by David Stanowski
07 June 2009
In the late 1970's, I fell in with the original Gold Bugs and I began buying Gold and Silver, however, eventually, I discovered technical analysis, and sold near the top, before the 19-year decline began.
With the current unprecedented financial crisis, the Gold Bugs are once again making a very compelling case that those who do not buy Gold will see their money become worthless, and be faced with financial ruin. However, what is the possibility that they may be totally wrong, and investing in Gold will lead to major losses?
This is one of the most critical questions of our time!
From 1793 to 1861, the price of Gold stayed in a very narrow price range between $20 and $21 per ounce until the inflation caused by monetary policy during the Civil War pushed the price up 135% to $47. After the War, the price trended lower for many years until it was back down to $21 when the Great Depression arrived. In one of the most draconian moves of the New Deal, FDR signed Executive Order 6102 which made it illegal for Americans to own Gold, except for jewelry and small quantities of certain coins minted before 1933.
The Order required people to surrender their Gold to the Federal Reserve on or before 01 May 1933. Violation of EO 6102 was punishable by a fine up to $10,000 ($164,000 in today's Dollars), up to ten years in prison, or both.
How Americans Lost Their Right to Own Gold
Citizens were paid $20.67 per ounce for their Gold, when it was confiscated, but shortly after this forced sale, the price of Gold for international transactions was raised to $35 per ounce; instantly devaluing the Dollar by 69%!
The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 officially changed the value of the dollar in Gold from $20.67 to $35 per ounce. From 1934 to 1968, the price of Gold remained virtually unchanged at $35.
On 17 March 1968, the effort to control the private market price of Gold collapsed, so a two-tiered price system was established that kept all central-bank transactions at $35, but the free market was allowed to establish its own price. The market price immediately jumped to $43!
The free market price remained in the $40 range until 15 August 1971 when Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert Dollars to Gold at a fixed value, thus abandoning the Gold standard for foreign exchange, and opening the door for major price increases.
The limitation on the ownership of Gold in the U.S. was finally repealed when President Gerald Ford signed a bill legalizing private ownership of Gold coins, bars and certificates which went into effect on 31 December 1974.
Fundamental Versus Technical Analysis:
Fundamental analysis of investments, like commodities and real estate, focuses on supply and demand factors and other economic forces that might have an effect on them such as money supply, interest rates, and political changes. Fundamental analysis of operating companies looks at things such as the management, cash flow, earnings, profit, sales outlook, expansion plans, new products, etcetera.
Technical analysis focuses first and foremost on the price graph of the investment. Technicians believe that the actions of everyone who trades on fundamentals are already reflected in the price, so there is no need to be concerned with fundamentals, because, in the end, price is everything!
Technicians also look at many mathematical manipulations of the price curve like oscillators, moving averages, and volatility and range studies; sentiment indicators such as investor/trader surveys, Put/Call ratios, and Commitment of Traders reports, as well as volume studies.
Many investors use a combination of fundamental and technical analysis, in a variety of markets, but Gold Bugs are fundamentalists plain and simple, even though they may use technicals for short-term timing. The entire reason that they "believe in" Gold as a long-term investment is due to fundamentals.
The Fundamentalist Case for Gold is very simple, logical, and makes a lot of sense:
The Federal Reserve was established in 1913, and its real purpose was and is to debase the value of the Dollar in a relatively slow and controlled manner for the benefit of a small group of elite bankers, financial firms, wealthy families, and politicians. Eventually, the real estate market became dependent on debt, so the devaluation of the Dollar became its lifeblood, too.
The FED facilitates the devaluation of the Dollar by creating an excess supply of Dollars. The more Dollars that exist, the less each one is worth; a phenomena known as inflation. Dollars are created by actually printing more currency, but the primary method is through the creation of more and more credit.
If it's understood that the real purpose of the FED is to devalue the Dollar, and therefore create inflation, then it is easy to make the case that the constantly declining value of the Dollar MUST lead to a constantly rising value of Gold, when it is priced in Dollars, over any reasonably long period of time! This is the appeal of the Gold Bug's argument; you can't lose, because one action will create a known result, so the outcome is totally predictable! How many other investments offer this advantage?
Testing the Gold Bugs' Case:
Ideally, the best measure of the true value of the Dollar would be the Consumer Price Index (CPI), however, since it is the most widely known and visible measure of inflation, the government has gone to great pains to modify it, over the last 25 years, so that it understates inflation. Therefore, the lesser known and less manipulated Producers' Price Index (PPI) of All Commodities will be used as the best available metric.
The following chart clearly shows that the U.S. Dollar was worth $1.00 in 1913, but at the end of 2008 it was only worth $0.06; a decline of 94%. This confirms the fact that the basic premise of the Gold Bugs' case is indeed correct!
If the devaluation of the Dollar, i.e. inflation, causes the price of Gold to rise, is the PPI measure of inflation strongly correlated to the price of Gold?
New York Market Price
Bearing in mind that the price of Gold was fixed until 1968, the upward sloping PPI inflation curve can be seen to correspond to a generally upward price trend in Gold, but the correlation between the two isn't very tight.
The next graph shows Gold divided by the PPI. This calculation removes the effect of inflation on the price of Gold, and reveals the fact that a great deal of the price movement has nothing to do with inflation! Also note that the new high in Gold shown in the graph above is not confirmed by the graph below. This means Gold only made a new high in 2008 due to the weakness of the Dollar.
When the fixed-price era ended and the pent up demand was unleashed in 1968, a massive Bull Market was launched that saw prices move from $35 to an $850 intra day high in 1980. The value of an investment in Gold increased by a factor of 24-to-1!
Obviously, this move was overdone, so it lead to a 70% collapse in the price of Gold, on an intra day high-to-low basis, over a 19-year period (1980-1999)! This long Bear Market set up another strong up move from 1999 to 2008.
The problem with the simplistic case made by the Gold Bugs is that it fails to account for the major moves in the price of Gold that are independent of inflation! An investor who bought Gold in 1913 at $20.67, and held it until the end of 2008, when it was selling at $884.30, saw his investment increase more than 42 times!!
However, an investor who bought the DJIA at the end of 1913, at $57.71, and held it until year end 2008, when it was $8,776.39, increased their wealth by a factor of 152! Buying and holding the DJIA for 95 years created 3.6 times more profit than buying and holding Gold!
So, why would anyone buy Gold? Because many still believe the fantasy that the stock market is riskier than the Gold market. They believe that investing in the stock market takes a lot of knowledge and expertise, but since Gold "always goes up due to inflation"; it is easy to make large profits in this market. Hopefully, this article has demonstrated that this is simply not true!
Of course, most people don't live 95 years let alone invest for that period of time. Typically, if a liquid investment isn't paying off in 2-3 years, many investors will give up and sell.
How many investors who bought Gold at the top tick of $850.00 in January 1980, would hold it for 19 years as it collapsed 70% to $252.80 in 1999, and then hold it for 9 more years until 2008 when it finally surpassed $850.00 with a new high of $1,011.25? It just doesn't work that way in real life!
The bottom line is that all investments in this country are priced in Dollars, so some of their price gains are always going to be due to the loss of value of the Dollar and not the gain in value of the investment; but the Gold/PPI graph demonstrated that this is just as true for Gold as it is for any other investment.
The fallacy of the Gold Bugs' argument is that they believe that investing in Gold is easier than other markets, because the same sophisticated analysis isn't necessary in a market that just relies on inflation for its gains. A brief examination of the price of Gold over the past 40 years should make it obvious that this simply isn't true! If it isn't approached like every other investment, using the proper analysis, and technical timing tools, an investor can lose a lot of money!
Just how far off base this simplistic reliance on inflation as the strategy for buying gold really is can be demonstrated by looking more closely at the Gold market between its 1980 high and 1999 low. The following graph shows how as one measure of the money supply (M1) increased by a factor of 3-to-1, between 1980 and 1999, the price of Gold DECREASED by a factor of 3-to-1!!
How can that be? In 1980, Gold peaked at $850.00. Since one measure of the number of Dollars tripled, over the next 19 years, Gold Bugs would expect Gold to be trading near $850.00 x 3 = $2,550.00 in 1999. Instead, Gold hit a low of $252.80, in 1999; 1/10 of the expected price if Gold just tracked the amount of money creation!
The next graph is even more incredible! It shows a plot of the Total Credit Market Debt, which is a broader measure of money creation, doubling between 1980 and 1999 while Gold plunged 70%! The explanation for why Gold did not behave as the Gold Bugs said it should can be found by focusing on the period between 1967 and 2009.
Between 1967 and 2009, there was a nearly perfect inverse correlation between investors' interest in Gold and their interest in the stock market. A great deal of the rise in the stock market averages is also due to inflation, so as investors receive newly created money from the Fed, at any given time, they must choose which market will be the beneficiary of their new funds. Sometimes Gold is the primary recipient, but other times it is the stock market, real estate, or bonds.
It may seem odd, in a monetary system with almost constant inflation, that the price trend of Gold isn't nearly as smooth and predictable as that of the PPI, but it isn't odd at all when it's understood that investors move or rotate from one investment to another as their attitudes or moods towards them change over time; which often has little to do with inflation. Bull Markets start during periods of under valuation and disinterest by investors, and end in over valuation and great excitement. As the Bear Market begins, they gradually begin to shift their attention to a different market which starts a new Bull Market in another investment vehicle.
Stocks versus Gold:
The next two graphs of the DJIA and Gold clearly show the three major turning points when investors shifted money from stocks to Gold, and Gold to stocks:
1. 1966-1967: Stocks end their Bull Market and the newly created money begins flowing into Gold, which launches the 1967-1980 Bull Market in Gold.
2. 1980-1982: Gold ends its Bull Market and the newly created money begins flowing into stocks, which launches the 1982-1999 Bull Market in stocks.
3. 1999: Stocks end their Bull Market and the newly created money begins flowing into Gold, which launches the 1999-???? Bull Market in Gold.
New York Market Price
Reasons for Owning Gold:
In addition to the strongly held belief of the Gold Bugs that "the price always goes up because of inflation"; there are other beliefs about Gold:
1. Gold is a hedge against some unforeseen disaster; it's insurance.
It is certainly reasonable to want insurance against the irresponsible policies of the federal government, and the FED, so the real question is how much do you want to pay for it. Normally, the premium paid for insurance is totally lost if the insured event does not occur. In other words, what kind of event would result in a big payoff for owning Gold, what is the probability that it will happen, and what is a reasonable premium to pay to protect against this occurrence? History shows that the price of Gold can plunge dramatically, so the decision on how much to own for insurance should take this into account.
2. Gold is always worth something.
As a tangible rather than a paper asset like stocks, bonds, and currency, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Gold could become worthless like paper assets, but there are many other tangible assets that could be worth much more than Gold in given situations. Food, gasoline, medicine, ammunition, batteries, diamonds, guns, and many other items could be much more valuable than Gold. Many of these tangibles take more room or special conditions to store, and may still have a short shelf life compared to Gold, but if you own Gold, in an emergency, you are still going to have to sell it for Dollars, or trade it for other items that you deem more useful at the time. Therefore, investors who are inclined toward tangible assets should look at the whole range of possibilities.
3. The recent actions of the Federal Government and the FED guarantee Hyperinflation.
Gold is probably the best investment choice in a high-inflation environment, but there is no evidence at this time of high inflation, and there are good reasons why hyperinflation is unlikely, regardless of the Conventional Wisdom.
The period from January 1967 to January 1980 produced the highest inflation in our recent history. The PPI increased by a factor of 2.55 (155%) over those 13 years, while the price of Gold increased by a factor of 18.66.
The worst inflationary years from 1967 to 1980 were:
The more recent period that has generated a fear of hyperinflation started in 1999 and continues at the present time. From August 1999 to August 2008, the PPI increased by a factor of 1.62 (62%), while the price of Gold increased by a factor of 3.59. So far, this period has been far less inflationary than 1967-1980.
Despite the recent unprecedented efforts to re-inflate the economy, the PPI peaked in July 2008, and has been declining since then. This means that first the rate of inflation declined for three months, and then outright DEFLATION, i.e. negative inflation, began six months ago, and there is no evidence of a return to inflation in any other data. High inflation or even hyperinflation certainly could occur sometime in the future, but as most analysts continue to proclaim that it is a foregone conclusion, they ignore the fact that deflation is crushing all the efforts to re-inflate the monetary system!
The worst inflationary years from 1999 to 2008 were:
Most financial reporters and analysts keep referring to the present government actions as "printing money" when they should know that very little money is actually ever printed. The devaluation of the Dollar, i.e. inflation, is accomplished primarily through credit creation. When references are made to the hyperinflation of the Wiemar Republic, and to Zimbabwe, it must be noted that those were classical currency inflations where too much money was actually printed.
When money is printed, it can't be easily removed from circulation, but credit lines can quickly and easily be canceled, and the value of issued credit (loans) can collapse quickly in a credit crisis.
The fundamental supply and demand factors that effect bonds are the risk that the seller/issuer will not make the interest payments, and/or the buyer will not get his principal back at maturity; and inflation. The higher the risk, the higher the interest rate the buyer demands. The higher the rate of inflation, the higher the interest rate the buyer demands to adjust for the lost purchasing power of the interest payments, and principal; when it is returned.
Any country with a well-developed and important bond market has a built in braking system against hyperinflation, because as inflation begins to accelerate, bond buyers demand higher and higher interest rates; and when rates go up, bonds go down, and investors lose a lot of money!
Look what happened during the previous high inflation period (1967-1980). TBond rates surged from 7.75% in 1977 (when they first started trading) to a high of 14.68% in 1981; an increase of 89%!! As interest rates rose, the price of bonds plunged 47% wiping out hundreds of billions of Dollars from investment portfolios, freezing a lot of borrowing, and slamming the brakes on the economy which plunged the nation into a deep recession!
During this period, 30-year mortgages hit 18.50% and the prime rate went to 20.50%. The reaction in the bond market dumped cold water on the overheated inflation of that time, and killed any prospect of it soaring into hyperinflation. These forces are still in place should there be a move toward hyperinflation.
Another way to look at the interplay of TBonds and Gold, in a high inflation environment, is to re-examine what happened in 1980-81 from another perspective. When Gold hit $850.00, TBonds were paying 11%, and moving towards 15%. As the Gold Bugs proclaimed that Gold was destined to hit $3,000-$5,000, more and more people decided that they would rather buy TBonds, that were offering an income of 11-15% a year, guaranteed for the next 30 years, by the U.S. government, than speculate on Gold going to much higher levels. Money began moving out of Gold and into TBonds which halted the rise in Gold, because TBonds offered a better alternative to most conservative investors.
The Gold Bugs like to argue that Gold is the ultimate in conservative investments, but it is just the opposite for most buyers! Gold pays no interest or dividends, so most buyers are speculating on price appreciation. That is the only reason that they buy Gold. When they sense that price increases have stalled, they bail out. After the bubble popped, in 1980, Gold declined for the next 19 years!
Since the main reason that investors are currently piling into Gold is their belief that the government is creating hyperinflation; if there is no hyperinflation, or in fact no inflation, what is the reason to own it?
To technicians, who count themselves as Contrarians, a very important part of their analysis
is the sentiment of investors and traders. These technicians understand that when investors get overly bullish, prices are nearing a top; and when investors get overly bearish, prices are nearing a bottom.
The following graph plots the price of Gold as it rises off its 1999 low of $252.50, when investors were universally bearish on Gold, to its 17 March 2008 top ($1,033.90) when the Daily Sentiment Index (a survey of traders) made an all-time high when 97% of traders identified themselves as bullish on Gold! For at least a year and a half, this hyper-bullish opinion has prevailed with the certainty that "Gold has to soar to much higher levels", even as Gold has failed to better its $1,033.90 high made almost 15 months ago!
The Daily Sentiment Index did drop dramatically as Gold plunged into its 24 October 2008 low of $681.00, but as it rallied to the $1,000 mark again, on 20 February 2009, the DSI was up to 96%, and the price fell back, when it could not push through $1,000.
The absolute certainty in the sentiment that Gold must go higher, reminds me of the absolute certainty that the climate is warming. The only problem is that when you look at recent temperature measurements, they aren't actually rising, and when you look at the price of Gold it isn't actually pushing to new highs, either! Anything is possible, in the future, but with sentiment remaining so bullish, the probability of Gold making a large move to the upside is fairly remote!
The hyper-bullishness about Gold has even convinced Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company to move $400 million of their investment portfolio from stocks into Gold. It seems that they lost up to 95% on some of their stocks, but they don't think a loss of that size is possible with Gold! Their reasoning seems to be that after years of investing in the stock market, the events of the last 19 months have shaken their confidence about what they thought they knew, so it is time to take the plunge into Gold; a market where they have no knowledge or experience! Throughout its 152-year history, Northwestern Mutual has never invested in Gold until now. The bandwagon is getting pretty full!
Deciding how to buy Gold is much more complicated than many other investments. Here are the three primary choices:
1. Taking delivery on Gold Coins and/or Bullion.
Most Gold Bugs buy Gold in this way. They want to take delivery on Gold and put it in their home safe, or bury it in the back yard, so that it is outside of the official financial system. Storing Gold in a safe deposit box is acceptable to some, but those who are afraid that someday the government might seal safe deposit boxes, and confiscate the contents, are going to keep their Gold at home. To be completely safe from both the government's fiat monetary system, and the government regulation and control of the banking system, it is necessary to hold onto and protect the Gold yourself!
Most investors in Gold coins limit their selection to "bullion coins", as opposed to "rare coins", that have an additional premium for their numismatic value.
The fatal flaw in the Gold Bug's ultimate plan to protect themselves from paper money is that they are trying to out smart the federal government. If they succeed, the government is very likely to penalize their cleverness by confiscating their Gold, as they did in 1933! Gold Bugs will respond by saying that they will never turn in their Gold, so they don't care what the government does. However, if you can be thrown in prison, if you try to spend it; what good is it? You might have to wait 41 years (1933-1974) for it to become legal to own and spend it, again! That's a draconian holding penalty!
Buying Gold is a bet against the government, and they aren't going to be happy if they lose that bet. Imagine a scenario where Gold soars to $3,000. The Party declares that the only people who have been buying Gold are "unpatriotic speculators", so the government will buy back all the Gold for $900 which will "restore" the economy for the "good people" who trust their government. Anyone caught with Gold will be turned over to Homeland Security as a domestic terrorist!
The other problem with coins and bullion is the large bid/ask spread that is often charged by dealers. Some weeks ago, one of the coin dealers, on the list below, offered to sell a 1 ounce coin at $895.00 and buy it at $802.56; an 11.52% spread! This means that if you bought the coin at $895.00, and wanted to sell it back to the dealer 1 minute later, you would only receive $802.56; a loss of $92.44 or 11.52%! However, another dealer had a bid/ask spread closer to 3% recently. Spreads vary by dealer, and by the volatility of the market. You have to be careful to get several quotes!
Buying coins and/or bullion and storing and protecting them yourself is the ultimate way to keep your assets out of the official financial system.
Your house could burn down, or you could be robbed. The spreads are often ridiculous. There are shipping costs involved, unless there is a dealer nearby.
American Federal Rare Coin & Bullion
Fidelitrade Bid/Ask Prices
Hancock & Harwell
Miles Franklin Ltd.
Straight Talk Assets, Inc.
John Ford Jewelers
2. The Gold ETF.
State Street Global Advisers operates the largest Gold investment trust as an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). In essence, investors get shares of stock in a Gold pool, but not a segregated account holding their Gold. Buying Gold in this manner does not allow an investor to take possession of physical Gold, but it is much more convenient, and the spreads are much lower than for coins and bullion. Of course, the government could outlaw Gold trusts as vehicles used by evil speculators, or the trust could go bankrupt, be robbed, or fall prey to embezzlement, so buying Gold in this way certainly is NOT safer than investing in coins or bullion, and taking delivery.
Buying Gold through the GLD ETF is much more efficient and less expensive than buying coins and bullion. Buy and sell orders can be entered on the Internet with quick executions, low commissions, and very narrow bid/ask spreads. Investors and traders can also use stop and limit orders.
This technique does not allow the investor to take physical possession of his share of the Gold in the trust. In an emergency situation, where the markets could be closed down, it would be more useful to have possession of the Gold.
Buy through any stock broker.
3. Storing Gold Coins and/or Bullion Offshore.
Several companies allow investors to buy Gold coins and bullion, and store them in offshore bank vaults; typically in London or Zurich. This removes the Gold from the possible confiscation by the U.S. government, but adds the risk that the dealer and/or offshore bank could defraud the investor. On the same day that the 1 ounce Gold coin for delivery was quoted at $895.00/$802.56, a spread of 11.52%; Gold at Goldmoney.com was quoted at $828.95/$808.80, a spread of 2.49%.
The Gold is held out of the reach of the U.S. government. No shipping costs.
The risk of confiscation is replaced by the risk of dealing with a dealer and offshore bank. There are insurance costs for storage, but they are minimal.
Buy at spot + 0.98% to 2.49% commission
Sell at spot + 0% commission
Is Gold the most conservative investment in the world, or a very risky speculation? Paradoxically, it is both! Gold has stood the test of time as "real money" that maintains its value no matter what happens to paper currencies. However, Gold does not meet the normal definition of a conservative investment which pays interest or dividends. This means that investors actually face a holding penalty when compared to many other investments. For this reason, many Gold buyers are really traders or speculators, hoping for price increases, and they lose interest very quickly if prices are not rising.
The modern financial system does not transact business in Gold, so the amount of Dollars that can be had for an ounce of Gold can fluctuate dramatically. This article clearly demonstrated that if an investor owns Gold for very long periods of time (30-35 years) as a store of value, he is likely to receive at least as many Dollars as he paid for it, at a later date. However, Gold that is held for shorter periods may be subject to drawdowns of as much as 70%, in Dollar terms, which makes it much more of a speculative vehicle than a conservative investment.
In many ways, Gold is actually much more difficult to invest in, in a prudent and informed manner, than stocks, bonds, or real estate, because it offers no direct way to determine valuations. This is quite ironic since the attraction of buying Gold is supposed to be how easy it is to make investment decisions; all you have to do is buy-and-hold, no matter what the current price. Unfortunately, this approach could easily be the road to ruin!
After exploring and understanding the complexities and risks of investing in Gold, it still makes sense for many people to hold some portion of their assets in Gold as the proverbial insurance against some kind of financial disaster. For those who wish to purchase this kind of insurance, the critical questions are how much to buy, and how much to pay.
The Elliott Wave system indicates that the next big move in Gold will probably be from its current price near $1,000 to somewhere in the $600 range (a 40% drop!) Using this perspective, the current price for insurance is too high for me to pay, but everyone must make their own decision. I'll be looking to buy
The next article on Gold will present the case why $600 Gold is likely, and explore the possibility that the current level of Deflation could accelerate, pushing Gold down to $200, BEFORE the conditions develop that might lead to the kind of high inflation, experienced in the 1970's, and $2,000-$3,000 Gold!
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