Bullish News For Gold?

Goldman Sachs says that gold is poised for a fall in the medium term:

Improving US growth outlook offsets further Fed easing
Our economists forecast that the US economic recovery will slow early in 2013 before reaccelerating in the second half. They also expect additional expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet. Near term, the combination of more easing and weaker growth should prove supportive to gold prices. Medium term however, the gold outlook is caught between the opposing forces of more Fed easing and a gradual increase in US real rates on better US economic growth. Our expanded modeling suggests that the improving US growth outlook will outweigh further Fed balance sheet expansion and that the cycle in gold prices will likely turn in 2013. Risks to our growth outlook remain elevated however, especially given the uncertainty around the fiscal cliff, making calling the peak in gold prices a difficult exercise.

Gold cycle likely to turn in 2013; lowering gold price forecasts
We lower our 3-, 6- and 12-mo gold price forecasts to $1,825/toz, $1,805/toz and $1,800/toz and introduce a $1,750/toz 2014 forecast. While we see potential for higher gold prices in early 2013, we see growing downside risks.

Goldman’s model boils down to this chart, that posits that gold prices are supported by a low real interest rate environment:

GoldvsRealInterestRates

Goldman’s forecast is based on the idea that real rates will rise due to stronger economic growth in the second half of 2013 and beyond.

But the notion of strengthening economic growth in the second half of 2013 and beyond is deeply problematic. The total debt to GDP ratio is still above 350%, far, far far above the historical norm and a huge burden on the economy. The service costs of all that debt (sustained only by Fed liquidity helicopters — without the bailouts and liquidity lines, the unsustainable debt would have all been liquidated in 2008) is keeping the economy (and thus, real interest rates) depressed.

This means that the supposed recovery — and any such attendant dip in gold prices — is extremely unlikely to materialise.

In fact with Goldman’s track record of giving bogus advice to clients and then betting against it, this call could very easily signal that we are on the edge of another seismic upswing in the gold price.

US mint data shows gold demand is strengthening:

20121201_Gold_0

There is history here. Goldman’s previous bearish calls on gold locked their African gold-mining clients into money-lossing derivative deals.

GhanaWeb tells the full story:

In 1998, Ashanti Gold was the 3rd largest Gold Mining company in the world. The first “black” company on the London Stock Exchange, Ashanti had just purchased the Geita mine in Tanzania, positioning Ashanti to become even larger. But in May 1999, the Treasury of the United Kingdom decided to sell off 415 tons of its gold reserves. With all that gold flooding the world market, the price of gold began to decline. By August 1999, the price of gold had fallen to $252/ounce, the lowest it had been in 20 years.

Ashanti turned to its Financial Advisors – Goldman Sachs – for advice. Goldman Sachs recommended that Ashanti purchase enormous hedge contracts – “bets” on the price of gold. Simplifying this somewhat, it was similar to when a homeowner ‘locks in’ a price for heating oil months in advance. Goldman recommended that Ashanti enter agreements to sell gold at a ‘locked-in’ price, and suggested that the price of gold would continue to fall.

But Goldman was more than just Ashanti’s advisors. They were also sellers of these Hedge contracts, and stood to make money simply by selling them. And they were also world-wide sellers of Gold itself.

In September 1999 (one month later), 15 European Banks with whom Goldman had professional relationships made a unanimous surprise announcement that all 15 would stop selling gold on world markets for 5 years. The announcement immediately drove up gold prices to $307/ounce, and by October 6, it had risen to $362/ounce.

Goldman pocketed a shitload of money; clients ended up getting socked in the mouth.

Goldman publicly turning bearish, may be a pretty bullish sign for gold.

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Skewering Muppets

Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs is calling a major recovery after 2013:

What can we expect in coming years? If our estimates and assumptions are correct, 2013 is likely to be a more extreme version of 2010-2012, with a bigger positive private sector impulse that is offset by a bigger negative public sector impulse but still leaves growth around trend. But we expect the net impulse to turn positive in subsequent years, assuming that 2013 marks the peak rate of fiscal contraction. By 2014-2015, the decline in the ex ante private sector balance should be contributing around 11⁄2 percentage points to the overall growth impulse, but we currently assume that fiscal policy will subtract only 1⁄2- 1 percentage point, for a net impulse of 1⁄2-1 point. This ought to be a recipe for clearly above-trend growth.

His forecast looks like this:

Impulses

His model is one of sectoral balances.

financial-balances

He writes:

…an update of our financial balances model suggests that growth is likely to improve starting in the second half of 2013. Homebuilding looks set to recover strongly, the corporate sector should start to spend a larger share of its cash flow, and the personal saving rate will probably edge down a little further.

In very simple language, Hatzius is forecasting a recovery because he believes that the current trend is away from private sector deleveraging toward releveraging.

This approach is deeply, deeply flawed. Why? Total debt as a percentage of GDP is still ridiculously elevated. There has been very little deleveraging in total:

TCMDO/GDP

How can the private sector releverage from here? The costs of a high debt load make growth very difficult, as Irving Fisher and later Hyman Minsky showed. This huge outgrowth of debt is totally unsustainable. It has taken trillions of quantitative easing and bailouts to just sustain the present bloated debt load. And Hatzius’ model is predicting that we will soon be growing from taking on more?

This is transparent bullshit (unless you’re either a sucker or a shill), and I am sure Goldman’s traders will reap great reward betting against this advice just as they reaped great reward betting against worthless subprime junk last time round (another reason why banks that trade should never be in the business of advising clients, but that absurd conflict of interest is another story for another day). Win on the way up, win on the way down, and take a bailout if you lose.

The economy is stuck in a Catch-22. The high debt load is strangling growth, but growth is the one thing that can significantly reduce the size of the debt load. Right now, we are experiencing a slow deleveraging of a fragile economy as opposed to the quick and brutal deleveraging we would have seen had the market been allowed to clear in 2008.

There will be no return to the kind of debt-driven growth Hatzius is forecasting before the unsustainable debt is either liquidated, forgiven or (hyper-)inflated away. Until then, it is Japan all the way for America.

Why Goldman Sachs Cannot Be Wrong

When it comes to equities, they play both sides of the argument.

From Business Insider:

You’ve got to be kidding us, Goldman Sachs.

In recent weeks, at least four different strategists from Goldman Sachs (honestly we’ve lost count) have offered different opinions on the direction of the stock markets.  They range from extremely bullish to uber bearish:

David Kostin, Chief Equity US Strategist: BEARISH

Back in December, Kostin said he thought the S&P 500 would end 2012 at 1,250.  This officially made him one of the most bearish strategists on all of Wall Street.  And despite the monster rally in stocks since then, Kostin hasn’t budged.

Jim O’Neill, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management: BULLISH

When O’Neill published his 11 predictions for 2012, his position was that the S&P 500 was more likely to head to 1,400 than 1,000.  His call came two weeks after Kostin’s 1,250 call.

Abby Joseph Cohen, President of the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Institute and Senior Investment Strategist: BULLISH

It’s hard to think of a time when Cohen wasn’t bullish.  She made a name for herself in the late 1990’s by being bullish as the stock markets soared during the dotcom bubble.

Peter Oppenheimer, Co-Head of Economics, Commodities and Strategy Research in Europe: BULLISH

Everyone’s still buzzing about Oppenheimer’s note titled The Long Good Buy; the Case for Equities where he argued that the equity risk premium made stocks look incredibly cheap.

“The prospects for future returns in equities relative to bonds are as good as they have been in a generation,” he concluded.

The embarrassing thing for Goldman is that their uncertainty and disagreement over where markets are going reflects that the masters of the universe — no matter how well connected — are just as clueless as the rest of us.

The problem for muppets (i.e. Goldman clients) is that it is impossible to be both short and long. Muppets will have to decide whose arguments to listen to for themselves, and will have be responsible for gains or losses. The difference between the masters and the muppets is that Goldman don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. If Goldman screws up — say, by purchasing CDS from a counter-party that goes bust, like they did in 2008 — they can easily get a bailout, and  a boatload of loose QE money to turn their balance sheet around.

Underwater equities? Balance sheet full of junk? No problem for Goldman — merely “hunt elephants” (as Greg Smith put it): encourage your clients to put their money into whatever Goldman wants to sell.

Problem with regulation? No problem: just call up any of their friends in government. The friendship starts at the top.

From Firedoglake:

Certainly, Obama sucked at the teats of Goldman Sachs more than any other politician in recent times. It began for him as little-known Senator from Illinois with a razor- thin resume whose ambitions outshone his accomplishments. Obama’s eloquent, heavily prepped address to the Democratic National Convention caught not only the eyes of the Democratic top brass, but that of the big bankers. As early as the Spring of 2006, Senator Barack Obama was intimately involved with Bob Rubin and Goldman Sachs through his involvement with the Hamilton Project.

Fittingly, Senator Obama was chosen by Rubin and the Hamilton Project to give the inaugural address of the Hamilton Project in April, 2006. An excellent, seminal discussion of the Hamilton Project by Dr. Kirk James Murphy, M.D., can be found here. A video clip of then Senator Barack Obama speaking at the inauguration of the Hamilton Project in April, 2006 can be found here and here (with an excellent discussion) and here.

Obama not helpful? Is he having one of those days where he needs to pretend to be a populist to keep his muppets (i.e. voters) on board? That’s fine — Goldman can try Geithner, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, Peter Orszag, William Dudley, or any of the other Goldmanites in positions of power.

Muppets may not be so well-connected. Muppets don’t get bailouts, or QE slush money.

Is Greece About to Default?

Answer: Most Probably

From Bloomberg:

“Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is preparing plans to shore up German banks in the event that Greece fails to meet the terms of its aid package and defaults, three coalition officials said.

The emergency plan involves measures to help banks and insurers that face a possible 50 percent loss on their Greek bonds if the next tranche of Greece’s bailout is withheld, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are being held in private. The successor to the German government’s bank-rescue fund introduced in 2008 might be enrolled to help recapitalize the banks, one of the people said.

The existence of a “Plan B” underscores German concerns that Greece’s failure to stick to budget-cutting targets threatens European efforts to tame the debt crisis rattling the euro. German lawmakers stepped up their criticism of Greece this week, threatening to withhold aid unless it meets the terms of its austerity package, after an international mission to Athens suspended its report on the country’s progress.”

Meanwhile, global monetary players step up their calls for more global monetary easing. First, the Federal Reserve’s John Williams:

The global financial system is experiencing great stress as it adapts to the new, post-crisis rules of the game.  Those new rules are both explicit and implicit.  They call for more capital, reduced leverage, lower risk appetites, more thorough supervision, and stronger regulation, at both the systemic and individual institution levels.  In this environment, open dialog is all the more important as we collectively reach a common understanding of how the new rules should work in practice.

Post-crisis? Really? With Europe on the edge, America slipping back into recession, this is what the “post-crisis” is supposed to look like?

Next up, Josef Ackermann of Deutsche Bank:

Investors are not only asking themselves whether those responsible can summon the necessary willpower to overcome this crisis, but increasingly also whether enough time remains and whether they have the needed resources available.

And finally the Federal Reserve’s Charlie Evans:

Imagine that inflation was running at 5 percent against our inflation objective of 2 percent. Is there a doubt that any central banker worth their salt would be reacting strongly to fight this high inflation rate? No, there isn’t any doubt. They would be acting as if their hair was on fire. We should be similarly energized about improving conditions in the labor market.

And as we speak, the DJIA has slumped 2.5% on fears of Greek contagion. Undoubtedly, policy makers will be looking to stabilise the market. This is absolutely the most anti-capitalist thing imaginable: for capitalism to work, good ideas must be rewarded, and bad ideas, risky and fragile systems must break. For far too long bad decisions, bad management and dangerous corporate behaviour has been rewarded with taxpayer bailouts, crony capitalism, and subsidies. And quite simply, until those practices are rewarded with utter abject failure we are totally fucked. Which brings us to one of the very few sane things I have read today, from Nassim Taleb:

The triplet. Three bankruptcies that would save the world from fragility: 1) Goldman Sachs, 2) Harvard University, 3) the New York Times.