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
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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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Gold Breaks Out to New 2017 High

by: Stefan Gleason*

Gold’s naysayers and doubters came out in full force earlier this summer as sentiment reached its nadir. The mid-year pullback in prices did, too.

There can be no doubt about it now – gold has broken out of its summer doldrums. On Monday, the yellow metal finally broke through the longstanding $1,300/oz resistance zone to make a new high for the year at $1,316.

Gold - Continuous Contract (August 28, 2017)

Assuming the breakout holds, the next upside target is $1,375/oz, the high point for 2016.

There are plenty of bullish factors behind gold’s recent upside momentum to continue pushing prices higher in the days and weeks ahead. The gold mining stocks are starting to show relative strength again. And the U.S. Dollar Index appears to have begun another new down leg this week, falling Monday to a two-and-a-half-year low.

Another bullish factor is geopolitics. Gold gained a few more dollars in early trading Tuesday morning in Asia after North Korea launched a missile over Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “Their outrageous act of firing a missile over our country is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat and greatly damages regional peace and security.”

On any ordinary news day, this dangerous provocation from North Korea would be the top story on all the cable news channels. Hawks would be calling on the U.S. to retaliate, and doves would be warning of the potential for millions of deaths in the event war breaks out in the densely populated region.

For now, though, the unprecedented flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey is the Trump administration’s top priority. Early estimates are that the storm has caused $40 billion in damage. Water levels are still rising in Houston, and surrounding areas extending to Louisiana, so the scale of the catastrophic losses stemming from 11 trillion gallons of water will continue to grow in the days ahead.

Several major oil refineries have been shut down by the storm. However, crude oil production is little affected. Oil inventories are expected to build even as gasoline prices rise (gasoline futures jumped 3% on Monday).

The disaster is bringing Americans from disparate backgrounds and worldviews together, united in a common purpose to help provide relief to those in need. Perhaps Congress will set aside some of its partisan acrimony when it goes back into session next week. Unfortunately for taxpayers, though, outbreaks of bipartisanship are usually associated with emergencies that cause both sides to agree on even more spending.

The political pressure to make sure federal agencies are equipped to handle Harvey relief efforts (which will be ongoing for months) figures to be overwhelming. Conservatives who had aimed to force concessions in an upcoming budget fight may conclude that they now have no leverage to do so.

Government Shutdown

President Donald Trump so far hasn’t backed off his vow to pursue border wall funding even if Congress refuses and a government shutdown occurs. But a government shutdown in the aftermath of a major natural disaster could be a political disaster for whoever gets blamed for it.

With so many risks hitting investors this week, it’s no surprise that the gold market is benefiting from safe-haven inflows.

Silver is benefiting as well. Although the silver market has not yet hit a new high for the year, prices advanced nearly 2.5% Monday to close above the 200-day moving average.

If silver can now start showing leadership, that would be bullish for the entire precious metals complex. The gold:silver ratio currently stands at about 75:1. Gold is still trading at a high price historically relative to silver.

The ratio can move rapidly to the downside when silver prices are surging. That was the case from late 2010 to early 2011, when the ratio dropped from the high 60s to the low 30s. An even bigger move could be in store for those who buy silver now, while the gold:silver ratio is still in the 70s.

Gold gains from economic storms, ‘fake rates’ and Jackson Hole

Are You Prepared for These Potentially Disruptive Economic Storms?

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

Hurricane Harvey

Here in San Antonio, grocery stores were packed with families stocking up on water and canned food in preparation for Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated Houston and coastal Texas towns. I hope everyone who lives in its path took the necessary precautions to stay safe and dry—this storm was definitely one to tell your grandkids about one day.

Similarly, I hope investors took steps to prepare for some potentially disruptive economic storms, including this past weekend’s central bank symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the possibility of a contentious battle in Congress next month over the budget and debt ceiling.

As you’re probably aware, central bankers from all over the globe visited Jackson Hole this past weekend to discuss monetary policy, specifically the Federal Reserve’s unwinding of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet and the European Central Bank’s (ECB) ongoing quantitative easing (QE) program. Janet Yellen gave what might be her last speech as head of the Federal Reserve.

As I told Daniela Cambone on last week’s Gold Game Film, there are some gold conspiracy theorists out there who believe the yellow metal gets knocked down every year before the annual summit so the government can look good. I wouldn’t exactly put money on that trade, but you can see there’s some evidence to support the claim. In most years going back to 2010, the metal did fall in the days leading up to the summit. Gold prices fell most sharply around this time in 2011 before rocketing back up to its all-time high of more than $1,900 an ounce.

Gold prices generally fell days before the annual economic symposium
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Many of the economic and political conditions that helped gold reach that level in 2011 are in effect today. That year, a similar Congressional skirmish over the debt ceiling led to Standard & Poor’s decision to lower the U.S. credit rating, from AAA to AA+, which in turn battered the dollar. The dollar’s recent weakness is similarly supporting gold prices.

In August 2011, the real, inflation-adjusted 10-year Treasury was yielding negative 0.59 percent on average, pushing investors out of government bonds and into gold. Because of low inflation, we might not be seeing negative 10-year yields right now, but the five-year is borderline while the two-year is definitely underwater. Bank of America Merrill Lynch sees gold surging to $1,400 an ounce by early next year on lower long-term U.S. interest rates.

Are Government Inflation Numbers More “Fake News”?

If we use another inflation measure, though, yields of all durations look very negative. For years, ShadowStats has published alternate consumer price index (CPI) figures using the methodology that was used in 1980. According to economist John Williams, an expert in government economic reporting, “methodological shifts in government reporting have depressed reported inflation” over the years. The implication is that inflation might actually be running much higher than we realize, as you can see in the chart below.

Official US consumer inflation vs shadowstats alternate
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If you believe the alternate CPI numbers, it makes good sense to have exposure to gold.

Recently I shared with you that Ray Dalio—manager of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with $150 billion in assets—was one among several big-name investors who have added to their gold weighting in recent days on heightened political risk. That includes Congress’ possible failure to raise the debt ceiling and, consequently, a government shutdown. Dalio recommends as much as a 10 percent weighting in the yellow metal, which is in line with my own recommendation of 10 percent, with 5 percent in physical gold and 5 percent in gold stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.

I urge you to watch this animated video about opportunities in quality gold mining stocks!

Falling Dollar Good for U.S. Trade

Returning to the dollar for a moment, respected CLSA equity strategist Christopher Wood writes in this week’s edition of GREED & fear that it’s “hard to believe that the political news flow in Washington has not been a factor in U.S. dollar weakness this year.”

The U.S. media certainly wants you to believe that Trump is bad for the dollar. Take a look at this chart, showing the dollar’s steady decline alongside President Donald Trump’s deteriorating favorability rating, according to a RealClearPolitics poll.

US dollar tracks trumps favorability down
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However, a weak dollar is good for America’s economy. I’ve commented before that Trump likes a falling dollar, because it is good for the country’s export trade of quality industrial products. It’s also good for commodities, which we see in a rising gold price and usually energy prices.

Ready for a Big Fight?

You might have watched the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, but have you been watching the fight between Trump and the Fed?

At the symposium in Jackson Hole, Fed Chair Janet Yellen squared up directly against Trump when she defended the strict regulations that were put in place after the financial crisis. Echoing these comments was Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan. This is the opposite of what Trump has been calling for, which is the streamlining of regulations that threaten to strangle the formation of capital.

Hurricane Harvey

It’s important to recognize that the market is all about supply and demand. The number of public companies in the U.S. has been shrinking, with about half of the number of listed companies from 1996 to 2016. Readers have seen me comment on this previously, and I believe that the key reason for this shrinkage is the surge in federal regulations. The increasingly curious thing is that we are seeing the evolution of more indices than stocks, as the formation of capital must morph.

As I told CNBC Asia’s Martin Soong this week, there is a huge amount of money supply out there, and investors are looking for somewhere to invest. The smaller pool of stocks combined with the greater supply of money means that the market has seen all-time highs. In addition, major averages were regularly hitting all-time highs not necessarily on hopes that tax reform would get passed, but on strong corporate earnings, promising global economic growth and the weaker U.S. dollar.

Meanwhile, small-cap stocks are effectively flat for 2017 and heading for their worst year since 1998 relative to the market, according to Bloomberg. Hedge funds’ net short positions on the Russell 2000 Index have reached levels unseen since 2009. Remember, these are the firms that were expected to be among the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s “America first” policies.

However, the weakness in U.S. manufacturing has a great impact on the growth of these stocks, as indicated by the falling purchasing managers’ index (PMI). The slowdown in manufacturing is offset by strength in services, shown by the Flash composite PMI score of 56.0 which came out this week. Though there is a spread between large-cap and small-cap stocks, historically this strong score is an indicator of growth to come.

Spread between large cap and small cap stocks continues to widen
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Some big-name investors and hedge fund managers are turning cautious on domestic equities in general. On Monday, Ray Dalio announced on LinkedIn that he was reducing his risk in U.S. markets because he’s “concerned about growing internal and external conflict leading to impaired government efficiency (e.g. inabilities to pass legislation and set policies).” Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman and Pimco’s Dan Ivascyn have also recently bought protection against market unrest, according to the Financial Times. Chris Wood is overweight Asia and emerging markets.

Stay Hopeful

It’s important to keep in mind that there will always be disruptions in the market, and adjustments to your portfolio will sometimes need to be made. For those of you who read my interview with the Oxford Club’s Alex Green, you might recall his “Gone Fishin’” portfolio, which I think is an excellent model to use—and it’s beaten the market for 16 years straight. Green’s portfolio calls for not just domestic equities, Treasuries and bonds but also 30 percent in foreign stocks and as much as 10 percent in real estate and gold.

Stay safe out there!