Gold’s 2015 performance in various currencies (chart)

The Brazilian Real was walloped and the dollar was clearly a standout winner. Gold’s relative underperformance shows against US dollars that the US dollar is still seen as a safe haven currency.

Until that changes gold will underperform as measured by US dollars. I think we’re closer a that point in time when we see positive price action then we were a year ago, but I can’t say for certain if the markets will agree until stocks move in to a bear market.

As seen in the start of 2016, when stocks were out of favor, gold caught a bid and moved higher each day stocks were sold off. Now that stocks are catching a bid, gold is selling off.

Whether or not 2016 is the year that stocks enter a bear market remains in question. I am inclined to think that we have only seen a prelude for the downside in stocks that could occur this year.

Gold may be closing in on a bear market bottom

As we approach extremes in bearish sentiment, the number of gold ounces promised per contract (on the Comex at least), relative strength and the dollar rallies on the promise of a tightening cycle — I think it’s important to take a moment and reflect.

Interest rates make a bad situation worse for debtors

The US government currently spends over 6% (about $250 billion per year) of its budget on interest alone.  If interest rates were to normalize this figure would swell significantly.  So the idea of a tightening cycle being a possibility without a significant (and deflationary) reduction in government spending is unlikely.  Even if spending were to be decreased, it would not be in time to reduce the deficit or debt burden.

Further, liabilities in the private sector are explodingStudent loans, car loans, credit card debt, mortgages and debt-driven share buybacks are all at unprecedented levels.  This is further evidence that the system at large is far too debt-dependent to move to a higher rate structure without a significant rise in insolvencies.

Leverage and volatility don’t mix well

Lest we forget the interest rate complex at large.  The biggest swath of derivatives in the world, hundreds of trillions of dollars of leveraged OTC instruments, are tied directly to it.  To give you an idea of its scale, the amount of interest derivative products alone dwarf the global GDP by nearly 7 fold.

Large moves in short periods of time render leveraged trades insolvent due to the trade turning against them.  If one is borrowing $9 for every $1 they put in to a trade, then if the trade goes against them by 10% they are wiped out.  More than 10% and they owe more than the $1 they put down.

This is precisely the risk present in the world of derivatives.  The only difference is the leverage is much, much higher than 10 to 1.

Another problem is that in a tightening environment that’s unilaterally led by the US central bank (when other central banks do not follow), deflationary shock waves may proliferate throughout the global financial system and wreak havoc on interest rate derivatives markets, emerging equity and bond markets, US corporate debt and ultimately global financial markets as a whole.

Sensitive markets showing stress

Corporate bonds are beginning to sell off. Emerging markets have been in a funk for some time as they were once the beneficiaries of QE.

Given the level of medicine applied, one would expect the patient (the global economy) to have either rebounded or died of an overdose. Neither has happened, but markets are essentially in the eye of the storm.  The troubles past are gathering speed again at a remarkable pace behind the scenes.

Consequences are continuing to climb

This time around it is not just the financial system at risk, it is many governments of the world and many of their respective central banks that risk insolvency.  We are witnessing the biggest bubble that has ever been blown in history.

No wonder there is so much effort in preserving such a bubble.  The result of its end is a mind blowing problem.  And that’s precisely why the rate normalization cannot happen.  We may see a push higher by 25-50 basis points.

Policy road fork ahead

Such a hike, however, will in all likelihood pale in comparison to how the Fed manages its maturing balance sheet of bonds.  A new round of QE-like activity will likely emerge as those funds that mature are put to use to purchase longer dated bonds to re-stimulate debt markets in a variant of operation twist.

As equity markets finalize what appears to be their ultimate topping formation, I assume that we will witness another sharp move downward.  The Federal Reserve appears to be more sensitive to the gyrations of financial markets than the economy at large.  As a result it will likely pause and possibly even reverse in to this new variant of operation twist.

Ultimately this is bullish for gold

I believe we will have already formed the bottom in precious metals and begin to see a resurgence in prices once the stock market has topped and the Federal Reserve is no longer willing to tighten.  Whether the gold price tests the $1,000 level is still on the table, but I don’t see much further downside from here based on these assumptions.

Gold continues tumble without outside catalyst

Producer prices were flat as was the US dollar index, but that didn’t stop a determined seller from pushing gold prices down this morning.

What is driving the selling pressure?

Most traders are paid to execute orders to maximize value.  That is to say, if you are selling a commodity you want to sell it for the highest price (or short it at the highest price) to maximize your profits.

What we’ve seen within the last several years is the opposite of that.  Regular dumping of gold (and silver) futures contracts with heavy volume at the lowest prices.  Huge lots executed at once — rather than distributed over the course of a day to achieve a volume average weighted price.

Are prices being fixed?

This leads the gold investing community to believe that there is malicious manipulation underway in these markets.  And with just about every other market in the world having been proven to be manipulated, such as LIBOR, foreign exchange, bonds, equities and other commodities — perhaps, just perhaps it’s not too paranoid of a theory after all.

A reason to sell so many contracts in to the market at once would be to push price down through sell stop orders.  

This action forces prices even lower and pushes many out of long positions.

Only the people pushing the sell button truly know their own intentions (or that of the institution they are employed by).  An outside observer of these markets is forced to draw their own conclusions.

How can so many claim to own the same gold?

The ratio of futures contracts to ounces of physical gold at the COMEX has risen to the highest levels on record.  Last checked, it was closing in on 250 gold futures claims per ounce of physical gold actually available.  This means that should there be a large demand for COMEX gold delivery, there may not be the gold available to fulfill the order — necessitating a cash settlement.

If one was seeking delivery to obtain physical metal for storage, this would force that party to seek gold elsewhere as soon as possible with that settled cash.  And given that so many parties seem to have claims on the same ounces of gold, that could prove to be an interesting setup for a phenomenal short squeeze that drives prices much, much higher.

Potential scenarios for the continued decline.

How this particular situation resolves remains a mystery, but I am inclined to speculate that we have two possible scenarios that could play out:

1: We are witnessing the beginning of the one of the greatest deflationary collapses the world has ever seen, as evidenced by commodity prices imploding, China’s economy in serious decline and recent volatility in equity markets.  If this is the case then it will be difficult to find a safe home for one’s money almost anywhere.

2: The precious metals markets’ prices are being guided lower in order to reduce the bid for what were once considered safe haven assets by many.  Eventually, if such a scheme is underway, it will unravel with prices going much higher.

Which of these scenarios is playing out remains to be realized.  

The former means the global markets are coming unglued at the seams and the global economy is crushed.  The latter would indicate that certain parties are concerned that a higher gold price could reduce confidence in other markets such as stocks and bonds.

Has gold finally bottomed?

Let me start by saying I think it’s hard for anyone to call a bottom.  Many experts do, and often they do so with the guidance of charts, fundamental analysis and other informed speculation.  I am no expert, but I do think we’re finally seeing a turn in the precious metals markets based on two critical factors.

The US dollar and gold have rallied together as of late.  This doesn’t often happen, especially at multi-year highs in the dollar.  But it has for the past couple of days.  And during very large US dollar rallies.  As you can see in the chart below, for the past six months when the US dollar rallied, gold and silver were sold.

US dollar chart

This is a convincing indication that the precious metals markets are looking beyond the myopic view of the US dollar index (which really only measures the Euro and Yen weakness/strength vs. the US dollar) and seeing that rising risks demand a safe haven.  It may also indicate that the US dollar rally is beginning to lose its luster.

We also saw that the tax loss selling last year did not push gold and silver to new lows, or break down the miners further.  This is a very powerful indication that sentiment bottomed out in the October/November bloodbath that was likely a capitulative event.

I am not ready to say that we are turning right now, but I do think that there is a good chance of it.  In essence, if the precious metals markets can look beyond the dollar, or better yet, the dollar can begin to give back its rally from late 2014, we will be in for a year of renewed strength in precious metals, and their miners.

US dollar short vs long

The US dollar trade is as crowded as a trade can get and so many are short Euros and Yen that any unexpected surprises will roil the forex markets.  But gold and silver are telling us that doesn’t matter.  That they can look beyond forex and see that the risks are strong enough to warrant a significant bid (and most likely short covering — we’ll see the COT tomorrow).

Gold chart (daily)

From a technical standpoint I’d like to see gold trade above $1,260.00 on a sustained rally (closing the week on Friday above that level would be critical).  Ideally this price action would occur by the close of the second week of January, 2015.  After that I believe we’ll see some short covering and less aggressive posturing from the sellers counting on another waterfall capitulation in prices.

If gold can make its way back to $1,400 by the end of the first quarter of 2015, then I do believe we’ll see the momentum chasers come back to the table and start driving prices higher through leveraged speculation.  This may also renew the appetite from Asian buyers for physical bullion as the low prices have turned from a positive to a perceived negative as of late.

Central bank intervention for profit retention?

Today we read about Kweku Adoboli, the UBS equities trader that allegedly went rogue and lost the firm $2B in Q3 profits.  We also learned about the ECB effectively using extraordinary measures to prop up insolvent EU banks.  A rumor also floated through the blogosphere that Mr. Adoboli was shorting large amounts of precious metals, specifically silver, through ETFs.  What one has to wonder, given the timing of these events and the downdraft in metals prices today, is if the ECB and/or SNB is helping to support UBS by pushing down metals prices so they can exit the short position with less of a loss to report on their upcoming earnings announcement.

This sounds like a conspiracy theory, right?  I would have thought so, too, many years ago.  However, given the recent and direct Swiss central bank intervention in the Franc and precious metals markets, the dire situation in the EU threatening the monetary union and its currency was well as the threat of a global double dip recession, it seems more than possible that central banks are beginning to exercise their power in the precious metals markets more overtly.

Psychologically it’s a very effective technique.  Hit metals hard on days that they would ordinarily rally to push weak (see leveraged) hands out of the market.  Try to inflict as much technical damage as possible (although at this point no severe damage has been inflicted — but if this continues it will be).

The question is how long could such manipulation last, if that is in fact what’s going on here?  I would personally doubt that such interventions can have staying power — at least not yet.  The SNB hit on precious metals did not last very long, and when priced in Francs gold rallied to a record high.  The previous sell-offs we’ve seen have produced a large amount of buying appetite around $39.00.

Today that seemed to be the case.  I was buying some silver CEFs (closed end funds) when the price hit $39.49.  I felt that a lot of buyers would begin to bite with more conviction as that has been the bottom end of the technical trading ranging silver has been within for the past few weeks.

There is some chance it could break down to $36.00, of course, but with a stop around $38.75, I’ll take a small downside risk given that the upside potential seems to be  about 33% in the short to intermediate term.  Good luck investing and trading, everyone.  And be careful out there.  The sharks are circling.

 

The great rotation from gold to silver

With gold pushing all time highs on a near daily basis, far exceeding its inflation adjusted highs from prior decades and pushing through several technical overbought indicators, many are concerned a correction is looming from this recent parabolic move, where gold went from the $1500s in July to $1890.00 today in late August.

Meanwhile, silver has underperformed after the correction from the peak at $50.00 — yet silver’s fundamentals look even more promising. While all the gold that’s ever been mined and produced is still above ground and available, silver is consumed as an industrial metal, and most of that usage is not recoverable or recyclable. Silver is also more difficult to extract. There are not many dedicated silver mines out there, instead silver tends to be a byproduct of other precious metals mining. In addition, silver is the best conductor of heat and electricity of any element, it is widely used for communications, medical devices, technology and military equipment.

The most interesting aspect of silver, however, is its historical ratio of 16:1. For this ratio to be achieved at today’s prices, silver would have to hit $115.00/oz, yet it currently trades around $43.50. This could be a ‘golden opportunity’ to rotate out of gold in to silver and see faster asset appreciation during a time when all signs point to the rally in gold moderating, but silver having tremendous upside potential. Many wise and experienced precious metals investors, including the legendary Eric Sprott, are moving cash out of gold and in to silver to position for this change in the precious metals dynamic.

Having just taken out major technical resistance at $41-42.00/oz, silver is poised to move towards the next major level at $50.00. Many predict silver could reach $75.00 by the end of this year on investment demand to hedge against inflation and monetary uncertainty in the US, Europe, Japan and beyond. I have long been an advocate of buying silver to protect one’s purchasing power and once again I am stating that for my investments I am continuing to buy silver funds as well as silver mining and channeling equities.

Remember that every investment strategy carries risk, and that one could potentially lose their principle if the investment strategy fails — but also remember that paper assets have a long history of catastrophic failure. Whatever path you choose, I wish you and yours the best of luck in the coming financial storm.