Intermediate-term set-up for a gold rally?

Traders have been bearish on gold and gold stocks since late October, the longest stretch in recent years. All such previous instances were followed by significant multi-week rallies. Here’s a daily chart, showing some divergence in RSI.

Here is GDX, the gold miner ETF, which looks good technically, as well as being cheap vs. the metal itself:

 

A caveat here is exemplified by the coffee futures market (see recent posts), which has steadily declined since a manic high 18 months ago. Gold and silver experienced a mania around the same time, which perhaps capped their 11+ year bull run. If that is the case, a situation like the present could actually resolve not in a rally, but in a crash, as crashes may develop from oversold and bearish conditions that would otherwise be bullish. For this reason, as well as the value discussion below, I would be careful about any longs and use a stop-loss.

I still maintain that gold is overvalued relative to a meaningful basket of other assets and metrics. Today, a kilo of gold buys (or rents) you more real estate, commodities, labor, automobile, etc. than at any time in modern history, save bottoms in those respective markets and tops in the metal.

This doesn’t mean that gold can’t rally for a few weeks or months or even make a new high – it just means that doing so would make it even more historically overvalued. The time of gold being a great value has long passed. It has done a very nice job at protecting holders against the Federal Reserve’s war on savings, just like it did a good job at protecting against inflation in the late 1970s, but gold peaked prior to inflation, and today gold may peak prior to the end of Bernanke’s tenure.

I often make the point that gold is not the only hard asset. In an inflationary episode, there are many ways to play. The dollar lost 2/3 of its value from 1980 to 2000, but over that period gold lost 90% of its value when adjusted for inflation (70% nominally). As in equity investing, the price you pay determines your return. I would look for hard assets that are closer to historical lows, or at least mean values, rather than something near a high.  Distressed real estate comes to mind, or even Japanese equities.

Heck, if we get another cyclical equity bear market within the post-2000 secular bear, there will be plenty of hard, productive assets available for reasonable prices in the stock market. BTW, every episode of double-digit inflation in the US since 1900 has ocurred during the latter years of a secular bear market in equities (1919-1920, early 1940s, 1979-1982). Thanks in large part to Mish‘s explanations of the credit market, I have been a deflationist since late 2007, despite the shrill warnings of the hyperinflation crowd. There is no telling how long our own Japanese situation lasts, but we likely have at least a couple more years to go.

Where are we in the secular (post-2000) bear?

Mish Shedlock’s investment management company, Sitka Pacific, provided this chart in their September letter (as a non-client, I only get delayed copies):

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One lesson to be learned here, which they get into in the letter, is that prices bottom before valuation multiples. In the bears of the 1910s, ’29-early 40s and ’66-82, inflation appeared late in the game. BTW, this meshes with Kondratieff theory, where inflation leads to disinflation to deflation then inflation again, with asset values moving in tandem.

So, be prepared to buy in this coming wave down, if we get a nice drop over the next year or so, because select equities could be a nice hard asset to own through the turmoil in the currency and sovereign debt markets, which is likely to spread to the US, UK, Germany and Japan by later this decade.

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.

Silver superspikes: dollar-bullish, and they don’t last

First, the 25-year monthly chart:

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Here’s a chart that goes back further but only goes up to 2010 (I couldn’t figure out how to get barchart.com to draw me the whole thing, but you can just use your imagination – the line just goes straight up from $30 to $45):

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Gold’s march upwards has been much more orderly, but silver is a thin market and prone to spikes. These things are tough to short, and to attempt to do so you should wait for a pause and use a stop above the highs, but even with a stop a fast market like this could spike dollars in minutes or seconds and close you out at a big loss only to reverse. This chart doesn’t show the action that happened intraday one day in Jan 1980 when silver traded over $50 very briefly.  No reason why it couldn’t spike to $70 next week only to crash and languish at a new normal of $10-20 for the next two decades.

It is safer in a way to buy puts than to short SLV or sell futures, since your risk is defined – you can only lose what you put up. The July 35-strike puts on SLV were going for less than 60 cents on Wednesday, and will get cheaper every day until silver falls. June 35s are under 40 cents and will decay faster but pay off better in a crash. At any rate, I’d take a disciplined approach and figure on losing my premium at least once, buying higher strikes if the spike continues upwards. Losing the first premium or two would be acceptible if a later position pays off 10:1.

Take another look at this long-term dollar chart. We had a major bottom in 1980 just as everyone was panicking into precious metals.  Silver spikes are apparently another symptom of extremely negative dollar sentiment, so should be considered bullish for the currency.

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BTW, though gold’s price and action is much more sensible, the silver spike is very bad for gold as well – it may just have doomed its bull market. The metals have more than adjusted for the inflation of the last 30 years and the money printing of the last 3. It would make sense for their run to end soon and for them to settle into some middle ground. That doesn’t mean gold can’t touch 2500 and silver can’t hit 100 – it’s just that these moves are too fast and too high relative to their historic multiples to other assets, so these prices will not last.

Long-term gold charts (first one is a few weeks old – the second is current but doesn’t go back as far):

Blame the computers? Bah humbug.

Did the computers drive the Dow down 25% in a week in May 1940 (no, there was no major war news that would have justified such a move):

TD Ameritrade

Here’s the Dow for the duration of the last depression. Quite a few crashes in there:

TD Ameritrade

The fact is, markets just fall out of bed sometimes. It’s normal, and they don’t need the kind of reasons you can read about in the paper. Greece had nothing to do with it.

A move like this off a top does not mark the end. If we had plunged hard and reversed like this after we were already reading oversold on sentiment and momentum gauges, it could mark a bottom, but not right off the top — that is what should scare people today. This was not like Black Monday ’87 — it’s more like the Black Thursdays of ’29 and ’08 (huge intraday crashes with recoveries, followed the next week by the real crashes), or the Friday before the ’87 crash (down 5%). It’s likely a kickoff to more downside. New highs are possible, but looking less and less likely, and we doomsayers might be right after all these months…

You can’t predict a crash, but you can tell probabilities, and the probability of a decline was high as of last week. We had an extremely, extremely depressed put:call ratio, momentum was rolling over, mutual funds were all-in, and just about every measure of sentiment showed that complacency and bullishness were off the charts.

All this in the face of a depression. Yes, we are still in a depression — that’s what steady 17% unemployment is. Obama and friends conjured up some positive GDP by abusing the Treasury market’s generosity, and that spending is counted as “product,” but tax revenue, real estate prices, rental property vacancies, and unemployment tell the real story: this is a fragile environment. Dow 1500 is still on the table.

And how about gold? I gave up shorting it and suspected a rally after it failed to follow through on that drop from $1200 and sentiment got really bleak. Maybe real money will win sooner than I thought, or maybe this is a 2008 replay and gold will turn once the waterfall gets underway. Anyway, it gives me some hope that the companies in my mining stock database might not all go broke.

Some more Dow history

Continuing the top series

Be sure to look at the lines on these charts, including RSI trends. If you gave Paul Tudor Jones nothing but graph paper and a ruler and he would still be a star. With price and RSI, you have all you need technique-wise. The rest is all emotional.

Prophet.net

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Here’s something I find interesting. A line connecting the bottom ticks in the 1974 and 1978 crashes precisely arrested the 1987 crash.

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The crash of ’08 solidly busted it:

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Skeptical that these old trendlines matter? Look at the support line connecting the depression lows of July 1932 (40) and May 1942 (92). It served as support an addional five times, and when it was finally breached in 1969 at 920 the market crashed that very week and entered a decade-long bear market.

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One more oldie is still very much in play, the line connecting the secular bear market lows of 1932 and 1974. Today it runs today through roughly Dow 5600:

What does a top look like?

Some charts from historical tops in the Dow, starting with 1901:

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The giant gap down above did not happen in a day. The government forced the closure of the NYSE on July 27 (after a crash when the closure was foreseen), and it was not reopened until Dec 14. The Great War started in the interim.

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In May 1940, where you can see a crash above, the Low Countries fell to Germany and Northern France was occupied. However, charts alone were all you needed to be bearish.

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