‘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])
Gold is on a roll. Again!
The price of the yellow metal has risen 8.5% since August 1 and is currently quoting at $1,735 per ounce (one ounce equals 31.1gram). In fact, just since August 31, the price of gold has risen by around $87, or 5.2%.
Still, the price is nowhere near how high it could go. All thanks to the US Presidential elections, as we will see here.
Today, it is widely expected that the US Federal Reserve (Fed), the American central bank, will soon carry out another round of quantitative easing (QE) — that’s the big reason for the spurt.
QE is a technical term that refers to the Fed printing dollars and pumping them into the American economy.
“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 labour market conditions in a context of price stability,” Ben Bernanke, the current Fed chairman, said in a speech titled Monetary Policy since the Onset of the Crisis at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on August 31.
Fed chairmen are not known to speak in simple English. What Bernanke said is, therefore, being seen as Fedspeak for another round of easing.
Interestingly, in a speech he made at the same venue two years earlier, on August 27, 2010, Bernanke had said, “We will continue to monitor economic developments closely and to evaluate whether additional monetary easing would be beneficial. In particular, the committee (Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC) is prepared to provide additional monetary accommodation through unconventional measures if it proves necessary, especially if the outlook were to deteriorate significantly.”
The two statements bear an uncanny similarity to each other. Bernanke’s August 2010 statement was followed by the second round of quantitative easing, in which the Federal Reserve pumped in $600 billion of new money into the economy.
QE2, as it came to be known as, started in November 2010.
Between August 2010 and beginning of November 2010, gold prices went up by around 9% to around $1,350 per ounce. QE2 went on till June 2011, and by then gold had touched $1,530 an ounce.
No wonder the market is now expecting another round of easing — QE3 if you please.
To be sure, the Fed has been hinting at another round of QE for a while now. At its last meeting, held on July 31 and August 1, the FOMC 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 labour market conditions in a context of price stability.”
Mark the phrase “additional accommodation”, which is a hint at another round of easing.
Gold has rallied 8.5% since then.
But these hints haven’t been followed by any concrete action, primarily on account of the fact Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate against the current US President, Barack Obama, has been highly critical of the Fed’s quantitative easing policies.
“I don’t think QE2 was terribly effective. I think a QE3 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, 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.”
The theory behind quantitative easing is that with more money in the economy, banks and financial institutions will lend that money and businesses and consumers will borrow. But both American businesses and consumers have been shying away from borrowing. Hence, all this money floating around has found its way into stock markets around the world.
As more money enters the stock market, stock prices go up and this creates the “wealth effect”. People who invest money in the market feel richer and then they tend to spend part of the accumulated wealth. This, in turn, helps economic growth.
As Gary Dorsch, an investment newsletter writer, said in a recent column, “Historical observation reveals that the direction of the stock market has a notable influence over consumer confidence and spending levels. In particular, the top 20% of wealthiest Americans account for 40% of the spending in the US economy, so the Fed hopes that by inflating the value of the stock market, wealthier Americans would decide to spend more. It’s the Fed’s version of “trickle down” economics, otherwise known as the “wealth effect.””
That suggests the economy is likely to grow faster and hence, people aremore likely to vote for the incumbent President.
Given this, Romney has been a vocal critic of quantitative easing, knowing that another round of money printing will clearly benefit Obama.
But Bernanke is unlikely to start another round of quantitative easing before November 6, the day the Presidential elections are scheduled, because he might end up with Romney as his boss.
Currently, most opinion polls put Obama ahead in the race. But the election is still two months away, a long time in politics.
Romney has made clear his views on Bernanke by saying, “I would want to select someone new and someone who shared my economic views.”
This has held back the price of gold from rising any faster.
As such, any round of quantitative easing ensures that there are more dollars in the financial system than before. And to protect themselves from this debasement, people buy another asset — gold — something that 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.
So, all eyes will now be on Bernanke and what he does in the days to come. From the way he has been going, there will surely be some hints towards QE3 in the next FOMC meeting, scheduled for September 12-13.
(The article originally appeared in the Daily News and Analysis on September 8,2012. http://www.dnaindia.com/money/column_why-golds-not-running-up-as-fast-as-it-can_1738192))
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]
Richard Nixon, who was the President of the United States between January 1969 and August 1974, appointed Arthur C Burns as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States (the American central bank) on January 30,1970. “I respect his (i.e. Burns) independence. However, I hope that independently he will conclude that my views are the ones that should be followed,” Nixon said on the occasion.
Burns did not disappoint Nixon and when it was election time in 1972. Since the start of 1972, Burns ran an easy money policy and pumped more money into the financial system by simply printing it. The American money supply went by 10.6% in 1972.
The idea was that with the increased money in the financial system, interest rates would be low, and this would encourage consumers and businesses to borrow more. Consumers and businesses borrowing and spending more would lead to the economy doing well. And this would ensure the re-election of Nixon who was seeking a second term in 1972. That was the idea. And it worked. Nixon won the second term with some help from Burns.
As investment newsletter writer Gary Dorsch wrote in a column earlier this year “Incumbent presidents are always hard to beat. The powers of the presidency go a long way….Nixon pressured Arthur Burns, then the Fed chairman, to expand the money supply with the aim of reducing unemployment, and boosting the economy in order to insure Nixon’s re-election…Nixon imposed wage and price controls to constrain inflation, and won the election in a landslide.” (you can read the complete column here)
History is expected to repeat itself
Something similar has been expected from the current Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. It has been widely expected that Bernanke will unleash the third round of money printing to revive the moribund American economy. Bernanke has already carried out two rounds of money printing before this to revive the American economy. This policy has been technically referred to as quantitative easing (QE), with the two earlier rounds of it being referred to as QE I and QE II.
The original idea was that with more money in the economy, banks will lend, and consumers and businesses will borrow and this in turn would revive the economy. But the American consumer had already borrowed too much in the run up to the financial crisis, which started in September 2008, when the investment bank Lehman Brothers went bust. The consumer credit outstanding peaked in 2008 and stood at $2.6trillion. The American consumer had already borrowed too much to buy homes and a lot of other stuff, and he was in no mood to borrow more.
The wealth effect
The other thing that happened because of the easy money policy of the American government was that it allowed the big institutional investors to borrow at very low interest rates and invest that money in the stock market. This pushed stock prices up leading to more investors coming into the market.
As Maggie Mahar puts it in Bull! : A History of the Boom, 1982-1999: What drove the Breakneck Market–and What Every Investor Needs to Know About Financial Cycles: “In the normal course of things, higher prices dampen desire. When lamb becomes too dear, consumers eat chicken; when the price of gasoline soars, people take fewer vacations. Conversely, lower prices usually whet our interest: colour TVs, VCRs, and cell phones became more popular as they became more affordable. But when a stock market soars, investors do not behave like consumers. They are consumed by stocks. Equities seem to appeal to the perversity of human desire. The more costly the prize, the greater the allure.”
As more money enters the stock market, stock prices go up. This leads to what economists call the “wealth effect”. The stock market investors feel richer because of the stock prices going up. And because they feel richer they tend to spend some of their accumulated wealth on buying goods and services. As more money is spent, businesses do well and so in turn does the economy.
As Gary Dorsch writes “Historical observation reveals that the direction of the stock market has a notable influence over consumer confidence and spending levels. In particular, the top-20% of wealthiest Americans account for 40% of the spending in the US-economy, so the Fed hopes that by inflating the value of the stock market, wealthier Americans would decide to spend more. It’s the Fed’s version of “trickle down” economics, otherwise known as the “wealth effect.”
Why Bernanke won’t launch QE III soon
Given these reasons it was widely expected that Ben Bernanke would start another round of money printing or QE III this year to help Obama’s reelection campaign. Bernanke has been resorting to what Dorsch calls “open mouth operations” i.e. dropping hints that QE III is on its way. In August he had said that the Federal Reserve “will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery.” This was basically a complicated way of saying that if required the Federal Reserve wouldn’t back down from printing more money and pumping it into the economy.
But even though Bernanke has been hinting about QE III for a while he hasn’t gone around doing anything concrete about it. The reason for this is the fact that Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate against the incumbent President Barack Obama has gone to town criticizing the Fed’s past QE policies. He has also warned the Federal Reserve to stay neutral before the November 6 elections, says Dorsch. As Romney told Fox News on August 23 “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 even indicated that he would prefer someone other than Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. “I would want to select someone new and someone who shared my economic views…I want someone to provide monetary stability that leads to a strong dollar and confidence that America is not going to go down the road that other nations have gone down, to their peril.” With more and more dollars being printed, the future of the dollar as an international currency is looking more and more bleak.
Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan 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.”
Given this it is highly unlikely that Ben Bernanke will unleash QE III before November 6, the date of the Presidential elections. And whether he does it after that depends on who wins.
Of Obama and Salman Khan
As far as pollsters are concerned Obama seems to have the upper hand as of now. But at the same time the average American is not happy with the overall state of the American economy. “According to pollsters, two thirds of Americans think the US-economy is still stuck in the Great Recession, and is headed in the wrong direction. Only 31% say it is moving in the right direction – the lowest number since December 2011. The dire outlook is explained by a recent analysis by the US Census Bureau and Sentier Research LLC, indicating that US-household incomes actually declined more in the 3-year expansion that started in June 2009 than during the longest recession since the Great Depression,” writes Dorsch.
But despite this Americans don’t hold Obama responsible for the mess they are in. As Dorsch points out “Although, Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the future, many voters don’t seem to be holding it against Democrat Obama. Instead, the embattled president is getting some slack because he inherited a very tough situation. In fact, Obama’s strongest base supporters are among also suffering the highest jobless rates and highest poverty rates in the country.”
Obama’s support is similar to the support film actor Salman Khan receives in India. As Manoj
Manoj Desai, owner of G7 theatres in Mumbai, recently told The Indian Express “Even when the fans are disappointed with his film, they never blame him. You will often hear them say, bhai se galat karwaya iss picture main. (They made Bhai do the wrong things in this movie)”
What’s in it for us?
Indian stock market investors should thus be hoping that Barack Obama wins the November 6 elections. That is likely to lead to another round of quantitative easing. As had happened in previous cases a portion of that matter will be borrowed by big Wall Street firms and make its way into stock markets round the world including India.
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on September 5,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/world/obama-salman-khan-qe-3-why-we-have-to-wait-for-6-nov-444474.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a Mumbai based writer and can be reached at [email protected])