A look at the real value of gold on an historical basis.

I like making random gold ratio charts in stockcharts.com since it lets you chart the ratio of anything: gold:oil, gold:copper, gold:SPX, etc:

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If you do this kind of analysis on a longer-term basis, you see that gold is getting a bit expensive relative to other commodities, capital goods or labor (or you could say that each of those things is getting cheap when priced in gold). What is clear is that gold is no longer cheap by any measure. I don’t think this type of analysis has anything to do with where gold price goes in the near-term (technicals and sentiment drive that), but it’s helpful to think about where gold is on an historical basis.

  • The Gold:Oil and Gold:Copper ratios are moderately high, and would be off the charts if oil and copper were to crash.
  • Rent on a nicer 1BR apartment in Manhattan has fallen from 8 ounces in 2001 to 2 ounces today. This is about what it cost in the 1920s-60s.
  • 10 ounces in 2001 bought a 12-year-old Honda Civic, and now it gets you a brand new one with extras. A Model T Ford cost 15 ounces by the 1920s. The VW Beetle cost 30-50 ounces in the ’50s.
  • Median family income in was about 50 ounces in 1920, 90 ounces in 1955, over 100 in 1965, 70 in 1975, 75 in 1985, 95 in 1995 and way over 100 in 2000. Today, it’s about 30.

On a purchasing power basis, gold is adequately priced – it is certainly no longer cheap. Of course, markets don’t care about this on anything but the longest term – gold was overvalued at $500 in 1979, but it still spiked over $800 and then fell to a ridiculously low level in 2000. In the scenario where the dollar goes to zero, everything will soar in dollars, not just gold, so you’d still have to evaluate gold in terms of goods and services.

I’m still in the dollar bull camp for the foreseable future. Treasuries are pointing the way (record low 10-year yields, 3.5% on the 30-year, almost like Japan), and it looks like another bout of deflation is underway, if you define deflation as a contraction in money and credit (if credit is marked to market). Europe’s soveriegn debt implosion is deflationary. The same goes for the Australian real estate collapse and the pending RE collapses in China and Canada, and the US muni and junk market troubles.

I don’t see the dollar as any worse fundamentally than the euro or yen, and much better technically. Japan’s history since ’89 is proof that printing and spending and running up huge public debt doesn’t necessarily kill your currency. When there is too much private debt going bad but not being written off, it overwhelms the mismanagement of the currency and props it up. It doesn’t matter what you think of the fundamental value of the dollar if you’re in debt and can’t find enough dollars to make your payments. And until asset and labor prices and demand for goods and services can justify borrowing costs, there’s no credit expansion so no inflation.

Sentiment-wise, we’ve still got a great long-term case on the long-dollar trade. Fear of the dollar has been widespread since early 2008, but the DXY has just bounced around sideways – no crash. The crash happend from 2000-08, while nobody but old-school Austrians noticed.

Rumors of dollar’s death greatly exaggerated

Sentiment is still very anti-dollar (though not as extreme as last February-April), but the index is no lower than a few months ago, nor even a few years ago. Despite all of the dollar-crash and hyperinflation hysteria in recent years, early 2008 still marks the bottom.

MACD and RSI also seem to back up the case that the next big move is more likely up than down:

3 year daily chart:

stockcharts.com

5-year weekly chart:

bigcharts.com

10-year monthly:

futures.tradingcharts.com

The 10-year chart says it all: the dollar has already crashed, and as is typical in the financial markets, few noticed or attempted to take action until the move was already over.

Iranian central bank dumps euros for gold and dollars.

Remember when Iran started pricing its oil in euros instead of dollars? It was April 2008, a few months after supermodel Gisele Bunchen refused payment in dollars. The euro touched $1.60 that month and had nowhere to go but down:

Yahoo! Finance

Having missed out on the dollar’s spectacular comeback, the expert timers in Iran are switching again:

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) intends on converting about €45 million of its reserves into dollars and gold, Tehran’s media reported.

According to reports, the new monetary policy will be carried out in three phases, with the first phase – converting euro reserves into dollars – already underway.

CBI Chief Mohammad Bahmani hinted of the move in April, saying the Islamic Republic will turn to dollars in view of the euro’s poor performance.

Iran has been converting its currency reserve into euros since 2006 – a move meant to meet both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-US policies, and the American currency’s weakness.

The recent change stems from the financial crisis which hit the eurozone bloc following Greece’s financial struggles.

The euro-dollar rates have devalued by 20% since the beginning of 2010. Iran’s foreign currency reserves, which are estimated at $100 billion – half of which are in euros – had to sustain the loss.

I’m bullish on the euro, CHF and pound in the short term, but long-term bullish on the dollar. Here’s a nearly 30-year historical chart of the dollar index, showing that it has miles of room to run:

bigcharts.com

Dollar set for a fall?

Checking the early futures action, I see some strength has been building in several currencies vs the dollar over the past few days, despite their longer-term weakness. The dollar enjoyed a small rally against the european set late last week, putting the CHF, EUR and GPB in attractive positions for long trades. With sentiment entering its 5th month of extreme negativity, it may pay to be alert for signs of a rally (that is to say a dollar decline, and further yen decline too against the dollar).

Here are a few charts (1-hour bar), noting the RSI uptrends that have developed:

GBP:

Euro:

CHF:

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To wrap it up, here is the dollar index futures contract:

Swiss franc oversold and overbearish vs. USD

The franc has taken a beating against the dollar, since it pretty much behaves like a slightly harder euro. Here is an hourly chart (click to enlarge):

TD Ameritrade

Sentiment readings have been super bearish here for a couple of weeks now, so we’re set for a reversal. At the least, going long the franc is not a bad way to hedge a portfolio that is long-term short risk (stocks, junk bonds, commodities).

Jim Rogers discusses his euro long and stock shorts

I happen to have similar positions at the moment, though unlike Rogers, I’m a bear on commodities and China, which he seems to be perpetually long.  Here’s today’s Bloomberg interview.

Take-aways:

- Long euro as a contrary position. Too many shorts out there.

- All these countries (Spain, Portugal, UK, US) are spending money they don’t have and it will continue.

- ECB buying government and private debt is wrong.

- EU is ignoring its own rules about bailouts from Maastricht Treaty.

- Governments are still trying to solve a problem of too much debt with more debt.

- Fundamentals are bad for all paper currencies. Good for gold.

- Is “contagion” limited now? Well, for those who get the money…

Here’s a longer interview from a few days ago on the same topics as well as stocks:

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- Rogers has a few stock shorts: emerging market index, NASDAQ stocks, and a large international financial institution.

- Rogers owns both silver and gold, but is not buying any more. He’s not buying anything here, “just watching.”

- Optimistic about Chinese currency. Expected it to rise more and faster, but still bullish.

- Thinking of adding shorts in next week or two if markets rally (my note: they have now).

- “Debts are so staggering, we’re all going to get hit with the problem,” no longer just our children and grandchildren.

Gold

Look at the similarity between the March 2008 peak and immediate aftermath and what we’ve seen since the December high in gold:

Prophet.net

Sure, there could be a little more oomph here for a push like that close second peak in ’08, but just because gold hasn’t dropped like a stone doesn’t mean the mania will go on without a hiccup. Each high was accompanied by extremely high and sustained bullishness, which tends to exhaust the upside for at least a few months, since after such an event everyone has already bought all the gold they want for the time being.

Also, if the euro’s run is over, why not gold’s? For all its timelessness, the markets still treat it like another currency, a highly-speculative one at that. Here is a euro chart where I’ve highlighted the same periods as above:

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I am going to view any near-term upside with an eye towards taking a short position in each of these, though of course I own physical gold for safety’s sake.

Discount window warfare

I glanced at the markets at 4:30 just in time to see every “risk” market spike down hard together. That kind of instant, coordinated movement only happens on announcements, usually something out of Washington. Turns out the Fed spooked traders with news of a 0.25% hike in the discount rate, the rate at which distressed banks borrow from the central bank.

For release at 4:30 p.m. EDT

The Federal Reserve Board on Thursday announced that in light of continued improvement in financial market conditions it had unanimously approved several modifications to the terms of its discount window lending programs.

Like the closure of a number of extraordinary credit programs earlier this month, these changes are intended as a further normalization of the Federal Reserve’s lending facilities. The modifications are not expected to lead to tighter financial conditions for households and businesses and do not signal any change in the outlook for the economy or for monetary policy, which remains about as it was at the January meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). At that meeting, the Committee left its target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and said it anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period.

The changes to the discount window facilities include Board approval of requests by the boards of directors of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks to increase the primary credit rate (generally referred to as the discount rate) from 1/2 percent to 3/4 percent. This action is effective on February 19.

In addition, the Board announced that, effective on March 18, the typical maximum maturity for primary credit loans will be shortened to overnight. Primary credit is provided by Reserve Banks on a fully secured basis to depository institutions that are in generally sound condition as a backup source of funds. Finally, the Board announced that it had raised the minimum bid rate for the Term Auction Facility (TAF) by 1/4 percentage point to 1/2 percent. The final TAF auction will be on March 8, 2010.

Easing the terms of primary credit was one of the Federal Reserve’s first responses to the financial crisis. On August 17, 2007, the Federal Reserve reduced the spread of the primary credit rate over the FOMC’s target for the federal funds rate to 1/2 percentage point, from 1 percentage point, and lengthened the typical maximum maturity from overnight to 30 days. On December 12, 2007, the Federal Reserve created the TAF to further improve the access of depository institutions to term funding. On March 16, 2008, the Federal Reserve lowered the spread of the primary credit rate over the target federal funds rate to 1/4 percentage point and extended the maximum maturity of primary credit loans to 90 days.

Subsequently, in response to improving conditions in wholesale funding markets, on June 25, 2009, the Federal Reserve initiated a gradual reduction in TAF auction sizes. As announced on November 17, 2009, and implemented on January 14, 2010, the Federal Reserve began the process of normalizing the terms on primary credit by reducing the typical maximum maturity to 28 days.

The increase in the discount rate announced Thursday widens the spread between the primary credit rate and the top of the FOMC’s 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate to 1/2 percentage point. The increase in the spread and reduction in maximum maturity will encourage depository institutions to rely on private funding markets for short-term credit and to use the Federal Reserve’s primary credit facility only as a backup source of funds. The Federal Reserve will assess over time whether further increases in the spread are appropriate in view of experience with the 1/2 percentage point spread.

Ok, so they are finally going to tighten up a bit, just in time for the next wave of home mortgage and commercial real estate defaults. This is a deflationary action, and it fits right into the psychology of a top, where Fed officials would be expected to conclude that the storm had passed.

When thinking about Fed decisions, I assume that it is not actually foolish economists like Bernanke and crew who make them, but their cunning and wealthy bosses — Blankfein, Dimon and company. Why would bank execs want tighter credit at the Fed? JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs likely don’t give a hoot about 0.25%, but this could push smaller banks over the edge and into the FDIC’s Friday lottery, whereby their deposits are gifted to other lucky banks.

As for the significance of this for the markets, it sends a signal that I believe will often be repeated in the coming months and years: bankers do not want to destroy the dollar any faster than they can help it. Hyperinflation is game over for the banking cartel, since the value of debt (and therefore bank assets) goes to zero.

The Fed is likely to look tougher from here on out (and actually they have not created new base money for about 12 months), especially in comparison to their European, Australian and Canadian counterparts. The Aussies and Canadians still have to liquidate their housing bubbles, and it is a very safe bet that the high rates that have made for such a lucrative carry trade are going to fall hard, along with their currencies.

Don’t be surprised if the dollar climbs all the way back to its 2000 peak.

Eric Sprott: new lows ahead for S&P 500

From Bloomberg:

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) — The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index will collapse below its March lows as an expected rebound in economic growth fails to materialize, according to hedge fund manager Eric Sprott.

The Toronto-based money manager, whose Sprott Hedge Fund returned 496 percent over the past nine years while the S&P 500 lost 32 percent, said the index’s 67 percent rally since March reflects investors misinterpreting economic data. He’s predicting the gauge will fall 40 percent to below 676.53, the 12-year low reached on March 9.

“We’re in a bear market that will last 15 or 20 years, and we’ve had nine of them,” Sprott, chief executive officer of Sprott Asset Management LP, which oversees C$4.3 billion ($4.09 billion), said in an interview Dec. 18.

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Here’s what a 20-year, deflationary bear market looks like (Nikkei 225):

Source: Yahoo! Finance

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Sprott also still likes gold, and from his perch in Canada he picks up smaller mining and exploration stocks. Although I like gold for the long term, I do take issue with the idea expressed here:

“If you get into this thing where you’ve got to keep printing more and more and more, who knows about the price of gold?” he said. “It will be the new currency in due course.”

Japan of course tripled its money supply and debt load in the aftermath of the bubble, but the central bank’s refusal to let bad debt and bad banks go under has locked the country into deflation and the Yen has remained strong. The debt situation in the US is much worse than in Japan, so our deflation should be even stronger. Japan was also bouyed through the ’90s and ’00s by strong exports as the rest of the world continued to grow, whereas the current bust is global. I do agree that after this deflationary stage clears the way, the government and central bank are bound to destroy the currency. The same could be said for the euro, pound and all of the rest, since none have any gold backing anymore.

The issue is timing — I have been saying since before the crash that deflation would be the situation for longer than almost anyone anticipates, myself included. This is because we have a credit system, not a cash system — in our economy it is credit issuance that controls the value of the currency unit, and credit will be contracting for years to come.

Sunday night futures update

In the first hour of Globex futures trading (starts for the week at 6:00 New York time), I closed up the gold and stock longs that I put on late Friday. I’m letting the Yen run, since it was so deeply oversold and has some support at this level.

Friday’s dollar rally was awesome, and may bode the start of an enormous rally, but it remains highly overbought on a 15-minute scale, so now is a good time to take a wait-and-see approach. Same goes for gold — it’s oversold near-term (from 1228 late Thursday to 1145 Sunday night) but still highly overbought long-term. Because of the extreme overbought condition after a giant parabolic rise, it has the potential to keep dropping straight off a cliff with just brief pauses to keep us guessing. Knife-catchers beware.

Here’s a 1-month view of February gold futures:

Source: Interactive Brokers, LLC

I’m going to watch for good entries on the long side of the dollar and short side of gold and stocks. Things may be aligning for a major downdraft in stocks, now that the dollar is looking up. With the Yen oversold and Nikkei overbought, Japan is also setting up for another try at the deflation trade.

Yen (priced in dollars), 1-month:

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Nikkei stock index futures, 1-month: