Gold Price Outlook - The Long and Short of it

Gold prices have been all over the place lately…but Ed Bugos points out, below, that the outlook for both long and short term is bullish, but you will need to have some patience. Read on…

The Long-term Outlook, Three-Five Years

My outlook for this period is very bullish. Having spent both the peace and productivity dividends of the last few decades, the current direction of government policy – increasingly interventionist – threatens to set in motion the forces of capital flight… into gold. The effect of this on the dollar will be historic. There is no more honest a measurement for this forecast.

However, it is a three-five year outlook. It may start to unwind tomorrow, or perhaps not for two or three years.

Technically, the long-term chart contains no great knowledge. I don’t put much stock in the charts of any price trend spanning more than 10 years. My calls would lag major turning points by about five years. But as far as the long-term chart goes, the gold price is still in a long-term bull market.

The last highest low in the eight-year bull trend lies at around $540, which is just above the final resistance point of the previous bear – the break out point after which the gold price accelerated in 2005…the year that Bernanke was chosen to head up the Fed. Go figure – turns out gold was right about him.

However, the more normal “primary” trend support lies at around $700.

The “primary” trend is the sequence that shows up most prominently in the five-10 year (weekly or monthly) chart.

In the case of gold, it is the trend that began back seven or eight years ago.

In a normal trend, the correction lows stop at previous highs, or resistance levels, which are at the $700 mark here. Note that the bulls bumped up against that level a few times during 2006 and 2007, before ultimately breaking out. That just makes support that much more significant at this level.

However, during a correction to the primary sequence, the normal support points might fail, and it becomes difficult to figure out whether it is still a bull market at all. In other words, it is possible to see gold prices fall to $600, or even $540, even if the general bull market is still on.

Percentagewise, a correction of just such magnitude occurred in 1975. Gold prices fell from around $200 per ounce at the 1974 peak to just above $100 a year later, before soaring to new highs, and to over $600 by 1980. So the long-term technicals tell us almost nothing, except that there is room on the downside whether or not the bull market is still on.

There are two facts, however, that argue against a correction of the same magnitude today.

One is technical, sort of, and the other is fundamental.

From a technical standpoint, it should be noted that the advance in gold prices leading up to 1975 was larger (percentagewise) than the advance from the $260 low in 2001, and occurred over a shorter time frame. I don’t know how much that may be worth, but it’s something to consider.

Fundamentally speaking, moreover, simply comparing the Federal Reserve’s policies today with those of 1973-74, when it was similarly trying to rescue the world economy from a crisis that saw a 40% decline in the Dow, it cannot be denied that the current policy is far more inflationary… more bold… more off the charts, if you will. If the Fed underestimated its contribution to the inflationary events of the ’70s, as Bernanke argued in a speech about inflation last year, what is the 2008 Fed doing?

The Medium-term Outlook, One-Two Years

My outlook for this period is also quite bullish for gold, as the positive short-term effects of the government’s current policies begin to wear off and the negative effects start to set in sometime in this time frame. I know this is counterintuitive to anyone who believes what the government is doing today is beneficial, but that is really the only way it can work. In this period, you will see asset prices recover, along with commodity prices, and maybe even a fleeting boom (bubble) somewhere, like in biotech, or public works – wherever. However, the rising tide won’t come in fast or high enough to keep all the boats rising like in other bull markets, or even in significant bear market advances.

Let me distinguish here between a recovery in the economy and reflation.

I expect significant deterioration in the economic fundamentals in the medium term. However, much of it is priced in, and the effects of monetary debasement will underpin the dollar value of the soundest assets. Indeed, only the soundest equity or real estate assets will provide real protection against the confiscatory policies of governments over this period. These include gold-related assets, and some of the other important commodities, though it isn’t certain whether gold will outperform in this time frame.

It could take a full year for inflation expectations to recover from their current trough.

Moreover, although the Fed has been a leader in the reinflation program in 2008, it had not inflated nearly as much as the other central banks between 2003-2007. This fact created the illusion of a global boom that would sustain even as the U.S. economy recessed. Now it is being liquidated.

That is one of the reasons the commodity liquidation was so excessive, and also why the dollar rallied this summer. I don’t know exactly what to expect from the dollar in the next year or two, but at best, trade should continue to be choppy.

Currency markets won’t offer much opportunity for most people until the dollar’s bear market resumes – sometime after 2009, in my judgment. However, this should not hinder gold’s performance. Moreover, my feeling is that the Fed will pursue a low interest rate policy for longer than other central banks, which will eventually be the catalyst that undermines the dollar and sets it up for the final chapter in its bear market – the one that leads to a brush with hyperinflation.

Technically, the intermediate trend (i.e., the nine-month trend) is still down. The bulls have bounced off normal primary support at $700 nicely, and October tends to herald correction lows, seasonally speaking. Most of my leading indicators, including gold shares, moreover, suggest the low is in.

The technical objective of the seven-month top formed January-July 2008 was also already achieved at $695, plus or minus, suggesting the bear leg is complete. However, until the last lowest high ($940) in the downtrend is cleared, we have to tame our enthusiasm. What’s more, the current rally has stalled at the downtrend line, which intersects the current time horizon at about $890.

If the bulls can’t make it back up to at least the $940 high of September/October before the market falls back through $830, then I would worry the market MIGHT either retest its $690 low, or go lower.

The Short-term Outlook, One-Three Months

My outlook for this period is neutral to bullish, with the possibility of one more test of support in the mid-high $700s if bullish sentiment returns to Wall Street prematurely. Although the policies governments are pursuing are fundamentally and relatively bullish for gold, it is more than possible that they engender a recovery confidence in the short term that may hinder the performance of gold.

Technically, the objective of the October-November ascending triangle (bottom) in the chart below has completed at $875-880.

The last highest low in the short-term sequence is around $830. If the market falls through this level before extending the current rally to the $940 area, as mentioned above, there is the slight risk that there is something wrong with my bullish medium-term (or intermediate) outlook above.

But this risk is not that great considering all the bullish permutations that could still take shape on the chart. Still, the most likely scenario in my mind is for a pullback to somewhere between $750-800, whether or not the current two-month sequence extends to $940 in the next few weeks.

If the pullback starts now before a higher high, I’d put it at the low end of the shaded area in the chart ($740); if it starts higher, say from $940, it could stop a little higher, like $775-800.

But until we get over $900, the $830 handle should be watched, as a break through it before a higher high could trigger the liquidation of the two-month advance and start a correction to at least $775.

Good trading,

Ed Bugos
for The Daily Reckoning
January 08, 2009

The above was taken from the latest issue of Gold & Options Trader.

Before starting up Gold & Options Trader, Ed comes straight from the North American heart of the gold market – Vancouver’s Howe Street. During the nasty commodity bear market in the ’90s, Ed still guided his clients to gold profits in Argentina Gold and Arequipa, both of which became buyout bait for Barrick. He also founded the “Bugos Gold Stock Index” which included no more than 10 stocks at any time.

Poor Adolf Merckle. The tycoon must have been down to his last billion or so. He was “broken” by the credit crunch, says the Financial Times. He wrote a farewell note and stepped in front of the 7:38 Express on its way to Munich.

As far as we know, the worldwide meltdown has claimed as much as $30 trillion dollars, according to one figure we saw, but relatively few lives. That makes it a comedy…not a tragedy.

Too bad for Herr Merckle. He didn’t appreciate the humor of it.

Yesterday was a bad day for investors. They are all expecting a recovery. Instead, the patient got sicker…the Dow fell 245 points. Oil slipped down nearly $6. And gold? Et tu AU? Yes, gold fell too – down $24.

So, here is a good place to take up our guesswork about what is going on in the world’s markets and what we should expect.

It all seemed too simple, a few days ago. It was. Too simple, that is.

The world’s markets have begun a major correction. The world’s governments – led by the United States – are determined to stop it. They want people to spend like there was no tomorrow. But people are acting like every day is tomorrow. Instead of spending, they are beginning to save.

Then comes news that vacancies in malls are at a 10-year high. Malls are places where consumers buy stuff. The days of stuff-lust are over. Ergo, less retail space is needed.

But if they buy less stuff, fewer people are needed to sell stuff…to make stuff…to move stuff…to count stuff and so forth.

“Pink slips pile higher,” reports the Associated Press. Employers cut nearly 700,000 jobs in December. The total for last year, when the final counts are made, is expected to be about 2.4 million. But the job losses have barely begun. It was only at the end of 2008 that most businesses realized they were in trouble. The real job losses will come this year.

The unemployment rate in November was about 6.7%. In December, it was said to be around 7%. If you put into the number all the people who have given up looking for work, the figure would go to about 12%. But even that will seem like full employment after the tsunami of job cuts hits this year.

Since so many Americans live without substantial reserves – savings – the pressure on Misters Obama and Bernanke to ‘do something’ will increase. What can they do? Spend money.

“US deficit set for post-war record,” reports the Financial Times. Reports today tell us that Obama says deficits will go “over $1 trillion.” One estimate put it at $1.2 trillion for ’09. We’ve seen others at $1.5 and even $2 trillion.

What they are trying to do is two things: replace private spending with public spending…and cause consumer prices to rise.

But replacing private spending with public spending, alone, is a task that would have staggered Hercules. In the past, the U.S. consumer could be counted on as the planet’s chump of last resort. He didn’t have any money. Still, when an economy slumped, he nevertheless kept spending – buying on credit. Gradually, the whole world economy came to rely on him. But now he’s stopped borrowing; in the last 12 months net consumer lending has collapsed. With neither more income nor more credit he has had to stop buying. And without buying from the U.S. consumer, the world economy is dying in a ditch.

Of course, U.S. rescue teams are on the scene. But if the U.S. government is going to save American households, it practically has to save every gadget maker in China…every call center in India…every rubber plantation in Malaysia…all the wine makers in Bordeaux – all the industries and jobs that relied on U.S. consumers. Otherwise, prices fall.

Even the United States can’t afford a bailout of this magnitude. Trillion-dollar deficits won’t be enough. Martin Wolf, in the FT, quotes a report from Levy Economics – “even with the application of almost unbelievably large fiscal stimuli, output will not increase enough to prevent unemployment from continuing to rise through the next two years.”

With rising unemployment the pressure to ‘do something’ grows. And the feds redouble their efforts. And this is where we find the basic logic our forecast:

In the fight against the global financial illness, the feds can’t cure the patient. All they can do is to deliver larger and larger doses of their quack medicine – until the patient dies.

*** A few days ago, this seemed so obvious, we worried that it was too obvious. Mr. Market doesn’t reward people for doing the too-obvious thing. He sets them up. Then he destroys them. He always seems to find a way.

The Barron’s survey told us that Wall Street’s strategists all believe stocks will go up in ’09. The only question is how much. The bulls think they’ll go up and keep going up. The bears think they’ll go up…and then go back down again.

And currently, there’s more money on the sidelines – waiting – than there is in the game. U.S. money market funds now exceed the amount in equity funds, for the first time in 15 years. According to the dominant view, this money is just itching to get back in the game and score a major victory. Battered in ’08…it wants to get even in ’09. This attitude, we hasten to point out, is not what you find at the end of a bear market…it’s what you find at the beginning of one. People still think that they will make money in stocks – it’s just a matter of time! And how much!

Will Mr. Market give these people what they expect? Or what they deserve?

We don’t know, but we see two possibilities:

The first is that there is no significant rally. Instead of going up, a torrent of bad financial news washes stocks further downstream in the first quarter. There, they will stay for the next 5, 10, or 15 years…until they give up all hope of ever making any money in the stock market.

The second possibility is that stocks do rally…strongly enough that that money now on the sidelines comes back in – just in time to get wiped out by the next major leg downwards.

*** If we were in an earlier phase of the imperial cycle – such as we were in 1920 – we would ride out the bust…liquidate the mistakes…and bounce back stronger than ever.

But this is 2009…not 1920. The empire is now old and tired. It has been burdened with so many fixes, rules, privileges and safety nets it cannot compete in many key industries. It is also heavily in debt…and running a trade deficit and a public deficit that sink it further into debt each day.

At this stage, Americans do not boldly face the future…they want protection from it. And so the feds flex every flabby muscle trying to hold it back. Of course, no one can stop the future. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. And the future’s gotta happen.

All the feds can do is to make it happen in a different way. Almost certainly a worse way. More tomorrow…as we keep thinking…

*** We also promised, yesterday, to tell you how you could escape… Americans already have a huge burden of private debt. Now, their government is adding an even huger new burden of public debt. How are you going to get out of this stalag of debt? What will happen to it? What effect will it have on your investments?

Hmmm….our answers will have to wait another 24 hours…we’re out of time for today.

*** This year marks the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s revolution. How things change! As a note in the Financial Times reminds us, a half century ago a young lawyer took charge in Havana while an old general ruled in Washington. Now a young lawyer takes charge in Washington while an old general tries to hold on in Havana.

Until tomorrow,

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning