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Archive for August, 2010

Gold is likely to rise this week

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Gold advanced in Asia, rebounding from its biggest decline in more than a week, as concerns that the global economic recovery is faltering helped fuel investor interest in the metal as a store of value.

Gold for immediate delivery rose 0.2 percent to $1,229.73 an ounce at 1:16 p.m. in Singapore, after dropping 0.4 percent on Aug. 20 as the dollar jumped as much as 1 percent. December- delivery futures gained 0.2 percent to $1,231.40 an ounce.

“Gold may attempt to build a base above $1,220 before continuing on its upward trend,” said Ong Yi Ling, Singapore- based investment analyst with Phillip Futures Pte Ltd. “Concerns over the economic recovery will continue to support gold prices.”

Nineteen of 24 traders, investors and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, or 79 percent, said the metal will gain this week. Four forecast lower prices and one was neutral. Hedge-fund managers and other large speculators increased their net-long position in New York gold futures in the week ended Aug. 17, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data.

Speculative positions, or bets prices will rise, outnumbered short positions by 204,228 contracts on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the Washington- based commission said in its Commitments of Traders report. Net- long positions rose by 13,541 contracts, or 7 percent, from a week earlier.

Gold strengthened 12 percent this year, reaching an all- time high of $1,650.30 an ounce in June, as investors sought to protect their wealth against financial turmoil in Europe and the prospect of currency debasement. European Central Bank council member Axil Weber said on Aug. 19 that the ECB should help banks through liquidity tensions before determining in the first quarter when to withdraw emergency lending measures.

‘Well Supported’

The euro traded near a five-week low against the dollar ahead of European data that may show growth in the 16-nation region’s services and manufacturing industries slowed in August. Reports this week forecast to show U.S. existing home sales fell and Japan’s export growth slowed in July.

Why gold will be strong

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
dollartime

Time is running out for the dollar

Gold is linked to the US dollar and in a simple equation strong dollar = weaker gold, weak dollar higher gold price. The future strength of the dollar depends on the economic prospects for America and they are not good, therefore the dollar will weaken and gold strengthen. On top of these there are moves afoot to remover the dollar from its status of reserve currency which to date has been a factor supporting for the dollar.

Earlier I reported that Europe can no longer support its very expensive social welfare programs and the shrinking working population will not be able to support the growing pensioners with there over generous pensions and of course the ugly head of unemployment.

I also indicated that the US viewed the European situation with derision as its old fashioned ideas dictated that its time was over.  “Judge not lest you be judged” as written in Mathew 7.1 is very applicable to the American situation.

The prosperity of the USA after World War II led to an explosion of population  who were labeled the  baby boomers  and they total some 78 million. These now approach retirement and will collect benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that, on average, exceed per-capita GDP. The annual costs of these entitlements will total about $4 trillion in today’s dollars.

The U.S. is bankrupt, tax, retirement benefits and health care are in a mess

Neither spending more nor taxing less will help the country pay its bills.  With a $4 trillion fiscal gap the US have three courses of action or a combination of the three – reduce significantly the benefits of the “baby boomers” – huge tax increases – print more money, which is the current policy.  Realistically printing money needs to be supported by the reduction of benefits and increases in taxes.

Additionally last month the IMF has effectively pronounced the U.S. bankrupt by stating  “The U.S. fiscal gap associated with today’s federal fiscal policy is huge for plausible discount rates.” It adds that “closing the fiscal gap requires a permanent annual fiscal adjustment equal to about 14 percent of U.S. GDP.”

Rather than be judgemental of Europe the U.S. should look at themselves and realize they are potentially in a worse financial state than Greece

For some time now both Russia and China have been pushing for an alternative to the dollar as the reserve currency. While the West has been forced to sell  off assets to compensate for loss or to pay off debt, cash rich China has been buying assets, in particular gold and using those assets as a form of currency to offset the increasing fragile dollar. This is all part of a long term strategy to boost their own currency the Yuan to become an internationally accepted currency.

If that was not enough in the last few weeks the United Nations report “World Economic and Social Survey 2010: Retooling Global Development” called for the creation of a new global reserve currency to replace the U.S. dollar as the single major reserve currency.
“The dollar has proved not to be a stable store of value, which is a requisite for a stable reserve currency,” it said.
It suggested that the reserve should be based on  the existing  Special Drawing rights  (SDRs) created by the IMF to supplement member countries reserves: but with a new basket to reflect the changing weight of global economies  and include emerging countries currencies ( the Yuan) thus downgrading the importance of the dollar.
“To summarize, reducing dependence on the dollar through increased use of a created currency made up of a basket of currencies such as the SDR could be a significant step towards greater stability in the world economy,” the report concluded.

Compare the dollar to the British Empire, once the greatest the world has known, which  has now out lived its usefulness and faded into the memory of once what was. The dollar has not yet fallen that far but it is well on its way and gold will become more important and stronger as a result.

Maurice Hall

The European crisis – the courage to act

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
EU crisis

We need to go that way to avoid the rocks

The European Union is facing an economic and political crisis that threatens the single currency, exposes greed, bureaucratic strangulation, unsustainable social welfare programmes, raises questions on protectionism and the very fabric of the free market. If that was not enough, the weakness of its leaders becomes apparent and two of the giants France and Germany support a different solution. There is a very English phrase “ to muddle through” and that is what European leaders have been doing and hope they can continue doing so as not to put emphasis on radical change that can upset the apple cart either internally or externally. Muddling through depends on growth.

The European Union is still the world’s largest economy supporting over 500 million people of diverse race, cultures and languages. However, the EU is facing both an economic and a political crisis as governments and companies cannot easily borrow money and the euro wobbles. Initially the weakness of the euro was shrugged off as speculation and Anglo-Saxon conspiracy, but the real problem is that social welfare in many countries is so protected and expensive that it is strangling the economies. Europe has to grow just to maintain its welfare systems and innovation just to pay for increasing old age pensions and unemployment is not inspirational. Of the 27 countries in the EU only Poland managed positive growth in 2009, while it is true that recently many have now turned positive, but it can only be described as mediocre. Outside of Europe the perception is that the protectionist policies for citizen welfare indicate that there is no longer the guts to tackle the problems. A sick Europe benefits nobody and arguably, were it healthy, then the worst of the global crisis would be over.

It is the courage of Europe’s leaders to initiate structural reform that comes into question. As Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg, said memorably in 2007-  “We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.”  Many of Europe’s problems stem from election seeking misallocation of public spending with years of subsidizing powerful interest groups, increasing civil service payrolls, early retirement schemes, job protection and unemployment benefits. Between 2005 and 2030 the working-age population of the European Union will shrink by 20m, and the number of those over 65 will increase by 40m. In Belgium only 35% of citizens over the age of 55 work. It is almost impossible to sack a person in Spain, great for those in work but for the 40% youth unemployment that it generates, it is immoral.   European leaders underestimate the realism of the voters and proposals in the UK and Netherland to raise the retirement age to as high as 70 have met with moans but no angry protest.  In France, according to an opinion poll proposals to increase the retirement age were unjust and did produce the usual French protest, few disagree that the current state pension scheme faces insolvency.

The single market does not truly exist and the EU is almost a third less productive than its American counter parts in services, because countries hide behind national barriers and so do not gain full economies of scale. Anyone who has worked in a multi national industry knows how difficult it is to get policies implemented, products introduced or to comply with a European directive that has been interpreted 27 different ways into national law. No company with any sense would open a factory or an office in France, Italy and some other EU countries, where protectionist employment laws could kill that company. I personally know of a case where a multi national company was trying to tighten its purse strings to remain solvent and Italian law forced that company to increase the salary of Italian employees and maintain periodic pay rises. In desperate times protectionism has raised its head. In France with Mr. Sakozy suggesting that French cars for French drivers should not be made in former Eastern bloc countries and the EC had to intervene to stop Germany offering incentives to a consortium proposing to buy the failing Opel company, to keep the German factories open to the detriment of more cost effective plants elsewhere.

This crisis has the ability to pull countries closer together or pull them further The key is Germany where they are furious that they have to bail out other countries until they realize that they created the situation in the first place. Germany companies have done very well and the economy has grown with exports particularly to Greece where they have risen by 130% in the last 10 years. So how did Greece pay for these exports. with loans from German banks. Therefore, it is essential that they and the French to a lesser extent rally around the single currency as they are sat on a large amount of southern Europe sovereign debt. That has been the pattern the industrious north has done well but those around the Mediterranean have been affected by the sun leaving the idyllic life but unable to pay for it. Great for a holiday but not for life, in fact Greece has become the most obese in Europe where once they had one of the healthiest diets.

The alternative approach is to a number of separatist theories with retraction from the Euro or a North South divide where the super efficient North have a strong euro and the languid south another. Which would France join?

Practically what can EU leaders do and which direction can they take and what have they done so far?  To date there have been last gasp austerity measures that may well in the short term pacify the bond market but is a risky course of action. These measures will inevitably lead to a weakening growth rate and increased unemployment. The same arguments were the difference between Labour and the coalition in how to solve the UK’s financial problems where at least there is time as the UK’s debt has the longest due date of all in Europe. Now Spain, Greece and Portugal face a log hard struggle to rebalance their economies

Markets have lost faith in the euro and the hope was that the economies of the 16 countries that use the euro would converge. The struggle to regain creditability with markets has lead to a divergence on the course to be taken by Germany and France. Germany has gone for stricter rules and discipline on borrowing and spending, sanctioning governments who fail to toe the line to the extent of freezing funds for EU mega projects and suspension of voting rights. The French favour a system of redistribution from richer to poorer members with some fiscal and social harmonization.

Germany’s proposals are unworkable, the reaction to losing voting rights is unacceptable particularly to the former communist countries where there has been such hard work to lead to democracy. Stopping funding on EU mega products where they cross boarders could penalize other countries. To redistribute, as the French recommend, to save the euro would require an equally unacceptable step towards political union.

What is the likely outcome?. It is likely to be a  form of compromise with temporary rescue packages, informal and semi formal discussions and agreements – in other words a muddle through.

It is possible for the EU to agree and force through essential legislation when it is a matter of survival. A key demand to European business is an EU wide patent that has been stuck for years over the status given languages in Spain and Italy. On 1st July the EC forced this through to be valid in all 27 countries. Another example of the power of the EU market is where Germany was told it could not spend taxpayer’s money to protect Opel jobs in Germany without the same support to other countries. It is possible that the people understand the need for a free market economy better than their leaders where in a recent pole 73% of Germans and 67% of French said they were better off in a free market. Interestingly a greater percentage than in the middle of the boom and greater than America. We have already mentioned the need to pay for pensions and the less than feared reaction to raising the pension age. In the countries brought to the brink of disaster, the civil unrest was much less than expected and dominated by public sector workers with safe jobs. The leaders should have courage as this crisis gives the excuses for radical reform and there are hints that citizens are prepared to take there medicine.

However, the best bet would be a muddle through and hope for the growth that is needed to sustain it. An opportunity lost.

Maurice Hall