‘Miss deMaas,’ Van Veeteren decided, ‘if there’s anything I’ve learned in this job, it’s that there are more connections in the world than there are particles in the universe.’
He paused and allowed her green eyes to observe him.
‘The hard bit is finding the right ones,’ he added. – Chief Inspector Van Veeteren in Håkan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye
I love reading police procedurals, a genre of crime fiction in which murders are investigated by police detectives. These detectives are smart but they are nowhere as smart as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. They look for clues and the right connections, to link them up and figure out who the murderer is.
And unlike Poirot or Holmes they take time to come to their conclusions. Often they are wrong and take time to get back on the right track. But what they don’t stop doing is thinking of connections.
Like Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, a fictional character created by Swedish writer Håkan Nesser, says above “there are more connections in the world than there are particles in the universe… The hard bit is finding the right ones.”
The murder is caught only when the right connections are made.
The same is true about gold as well. There are several connections that are responsible for the recent rapid rise in the price of the yellow metal. And these connections need to continue if the gold rally has to continue.
As I write this, gold is quoting at $1734 per ounce (1 ounce equals 31.1 grams). Gold is traded in dollar terms internationally.
It has given a return of 8.4% since the beginning of August and 5.2% since the beginning of this month in dollar terms. In rupee terms gold has done equally well and crossed an all time high of Rs 32,500 per ten grams.
So what is driving up the price of gold?
The Federal Reserve of United States (the American central bank like the Reserve Bank of India in India) is expected to announce the third round of money printing, technically referred to as quantitative easing (QE). The idea being that with more money in the economy, banks will lend, and consumers and businesses will borrow and spend that money. And this in turn will revive the slow American economy.
Ben Bernanke, the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has been resorting to what investment letter writer Gary Dorsch calls “open mouth operations” i.e. dropping hints that QE III is on its way, for a while now. The earlier two rounds of money printing by the Federal Reserve were referred as QE I and QE II. Hence, the expected third round is being referred to as QE III.
At its last meeting held on July 31-August 1, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) led by Bernanke said in a statement “The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.” The phrase to mark here is additional accommodation which is a hint at another round of quantitative easing. Gold has rallied by more than 8% since then.
But that was more than a month back. Ben Bernanke has dropped more hints since then. In a speech titled Monetary Policy since the Onset of the Crisis made at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on August 31, 2012, Bernanke, said: “Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.”
Central bank governors are known not to speak in language that everybody can understand. As Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve before Bernanke took over once famously said ““If you think you understood what I was saying, you weren’t listening.”
But the phrase to mark in Bernanke’s speech is “additional policy accommodation” which is essentially a euphemism for quantitative easing or more printing of dollars by the Federal Reserve.
The question that crops up here is that FOMC in its August 1 statement more or less said the same thing. Why didn’t that statement attract much interest? And why did Bernanke’s statement at Jackson Hole get everybody excited and has led to the yellow metal rising by more than 5% since the beginning of this month.
The answer lies in what Bernanke said in a speech at the same venue two years back. “We will continue to monitor economic developments closely and to evaluate whether additional monetary easing would be beneficial. In particular, the Committee is prepared to provide additional monetary accommodation through unconventional measures if it proves necessary, especially if the outlook were to deteriorate significantly,” he said.
The two statements have an uncanny similarity to them. In 2010 the phrase used was “additional monetary accommodation”. In 2012, the phrase used became “additional policy accommodation”.
Bernanke’s August 2010 statement was followed by the second round of quantitative easing or QE II as it was better known as. The Federal Reserve pumped in $600billion of new money into the economy by printing it. Drawing from this, the market is expecting that the Federal Reserve will resort to another round of money printing by the time November is here.
Any round of quantitative easing ensures that there are more dollars in the financial system than before. To protect themselves from this debasement, people buy another asset; that is, gold in this case, something which cannot be debased. During earlier days, paper money was backed by gold or silver. When governments printed more paper money than they had precious metal backing it, people simply turned up with their paper at the central bank and demanded it be converted into gold or silver. Now, whenever people see more and more of paper money, the smarter ones simply go out there and buy that gold. Also this lot of investors doesn’t wait for the QE to start. Any hint of QE is enough for them to start buying gold.
But why is the Fed just dropping hints and not doing some real QE?
The past two QEs have had the blessings of the American President Barack Obama. But what has held back Bernanke from printing money again is some direct criticism from Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate against the current President Barack Obama, for the forthcoming Presidential elections.
“I don’t think QE-2 was terribly effective. I think a QE-3 and other Fed stimulus is not going to help this economy…I think that is the wrong way to go. I think it also seeds the kind of potential for inflation down the road that would be harmful to the value of the dollar and harmful to the stability of our nation’s needs,” Romney told Fox News on August 23.
Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate also echoed his views when he said “Sound money… We want to pursue a sound-money strategy so that we can get back the King Dollar.”
This has held back the Federal Reserve from resorting to QE III because come November and chances are that Bernanke will be working with Romney and Obama. Romney has made clear his views on Bernanke by saying that “I would want to select someone new and someone who shared my economic views.”
So what are the connections?
So gold is rising in dollar terms primarily because the market expects Ben Bernanke to resort to another round of money printing. But at the same time it is important that Barack Obama wins the Presidential elections scheduled on November 6, 2012.
Experts following the US elections have recently started to say that the elections are too close to call. As Minaz Merchant wrote in the Times of India “Obama’s steady 3% lead over Romney has evaporated in recent opinion polls… Ironically, one big demographic slice of America’s electorate could deny Obama a second term as president: white men. Up to an extraordinary 75% of American Caucasian males, the latest opinion polls confirm, are likely to vote against Obama… the Republican ace is the white male who makes up 35% of America’s population. If three out of four white men, cutting across Democratic and Republican party lines, vote for Mitt Romney, he starts with a huge electoral advantage, locking up over 25% of the total electorate.” (You can read the complete piece here)
If gold has to continue to go up it is important that Obama wins. And for that to happen it is important that a major portion of white American men vote for Obama. While Federal Reserve is an independent body, the Chairman is appointed by the President. Also, a combative Fed which goes against the government is rarity. So if Mitt Romney wins the elections on November 6, 2012, it is unlikely that Ben Bernanke will resort to another round of money printing unless Romney changes his mind by then. And that would mean no more rallies gold.
But even all this is not enough
All the connections explained above need to come together to ensure that gold rallies in dollar terms. But gold rallying in dollar terms doesn’t necessarily mean returns in rupee terms as well. For that to happen the Indian rupee has to continue to be weak against the dollar. As I write this one dollar is worth around Rs 55.5. At the same time an ounce of gold is worth $1734. As we know one ounce is worth 31.1grams. Hence, one ounce of gold in rupee terms costs Rs96,237 (Rs 1734 x Rs 55.5). This calculation for the ease of simplicity does not take into account the costs involved in converting currencies or taxes for that matter.
If one dollar was worth Rs 60, then one ounce of gold in rupee terms would have cost around Rs 1.04 lakh. If one dollar was worth Rs 50, then one ounce of gold in rupee terms would have been Rs 86,700. So the moral of the story is that other than the price of gold in dollar terms it is also important what the dollar rupee exchange rate is.
So the ideal situation for the Indian investor to make money by investing in gold is that the price of gold in dollar terms goes up, and at the same time the rupee either continues to be at the current levels against the dollar or depreciates further, and thus spruces up the overall return.
For this to happen Manmohan Singh has to keep screwing the Indian economy and ensure that foreign investors continue to stay away. If foreign investors decide to bring dollars into India then they will have to exchange these dollars for rupees. This will increase the demand for the rupee and ensure that it apprecaits against the dollar. This will bring down the returns that Indian investors can earn on gold. As we saw earlier at Rs60to a dollar one ounce of gold is worth Rs 1.04 lakh, but at Rs 50, it is worth Rs 86,700.
One way of keeping the foreign investors away is to ensure that the fiscal deficit of the Indian government keeps increasing. And that’s precisely what Singh and his government have been doing. At the time the budget was presented in mid March, the fiscal deficit was expected to be at 5.1% of GDP. Now it is expected to cross 6%. As the Times of India recently reported “The government is slowly reconciling to the prospect of ending the year with a fiscal deficit of over 6% of gross domestic project,higher than the 5.1% it has budgeted for, due to its inability to reduce subsidies, especially on fuel.
Sources said that internally there is acknowledgement that the fiscal deficit the difference between spending and tax and non-tax revenue and disinvestment receipts would be much higher than the calculations made by Pranab Mukherjee when he presented the Budget.” (You can read the complete story here).
So for gold to continue to rise there are several connections that need to come together. Let me summarise them here:
1. Ben Bernanke needs to keep hinting at QE till November
2. Obama needs to win the American Presidential elections in November
3. For Obama to win the white American male needs to vote for him
4. If Obama wins,Bernanke has to announce and carry out QE III
5. With all this, the rupee needs to maintain its current level against the dollar or depreciate further.
6. And above all this, Manmohan Singh needs to keep thinking of newer ways of pulling the Indian economy down
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 11,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/economy/how-obama-and-manmohan-will-drive-up-the-price-of-gold-450440.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Ravi Batra is an Indian American economist and a professor at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Unlike most economists who are in the habit of beating around the bush, Batra likes to make predictions, and he usually gets them right. Among these was calling the fall of communism in the Soviet Union more than ten years before it happened. Batra is also the author of many best-selling books like The Crash of the Millennium, The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism, Greenspan’s Fraud and most recently The New Golden Age. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul.
You are a great proponent of the Law of Social Cycle. What’s it all about?
In 1978, to the laughter of many and the ridicule of a few, I wrote a book called The Downfall of Capitalism and Communism, which predicted the demise of Soviet communism by the end of the century and an enormous rise in wealth concentration in the United States that would generate poverty among its masses, forcing them into a revolt around 2010. My forecasts are derived from The Law Of Social Cycle, which was pioneered by my late teacher and mentor Prabhata Ranjan Sarkar. Lo and behold! The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Soviet communism vanished right before your eyes. And in 2011, the United States witnessed the birth of a social revolt in the form of the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’, which opposes the interest of the richest 1% of Americans. The nation now has the worst wealth concentration in history.
So what is this law?
It is an idea that begins with general characteristics of the human mind. Sarkar argues that while most people have common goals and ambitions, their method of achieving them varies, depending on innate qualities of the individual. Most of us, for instance, seek living comforts and social prestige. Some try to attain them by developing physical skills, some by developing intellectual skills and some by saving and accumulating money, while there are also some with little ambition in life. Based on these different mentalities, Sarkar divides society into four distinct classes: warriors, intellectuals, acquisitors and labourers.
Can you go into a little more detail?
Among warriors are included the military, policemen, professional athletes, fire fighters, skilled blue-collar workers, and anyone who displays great courage. The class of intellectuals comprises teachers, scholars, bureaucrats, and priests. Acquisitors include landlords, businessmen, merchants, and bankers. Finally, unskilled workers constitute the class of laborers. The division of society into four classes based on their mentality and occupations, not heredity, is at the core of Sarkar’s philosophy of social evolution. His theory is that each society is first dominated by the class of warriors, then by the class of intellectuals, and finally by the class of acquisitors. Eventually, the acquisitors generate so much greed and materialism that other classes, fed up by the acquisitive malaise, overthrow their leaders in a social revolution. Then the warriors make a comeback, followed once again by intellectuals, acquisitors and a social revolution. This, in brief, is The Law Of Social Cycle.
That’s very interesting. Can you explain this through an example?
Applying this theory to western society, we find that the Roman Empire was the Age Of Warriors, the rule of the Catholic Church the Age Of Intellectuals, and feudalism the Age Of Acquisitors, which ended in a social revolution spearheaded by peasant revolts all over Europe in the 15th century. The centralised monarchies that then appeared represented the Second Age Of Warriors, which was, in turn, followed by another Age Of Intellectuals, this time represented by the rule of prime ministers, chancellors and diplomats. Since the 1860s the west has had a parliamentary rule in which money or the acquisitive era has been prevalent.
What about India?
India’s history is silent on some periods, but, wherever full information is available, the social cycle clearly holds. For instance, around the times of Mahabharata, warriors dominated society, then came the rule of Brahmins or intellectuals, followed by the Buddhist period, when capitalism and wealth were predominant; this era ended in the flames of a social revolution, when a great warrior named Chandragupta Maurya put an end to the reign of a king named Dhananand, and started another Age Of Warriors. Dhan means money and ananda means joy, so that dhan + ananda becomes Dhananda or someone who finds great joy in accumulating money, suggesting that the Mauryan hero overthrew the rule of greed and money in society.
How do you see things currently through The Law Of The Social Cycle?
Today, the world as a whole is in the Age Of Acquisitors, while some nations such as Iran are ruled by the clergy or their intellectuals. Russia is in transition from the warrior era to the era of intellectuals, while China continues in the Age Of Warriors, which was founded by Mao Tse Tung in 1949 after overthrowing the feudalistic Age Of Acquisitors in an armed revolution. As regards Iran, applying the dictum of social cycle, I foresaw the rise of priests or the Ayatollahs in a 1979 book called Muslim Civilization and the Crisis in Iran. For ten thousand years, the law of the social cycle has prevailed. Egypt went through three such cycles before succumbing to Muslim power. Muslim society as a whole is now in the Age Of Acquisitors. Some Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Bahrain are still in the acquisitive age, while some others such as Egypt and Libya have recently seen a social revolution and are in transition to the next age. The wheel of social cycles has thus been turning in all societies, albeit at different speeds; not once in human history was it thwarted.
Any new predictions based on this law?
The United States along with India are now on the verge of a social revolution that will culminate in a Golden Age. That is what I have predicted in my latest book, The New Golden Age. The American revolution is likely to occur by 2016 or 2017, and India’s should arrive by the end of the decade. This is the way I look at some popular movements such as the Occupy Wall Street Movement in the United States, and those started by Anna Hazare and Baba Ram Dev in India. They reflect people’s anger and frustration with the corrupt rule of acquisitors. Such movements are destined to succeed in their mission, because the rule of wealth is about to come to an end.
One of your predictions that hasn’t come true is that about the Great Depression of the 1930s happening again
It is true we have not had another Great Depression like that of the 1930s, although the slump since 2007 is now being called the Great Recession. The difference between the two may be more semantic than real. The Great Depression was not a period of one long slump lasting for the entire 1930s. Rather, there were pockets of temporary prosperity. The first part of the depression lasted between 1929 and 1933. Then growth resumed and the global economy improved till1937, only to be followed by another slump. This time there has been no depression, but at least in the United States people’s agony has been nearly as bad as in the 1930s. Farming played a great role in society at that time so that the unemployed could go back to agriculture and survive. This time around, that has not been possible. Millions of Americans are homeless today as in the1930s. Still the 1930s were the worst ever, but my point is that American poverty today is the worst in fifty years. The wage-productivity gap, consumer debt and the stock market went up sharply in the 1920s, just as they did after1982. The market crashed in 1929 and then the depression followed. So I concluded that since the same type of conditions were occurring in the 1980s we would have another great depression. However, what I could not imagine was that, China, one-time America’s arch enemy, would lend trillions of dollars to the United States. Note that so long as debt keeps up with the rising wage gap, unemployment can be avoided. In other words, China’s loans postponed large-scale unemployment in the United States for a long time, but not forever.
Can a depression still occur?
Yes, it can, but only if countries are unable to create new debt. Such a likelihood is small but cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, if for some reason oil prices shoot up further to say $150 per barrel, the depression will be inevitable.
How do you see the scenario in Europe playing out?
In Europe and elsewhere the nature of the problem is the same, namely the rising wage gap, so that production exceeds consumer demand, and the government has to resort to nearly limitless debt creation. But the PIIGS — Portugal,Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain — show that government debt cannot rise forever and when debt has to be reduced there is further rise in unemployment. The European troubles are not over and we should expect the debt problem to linger for years to come.
The dangers in Europe have suddenly taken away the attention from the United States. What is your prediction about the United States the way it currently is?
So long as the United States is able to borrow more money either from the world or from its own people, its economy will remain stable at the bottom. But there is a strong sentiment now among most Americans that the budget deficit must come down, and the laws already passed aim to bring it down from 2013 on. This is likely to raise unemployment in that year and beyond. 2012 could also see real troubles after June when the already rising price of oil and gasoline starts hurting the economy. If the speculators succeed in raising the oil price towards their goal of $150, there could be another serious slump by the end of the year.
Do you see a dollar crash coming in the years to come?
Yes the dollar could crash against the currencies of China and Japan, but I don’t see this happening before July. After that the global economy could be as sick as it was in 2008. The scenario would be reminiscent of what happened in 1937 when the global depression made a comeback. Something similar could materialise again in that the Great Recession could make a resounding come back. However, I don’t see an alternative to the dollar at this point because the whole world is in trouble. For the dollar to fall completely from grace, Opec would have to start pricing its crude in terms of a different currency and I am not sure if that is possible.
What do you think about the current steps the Obama administration is taking to address the economy?
The Obama administration has followed almost the same policies that George W Bush did, and in the process wasted a lot of money to generate paltry economic growth and some jobs. In fact, the government has been spending over $1.5 million to generate one job. This sounds bizarre, but here is what has happened since 2009. The administration’s tack is that we should keep spending money at the current rate to lower unemployment, even though the annual federal budget deficit has been around $1.4 trillion over the past two years. It seems apparent that the main purpose of excessive federal spending is to preserve or generate jobs. This is a point emphasised by every American president since 1976, and especially since1981 when the federal deficit began to soar. This is also how most experts defend the deficit nowadays.
Could you elaborate a little more on this?
In 2010, according to the Economic Report of the President, as many as 800,000 jobs were created, and the government’s excess spending was $1.4trillion, which when divided by 800,000 yields 1.7 million. In other words, the US government spent $1.7 million to generate one job. The economy improved in 2011, providing work to 1.1 million people for the same expense. So dividing $1.4 trillion by the new figure yields $1.3 million, which is now the cost of creating one job. Thus, the average federal deficit or cost per job over the past two years has been $1.5 million.
Is it prudent to be wasting precious resources like this?
I don’t think so. The trillion dollar question is this: where is it all going, when the annual American average wage is no higher than $50,000? Obviously, it must be going to the so-called 1% group or what the Republican Party calls the job creators, i.e., the CEOs and other executives of large corporations.
Could you explain that?
Let us see how the main culprit for the mushrooming incomes of business magnates is the government itself. This is how the process works and has been working since 1981. The CEO forces his employees to work very hard while paying them low wages; this hard work sharply raises production or supply of goods and services, but with stagnant wages, consumer demand falls short of growing supply. This then leads to overproduction and threatens layoffs, which in turn threatens the re-election chances of politicians. They then respond with a massive rise in government spending or huge tax cuts, so that total demand for goods and services rises to the level of increased supply. As a result, either those layoffs are averted or the unemployed are gradually called back to work. This way, the CEO is able to sell his entire output and reap giant profits in the process, because wages are dwindling or stagnant even as business revenue soars. In the absence of excess government spending, companies would be stuck with unsold goods and could even suffer losses. In other words, almost the entire federal deficit ends up in the pockets of business executives. With such a vast wastage of resources, the economy has to falter once again, and I think the second half of 2012 will be just as bad as 2008. The Fed will then revive Quantitative Easing III, but it will not help.
What about the entire concept of paper money?
Paper money is here to stay, but in the near future there will be some kind of gold standard as well, so that money will be partially backed the government’s holding of gold. This way there will be a restraint on the government’s ability to print money.
Any long term investment ideas for our readers? Are you gold bull?
Gold and silver may still be a good investment for 2012, but not for the rest of the decade. However, if there is excessive violence, then the precious metals could shine for a lot longer. I used to be very bullish on gold, but with the metal having appreciated so much already, I am now on the side of caution.
(A shorter version of this interview was pubished in the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) on May 7,2012. Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])