Posts Tagged ‘commodity’

Price fluctuations and hoarding

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Continuing from yesterday, we observed the recent volatile movement of commodity prices. In today’s lightening speed of Internet trading at the click of a mouse button, how much do these price movements reflect changes in underlying demand and supply? This is the issue that we brought out in Analysing recent falls in oil prices?real vs investment demand,

What makes up the demand for oil? There are basically two types of demand for oil: (1) The physical demand where the real side of the economy uses for its everyday needs and (2) The investment demand where the financial side of the economy shifts the money here and there from one asset class to the other. We need to ask ourselves the following question: Has the physical demand for oil changed?

In today’s context, does a sudden fall in the price of a commodity (e.g. oil, iron, grain, wheat) mean that its underlying demand has suddenly fallen or its supply has suddenly increased? Obviously, the answer is no.

Over the years, through the developments of financial ‘innovation,’ commodities have become the playground of hedge funds and other money shufflers. So much so that we had to categorise demand into basic underlying demand and ‘investment’ demand. As we think about this issue more and more, how can commodities really be ‘investments’ in the first place? As we said before in Is gold an investment?,

But in reality, since gold is a boring, inert metal that does not have much pragmatic use and does not pay dividends, income or interests, it is completely unfit for ?investment.?

In the same way, commodities are tangible things valued for their pragmatic use. But they do not pay dividends, income or interests too. So, how can they be ‘investments’ and therefore, have ‘investment’ demand associated with them?

Today, we had thought of a better way to describe those ‘investment’ demand- hoarding. In essence, those hedge funds and money shufflers who ‘invest’ in commodities are hoarding. They hoard commodities in anticipation of increased demand in the future. As their anticipation changes, they hoard and dis-hoard accordingly, resulting in irrational price movements. Worse still, some of them borrowed money to hoard, thus accentuating the violence of price changes. With central bankers like Ben Bernanke increasing the floodgates of more easy credit (see Marc Faber: Bernanke Policy Will ?Destroy? U.S. Dollar), no wonder much of these borrowed money goes into hoarding in anticipation of higher prices.

All these hoarding activities distort price signals, which can even confuse the experts on the state of real underlying demand and supply. As long-term investors, do not let the hoarders confuse you.

Marc Faber: Bernanke Policy Will “Destroy” U.S. Dollar

Monday, March 10th, 2008

Recently, Marc Faber was being interviewed in Chicago where he freely shared his thoughts. You can watch the interview at Bloomberg here. Below is the content of the interview as summarized and transcribed by us:

If the statistics were measured properly in the United States, the US would already be in a recession and would already be so in a couple of months.

See our article, How much can we trust the price indices (e.g. CPI)?.

If the US goes into recession, it will not be a total disaster for the rest of the world, except that in the rest of the world, we also have colossal bubbles [in asset prices].

Since the world is in a global boom from November 2001, then this will one day lead to a global bust.

It is very doubtful that the global financial market is de-coupled from the US because of the close linkages and connectivity. For example, if the US stock market goes down, the rest of the world’s stock market will be dragged down as well.

As Marc Faber acknowledged by psychologists’ study, a dosage of bust is more painful than the joy of an equal dosage of boom. In other words, the implication the coming bust will be more pronounced and painful than the euphoria of the preceding 75 months of boom.

In the US, they pursue essentially economic policies that targets consumption, which in my opinion is misguided. What they should pursue is economic policies that stimulates capital investments and capital formation.

We would agree with Marc Faber wholeheartedly, as we quoted Ludwig von Mises in The myth of financial asset ?investments? as savings. As the US began their aggressively loose monetary policy from September 17 2007 by cutting interest rates from 5.25% to 3%…

What is the result? I tell you what the result is! The stock market in September 17 by the S&P is down 10%, the US dollar is down 10%, gold and oil are up 40%. Well done Mr. Bernanke!

Will the stock market continue to fall? Marc Faber said that we have to ask Mr. Bernanke…

… because if he prints money- and I have to add here one point: had I been the professor who had judged his thesis for his PhD, I would not have let him pass. I would have told him actually, “Mr. Bernanke, I have one condition in which I let you pass, and this is you never join a central bank, because you are a destroyer of money as store-of-value function, of the function of money being a unit of account. The only central bank that I would allow you to go to is the one under Mr. Mugabe in Zimbabwe. And I tell you Mr Bernanke with his monetary policy, he will destroy the US dollar.

This is what we said before in Peering into the soul of Ben Bernanke.

As pointed out by the interviewer, the dollar was in decline before Mr. Bernanke took over. Does Bernanke need to ease monetary policy to ease the US economy from this “spunk?” As Bernanke studied about the Great Depression, his conclusion was that the lack of flexibility in the monetary policy that resulted in such a prolonged downturn. Marc Faber disagreed:

The Depression occurred not because the central bank was tied when the Depression occurred. But because it was far too easy in its monetary policy in the period leading to the Depression, from 1925 to 1929.

This is what we said before in What causes economic booms and busts?. As Marc Faber said, it is not only Bernanke is at fault. Greenspan is responsible too, with his loose monetary policies when he cut interest rates to 1% in September 2001 and keep it that way till 2004. That led to the “reckless lending” and “reckless credit growth,” which in turn led to the problems we have today.

Marc Faber said that if he is the central banker, he will raise interest rates much earlier to target asset and credit price bubble and would not have cut the Fed Fund Rate to 1% in 2001. This is because unlike the Fed, he would not base his monetary policy on core inflation (which excludes food and fuel) because all humans eat and uses energy. Now that the Fed had created a “gigantic” credit and asset bubble, which is deflating right now, it is very difficult to re-inflate the bubble because “we are in the process of de-leveraging” as the private sector is now tightening credit conditions, “not the Fed.”

According to Marc Faber’s latest Doom, Bloom and Gloom report, investing in the bond market (mainly Treasuries) is “financial suicide” because with such low yields, actual price inflation will result in negative real returns. Marc Faber believed that “at some stage, the corporate bond market will offer some value.” However, the 10-year and 30-year Treasury market is a “disaster waiting to happen.” As the Fed cuts the Fed Funds Rate to possibly zero, the Treasury market will “tank” at some point in time. Though he is not a US credit analyst, Marc Faber reckoned that in the junk bond area, there should be some good quality bonds from company that can survive and continues to pay interests. He continued,

The arguments for stocks is frequently that you take the earnings yield of the stock market and compare it with the bond yield and people compare it to Treasury bonds. I think you should take the earnings yield of equities and compare it with, say, a typical S&P company, and that is a yield that correspond to, say, a triple-B, and so, basically as of today, some bonds are more attractive than equity.

Over the past 4 to 5 years, US stock market has underperformed other markets, e.g. the emerging market and the commodity market. However, today, the emerging market is far more vulnerable (e.g. China and India market could easily fall by 30% to 40%). With the money printer in the Fed (Ben Bernanke), the deflation will more likely lead to the US dollar decline than an actual asset price deflation. Thus, relative to the Euro and gold, the US stock market is going down.

Some may argue that given the commodity market has risen so much since 2001, would it be too late to join in the bull market? Marc Faber disagreed with that argument. When the commodity market bottomed and rallied in the 1990s/2000s (note that not all bottomed at the same time), they were at the lowest level, inflation adjusted, in the 200-year history of capitalism. For example, gold was at around $250 when it fell from a high of around $850 in 1980 (which Marc Faber admitted is too high). But in the last gold bull market in the 1970s, gold rose 25 times from $35 to $850. The current gold bull market of several years rose only 4 times. Among the commodity markets, sugar is the cheapest commodity in real terms.

When asked, “Are we going to see a major US bank fail?”

“I hope so.”

“You hope so????”

Marc Faber saw that this is the only way to “introduce discipline” into the US financial system. By continuously bailing out banks, the Fed introduces moral hazard that “perpetuates the mistakes” that the Fed has already done. When asked, which major bank is more likely to fail, Marc Faber had no opinion because that depends on the banks’ derivative exposures, which is the next time bomb to explode. The ‘derivatives’ that he mentioned does not include the structured products (e.g. SIV, CDOs, etc). This will be the next major financial issue in the next 3 to 6 months. Marc Faber believed that we will not see the bottom of the stock market until we see stocks like Google falling 50% from their highs, hopefully more. In a bear market, one sector (e.g. home building) will fall first and then the goldilocks crowd will reassure the market that everything is fine. Then the next sector will fall, followed by next. And so, the bear market has to mature, like “good cheese and wine.”

Is gold a commodity?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

One of the interesting fallacies that we had noticed is that gold is currently being classified as a ?commodity? by the market. Thus, this has produced very interesting results that can be exploited by a shrewd long-term investor.

First, what is the definition of a ?commodity? in the financial world? In the Wikipedia, a commodity is described as

things of value, of uniform quality, that were produced in large quantities by many different producers; the items from each different producer are considered equivalent.

As such, the word ?commodity? has a wide range of meaning. There are agricultural commodities like wheat, corn, sugar and orange juice and industrial commodities like oil, gas, coal, copper, iron, zinc and nickel. For the purpose of this article, we will stick with the industrial metal commodities.

Now, let?s go back to the original question. Is gold an industrial metal commodity in the same league as zinc, copper, iron and nickel? Up till now, the financial market seems to think so. Gold more or less move in the same direction as the other metals. Whenever there is a sell-off in the industrial metal commodities, chances are, gold will be sold off as well. But do we think gold is an industrial metal commodity?

No, we don?t.

Let?s us look at the fundamentals. When we look at the non-gold industrial metal commodities, we see a common denominator among them?they are all mainly for industrial use. For example, copper is used for electrical wiring and iron is used for making steel and so on. That is, they are the raw materials that are used to make other things.

Gold, on the other hand, is different. Since the beginning of human history, gold had always functioned either as money or as a store of wealth. Today, despite the breakage of its relationship with the US dollar back in 1971, there is limited industrial use for it. Therefore, the common denominator among the non-gold metals does not apply to gold.

What is the implication of this?

This means that the dynamics behind the demand for gold and the demand for the other non-gold metals are completely different. Therefore, the market is fundamentally wrong to treat gold as if it is an industrial metal commodity. In the short term, this can result in good buying opportunities for gold when it follows the prices of the other metals downward. In the long term, gold will eventually separate itself from the rest of the metals.

We do not know when it will happen, but we are pretty confident it will be within our lifetime, perhaps in the near future. Meanwhile, if you are to buy gold today, please make sure you know the right reason for doing so and buy from a position of financial strength. As Keynes said, ?The market can remain irrational longer than you remain solvent.?