-- Published: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 | Print | Disqus
By Michael J. Kosares
Looking back - Two surprise transformations at the end of 2014
A year of many surprises, 2014 ended with a couple surprise personal transformations largely passed over by the mainstream media.
Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett startled recipients of his annual shareholder letter by revealing an instruction to the trustee for his wife's estate that 10% of her inheritance should be invested in government bonds and the other 90% in a low-cost S&P 500 index fund.
Similarly former Fed chairman shocked the financial world by announcing that his years at the Federal Reserve cemented his long-held view of gold as an important asset allocation for the times given governments' (note the plural) predilection to print money.
Buffett points to saving fees and the inability of fund managers to beat the indices as the chief reasons for his decision, but one wonders if there might be more to it than that. Since the 2008 meltdown and the subsequent bailouts things have changed considerably on Wall Street and at the Federal Reserve. Interest Rate Observer's James Grant attempted to define the complicated change in the stock market's monetary underpinnings in a speech this past November before the Cato Institute. "My generation," he said, "gave former tenured economics professors discretionary authority to fabricate money and to fix interest rates. We put the cart of asset prices before the horse of enterprise. We entertained the fantasy that high asset prices made for prosperity, rather than the other way around. We actually worked to foster inflation, which we called 'price stability' (this was on the eve of the hyperinflation of 2017). We seem to have miscalculated."
Stocks in this scenario become fungible, an asset class driven as much by monetary policy as it is a solid track record or growing market share. In the end, Buffett is not just saving fees by putting his wife's inheritance in index funds, he is also betting, like it or not, on the Federal Reserve's ability to keep stocks as an asset class headed in a northerly direction. Not everyone harbors the same high degree of confidence in the Fed's grand monetary experiment that Buffett does.
Alan Greenspan, for one, sees it as fraught with danger as does another former Fed chairman, Paul Volcker. Late last year, Greenspan likened the Fed's over-blown balance sheet to "a tinder box that has not been lit," characterized the job of Fed chairman as one subject to the heavy dictate of the federal government, and recommended gold ownership as a hedge for private investors. "Gold," he said, "is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments." Stocks, on the other hand, have taken a position at the opposite end of the investment spectrum an asset class that has become overly reliant on the policies conducted by governrment.
Looking ahead - Much food for thought on gold and the economy for 2015
At the start of 2015, armchair economist-gold owners like Mr. Spot -- pictured below in his study -- remain content, confident and assured this New Year's Eve. He does not own gold simply to make profit. He owns it to protect the wealth he has already garnered. He keeps in mind the historical cycle described by Alexander Tyler, the 18th century historian and jurist:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage."
He judges that we are now somewhere between the "selfishness" and "dependency" stages of Tyler's cycle, hopes that things will turn around, but keeps his diversification intact just in case it does not. The politicians, he observes, have not acted well this past year. Washington, he says, seems to be confused and lacking direction and more interested, as Tyler suggests, in getting re-elected than making responsible decisions about the future of the country.
He points to Neil Howe's conclusion that the Fourth Turning started with the 2008 financial meltdown and that we are likely to be in a transition period for some time to come. He takes Howe's observation to heart: "You are not just into it and out of it immediately. . .It is a season you have to move through before you are born again, so to speak, as a society, and regain institutional confidence. You have go through the crucible to get there."
(Editor's Note:Those of you who have followed my writings over the years know that I consider The Fourth Turning (1997) by William Strauss and Neil Howe one of the most important books published over the past two decades. In that book, eleven years before the 2008 meltdown, the authors made one of the most stunning calls of all-time: The next Fourth Turning, they predicted, is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.)
Ever the amateur historian, Mr. Spot takes special note of the drain of Western gold to the East through the London-Zurich-Hong Kong-Shanghai pipeline. He is aware that a drain of gold from declining cultures to rising cultures usually accompanies the end phases of Tyler's cycle. Gold, he recalls, fled Rome just before the empire collapsed in the third century A.D. and the British Empire began to lose gold following World War I. Though he does not believe the end is nigh, he does believe that gold movements on this scale proceed for good reason. Many years ago, he tacked a sign on the bulletin board above his desk. It reads: "He who owns the gold makes the rules."
Like just about everyone else, he enjoys the end of year prediction festivities but he points out that almost all forecasting is necessarily based on trends already in motion. What foreasting inevitably fails to embrace is the surprise event, or even the surprise policy, launched by one government/central bank or another. He has structured his portfolio as a philosopher/investor not as a trend chaser. At a dinner party recently he caused some discomfort among an erudite group of analysts by asking how many predicted Russia's invasion of Crimea, the crash in oil prices or the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
We provided Mr. Spot with an advance copy of The Gold Owner's Guide to 2015. In appreciation he sent over the IPhone snapshot posted above and an encouraging note:
"I wholeheartedly approve! The 2015 Guide is even better than last year's."
And so, dear reader, we send you along to our annual catalog of opinion and predictions posted below with our own fondest wishes for a very happy and prosperous 2015.
We shall start with recent predictions posted by the big global trading banks -- the bulls and bears of gold finance.
Citibank takes its typically conservative approach calling for $1220 gold and $16.50 silver in 2015. It says the "downside moves will be limited" with investor attitudes "turning the corner." The bank does not elaborate on what corner gold will turn except to say that a "bottom might be near."
"I would say right we are now." ($1200 range) - Andy Montano, Scotiabank
"Gold prices we see as stabilized at current levels. We now expect a $1,100-$1,300/oz trading range, we reduce our gold price forecast for 2015 to $1,225/oz and our long term price from $1,250/oz from $1,300/oz." - Credit Suisse's Global Metals & Mining Team
Commerzbank analysts put gold at an average price of $1200 per ounce in 2015.
Goldman Sachs is sticking with its forecast of $1050 by December, 2015
France's SocGen says gold will trade in the $1025 range.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicts gold will drop to $1100 per ounce, but warns that deflationary concerns in Europe could trigger another global debt crisis.
"Increased physical buying, especially in India and China, should support prices as eager consumers are likely to further take advantage of lower prices." JP Morgan
"In terms of gold price expectations, it appears that the repair of technical picture is now behind us and that a stable bottom has formed. The next 12 month price target is the USD 1,500 level. Longer term, the author expects a parabolic trend acceleration, with a long-term target of USD 2,300 by the end of the cycle." - Ron Stoferle, Incrementum Lichtenstein
"If the weak oil prices are more related to slow demand and I think there's certainly some justification for that view then people might be looking at gold as a safe-haven and that might actually be quite positive for gold." Mitsui Precious Metals
"Geopolitical unrest in Middle East, especially with drop in oil price, could bring a completely new wave of debt default for banks, and companies and this will put the balance sheets of the impacted countries in jeopardy, because no one has tested this in their stress test, so the results of this are unknown [which would be a] major bull event for gold." Avatrade
Australia & New Zealand Banking group predicts gold prices will recover next year as demand in China and India improves. It forecasts an advance for gold even as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates saying it will climb to $1,280 an ounce by the end of 2015 and $1420 by the end of 2016.
Onward . . .
Marcus Grubb, the World Gold Council's Managing Director, says that analyzing the past 12 downturns in the gold price since 1970 that is where the price drops more than 20% the WGC found that within 35 months of the price trough gold rebounded 38% to 40%."We may be in the trough now," he said. "Basically you could see $1,500 gold within that time frame." Looking beyond, gold's average rise over 50-60 months from a trough was 90%, Grubb said. "Well that would put you at $2,000." - MineWeb.com
* * * * *
Rob McEwen, controlling shareholder and chairman of McEwen Mining says "Two grand by the end of 2015. Gold will ultimately peak at $5000/oz." - MineWeb.com
* * * * *
Gold Field's Mineral Services says the physical market, which has been largely absent in 2014 so far, is "likely to experience a substantial resurgence in demand. This is likely to help to put a floor in place and longer-term forces, both in terms of physical fundamentals and economic and financial price drivers. As such, from 2015 the research firm is predicting a return to a bull market for gold." - Platts McGraw Hill Finance * * * * *
Matterhorn Asset Management's Eric von Greyerz, "2015 will be a year of surprises. In 2015 we will see central banks panicking as they unveil major money printing programs in a desperate attempt to halt the deflation. This is why money printing will be back with a vengeance in 2015. This is also why gold and silver will start a historic and massive rise in the coming year. . .The whole LBMA and bullion bank Ponzi scheme will blow up at some point next year because they will literally run out of physical gold. This will have a massive effect as the price of gold will be released to the upside." - King World News
* * * * *
"America's Federal Reserve is headed down a familiar and highly dangerous path. Steeped in denial of its past mistakes, the Fed is pursuing the same incremental approach that helped set the stage for the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The consequences could be similarly catastrophic. . .Central banking has lost its way. Trapped in a post-crisis quagmire of zero interest rates and swollen balance sheets, the world's major central banks do not have an effective strategy for regaining control over financial markets or the real economies that they are supposed to manage. Policy levers both benchmark interest rates and central banks' balance sheets remain at their emergency settings, even though the emergency ended long ago." - Stephen Roach / Project Syndicate
"If the Fed sounds dovish after its first interest rate hike, the market would lose all faith in the central banks' forecasting ability as gauged by the "Fed dots". In this scenario, one can expect a rally in gold prices to $1400 per ounce." - Vatsal Srivastava, IANS, India Private Limited
* * * * *
"As I mentioned earlier, the gold is flowing East. Well, so goes the gold, so goes the world's reserve currency status and power. This means the world currency of the future will be controlled by the Chinese in the next year or two. This also means you better own gold and silver ahead of this coming transition. . .These two metals are going to go far higher than anyone can imagine as this transition unfolds. So gold and silver will soar as the Chinese and SCO take control of most of the world, and now is the time to buy while they are still cheap. Sadly, this is all you can do as the West collapses is protect yourself and your family." - Stephen Leeb / Complete Investor at King World News
* * * * *
"Once the low is clearly established, gold will have a green light to rise in a strong bull market. This means 2019 will be the next likely time for a major peak. It will be the 11 year mark from the 2008 lows, for the 4th time in 45 years. This tells us that despite current volatility, with today's world in an unprecedented condition, we'll likely see gold at super new record highs in the years ahead." - Mary Anne and Pamela Aden at Gold Eagle
* * * * *
"The first rule of investing is capital preservation. The resilience of the gold price, much like falling yields on UK gilts, is a canary in the mine of the global economy, showing that investors think the anaemic recovery could rapidly unravel without being propped up by money-printing. A balanced portfolio should hold an allocation of about 5pc in assets such as gold. The future is uncertain and gold is the most effective insurance against that." - The Telegraph/John Ficenec
* * * * *
"China has for the first time warned openly about the excessive strength of the Chinese yuan, a sign that the country may be shifting its exchange rate policy as deflation takes hold and currencies slide across Asia. Yi Gang, the deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, said the yuan's rise had been "very fast" over the past year as it surges in tandem with the US dollar, making it the world's second strongest currency. . .The country has quietly joined Asia's escalating currency wars, steering the yuan down by 2 percent against the dollar since early November. This looks increasingly like a move to protect itself against Japan's dramatic devaluation and against weakening currencies in Korea and other key Asian states." - The Telepgraph/Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Editor note: Devaluation of the yuan and the potential for domestic inflation to rise is impetus for gold demand among the Chinese people. As it is, Reuters reports China's imports from Hong Kong on a steep rise and China gold expert Koos Jansen reports overall imports for 2014 at near 2000 metric tonnes. Demand for gold is driven in China by the current low dollar price in conjunction with the prospect of a depreciating yuan. Take a look at these soaring volumes! The depreciating yuan could be one of the big stories for gold in 2015.
"Kaboom! Dow 18K" is the headline atop the Drudge Report. It links to a story on the Bloomberg wire reporting that the Dow Jones Industrial Average "rallied past 18,000 for the first time, after data showed the world's largest economy grew at the fastest pace since 2003 last quarter.". . . What the story failed to note is that the value of the Dow that is, its worth in ounces of gold is nowhere near a record. This can be glimpsed in the charts that are kept by pricedingold.com. The chart illuminates that even with the kurrent kaboom, the current value of the Dow, at just under 450 grams of gold, may be up from where it was at the start of the Obama administration, when it was near 350 grams, but is still way down from its record of 1,400 grams part way through 1999. The value of the Dow has certainly been trending upward in recent months, the chart of pricededgold.com suggests. It ducked under 200 grams of gold at one point during the Great Recession. It is, however, nowhere near a record. - The New York Sun
Final Word by Michael J. Kosares
"A true cycle is self-generating. It cannot be determined, short of catastrophe, by external events. War, depressions, inflation may heighten or complete moods, but the cycle itself rolls on, self-sufficient and autonomous. . .The roots of this cyclical self-sufficiency lie deep in the natural life of humanity. There is a cyclical pattern in organic nature in the tides, in the seasons, in night and day, in the systole and diastole of the human heart." Arthur Schesinger, historian
With the Dow surging past 18,000 and calls for 25,000 ringing in the New Year, we thought it might be a good time to resurrect Colin Seymour's timeless critique of Wall Street histrionics. Pompous Prognosticators (aptly named) first appeared on these pages in the winter of 2001 just as the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a top at the 11,000 level and gold began its bull market at the $300 per ounce level. Then, as now, only a handful cared to entertain the notion that Dow might be overvalued or that gold might be undervalued. Most believed that the Federal Reserve and Wall Street could keep the party going interminably that we had in fact reached the end of history and stood on the doorstep of a New Age. If that all sounds familiar, it should. The financial press is immersed in the same sort of rhetoric now. "This time it's different," we are told. Colin Seymour's infograph ages like fine wine as relevant and instructive today as it was when it first graced these pages fourteen years ago.
(Note: Those who took our advice in 2001 and converted some of their stock profits to gold coins, not only saved that portion of their profits, they multiplied their wealth during the major gold bull market that followed. In the end, as the Telegraph's John Ficenec says above: "The first rule of investing is capital preservation.")
Pompous Prognosticators by Colin Seymour
May 2001 (Rev. August 29, 2001)
Chart locations are an approximate indication only. For relevance to 2001, scroll down to "Fast forward"
1. "We will not have any more crashes in our time." - John Maynard Keynes in 1927 [NB: The authenticity of this one is a little suspect]
2. "I cannot help but raise a dissenting voice to statements that we are living in a fool's paradise, and that prosperity in this country must necessarily diminish and recede in the near future." - E. H. H. Simmons, President, New York Stock Exchange, January 12, 1928
"There will be no interruption of our permanent prosperity." - Myron E. Forbes, President, Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., January 12, 1928
3. "No Congress of the United States ever assembled, on surveying the state of the Union, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time. In the domestic field there is tranquility and contentment...and the highest record of years of prosperity. In the foreign field there is peace, the goodwill which comes from mutual understanding." - Calvin Coolidge December 4, 1928
4. "There may be a recession in stock prices, but not anything in the nature of a crash." - Irving Fisher, leading U.S. economist, New York Times, Sept. 5, 1929
5. "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months." - Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in economics, Oct. 17, 1929
"This crash is not going to have much effect on business." - Arthur Reynolds, Chairman of Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago, October 24, 1929
"There will be no repetition of the break of yesterday... I have no fear of another comparable decline." - Arthur W. Loasby (President of the Equitable Trust Company), quoted in NYT, Friday, October 25, 1929
"We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound, and that for people who can afford to pay for them outright, good stocks are cheap at these prices." - Goodbody and Company market-letter quoted in The New York Times, Friday, October 25, 1929
6. "This is the time to buy stocks. This is the time to recall the words of the late J. P. Morgan... that any man who is bearish on America will go broke. Within a few days there is likely to be a bear panic rather than a bull panic. Many of the low prices as a result of this hysterical selling are not likely to be reached again in many years." - R. W. McNeel, market analyst, as quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929
"Buying of sound, seasoned issues now will not be regretted" - E. A. Pearce market letter quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929
"Some pretty intelligent people are now buying stocks... Unless we are to have a panic -- which no one seriously believes, stocks have hit bottom." - R. W. McNeal, financial analyst in October 1929
7. "The decline is in paper values, not in tangible goods and services...America is now in the eighth year of prosperity as commercially defined. The former great periods of prosperity in America averaged eleven years. On this basis we now have three more years to go before the tailspin." - Stuart Chase (American economist and author), NY Herald Tribune, November 1, 1929
"Hysteria has now disappeared from Wall Street." - The Times of London, November 2, 1929
"The Wall Street crash doesn't mean that there will be any general or serious business depression... For six years American business has been diverting a substantial part of its attention, its energies and its resources on the speculative game... Now that irrelevant, alien and hazardous adventure is over. Business has come home again, back to its job, providentially unscathed, sound in wind and limb, financially stronger than ever before." - Business Week, November 2, 1929
"...despite its severity, we believe that the slump in stock prices will prove an intermediate movement and not the precursor of a business depression such as would entail prolonged further liquidation..." - Harvard Economic Society (HES), November 2, 1929
8. "... a serious depression seems improbable; [we expect] recovery of business next spring, with further improvement in the fall." - HES, November 10, 1929
"The end of the decline of the Stock Market will probably not be long, only a few more days at most." - Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics at Yale University, November 14, 1929
"In most of the cities and towns of this country, this Wall Street panic will have no effect." - Paul Block (President of the Block newspaper chain), editorial, November 15, 1929
"Financial storm definitely passed." - Bernard Baruch, cablegram to Winston Churchill, November 15, 1929
9. "I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism... I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress." - Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury December 31, 1929
"I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence." - Herbert Hoover, December 1929
"[1930 will be] a splendid employment year." - U.S. Dept. of Labor, New Year's Forecast, December 1929
10. "For the immediate future, at least, the outlook (stocks) is bright." - Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in Economics, in early 1930
11. "...there are indications that the severest phase of the recession is over..." - Harvard Economic Society (HES) Jan 18, 1930
12. "There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about." - Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, Feb 1930
13. "The spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern...American business is steadily coming back to a normal level of prosperity." - Julius Barnes, head of Hoover's National Business Survey Conference, Mar 16, 1930
"... the outlook continues favorable..." - HES Mar 29, 1930
14. "... the outlook is favorable..." - HES Apr 19, 1930
15. "While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst -- and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us." - Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930
"...by May or June the spring recovery forecast in our letters of last December and November should clearly be apparent..." - HES May 17, 1930
"Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over." - Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930
16. "... irregular and conflicting movements of business should soon give way to a sustained recovery..." - HES June 28, 1930
17. "... the present depression has about spent its force..." - HES, Aug 30, 1930
18. "We are now near the end of the declining phase of the depression." - HES Nov 15, 1930
19. "Stabilization at [present] levels is clearly possible." - HES Oct 31, 1931
20. "All safe deposit boxes in banks or financial institutions have been sealed... and may only be opened in the presence of an agent of the I.R.S." - President F.D. Roosevelt, 1933
. . .
Fast forward... year 2001
Future of US economy "very bright"-Fed's Broaddus "Despite the current slowdown, however, intermediate and longer-term prospects for the U.S. economy are still very bright" - Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Alfred Broaddus, in a speech to the Virginia Housing Coalition, June 14, 2001.
Treasury Secretary Sees 'Golden Age' "[the country is] on the edge of a golden age of prosperity... I think we're not doing badly for the kind of correction that we're in right now... It's easy to find gloom and doom, but consumers are hanging in there, their spending rates are still quite good... The contraction occurred ... in the investment sector, where we had an overexpansion." - Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, on ABC's "This Week.", Sunday June 24, 2001.
Economy Likely Up Over Next Year - Commerce Secretary Don Evans "Over maybe the next year, I certainly expect it (U.S. economic growth) to return to those kind of levels of (potential) growth" [between 3.0 percent to 3.5 percent] - US Commerce Secretary Don Evans to a Washington news conference, Wednesday August 29, 2001.
Aren't these just a little disturbing after reading the prognostications from 1927-1933
(As you might already know, it was not long after we published this piece that the stock market began to unravel. If I went out of my way, I could supplement his fast forward from 2001 with similar quotes today. MK)
Reprinted with permission by Colin J. Seymour May 2001 (Rev. August 29, 2001)
Many of the above quotations don't have a reference to a source that you could look up in a library, such as a newspaper from the relevant era, or a learned journal, or a book complete with ISBN or Library of Congress numbers. We should therefore always be cautious in accepting the face value of such quotes. Nevertheless, I am sure most of these things were really said or something very close.
Michael J. Kosares is the founder of USAGOLD and the author of "The ABCs of Gold Investing - How To Protect and Build Your Wealth With Gold." He has over forty years experience in the physical gold business. He is also the editor of Review & Outlook, the firm's newsletter which is offered free of charge and specializes in issues and opinion of importance to owners of gold coins and bullion. If you would like to register for an e-mail alert when the next issue is published, please visit this link.
USAGOLD Review & Outlook is the contemporary, web-based version of our client letter, which traces its beginnings to the early 1990s under the News & Views banner. Its principle objectives have always been to keep our clients informed of important developments in the gold market; condense the available gold-based news and opinion into a brief, readable digest; and counter the traditional anti-gold bias in the mainstream media. That formula has won it a five-figure subscription base (and growing). In addition to our regular newsletters, we occasionally publish in-depth special reports that focus on events and developments of interest to gold owners.
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