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Gold confusion in brave new world

“It occurred to me, that with all of today’s technology, there were now more ways than ever to know with absolute certainty that no one wanted to get in touch with me.” – Linwood Barclay
Gold confusion in brave new world Gold confusion in brave new world Gold confusion in brave new world Gold confusion in brave new world Gold confusion in brave new world

Mining Journal

End of isolation, and gosh not a second too soon.

Never would I dare suggest that I was doing it hard compared to many others in the world, but it's all relative, and as I'm not able to play golf or enjoy a decent lunch, then relatively speaking it may as well be the end of times.  Yes I know I need a bit of perspective, but in times of crisis, it's the little luxuries that give us strength to deal with real deprivation.

So here I am in rural Australia, and I must say in hindsight, I had not thought this through as thoroughly as I might.  At the time, a mercy dash to the underside of the planet in order to stand ready to assist aged parentals, seemed the noble thing to do.  But now that I am here, stuck with listening to the old bugger's war stories, not knowing when, or indeed if I will ever be again allowed back into the northern hemisphere, I do wonder if I have not made the supreme sacrifice.

While by no means immune, Australia does seem to be weathering the storm better than most - largely due to a combination of decisive action and helpful geography. Stamping down early and hard certainly played a role. But being a huge and mostly empty country, with only a few widely spaced cities, separated by scorching desert inhabited by little but snakes, scorpions and scary bush people, probably gave COVID-19 pause for thought, before deciding to go and infect elsewhere.

When other things were expensive, then maybe it made sense, but with the global economy shattered, then everything is cheap and so gold is not compelling.

Much of the rest of the world sadly, has not been, or will not be so lucky. Mercifully, we are seeing positive signs in the first world, but in the third, the game has only just begun. How that plays out is anyone's guess, but I guess it won't be pretty.

But in the meanwhile, now that perhaps the worst is past, or at least we know that it will pass, the markets are casting their gaze forward and placing things into baskets of what we know and what we don't.

We know that despite the carnage underway, that everyone but the Orange Imbecile saw coming, the US will survive. Its grotesque robustness will see it through, even if we may not like what we see.

The UK will survive as it always does, even if the eternally pessimistic population always assume they won't. As much as Republicans might grizzle, when a little old lady sits up straight and calmly recalls the national broadcast she made to the nation on the brink of another abyss, 80 years before, one cannot help but feel heartened that we came through worse.

The EU probably will not survive and indeed, I would argue it is dead already, it just hasn't stopped twitching yet. There is nothing like a good crisis to focus people's attention on where their loyalties really lie and who their friends really are, and Brussels has failed cataclysmically on both fronts. The whole premise of the EU experiment was to give up sovereignty in exchange for being part of a bigger whole that would look after us in times of trouble.  But then at the first sign of trouble, the borders go up and it's every man for itself.  It's over, last one out please turn out the lights and all that.

The third world will survive but it will be ugly. With no functioning health system, there is no point in trying to flatten the curve, in fact the incentive is quite the opposite, to get it over with as quickly as possible. It will rip through these places like a forest fire, and those that remain will emerge blinking from the ashes and get on with life - as if they have any choice.

The unknown, is what state the world economy will be in, and it is here that pundits are mixed.

Are we then headed for depression as some would have us believe? I think not, or at least I hope not. The great depression was created not so much because of the market crash of 1929, but rather the response to it. There was a crisis to be sure, but it was turned into a depression largely when a well-meaning mining engineer from Kalgoorlie, when as president of the United States, refused to turn on the government taps. He took an isolated downturn and allowed it to metastasise into a global crisis.

Governments have not made that mistake again, this time round throwing everything at it so fast we risked being hit in the back of the head with a kitchen sink.

How it will be paid for remains another unknown, with yet another being what role, if any, gold will play in this little frolic.

I am on the record of not being a gold bug per se, but also appreciating its long-term role as a hedge against all sort of things. But at this moment, I am thinking its near term risk is to the downside, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, its extreme volatility would suggest that the market is really struggling with the most fundamental of questions of what in the hell it is for. That in itself should exclude it as an investment until the market has sorted out its thinking.

Second, we forget that, apart from the nutters, gold is defensive, and thus is what you buy when you have run out of other ideas. Its appeal as an investment must then be always assessed against the opportunity cost of not buying other things. When other things were expensive, then maybe it made sense, but with the global economy shattered, then everything is cheap and so gold is not compelling. The almost manic stampede back into stocks when bodies are still being piled in the streets would seem to evidence that.

Thirdly is of course the issue old issue of inflation.

Clearly I am no economist, but if memory serves, inflation stems from too much money trying to buy too few goods - or something like that.

Back in Weimar Germany or in latter day Zimbabwe, those conditions were in place. Their economies were non-existent, nothing was produced, except currency, and so the imbalance was stark. But in later times, as we have seen since 2008, no matter how much was printed, there was always something new to buy with it, and so we kept in balance.

Yes, we have seen a monumental hit to economies, but without diminishing the impact to those on the pointy end, the damage is largely limited to certain sectors, mostly notably labour-intensive things like hospitality and travel. Clearly there is wash over, but other, less visible sectors remain somewhat intact. In addition, what we are seeing is a supply crisis, not a demand one. People still want cappuccinos and cheap holidays, they are just not allowed to have them right now, but they will again soon.

I don't see inflation, as government largess is simply a temporary replacement for normal private spending, that will be almost entirely be absorbed by central banks. I also see, post COVID, governments busting a gut to kickstart anything that shows signs of life - and that means base metals and iron.

Gold, I think yet again, will just have to wait its turn.


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