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My Note- Gold came roaring back today and being beaten down yesterday, currently Gold is up $15 at $856+ and holding above the $850 level. Today’s articles explore the relationship of the U.S. Dollar, the Deficit and National Debt; and their relationship to Gold prices. If you are not alarmed by the current deficit you should be! Now with Obama predicting a yearly deficit of over 1 Trillion dollars what does this mean for the Economy, the Dollar and the price of Gold? Read On and Find Out… Good Investing – jschulmansr
It has been around for decades, and has been ignored by many for just as long. However, the US national debt stands to finally be thrown into the forefront of political discussion as the record for a single-year deficit looks to be beaten – by threefold.
According to the government-run TreasuryDirect.gov, US national debt is the largest it has been in history at $10.6 trillion, or $10,638,425,746,293.80. This is at a time when the US is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, which requires record-shattering government spending to stabilize the faltering economy. In addition, global demand for US national debt is waning as countries world-wide are implementing their own financial stimulus packages. Yet economists are virtually unanimously advocating for radical government spending to stabilize the economy, which leaves future generations of Americans holding extremely large amounts of national debt.
The problem for the average American is twofold: national debt doesn’t seemingly affect their daily lives and $10.6 trillion is a hard number to conceptualize. After a certain point, the human brain stops comprehending the magnitude of a given number, and simply categorizes it as “extremely large.” Subsequently, there is little public outrage or discussion when the US has run up a few hundred billion dollar deficit in years past. It doesn’t seem to affect their lives, no government projects are cut, and adding $0.2T onto $10.6T seems relatively insignificant.
However, when viewed in another light, the enormity of the national debt is astonishing. According to the 2007 United States budget, and TreasuryDirect.gov, the interest alone on national debt is approximately $460 billion. It accounts for the second-highest expenditure on the US budget and if the US could forgo paying that interest on national debt for one year, the United States government could:
1) Pay for the entire education budget of the United States six times over
2) Reduce federal taxes by 33% for all Americans, or
3) Write a check to every man, woman, and child in the United States for $1,500.
Yet, that $460 billion in annual interest looks to grow substantially with looming deficits in the years to come.
A New York Times article entitled “Obama Warns of Prospect for Trillion-Dollar Deficits,” stated: “President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday braced Americans for the unparalleled prospect of ‘trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.’” President-elect Obama did not give details about the size of the deficit, but projections place the proposed deficit at close to $1.2 trillion for 2009, shattering the record from President Bush last year at $455B.
That is not counting the proposed $800B 2-year stimulus package which could easily raise the deficit into the $1.7 trillion range – bringing the national debt to roughly $12.3 trillion by the end of 2009. Assuming deficits run at approximately $1 trillion per year for the next two years, which may or may not be conservative, the US could see its national debt as high as $15 trillion in three years.
Subsequently, Obama added emphasis on tighter government regulation, quoted in the NYTimes article as saying: “’ We’re not going to be able to expect the American people to support this critical effort unless we take extraordinary steps to ensure that the investments are made wisely and managed well.’” In correlation, he created a new position, chief performance officer, in charge of eradicating government inefficiencies.
This comes at a time however, when global demand for US debt is falling sharply. A prime example is China, one of the largest creditors to the US, which has heavily curtailed its purchases of US debt in light of the recent financial crisis. Another NYTimes article entitled: “China Losing Taste for Debt from U.S.,” states that: “China’s foreign reserves will increase by $177 billion this year — a large number, but down sharply from an estimated $415 billion last year.” The Chinese government is dealing with their own economic woes – a stock market which has shed two thirds of its value in the last year – and is attempting to implement their own economic stimulus package. Furthermore, the sharp outflow of foreign direct investment in China has further complicated the issue. The situation is similar across the world, as the Emerginvest heat map shows the damage from the past quarter (click to enlarge):
The lack of global demand for US national debt could put severe pressure on US interest rates in the years to come if demand continues to shrink drastically. However, there is a political buffer, as the article stated that: “China’s leadership is likely to avoid any complete halt to purchases of Treasuries for fear of appearing to be torpedoing American chances for an economic recovery at a vulnerable time, said Paul Tang, the chief economist at the Bank of East Asia. ‘This is a political decision,’ he said. ‘This is not purely an investment decision.’”
Yet even in the face of significant strain on government debt and sagging global demand, economists are virtually unanimous in calling for exorbitant amounts of government spending to stabilize the economy. Yet another NYTimes article entitled: “A Crisis Trumps Constraint,” states that: “To a degree that would have been unimaginable two years ago, economists and politicians from across the political spectrum have put aside calls for fiscal restraint and decided that Congress should spend whatever it takes to rescue the economy,” in addition to: “’It pains me to say that because I am a fiscal conservative who dislikes budget deficits and increases in government spending,’ Mr. Feldstein told the lawmakers. But he said, ‘Reviving the economy requires major fiscal stimulus from tax cuts and increased government spending.’”
Therefore, it looks as if the U.S. is inexorably tied to unparalleled government spending in the short term, nearly guaranteeing a national debt of over $14 trillion within a few years. The Obama administration has hinted at overhauling Medicare and Social Security as ways of dampening the gargantuan deficits, but the method, and certainly the net effect of such an undertaking remains ambiguous until the budget is revealed. It seems as if, in the interest of short term self-preservation, future generations of Americans will be inevitably saddled with incomparable amounts of national debt which will heavily shape future American fiscal policy for decades.
Disclosure: Emerginvest is an international finance portal, providing analysis and data on 120+ world markets to help individuals find investments from around the world. Emerginvest provides impartial information about world stock markets, and does not have any holdings in foreign equities.
One of the few things more troubling for an economy than government intervention is government intervention driven by panic. Time and again, history has shown that when governments rush to engineer solutions to pressing problems, unintended difficulties arise.
In the current crisis, there is growing evidence that Washington is in a state of increasing panic. Despite its massive cash injections, market manipulations and ‘rescue’ plans, the recession is clearly deepening and spreading. With little to show thus far, politicians don’t know if they should redouble past efforts, break ground on new initiatives, or both. However all agree, unfortunately, that the consequences of doing too little far outweigh the consequences of doing too much.
Although there are many parallels between the current crisis and the Crash of 1929, one key difference is the global profile of the U.S. dollar. In 1929, the dollar was on the rise, and would soon eclipse the British Pound Sterling as the world’s ‘reserve’ currency. Furthermore, the American economy was fundamentally so strong that in 1934 America was the only major nation able to maintain a currency tied to gold.
Ever since, the U.S. dollar’s privileged ‘reserve’ status has been a principal factor in America’s continued prosperity. The dollar’s unassailable position has enabled successive American governments to disguise the vast depletion of America’s wealth and to successfully increase U.S. Treasury debt to where the published debt now accounts for some 100 percent of GDP. The total of U.S. government debt, including IOU’s and unfunded programs, now stands at a staggering $50 trillion, or five times GDP! If the dollar were just another currency, this never would have been possible.
In today’s crisis however, the dollar is likely making its last star turn as the leading man in the global financial drama. Other stronger, less burdened currencies are waiting in the wings for the old gent to take his final bows.
The dollar’s demise is being catalyzed by the neglect of the Federal government. Instead of enacting policies that would restructure the U.S. economy, and restore productive, non-inflationary wealth creation, Congress is simply financing the old crumbling edifice.
Faced with the growing realization that America is not doing the work necessary to right its economic ship, it will not be long before America’s primary creditors begin to seriously question the nation’s ability to service, let alone repay, its debts.
There is now the prospect (inconceivable until recently), that America could lose its prestigious ‘triple-A’ credit rating. In today’s risk adverse market, this could cost the Treasury one percent in interest on long bonds. Each additional percentage point of interest would cost America some $10 billion a year on each trillion dollars of new debt, or some $300 billion over the life of a 30-year bond.
Many of the foreign governments who hold huge amounts of U.S. dollar Treasury debt, such as China and Japan, have announced plans to spend money on their own ailing economies. Should these foreign central banks divert to domestic initiatives some of the funds used to buy U.S. Treasuries, serious upward pressure on U.S. interest rates will result. Should they actually sell parts or all of their holdings they will likely put serious downward pressure on the U.S. dollar. Last week, a Chinese official claimed the U.S. dollar should be phased out as the world’s ‘reserve’ currency.
In the short term, as dollar ‘carry-trades’ continue to be unwound and questions of political will and falling interest rates haunt the Euro and some other currencies, the U.S. dollar may be the recipient of some upward appreciation. But with the American government appearing increasingly to be in panic mode, a run on the U.S. dollar could develop rapidly into cascading devaluation. Even if no such panic run materializes the long-term outlook for the U.S. dollar is one of high risk and low return. This beckons major upward pressure on precious metals.
Source: The Pragmatic Capitalist
Gold (ETF:GLD) is one of the most fascinating and talked about assets on the planet. There are more conspiracy theories and story lines behind gold than just about anything on earth. Heck, the followers of the asset even have their own club: the goldbugs. You can’t go a day without seeing a commercial about gold. If you google “buy gold” you get almost as many results as if you search “buy real estate” (15.4MM vs 16MM).
But gold has been acting funny lately. The conspiracy theories have been running even crazier than usual (from government conspiracy to backwardation) and the goldbugs are angry. As the world economy deteriorates and the U.S. prints money like it’s going out of style, gold has not appreciated. If you had told me in December of 2007 that the global stock market would fall 40% in 2008 I would have told you to buy gold and nothing else because of its safehaven characteristics. But a funny thing happened on the way to the demise of the global economy: Gold fell.
After rallying into the second quarter of 2008, gold went on a gut wrenching 6 month decline of over 30% – all in the midst of one of the greatest financial collapses ever. It was, if nothing else, quite a paradox. Even crazier, the US dollar stabilized and then rallied into the end of 2008. Why did this happen? How could gold fall in such an environment?
Gold remains an anti-dollar investment. It’s as simple as that. When you buy gold you’re essentially buying a hard asset currency with the hope that one day it will become the world’s choice of currency again. If the dollar (UUP) weakens or one day fails the likelihood of a gold based currency increases. In essence, buying gold is a way of betting against the greenback and U.S. economic dominance. You can argue the extent of my argument, but you can’t really argue with the inverse correlation in the two assets:
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The correlation is clear. If you’re betting on a rise in gold you’re betting on a falling dollar. I’ve been banking on a higher dollar for over 6 months for one reason: it’s the best currency in a bad lot. Jim Cramer should change his area of expertise to currencies, because while there isn’t always a bull market in stocks and commodities, there is always a bull market somewhere in the currency market. Trades are paired in Forex and unfortunately, it’s hard at this time to make an argument in favor of other currencies over the greenback. And as long as the greenback remains strong it’s unlikely that gold will make any sustainable run.
So why is the dollar the best of the worst? It’s quite simple in my mind. Two major currencies on the planet now effectively bear zero interest: the dollar and the Yen. Of the two, the U.S. is the far superior economy. In essence, neither country can really devalue their currency all that much more unless they decide to print money to the point of insanity and although I believe the U.S. is printing wildly I am not incredibly alarmed as of yet simply because the destructive deflationary forces at work are so much greater than the inflationary response by the Fed. Inflation is certain to rear its ugly head in the coming years, but I suspect it will be relatively mild as the economic rebound is slow and the overall monetary destruction of this deflationary phase proves to be incredible.
So, getting back to the greenback – the U.S. was first to enter a recession and it now looks like the world is catching pneumonia from our cold. Unfortunately Europe and Asia still have relatively high interest rates (read: room for currency devaluation) and simply don’t carry the same status as the U.S. – we are the reserve currency and the only true AAA nation. Yes, you can certainly make the argument that the U.S. is no longer a AAA rated country, but if we’re AA then what does that make Japan (the world’s second largest economy) or Germany? Much worse, in my opinion.
So what we’re seeing is essentially a flight to quality in a time of financial distress? Yes, that’s right, the U.S. dollar is a higher quality asset right now than just about any currency on the planet. And if you’re a U.S. citizen you should be thanking your lucky stars it’s THE reserve currency because this crisis would likely be even worse if that wasn’t the case.
So, before you go placing bets on gold it might be better to research the greenback first.
Diversified commodities have suffered approximately the same one-year decline as stocks, but the descent has been more violent since broad commodity indexes peaked in the middle of 2008, whereas most stock indexes peaked in October 2007. Just as it is not the time to abandon stock market commitments, this is certainly not the time to exit commodity positions in the context of a diversified multi-asset portfolio.
Cyclical commodities are not a valuable hedge to a stock portfolio in a deflationary bust and a liquidity crisis such as we have seen, but those conditions are not likely to persist over any investment horizon measured in years rather than months. Massive government reflation and stimulus efforts will support hard assets in 2009. Infrastructure spending is bullish for commodity prices, and tighter credit conditions, along with lower prices, puts pressure on the supply of commodities as suppliers curtail production.
Gold finished the year on a very strong note and managed to produce another year of positive returns in 2008. Gold has the most attractive three and five year annualized returns of all the asset classes we track. Gold will continue to be whip-sawed by the volatility in the currency markets.
We hold Gold (GLD) in our portfolios as an insurance policy against financial crisis and paper currency devaluation. The opportunity cost of holding gold, which produces no dividend or interest income, is now very low given that the Federal Reserve has cut the official U.S. overnight lending rate to zero to 0.25%, and has stated that “weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.”
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The New York Times has an article this week reporting on US President-elect Barack Obama’s warning that there will be ‘trillion-dollar deficits for years to come.” What does that mean for the markets?
The first line of recourse will be the issuance of Treasury bonds; in other words, the US government will look to borrow money, offering to pay it back with interest. The key question, though, is to what extent buyers of Treasuries will be easily found. As we have discussed previously, the very low yield on bonds coupled with the fact that the economic pains are being felt all around the world suggest one of two possibilities: bond rates will have to go up or the Federal Reserve will have to “monetize the debt” — meaning it will simply have to print more money.
I have stated and continue to believe that the result of increased deficit spending, due largely to government bailouts, in this environment will be debt monetization (even if there is a rate hike, that will only increase the future debt, and thus will only delay and exacerbate debt monetization). I believe this will prove to be inflationary, that it will devalue the US dollar, and that this is the real way the bailouts will be paid for; not via a direct tax, but rather a tax through inflation. Economist Mike Shedlock, however, offers a counter viewpoint:
The Fed at some point will resort to out and out monetization, and that will have the inflationists screaming at the top of their lungs. However, banks will still be reluctant to lend, and consumers and businesses will be reluctant to borrow. In addition, I expect the velocity of money printed to be close to zero and for the savings rate to rise. In aggregate, these are not hyperinflationary things. Heck, they are not even inflationary things.
Admittedly, I am one of those inflationists who will be screaming at the top of my lungs.
There are two reasons I believe debt monetization will be inflationary:
- I disagree with the notion that banks won’t lend and consumers won’t borrow. As I recently noted, we are seeing a declining TED spread as well as an increase in many money supply metrics (M1, M2, MZM). And even in this environment, we have seen companies like Verizon be able to secure a massive $17 billion loan.
- Even if lending is reduced due to the economic climate, debt monetization increases the likelihood that foreigners will not only stop buying Treasuries, but that they will sell the ones they have, and will dump US dollar holdings out of a concern of dollar devaluation by the part of the Federal Reserve. This suggests there will be a “run on the currency,” similar to what was seen in Argentina. See our previous article on the similiarities between the US economic crisis and the Argentinian crisis of 2001 for more on this subject.
How to Trade This Scenario
Timing is the key issue for trading this; we are currently seeing a rally in the market, though I expect that at some point in the second half of 2009 we will see the concerns about the Treasury market begin to manifest. As a trend-following trader I look for momentum that corresponds to my fundamental viewpoint, with the exception of precious metals, which I treat as buy and hold type investments.
With that in mind, here are the conclusions I am making based on the trillion dollar deficit scenario:
- US dollar will fall in value. For stock market traders, UDN is an ETF to watch.
- Dollar hedges like gold and silver will rise. GLD and SLV are corresponding ETFs.
- Both monetization of debt as well as a hike in interest rates will send bond prices falling, as a rate hike devalues all bonds previously issued at a lower rate while monetization of debt introduces inflation concerns and the possiblity of the bond being paid back with a currency that is worth less.
- A rate hike, which I think is increasingly unlikely given the Fed’s behavior though still possible, will be bearish for US stocks. DOG and SH are inverse ETFs worth considering in such a scenario.
Disclosure: Long gold and silver; currently short US dollar against Australian dollar.
My Note: Whether as “Portfolio Insurance”, or as a Speculative Investment, I think now is the time to buy and Invest in Gold and Precious Metals in any form. I am calling for $1000 to $1250 Gold later this year and even higher if the Middle East Situation disintergrates and gets worse. Other factors are mentioned in detail above, don’t kick yourself later, buy Precious Metals and Miners at these ridiculously low levels NOW!
My- Disclosure: I am long Physical Precious Metals, Etf’s, and Mining/Producer Stocks. I.e. my money is where my mouth is! Remember to do your own Due Diligence and read all Prospectus’s before making any investment. -jschulmansr