Gold and Bitcoin Surge on North Korea Fears

Article written prior to the sharpish turndown in the gold price after the weekend.

By Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, U.S. Global Investors

bicion

If you’re familiar with ABC’s popular reality show Shark Tank, you should already be familiar with the concept behind the San Antonio Angel Network (SAAN). Select entrepreneurs and innovators pitch their startup ideas to accredited investors, who can choose to make early-stage investments in a potentially successful company.

I attended an SAAN meeting last week at Ferrari of San Antonio, and what struck me the most was how fluid and seamless the whole thing is. Other professionals in attendance, including lawyers and CPAs, had a similar opinion, with some of them saying it was because there wasn’t any bureaucracy or red tape to hamstring the presenters.

This is unlike the world of mutual funds, which I believe has become excessively regulated.

As I’ve said numerous times before, regulation is essential, just as referees are essential to a basketball game. No one disputes that, because otherwise there would be chaos.

Similarly, the new and very unregulated world of cryptocurrencies has grown dramatically, beyond bitcoin and ethereum. Did you know there are over 800 cryptocurrencies? These new initial coin offerings, called ICOs, are like initial public offerings (IPOs) but with little regulation or accountability. As I’ve commented before, if the refs get too powerful or too numerous, and the rules too complex, the game becomes nearly unplayable.

Cryptocurrencies Still Draw Investor Attention Following China Crackdown

Bitcoin, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies have had a meteoric year, with more than $2 billion raised in ICOs so far in 2017, according to Bloomberg. Approximately $155 billion in cryptocurrencies are in circulation around the world right now. Bitcoin by itself is at $78 billion, which is close to the $90 billion invested in all gold ETFs.

Cryptocurrencies have made red hot moves this past year
click to enlarge

Like gold, cryptos are favored by those who have a deep distrust of fiat currency, or paper money. Money, after all, is built on trust, and the blockchain technology that bitcoin is built on top of automates trust through an electronic ledger that cannot be altered. Every transaction is anonymous and peer-to-peer. The system is entirely decentralized and democratic. No monetary authority can see who owns what and where money is flowing.

This, of course, is a huge reason why some world governments want to crack down on the Wild West of virtual currencies, especially with bitcoin surging close to $5,000 this month.

China did just that last week, putting a halt to new ICOs and crypto transactions. In response, ethereum tumbled as much as 15.8 percent last Monday, or $55 a unit. Bitcoin lost $394 a unit.

China’s decision comes a little more than a month after the SEC said cryptocurrencies are securities and therefore should probably be regulated as such. At this point, though, the implications are unclear.

What’s clear to me—after seeing firsthand how easily and quickly transactions are made—is that there’s no going back. It’s possible cryptocurrencies will one day be regulated. But I’m confident bitcoin, ethereum and some other virtual currencies offer enough value to weather such a potential roadblock.

I also believe there has to be a happy medium between the excessively regulated fund industry and the potential chaos of the cryptocurrency. This is what I witnessed at the SAAN event I mentioned, which allowed the professionals in attendance to gain information, ask questions and make informed decisions.

Gold Trading Above $1,350 an Ounce

Speaking on cryptocurrencies last week, Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said gold could be a beneficiary of China’s decision to clamp down on ICOs. As more governments and central banks turn their attention to virtual currencies, investors could move back into the yellow metal as a store of value.

That’s a possibility, but I think gold’s price action right now is being driven by negative real Treasury yields and fears over a potential conflict with North Korea. Adjusted for inflation, the two-year and five-year Treasuries are both currently yielding negative amounts, and the 10-year continues to fall closer to 0 percent.

Real treasury yeilds fall further
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As I’ve explained numerous times before, gold and real interest rates share an inverse relationship. It makes little sense to invest in an asset that’s guaranteed to cost you money—which is the case with the two-year and five-year government bond right now. Investors seeking a “safe haven” might therefore add to their weighting in gold, especially with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un raising tensions.

The yellow metal closed (last week) above $1,350 an ounce, more than a one-year high – (but has come down quite sharply this week as some of thge geopolitical fears eased – temporarily perhaps? – Editor).   

Gold price up more than 15 percent year to date
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Despite Efforts to Control Spending, National Debt Expected to Continue Growing: CBO

Similarly driving the gold Fear Trade are concerns over the national debt. Last week President Donald Trump sided with Congressional Democrats in raising the federal borrowing limit to allow Hurricane Harvey recovery aid to pass. An initial package of $7.85 billion for Harvey victims was agreed upon, but with total costs expected to be as high as $190 billion—more than the combined costs of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy—and with Hurricane Irma the federal aid amount could eventually run even higher.

Trump partially ran on reigning in government spending, which I and many others would like to see. Even so, this might not be enough to control our runaway debt. According to an August report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), debt will likely continue to grow as spending for large federal benefit programs—Social Security, Medicare and the like—outpaces revenue. Interest payments on the debt will only continue to accelerate as well.

Below is a chart showing national debt as a percentage of GDP going back to the founding of the U.S. Although we’ve seen periodic spikes in response to national crises, the debt could soar to unprecedented levels within the next 10 years.

Federal debt expected to continue rising
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Financial writer Alex Green, the Oxford Club’s chief strategist, told me during my recent interview with him that he thought out-of-control spending posed a greater threat to our country than even North Korea.

I tend to agree with him, and that’s why I believe that investors should have a 10 percent allocation in gold, with 5 percent in bullion and 5 percent in gold stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.

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Even another flash crash can’t keep gold price down for long

This is a lightly edited version of one first posted on the Sharps Pixley news website

2 million ounces of gold were dumped on the gold market in a minute on Friday, just ahead of Janet Yellen’s speech at Jackson Hole – and, after a very brief downwards spike to below $1,280, the gold price rapidly climbed back to unchanged.  This has to be an incredibly bullish signal for gold in that even this amount of presumably paper gold thrown at it (62.2 tonnes) couldn’t keep the gold price down.  Bloomberg described the 2 million ounce trade as ‘mysterious’.  Perhaps at least that is a welcome change from the usual ‘fat finger’ attribution which seems to be applied to these seemingly increasingly frequent mega-sales of paper gold which, despite protestations to the contrary, seem to be designed to keep the gold price suppressed.

Today, the gold price drifted upwards ahead of New York’s opening and then, at around 11.00 am New York time the price spiked upwards sharply, soaring through the $1,300 psychological barrier.  The question is where to next?

The key here may well be what has been happening with physical gold.  On Friday the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (GLD) had almost 6 tonnes of gold bought into it.  GLD has thus seen 18.33 tonnes of physical gold added to it in 2 weeks after what we might describe as ‘mysteriously’ seeing some 80 tonnes withdrawn over the previous two months – during which time the gold price didn’t seem to be spooked by this amount of gold being taken out of the world’s biggest gold ETF.  We had already pointed out the anomaly that America’s second biggest gold ETF – the iShares Gold Trust (IAU) – had not seen corresponding metal liquidations.  The Swiss gold import and export statistics, also reported in these pages, had shown that there appears to be a ready market in Asia for any physical gold released in the west, and this could well be a sign that gold could be moving into a short supply situation in the West.  If America starts buying physical gold again, we could thus see big price rises with buyers bidding up what might be an increasingly rare commodity.

As I write, the gold price rise seems to have stalled at the $1,310 level and there will almost certainly be attempts to drive it down, or at least prevent it rising further.  But it does seem to have some momentum behind it and could well move up to the $1,320s.  But, as we have pointed out before, this time next week is the U.S. Labor Day holiday and this often seems to provide an inflection point in economic trends.  It could presage a sell-off in gold or see the price boosted into the stratosphere, figuratively speaking.  Nothing is simple with gold.  But if gold gets a boost after September 4th we could see equities – and perhaps bitcoin – moving sharply in the other direction.  Both would seem to be in bubble situations and sooner or later all bubbles burst.

We’d rather bet on gold than alternatives.  Even if there is a gold price turndown ahead it is likely to be relatively minor, while the fall, when it comes, as come it must, in equities and bitcoin could be devastating.  Food for thought ahead of the U.S. holiday weekend.

The Blockchain: A Gold and Silver Launchpad?

By David Smith*

Central governments around the globe have waged, against their own citizens, a virtual “War on Cash.” Efforts by Sweden to become “cash-free;” progressive “downsizing” of Eurozone currency units; a currency recall in India that affected 1.3 billion people; solemn talk about eliminating $100 and even $50 bills in the U.S. – all in the supposed fight against “drug dealing and tax evasion.”

US 100 Dollar Bill

Will Ben Be Going Bye Bye?

It’s really about people control.

The War on Cash goes hand in hand with the imposition of onerous taxation levels, negative interest rates, and destruction of what little privacy we have left.

Historically, nations backed their paper currencies with gold and/or silver. Today – without a single one doing so – it might seem, as some naysayers have observed, that gold is at best a “barbarous relic;” at worst, just a “pet rock.” And yet…

The War on Cash has unleashed a hydra. From the invention less than a decade ago of the “cryptocurrency” Bitcoin, to its present-day evolution, a change of monumental significance is underway.

The Foundation Is the Blockchain

Satoshi Nakamoto is credited with the creation of Bitcoin and as part of its implementation, devised the first blockchain database. By definition, a blockchain “allows connected computers to talk to each other, rather than through a central server. Using a ‘consensus mechanism’ the connected computers on the network stay in sync and agree with each other.” Every data entry references an earlier one, agreeing with the entire chain. (Summary from an essay by Peter van Valkenburgh.)

Three years ago, David Morgan aired his views in an essay titled, “My Two Bits about Bitcoin.” The technology was complex, relatively slow, and looked to become unwieldy. This was 15 months before the debut of a process that now holds the potential to turn night into day for just about any kind of online commercial transaction… and could spark a revolution for the use of “digital gold and silver.”

The key (for now) is Ethereum. Ethereum is a computing platform – and a cryptocurrency… that runs smart contracts – applications that run exactly as programmed without the possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud, or third-party interference (ethereum.org).

The Potential and the Promise

Acceptance of gold and silver as a store of value and medium of exchange most likely pre-dates recorded history. Then someone (the Chinese?) got the bright idea to create a paper substitute exchangeable for, but still backed by, precious metal.

American Gold Buffalo

In Venezuela, one ounce of gold
buys a house.

This worked swimmingly until they decided to print unlimited amounts of what David Morgan at The Morgan Report has so famously termed “paper promises.” These promises are never fully honored, causing the eventual decline of a circulated currency’s purchasing power to zero.

The original promise of value is accepted in good faith, but when that promise is broken through devaluation, faith evaporates, along with the value of the once-supported currency. For proof of this today, look no further than Venezuela.

Digital Metal Data Points

A number of firms work to merge cryptocurrencies with physical gold and silver. The weakness of purely digital money is that it is unbacked by anything tangible. It only works for people who have electricity and are connected to the Internet. Physical gold and silver don’t rely upon the grid and can never be “hacked.”

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin cost almost nothing to transfer around the globe and they promise to be easy to transact with (akin to using a credit card). If those digital tokens can be anchored to tangible gold and silver bars, they could be more compelling as a store of value.

As you read the following passage in italics from an interview with Beautyon, editor of bitcoin-think, conducted on lfb.org., try substituting the term “digital metals” wherever you see “bitcoin.” Doing so shows the potential, the promise, and very possibly – eventual reality – for the evolving union of digital metals with physical gold and silver.

Bitcoin will succeed. There is nothing any government can do to stop it… No amount of time can put the Bitcoin genie back in the bottle…. (it) is good money, and all the State can produce is bad money… Bitcoin means the final death of government fiat money. It means the end of Big Government. It means an era of unprecedented prosperity, as savings once again become the source of investment.

Will the Promise Be Honored?

The keys to the argument are that when a person purchases digital metal, it must be stored in a secure location, in physical form of a stated purity, immediately available to its designated owner upon demand. It is not being loaned to others. The price is transparent, accurate, and available globally.

Bitcoin

Even though this is a nice image,
remember that Bitcoin itself is intangible.

The “authorities” have always sought, and will continue to try to control, peoples’ activities. But to the extent that investable physical gold and silver are removed from the control of exchanges and government coffers, and placed under “supervision” of the individual, the ability to manipulate the price and physical supply will deteriorate.

This, I believe, is the potential that digital metal represents. It will operate on a decentralized, secure, transparent platform. The blockchain and the portal through which it flows could be Ethereum or a similar protocol.

And if the “promise” is not honored? Then the concept of digital metal will be dispatched to irrelevance in the dustbin of history, as other experiments which have toyed with its essence have been. But pass or fail, no amount of digital tinkering will be able to stunt demand for gold and silver. Rather, the result will have simply been to introduce millions of new holders to the virtues of physical precious metals ownership.

Unintended Consequences

Global governments, having previously removed metals’ backing from the currencies they print, now attempt to force their citizens into holding only digital paper currency “wealth.” How ironic it will be, if by these very actions, the ultimate effect turns out to be the unleashing of new demand waves for digital metal – redeemable for physical gold and silver.

Last week, Stewart Thomson of Graceland Updates predicted the following:

“Going forwards, India-China operated digital gold wrapped in blockchain technology will be the undisputed currency of the world gold community, a 3-billion-person-strong titanic force…. This is the beginning of the end for world gold price manipulation, and you can take that to the bank.”