A Mining Boom has caused Gold to fall while Gasoline continues to Rise

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 2nd, 2013

Week in Review

Gold and oil share something in common.  We price both of these commodities in U.S. dollars.  Which makes it difficult to hide inflation in these commodities.  Food companies can shrink package sizing to keep from having to raise their prices to factor in inflation.  But you can’t do that when you sell oil by a fixed quantity.  A barrel.  Or gold.  Which we sell by the ounce.  Which means if you depreciate the dollar (with quantitative easing where we print money to buy bonds to increase the money supply so as to lower interest rates to encourage people to borrow money and buy things) you have to increase the price of these commodities.  Because if you make the money worth less it will take more of it to buy what it once bought.

But gold and oil also have a major difference.  While an increase in the price of gold encourages gold mines to bring more gold to market environmental concerns have prevented people from bringing more oil to market.   It is because of this that the price of gold has fallen while gasoline prices are rising again (see The Gold Standard by SARAH MAX posted 6/1/2013 on Barron’s).

Gold prices rise in times of economic malaise—hence its 23% rise in 2009 and 27% rise in 2010. When prices are rising, mining stocks have historically outperformed the physical asset. Yet gold-mining stocks have lagged over the past few years, even before the price of gold plummeted from its August 2011 high of roughly $1,900 a troy ounce to less than $1,400 today. “The main reason is cost inflation,” says Foster, explaining that a global mining boom has driven up the costs of labor and materials, while forcing miners to look farther afield for new gold deposits.

As the government inflates the money supply it reduces our purchasing power.  This erodes the value of our savings.  Making the money we worked hard for and put in the bank to pay for our retirement unable to buy as much as we hoped it would.  This is why people buy gold.  Because gold will hold its value.  If they increase the money supply by 20% the price of gold should rise, too.  Close to that 20%.  So when the Federal Reserve finally abandons their inflationary policies people can sell their gold and put their retirement savings back into the bank.  Adjusted, of course, for inflation.

The price of gold has fallen despite the Fed’s quantitative easing still going strong.  So if the dollar is worth less how come it now takes fewer of them, instead of more of them, to buy a given amount of gold?  Supply and demand.  With the high gold price people mined more gold and brought it to market.  Increasing the supply.  And lowering the price.  But because the Fed is still depreciating the dollar costs continue to rise.  Making it more costly for these mining companies to mine and bring gold to market.  Reducing their profits.  And the cost of their stock.

If only the oil business was free to operate like this.  For with the Fed depreciating the dollar they’re raising the price of a barrel of oil.  Making it attractive to bring more oil to market.  But wherever it can the federal government has shut down oil exploration and production.  To appease the environmentalists in their political base.  So, instead, gasoline prices continue to rise.  While gold prices fall.  And the dollar continues to depreciate.  Which will one day ignite a vicious inflation.  Much like it did in the Seventies.  And then it will take a nasty recession to get rid of that vicious inflation.  Like we had in the Eighties.  But at least in the Eighties we had one of the strongest and longest economic expansion follow that nasty recession.  Thanks to a strong dollar.  Low taxes.  And a reduction of regulatory costs.  Something the current administration clearly opposes. So we’ll probably have the inflation.  And the recession.  But not the economic expansion.  For that we may have to wait for the next Republican administration.



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Phillips Curve

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2012

Economics 101

A High Savings Rate provides Abundant Capital for Banks to Loan to Businesses

Time.  It’s what runs our lives.  Well, that, and patience.  Together they run our lives.  For these two things determine the difference between savings.  And consumption.  Whether we have the patience to wait and save our money to buy something in the future.  Like a house.  Or if we are too impatient to wait.  And choose to spend our money now.  On a new car, clothes, jewelry, nice dinners, travel, etc.  Choosing current consumption for pleasure now.  Or choosing savings for pleasure later.

We call this time preference.  And everyone has their own time preference.  Even societies have their own time preferences.  And it’s that time preference that determines the rate of consumption and the rate of savings.  Our parents’ generation had a higher preference to save money.  The current generation has a higher preference for current consumption.  Which is why a lot of the current generation is now living with their parents.  For their parents preference for saving money over consuming money allowed them to buy a house that they own free and clear today.  While having savings to live on during these difficult economic times.  Unlike their children.  Whose consumption of cars, clothes, jewelry, nice dinners, travel, etc., left them with little savings to weather these difficult economic times.  And with a house they no longer can afford to pay the mortgage.

A society’s time preference determines the natural rate of interest.  A higher savings rate provides abundant capital for banks to loan to businesses.  Which lowers the natural rate of interest.  A high rate of consumption results with a lower savings rate.  Providing less capital for banks to loan to businesses.  Which raises the natural interest rate.  High interest rates make it more difficult for businesses to borrow money to expand their business than it is with low interest rates.  Thus higher interest rates reduce the rate of job creation.  Or, restated another way, a low savings rate reduces the rate of job creation.

The Phillips Curve shows the Keynesian Relationship between the Unemployment Rate and the Inflation Rate

Before the era of central banks and fiat money economists understood this relationship between savings and employment very well.  But after the advent of central banking and fiat money economists restated this relationship.  In particular the Keynesian economists.  Who dropped the savings part.  And instead focused only on the relationship between interest rates and employment.  Advising governments in the 20th century that they had the power to control the economy.  If they adopt central banking and fiat money.  For they could print their own money and determine the interest rate.  Making savings a relic of a bygone era.

The theory was that if a high rate of savings lowered interest rates by creating more capital for banks to loan why not lower interest rates further by just printing money and giving it to the banks to loan?  If low interests rates were good lower interest rates must be better.  At least this was Keynesian theory.  And expanding governments everywhere in the 20th century put this theory to the test.  Printing money.  A lot of it.  Based on the belief that if they kept pumping more money into the economy they could stimulate unending economic growth.  Because with a growing amount of money for banks to loan they could keep interest rates low.  Encouraging businesses to keep borrowing money to expand their businesses.  Hire more people to fill newly created jobs.  And expand economic activity.

Economists thought they had found the Holy Grail to ending recessions as we knew them.  Whenever unemployment rose all they had to do was print new money.  For the economic activity businesses created with this new money would create new jobs to replace the jobs lost due to recession.   The Keynesians built on their relationship between interest rates and employment.  And developed a relationship between the expansion of the money supply and employment.  Particularly, the relationship between the inflation rate (the rate at which they expanded the money supply) and the unemployment rate.  What they found was an inverse relationship.  When there was a high unemployment rate there was a low inflation rate.  When there was a low unemployment rate there was a high inflation rate.  They showed this with their Phillips Curve.  That graphed the relationship between the inflation rate (shown rising on the y-axis) and the unemployment rate (shown increasing on the x-axis).  The Phillips Curve was the answer to ending recessions.  For when the unemployment rate went up all the government had to do was create some inflation (i.e., expand the money supply).  And as they increased the inflation rate the unemployment rate would, of course, fall.  Just like the Phillips Curve showed.

The Seventies Inflationary Damage was So Great that neither Technology nor Productivity Gains could Overcome It

But the Phillips Curve blew up in the Keynesians’ faces during the Seventies.  As they tried to reduce the unemployment rate by increasing the inflation rate.  When they did, though, the unemployment did not fall.  But the inflation rate did rise.  In a direct violation of the Phillips Curve.  Which said that was impossible.  To have a high inflation rate AND a high unemployment rate at the same time.  How did this happen?  Because the economic activity they created with their inflationary policies was artificial.  Lowering the interest rate below the natural interest rate encouraged people to borrow money they had no intention of borrowing earlier.  Because they did not see sufficient demand in the market place to expand their businesses to meet.  However, business people are human.  And they can make mistakes.  Such as borrowing money to expand their businesses solely because the money was cheap to borrow.

When you inflate the money supply you depreciate the dollar.  Because there are more dollars in circulation chasing the same amount of goods and services.  And if the money is worth less what does that do to prices?  It increases them.  Because it takes more of the devalued dollars to buy what they once bought.  So you have a general increase of prices that follows any monetary expansion.  Which is what is waiting for those businesses borrowing that new money to expand their businesses.  Typically the capital goods businesses.  Those businesses higher up in the stages of production.  A long way out from retail sales.  Where the people are waiting to buy the new products made from their capital goods.  Which will take a while to filter down to the consumer level.  But by the time they do prices will be rising throughout the economy.  Leaving consumers with less money to spend.  So by the times those new products built from those capital goods reach the retail level there isn’t an increase in consumption to buy them.  Because inflation has by this time raised prices.  Especially gas prices.  So not only are the consumers not buying these new goods they are cutting back from previous purchasing levels.  Leaving all those businesses in the higher stages of production that expanded their businesses (because of the availability of cheap money) with some serious overcapacity.  Forcing them to cut back production and lay off workers.  Often times to a level below that existing before the inflationary monetary expansion intended to decrease the unemployment rate.

Governments have been practicing Keynesian economics throughout the 20th century.  So why did it take until the Seventies for this to happen?  Because in the Seventies they did something that made it very easy to expand the money supply.  President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold (the Nixon Shock).  Which was the only restraint on the government from expanding the money supply.  Which they did greater during the Seventies than they had at any previous time.  Under the ‘gold standard’ the U.S. had to maintain the value of the dollar by pegging it to gold.  They couldn’t depreciate it much.  Without the ‘gold standard’ they could depreciate it all they wanted to.  So they did. Prior to the Seventies they inflated the money supply by about 5%.  After the Nixon Shock that jumped to about 15-20%.  This was the difference.  The inflationary damage was so bad that no amount of technological advancement or productivity gains could overcome it.  Which exposed the true damage inflationary Keynesian economic policies cause.  As well as discrediting the Phillips Curve.



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LESSONS LEARNED #80: “A nation’s government spends too much when its spending increases at a rate greater than its population growth.” – Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 25th, 2011

Exchanging Dollars for Gold at $35/ounce was a Strong Incentive not to Depreciate the Dollar

It’s no secret.  Government spending is growing out of control.  It’s producing record deficits.  That caused S&P to downgrade America’s AAA sovereign debt rating.  No one denies that it’s a problem.  This spending.  Those on the Right want to address this via spending cuts.  Those on the Left just want to keep raising taxes.

LBJ exploded government spending with his Great Society in the Sixties.  Back then the U.S. was still on a quasi gold standard.  The U.S. honored an exchange of dollars for gold.  The point of this was to prevent the government from printing too much money.  Print too much and you depreciate the dollar.  So when you promise to exchange dollars for gold at $35/ounce you have an incentive not to depreciate the dollar.  Because as that $35 will buy less and less everywhere else, it will always buy an ounce of U.S. gold.

Well, with the Vietnam War and the Great Society, President Nixon had an unpleasant decision to make.  Unpleasant for a politician.  Either cut spending.  Or print money.  Politicians don’t like cutting spending.  So he printed money.  Which depreciated the dollar.  And countries were taking those cheap dollars and exchanging them for lots and lots of U.S. gold.  There was so much gold flying out of the country that Nixon did something shocking.  We call it the Nixon Shock.  He said the U.S. would no longer honor the dollars for gold exchange.  That was in August of 1971.  And prices have never been the same since.

The Growth of the CPI took off following the Nixon Shock

Keynesian economists were happy to see the end of the gold standard.  Because they like printing money.  And they’ve been advising governments to do just that.  To put an end to the business cycle.  And recessions as we know it.  For when the signs of recession are apparent, the government can pump a lot of dollars into the economy.  Thus avoiding a recession.  This was the policy since the adoption of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.  Which put the nation’s best and brightest in charge of the American economy.  Who were unable to prevent numerous recessions.  A Great Recession.  And a Great Depression.

So the Keynesians have failed in preventing recessions.  Of all sizes.  Worse, their inflationary policies of freely printing and spending money has increased prices.  Caused a sharp increase in the growth rate of the Consumer Price Index (an inflation indicator).  As you can see in the following chart.  Where we graph government spending (outlays) and the CPI.  Dollar amounts are in billions of constant 2005 dollars.  Data is plotted in 10 year intervals.


(Sources:  Outlays, CPI)

You can see that the rate of growth in the CPI took off following the Nixon Shock.  That was the price for government printing money to keep spending beyond its means.  To make everything cost more in real dollars for us.  The consumers.  This shrinking of our paychecks put an end to the single wage-earner as we knew it.  Today the norm is that it takes two incomes to raise a family.  The exception is when one can do it.

Even before the Nixon Shock you could see that government was spending beyond its means.  Increasing its spending greater than the rate of inflation.  That means the size and number of government benefits was growing.  And it continued to grow until the Nineties.  When a Republican House forced a liberal president to the center.  After the Republicans won the 1994 midterm electionsBill Clinton‘s welfare reform decreased the growth rate of government.  For the first time after World War II.  But George W. Bush liked to spend the money.  Barack Obama, too.  Even more so.  Who took government spending to new highs with his $800 billion stimulus.  And his Obamacare.

The Number and Size of Benefits are growing Faster than the Population

Of course, you have to be careful not to let those benefits grow faster than the population.  Because government revenue comes from the taxpayers.  An increasing population means increasing tax revenue.  Because more people are paying taxes.  A decreasing population means declining tax revenue.  Because fewer people are paying taxes.

Likewise, spending that grows less than the population growth rate means a government is spending within its means.  Spending that grows greater than the population growth rate means a government is spending beyond its means.  And most probably running deficits.

We can see this if we graph population with government spending (outlays).  And we do that in the following chart.  Population is in numbers of people.  Outlays are in billions of constant 2005 dollars.  Data is plotted in 10 year intervals (to correspond with the decennial census).

 (Sources:  Population, Outlays)

Up until the Nineties, government spending increased at a greater rate than the population grew.  Clearly indicating that the number and size of benefits was growing relative to the population.  In particular, you can see an upward bend in outlays with the onset of the Great Society. 

This new growth rate remained consistent through the heyday of Keynesian economics.  The Seventies.  And through Reaganomics.  The Eighties.  Democrat Bill Clinton reduced the growth rate of government spending during his two terms in office.  Thanks to a Republican House.   But George W. Bush liked to spend the money.  For a couple of wars.  And a new Medicare prescription drug program.  And then Barack Obama became president.  And made George W. Bush look like a cheapskate when it came to government spending.

We are Spending Money at a Greater Rate than we’re Creating New Taxpayers 

Currently, the rate of government spending is increasing far greater than the population growth rate.  Meaning we are spending money at a greater rate than we’re creating new taxpayers.  Which can only mean one thing.  Record deficits.  Which we have.

We cannot sustain this spending.  It’s not a matter of insufficient tax revenue.  We’re just spending too much.  If we continue to spend at this rate there won’t be enough money to tax away from the private sector to pay for it.  Unless we have another baby boom.   Far greater than the last one.  But babies take time to grow up.  Before they become taxpayers.  Some twenty years or more before they pay any significant taxes.  So that’s a long-term solution at best.

But with the high cost of raising a family that isn’t likely.  Thanks to permanent inflation.  Courtesy of Keynesian economics.  With the way they (Keynesians) bent the CPI graph upward, big families are a thing of the past.  So that’s not an option.  That leaves one thing.  Spending cuts.  Significant spending cuts.  The very thing that would have preserved America’s AAA credit rating.

And you know how politicians love spending cuts.



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