Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Golden Road Out of Financial Crisis; Chris Mayer on Brand Disloyalty

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The Daily Reckoning
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What "The Man Who Made Too Much" says about gold now... China's foreign reserves top $2 trillion... So how will they invest it? One thing gold bars, water wells and camels all have in common...
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Bill Bonner, with a few words from somewhere over the Irish Sea...

"Who goes borrowing, goes sorrowing."
- Ben Franklin
Today's reckoning is going to be short. We're on the road again...this time to Ireland where our Family office is headquartered.

The quote above comes from one of America's founding fathers. But it was recalled to us neither by America's president, nor America's secretary of the Treasury, nor by America's top banker. Instead, the Telegraph in London reported it from the mouth of Cheng Siwei, a "top member of the Communist hierarchy."

The Telegraph reports:

"Cheng Siwei, former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee....said Beijing was dismayed by the Fed's recourse to "credit easing".

"We hope there will be a change in monetary policy as soon as they have positive growth again," he said at the Ambrosetti Workshop, a policy gathering on Lake Como.

"If they keep printing money to buy bonds it will lead to inflation, and after a year or two the dollar will fall hard. Most of our foreign reserves are in US bonds and this is very difficult to change, so we will diversify incremental reserves into euros, yen, and other currencies," he said.

China's reserves are more than - $2 trillion, the world's largest.

"Gold is definitely an alternative, but when we buy, the price goes up. We have to do it carefully so as not to stimulate the markets," he added.

The Chinese now have the wind at their backs. Having done the stupidest things a nation can do - for a period of about half a century - the Chinese are getting smart. They're discovering the wisdom Americans have forgotten.

"A penny saved is a penny earned," is another of Franklin's quips. In China it is practically the national motto. The Chinese save 25% to 40% of their income.

And now, with their $2 trillion in national savings, they're going on a buying spree. But unlike Americans in the Bubble Epoque, the Chinese aren't buying cheap consumer goods. They're buying real assets...raw materials...and key supplies of essential resources, such as rare metals..

Chris Mayer, who has been way ahead of the curve throughout the gold bull market of the last few years, has guided his Mayer's Special Situations' subscribers to many large gains in the gold mining sector. "Sure, gold may be a little overbought over the short term," Chris admits, "but we're still in the middle of a great big bull market that is not even close to exhausting itself." Despite Chris's bullish outlook for gold, however, he always tries to identify unique opportunities in the mining sector that will flourish, even if gold doesn't budge.

For a limited time, Chris is allowing folks to "take a sneak peek" into his investment process. For just one dollar, investors may obtain a 30- day subscription to Mayer's Special Situations, his premium investment service.

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Ultimately, gold is's a way to store wealth over the long term.

Just ask Terry Herbert. The man spent his time with a metal detector, looking for treasure in England's green and golden fields. He'd been looking for years, but when he finally found something important it "brought tears to my eyes," he says.

What Mr. Herbert found was perhaps the greatest discovery of buried treasure in English history - 1,500 different artifacts of gold and silver...dagger hilts, crosses, helmet cheek pieces and other items of war booty from the Anglo-Saxon period, about 1,400 years ago.

Had Mr. Herbert stumbled upon some IOUs from a Saxon chieftain, it would have been a remarkable discovery. Its historical value might have been inestimable. But what he found weighed in at 11 pounds of gold. In addition to the value to museums and historians, it has monetary value. Even if you melted it down, erasing all trace of its history and provenance, it would still be worth about $160,000 at today's price - probably about as much as it was when the Saxons stole it.

Gold's "price has been remarkably similar for centuries at a time," wrote Roy W. Jastram in his 1977 book, The Golden Constant. "Its purchasing power in the middle of the twentieth century was very nearly the same as in the midst of the seventeenth century."

Gold outlives paper money, empires, governments...all of us and all our institutions.

The Chinese have metal detectors too. And they know there's not much real value behind the dollar.

"The dollar is finished," says historian Niall Ferguson. The Chinese are dumping it, he says.

Ferguson speaks for the popular intelligentsia. His ideas reflect those of fund managers, hedge fund operators, bankers, politicians and speculators. They're all convinced that the dollar is doomed.

The Financial Times elaborates:

"The financial crisis vividly taught investors the importance of tail risk, a massive one-off event that can crush the value of portfolios. As the dust settles, fear of another 'tail' to sting portfolios is uppermost in the minds of many investors and money managers."

Oh, Mr. Market....where's thy sting? It's inflation, they believe.

It's the risk "that the huge liquidity injections being made by central banks could spark a surge in either inflation and/or long-term interest rates beyond 2012," continues the FT.

"Inflation is the single biggest topic for discussion among our clients," says a private banker.

What's remarkable about inflation is that there is so little of it. It makes us think this story may have a twist. More on that after today's essay...

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The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: "To declare a bias upfront," confesses Chris Mayer, editor of Capital & Crisis, "I am a hard asset kind of guy. My idea of real wealth is one a king from biblical times would recognize - something akin to some camels and horses, a granary full of grain, a sackful of gold pieces, farmland and maybe a water well."

Coincidentally, your editors here at The Daily Reckoning also prefer hard assets. For example, we'd rather have a handful of the kind of money that shimmers in the sunlight than a handful of the money that combusts over a low flame.

In the column below, Chris shares a few words about gold, one of the only assets that holds its value better than a dollar bill...or a camel or a horse...

Brand Disloyalty
by Chris Mayer
Midtown, New York City

The US dollar is a sort of monetary brand. And like any other brand, it can fall out of favor. Even iconic brands can rapidly lose their "must- have" caché. Sometimes, a brand can disappear entirely, as did Pan American Airways or "Members Only" jackets. But there is always something else waiting to take its place. So it is with the US dollar, a brand making lows in the financial markets.

The dollar has been the "Coca-Cola of monetary brands," says James Grant, editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. But even the best of brands can be lousy investments. Grant uses the analogy of The New York Times. It was the greatest name in newspapers. In 2002, the stock sold for $53 per share - an all-time high, as it turned out. Today, the "Gray Lady" fetches only $8 per share.

"What happened?" Grant asked. The World Wide Web happened, he says. "The Times has hundreds of reporters, but this is a story they seem to have missed." As if the lowly stock price was not evidence enough of its decline, the NY Times got another reminder when it borrowed $225 million against it headquarters building. The cost of such borrowing, Grant reports, was 14%. The august Times today borrows at rates no better than a working-class stiff at a pawnshop. The US Treasury should take note. The government seems as intent on creating dollars as prolifically as bunnies create other bunnies.

Here we get to John Paulson, a presenter at the Grant's Fall Investment Conference and undoubtedly the richest man in the room. Portfolio magazine dubbed him "The Man Who Made Too Much" after he made $3.7 billion by betting against mortgage-backed securities (MBS). He is one of the greatest hedge fund managers ever.

Gold is his favorite today. As to why, Paulson presented a simple, but compelling case. First, the monetary base has exploded in a way we've never seen before. The monetary base is essentially the Federal Reserve Bank's currency and reserves. The Fed, by buying up securities in this crisis, has pumped a lot of money into the economy.

Percentage Change in Monetary Base

You've probably seen this chart, or some variation of it. Still, there haven't been noticeable signs of inflation as a result of that big spike - not yet.

As Paulson explained, that's because this base money has not yet been lent out and multiplied throughout the economy. Yet the monetary base and money supply are highly correlated, "almost 1-to-1 between the two," Paulson said.

That means that as the monetary base expands, the money supply surely follows, though there is a lag. (Money supply is a broader measure of money than just the monetary base, as it includes personal deposits and more. The monetary base is like a kind of monetary yeast. It makes money supply rise.)

If money supply grows faster than the economy, that will create inflation, says Paulson.. As it is impossible for the economy to grow anywhere near that vertical spike in the monetary base, Paulson contends inflation is coming.

The US is not alone in its money-printing exercise. The supply of most currencies is expanding rapidly - even the normally tame Swiss franc. In the race of paper currencies, they are all dogs. Hence Paulson's interest in gold, which no government can make on a whim.

Therefore, in the content of the exploding monetary base, gold seems relatively cheap. In other words, as the money supply rises, so does the price of gold, eventually. As a result, says Paulson, "gold has been a perfect hedge against inflation."

There is some slippage over time.. The gold price can change faster or slower than the money supply. But when the market gets worried about inflation, the gold price usually changes much faster - as happened in the 1970s. In 1973 - to pick a typical year - inflation was 9% and gold rose 67%. That was a pattern common in the 1970s.

The potential for inflation this time around is greater than it was in the 1970s, given that the growth in the monetary base is so much greater than it was in the 1970s. Gold could do much better this time around, reaching "$3,000 or $4,000 or $5,000 per ounce" as Paulson said.

I keep thinking how future historians will look back at the present day and see clearly how this unfolded. They will see the litany of news items that pointed to the dollar losing its top perch: China and Brazil settling up trade in their own currencies. The Russians and others openly calling for a new monetary standard. Even mainstream outlets are discussing alternatives to a dollar-based standard, a province once solely occupied by cranks and gold bugs. Not a week goes by without these kinds of stories.

As for a replacement waiting in the wings, Grant offers up gold. Indeed, a kind of "de facto gold standard" seems to be taking shape. The SPDR Gold Trust, the largest gold-backed security in the world, is now the sixth largest holder of the metal in the world. Anybody with a brokerage account can easily buy gold today through the trust, which trades on the NYSE under the ticker GLD.

It's still early. Most people still own no or very little gold. As it becomes clearer what's happening, they will buy more gold, especially as it is now easy to do so.

The gold supply, too, is limited against the vast pool of dollars. As Paulson points out, global money supply is 72 times the value of gold. I'm betting that gap will narrow. It only has to narrow a smidgen and the gold price flies.

As Grant eloquently put it: "Gold is a speculation. But it is a speculation on a certainty: the debasement of the currency." Gold stocks, too, are a speculation. But they are a speculation on an inevitably higher gold price.


Chris Mayer,
for The Daily Reckoning

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And back to Bill with today's Daily Endnote:

Remember the famous German general von Kluck, from whom we get the expression, 'you dumb kluck?' Von Kluck was chasing the French down the Marne in 1914. Victory looked like it was close at hand. The French were pulling back. Von Kluck, who had orders to attack Paris, decided instead to pursue the French army. He was convinced that they were beaten. All he had to do was keep the pressure on....and they would surrender.

Some of his field commanders, however, noted that they were picking up very few prisoners. Normally, an army that is beaten throws off many discouraged and confused soldiers. Since there were so few, the commanders reasoned that the French army was still intact; it was merely retreating in good order and could turn and surprise the Germans at any time.

The commanders were right. France's aging general, Gallieni, who was in charge of the Parisian garrison, realized that the Germans were making a fatal mistake. By pursuing the troops down the Marne, rather than attacking Paris, they exposed themselves to a counteract from the city itself.

"Gentlemen," he is said to have said to his staff. "They offer us their flank."

The French took the offer. They attacked. Using thousands of taxicabs, they moved troops to the Marne Valley as fast as possible and caught the Germans unprepared. The Battle of the Marne turned the German army around and ultimately cost them the war.

We bring this up now because we have a feeling that the dollar is not broken. It is merely retreating in good order. At $1.49 per euro, it is not at the record low you'd expect after so much negative press. And it is not giving up more ground. Instead, it is holding.

Yesterday, the dollar price of stocks went down. The dollar price of oil and gold went down too. The dollar has not yet counter-attacked. But the dollar bears are vulnerable. We wouldn't be surprised to see them hit hard in the weeks ahead.

Of course, in the very long run, the dollar bears will prove to be right. We have little doubt that the coin shooter who finds a cache of US Treasury bonds in the year 3,400 - like Mr. Herbert in 2009 - will have tears in his eyes. Though perhaps not for the same reason.

Until tomorrow,

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning
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