozone, it has given rise to a virtual bloc of currencies that are unnaturally tethered, even while the underlying economics are drifting apart. And although there has been some recent flexibility from China on exchange rates, there is nearly universal consensus that these movements would be far more pronounced absent significant central bank manipulation.

 

Like the nations of southern Europe, the United States consumes far more than it produces. But rather than closing the gap by producing more and consuming less, both have followed a far less painful path. They have borrowed instead. Who can blame them? After all, it's far more enjoyable to consume than produce. And as we have seen in many financial arenas, a borrower will tend to borrow for as long as a lender is willing to lend, especially if there are no immediate adverse consequences.

 

Both Germany and China produce more than they consume. It is from these resulting surpluses that the deficit nations are borrowing. But these two creditor nations are currently showing different policy drifts with respect to their hard-earned savings. In Europe, German leaders are showing increasing reluctance to sacrifice the living standards of their own citizens to perpetuate an imbalanced economic system. The Chinese on the other hand appear to heartily encourage such a policy. This difference can be attributed to their respective political systems. In Germany, public opinion matters. In China, not so much.

 

The currency peg of the Yuan against the dollar, which China has enforced with varying degrees of exactitude over the past few decades, has helped the Chinese government exert greater influence over the growth and contours of its economy. But the policy has created hardships for Chinese citizens (such as disproportionately low rates of consumption and high rates of inflation). But lacking any means to overtly influence public policy, Chinese citizens have had little choice but to take it on the chin. German citizens on the other hand are much freer to voice their discontent. And in fact, fears of a voter backlash have been determinative in setting Berlin's agenda.  

 

The question for the global economy is whether China will become more like Germany, or Germany more like China. From my perspective the answer is clear. German leaders are unlikely to risk the scorn of voters by repudiating their cultural aversion to overly accommodative monetary policy. In China, the decisions will be more pragmatic.  Currently Beijing perceives advantages in the status quo. But ultimately the costs, in terms of increasing foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation, may force its hand. When that happens, the United States and Southern Europe will be in the same boat.  

 

To many, the "Golden Rule" is an idea that underscores the value of civility and fair dealing. But there is another, less magnanimous definition: "He who has the gold makes the rules." In the current global economy, the surplus countries have the gold and sooner or later we will be living by their rules. 

 

To save 35% on Peter Schiff's new book, The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy - How to Save Yourself and Your Countrypre-order your copy today

 

For in-depth analysis of this and other investment topics, subscribe to Peter Schiff's Global Investor newsletter. CLICK HERE for your free subscription.



Tags:  currencyeurogoldinflationyuan
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The Dollar's Lucky Streak
Posted by Peter Schiff on 01/10/2012 at 10:19 AM

Recent U.S. economic data, such as the modest drop in the unemployment rate and the massive expansion of consumer credit, have suggested that the American economy is finally recovering. Opposite conclusions are being thrown at Europe, where many are convinced that recession is returning. Not surprisingly then, the dollar is currently hitting a multi-year high against the euro. The strength of the dollar itself is often held up as one of the major proof points that the U.S. economy is “improving.” But the data points that I believe really matter continue to suggest an economy on life support. I believe that the dollar is rising for reasons that have nothing to do with America’s economic health. 

The ongoing sovereign debt crisis in Europe is unquestionably the center ring in the current economic circus. Given the difficulty of setting policy across borders and national interests, the negotiations in Europe have been messy, acrimonious, inconclusive, and conducted under the glaring lights of global media scrutiny. The action has diverted attention away from America’s problems, which in many ways are even greater than those in Europe. In contrast, America’s ability to print the world’s currency at will, and the nearly seamless agreement of policy between the Administration and the Federal Reserve, means that the United States has been able to virtually ignore the issues that Europe has been forced to confront. This relative calm has been mistaken for strength, and the dollar has beckoned as the ultimate safe haven currency.

The fact that the dollar is perceived as a safe haven acts as a self–fulfilling prophesy. Investors flee the euro and pile into dollars. The dollar then rises to reflect the demand. The increase validates the decision to buy in the first place, and the rising dollar then attracts even more buyers looking to profit from its appreciation. It’s a nice ride while it lasts.

Most “safe haven” dollar purchases are directed toward U.S. Treasuries. As a result U.S. interest rates are far lower than they would otherwise be without this inflow of spooked liquidity. But objectively speaking, the U.S. and Italy, for instance, have very similar national debt profiles. Yet interest rates in Washington are currently 600 basis points lower than they are in Rome. This means that Americans can borrow and spend much more. The result of all this extra debt financed consumption is a boost in employment and GDP. The positive economic impact makes the dollar even more attractive, thereby perpetuating the cycle.

If rates in Italy (or Spain for that matter) were as low now as they were two years ago, those countries would not be experiencing the problems they are today. Their borrowing costs would never have risen and their budgets would still be manageable. Similarly, higher interest rates in the U.S. would completely take the shine out of our economy. Imagine what would happen here if rates were just 200 basis points higher, let alone 600? U.S. consumers, homeowners, corporations, and governments are particularly dependent on cheap financing. As bad as things are in Europe, they would be even worse here. 

In other words, contrary to popular belief, the problems in Europe are helping, not hindering, the U.S economy – at least in the short-term. Over the long term, borrowing and spending more money to finance consumption and government red ink will not help the U.S. economy achieve a sustainable balance. If safe haven flows were to reverse (which could result from an improvement in Europe), the dollar would fall, interest rates and consumer prices would rise, and the U.S. economy would be right back in recession. The only “good news” is that such a positive development in Europe appears unlikely in the short-run.

All self-perpetuating virtuous cycles are vulnerable to a sudden break in the positive feedback loop. When reality rears its ugly head, and the spell breaks, the reverses can be vicious. It happened with dot com stocks, it happened with real estate, and I believe it will happen with the dollar and Treasuries. Even if Europe does not resolve its problems, the day of reckoning will still eventually arrive. The unfortunate truth is that the longer it takes, the worse it will be, as we will have that much more debt to reckon with.



Tags:  currencydollareurofederal reserve
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WAS 2011 THE END OF THE GOLD RUSH?
Posted by Peter Schiff on 01/04/2012 at 4:28 PM

For such a wonderful year for precious metals investors, the final calendar quarter left little to celebrate. Just as people now take for granted that their phones will also take pictures, play music, and surf the internet, many investors have come to expect gold and silver to move up in a straight line.

In fact, in a recent CNBC interview one analyst claimed that gold's recent correction proves that it is not really a safe haven. In truth, such a statement merely proves how little some analysts know about markets.

However much the fundamentals may be on your side, there are always mitigating factors that affect price movement. In the case of gold and silver, the temporary resurgence of the dollar versus other fiat currencies alternatives has been the dominant factor - but even that isn't the whole story.

STAMPEDE OUT OF EUROS

The critical factor that has been in play the past few months has been the European debt crisis going critical. I have said all along that the US is in worse shape than the EU overall because the EU has less will and capacity to resolve - or even temporarily paper over - its problems. The flip side is that, absent the massive stimulus the US has received, Europe has been forced to deal with its sovereign debt problems first.

Global investors have been spooked since the credit crunch of 2008. That means they are more likely to follow the herd rather than stick to the fundamentals. It takes a certain firmness of character to watch your investments sell off by double digits and not have a moment of self-doubt.

So, what we're seeing is big moves into and out of asset classes. But what is important to understand about these circumstances is not the scale of the moves but the direction of the trend.

Right now, the dollar is riding high. But it's still down over 30% over the last decade as measured by the generous US Dollar Index. Gold, by contrast, is up over 350% in that period. Of course, past performance does not guarantee future results, but the fundamentals have not changed. It's worth remembering that mainstream analysts chose the dollar over gold in almost every report over the last 10 years, based on a blind faith in the power of the US government to centrally plan the American economy. The market proved them wrong.

Once again, the mainstream narrative is that the real danger is in Europe and therefore the US offers a safe haven. This has caused a stampede out of euros and into dollars. But as we've seen over the last few years, the euro and dollar can decline simultaneously - and will continue to do so as more and more investors realize that the real safe haven is gold.

SHOOTING STRAIGHT UP

There is a reason assets don't move up in a straight line. Besides varying liquidity needs and risk appetites of investors, there are also built-in mechanisms to flush speculators out of a skyrocketing market.

As silver approached $50 this past April, the COMEX raised margin requirements for futures contracts on the metal, thereby pushing many speculators out of the market. While this practice presumably prevents speculators from overusing leverage, it also has the effect of crushing the short-term price of the metal. Both gold and silver have been subject to increased margin requirements this past year.

While we can now rest assured that future price increases are driven more by long-term investment than short-term speculation, it is not without costs. Speculators serve to reduce volatility in a market by buying in anticipation of future scarcity and vice versa. So, pushing out the speculators may increase volatility in the future. However, it's my feeling that in truth no gains have been lost at all - they have merely been postponed.

IS THIS THE TOP?

In order to determine whether the recent sideways movement of gold and silver is cause for concern, let's look at what lies ahead for 2012.

It is clear from 2011 that the new Tea Party members of Congress are not strong enough to stop the fiscal bleeding, and with the Occupy Wall Street movement in full swing, President Obama doesn't have a lot of room to compromise. Washington has been reduced to short-term measures to "pay" its bills, and the bills are mounting faster than ever.

Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve seems intent on pushing all the boundaries of monetary policy. In its most recent ploy, the Fed has engaged in a covert bailout of Europe through the use of currency swaps. From an investment perspective, this goes to show how deluded dollar investors are - they're buying into a currency that is being printed for any and all comers. This news should have caused the dollar to tank and gold and the euro to rise, but again, the fear trade is overriding all other considerations.

2012 should see more trouble from Europe, and therefore potentially more dollar buying. This might even be the year we see a few members exit the euro. However, there is no way to know how the euro will react in the short-term to such events, as such scenarios may already be priced into the market. In any event, long-term, the eurozone will be stronger without its weaker members. If they cannot mend their profligate ways, better to force them out now than compromise the solvency of the stronger members.

For smart investors, dollar strength caused by euro fears is simply an opportunity to buy contra-dollar assets on the cheap. Yes, I believe sub-$30 silver and sub-$1600 gold are still cheap for what's ahead. And with 2012 forecasts of $2,200 by Morgan Stanley, $2,050 by UBS, and $2,000 by Barclays, it appears I'm not alone.

Peter Schiff is CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Precious Metals, a gold and silver coin and bullion dealer offering honest products at competitive prices.  

 

If you would like more information about Euro Pacific Precious Metals, click here or go to our website, www.europacmetals.com. For the fastest service, call 1-888-GOLD-160


Tags:  currencydollareurogoldprecious metalssilver
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Pentonomics - Gold is the True Reserve Currency
Posted by Michael Pento on 08/04/2011 at 9:51 AM

The reliance upon the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency and "safe haven" asset has created a perverse, but deeply entrenched, mindset among global investors. In fact, many believe the major financial players have no alternatives to owning U.S. debt and dollars. They argue that the market for U.S. dollars and Treasuries is the only financial pool large enough to handle the massive liquidity that sloshes around the globe on a daily basis. This idea makes a mass exodus from U.S. debt holdings seem impossible. This provides a nice explanation why the U.S. Treasury bonds can rally even while the government openly flirts with default and ratings agencies issue downgrades. But just because an illogical event occurs habitually does not mean it is logical or tenable.  

 

The sophomoric reasoning behind the dollar "exceptionalism" argument is like assuming a stock can never fall unless a significant portion of shareholders decide to sell. In reality, a buyers strike is all that is needed to puncture a market. If the U.S. experienced just one disastrous Treasury auction, prices could nose-dive and yields could skyrocket across the board on all U.S. debt.

 

But the problem doesn't just lie with the United States. Investors around the world are finally beginning to understand that central bank's thirst for creating inflation, in order to keep their banks and governments solvent, will never be quenched.

 

This week, the Swiss government took action to weaken the surging franc by lowering interest rates and printing currency. The franc was pushed down briefly, but then snapped back. It's hard to keep a good currency down. Similarly, the Bank of Japan announced that it won't stand for Yen appreciation much longer and would likely soon intervene to buy dollars and weaken the Yen.

 

Meanwhile, problems at the overly indebted countries just get worse. Italian and Spanish debt yields are now following the upward spiral of Greek bonds (and hitting multi year highs). Italian ten-year notes have surged from just above 3% in late 2010 to well over 6% today. For a country whose debt to GDP ratio is currently over 120%, a doubling of interest rate expenses spells disaster.

 

Enter Jean Claude Trichet who will certainly use his printing press to buy much of the weakening Italian debt that is now festering on the balance sheets of the biggest European banks. But the size of the bailouts needed to deal with Italian and Spanish debts will be several orders of magnitude greater than those needed for Ireland or Greece. Anticipating a massive increase in the Euro money supply, investors are flocking to gold to protect themselves from currency debasement.

 

Adding fuel to the gold fire is the recent debt deal reached in Washington. The disgusting agreement virtually assures that over the next decade the U.S. will add an additional $8 trillion in public debt, an increase of nearly 80% in ten years! The back-end-loaded deal will cause the amount of deficit reduction to be just $21 billion in 2012 and $42 billion in 2013.

 

But even this modest debt reduction depends on rosy assumptions from Washington that are always wrong. For example, the Obama administration predicts GDP growth will average well over 3% for the coming decade. But the annualized GDP growth in the first half of 2011 was just 0.9%. That means the actual deficit and debt figures will be far greater than the projections. Given the immediate increase in borrowing needs, and the obvious slowing of the tepid "recovery," there can be little doubt that the next round of quantitative easing will be launched sooner rather than later.

 

The incompetency of U.S. credit rating agencies has long been suspected. But their actions in the wake of the debt ceiling agreement now confirm them as liars. After threatening to downgrade U.S. credit if Washington failed to cut $4 trillion in spending, neither Moody's, Fitch nor S&P had the courage to carry through, despite the fact that the total cuts would amount to only half their requirements. But a credit rating downgrade on Treasuries did come-from China. The Dagong Global Credit Rating agency cut the credit rating on U.S. sovereign debt to A from A+, 5 notches below AAA. And since the Chinese are the biggest foreign buyer of Treasuries, their opinion counts. 

 

This week, more evidence of U.S. stagflation emerged. The ISM manufacturing and non-manufacturing reports showed a slowdown in new orders and employment and the ADP report showed that the U.S. lost 7,000 goods-producing jobs in July. Other data releases showed that layoffs surged 60% last month to a 16-month high. Meanwhile, YOY consumer prices are up 3.6% and M2 money supply is up 7.5% YOY and rising at a 14.6% annual rate in the last quarter. As the problem with stagflation becomes worse, international investors will avoid the U.S. dollar and U.S. debt at an ever increasing rate.

 

With soaring debt-to-GDP ratios in Japan, Western Europe and America, the desirability of owning precious metals will grow as investors realize the fiat currency system's days are numbered. Those holding U.S. dollars and U.S. debt will feel the biggest brunt of the change. But it is always darkest before the dawn. As a result of the carnage the re-establishment of gold as the world's reserve currency is, hopefully, only a few years away.



Tags:  currencydebtdollareconomygoldgold standardreserves
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The Institutional Gold Rush
Posted by Peter Schiff on 05/07/2011 at 6:25 AM

I have worked on Wall Street my entire life, and one thing I've learned is that large institutional investors, like pension funds and endowments, rarely veer from the herd. They manage too much of other people's money to stick their necks out alone - if their investments go bad, at least they can point to everyone else who fared just as poorly.

For this reason, these funds are often lagging in their perception of crucial market changes - changes such as a doomed currency. While many of us are buying precious metals to hedge against the collapse of the dollar, gold and silver have been taboo investments on Wall Street for years. Fund managers are taught that gold is a "barbarous relic" - much better to stick with government bonds and blue-chip stocks. That's what everyone else is doing.

But there are early signs that the herd is changing direction.

THE CURRENCY THAT CAN'T BE PRINTED

In a remarkably under-reported story, the University of Texas' endowment fund - the second largest in the country, after Harvard's - added about half of a billion dollars worth of gold to its portfolio just this month, on top of the half-billion it purchased several months prior.

The university's endowment now owns a staggering 6,643 bars of bullion (664,300 ounces), which have already appreciated by over $40 million since mid-April when the bars were delivered to a dedicated HSBC-owned vault in New York City. Not a bad start.

Kyle Bass, the well-known Hayman Capital hedge fund manager and UT endowment board member, advised the university on the purchase. He stated his reasoning plainly: "Central banks are printing more money than they ever have, so what's the value of money in terms of purchases of goods and services? I look at gold as just another currency that they can't print any more of."

Apparently, the university agrees that sitting on a pile of fiat paper is an act of faith not befitting a prudent and enlightened institution.

AN INSTITUTIONAL AWAKENING

The purchase is certainly causing a few heads to turn.

Now that a major endowment has taken this step, other fund managers are going to be emboldened to follow through on their gut instincts. These are smart guys, after all; they are aware that although their funds may be posting nominal gains, they are losing much more in purchasing power. I'm sure many have privately bought precious metals, but now they have cover to do so professionally.

Perhaps the most interesting part of UT's billion-dollar repudiation of Fed Chairman Bernanke and his printing press, however, is that the fund demanded physical delivery of the bullion. While more commonplace in Europe, this is truly unprecedented for a stateside institution.

The delivery of physical bullion has at least two important implications. The first is that UT perceives gold to be a long-term strategy for wealth preservation, as opposed to a short-term speculation. The second is that UT must be somewhat concerned about the stability of financial markets in general, so it wants to own physical gold safely stored in a vault, as opposed to owning paper claims, shares of gold funds, or other instruments with counterparty risk.

HUGE RAMIFICATIONS

I have long recommended that investors hold at least 5-10% of their portfolios in physical precious metals. UT's $1 billion position represents roughly 5% of its $20 billion endowment, so they have reached my minimum recommendation - but likely have more buying to do.

As endowment after endowment decides to sell billions of Bernanke's dollars and diversify into gold, what might this do to the gold price? If these colossal funds start getting the idea that holding 5% of their portfolio in gold is more conservative and intelligent than holding the current average of 1%, what will this mean for gold demand? The answer is obvious and the ramifications huge.

ONE SMALL STEP FOR INSTITUTIONS, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR GOLD

If US university endowments were to increase their gold positions from the current average of 1% to an average of 5% of their portfolios, it would equal $20 billion, or roughly 400 metric tons of gold at today's spot price. This is significantly more than the entire yearly gold production of China, the world's largest producer.

Beyond endowments, private foundations in the US, with 2010 assets totaling nearly $600b, would similarly require nearly 600 metric tons of gold if they sought to hold 5% of their assets in the metal - almost twice China's yearly production.

And again, these are just US endowments and foundations; there's a whole world of demand beyond the borders - and we can't forget sovereign wealth funds (SFWs).

The largest SWF in the world, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, has assets worth over $600b alone. The second and third largest funds, Norway and Saudi Arabia, together constitute roughly a trillion dollars in assets.

GETTING IN BEFORE THE HERD

The point here is simple: the total investable funds around the world are immense relative to the size of the gold market. It's not hard to perceive what a simple move from 1% to 5% of the average institutional portfolio would do to the price of gold, and this why the University of Texas' bullion delivery is so important - it's a vivid indication that such a move is now taking place.

Gold remains widely neglected among the big-money players, but it's clear that they're beginning to come to terms with the US dollar's terrible prospects. After all, while fund managers don't want to veer from the herd, they also don't want to follow the herd off a cliff.

The University of Texas, with its billion-dollar stash of physical gold, is one institution that has finally seen the cliff. The physical delivery of this purchase exemplifies the severity of the threat that UT's endowment board perceives.

The average investor should recognize that there is little time left to purchase precious metals before substantial new demand drives the price of gold higher. A very small percentage change in large institutional investment is all that's required for massive gold price increases.

I believe we are on the cusp of a smart-money gold rush. It will drive gold to a record in real terms, even before retail investors join in. Though you may have missed the last decade of gains, there is still a chance to buy in before the stampede.



Tags:  bullioncurrencygoldwall street
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