Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cotton Surges "Limit Up" For Second Consecutive Day

Our soft commodity flavor-of-the-month, cotton, has seen its near term futures surge "limit up" for the second day in the row.  Was our case for cotton perfectly timed for once?  (See: Cotton's Blue Light Special)
Cotton futures price chart 2012
Cotton's sharp reversal sent shorts running for cover. (via

While there have been additional acreage reductions announced in the past week, this sudden rally is being attributed to fast and furious short covering.  I'd hate to be short any commodity in a secular bull market, let alone when Bernanke has a microphone in front of him!

We'll keep an eye on a potential breakout - I prefer to see a 20-day high, at least, when entering a cotton position, and this didn't get us there.  Which is fine, as I also hate to trade V-shaped moved in the softs - they rarely happen.  I would expect the trend in cotton to remain sideways to down for a bit, with the potential for stimulus-driven swings.

Advantages - and Myths - of Returning to a Gold Standard

The gold standard these days has been reduced to a distant memory and fantasy of hard money proponents.  IF we returned to a gold standard, would all our problems be fixed?  No, contends monetary expert (and parter of the late great Harry Browne) Terry Coxon - but the reality of the current monetary situation would be exposed, and we'd get to see some deserved egg on the faces of our modern day monetary masters of the universe.  Coxon explains...

Myths and Realities of Returning to a Gold Standard

By Terry Coxon, Casey Research

The gold standard, under which any holder of paper dollars could redeem them for gold at the US Treasury, is now within the living memory of just a few million Americans, nearly all of whom would be dangerous behind the wheel. But thanks to the money printing and the federal deficits that have grown to astounding scales since 2008, and thanks also to the clashing pronouncements of Ron Paul and Ben Bernanke, the idea of a gold standard has resurfaced in the public's consciousness.

I'm happy to see the concept enjoying a revival. Reading about it in the mainstream press and hearing it mentioned on the cable news shows makes me feel a little less like a Martian. It has almost made me feel avant-garde.

Despite my enjoyment of the revival, I've noticed that the idea seldom is presented as a clear and definite proposal or as an invitation to revisit an institution that worked well in the past. Too often, it shows up as little more than a slogan or a taunt aimed at central bankers or as just a political fashion statement. So let's take a closer look at what it really means. It's not that complicated.

What Isn't at Stake

The abolition of the gold standard has been the source of considerable mischief, but it hasn't been the source of all mischief.

I've heard the lack of a gold standard indicted as part of a government scheme to force the public to use paper money. It isn't.

The legal-tender laws are usually part of the story, but the story doesn't hold up. Declaring irredeemable paper dollars to be legal tender merely defines what a creditor may be forced to accept in satisfaction of a debt that is denominated in dollars. Operating under that regime is entirely voluntary; if you don't like it, you can avoid it by declining to accept anyone's IOU or other promise denominated in dollars. Despite the legal-tender laws that define what is a (paper) dollar, you are free to buy and sell and enter into contracts without using dollars.

The legal-tender laws amount to no more than the government's claim that it owns "dollar" as a trademark that it can apply to pieces of paper or to anything else it decides to – just as General Motors owns the trademark "Chevy" and can apply it to any piece of machinery or any other product it chooses. GM and GM alone is free to serve up Chevyburgers, and you are free to eat one or not.

Any two parties are free to use gold coins (or silver coins or strawberries) as a medium of exchange if they agree to. Pesos, francs and Canadian dollars are permissible as well. A return to the gold standard wouldn't alter that situation or expand the range of your choices.

I've also heard the lack of a gold standard blamed for overall economic instability. Defenders of the current system of fiat money do just the opposite – they blame the gold standard of the past for preventing the Federal Reserve from stabilizing the economy. It's quite a debate – little economic logic and much cherry picking from the big tree of history. It all comes down to which system gets stuck with responsibility for the Great Depression of the 1930s, which occurred at a time when US citizens couldn't redeem dollars for gold (no confidence-building gold standard to help the economy recover) but foreign governments could redeem dollars for gold (that old gold standard, still causing so much trouble).

What It Wouldn't Fix

A return to the gold standard wouldn't make you any freer than you are now. You'd still be filing tax returns and still be getting massage therapy from TSA employees; Congress wouldn't reform its big-spending ways, it would merely switch from taking and wasting fiat money to taking and wasting gold-backed money; and the Supreme Court, the guarantor of your liberties, would continue making things up as it goes along.

A new gold standard wouldn't be an elixir of stability for the economy. A severe depression in 1919-1920 demonstrated the Federal Reserve's ability to engineer financial train wrecks even when the dollar is redeemable for gold by anyone and everyone. And before the advent of the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury demonstrated the same ability through its borrowing operations, as did Congress on a few occasions simply by creating uncertainty about possible changes in the monetary system.

And a return to a gold standard wouldn't ensure long-term preservation of purchasing power for the dollar and dollar-denominated obligations – because, as we've seen, a gold standard adopted one day can be abandoned the next.

What It Would Fix

Now that we've dampened expectations, here's what a gold standard would do: threaten the individuals who run monetary institutions (such as the Federal Reserve) with embarrassment for bad behavior. It narrows their opportunities for dodging responsibility.

Every issuer of money promises to protect its value. The promise is the same whether it is made on behalf of a fiat currency or for a currency backed by gold, silver, copper, other currencies or seashells or pelts. A gold standard doesn't prevent an issuer from breaking the promise. It merely makes it difficult for the issuer to pretend that it is keeping the promise when year after year it isn't.

With a fiat money system, you don't need any special talent in order to deceive the public with insincere talk about avoiding inflation and protecting the money's purchasing power. The years-long lag between printing and the effect on prices makes deception easy.

If you print more money this year, well, it's only a temporary measure and only because of the recession you're trying to avoid. Next year, you'll slow down the printing or maybe not print at all – you'll have to wait and see what conditions are next year. And don't forget to mention the odd years of rapid monetary growth that coincided with almost no price inflation at all. And when price inflation does pick up, there's always someone or something to blame – OPEC or terrible growing conditions for the soybean crop in Brazil or a war. You'll think of something.

Short of the complete destruction of a fiat currency, there is nothing that can demonstrate beyond doubt the shallowness of the promise to protect purchasing power that is being made on any day. There is no bright line separating performance from talk.

With a gold standard, deception is much more difficult. Creating too much money will lead to redemptions that drain away the official gold stockpile. Everyone can see the inventory shrinking. If it shrinks to zero, then the managers of the system have failed, period. There is no ambiguity about it, and the politicians in charge at the time have little room for denial.

The formal adoption of a gold standard holds no magic. It's just another promise. But it is a promise that carries an assured potential for egg-on-face political embarrassment if it is broken, and the only way for the people in charge to avoid that embarrassment is to refrain from recklessly expanding the supply of cash. That's why a gold standard protects the value of a currency, and that is why the politicians don't want it.

Terry Coxon is one of several big-picture analysts at Casey Research who sift through today's cultural, political and economic trends looking for clues as to when and how they might shift... because those shifts hold strong profit potential for bold investors. To enjoy more articles like this, as well as to receive specific, actionable investment advice including when to buy or sell specific stocks and shorting stocks, among other things, sign up today for The Casey Report. A ninety-day trial is completely risk-free.

Attention Commodity Shoppers: Cotton's Blue Light Special

Cotton futures have quietly dipped to their lowest levels in two years, prompting our "contrarian alert" to sound. King Cotton, since rocketing to levels not seen since Reconstruction, has since plummeted:

cotton five year price chart
Cotton spikes, and crashes. (via

Two months ago we mused that cotton and rice, both off significantly from their highs, may have piqued the interest of Jim Rogers, who recommended that investors interest in agriculture start by looking at what's down the most. Since then, cotton has drifted nearly seventeen cents lower, and is now sitting at levels not seen since early 2010.

On Cue: Supply Cuts Have Arrived Just as high prices tend to cure themselves with increasing supply and/or decreasing demand, low prices commonly exhibit the equal but opposite effect. And we're already seeing signs of supply going away, as China will decrease cotton plantings by nearly 10% this year...

Please read my full cotton analysis on Seeking Alpha.

Why Jim Rogers Believes the US Economic Situation is Very, Very Dire

Jim Rogers sat down with Newsmax for a short interview, in which he expressed his belief that the US economic situation is "very, very dire."

Kudos to Rogers for saying what few today seem to understand - that cutting spending and taxes would be good for the economy.  The State itself is not a generator of wealth - it is a net negative.


Source: Newsmax, Hat Tip: Daily Crux

Using This Pullback to Load Up on Gold

With gold successfully holding the $1520 mark after three tests, David Galland believes savvy investors should use this pullback as an opportunity to purchase gold and gold stocks.  I agree with him on gold, though I'm not yet convinced about the mining stocks themselves (more on this later today).

Gold’s “Contrarian Moment”

By David Galland, Casey Research

Glancing at the news most days, it's hard not to feel like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. In the event you are unfamiliar with the movie, in it Murray's character becomes trapped in the same day… day after day.
In the current circular condition, we have the powers-that-be assuring us that the next high-level meeting will finally produce a permanent fix to the broken economy, essentially solving the sovereign debt crisis. Then, in no more than a few days, or at most a couple of weeks, the fix is revealed to be flawed and the crisis again sparks into flames... followed shortly thereafter by yet another high-level meeting – and the cycle begins anew.

While the characters may change – one week it is Greece, the next it is Spain, the next it is France, the next it is the US, the next it is Greece again, etc., etc. ad nauseam – the detached observer can only come to the conclusion that we are now well outside of the bounds of the normal business cycle.

As we at Casey Research have written on this topic at great length, I don't intend to dwell on this topic, but I did want to loop back in just long enough to comment on the recent price action in commodities, especially gold, in the face of the continuing crisis.

Today, a glance at the screen reveals that gold is trading for $1,565. For comparative purposes, as revelers warmed up their vocal cords to sing in the New Year on the last trading day of 2011, gold exchanged hands at $1,531. And exactly one year ago to the day, gold traded at $1,526 for a one-year gain of a modest 2.6%.

A year ago, the S&P 500 traded at 1,325, while today it trades at 1,318, a small loss. Yet, have you noticed we don't hear much about the imminent collapse of the US stock market, as we do about gold? This perma-bear sentiment about gold on the part of what some people lump together under the label "Wall Street" is especially apparent in the gold stocks.

Using the GDX ETF as a proxy for the sector, we see that the shares of the more substantial gold producers are off by an unpleasant 24% over the last year.With that "baseline" in place, let's turn to the current outlook for gold, and touch on some of the other commodities as well.
  • Gold. In the context of its secular bull market, and given that absolutely nothing has gotten better about the sovereign debt crisis – only worse – gold's correction is nothing to be concerned about.I know the technical types will point to levels such as $1,500 as important resistance points – and there's no question that if gold was to break decisively below that level that a lot of autopilot trades would kick in and put further pressure on gold.Yet, when you view the market through the lens of hard realities, which is to say, by focusing on the intractable mess the sovereigns have gotten the world into… in Europe, in Japan, in China and here in the US… then viewing gold at these levels as anything other than an opportunity is a mistake.
  • Gold Stocks. As far as the gold stocks are concerned, I consider today's levels to be extraordinarily compelling for anyone looking to build up a portfolio or to average down an existing portfolio.I say this for a number of reasons, starting with the contrarian perspective that this may now be the most unloved sector of the stock market. No one wants anything to do with gold stocks, and hasn't for some time now. As a consequence, the sellers will soon dry up, leaving almost nothing but buyers to push the sector back to the upside.This contrarian perspective is important because finding an honest-to-goodness opportunity to bet against the crowd is no easy thing in a world where literally thousands of competent equities analysts plop down at the desk each trading day with the sole purpose of searching for prospective investments. Many of these analysts are backed by huge firms with billions of dollars at risk in the markets, and so are armed with high-powered computational tools of the sort that was unimaginable even a few years ago. All of these analysts, armed with all their computational power, habitually scan a universe that totals about 4,000 publicly traded companies. Realistically, however, even a thin analytical screen will weed out all but perhaps 400 of those companies as being potentially suitable for investment.Thus, you have thousands of high-priced and well-armed securities analysts crunching pretty much the same data on a very small universe of possible investments. Given this reality, is it any surprise that securities are so tightly correlated? Which is to say, is it any surprise that these securities all trade right in line with the valuations that the analytical screens ultimately derive that they should? Which means there are really only two possible circumstances under which any of these stocks move up, or move down, by any significant degree
  1. Broad market movements. The saturated levels of analysis mean that, within a fairly tight range, all the stocks now move more or less together. Thus, with few exceptions, a big upswing or downswing in the broader market will send almost all stocks up or down together. To help make the point, I randomly pulled a chart of IBM and compared it against SPY (the S&P 500 tracking ETF) for the last year. Note the lockstep price movements:
  2. OK, IBM is a big company, so it will have a lower beta than many companies, but the point remains that saturated coverage of the stocks greatly reduces the odds of any one issue breaking free from the larger herd, unless there is…
  3. A surprise. All of these analysts, and all of their computerized analysis, help form a certain future price expectation for each security based on past financial metrics (earnings growth, return on equity, and so forth). Other than the broad market movement just referenced, or moves in line with a sub-sector of the larger market (e.g., if oil rises or falls, oil-sector stocks will tend to move up or down in sync), for a company to deviate in any substantial way from analyst expectations, by definition requires a "surprise" to occur.Of course, such a surprise can be positive, but because these companies are so closely watched, it is more likely to be negative. In the former category, a positive surprise might come in the form of an unexpectedly strong new product launch á la the iPad. In the latter, less happy category of surprise, it can be the blow-out of a big well in the Gulf of Mexico… or any one of a million other unanticipated vagaries of fate.
As investors, recognizing these fundamental realities is important because it points to where above-average market opportunities are most likely to be found (or not). And that brings us back to the whole idea of being a contrarian.
As mentioned a moment ago, "Wall Street" has never much liked the precious metals, and by extension the gold stocks. Given the length of the gold bull market – which, in our view, reflects systematic risk in all the fiat currencies, but which Wall Street views as an indication of a fatiguing trend confirmed by the underperformance of the gold stocks – traditional portfolio managers are unhesitant in giving the boot to the few gold shares that somehow made it into their portfolios against their better judgment.

If our thinking is not clouded by our own bias, then it would behoove us as good contrarians to buy these shares from the eager sellers at such unexpectedly favorable prices. By doing so, we are able to position ourselves to make a killing once the broader financial community realizes that the problems associated with fiat money, dramatically underscored by the intractable sovereign debt crisis, are only going to get worse. At that point gold is going to head for new highs and gold stocks to the moon.

That said, as we always should do, let's quickly assess whether our own bias is leading us astray in believing in gold and gold stocks when virtually the entire army of analysts won't even consider them. Some inputs:
  • Gold prices remain near historic highs – and that has a significant impact on the bottom line of the gold producers. Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX), for example, currently boasts a profit margin of over 30%, better than twice that of IBM and almost ten times that of Walmart. While ABX sells for just 1.6 times its book value, IBM sells for 10X.
  • Interest rates remain at historic lows, producing a negative real return for bond holders. Unless and until investors are able to capture a positive yield – a potential stake through the heart of gold – there is no lost-opportunity cost for holding gold. And bonds are increasingly at risk of loss should interest rates be pressured upwards, as they inevitably will be.
  • Sovereign money printing continues – because it must. In today's iteration of Groundhog Day, the Europeans are once again meeting in an attempt to fix the unfixable, but the growing consensus – because there is no other realistic option left to them – is that they will have to accelerate, not decelerate the money printing. Ditto here in the US, where a fiscal cliff is fast approaching due to the trifecta of the expiring Bush tax cuts, mandated cuts in government spending from the last debt-ceiling debacle and the new debacle soon to begin as the latest debt ceiling is approached. The problems in important economies such as China and Japan are as bad, and maybe even worse.
  • Debt at all levels remains high. With historic levels of debt, rising interest rates are a no-fly zone for governments, because should these rates go up even a little bit, the impact on the economy and on the ability of these governments to meet their obligations would be dramatic and devastating. This fundamental reality ensures a continuation of policies aimed at keeping real yields in negative territory, meaning that the monetization/currency debasement in the world's largest economies will continue apace.To get a sense of just how bad things are and how soon the wheels might come off, sending gold and gold stocks to the moon as governments throw all restraint in money printing to the wind to save themselves and their over-indebted economies – here's a telling excerpt and a chart from a recent article by Standard & Poor's titled The Credit Overhang: Is a $46 Trillion Perfect Storm Brewing?
Our study of corporate and bank balance sheets indicates that the bank loan and debt capital markets will need to finance an estimated $43 trillion to $46 trillion wall of corporate borrowings between 2012 and 2016 in the U.S., the eurozone, the U.K., China, and Japan (including both rated and unrated debt, and excluding securitized loans). This amount comprises outstanding debt of $30 trillion that will require refinancing (of which Standard & Poor's rates about $4 trillion), plus $13 trillion to $16 trillion in incremental commercial debt financing over the next five years that we estimate companies will need to spur growth (see table 1).

You can read the full article here. While the authors of the S&P report try to find some glimmer of hope that roughly $45 trillion in debt will be able to be sold off over the next four years – even their base case casts doubt on the availability of the "new money" shown in the chart above. Note that this is the funding they indicate is required to fund growth. Which is to say that should the money not be found, the outlook is for low to no growth for the foreseeable future.

It is also worth noting that the analysis assumes that something akin to the status quo will persist – which is very unlikely given the pressure building up behind the thin dykes keeping the world's largest economies intact. The landing of even a small black swan at this point could trigger a devastating cascade.

We have said it before, and we'll say it again: there is no way out of this mess  without acute pain to a wide swath of the citizenry in the world's most developed nations. While this pain will certainly be felt by sovereign bond holders (and already has been felt by those who owned Greek issues), it will quickly spread across the board to banks, businesses and pensioners – in time wiping out the lifetime savings of anyone who is "all in" on fiat currency units.

In this environment, gold isn't just a good idea – it's a life saver. And gold stocks are not just a golden contrarian opportunity, they are one of the few intelligent speculations available in an uncertain investment landscape. By speculation, I mean that, at these prices, they offer an understandable and reasonable risk/reward ratio. Every investment – even cash – has risk these days. With gold stocks, you at least have the opportunity to earn a serious upside for taking the risk… and the risk is much reduced by the correction over the last year or so.
Now, that said, there are some important caveats for gold stock buyers.
  • With access to capital likely to dry up, any gold-related company you own must be well cashed up. In the case of the producers, this means a lot of cash in the bank, strong positive cash flow and a manageable level of debt. (Our Casey BIG GOLD service – try it risk-free here – constantly screens the universe of larger gold stocks for just this sort of criteria, then brings the best of the best to your attention.)In the case of the junior explorers that we follow in our International Speculator service (you can try that service risk-free as well), the companies we like the most have to have all the cash they need to clear the next couple of major hurdles in their march towards proving value. That's because a company can have a great asset but still get crushed if it is forced to raise cash these days… and the situation will only get more pronounced when credit markets once again tighten as the global debt crisis deepens.
  • Beware of political risk. Despite the critical importance of the extractive industries to the modern economy, the industry is universally hated by politicians and regular folks everywhere. If your company – production or exploration – has significant assets in unstable or politically meddlesome jurisdictions, tread carefully. And it's important to recognize that few jurisdictions are more politically risky than the US. This doesn't mean you need to avoid all US-centric resource stocks – but rather that you need a geopolitically diversified portfolio that you keep a close eye on at all times (something we do on behalf of our paid subscribers every day).
  • Know your companies. Some large gold miners are also large base-metals miners. And at this juncture in time, personally I'm avoiding base-metals companies like a bad cold. While most base-metals companies have already been beaten down – and hard – over the last year and a half, the fundamentals remain poor. Specifically, they not only have the risk of rising production costs and political meddling, but unlike gold – where the driving fundamental is its monetary role in a world awash with fiat currency units – the base-metals miners depend on economic growth to sustain demand for their products. In a world slipping back into recession – or perhaps, in the case of Japan and China, tripping off a cliff – betting on a recovery in growth is not a bet I'd want to make just now.
While it is hard to accurately predict the timing of major developments in any one economy, let alone the global economy, there are a number of tangible clues we can follow to the conclusion that the next year will be a seminal one in terms of this crisis.

For starters, there is the next round of Greek elections on June 17, the result of which could very well be the anointment of one Alexis Tsipras as the head of state. An unrepentant über-leftist whose primary campaign plank is to tell the rest of the EU to put their austerity where the sun doesn't shine, the election of Tsipras would almost certainly trigger a run on the Greek banks, followed by a cutoff of further EU funding and Greece's exit from the EU. And once that rock starts to slide down the hill, it is very likely that Spain and Portugal will follow… after that, who knows? As I don't need to point out (but will anyway), June 17 is right around the corner, so you might want to tighten your seat belt.

A bit further out, but not very, here in the US we can look forward to the aforementioned fiscal cliff. Or, more accurately, the political theatrics around the three colliding co-factors in that cliff (the approach once more of the debt ceiling, the expiring tax cuts and mandated government spending cuts). While the outcome of the theatrics has yet to be determined, it's a safe bet that the government will extend in order to pretend while continuing to spend – and by doing so, signal in no uncertain terms that the dollar will follow all of the sovereign currency units in a competitive rush down the drain.

Bottom line: Be very cautious about industrial commodities as a whole, at least until we see signs of inflation showing up in earnest, but don't miss this opportunity to use the recent correction to fill out that corner of your portfolio dedicated to gold and gold stocks.

To get more perspectives like this, plus sector-specific commentary in energy, technology, and precious metals, sign up for the free Casey Research daily newsletter, the Casey Daily Dispatch. It's a great way to be introduced to the world of contrarian investing.

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