With yesterday’s fears of a rating’s downgrade on Greece’s sovereign debt and weak US jobs market data, the markets (except in Canada or Mexico) sold off. However, we could not make sense of the simultaneous rise in the price of gold. We’ve seen this pattern before too, but it did not go too far, [...]
With yesterday’s fears of a rating’s downgrade on Greece’s sovereign debt and weak US jobs market data, the markets (except in Canada or Mexico) sold off. However, we could not make sense of the simultaneous rise in the price of gold.
We’ve seen this pattern before too, but it did not go too far, when it happened in 2008. Indeed, one could explain the behaviour by pointing at Mr. Bernanke’s comments yesterday, who made every effort before the Senate’s Banking Committee to be clear on the Fed’s intention to maintain a level of liquidity consistent with that of economic activity (weakness = low rate environment). Or maybe his comments on the possibility of reviewing MBS purchases, if required? But if that was the case, why would stocks not also rise, along with gold and oil? Why would the USD not weaken as well?
Clearly, the above factors cannot explain what happened yesterday. But if gold was bought as a way out of future currency debasements, then we have some comments to add here this morning.
If you have been reading “A View from the Trenches” long enough, you will remember that we turned neutral to bearish on gold (in USD) after the Dubai event, at the end of November 2009. Essentially, we believe the power of monetary policy coordination is a formidable challenge on gold’s prospects as a reserve currency. Therefore, if yesterday’s rally on gold and gold mining stocks was due to the increasingly likely fall of the Euro, as a consequence of the peripherals’ problems, we think gold bugs could later be disappointed.
In the 21st century, there are two global social classes: Politicians and taxpayers (This social stratification truly has global characteristics). If you think politicians will let you taxpayers get away from the inflation tax easily, think it twice. Let’s specifically consider the scenario where the Euro plunges. We think that if this happened, there would be an immediate increase in liquidity preference, expressed as a flight to the USD and the Treasuries markets. In that case, gold and stocks would be sold in favour of liquidity.
To those who disagree with this view, believing this chaotic situation would get off hands, we suggest that the Fed would be able to establish again, as it did in 2008, currency swap lines with other central banks, cushioning the impact of this move. This would be a deflationary event and no central bank would hesitate to provide extra liquidity. In summary, we fail to see a compelling story to be long of gold. And yet we are indeed worried, because the market proved us wrong yesterday and will prove us wrong today too, for gold is already at $1,112/oz.
For an historical perspective on this dynamic, let me quote below part of an interview M. Jacques Rueff gave to The Economist (Jacques Rueff: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Rueff ). The interview was published on June 1965, and titled “The Role and the Rule of Gold.” The entire interview was reprinted in Jacques Rueff’s book “The Monetary Sin of the West”, MacMillan Co., New York, 1971, Part III. Its online version can be found at (www.mises.org/books/monetarysin.pdf ):
The Economist: …one of the countries that saw the biggest constriction imposed by the gold standard was, of course, Britain, which held no foreign exchange in its reserves. And, as we have always recognized, Britain at this time suffered precisely because of the harsh and inflexible disciplines of the gold standard, which you now want to restore.
J.R.: Let me tell you that you touch a point on which I have quite a few personal recollections. In 1930 I was financial attaché in the French Embassy in London, and in that capacity I was responsible for the deposits of the French Treasury with British banks. They were the direct result of eight years of the gold-exchange standard, because we had kept the pounds sterling in London, as my colleagues in New York had kept in the American market the dollars that had been pouring into the French Treasury from 1927 onward. Then, in 1931, the failure of the Austrian Creditanstalt caused successive waves of repatriations; and it was this collapse of the gold-exchange standard that, without any possible doubt, transformed the depression of 1929 into the Great Depression of 1931.
The Economist: While you are on this historical episode, what would your comments be on the very widespread view that it was to a substantial extent French pressure on London at that time, through the withdrawal of sterling balances, that was in part responsible for the general collapse later on?
J.R. Let me tell you that, unhappily for the world, the French pressure did not exist, or was so mild that it had no effect. There is a very interesting document from this period, a letter from Sir Austen Chamberlain, who was then Foreign Secretary in London, to M. Poincaré, who was Prime Minister and Finance Minister in France; it must be of 1928. Sir Austen said, “We know that you are entitled to ask gold for your sterling, but in the frame of the close friendship between Britain and France we ask you, so as to avoid trouble for the City of London, not to do that.” And we were, I must say, weak enough to comply with this request and not ask for gold. The fact that I had such important sterling deposits in London shows that we did not use this right to ask for gold. The adjustment, which would hardly have been felt if carried out on a day-to-day basis, was not made, and we had the fantastic boom of 1927, 1928, and 1929. This explains the depth of the collapse and of the depression, because the adjustment was so long delayed. We were too gentle in complying with official appeals not to convert our sterling balances into gold…
The analogy here consists in that France did the same we suspect the US would do in case the Euro plunged: Providing Europe with USD currency swaps is the same as having France in the late 1920′s not withdrawing their gold deposits from London. Think about it. I know it sounds counter intuitive at first sight, but ask yourselves what was backing the sterling pound then, and what would the Euro be exchanged for if it plunged? If the USDs are there for the Euro as gold was for the pound, we will be only delaying a painful adjustment. But politicians only care about the present.