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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Recession and Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 25th, 2012

Economics 101

A Depression is an Exceptionally Bad Recession 

When campaigning for the presidency Ronald Reagan explained what a recession, a depression and a recovery were.  He said a recession is when your neighbor loses his job.  A depression is when you lose your job.  And a recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his job.  This was during the 1980 presidential election.  Where Reagan included that famous question at the end of one of the debates.  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”  And the answer was “no.”  Ronald Reagan surged ahead of Jimmy Carter after that and won by a landslide.  And he won reelection by an even bigger landslide in 1984.

There are a couple of ways to define a recession.  Falling output and rising unemployment.  Two consecutive quarters of falling Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  A decline in new factory orders.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, officially marks the start and end dates of all U.S. recessions.  They consider a lot of economic data.   It’s not an exact science.  But they track the business cycle.  That normal economic cycle between economic expansion and economic contraction.  The business cycle has peaks (expansion) and troughs (contraction).  A recession is the time period between a peak and a trough.  From the time everyone is working and happy and buying a lot of stuff.  Through a period of layoffs where people stop buying much of anything.  Until the last layoff before the next economic expansion begins.

A depression has an even more vague science behind it.  We really don’t have a set of requirements that the economy has to meet to tell us we’re in a depression.  Since the Great Depression we haven’t really used the word anymore for a depression is just thought of as an exceptionally bad recession.  Some have called the current recession (kicked off by the subprime mortgage crisis) a depression.  Because it has a lot of the things the Great Depression had.  Bank failures.  Liquidity crises.  A long period of high unemployment.  In fact, current U.S unemployment is close to Great Depression unemployment if you measure more apples to apples and use the U-6 rate instead of the official U-3 rate that subtracts a lot of people from the equation (people who can’t find work and have given up looking, people working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job, people underemployed working well below their skill level, etc.).  For these reasons many call the current recession the Great Recession.  To connect it to the Great Depression.  Without calling the current recession a depression.

Whether Inventories sell or not Businesses have to Pay their People and their Payroll Taxes

So what causes a recession?  Good economic times.  Funny, isn’t it?  It’s the good times that cause the bad times.  Here’s how.  When everyone has a job who wants a job a lot of people are spending money in the economy.  Creating a lot of economic activity.  Businesses respond to this.  They increase production.  Even boost the inventories they carry so they don’t miss out on these good times.  For the last thing a business wants is to run out of their hot selling merchandise when people are buying like there is no tomorrow.  Businesses will ramp up production.  Add overtime such as running production an extra day of the week.  Perhaps extend the working day.  Businesses will do everything to max out their production with their current labor force.  Because expanding that labor force will cause big problems when the bloom is off of the economic rose.

But if the economic good times look like they will last businesses will hire new workers.  Driving up labor costs as businesses have to pay more to hire workers in a tight labor market.  These new workers will work a second shift.  A third shift.  They will fill a manufacturing plant expansion.  Or fill a new plant.  (Built by a booming construction industry.  Just as construction workers are building new houses in a booming home industry.)  Businesses will make these costly investments to meet the booming demand during an economic expansion.  Increasing their costs.  Which increases their prices.  And as businesses do this throughout the economy they begin to produce even more than the people are buying.  Inventories begin to build up until inventories are growing faster than sales.  The business cycle has peaked.  And the economic decline begins.

Inventories are costly.  They produce no revenue.  But incur cost to warehouse them.  Worse, businesses spent a lot of money producing these inventories.  Or I should say credit.  Typically manufacturers buy things and pay for them later.  Their accounts payable.  Which are someone else’s accounts receivable.  A lot of bills coming due.  And a lot of invoices going past due.  Because businesses have their money tied up in those inventories.  But one thing they can’t owe money on is payroll.  Whether those inventories sell or not they have to pay their people on time or face some harsh legal penalties.  And they have to pay their payroll taxes (Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, withholding taxes, etc.) for the same reasons.  As well as their Workers’ Compensation insurance.  And they have to pay their health care insurance.  Labor is costly.  And there is no flexibility in paying it while you’re waiting for that inventory to sell.  This is why businesses are reluctant to add new labor and only do so when there is no other way to keep up with demand.

The Fed tries to Remove the Recessionary Side of the Business Cycle with Small but ‘Manageable’ Inflation

As sales dry up businesses reduce their prices to unload that inventory.  To convert that inventory into cash so they can pay their bills.  At the same time they are cutting back on production.  With sales down they are only losing money by building up inventories of stuff no one is buying.  Which means layoffs.  They idle their third shifts.  Their second shifts.  Their overtime.  They shut down plants.  A lot of people lose jobs.  Sales fall.  And prices fall.  As businesses try to reduce their inventories.  And stay in business by enticing the fewer people in the market place to buy their reduced production at lower prices.

During the economic expansion costs increased.  Labor costs increased.  And prices increased.  Because demand was greater than supply.  Businesses incurred these higher costs to meet that demand.  During the contraction these had to fall.  Because supply exceeded demand.  Buyers could and did shop around for the lowest price.  Without fear of anything running out of stock and not being there to buy the next day.  Or the next week.  And when prices stop falling it marks the end of the recession and the beginning of the next expansion.  When supply equals demand once again.  Prices, then, are key to the business cycle.  They rise during boom times.  And fall during contractions.  And when they stop falling the recession is over.  This is so important that I will say it again.  When prices stop falling a recession is over.

Jimmy Carter had such a bad economy because his administration still followed Keynesian economic policies.  Which tried to massage the business cycle by removing the contraction side of it.  By using monetary policy.  The Keynesians believed that whenever the economy starts to go into recession all the government has to do is to print money and spend it.  And the government printed a lot of money in the Seventies.  So much that there was double digit inflation.  But all this new money did was raise prices during a recession.  Which only made the recession worse.  This was the turning point in Keynesian economics.  And the end of highly inflationary policies.  But not the end of inflationary policies.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) still tries to remove the recessionary side of the business cycle.  And they still use monetary policy to do it.  With a smaller but ‘manageable’ amount of inflation.  During the great housing bubble that preceded the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession the Fed kept expanding the money supply to keep interest rates very low.  This kept mortgage rates low.  People borrowed money and bought big houses.  Housing prices soared.  These artificially low interest rates created a huge housing bubble that eventually popped.  And because the prices were so high the recession would be a long one to bring them back down.  Which is why many call the current recession the Great Recession.  Because we haven’t seen a price deflation like this since the Great Depression.



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