Gold: Lessons from Venezuela

Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of U.S. Global Investors, talks us through the cautionary tale of Venezuelan hyperinflation and how holding some gold  could have mitigated the financial disaster which has affected that country’s population.

Wait Until You See the Price of Gold in Venezuela Right Now

Paper Money eventually returns to its intrinsic value zero

Last month in Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas, a cup of coffee would have set you back 2 million bolivars. That’s up from only 2,300 bolivars 12 months ago, meaning the price of a cup of joe has jumped nearly 87,000 percent, according to Bloomberg’s Café Con Leche Index. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

But that was July. Prices in Venezuela are doubling roughly every 18 days. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now projects inflation to hit an astronomical 1 million percent by the end of this year. This puts the beleaguered Latin American country on the same slippery path as Zimbabwe a decade ago and Germany in the 1920s, when a wheelbarrow full of marks was barely enough to get you a loaf of bread.

Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro—who only this past weekend survived an assassination attempt involving several explosive-laden drones—announced recently that the country plans to rein in hyperinflation by lopping off five zeroes from its currency. If you recall, Zimbabwe similarly tried to combat soaring prices of its own by issuing a cartoonish $100 trillion banknote—which in 2009 was still not enough to buy a bus ticket in the capital of Harare.

Without structural governmental reforms, a new bolivar is just as unlikely to steady Venezuela’s skyrocketing inflation or remedy its crumbling economy.

Gold Could Save Your Life

So where does this put gold? At some point, hyperinflation gets so ludicrously out of control that discussing exchange rates becomes pointless. But as of July 30, an ounce of the yellow metal would have gone for 211 million bolivars—an increase of more than 3.1 million percent from just the beginning of the year.

Gold priced in Venezuela Bolivars
click to enlarge

My point in bringing this up is to reinforce the importance of gold’s Fear Trade, which says that demand for the yellow metal rises when inflation threatens to destroy a nation’s currency—as it’s doing right now in Venezuela. A Venezuelan family that had the prudence to store some of its wealth in gold would be in a much better position today to survive or escape President Maduro’s corrupt, far-left regime.

In extreme cases like this, gold could literally help save lives.

Such was the case following the fall of Saigon in 1975. If not for gold, many South Vietnamese families might not have managed to escape the country. A seat on one of the thousands of fleeing boats reportedly went for eight or 10 taels of gold per adult, four or five taels per child. (A tael is slightly more than an ounce.) Gold was their passport. Thanks to the precious metal, tens of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people,” as they’re now known, were able to start new lives in the U.S., Canada, Australia and other developed countries.

Venezuela’s Once Prosperous Economy Destroyed by Corruption and Mismanagement

But back to Venezuela. Amid the corruption and mismanagement, the only thing helping the country pay its bills right now is gold. Two years ago, it had the world’s 16th largest gold reserves. Today it stands at number 26 as it’s sold off more than half its holdings since 2010. While countries such as China and Russia continue to add to their holdings, Venezuela has been the world’s largest seller of goldfor the past two years.

Venezuela began liquidating its gold after oil prices declined
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It’s hard to remember now, but as recently as 2001, Venezuela was the most prosperous country in all of South America. Like Zimbabwe, the OPEC nation is rich in natural resources, home to the world’s largest oil reserves and what’s believed to be the fourth largest gold mine. Oil exports account for virtually all of its export revenue.

In 2016, Venezuela was the third largest exporter of crude to the U.S. following Canada and Saudi Arabia, but with output in freefall, this is changing rapidly. For the first time ever in February, Colombia sold more crude oil to the U.S. than its eastern neighbor did. And in June, Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), informed at least eight foreign clients that it would be unable to meet supply commitments. According to GlobalData, production is on track to fall to only 1 million barrels per day by 2019, down from 3 million a day in 2011, meaning the petrostate might soon have nothing left to deliver.

President Maduro now has the ignoble distinction of reigning over an economic recession that rivals the very worst in modern history. Last month, the IMF forecast that the country’s real gross domestic product (GDP) would fall 18 percent this year—the third straight year of double-digit declines.

Venezuelas recession among the worst in recent history
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A mass exodus of young, working-age Venezuelans, many of them college-educated, is unlikely to help. Estimates of the number of people who have fled the country in the past two years alone range from 1.7 million to as high as 4 million.

Their escape is no easy task, as numerous international airlines, citing rampant crime and a lack of electricity, have canceled all flights in and out of Caracas. The only U.S. carrier still operating in the country is American Airlines, which offers a single daily flight from the nation’s capital to Miami. Just two years ago, there were as many as 40 nonstop American flights, not to mention those of rival carriers, between the two cities—a sign of just how dramatic and swift Maduro’s mismanagement has been in crippling Venezuela’s once-robust economy.

The Diversification Benefits of Gold

The gold bears were on top last week, with the metal trading as low as $1,205 on Thursday. That’s the closest it’s come to dipping below $1,200 since February 2017. Friday’s lower-than-expected jobs report gave gold a modest boost, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a fourth straight week of price declines.

Gold delped stem the rout
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In times like this, it’s important to remember that, according to gold’s DNA of volatility, it’s a non-event for the metal to close up or down 1 percent at the end of each session, 2 percent for the 10-day trading period. And guess what? The S&P 500 Index has the same level of volatility.

Ten days ago, gold was trading just under $1,230 an ounce, or 0.6 percent more than today. The math is sound.

It’s also worth remembering that gold has traditionally had a low to negative correlation with other assets such as equities. This is why many investors over the years have used it as a portfolio diversifier.

Case in point: On June 26, Facebook suffered its worst single-day decline since the company went public in 2012. Its stock plunged 19 percent, erasing some $120 billion in market capitalization—the most ever in history for a single trading session.

Gold, meanwhile, held relatively steady, slipping only 0.62 percent.

For Americans Buying Gold and Silver: Still a Big U.S. Pricing Advantage

by: David Smith*

Two years ago in this space, I penned an essay discussing how Americans – and other countries that are “dollarized” – where the local currency is either the USD or pegged to it – had a significant advantage when it came to getting the most for their money when exchanging dollars for precious metals.

Lately I looked into this issue again and the good news for Americans is – it’s still a good deal. In relation to a lot of other folks, even better than before! But the bad news is that this might not be the case much longer…

The Cando Disadvantage

The Canadian Dollar is known in the trade as a “Cando”. In 2008 it traded at US$1.10, which meant that at the time, Canadians could buy 10% more metal than Americans. In 2012 it had a high of US$1.01. In 2016 it bottomed at US$0.58 (ouch!), and today still trades at about 80 cents on the dollar. As the chart shows, Canadians get about 20% less gold and silver for their money than their southern neighbors (us).

Canadian Dollar vs US Dollar 01/12/2018 (Chart)

Courtesy stockcharts.com

Zim and Ven, racing for the bottom.

Then there’s the perennial currency basket case Zimbabwe – now entering its second hyperinflationary blowout in just the last couple of decades. Zim is currently playing touch and go with Venezuela to see if the latter’s “bolivar fuerte” (strong bolivar), transacted by the pound on a produce scale rather than from a wallet, will incinerate itself first.

Zimbabwe Banknotes

Zim’s previous “Paper Promise”- Angling for a rematch?

Bolivar Fuerte

Back in the day when the term “strong bolivar” meant something…

Fall in the Value of the Venezeulan Bolívar (Chart)

But not now… (Courtesy Sources listed)

Emerging Markets Purchasing Power Disadvantage

Buyers in Emerging Markets, in which gold prices are making new highs relative to their own fiat paper, are also paying more for their stash. Nevertheless demand there is rising as well – which as previously noted – is an important “tell” regarding the health and durability of the ongoing bull market. This is because even when facing a less advantageous exchange rate, emerging market gold customers are still solidly on the buy.

Additional evidence indicates that we are just now entering the second year of what could become a lengthier – and considerably more powerful than-expected upside run.

Gold vs Emerging Market Currencies

Courtesy allstarcharts.com

We say this in part because of some serious work done by Bob Hoye’s Institutional Advisors along with the Technical observations of Ross Clark They note that for the last 50 years, important lows for gold have taken place on a regular basis, stating, “The most recent (low) was in December 2016, one year after a premature low at 7.2 years in December 2015.”

In a January 2018 public domain post, they stated,

After an initial surge off the cycle lows, the price tends to move methodically higher for the first two years. During that period, we have found that a lower 20-week moving average envelope provides support. This was most recently tested in December 2017… Except for 2002, a trailing one-week stop after the 55th week, kept participants in the market until the first week after the top.

You might want to commit that last part to memory. If the 8-year cycle pattern continues to play itself out, not only could this nascent gold bull have a long ways to run in terms of time and price, but an attentive investor could use the kind of trailing stop-loss discussed, in order to stay with the trend as long as possible, holding onto significant gains before offsetting all or most of their holdings for a good profit.

Now for the Bad News…

The U.S. dollar has been “king of the hill” since its establishment as a backstop for the so-called petrodollar, in an agreement with Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries as a result of the 1970’s oil spike. That idea was to create a stable and reliable revenue stream for oil exporters. The price of oil was thus set in dollars, in the process establishing the unit of account as the world’s reserve currency. Even so, the petrodollar’s purchasing power is, to some extent, predicated upon the rate of inflation and the value of the dollar on the FOREX.

Things worked well for quite awhile, but in recent years, for a number of reasons, the status quo has been increasingly called into question. A detailed rationale is beyond the scope of this report, but here are a few of the elements:

  • Profligate creation of dollars by the Federal Reserve, many of which have “migrated” offshore, driving down the recipients’ purchasing power.
  • Massive debt growth at all levels of the U.S. body politic – leading inevitably to more dollar creation in an attempt to pay the bill.
  • Unnaturally low interest rates since the 2008 melt-down, obscuring the “signals” given by rates that indicate if a given investment makes “dollars and sense”, leading to soaring mal-investment and speculation.
  • A changing geopolitical landscape, wherein the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China (plus others) – have tired of the constraints placed upon them by restrictive U.S. policies.
  • The launch and coming build-out of The New Silk Road from Asia to Europe and the Middle East, encompassing 40 per cent of the world’s population in an economic-financial-political paradigm less-incumbent on the West’s wishes.
  • Lessening dependence on the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency in favor of loans and payments denominated in Chinese yuan, Russian rubles, commodities…and gold.

All these factors and more mean that right now and continuing during the coming years, the U.S. dollar is going to be buying less of just about everything, and that includes precious metals. The key elements of this sea-change as they relate to you?

  • Lower U.S. dollar-denominated gold and silver purchasing power.
  • Increased global demand for these metals, especially in the many countries seeing their local currencies strengthen vis a vis the dollar.
  • Depleting gold reserves due to a lack of big discoveries.
  • Lower head-grades across the board.
  • Increased cost of production due to environmental and “country risk”.

And this…

Weekly Gold with 50 Day Golden Cross (Chart)

Note established 50 day MA (blue line) “Golden Cross”

While just about everything in life is based upon probabilities, the odds right now strongly favor that the next leg of the secular bull run in the metals is underway. Four years of a cyclical bear market 45-50% retracement (2011-15); an 8 month initial bull counter-trend rally (most of 2016); and finally 18 months of retracement and consolidation (mid-2016 to December, 2017) have already taken place.

Taken together, this alignment of factors makes a compelling argument for completing your metals’ acquisition plan in a timely manner. And if you have still have yet to get started… what’s your excuse?

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