Right for the wrong reasons

November 26, 2014

It is not uncommon for people who make predictions about the financial markets to be right for the wrong reasons, meaning that even though their reasoning turned out to be wrong the market ended up doing roughly what was predicted. Here are two examples that explain what I’m talking about.

The first example involves the popular forecast, during 1995-2000, that the US stock market would continue to be propelled upward by a technology-driven productivity miracle. This reasoning was used by high-profile analysts such as Abby Joseph Cohen to explain why stratospheric valuations would go even higher. As long as the bull market remained intact these analysts were generally held in high regard, but their reasoning was terribly flawed.

Anyone with a basic understanding of good economic theory knows that increasing productivity causes prices to fall, not rise. Furthermore, while it is certainly possible for some individual companies to justifiably obtain higher market valuations by becoming more productive than their competitors, a general increase in productivity will not cause a sustained, economy-wide increase in corporate profitability and will not justify higher valuations for most equities. To put it another way, the main beneficiaries of higher productivity are consumers, not stock speculators and investors in equity-index funds. Consequently, there was never a possibility that rising productivity was behind the 1995-2000 surge in the US stock market. “Rising productivity” was just a story that sounded good to the masses while the market was going up.

Like all bull markets in major asset classes, the bull market in US equities that ended in 2000 was driven by the expansions of money and credit. After the pace of monetary expansion slowed, the bull market naturally collapsed.

The second example involves the forecast, in 2011-2012, that the gold price was destined to fall a long way due to deflation. Regardless of whether your preferred definitions of inflation and deflation revolve around money supply, credit supply, asset prices or consumer prices, there has been no deflation and plenty of inflation over the past 2-3 years, so advocates of the “gold is going to lose a lot of value due to deflation” forecast could not have been more wrong in their reasoning. However, the gold market has performed as predicted!

Rather than being a victim of deflation, gold was a victim of the reality that over the past three years a bout of rampant monetary inflation led to a huge rally in the broad stock market, which, in turn, boosted economic confidence. Ironically, had the reasoning of the “gold to fall due to deflation” group been close to the mark, the gold price would probably have experienced nothing more than a 12-18 month consolidation following its September-2011 peak. This is not because gold benefits from deflation (it doesn’t), but because the combination of economic weakness, declining economic confidence and the actions taken by central banks to address the economic weakness would have elevated the investment demand for gold.

I’ve noticed that fundamentals-based analysis is rarely questioned if it matches the price action and, by the same token, is often greeted with skepticism if it is in conflict with a well-established price trend. During a raging bull market even the silliest bullish analyses tend to be viewed as credible, and after a bear market has become ‘long in the tooth’ even a completely illogical or irrelevant piece of analysis will tend to be viewed as smart, or at least worthy of serious consideration, if its conclusion is bearish. However, from a practical investing perspective, fundamental analysis can be most useful when its conclusions are at odds with the current price trend. The reason is that the greatest opportunities for profit in the world of investing and long-term speculation are created by divergences between value and price.

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Revisiting the Goldman Sachs $1050/oz gold forecast

November 24, 2014

This blog post is a slightly-modified excerpt from a recent TSI commentary.

At the beginning of this year, banking behemoth Goldman Sachs (GS) called for gold to end the year at around $1050/oz. I didn’t agree with this forecast at the time and still believe it to be an unlikely outcome (although less unlikely than it was a few months ago), but earlier this year I gave Goldman Sachs credit for at least looking in the right direction for clues as to what would happen to the gold price. In this respect the GS analysis was/is vastly superior to the analysis coming from many gold-bullish commentators.

Here’s what I wrote at TSI when dealing with this topic back in April:

GS’s analysis is superior to that of many gold bulls because it is focused on a genuine fundamental driver. While many gold-bullish analysts kid themselves that they can measure changes in demand and predict prices by adding up trading volumes and comparing one volume (e.g. the amount of gold being imported by China) to another volume (e.g. the amount of gold being sold by the mining industry), the GS analysts are considering the likely future performance of the US economy.

The GS bearish argument goes like this: Real US economic growth will accelerate over the next few quarters, while interest rates rise and inflation expectations remain low. If this happens, gold’s bear market will continue.

The logic in the above paragraph is flawless. If real US economic growth actually does accelerate over the next few quarters then a bearish view on the US$ gold price will turn out to be correct, almost regardless of what happens elsewhere in the world. The reason the GS outlook is probably going to be wrong is that the premise is wrong. Specifically, the US economy is more likely to be moribund than strong over the next few quarters. It’s a good bet that inflation expectations will remain low throughout this year, but real yields offered by US Treasuries are more likely to decline than rise due to signs of economic weakness and an increase in the popularity of ‘safe havens’ as the stock market trends downward.

I was right and GS was wrong about interest rates, in that both nominal and real US interest rates are lower today than they were in April. However, it is certainly fair to say that GS’s overall outlook as it pertains to the gold market has been closer to the mark than mine over the intervening period. This is primarily because economic confidence has risen, which is largely due to the continuing rise in the senior US stock indices.

So, regardless of whether or not gold ends up getting closer to GS’s $1050/oz target before year-end (I don’t think it will), I give GS credit for being mostly right for mostly the right reasons over the course of this year to date.

For their part, many gold bulls continue to look in the wrong direction for clues as to what the future holds in store. In particular, they continue to fixate on trading volumes, seemingly oblivious to the fact that for every net-buyer there is a net-seller and that the change in price is the only reliable indicator of whether the buyers or the sellers are the more motivated.

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Something has changed

November 19, 2014

The gold-stock indices and ETFs are getting close to reasonable upside targets for the INITIAL rallies from their October-November crash lows. These targets are defined by resistance at 185-190 for the HUI and 77-80 for the XAU. For GDXJ, the upside target for the initial rally mentioned at TSI was $29, which has already been reached. Actually, the resistance that defines the most realistic initial rally target for GDXJ extends from $29 to $31.50.

The main purpose of this  brief post is to point out that something has just happened that hasn’t happened since the first half of June. I’m referring to the fact that for the first time in more than 5 months, GDXJ has just achieved 3 consecutive up-days.

This is just another small piece of a big puzzle. It is evidence that the current rebound could evolve into something substantial.


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Why GLD’s bullion inventory follows the gold price

November 18, 2014

The concept that must always be kept in mind when analysing changes in the amount of gold bullion held by the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), the largest gold bullion ETF, is that these changes can only happen as a result of arbitrage. More specifically, the Authorised Participants (APs) in the ETF will only add gold to the inventory when an arbitrage opportunity is created by the price of a GLD share moving above the net asset value (NAV) of a GLD share and remove gold from the inventory when an arbitrage opportunity is created by the price of a GLD share moving below the NAV of a GLD share.

The addition of the gold involves multiple steps (the short-selling of GLD shares, the purchase of gold bullion, the delivering of gold bullion to the ETF and the creation of new GLD shares that are used to cover the aforementioned short position) that occur almost simultaneously, but the key is that it is a mechanistic process that a) gets initiated by GLD’s market price moving above its NAV and b) serves the purpose of closing the price-NAV gap. Similarly, there are multiple virtually-simultaneous steps involved in the removal of gold from GLD’s inventory (the buying of GLD shares, the short-selling of gold bullion, the redeeming of GLD shares for gold bullion from GLD’s inventory, and the use of the bullion obtained from the inventory to cover the aforementioned gold short position). And again, it is a mechanistic process that a) gets initiated by GLD’s market price moving below its NAV and b) serves the purpose of closing the price-NAV gap.

In the hope of adding clarity I’ll mention two related points.

First, it is not possible for GLD’s gold inventory to be used to cover short positions elsewhere in the gold market except as part of the arbitrage described above.

Second, because GLD holds gold bullion, a change in the price of gold will not necessitate a change in GLD’s inventory. GLD’s shares will naturally track the price of gold without the need to do anything, regardless of how far or how fast the price of gold moves.

That being said, there are times when the buyers of GLD shares become over-eager, causing the market price of GLD to rise relative to the price of gold, and there are times when the sellers of GLD shares become over-eager, causing the market price of GLD to fall relative to the price of gold. This sets in motion the arbitrage described above.

Now, buyers are most likely to become over-eager after the price has been trending higher for a while and sellers are most likely to become over-eager after the price has been trending lower for a while. That’s why the chart presented below shows that major trends in the GLD inventory FOLLOW major trends in the gold price, and why it makes more sense to view 2013′s large decline in GLD’s gold inventory as an effect, not a cause, of the large decline in the gold price.



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