Saturday, July 21, 2007

Is This a Commodities Supercycle Or a Precious Metals Supercycle – Or Both?

21 July 2007

Two conflicting worldviews underlie the current commodity and precious metals bull market. It is worth taking time to contrast the two views explicitly.

An Optimistic View

The more popular commodity supercycle views holds that a booming world economy, driven by Asian demand, will restore the commodity cycle to its previous (inflation-adjusted) highs. If this view is correct, commodities generally will continue to increase in value for at least the next decade or two, if not for the remainder of the century. Commodity prices will be dramatically higher than they are today, and our ability to cover the cost will be enabled by continuing global monetary inflation (ever-increasing money supply).

The commodity supercycle view holds that demand will outstrip the supply of most commodities as far as the eye can see. We will be able to afford higher commodity costs because global free trade will continue to keep labour and production costs of finished goods relatively low.

This relatively benign worldview is based in large part on continued acknowledgement by the international community of the benefits of expanding free trade with the developing world, particularly southern and eastern Asia.

Within this worldview, gold and silver will increase in value because they are commodities in short supply in a world with unceasing demand growth. Also, some commodities will increase in value much more than others, based on ultimate limits in supply.

For example, as mining activity increases, relatively plentiful materials (such as uranium, for example) will increase in supply, and their costs will not rise so dramatically as scarce materials, such as – in particular – oil, natural gas, gold, silver and platinum.

A More Pessimistic View

However, the precious metals bull market view offers a darker perspective on of the future of our global economy.

In this view, monetary inflation is destabilizing economies and societies around the world, and our world is becoming a more dangerous place.

This darker perspective allows for the possible rise of multiple negative developments:

- Traditional rivalries may intensify rather than be resolved.
- Competition for scarce resources may stoke rather than douse the fires of international rivalry. The practice of warfare may increase rather than decrease.
- Ideological conflicts may intensify, resulting in the rise of anti-business and anti-free market sentiment, particularly in relatively poor but commodity-rich nations (think Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, for example).
- Concerns about globalism and free trade may fuel rising protectionist sentiment, resulting in more constrained rather than freer trade between nations.
- Inflating currencies may reach the point of crisis, leading to the decline or collapse of unstable currencies, even among the world’s leading nations.
- Unsustainable individual, corporate and government debts may be rendered unpayable due to slowing business activity, resulting in individual and corporate bankruptcies and the failure of governments.
- Unsound economic fundamentals could sink vulnerable economies, including those of such major powers as the United States and France, as well as those of second tier players such as South Africa, Russia and Venezuela. The fallout from this development could lead to global recession or depression.

The precious metals supercycle view is a much less benign conception of how world events may develop over the coming decades.

To be honest, I would much prefer to see the commodity supercycle view prevail. It is far more benign and optimistic than the precious metals supercycle view of the unfolding future.

However, I don't know which of the two models will best describe our global future.

An inherent advantage of precious metals investing is that it allows for either development. Gold and silver will do well whether the unfolding future delivers a continuing business-based commodity boom, or a liquidity and debt-driven global crisis and economic collapse.

A Combined View

In fact, some parts of both scenarios could unfold simultaneously.

For example, the Asian economies might continue to do well in the face of declining US and possibly European economies.

The US might fall into crisis due to its more unbalanced economic fundamentals, but perhaps many nations might avert the development of similar crises within their borders, due to sounder economic fundamentals.

Europe might continue to perform comparatively well, based on relative fiscal conservatism, in contrast to the profligate United States.

I expect Canada to perform much better than the United States in the coming decades due to Canada’s role as a global leader in mining investment and commodity production, as well as to our smaller population base.

Will our future therefore be expansive, even if perhaps somewhat unstable?

If so, that will mean that the commodity supercycle view has predominated.

Will our future be harrowing, difficult and dangerous?

In that case, the darker precious metals supercycle view will have proven correct.

My own preference is to think optimistically. Martin Seligman has argued that optimists are individuals who plan for the best and prepare for the worst.

Think of me then as an optimistic gold investor.

In the best case, gold will rise with commodities, and developments in supply and demand will drive the price ever higher as gold becomes so precious that only the richest individuals and nations can possess it.

In the worst case, gold will remain a store of value as currencies collapse, economies slow, and our world becomes more uncertain and/or dangerous. I don't like this view of the future, but owning gold is a prudent way to prepare for such an undesirable set of eventualities.

Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist about our global economic future, gold appears to be a particularly wise investment at this point in our planet's history.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Rare is Gold?

18 July 2007

"How rare is gold? If you gather together all the gold mined in recorded history, melt it down, and pour it into one giant cube, it would measure only about eighteen yards across! That's all the gold owned by every government on earth, plus all the gold in private hands, all the gold in electronics, in coins and from bars. It's everything that exists above ground now, or since man learned to extract the metal from the earth. All of it can fit into one block the size of a single house. It would weigh 91,000 tons - less than the amount of steel made around the world in an hour. That's rare."

Daniel M. Kehrer

From Jim Sinclair's website.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Al Qaeda Does Not Exist

11 July 2007

Believe me, I am not smart enough to bring forward the assertion indicated by the title of the present entry independently.

But I am a subscriber to the
Stratfor Intelligence Service, and these people will tell you what is really happening in the world – behind – and around – the news headlines.

Take my word for it, what the news items tell us and what our politicians tell us is not what is actually happening.

The official version of global news is not necessarily intentionally false, but it is so superficial as to be drastically misleading.

And misleading interpretations of news events are ultimately just what this particular adjective implies – they lead us to the wrong place in terms of understanding the causation, implications of, and appropriate responses to disruptive world events.

Today’s Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence Report, entitled “
The Many Faces of al Qaeda,” was probably the last straw for me. The primary argument and the conclusion are so persuasive as to be difficult to dismiss.

What is the author suggesting?

(1) The morally degenerate and reprehensible but tightly knit group of conspirators who masterminded the unspeakable September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in the United States (not to meniton the equally deplorable African embassy and Saudi residence attacks, harming dozens or hundreds of their fellow Muslims in each attack), is no longer functional. The original group has degraded due to attrition and to the requirements of their own pact of secrecy.

(2) Al Qaeda per se is no longer capable of mounting a large-scale terrorist attack on a western target.

(3) The mythic al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were, by and large, teaching basic and/or amateurish terror skills to junior-grade initiates, though no doubt with broad-scale genocidal intent.

(4) However, al Qaeda is a wonderful franchise for petty terrorists and common-to-garden evildoers around the world who wish to affiliate themselves with the broad idea of global Islamic terror. That is, Al Qaeda has become to terrorists what Starbucks is to independent businesspeople – a vehicle enabling almost anyone anywhere to set up shop in a particular region or community, in this case, to launch whatever terrorist attack of any type that their twisted minds can imagine.

(5) Perhaps most disturbing, the “Al Qaeda” name has also become a franchise for those in the west (regrettably, mostly in the United States) who represent the interests of the post-World War II military industrial complex. These individuals wish to promote their own agenda of problem-solving by means of military expansion and force rather than by the usually more practicable and effective means of negotiation, compromise and, where necessary, confrontation.

It can be argued that the US military industrial complex, against which Eisenhower warned us in the 1950s, has caused as much if not more suffering and grief both in North America and around the world, than have its combined and often self-styled adversaries, for example, the Russian, Chinese and Cuban communists, Latin American socialists, Islamic dictators, and now, al Qaeda terrorists.

The gravest of all policy errors is for the executive and legislative branches of the US government to succumb to the policy recommendations of the military industrial complex, and in the case of the Bush administration, the disastrous and premeditated decisions which led the west into the Iraq quagmire were spearheaded by the devastatingly misguided Project for the New American Century, many of whose members constitute the core cabal around President Bush.

I was sparked to write today’s entry by the stark contrast between today’s Stratfor release and the following news headline: “
U.S. says al Qaeda will "lash out" in Iraq.”

Please allow me to quote from the article, redolent of George Orwell’s 1984:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military expects al Qaeda in Iraq to strike back with "spectacular attacks" after major U.S.-led offensives that have disrupted its activities, a military spokesman said on Wednesday.

Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner said 26 leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq had been killed or captured in operations in May and June across the country.

"Over the past two months our collective efforts against the al Qaeda leadership have begun to disrupt their networks and safe havens," Bergner told a news conference.

"We fully expect al Qaeda in Iraq operatives to lash out and stage spectacular attacks to reassert themselves."

If we are to take the Stratfor analyst at his word – and I am far more inclined to trust Stratfor’s people than those representing the US military – the US military spokesman (read spin doctor) is proposing that the United States prepare itself to respond to the retaliatory strikes of a mythical enemy that in fact does not exist.

Are there terrorists in Iraq? Without a doubt, and certainly a thousandfold more now than ever existed there prior to the US military intervention. Are these terrorists linked to a multi-headed international hydra united under the rubric of al Qaeda? It appears now, not at all. There is no such internationally organized terrorist organization.

We are fighting a ragtag band of angry young men in Iraq who are practising guerrilla warfare and terrorism under the highly marketable (but fundamentally valueless) al Qaeda franchise.

Terrorism in Iraq and around the world is now an increasing reality, and much of its growth is a testimony to the success of the original al Qaeda strategy – but al Qaeda as an international terrorist organization driving the growth of international Islamic terrorism doesn't in fact exist at all.

Al Qaeda is a convenient myth for tin pot terrorists and US military merchants of death. We will be better off to talk about the world as it is, rather than as we imagine it to be.

Note (30 August 2008): A combination of the US troop surge and disastrous tactics on the part of Iraqi insurgents seem now to have turned the tide in the Iraq War in favour of stabilization. I admit that I was unprepared for this turn of events, but it is very pleasing now to report that my earlier pessimism appears to have been incompletely founded. Thanks to Michael Yon for being one of the first to report the favourable news - independently - from the front lines!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Interesting Firefly Events Ending 2007

8 July 2007

For the Browncoats among us - who of course are known to be a secretive group - there are some interesting events scheduled for later 2007.

Serenity LA is operated by a British-based convention company featuring several cast members over a 3-day period on November 2-4, 2007 at the prestigious Element Nightclub in Hollywood. This will provide an opportunity to meet Shepherd Book, Inara, Jayne and Kaylee, among others.

Shepherd Book and the consumately evil Adelai Niska will also be available for a Browncoat Cruise on the Carnival Elation from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas on December 1-6, 2007.

Click on the links (above) for more information.

Serenity & Firefly Have Launched Into Space

8 July 2007

NASA Astronaut Steven R. Swanson is a Firefly/Serenity fan, and has taken the step of launching Serenity into space - in DVD form at least. He has transported both the Firefly and the Serenity DVDs to the International Space Station via the Space Shuttle.

Follow the link:

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Serenity Pilot Is Superior to Serenity the Movie Due to Its Ability to Portray Slices of Life

1 July 2007

I am fine with the result of the recent SFX Magazine poll of 3000 science fiction fans, cited by the BBC, designating Serenity the best science fiction movie ever made. It goes without saying that Serenity’s ability to depict ordinary life in a future setting places it at a higher level than George Lucas’ higher budget Star Wars series, which must rely on such devices as “the Force” in order to draw us into his mythical imagined world.

However, on careful consideration, I thought it worth mentioning that the pilot episode for the Firefly television series, also entitled “Serenity,” is in fact superior to Serenity the movie, and thus, in my opinion, the best piece of dramatized science fiction so far created.

I wish only to comment briefly at this time on the distinction between the two eponymous works.

Serenity the pilot portrays numerous slices of life in the daily experiences of the crew of the space-faring vessel of the same name. There are hints at bigger issues and grander schemes operating in the background, but the pilot episode is mostly about what it might be like to live on a spaceship and to survive at the edges of the human galactic diaspora 500 years in the future.

Serenity the movie focuses on the grand conflict between the totalitarian “Alliance” and a few free people now scattered throughout our corner of the galaxy. There is relentless pursuit by a genocidal Alliance antagonist, with heavy and continuing casualties resulting from the ruthlessness of the Alliance, and an ultimate discovery of the Alliance’s deepest secret following a brutal battle with the dreaded and self-deforming Reavers in the former heart of human interplanetary civilization.

In the pilot episode, we witness a space salvage operation, double and triple-crossing transactions concerning the salvage from this operation, the taking on of the passengers who ultimately form the heart of Firefly’s cast, early hints as to the mysterious status of River Tam, an encounter with an Alliance undercover agent, a first encounter with the brutal Reavers, and powerful character development through illustration of the characters’ responses to relentlessly trying and testing circumstances. As we come to know the characters and to witness how they live through both small and major events, we develop a bond with each of them.

In Serenity the movie, there are continued hints at daily life, but the focus is more at the level of the grand conflict with the Alliance. It is an engaging dramatic device, but to my taste, the slices of life in the pilot are ultimately more satisfying than the grand and costly conflict portrayed in the movie.

I love both Serenity the movie and Serenity the pilot, don't get me wrong, but after some rewatching, I feel confident in suggesting that the pilot stands at a higher level of accomplishment than the movie, which, though more expensively produced, is considerably more plot and theme driven and far more loss-absorbed than the pilot

I have commented previously that the supreme accomplishment of Robert Heinlein’s science fiction writing (never yet satisfactorily transferred to the screen), is in Heinlein's ability to draw us into daily life in an imagined future.

Credit Joss Whedon for his work on both “Serenity” episodes and the Firefly series. Mr. Whedon is in my view the first to accomplish on film what Heinlein achieved in literature, and this is a noteworthy development.


Mr. Whedon commented on August 3, 2007 that strong sales for the soon-to-be-released special edition DVD of Serenity could possibly spark a sequel to a very well-received movie. He does not indicate any communication on the matter with Universal Studios, but he argues that the original project is now in the black, and that a successful special edition launch would cement Serentiy the movie as a successful commercial venture. Under these conditions, Mr. Whedon felt that the studio could possibly rethink a sequel.

He also indicated that the special edition DVD includes truly new special features, including an all-new commentary, as well as an expanded "making of" featurette and the well-received River Tam sessions, produced for the internet in advance of the movie.

I will add that a sequel to the movie is more hopeful than a sequel to the television series, given Mr. Whedon's positive relationship with Universal Studios, versus his more difficult relationship with Fox Network, the producers of Firefly.

Nike Step Over, Mizuno Rules in Running Shoes

1 July 2007

As a long-time runner who has sustained very few running-related injuries apart from sprained ankles and face-first falls on sidewalks (I have been running regularly since November 1969), I consider heel shock absorption ahead of all other factors in selecting a running shoe.

I have been running on Nike runners for decades, and I credit Nike for its persistent innovation in running shoes, though there has been much silly style-focused product development during the same period. The Nike Air front and rear sole inserts were a landmark development, and the more recent Nike Shox another significant advance. (I also tried the Nike Impax, but found them cheaply constructed and inferior to the Shox.)

However, I have just discovered the
Mizuno Wave Creation 8, released in February 2007, and I have been running in these shoes for the past two weeks.

The Mizuno represents another stage of progress in heel shock absorption. Not unlike the Nike Impax, the Wave Creation 8 has a lower strike surface bonded to an upper sole surface by flexible structural components. However, the Wave Creation 8 is much more stable and sturdier by far than the Impax, which in my experience has been an economy to mid-priced shoe.

Thus, the only reasonable standard of comparison for the Wave Creation 8 is the Nike Shox, which is certainly an excellent shoe in its own right. The Shox models have either 6 small or 4 large shock-absorbing cylinders bonding the lower strike surface to the rear sole of the shoe. In my experience, the 4-cylinder model is superior to the 6-cylinder model, as the 4 cylinders are larger in cross-section and higher than the 6 cylinders.

As good as the 4-cylinder Nike Shox is as a running shoe, the Mizuno Wave Creation 8 is a better shoe still.

What sets the Wave Creation 8 apart is its sturdy, resilient and novel heel plate structure. What this boldly conceived heel design accomplishes is to absorb a massive proportion of the shock of heel strike, protecting against injury, but then also to transform the energy of the heel strike into a forceful rebound that propels the runner both upwards and forwards, hence the term “wave creation.”

The Wave Creation 8 is incredibly stable while also maximally resilient, and the combination of these two generally incompatible factors is a testament to the brilliance of its engineering.

In practical terms, I find I am simply running faster in the Wave Creation 8, and this is discernible in my maximum heart rate. In the Nike Shox, I will generally develop a heart rate in the 163 range while sprinting. With the Wave Creation 8, little effort is required to reach the 166 level, and a little extra push can deliver a heart rate of 168, which for me is very difficult to obtain with the Shox, and essentially unattainable with most other running shoes (According to the charts, my maximum heart rate is supposed to be 160, so obviously the shoes plus almost 4 decades of training account for some performance edge.)

I had not heard about the Mizuno Wave Creation 8 until I saw it in a Forzani Sport Mart Store in Winnipeg. As soon as I tried the shoe on, I realized that I had discovered something unique, as I was effortlessly bounding about the store with a few test strides, and there was virtually no sensation of impact shock on the hard surface of the shop floor.

When I took the shoe home and tested it on the road, I knew with certainty that I had found the best running shoe I have so far discovered.

Credit to Mizuno for taking us to the next level of running shoe performance.

Nike, it’s your turn to reply – and try to remember, it’s not about style but performance!