Tuesday, August 25, 2009

$1000 Gold: Cheap...

25 August 2009, Updated 9 November 2009

Gold has gained almost 300% in US Dollars since 2001, moving up from $255 in early 2001 to as high as $1033.90 in March 2008.

All I can say is that $1000 gold is still cheap.

Think about it.

9 November 2009: Well, we're now starting to get used to $1100 gold. Is that cheap too?

If you're at all a long-term thinker, the answer is still... yes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Background Music

20 August 2009

I play background music all day when I'm at my office. I do so as well on the rarer occasions when I have a little time to relax at home in the evenings.

The secret of background music is that it has to be interesting and agreeable, but unobtrusive. Thus, heavily orchestrated arrangements don't work well.

Here are a few examples of CDs that I have found to constitute enjoyable background listening:

My present favourite is Sol Gabetta's Il Progetto Vivaldi, gorgeous, rich, complex, unobtrusive and in fact perfect cello. I am so entranced by Gabetta's graceful performances that I literally can't stop playing this particular CD.

Alexander Paley's refined and subtle interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations are a delight to the ear.

I am also enjoying the Ornette Coleman Trio, "At the 'Golden Circle' Stockholm."

Consider as well Newsound's two-disc Charlie Parker collection (image unavailable).

For those of you who have listened only to R. Carlos Nakai, try Kyle Councillor's "Livin the Good Life" for traditional North American Aboriginal flute music, one of my great favourites.

John Coltrane's Giant Steps is one of the greatest of all jazz classics, and unobtrusive enough to serve as auditory context for a mellow day.

And Blue Trane is also a great backgrounder.

On a classical note, try the Orford String Quartet's "Mozart String Quartets."

For classical Spanish guitar, "The Legendary Segovia" cannot be faulted.

Julian Bream's "Music of Spain" provides perfect melodies and rhythms when used to add context to almost any worthy activity.

From the classic jazz page, consider Brubeck's milestone recording, "Time Out" for some adventures in time - that is, adventures with variable time signatures.... "Take Five" was the first jazz instrumental to sell a million copies. ("Time Further Out" is also worth taking a look at.)

One of my perennial favourites, and one of the first albums I ever owned, is Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain. It's easy to listen to, and I particularly like this one late at night.

Now I'm going to get into some picks that may or may not work for you as background music, depending on the circumstances. But I consider all of these too interesting not to mention. Only this summer, we visited the Big Jonathan Centre of the Selkirk (Northern Tutchone) Nation in the Yukon, where Jerry Alfred is an elder. His recordings are featured at Big Jonathan House. I've been listening to Mr. Alfred's music for years - a combination of traditional and contemporary elements. It is haunting and hypnotic. Try Etsi Shon (Grandfather Songs) as an introduction.

While we're talking about old favourites, try Skeleton Woman, inspired by the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Another of Susan's and my great favourites, usually played during the Christmas season, is James Galway's "Winter's Crossing," telling the tale in music of the men and women who crossed by sea from Northern Ireland to North America. Caution, these compositions are haunting, magical and spiritually dense.

And while we're talking dense, magical and complex, consider Oliver Schroer's brilliant, dissonant violin renderings recorded in Spanish cathedrals during the artist's pilgrimage through Spain.

And as we wander further afield, please direct your attention to Robert Johnson's original 1936 and 1937 recordings, completed shortly before his untimely death. Johnson is arguably the most important of all Delta blues musicians and composers. His music is raw, intricate, haunting, at times disturbing, and ultimately deeply engaging. Note that there were no "studios" at the time these classic compositions were committed to wax. This music works best for me after the sun has set.

My final pick will serve as background music only in certain circumstances. The disc features considerable variation in dynamic range, style, taste and genre. But combined, these selections are magical. Literally intended for Valentine celebrations, this two-disc set is from Deutsche Grammophon: "Be My Valentine: Music for Two."

Let me re-emphasize that the earlier picks are suitable for background listening in many situations. Obviously many more in this genre could have been selected.

The later picks are for various reasons more specialized or idiosyncratic. What all of the above have in common is that they have proven themselves to be enduring favourites in my music library.

And for those who need to know, I do not own an MP3 player. These are CDs!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Me and My Money Interview

15 August 2009

Courtesy of Tony Martin, the Globe & Mail has now published my interview in the "Me and My Money" column .

To be honest, it's a pretty brief overview of my perspective on the markets, but Mr. Martin did a fine job of capturing the main ideas.

So for a quick introduction to my views - and positions - in the investment world, click here.

(This all started with my conversation with Larry McDonald of the Globe & Mail in May 2009.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Deja Vu: Depression Era Cartoons

14 August 2009

This is too valuable not to share. The "Bearish News Blog" has published a set of depression era political cartoons that patently reflect the issues of our own era along with those of the 1930s.

Why do events turn in this direction once in a lifetime? Because few alive today remember the last time that things were more or less the same.... We now face similar problems with similar causes and similarly misdirected government interventions as did our predecessors during the 1930s.

For more, visit the Bearish News Blog, now added to my blog list!

And what is my answer to the economic dilemmas of our age?

In short, don't bail out the reckless with the savings and tax dollars of the prudent.

Is that clear enough for you?

And if times get tougher for a while? Tough it out. Intervention makes it worse. Allow the financially responsible to set our future economic direction. The hard times will pass. It will get better if we do less rescuing of the reckless, and simply get out of the way of the cautious, the prudent and the planful.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bond Price Post Updated - More on Quantitative Easing

9 August 2009, 14 August 2009

For interested readers, I have updated my May 27, 2009 post on bond prices.

Click here for more information about the breakout above the 65-week moving average, which is the confirming signal for the turnaround in 30-year interest rates - and thus for the credibility of the financially irresponsible American government.

For now, the trend reversal in interest rates (and the market value) of the 30-Year US Treasury Bond is holding.

In my Weltanschauung, that signals the onset of the gold tsunami.

How much has the US Federal Reserve spent on quantitative easing (purchasing US Government Bonds with newly-printed money "out of thin air") since March 25, 2009?

According to Bloomberg Financial, as of August 8, 2009, that amount stands at over $243 billion US dollars (shall we now just refer to the US dollar as play money?):

"The Fed announced on March 18 a plan to cap consumer borrowing costs by purchasing up to $300 billion of U.S. debt over six months, a policy known as quantitative easing. The central bank bought $243.463 billion since the purchases began on March 25."

A gentle reminder. The purpose of quantitative easing is that the new dollars released into the economy will be multiplied through redeployment and leverage. Thus the impact on money in circulation may be greater than the amount of new dollars created. Be prepared for continued strength in the gold market over the next several months, and for long-term strength in the gold market for at least another decade!

Note that gold is getting impatient sitting under $1000, a market price it has been nudging at from underneath for almost two years now. $1000 gold will soon be a receding memory:

Especially when you look at the price of gold in inflation-adjusted terms:

(And the official government-sanctioned inflation adjustment in the above chart doesn't begin to consider John Williams' restoration of cost of living methodology to traditional measures. Remember, the government introduces "hedonic" adjustments that drastically understate the true rate of inflation!)

The chart below is closer to how John Williams saw the inflation-adjusted price of gold (in 2007). How would we adjust the following chart for 2009? Well, the 1980 gold price would be closer to $6000, and the gold price on the right would be elevated by one more inconsequential increment, from the $700 range to the $900 range.

No matter how you look at it, gold has a long way to go - in the upwards direction.... This chart is courtesy of Pamela and Mary Ann Aden:

So how do these trends show up in government budgets, particularly in the area of receipts versus expenditures? EconomPic offers the following very sobering illustration. (Note: Only money printing will fund the increasing government outlays, and that spells more inflation - much more!)

I hope you can see that the price of gold, at its present $1000 level, remains quiescent in historical terms. This is still a very early stage bull market in gold, and $1000 is a bargain price that we won't be seeing for very much longer! Gold was cheap in the $250 range in 1999-2001, and it remains cheap in the $1000 range today. Really, the 300% gain of the past decade is just a blip in terms of gold's multi-millennial history....

In my book, play money may prove a better long-term holding than the US dollar.

Gold remains the place to be.

And, if you're interested in following news of gold's price more closely, try this link (Bob's Gold Price Column).

14 August 2009: I think I have found the answer to the inflation versus deflation debate, courtesy of a reader of Bill Fleckenstein's online site.

When you think about it, the present inflationary processes are very simple.

1. We know inflation is afoot, because of the vast increases in money supply across most leading economies of the globe. The increase in money is dramatically outpacing the supply of goods and services available.

2. What prices are rising? The costs of those things we have to have: staple food items, energy and fuel, insurance, taxes, government services, delivery costs, materials and commodities, almost all manufacturing and production inputs, health care, bankruptcy services (for goodness sake!)....

3. What prices are falling? Those for items and services that are discretionary... Houses that are larger and more luxurious than we need, restaurant meals, cellular telephones and computer upgrades, vacation accommodations, etc. You've got it - the kinds of things that cash-strapped and newly-unemployed consumers have stopped purchasing - out of necessity!

Fleck's reader perhaps says it better:

"It seems that an extremely important point is being missed in all of this talk of deflation: when evaluating the price (or price change) for a purchased product or service, one must first determine if the spending is essential or discretionary. Is it a coincidence that the items mentioned by the writer of the last post as examples of price going down - a new harp, KFC, Applebee's, cell phone minutes and a DVD for his kids - all represent discretionary spending?

"On the other hand, essential spending items such as food, fuel, taxes and utilities are all on the rise for everyone, whether we like it or not. The sad reality is that demand is WAY off, despite the immediate effect of the stimulus program which was specifically in the auto sector.

"In fact, costs keep rising: raw materials, freight, taxes, insurance, utilities, etc. I should also add, with regret, that one cost center in my business is half of what it was a few years ago: labor.

"I know for fact that I am not the exception. It is not good out here in the heart of industry so it is no surprise that one can find goods for cheap when they are in someone's inventory. I'll sell you anything that I have in stock for less than my replacement cost because I need the cash flow.

"Conversely, if you need something that has to be produced because inventory ran out, there is NO way that you'll pay as little as you did a year ago.I assure you that this is the case with virtually anything being made; therefore KFC giving away chickens is simply because they cannot sell enough of them to make ends meet. There aren't enough of us going into their stores anymore. And if that weren't bad enough, their operating costs are on the rise. The DVD retailer and Hollywood are discounting "Coraline" on release day because some OTHER guy is NOT buying it for his kids. Why not? Because his credit card is loaded and he just lost his job from my company."

Are prices going down because the seller has no pricing power evidence of deflation? No - that is evidence of recession - of a business downturn - of a period of recovery following a period of excess.

Are rising prices of necessary items and services evidence of inflation? Yes, absolutely. That is what inflation is - when we have no choice but to pay higher prices for almost everything that we need.

Inflation versus deflation debate: Ended here.

My gold tsunami posts are as follows:

There Is a Tsunami Coming in Gold

Gold Tsunami II: Anthropomorphizing Gold

Gold: Safe Haven in the Approaching Perfect Storm

Gold Tsunami III: James Kunstler's Use of the Analogy

Bond Prices: The Seismic Shift That Triggers the Gold Tsunami (IV)

Gold Tsunami V: The $23 Trillion Bailout... and Counting

Gold Tsunami VI: Looking for Patterns in Gold Price Advances

Gold Tsunami VII: This Is It

Gold Tsunami VIII: Gold Mining Stocks Now Participating