How High Can Gold Go?

This is a question that often gets asked in the gold bug community.  It is also a question that sometimes gets answered, even if incorrectly, by many prognosticators or wanna-be prognosticators.  So how high can gold go?

This is a question of timing.  That is where people trying to predict the future usually go wrong.  Most of the time, the prediction will put too short of a time frame on a certain event.

There were people in 2003 saying there was a housing bubble.  There weren’t a lot, but there were a few.  The ones who said it was a bubble and nothing more were eventually proven right.  The problem is the ones who said the housing bubble would crash in the next year (or whatever time frame was given).  They didn’t expect that it could go on for another 4 years.

I see the same thing with predictions on the price of gold.  I’ve heard various predictions of $2,000 per ounce, $5,000 per ounce, $10,000 per ounce, etc.  Some give a time frame and some don’t.  The ones who do give a time frame will probably be wrong.  The ones who don’t give a time frame will probably be right.  But if someone predicts $2,500 gold without a time frame and it takes 10 years from now to hit that price, I’m not really sure that much credit should be given.

If timing is out of the question, then the answer to our question is easy.  How high can gold go?  It can go to infinity.

I would be surprised if the U.S. dollar still existed as a form of money 200 years from now.  Something will change.  So in that respect, the U.S. dollar as we know it today will likely be virtually worthless in 200 years.  25 years from now?  That is a lot harder to say.

Of course, the price of gold could end up being $1,000,000 per ounce or something like that.  Even today, a 100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar is sold for a couple of U.S. dollars.  It makes an interesting souvenir and perhaps a good economics lesson for others who see it.

I have my guesses as to where the dollar price of gold is going to go, with a guess on the time frame.  But they really are just guesses.  We cannot predict human action.  I, nor anyone else, can predict what the Federal Reserve will do.  Even members of the Fed don’t really know what they are going to do in the future.  And we certainly don’t know how the market, made up of billions of people, will react to various economic conditions.

But for what it’s worth, which really isn’t much, my best guess is that gold will go to over $2,500 per ounce in the next three years.  If we hit a deep recession, all bets are off.  Of course, trying to time things, I will probably be wrong.  Better to be conservative and call it 5 years.

Appreciation, Despite Stress

There is a lot going on in our world today.  Americans are caught in the rat race.  They are living the American dream by buying expensive homes (which are expensive to keep up), working stressful jobs, getting stuck in traffic, and, for many, accumulating debt.  Even if you don’t fit this profile, you probably have a lot of stress to deal with in life.  I come across more people with a lot of stress than those without.

I think it is important to sometimes take a moment and step back.  If you and your family have your health, a roof over your head, and you have food on the table, then you should say your blessings.  This has not been the norm throughout history and it is still not the norm in some places on earth.

If you watch the news and see what is going on in the world, there is a lot to be stressed out about.  And there is no doubt that the economy is in rough shape.  I also believe that things are going to get worse before they get better.  But again, if you have your basic needs met, then you should acknowledge this so that nothing else seems so bad.

We often stress out over little things when there are bigger things to worry about.  Even some of the big things are probably not really that big when put into perspective.  It is important to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  If you are worried about something that will have little effect on your life a year from now (if you can even remember it), then it probably isn’t worth worrying about it.  That isn’t to say that you should blow things off.  It is just to say that you shouldn’t stress yourself out about it.

If you are having trouble paying your bills (which seems to be a major stress for many), then step back and appreciate what you have first.  Then you should take active steps to improve your situation.  While taking on a second job sounds stressful, perhaps it would be less stressful than worrying about money.  And it doesn’t have to be a long term thing.

To be realistic in life, you should also consider bad scenarios that are possible, even if not highly probable.  For example, consider the possibility of a job loss.  I don’t recommend stressing out about this, but you should plan for such a scenario in having a backup plan.  Again, take action steps that could help to improve your situation.  This might mean gaining a new skill or it might mean cutting a few expenses so that a pay cut would not be too dramatic for you.  And to not get too stressed, you should also realize that it won’t be the end of the world.  You could always move into a smaller place or cut back on other expenses.

Just remember that if you have your health and you can provide for yourself and your family, then everything else is mostly peripheral.  In the face of pessimism, appreciate the things you have, even if your life can be stressful at times.

Look at an Amortization Schedule for Your Mortgage

I have shared my views before on buying residential real estate, both for investment purposes and for your primary residence.  I have been clear that when you buy a house to live in, you are buying it mainly as a consumer good, whether you like it or not.  You need a place to live and most people prefer to have certain luxuries that are available.  There is nothing wrong with that, but you shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking that buying a million dollar house on the golf course is a good investment.  It is possible it could turn out to be profitable, but for most people it will be more of an expense.

If you buy a house at a reasonable price and your expenses are roughly equal to what you would pay in rent, then I think you will not regret it.  This is assuming that you buy in a decent area and you buy a house in decent condition.

I think for many, buying a house is like a forced savings plan.  There are many people who simply are not disciplined enough to put away large sums of money.  It burns a hole in their pocket and they feel the need to spend it.  This is part of the reason that there are many people close to retirement age who have very little in savings.  Most of their income in retirement will come from Social Security and pensions.

The small bit of good news is that some of these retirees will have lower expenses due to having paid off their house.  While you still have to pay your property taxes, insurance, and repairs, along with all of your other expenses in life, at least the regular mortgage payment isn’t there.  You are living almost rent free.

So while millions of Americans have little discipline in saving any significant money, many of these same people will pay their mortgage every month.  Some may be really careless and take equity out of their house for whatever reason.  They keep extending the term on their loan and they will never be in a position to pay off the mortgage.

But there are still many who don’t take money out and only refinance to get a better rate.  At some point, the mortgage will be paid off, even if it takes a full 30 years.  Again, it is a forced savings plan, at least in the sense that it is one less expense to worry about.  It will help the cash flow situation and make the dream of a comfortable retirement a little less far fetched.

If you own a house and have a mortgage, I encourage you to set up some kind of an amortization schedule.  You can make your own on an Excel spreadsheet.  There are many websites (like this one) where you can type in your approximate figures  and get an amortization table.  You can even find some websites where you can see the difference if you make a one-time extra payment towards principal, or even if you pay a little extra each month.  The compounding effect really speeds things up.  You might even be able to find such a tool through the company that holds your mortgage.  You should at least be able to see how much is going towards the principal balance of your loan each month.

I encourage you to look at this amortization table once a month and see the principal amount that is being paid down each month.  It grows slightly each month, maybe by just a dollar.  If you make an extra payment, you can make it grow faster.  Even if your amount going towards principal is only $200 per month, that will add up to over $2,400 in a year from now.  The following year, the amount will be even bigger.  So month by month, year by year, you are slowly paying down that huge loan.  As long as you don’t refinance or take money out, then it will eventually be paid off.

While this does not offset the lack of discipline of many Americans in not saving, it does help some.  And it is a very powerful feeling when you can one day be truly debt free and own your house outright.

Government Shutdown, Obamacare, and the Debt Ceiling

The coming days will be filled with news about a possible “government shutdown”.  The budget runs on a fiscal year that ends on September 30.  The Republicans are proposing a budget that does not include the funding of Obamacare.  Some of the Republicans are saying that they are willing to see a so-called government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded and/ or repealed.

Unfortunately, this is not great news for libertarians, despite the rhetoric.  This is mostly politics as usual.  The so-called government shutdown will consist of denying visitors access to the Washington Monument, national parks, and some museums.  It may slow down a few processes.

There are a lot of things that a government shutdown does not entail.  It doesn’t mean that Social Security checks will stop going out.  It doesn’t mean that all wars will end and the military will come home.  It doesn’t mean that foreign dictators will stop getting U.S. tax dollars.  It doesn’t mean that federal school funding will shut down.  It doesn’t mean federal agents will stop arresting drug users.

In other words, this is nothing for a libertarian to get excited about.  I suppose it would be a positive thing if Obamacare is defunded, but this is not likely.  If Obamacare dies, it is because it is self-destructing under its own weight.  In the words of Nancy Pelosi, we are still waiting to find out what is in the legislation.

Of course, most of the Republicans are using Obamacare for political posturing, even if they happen to be right that Obamacare is an abomination.  Most Republican politicians want their own form of fascist/ socialist healthcare.  Most do not advocate a free market in medicine and health insurance.

After all of this, we will also be in for a debate about the national debt ceiling.  Obama is making these ridiculous speeches saying that we have to pay our bills.  But the government can still pay the bills without raising the debt ceiling.  It is just that the politicians would actually have to balance the budget going forward, which they do not want to do.  That would mean giving up on their foreign wars, their drug wars, their funding of dictators, their handouts to rich farmers, and a good portion of the welfare state.  It would also mean a change in so-called entitlements.

I have absolutely no doubt that the Republicans will fold on this too.  Of course, it is ultimately the responsibility of the American people.  While I think there has been a bit of a change in public opinion towards more liberty, it is still way too far away.  The American people say they care about the national debt, but most will not care that much, especially if there are scare stories about government shutdowns and terrorists under your bed.  They will tolerate more government debt, as long as their lifestyle is not taken down too dramatically.

I think there would be a few Republicans in Congress who would actually stay strong and refuse to vote for an increase in the debt ceiling.  But there are not nearly enough, and most will fold under public opinion.

I can only hope that one day the American people are so strong in their feelings of not raising the debt ceiling that politicians will actually fear for their jobs if they vote for another increase.  Until that day comes, or until we see much higher price inflation, then expect more of the same.  Expect the national debt to keep going up.

Inflation Permits Government Spending

I have been doing several posts on the topic of monetary inflation.  Among other things, I have pointed out that inflation is bad for the economy because it misallocates resources, and I have also pointed out that inflation redistributes wealth.

Today, I want to focus on government spending.  Without the existence of a central bank (in this case, the Fed) and without a monopoly on money, the federal government would not be able to spend anywhere close to the amount that it currently does.

Since 2008, the government has been averaging deficits of about $1 trillion per year.  This would have been unheard of prior to 2008.  We were at a point where government debt was paying for about a third of the total budget, or more.  While not all of this debt is bought by the Fed, a sizable portion is.  Plus, the Fed is what has enabled the low interest rates on government bonds and the assurance that there will be no default, at least in nominal terms.

If the government and the Fed did not control the money supply, then the only way the government would be able to issue debt is by actually finding investors.  This could include foreign central banks as it does now.  But without the ability to create new money out of thin air, the issuance of debt would be limited to a large degree.  If the debt got too high, then investors (including foreign central banks and governments) would stop lending, worried that the U.S. government would not be able to meet its obligations.  At the very least, interest rates would rise to compensate for the risk.  So the debt would be self limiting.

This is the way it is for state governments and city governments.  They can issue debt, but they are very limited.  They cannot kick the can down the road as far.  The necessity of a balanced budget (or default) comes up much quicker.

If there were no monopoly on money and no Fed to create it out of thin air, then the U.S. government would look something like Detroit right now.  Actually, it never would have gotten to this point.  There is no way that the government would have been able to accumulate over $16 trillion in debt from private investors.  We would have seen a balanced budget, or something very close to it, a long time ago.  The government would have to fund itself on the current tax collections.

Of course, if the government couldn’t spend so much money, then a lot of problems would be solved.  Perhaps there never would have been a war in Iraq, along with many of the other wars.  Perhaps we wouldn’t see disastrous monstrosities like Obamacare and Bushcare (prescription drugs).  Perhaps we wouldn’t see billions of dollars being handed away to dictators in foreign countries.  The list could go on and on.

If the government were forced to spend, let’s say, $1 trillion less per year than it is spending now, then that would be $1 trillion less in misallocated resources.  It would be money that could be saved, invested, and put into consumer products and services that are actually in demand in the marketplace.

Monetary inflation is disastrous in so many ways.  It works hand in hand with big government.  The two feed off of each other.  If there were no Fed to print digital money and if money were left to the marketplace, then the government would at least be forced to balance its budget.  This would mean much lower spending and it would mean an overall higher standard of living for the American people.

Inflation and the Redistribution of Wealth

With the Fed announcing that it will continue to keep its foot on the accelerator at a pace of approximately $85 billion per month, I have been focusing on the effects of monetary inflation.  In my most recent post, I stressed the point that monetary inflation’s most harmful effect is misallocating resources on a grand scale.  This includes discouraging the act of saving money.  This is what harms the overall economy the most, as it serves to eventually lower our standard of living.

Monetary inflation is immoral.  It is immoral because we are essentially forced to use U.S. dollars (or whatever currency your country uses if you live elsewhere).  If there were no legal tender laws and there were no taxes and regulations against gold and silver, then we wouldn’t have much to complain about.  But the money we use is essentially forced on us and debasing it is the equivalent of theft, just the same as taxes.
Just as with taxes, inflation redistributes wealth.  It is not easy to track, but we can generally figure out who benefits and who loses.  The people who see the new money first are the ones who benefit at the expense of others.  But remember that everyone loses in terms of lost productivity and misallocated resources.
Typical beneficiaries, at least in the short term, of monetary inflation are bankers, investors, lobbyists, those in industries tied to the government such as “defense” contractors, those with government connections, and the politicians and bureaucrats themselves.  But there are also people who benefit just in certain areas.  For example, if monetary inflation drives real estate prices higher, then those who happen to be selling their house might benefit.
The people who lose in both the short term and the long term are generally those in the lower and middle classes with little in the way of connections.  They see the money last.  The problem here is that, while their income may eventually rise due to the inflation, it lags behind.  So they will already be paying a dollar more for a gallon of milk, along with just about everything else, before they see their income go up.  So most in the lower and middle class will lose out at the expense of those seeing the new money first, usually those connected to government.
Of course, the really bad thing about inflation is that most people do not know and do not understand what is happening to them.  This is going on in the U.S. right now.  Middle class America is struggling to pay the bills and can’t figure out why.  Most do not understand just how much worse off they are because of the disastrous policies of the Fed and because of the huge government spending.
I think more Americans are sensing that they are being ripped off.  They just can’t fully articulate it.  They sense that the government is making their lives harder, but they don’t understand just how dramatic the situation is.  They don’t fully understand just how much higher their standard of living could be if the government, particularly the federal government, were to shrink to a fraction of its current size and if the Fed stopped creating new money out of thin air.

The Effects of the Continued QE

Since the news broke that the Fed would continue its policy of expanding the monetary base by $85 billion per month, I have been hearing and reading analysts on what it means and the possible consequences.

There are some, even in the establishment, that will admit that there could be some negative consequences from continued monetary inflation.  Unfortunately, almost everyone gets it wrong, or at least misses the biggest consequences.

I have heard many references to the stock market, as if the worst thing that can happen from the Fed’s policy is that the stock market takes a nose dive.  This is actually what is concerning many analysts, even though most Americans don’t own individual stocks and most of the mutual fund ownership is in 401k plans.  It is not that I am dismissing the stock market or that it isn’t important.  But a future bust in the stock market is just the tip of the iceberg of the consequences from this disastrous Fed policy.

I have heard a few analysts discuss bonds and interest rates.  Some are worried that the Fed is doing too much to prop up interest rates and that it could mean trouble in the future in the form of spiking interest rates.  Some would rather see it more gradual and controlled.  Of course, if we end up in a severe recession, interest rates could go down even without the Fed’s buying of government debt.

I have even heard a few analysts on television at least allude to the possibility of rising prices.  This is certainly a real concern, even with the government CPI numbers relatively low at this point in time.

Now I am going to pick on my fellow libertarians.  There are some libertarians (perhaps I should say most libertarians) who will say that the consequences of this Fed policy will be in the form of higher consumer prices.  But this has been wrong up until now, even with the Fed’s massive expansion of the monetary base since 2008.  First, it doesn’t have to be consumer prices going up.  We have actually seen asset prices, such as stocks, going up far more than consumer prices.

Second, while rising prices are a concern and may be a consequence of the Fed’s monetary inflation, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

So what is the major problem with all of this monetary inflation if price inflation stays in check?  The main problem, aside from the immorality of it all, is that it misallocates resources.  It directs resources into areas where it would not happen in a free market environment.  It also misallocates resources in the sense that it distorts savings and investment.

As I mentioned in a recent post, money is just a medium of exchange.  Creating money out of thin air, or destroying it, doesn’t in itself produce or destroy wealth.  But it does affect future productivity.  Production comes from savings and investment.  If the Fed’s monetary inflation reduces the amount of money being saved, then this will harm future wealth production.

The important point to take away here is that we will suffer consequences from this monetary inflation, regardless of what happens with consumer prices. We have already suffered from the monetary inflation of the last 5 years.  This doesn’t have to be in the form of higher prices.  If price inflation stays relatively low at 2% per year, but wages stay the same, then the average American will be getting approximately 2% poorer every year.  This becomes quite significant after a few years.

In conclusion, rising consumer prices is just one possible consequence of monetary inflation.  But the one certain consequence is that the average American’s standard of living will be lower than it otherwise would have been.

FOMC Statement – September 18, 2013

The long awaited FOMC announcement came and it didn’t disappoint investors.  The general consensus was that the Fed would begin to “taper” its purchases of assets, even if mildly.  Instead, the Fed will continue to increase the monetary base by $85 billion per month, which equals out to just over $1 trillion on an annual basis.

You can read the September 2013 statement here.

For comparison, you can read the July 2013 statement here.

Over the last several FOMC meetings, we have seen very little in the way of changes in the statements released.  In comparing some of them, they read almost word for word, with very slight changes.  While this latest statement was still similar, there was additional language added in justifying the continued asset purchases and to say that they will continue to assess the situation in terms of when to scale back.

The key part of the latest statement reads as follows:

“Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment, the Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions since it began its asset purchase program a year ago as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy.  However, the Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases.  Accordingly, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month.  The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction.  Taken together, these actions should maintain downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative, which in turn should promote a stronger economic recovery and help to ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with the Committee’s dual mandate.”

The statement did not mention that this would continue to bail out the banks.

As soon as this news hit the wire, stocks shot up.  Gold and bonds did even better.  It seemed that the only long position that did poorly after the announcement was the U.S. dollar.

I am not sure how long this whole thing can be sustained.  This policy is a total disaster.  I really believe that these policymakers are in over their heads at this point.  This continuation of massive monetary inflation means that wealth will continue to be redistributed.  It means that resources will continue to be misallocated.  It means bubbles and future busts.  It means a greater likelihood of high price inflation in the future.  It means that when the eventual recession/ depression does hit, it will be that much more painful.

I will continue to revisit this subject, as it seems that the whole economy is predicated on Fed policy at this point.  Unfortunately, almost everything the Fed is doing is wrong, at least for the average American.  We will be poorer because of this.

Monetary Inflation Hurts Future Production

On the Mises Institute’s website, Frank Shostak has an article called “Can Quantitative Easing Lift Economic Growth?“.  He points out that there is no monetary pumping that can be beneficial for the economy.  Instead, monetary pumping hurts the economy as it “leads to the weakening of the wealth generation process”.

Shostak is right on the money (no pun intended) in his analysis of monetary inflation.  In his article, he states the following:

“Hence various studies that supposedly show that the Fed’s quantitative easing can grow the US economy are fallacious.  To suggest that monetary pumping can grow an economy implies that increases in the money supply will result in increases in the pool of real wealth.  This is however a fallacy since all that money does is serve as the medium of exchange.  It enables the exchange of the produce of one specialist for the produce of another specialist and nothing more.  If printing money could somehow generate wealth then world wide poverty would have been eliminated by now.”

This is an important point.  Money, in this case the U.S. dollar, is a medium of exchange.  By creating more money, we don’t get any more actual goods and services.  The creation of money also doesn’t actually destroy wealth in and of itself.  But as Shostak points out, it hurts the wealth generation process.

In other words, if the Fed creates another $1 trillion out of thin air tomorrow, this doesn’t actually destroy anything at that particular moment.  But it does hurt future production in a big way.  It redistributes wealth and it also misallocates resources.  The newly created money changes how resources are used.  We saw this back in the housing bubble when too many resources were diverted into the housing sector, as opposed to other consumer goods or savings and investment.

Monetary inflation distorts the economy.  It sends artificial signals that are not in accordance with market demand.  In the long run, it makes us poorer.  Even people who directly benefit from the initial monetary inflation (for example, investors or bankers) are usually hurt in the long run.  Everyone’s standard of living is affected in some way, as there is less production of goods and services that would be created absent the monetary inflation.

Many people, even free market thinkers, believe that the main problem with monetary inflation is that it causes prices to rise.  While monetary inflation does cause prices to be higher than they otherwise would have been (not necessarily higher though), money creation is detrimental in many other ways.  It redistributes wealth and it misallocates resources.  We have a lower standard of living because of monetary inflation by the Fed.  Unfortunately, it is a bad sign for our standard of living that the Fed continues to engage in massive monetary inflation.

Does the Stock Market Like Janet Yellen?

Monday, September 16, 2013, was an interesting day in the markets.  I usually avoid discussing one-day market moves, unless something big happens.  But in this case, the interesting event is why the markets moved.

Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary, withdrew himself as candidate as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.  This led to a belief that the next chair of the Fed will likely be Janet Yellen, a true inflationist.  The markets responded.  Stocks were up big to open the day and interest rates went down. Bond buyers were optimistic that the Fed would continue to prop up the bond market with more quantitative easing (monetary inflation).

Summers was thought to be less of an inflation “dove”.  He is a Keynesian like most of the rest of them in the elitist club, but I suppose Yellen is more outspoken about her desire for massive monetary inflation.  Her and Paul Krugman could get along just fine.

In the grand scheme of things, I am not sure that the next Fed chair matters all that much.  I have already offered 3 reasons on why I think there will not be a long stop of quantitative easing any time soon.  I think as long as price inflation remains relatively low, then the Fed will keep propping things up with more funny money.

While I don’t think the next Fed chair matters much in terms of policy, it is still an interesting thing to watch.  Even more interesting is to see how the markets react.  Stocks and bonds really liked the news that Yellen has a good chance at getting the nomination.

What does this tell us about stocks?  It shows that much of the gains in stocks are taking place due to monetary policy.  As long as the market sees more monetary inflation in the future, then investors are willing to buy stocks.  The same goes for bonds, at least in the short term.  But it also means that stocks and bonds could come crashing down when a tightening of monetary policy seems more likely.

Ironically, stocks and bonds gave up much of their gains by the end of the trading day.  This was blamed on talk from Obama about the debt ceiling.  We can’t ever really be certain about why stocks and bonds rise and fall, other than the behavior of buyers and sellers.  Maybe the stock market retreated a bit with investors realizing that it doesn’t matter that much who the next Fed chair will be.  There was even a little talk at the end of the trading day that maybe Summers isn’t out of the running for sure.

In any case, it seems ridiculous that the stock market would shoot up because of the possibility of one particular individual getting appointed as Fed chair.  But that is the reality of the world we live in.  Until more people realize they are being ripped off by the central bankers and the politicians, then it will continue to go on in some manner.  This is why we have to pay attention to politics and central bank policy.  It has a great effect on our money and our investments.  It shouldn’t be this way, but that is the reality we have to deal with until things change.