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Charts of interest, 30th December 2015

December 31, 2015

The following charts are discussed in an email sent to TSI subscribers.

1) The US$ Gold Price


2) Gold versus the relative strength of the banking sector (as indicated by the SPX/BKX ratio)


3) The HUI


4) The Dollar Index


5) The US$/Yuan Exchange Rate


6) The S&P500 Index


7) The Europe 600 Banks Index (FX7)



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Charts of interest

December 27, 2015

The following charts are discussed in an email sent to TSI subscribers on 27th December.

1) The HUI/gold ratio


2) The Gold Miners ETF (GDX) — down by 22% year-to-date (YTD)


3) Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ) — down by 16% YTD


4) Almaden Minerals (AAU) — down by about 30% YTD but up by about 30% over the past 4 weeks


5) Endeavour Mining (EDV.TO) — up by about 90% YTD and at a 12-month high


6) Evolution Mining (EVN.AX) — up by 125% YTD


7) McEwen Mining (MUX) — roughly flat YTD in US$ terms, but up by almost 20% in C$ terms


8) Premier Gold (PG.TO) — up by about 40% YTD


9) Royal Gold (RGLD) — down by 37% YTD. The early-November plunge to the mid-$30s caused RGLD to offer reasonable value — and caused us to become interested in having exposure to this stock — for the first time in several years.


10) Ramelius Resources (RMS.AX) — up 300% YTD


11) Sabina Gold and Silver (SBB.TO) — up by about 110% YTD


12) Emerging Markets Equity ETF (EEM) with 12-week moving average — intermediate-term ‘oversold’ and at an 11-year low relative to the S&P500, but very high relative to commodities and potentially ‘on the edge of a cliff’.


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Falling Dominoes

December 16, 2015

The decline in house prices that began in 2006 wasn’t the cause of the 2007-2009 economic bust. The cause was widespread mal-investment resulting from monetary inflation and the Fed’s interest-rate manipulation. However, the 2006 reversal in house prices set off a series of falling economic dominoes due to the fact that the housing market was where a disproportionately large amount of the mal-investment and associated debt happened to be. The reason for mentioning this is that the 2014 downward price reversal in the oil market might have played the same role as the 2006 downward reversal in the housing market, because this time around a disproportionately large amount of the mal-investment and associated debt happened to be linked directly or indirectly to the booming oil industry.

A lot of high-yield debt was linked both directly and indirectly to the booming US oil industry, which is why proxies for the US high-yield bond market reversed downward at almost the same time as the oil price in mid-2014. With ETFs such as JNK (the Barclays High Yield Bond Fund) and HYG (the iShares High Yield Bond Fund) having made new 6-year daily-closing lows on Monday 14th December there is little doubt that the US high-yield corporate bond market is immersed in a cyclical bearish trend. In effect, the falling of the oil domino knocked down the high-yield bond-market domino.

Another of the dominoes to fall in reaction to the oil reversal is the railroad industry. The railroad business boomed due to a large increase in the demand for rail cars to carry oil from the oil-fields and supplies to the oil-fields. In this case the reaction was delayed, as it wasn’t until late last year that investors began to connect the dots. Last week the Dow Jones US Railroad Index (DJUSRR) made a new 2-year low and is clearly immersed in a cyclical bear market.

The following chart provides a visual representation of the falling dominoes discussed above. Notice that HYG (the blue line), an ETF proxy for high-yield bonds, began to fall almost immediately after the oil price (the black line) turned down, whereas DJUSRR (the green line) trended upward for an additional 5 months before toppling over.


There’s a high risk that economic dominoes will continue to fall until there are none left standing, but be warned that it could be a very drawn-out process. During the preceding cycle there was a 2-year gap from the reversal in the housing market to a general capitulation, and this time around the monetary backdrop is more bullish.

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Unintended Consequences

December 14, 2015

This post is an excerpt from a commentary posted at TSI about two months ago.

Whenever the government intervenes in the economy in order to bring about what it deems to be a more beneficial outcome than would have occurred in the absence of intervention, there will be winners and losers but the overall economy will invariably end up being worse off. Moreover, it is not uncommon for one of the long-term results of the intervention to be the diametric opposite of the intended result.

A great example of the actual result of government intervention being the opposite of the intended result is contained in a chart that formed part of a recent article at The chart, which is displayed below, shows the home ownership rate in the US.

Here, in brief, is the story behind the above chart.

During the Clinton (1993-2000) and Bush (2001-2008) administrations the US Federal Government decided that it would be beneficial if a larger number and a broader range of people were home-owners. The government therefore began making a concerted effort to not only increase the US home-ownership rate, but also to make home loans easier to obtain for less-qualified buyers.

This was achieved in part by the more aggressive implementation, beginning in 1993, of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977. Under the cover of the CRA, banks were forced to reduce their lending standards for lower-income groups in general and ‘minorities’ in particular. For example, government regulations created during the 1990s set bank loan-approval criteria and quotas with the aim of increasing loan quantities, and even went so far as to require the use of “innovative or flexible” lending practices to address the credit needs of low-and-moderate-income (LMI) borrowers. Of course, banks that are forced by the government to lower their standards when assessing the loan applications of less-qualified borrowers must also lower their standards for other borrowers, because they can’t reasonably approve an application from one customer and then reject an application from a better-qualified customer.

An increase in the home-ownership rate was also achieved by assigning an “affordable housing mission” to the government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). To make it possible for Fannie and Freddie to achieve this mission their automated underwriting systems were modified to accept loans with characteristics that would previously have been rejected. In addition, Fannie and Freddie cited the new “mission” as a reason that their mortgage portfolios should not be constrained.

At this point we would be remiss not to mention the helping hand provided by the Fed. Without the Fed’s aggressive money-pumping and lowering of interest rates during 2001-2003 there would have been less credit and less money available to the buyers of homes. The Fed’s actions ensured that there would be a credit bubble, while the government’s actions ensured that the residential housing market would be the focal point of the bubble.

The above chart shows that the government was initially — and predictably — successful in its endeavours. The home-ownership rate sky-rocketed as it became possible for almost anyone to borrow money to buy a house. The chart also shows that the home-ownership rate has since collapsed to its lowest level since the 1960s. This collapse was a natural consequence of the credit bubble, in that household balance-sheets were drastically weakened by the taking-on of debt-based leverage during the bubble and the post-bubble plunge in asset prices.

The bottom line is that the interventions designed to increase home ownership ultimately contributed to the home-ownership rate falling to the point where it is now at a multi-generational low. Not just an unintended consequence, but the opposite of the intended consequence.

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The ridiculous and relentless fuss over the COMEX gold inventory

December 11, 2015

I’ve often been impressed by the ability of gold-focused bloggers, newsletter writers and journalists to turn a blind eye to the gold market’s genuine fundamentals and to fixate on factors that either have no bearing on the gold price or amount to unadulterated hogwash. Depending on how they are presented, the stories that are regularly told about the COMEX gold inventory and its relationship to the gold price can fall into either the irrelevant category or the hogwash category.

I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, including in an 18th August blog post, that the amount of gold in COMEX warehouses and the inventories of gold ETFs follow the major price trend, meaning that changes in these high-profile inventories are effects, not causes, of major changes in the gold price. That’s the long-term relationship. On a short-term basis there is no consistent relationship between inventory levels and the gold price.

There is therefore nothing strange about the fact that the post-2011 bear market in gold has been accompanied by an overall decline in COMEX and gold ETF inventories, just as there was nothing strange about the overall rise in COMEX and gold ETF inventories during the preceding bull market.

I’ve also briefly pointed out in the past that the large rise in the ratio of COMEX “registered” gold to COMEX gold open interest in no way indicates a shortage of physical gold or that a COMEX delivery problem is brewing.

Various sites have been presenting the aforementioned ratio for years as if it were a dramatic, price-impacting development. A recent example is the ZeroHedge article posted HERE, which contains the following chart. This chart certainly creates the impression that something is horribly wrong. A more distant example is the JSMineset article posted HERE, which is from July-2013 and forecasts a COMEX crisis within 90 days due to the critical shortage of deliverable gold.

Fortunately, early this week a logical and well-informed article on the topic was posted HERE. You should read the full article as long as you are willing to let facts get in the way of a good story, but two of the key points are:

1) The amount of “registered” gold is NOT the total amount of gold available for delivery.

2) Although it’s unlikely to give you any meaningful information, if you really want to spend time comparing open interest and physical gold inventory then it’s only the open interest in the current delivery month that matters.

It’s hard enough to figure-out the gold market when considering only the true fundamentals. There’s no need to further muddy the waters by introducing spurious information, unless the goal is to draw readers with exciting stories rather than to be accurate.

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Negative interest rates are due to bad theory

December 9, 2015

If something very strange happens and continues over an extended period, people get accustomed to it and come to view it as normal. That’s especially so when the strange set of circumstances is the result of a policy that, as a result of devotion to a wrong theory or strategy, is widely considered to be a reasonable response to a problem.

A good example is the “Patriot Act”, which was introduced in the wake of the 911 attacks. This act dramatically increased the legal ability of the US government to violate individual property rights in the name of greater security and was widely viewed as extraordinary when it was first proposed, but in 2011 there was barely a mention in the mainstream media when President Obama signed a 4-year extension for some of the most controversial parts of the act. With some modifications forced upon the government by the revelations of Edward Snowden, another 4-year extension was approved with minimal public protest in 2015 under the Orwellian name “USA Freedom Act”. My point is, whereas 20 years ago most people would have been horrified by the provisions of the Patriot Act, today most people couldn’t care less. Today, the powers granted by the Patriot Act are generally accepted as normal.

Another good example is the downward drift into negative territory of government bond yields in Europe. As recently as two years ago it was believed by almost everyone that zero was the lower bound for a bond’s nominal yield. At that time, the idea that nominal bond yields would fall to zero was almost unthinkable, and anyone who predicted that a sizable percentage of the bonds issued by European governments would soon trade at negative nominal yields would have been perceived as a lunatic. Today, however, about one-third of the euro-zone’s sovereign debt is trading with a negative yield-to-maturity and people are becoming accustomed to this new reality. Also, the ECB just reduced its official deposit rate from negative 0.20% to negative 0.30%, which only surprised the financial markets because most traders were expecting it to be pushed even further into negative territory.

A point that deserves to be emphasised is that even though the financial world is becoming inured to the situation, it is completely absurd for interest rates and nominal bond yields to be negative. The reason is that regardless of whether the economy is experiencing inflation or deflation, having money in the present should always be worth more than having a promise to pay the same quantity of money in the future. To put it another way, it should never make sense for people throughout the economy to choose to incur a cost for temporarily relinquishing ownership of money.

But obviously it does make sense, because it’s happening! The question is why.

A number of factors had to come together to make negative interest rates possible, including persistently-low inflation expectations in the face of rapid monetary inflation. However, the overarching cause is unswerving devotion to bad economic theory. Persistently-low inflation expectations only enabled the application of bad theory to be taken to a far greater extreme than it had ever been taken before.

The bad theory is that the economy can be made stronger by artificially lowering the rate of interest. If you have the power to manipulate interest rates and you are totally committed to this theory, then a failure of the economy to strengthen following a lowering of the interest rate will cause you to bring about a further interest-rate decline. As long as you remain steadfast in your belief that a lower interest rate should help and as long as rising inflation expectations don’t get in the way, continuing economic weakness will lead you further and further down the interest-rate suppression path.

The Fed currently looks less radical than the ECB, because, while the ECB has pushed its targeted interest rate into negative territory and shows no sign of changing course, the Fed is probably about to take a small step into positive territory with its own targeted interest rate. However, the senior members of the Fed and the ECB are guided by the same bad theories, so it is certainly possible that the next time the US economy slides into recession the US will end up with a negative Fed Funds Rate. In fact, if the US economy slides into recession in 2016 then a negative Fed Funds Rate will become a good bet.

In conclusion, today’s negative interest rate situation would have been viewed as nonsensical as recently as a few years ago and will be viewed as nonsensical by the historians who write about the 2010s in decades to come. However, the financial world is not only becoming accustomed to this absurd situation, it is now common to view negative interest rates as appropriate.

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Secrets of successful newsletter writing, part 1

December 7, 2015

To develop a popular newsletter or blog focusing on finance and investment, you don’t need to offer anything of real value. You just need to adopt all or most of the following guidelines/suggestions.

1) H.L.Mencken wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” The same approach can be applied to the financial writing business. Specifically, the main goal of practical newsletter-writing and blogging is to keep the readership alarmed (and hence clamorous for advice) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

2) If your analyses and recommendations prove to be on the mark then give yourself a very public ‘pat on the back’ for having been incredibly prescient, but if your analyses and recommendations prove to be off the mark then put the blame on market manipulation and quickly move on. Never acknowledge the possibility that your analysis was wrong.

3) Grab every opportunity to re-write the history of your own performance with the aim of creating the impression that your forecasting record is much better than is actually the case. This will work because a) if you claim often enough and assertively enough that you correctly predicted a major market move, it will eventually be perceived as the truth, and b) most of your old readers won’t remember and most of your new readers won’t check what you wrote in the past.

4) Word any ‘analysis’ in such a way that you will be right regardless of what happens. Here are some examples:

a) A non-specific forecast of higher volatility is always good, because it will always be possible to subsequently find a market or a region in which volatility increased.

b) Present multiple scenarios that essentially cover all possible outcomes.

c) Present forecasts/assessments in the format: Bullish above A$, bearish below B$. When the price moves above A$ or below B$, generate a new forecast in the same format. This way you will always be 100% accurate without ever providing useful information.

5) Emphasise the forecasts/recommendations that have worked and forget to mention, or only mention in passing, the ones that didn’t work. For example, publish a list showing the large gains made by some of your past recommendations and add a note to the effect that not all of your recommendations resulted in such spectacular success. This has the advantage of creating a totally false impression of your performance without actually being a lie.

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Price Index Bias and Obsession

December 4, 2015

There are many ways of calculating purchasing power by means of index numbers, and every single one of them is right, from certain tenable points of view; but every single one of them is also wrong, from just as many equally tenable points of view. Since each method of calculation will yield results that are different from those of every other method, and since each result, if it is made the basis of practical measures, will further certain interests and injure others, it is obvious that each group of persons will declare for those methods that will best serve its own interests. At the very moment when the manipulation of purchasing power is declared to be a legitimate concern of currency policy, the question of the level at which this purchasing power is to be fixed will attain the highest political significance.

The above paragraph contains remarkable foresight considering that it was written by Ludwig von Mises way back in 1934 (it is from the preface to the 1934 English edition of “Theory of Money and Credit”). In particular:

1) There are now more ways than ever of coming up with a number that purportedly represents the change in money purchasing power (PP), with different groups advocating on behalf of different numbers depending on their agendas. For one example, the US government likes the Consumer Price Index (CPI), because its rate of increase has been very slow for a long time (enabling cost-of-living adjustments to be minimised) and because the calculation methodology can always be changed by the government if the result deviates too far from what’s deemed acceptable. For another example, the Fed likes the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) calculation, because it tends to be even lower than the CPI and therefore shows the Fed in a more positive light and gives it more flexibility. For a third example, at the other end of the spectrum there are the perennial forecasters of hyperinflation who are always on the lookout for ‘evidence’ supporting their outlook. This group likes the Shadowstats CPI, even though the Shadowstats calculation contains a basic error that makes the result unrealistic and leads to ridiculous conclusions regarding GDP growth.

2) The manipulation of PP is most definitely now deemed to be a legitimate concern of currency policy. In fact, it is generally deemed to be the primary concern.

3) The question of the level at which PP is to be fixed has attained the highest political significance, with senior policy-makers throughout the developed world having almost simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that 2% is the correct level for the rate of annual PP loss. As a consequence, economies and financial markets are now being constantly pummeled by central-bank interventions designed to ensure that monetary savings lose about 2% of their PP every year.

It would be nice if prices returned to being indicators of genuine supply and demand, as opposed to being the effects of the central bank’s latest attempts to make an arbitrary index of prices match an arbitrary target.

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Keeping an open mind about the US stock market

December 2, 2015

I have kept an open mind over the past few months as to whether the July-September decline in US equities was the first leg of a new cyclical bear market or a correction within an on-going cyclical bull market. There were hints that it was the former, but there was nothing definitive in the indicators I follow and the price action was consistent with either possibility. The jury is still out, although there has been a probability shift over the past couple of weeks. Before I discuss this shift I’ll do a quick recap for the benefit of blog readers who aren’t TSI subscribers.

During the first half of July this year I thought that there was almost no chance of the US stock market experiencing a bona fide crash over the ensuing few months, but — for reasons outlined in TSI commentaries at the time — I thought there was a good chance of the S&P500 Index (SPX) falling by 10%-20% from a July peak to a bottom by mid-October and that a put-option position was a reasonable way to trade this likely outcome. Then, when there was a discontinuity at the start of the US trading session on Monday 24th August with prices gapping sharply lower across the board, I sent an email to TSI subscribers saying that all bearish positions should be exited immediately. My view was that the 24th August mini-panic would be followed by a multi-week rebound and then a decline to test the low by mid-October, but regardless of what the future held in store the 24th August price action created a very obvious profit-taking opportunity for anyone who was betting on lower prices.

Subsequent price action could aptly be described as noncommittal. There was a successful test of the 24th August low in late-September followed by a strong rebound to a high in early-November, none of which was surprising. Also, this price action didn’t provide any important new clues, because I considered a successful test of the August low followed by a rebound to at least the 200-day MA to be likely regardless of whether we were dealing with a bull-market correction or the early stages of a new bear market.

I’ll now deal with the probability shift mentioned in the first paragraph.

Although I was keeping an open mind regarding the nature of the July-September downturn, if someone had held a gun to my head a few weeks ago and forced me to pick a side I would have chosen the ‘new bear market’ scenario. That is no longer the case.

The jury is still out and for practical investing/speculating purposes there is no need to pick a side, but the probabilities have recently shifted in favour of the ‘bull market correction’ scenario. Displayed below is a chart that illustrates one of the reasons for this probability shift. It is a monthly chart of the S&P500 Index (SPX) with a 20-month moving-average (MA).

This chart shows that once a bear market got underway in 2000 and 2007 and the SPX had achieved a monthly close below its 20-month MA, it did not achieve a monthly close above this MA until the bear market was over. However, in 2011 and again this year, a monthly close below the 20-month MA was quickly reversed.


If a cyclical bear market was in progress then the SPX should have weakened enough in November to give another monthly close below its 20-month MA, but it didn’t. Instead, it managed a second consecutive monthly close above this MA. This is a meaningful divergence from the price action in the early stages of the preceding two cyclical bear markets and is more consistent with the bull-market correction scenario.

There is other evidence to support the ‘bull market correction’ scenario, but, as I said, the evidence is not yet conclusive. In fact, in a TSI commentary scheduled for tomorrow I’m going to show two important indicators that support the ‘equity bear market’ scenario. Moreover, the bull market is ‘long in the tooth’, valuations are high and earnings growth (on a market-wide basis) is non-existent, so even if the long-term bullish trend is still in progress there’s a high risk that it will end sometime next year.

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