Best Quotes of November 2008
Christian, CPM Group
At the end of the de-leveraging, you will see a divergence between gold and silver on the one hand and industrial commodities on the other. Even today we have this very strong demand for physical gold and silver globally, from India to the Middle East to America. Once the de-leveraging ends, I think gold and silver prices could spike sharply higher, possibly as early as late November or early December.
One the most remarkable things to me is how the American people have been sold on accepting, even preferring, inflation over deflation. It is truly amazing that government and central banking bureaucrats could successfully instill the belief that lower prices for assets are bad. The reality is that lower prices are only bad for artificially-constructed economies.
Deflation is necessary to restore market and economic stability. It is not without pain. But inflation, even mild inflation, is like an intoxicant that slowly destroys the body over time even as its narcotic properties mask the pain. By comparison, hyperinflation is ruinous. How ruinous? Consider this passage from Adam Fergusson's book, "When Money Dies: The nightmare of the Weimar collapse":
"In hyperinflation, a kilo of potatoes was worth, to some, more than the family silver; a side of pork more than the grand piano. A prostitute in the family was better than an infant corpse; theft was preferable to starvation; warmth was finer than honour, clothing more essential than democracy, food more needed than freedom."
This is important to understand. The argument against deflation and inflation is both academic and political. Present economic elites benefit from inflation and suffer terribly in deflation. Therefore there is great incentive for the small minority, the 2-3% of wealthy who control the vast majority of assets in this country, to continue to press government and the Fed to maintain the present course of inflation over deflation.
Whenever you analyze silver it always comes down to gold in the end. If gold is strong enough for long enough, silver will explode higher as speculators flood in to drive one of its characteristic parabolic spikes. If gold is drifting in a consolidation, silver will dutifully follow in a sideways grind of its own. And if gold sells off, silver speculators will abandon silver in a heartbeat without thinking twice. Gold is the key.
The money markets always get it wrong; inflation expectations are sticky following periods of deflation and sticky following periods of inflation. The big money to be made in our fiat money era is in betting that the bond market is getting it wrong rather than assuming that a market that is forecasting future inflation or deflation is getting it right. When governments are inflating, the bond markets tend to be right short term, wrong long term.
That being the case, this may be the trade of the century because the bond markets are pricing corporates, treasury bonds, and TIPs as if it's 1931 and the US and the world was on the gold standard, or it's 1974 and recession is about to take inflation down for the count.
...Is gold re-monetization good for gold owners? We've seen calculations of potential future post re-monetization prices such as those suggested by Larry Edelson over at Money and Markets ranging from $5,300 to $53,000 per ounce. We have since 2001 forecast a $5,000 peak gold price, but that estimate is based on a set of metrics, such as the ratio of gold to the DOW that we anticipate at the top of a global currency crisis, not post re-monetization gold reserve ratios. Less important than the gold price to gold owners, however, is the ugly political and legal environment, not to mention the social atmosphere, that is likely to exist at the time that economic conditions drive international parties to the table to hammer out a new international gold standard.
The range of future popular opinion of private gold holders under those drastic circumstances ranges from villain or hero and everything in between. If gold owners are vilified, you can count on a less than friendly government policies on gold taxation and possession. The 1933 confiscation was strictly old school; the modern approach is more likely to take the form of a 90% capital gains tax on private gold sales with high penalties to encourage sales to the government at a fixed price and slow a popular rush to the metal, and of course create an enormous black market in the bargain. If that sounds paranoid, you haven't been watching the news lately.
The biggest bubble, which doesn't get spoken of enough, is the fiat currency bubble -- the fact that paper currencies, especially the U.S. dollar, are given so much buying power when they're just being run off a printing press. There will be a day of reckoning, when the U.S. dollar becomes almost like the hot potato no one wants to hold. As soon as a country gets dollars, they move them off.
Krugman, New York Times
We are already, however, well into the realm of what I call depression economics. By that I mean a state of affairs like that of the 1930s in which the usual tools of economic policy -- above all, the Federal Reserve's ability to pump up the economy by cutting interest rates -- have lost all traction. When depression economics prevails, the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply: virtue becomes vice, caution is risky and prudence is folly.
To see what I'm talking about, consider the implications of the latest piece of terrible economic news: Thursday's report on new claims for unemployment insurance, which have now passed the half-million mark. Bad as this report was, viewed in isolation it might not seem catastrophic. After all, it was in the same ballpark as numbers reached during the 2001 recession and the 1990-1991 recession, both of which ended up being relatively mild by historical standards (although in each case it took a long time before the job market recovered).
But on both of these earlier occasions the standard policy response to a weak economy -- a cut in the federal funds rate, the interest rate most directly affected by Fed policy -- was still available. Today, it isn't: the effective federal funds rate (as opposed to the official target, which for technical reasons has become meaningless) has averaged less than 0.3 percent in recent days. Basically, there's nothing left to cut.
And with no possibility of further interest rate cuts, there's nothing to stop the economy's downward momentum. Rising unemployment will lead to further cuts in consumer spending, which Best Buy warned this week has already suffered a "seismic" decline. Weak consumer spending will lead to cutbacks in business investment plans. And the weakening economy will lead to more job cuts, provoking a further cycle of contraction.
The growing risk of falling prices raises a challenge for one of the conventional wisdoms of the modern economics profession, and indeed modern central banking: the belief that it is impossible to have deflation in a fiat paper-money system. Yet U.S. core CPI fell by 0.1% month-on-month in October, the first such decline since December 1982.
The origins of the modern conventional wisdom lies in the simplistic monetarist interpretation of the Great Depression popularized by Milton Friedman and taught to generations of economics students ever since. This argued that the Great Depression could have been avoided if the Federal Reserve had been more proactive about printing money. Yet the Japanese experience of the 1990s -- persistent deflationary malaise unresponsive to near zero-percent interest rates -- shows that it is not so easy to inflate one's way out of a debt bust.
...What happens next? With a fed-funds rate at 0.5% or lower in coming months, it is fast becoming time for investors to read again Mr. Bernanke's speeches in 2002 and 2003 on the subject of combating falling inflation. In these speeches, the Fed chairman outlined how policy could evolve once short-term interest rates get to near zero. A key focus in such an environment will be to bring down long-term interest rates, which help determine the rates of mortgages and other debt instruments. This would likely involve in practice the Fed buying longer-term Treasury bonds.
It would seem fair to conclude that a Bernanke-led Fed will follow through on such policies in coming months if, as is likely, the U.S. economy continues to suffer and if inflationary pressures continue to collapse. Such actions will not solve the problem but will merely compound it, by adding debt to debt.
In this respect the present crisis in the West will ultimately end up discrediting mechanical monetarism -- and with it the fiat paper-money system in general -- as the U.S. paper-dollar standard, in place since Richard Nixon broke the link with gold in 1971, finally disintegrates.
The catalyst will be foreign creditors fleeing the dollar for gold. That will in turn lead to global recognition of the need for a vastly more disciplined global financial system and one where gold, the "barbarous relic" scorned by most modern central bankers, may well play a part.
As much as I find the notion of sound money and a new gold standard international monetary regime appealing, neither will be part of any solution coming out of Washington or the G20 this weekend or anytime soon.
Fundamentally, our nation has only a sliver of bullion available to back tens of trillions in financial claims that are the crumbly bedrock for the entire global financial system. But this is a moot point. The world may today disagree somewhat on how to parcel out blame for international monetary disorder, resulting in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, but there exists a consensus that concerted reflationary measures are the only possible solution.
All the programs since the Depression were meant to prevent recessions and depressions. Yet all that was done was to plant the seeds of the greatest financial bubble in all history. Because of this lack of understanding, the stage is now set for massive nationalization of the financial system and quite likely the means of production.
Although it is obvious that the Keynesians were all wrong and interventionism and central economic planning don't work, whom are we listening to for advice on getting us out of this mess? Unfortunately, it's the Keynesians, the socialists, and big-government proponents.
Who's being ignored? The Austrian free-market economists - the very ones who predicted not only the Great Depression, but the calamity we're dealing with today. If the crisis was predictable and is explainable, why did no one listen? It's because too many politicians believed that a free lunch was possible and a new economic paradigm had arrived. But we've heard that one before - like the philosopher's stone that could turn lead into gold. Prosperity without work is a dream of the ages.
Over and above this are those who understand that political power is controlled by those who control the money supply. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats came to believe, as they were taught in our universities, that deficits don't matter and that Federal Reserve accommodation by monetizing debt is legitimate and never harmful. The truth is otherwise. Central economic planning is always harmful. Inflating the money supply and purposely devaluing the dollar is always painful and dangerous.
The policies of big-government proponents are running out of steam. Their policies have failed and will continue to fail. Merely doing more of what caused the crisis can hardly provide a solution. The good news is that Austrian economists are gaining more acceptance every day and have a greater chance of influencing our future than they've had for a long time.
The basic problem is that proponents of big government require a central bank in order to surreptitiously pay bills without direct taxation. Printing needed money delays the payment. Raising taxes would reveal the true cost of big government, and the people would revolt. But the piper will be paid, and that's what this crisis is all about.
There are limits. A country cannot forever depend on a central bank to keep the economy afloat and the currency functionable through constant acceleration of money supply growth. Eventually the laws of economics will overrule the politicians, the bureaucrats and the central bankers. The system will fail to respond unless the excess debt and mal-investment is liquidated. If it goes too far and the wild extravagance is not arrested, runaway inflation will result, and an entirely new currency will be required to restore growth and reasonable political stability.
The choice we face is ominous: We either accept world-wide authoritarian government holding together a flawed system, OR we restore the principles of the Constitution, limit government power, restore commodity money without a Federal Reserve system, reject world government, and promote the cause of peace by protecting liberty equally for all persons. Freedom is the answer.
Let's be clear; there is no historic precedent to what we are about to see.
Roubini, RGE Monitor
So let us not delude each other: the U.S. and global recession train has left the station; the financial and banking crisis train has left the station. This will be a long and severe and protracted two year recession regardless of the best intentions and good policies of the new U.S. administration. For 2009 the consensus estimates for earnings are delusional: current consensus estimates are that S&P 500 earnings per share (EPS) will be $90 in 2009 up 15% from 2008. Such estimates are outright silly and delusional. If EPS fall - as most likely - to a level of $60 then with a multiple (P/E ratio) of 12 the S&P500 index could fall to 720, i.e. 20% below current levels; if the P/E falls to 10 - as possible in a severe recession, the S&P could be down to 600 or 35% below current levels. And in a very severe recession one cannot exclude that the EPS could fall as low as $50 in 2009 dragging the S&P500 index to as low as 500. So, even based on fundamentals and valuations, there are significant downside risks to U.S. equities.
So the brief sucker's rally is over and a reality check is now dawning on markets and investors. Expect this financial crisis and economic recession to get much worse in the next 12 months before it gets any better. We are nowhere near a bottom for housing, the U.S, economy, the global economy and financial markets. The worst is ahead of us rather than behind us.
Dow Theory Letter
I've never been a big fan of the "gold is being manipulated" thesis. However, I'm now giving the manipulation thesis second thoughts. Most of the world's central banks are now in the process of fighting recession and deflation. This requires government spending and the production of enormous quantities of new fiat money. The last thing the central banks want is for the public to realize what they are doing. Normally, surging gold would be the signal for the public to ask questions -- rising gold is a red flag for the fiat money creators.
It's amazing and beyond coincidence the way gold rallies and then immediately is hammered down below $740. I know that there are huge short positions in gold on the COMEX. I'm no longer a skeptic on the "gold is being manipulated" claim. Somebody is selling gold every time gold rallies toward a breakout above $870. I don't think the manipulators (if there are such people) can keep it up.
We acknowledge that wealth destruction could lead to less money being borrowed into existence in the future, and, consequently, to deflation. After all, tens of trillions of dollars have been knocked off the market values of equities, houses and high-yield bonds, thus reducing the collective ability of the owners of these investments to borrow money. However, as long as the total supply of money continues to grow we can confidently conclude that the deflationary forces that stem from wealth destruction and credit contraction are being more than offset by the inflationary actions of the central bank and the government.
...The superficial signs of an inflation problem will almost certainly subside over the next 12 months, but this should not create a significant headwind for gold as long as the rate of monetary inflation continues to rise. As discussed in the past, the reason is that savvy speculators will likely accumulate positions in gold in anticipation of the eventual/inevitable effects of the monetary inflation.
With the Big Three auto makers now in a plainly visible death spiral, the automotive bailout debate is kicking into overdrive. The disagreement hinges on whether a bailout is necessary to support an important industry or whether the unprofitable dinosaurs of the past should be allowed to fail as America focuses on an information-age, service sector, and alternative energy future.
As usual, both sides have it wrong. The government should let the Big Three fail not because we no longer need an auto industry, but because we desperately do. What we do not need is the bloated, inefficient auto industry that we have today. By allowing the Big Three to fail, their capacity will be turned over to new owners who will be able to acquire the means of production at fire sale prices and hire workers at globally competitive wages. The result will be a more efficient auto industry making cars that people around the world actually want to buy at prices they can afford. Such auto makers could conceivably be profitable and could become the cornerstone of a manufacturing renaissance in the United States. In contrast, Ford, Chrysler and GM are never ending money pits that threaten to swallow a good deal of our economy.
Shedlock, Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis
There's that sideline cash nonsense again. Sideline cash does not come into the market except at IPO time. Otherwise there is a seller for every buyer. If someone buys $50 million of Microsoft with "sideline cash" someone else will have $50 million in "sideline cash" to buy stocks with. I remain amazed at the number of people who manage money that do not know how the stock market even works.
...[GM CEO Rick] Wagoner states that a GM bankruptcy would have "unimaginable consequences". Here is my translation "Wagoner Admits He Has No Imagination". Of course, with GM shares at $3 that should be readily apparent.
Shelton, Wall Street Journal
At the bottom of the world financial crisis is international monetary disorder. Ever since the post-World War II Bretton Woods system -- anchored by a gold-convertible dollar -- ended in August 1971, the cause of free trade has been compromised by sovereign monetary-policy indulgence. Today, a soupy mix of currencies sloshes investment capital around the world, channeling it into stagnant pools while productive endeavor is left high and dry... If we are to 'build together the capitalism of the future,' as Mr. Sarkozy puts it, the world needs sound money. Does that mean going back to a gold standard, or gold-based international monetary system? Perhaps so; it's hard to imagine a more universally accepted standard of value.
Jim Sinclair, MineSet
This is madness unless you want a planetary Weimar with the only difference being whose currency hits the deck first. Fellows, it is not bad business causing derivatives problems. It is bad derivatives extending a normal business contraction into an unprecedented disaster. Aim at the cause, not at the symptoms.
Sprott Asset Management
For now (though we believe it a temporary state of affairs) the markets seem to believe that cash is king. They are still content to own paper in times of trouble, particularly US dollars and US Treasuries. But such confidence is misplaced, for many reasons. In the current environment, deflation à la the Great Depression is highly unlikely. Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, is already on record as saying deflation cannot happen, using the helicopter drop analogy to prove his point. Under a fiat currency system this is true enough, and made abundantly clear with the central banks assuming the role of buyer and guarantor of last resort.
But regardless of what the central bank does, we believe the fundamentals have never looked worse for the US dollar. On top of the money to be spent bailing out the financial system (at least $1 trillion... likely $2 trillion and more), there is also the recession to deal with. Even during the best of times the US government ran sizable deficits, in the worst of times these deficits will go through the roof. Going forward they could easily exceed $1 trillion per year. Then there are the social security and medicare payments the US government has promised to baby boomers, that will begin to escalate exponentially as they begin to retire starting this year. The present value of these obligations, according to the 2007 Financial Report of the United States Government, is $41 trillion using a 75-year horizon and $90 trillion using an infinite horizon. We stress that this is present value, which is like compounding backwards. It is the amount of money that needs to be set aside today in order to meet the obligation in the future. It's not a long run problem anymore. It's here and now. For the above reasons, we believe the current flight to US dollars is a knee jerk reaction that won't have staying power.