April 22, 2015

I have never been in the camp that exclaims “buy gold because the US is headed for hyperinflation!”. Instead, at every step along the way since the inauguration of the TSI web site in 2000 my view has been that the probability of the US experiencing hyperinflation within the next 2 years — on matters such as this there is no point trying to look ahead more than 2 years — is close to zero. That is still my view. In other words, I think that the US has a roughly 0% probability of experiencing hyperinflation within the next 2 years. Furthermore, at no time over the past 15 years have I suggested being ‘long’ gold due to the prospect of a rapid rise in the CPI. This is partly because at no time during this period, including the present, has a rapid rise in the CPI seemed like a high-probability intermediate-term outcome, but it is mainly because gold has never been and is never likely to be a play on “CPI inflation”.

Gold is a play on the economic weakness caused by bad policy and on declining confidence in the banking establishment (led by the Fed in the US). That’s why cyclical gold bull markets are invariably born of banking/financial crisis and/or recession, and why a cyclical gold bull market is more likely to begin amidst rising deflation fear than rising inflation fear.

There are times when the declining economic/monetary confidence that boosts the investment demand for gold is linked to expectations of a rapid increase in “price inflation”, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. For example, the entire run-up in the gold price from its 2001 bottom to its 2011 peak had nothing to do with the CPI. Also, an increase in the rate of “CPI inflation” would only ever be bullish for gold to the extent that it brought about declining confidence in the economy or the banking establishment, as indicated by credit spreads, real interest rates, the BKX/SPX ratio and the yield curve. Since it’s possible for the CPI to accelerate upward without a significant decline in confidence, it’s possible that an upward acceleration in the CPI would not be bullish for gold.

The bottom line is that as far as the gold market is concerned, the CPI is more of a distraction than a driver. 

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