The Dollar and Precious Metals

Why are precious metals moving upwards? After all, the market smashed them down all summer as the dollar strengthened. The short answer is that right now gold and silver are the only decent game in town.

Yes, there are a few other asset and income plays as well in the market. After all, there’s still an economy to run out there. There are 303 million Americans, and 6.2 billion other people in this world, who want to eat every day. But much of the stock market is a crapshoot. If you love pain, then the broad stock market is the place for you. While gold and silver represent the flight to safety and quality.

The U.K. Telegraph put it nicely: “As investors scrambled to make sense of last week’s events, already one conclusion was all but irrefutable — the U.S. dollar will have to take another major fall. The dollar rally that began in July and pushed the pound’s value against the greenback significantly lower has come to an abrupt end as markets face up to the fact that the currency will have to absorb the effects of a sudden shocking increase in America’s budget deficit.”

So we see lots of bad news for the dollar. But when you own gold, it’s your asset. With a specific gravity of 19.3, gold is dense, non-reactive and otherwise immutable. Gold is nobody’s liability. As one of my old professors at Harvard used to say, “That’s physics.”

Gloomy News from Wall Street

Speaking of physics, I’ve looked east of the sun and west of the moon. I can’t see much good news for the U.S. dollar on any horizon. Really, what’s gloomier than the news from Wall Street? The investment model of the modern era (borrow short, lend long, pay big bonuses) is dying before our eyes. “And it’s about time,” some might say. But it’s happening on our watch. So we had better suit up in battle-rattle.

Wall Street’s losses are in the range of hundreds of billions, maybe trillions. Which prompts me to inquire, where are Bonnie and Clyde when you need them? At least the Barrow couple knew who they were and what they did for a living. To their credit, on their last foray the dynamic duet had the guts to shoot it out with the cops and go out in tragic style.

But now the modern bank robbers are talking about how they should get big bonuses for all the good work they put in right until things blew up. Really, I’m serious. Lehman Brothers wants to pay $2.5 billion in bonuses to 10,000 employees. That’s an average of $250,000 per person. (Except I think the office runners and secretaries will get less than $250K and a select few will rake in a lot more.) What has anyone there done to deserve $250,000? Did I miss the news about somebody at Lehman discovering a cure for cancer? It’s all just so… Baby Boomer.

At the end of the day — and the clock is ticking fast — it’s too bad that the wrong people are going to get paid. And bonuses? Oh, if only I could be a bankruptcy judge for just one hour.

The War on Risk

Do you recall the $700 billion of borrowed money that the U.S. paid over the past seven years to fight the War on Terror? Well now, with the stroke of a pen the U.S. taxpayers will pay another $700 billion (and probably more) for the “War on Risk” in the next year or so.

War on risk? It seems that way to me. Let’s back up. In the past few years — seven or so, coincidentally — a lot of people gambled and lost. People bought houses they couldn’t afford. Brokers arranged the loans. Bankers lent the money. Other bankers bundled-up the mortgages and sold them as “asset-backed securities.” Rating agencies sprinkled their holy water on the transaction. Insurance companies insured everything against default and loss.

A lot of people were making a darn good living for a while. But it was all a farce based on cheap credit and an abiding faith in a “something-for-nothing” way of life. And it’s too bad that a lot of people bought — as the saying goes — “as much house as they could afford.” Except they couldn’t afford it.

So now the whole mess is falling apart. And in true Baby Boomer fashion, the key perps on Wall Street want to change the rules and stick the house with the bill. That is, the White House and the House of Representatives, and your household as well.

The advertised number of $700 billion for the Wall Street bailout is just the posted price — the “loss leader” to get the American people into the store, so to speak. But get set for a bad case of sticker shock as events unfold. A group of business reporters at Bloomberg tallied up the raw numbers and came up with their own number of $1.8 trillion.

$700 billion? $1.8 trillion? When the numbers are that big, does it even matter? It’s the inflation-adjusted equivalent of fighting World War II again. Except who is the enemy?

Whatever the final tally may be, it cannot be good for the U.S. dollar. So buy gold and silver. If you can’t acquire the metal in the form of coins or bars, then buy precious metal stocks of companies with ore in the ground.

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King
September 26, 2008