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How falsehoods become facts

March 21, 2017

The more an invalid piece of information is quoted as if it were true, the closer it will come to being widely viewed as correct. Here are four examples that spring to mind:

1) The claim that there is a severe shortage of physical gold in Comex inventories, making a Comex default likely. This claim seemingly originated at ZeroHedge.com and was ‘supported’ by a chart showing the ratio of Open Interest to Registered Gold. Even though it was never true, the Comex gold shortage story started by Zero Hedge got picked up by numerous gold-focused sites/newsletters and quickly became accepted as fact within a significant portion of the “gold community”. I debunked the story multiple times at the TSI blog, including in the May-2016 post linked HERE.

2) The claim that the “science is settled” on the matter of Anthropogenic Global Warming. This claim is ridiculous, because:

a) Many scientists dispute the theory that the most recent warming period was primarily the result of human activity.

b) The models that were constructed over the past three decades to show what would happen to the climate under different CO2 emission outcomes haven’t worked.

c) The science is NEVER settled. Instead, it is constantly evolving as new information becomes available.

Despite being ridiculous, the “science is settled” claim has been quoted so often that many people now believe it to be a fact.

3) The claim that the Russian government colluded with the Trump team and conducted operations during the 2016 US Presidential campaign to hurt Clinton, including the hacking of DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails and the leaking of these emails to WikiLeaks. I don’t know for sure that this claim is false, but it is currently not supported by any evidence (WikiLeaks has stated that the emails did not come from Russian hacking). Despite being unsubstantiated by hard evidence and quite possibly being a completely fictitious story, the supposed Russian involvement in Trump’s election victory has now been mentioned so many times that it is widely viewed as confirmed.

4) Oxfam’s statement that the eight richest men in the world, between them, have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the population combined. This statement has been cited in countless articles and is generally considered to be evidence that all is not well with the global economy, but it is claptrap. As pointed out in Felix Salmon’s article at fusion.net:

…if you use Oxfam’s methodology, my niece, with 50 cents in pocket money, has more wealth than the bottom 40% of the world’s population combined. As do I, and as do you, most likely, assuming your net worth is positive. You don’t need to find eight super-wealthy billionaires to arrive at a shocking wealth statistic; you can take just about anybody.

All is certainly not well with the global economy, but you can’t properly make that point using a nonsensical statistic.

In conclusion, the more that a false statement or misleading number is quoted, the closer it will come to being generally perceived as factual. If it gets quoted enough its validity will no longer even be questioned.

I wonder if there is a lot less fact-checking and healthy scepticism these days, or if it just seems that way.

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The “petrodollar” is irrelevant

March 14, 2017

A recent article posted at Casey Research trumpets the view that the petrodollar system is on its last legs and that when it dies — quite possibly in 2017 — it will be a massively disruptive event for the US economy and the financial world, leading to an explosion in the gold price. The reality is that the so-called “petrodollar” is probably not about to expire, but even if it were the economic consequences for the US and the world would not be dramatic.

According to the “petrodollar system” theory, an agreement was reached in 1974 between the governments of the US and Saudi Arabia for the Saudis to do all of their oil transactions in US dollars and influence other OPEC members to do the same. In return, the US government vowed to support and protect the Saudi regime. Also according to this theory, the US economy benefits because the pricing of oil in US dollars creates additional global demand for US dollars and US assets.

The agreement might have happened, but there is no good reason that it would still be in effect. Considering the popularity of the US dollar in global trade and the size of the US economy, an agreement between the Saudi and US governments would no longer be required to entice the Saudis to price their oil exports in dollars. It would be inconvenient for them to do otherwise.

In any case, even if the “petrodollar” agreement happened and remains in effect to this day it would not be of great importance. The reason is that the international trading of oil accounts for only a minuscule fraction of international money flows.

To further explain, global oil production is about 96M barrels per day (b/d), but only part of this gets traded internationally. For example, US oil consumption is about 19M b/d, but the US now produces about 10M b/d so the US is a net importer of only about 9M b/d. The amount of oil that gets traded between countries and could therefore add to the international demand for US dollars is estimated to be around 50M b/d.

Assuming that all of the aforementioned 50M b/d of oil gets traded in US dollars, at an oil price of $50/barrel the quantity of dollars employed per year in the international trading of oil amounts to about 900 billion. In other words, the maximum positive effect on global US$ usage of the “petrodollar” system is about $900 billion per year.

Next, note that according to the most recent survey conducted by the Bank for International Settlements, as of April 2016 the average daily turnover in global foreign exchange markets was about $5.1 trillion. With the US$ estimated to be on one side of 88% of all FX trades, this means that an average of 4.5 trillion US dollars change hands every day on global FX markets.

Therefore, the quantity of US dollars traded per DAY on the FX markets, primarily for investing and speculating purposes, is roughly 5-times the amount of US dollars used per YEAR in the international oil trade. That’s why the so-called “petrodollar” is not important.

In conclusion, here’s a suggestion: Instead of focusing on outlandish reasons for buying gold, focus on the less exciting but vastly more plausible reasons that gold’s popularity could rise.

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What is the root cause of a gold bull market?

March 6, 2017

[This blog post is an excerpt from a recent TSI commentary]

If the future were 100% certain then there would be no reason to have any monetary savings. You could be fully invested all of the time and only raise cash immediately prior to cash being needed. By the same token, if the future were very uncertain then you would probably want to have a lot more cash than usual in reserve. This has critical implications for the gold market.

The answer to the question “What is the root cause of a gold bull market?” is related to the propensity to save. When there is an increase in uncertainty and/or the perceived level of economic/financial-market risk, people naturally want to save more and spend less. This is especially the case after an economy-wide inflation-fueled boom turns to bust, because in this situation debt levels will be high, many investments that were expected to generate large returns will be shown to have been ill-conceived, and it will be clear that much of what was generally believed about the economy was completely wrong.

The public’s first choice in such circumstances would be to hold more money, but central banks and governments typically respond to the factors that prompt people to save more by taking actions that reduce the value of money. Policy-makers do this because they are operating from the Keynesian playbook in which almost everything is backward. In the real world an increase in saving comes at the beginning of the economic growth path and an increase in consumption-spending comes at the end, but in the Keynesian world the economic growth path begins with an increase in consumption-spending. Moreover, in the back-to-front world imagined by Keynesian economists an increase in saving is considered bad because it results in less immediate consumption.

So, stuff happens that makes the public want to save more, but the central-planners then say: “If you save more in terms of money we will punish you!” They don’t actually say “we will punish you”, but they take actions that guarantee a real loss on cash savings. Also, in times of stress the most popular repositories of money (commercial banks) will often look unsafe.

Now, neither the actions taken by the central bank to reduce the appeal of saving in terms of the official money nor the appearance of increasing ‘shakiness’ in the normal repositories of money will do anything to reduce the underlying desire for more monetary savings. In fact, the panicked actions of the central bank can add to the uncertainty, thus leading to an even greater propensity to hold cash in reserve.

That’s where gold comes in. People want to save more money, but they can’t save in terms of the official money unless they are prepared to lock-in a negative real return on their savings and/or accept a greater risk of loss due to bank failure. They therefore opt for the next best thing: gold. Gold is almost as liquid and as transportable as money, but its supply is essentially fixed. Gold also has a very long history as a store of value and as money, so even though it is presently not money it is a good alternative to cash.

Long-term gold bull markets can therefore be viewed as periods when the public has an increasing propensity to save and when the actions of the authorities and/or the weakened financial positions of the commercial banks make it riskier to save in terms of the official money.

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Has the Fed been a long-term success?

March 1, 2017

To know whether or not the Fed has been a long-term success, the reason for the Fed’s creation must first be known. Here is the reason from the horse’s mouth: “It [the Fed] was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” If this is the real reason then over the long-term the Fed has not been a success. In fact, it has been an abject failure.

That the Fed has blatantly not been successful in providing the nation with a more stable monetary and financial system is clearly evidenced by the following ultra-long-term chart from www.goldchartsrus.com. This chart shows that the Dow/gold ratio experienced much greater long-term volatility post-Fed than it did pre-Fed.

Dow_gold_010317

This doesn’t mean that the Fed hasn’t been a success, only that it hasn’t been a success if judged based on its publicly-stated purpose.

If the Fed was actually created to ensure that the government could borrow and spend with no rigid limit and to enable the banking industry to grow its collective balance sheet far beyond what would be possible under a less ‘flexible’ monetary system, then the Fed has been a resounding success.

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