Focus on what is real not what is safe

Monty Pelerin offers some investment advice and then asks his readers what they would suggest. I responded with the following comment:

Gold mining companies may be good in the sense that their assets (NAV–Net Asset Value) are largely trapped under ground and brought to the surface at a slow rate and sold for profit; thus they will still be recovering value from the ground when money has collapsed and gold is needed as a currency. I think the same is true of Canadian oil companies, which have large stores of oil and gas in the ground (i.e., NPV–Net Potential Value)–the Cardium and Swan Hills are largely, e.g., are known quantities exploited by vertical drilling and are now offer new yield through new technologies, i.e., horizontal drilling and multi-fracking. Billions of barrels remain in the ground, and EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) methods, such as the injection of natural gas, that companies like Petrobakken (see this post) and Crescent Point are beginning to employ promises to produce as much as 25% more recoverable oil from the fields–this means that these companies could increase their NAV by as much as 5 times, since their current NAV is based on 5% recoverable oil. The US has a lot of oil too, but the Canadian regulatory environment remains for now a far more favourable than in the US. Yet this remains high risk, and my portfolio which consists most of these oil companies and few miners is suffering YTD.

After your last post by Ann Barnhardt, and the news coming from Gerald Celente about how his cash was stolen from his brokerage account, one wonders if any brokerage account is safe any more.

Thus, the operative word in all this is risk. Nothing is safe. Perhaps the best thing is to focus on what is “real” as opposed to what is “safe”. Fiat money is not real, for our estimation of all that is denominated in nominal currency is actually a reification–the assigning of concrete value to an abstraction. What is real? Physical gold & silver, wine kits (see Wine as Currency), spam, beans, unused toilet paper, used aluminium beverage cans. What is reified? Bonds, derivatives, currencies, the value of gold in terms of fiat currency, etc. I have a canned spam collection, Monty Python not withstanding–mind you, I like spam. It has a long shelf life and is good food during times of crisis–that’s why my Korean family from Hawaii used to eat a lot of it–it could survive the sea journey from the mainland and was a staple during WWII.

Peter Schiff is a mensch

I enjoy the tenacity of Peter Schiff and his willingness to speak against the consensus. Schiff has been consistently critical of the debt bubble in the US and he predicted the fall of housing prices in the face of mocking and shouting down by other “experts”.  Consider this 2006 video from Fox News:

For a long time, Schiff has recommended precious metals and continues to do so despite many who say that gold is “hyper-overbought” (Dennis Gartman, September 29–when gold was trading at $1300).  Against those who think that there is a gold bubble, Eric Sprott claims, “I am pretty convinced that gold will go a lot higher because it is under-owned as only 1 per cent of people’s money is in it.”  Now, there is a new Tech Ticker debate between Peter Schiff and Gary Schilling.  If it is appropriate to call people who insist that gold is the best investment as “gold bugs”, then Gary Schilling is a “bond bug” because he is inflicted with a disease now appropriately named as “Fiat Currency Fever“, the irrational view that the US dollar is a the best and safest investment–despite the severe and secular bear market that the dollar has suffered since 1971 when it was taken off the gold standard.  At a certain point, Gary Schilling claims that the Federal Reserve doesn’t create money–a trillion dollars that banks have received from the Fed is just sitting in the banks.  But unfortunately Schilling seems to be dead wrong on this point, because the banks have been lending this money to the US government, and it has actually gone out into circulation in the form of food stamps, federal employee wages, unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, etc.  There is some serious monetization of debt going on in America (cf. Monty Pelerin), for Bernanke is trying to re-inflate all the bubbles.

Despite being right most of the time, Peter Schiff still faces fierce opposition from critics, including economists–you know the guys with PhDs, who claim that gold is barbarous relic.  I agree with Schiff.  For I believe that only God can create something out of nothing, and when a central bank expands the volume of fiat money inflation is the inevitable result.  This is an immutable law of economics.  When hyperinflation hits in earnest, then all those who own precious metals will be very thankful that they listened to Peter Schiff.

Aggresivity or Gold: what is needed in the current investment climate

These are difficult times for investors. They are wonderful times for speculators. Speculators will make (and lose) a lot of money over the next couple of years. In my opinion, investors are likely to lose. Prudent investors might better avoid financial assets for awhile. Traditional wisdom is apt not to apply to what is coming.  Monty Pelerin, “Speculators Only”

There is the saying, “Those who remain calm while others panic, don’t know what the hell is going on.” It is a troubled time and I genuinely feel bad for what central banks are doing to people’s savings. But as Pelerin says, speculators will make and lose a lot of money. The biggest winners today are those upon whom Bernanke shines his favor, such as the big banks that borrow money from the Fed and lend it back to the US federal government, which is perhaps the biggest Sopranos-type racket going: but it’s not some kind of under the table payoffs, but it’s being done right in front of all of us and with impunity.

The 2008 market crash has been particularly devastating on people’s savings. They were forced by inflation to buy so-called “risky” instruments, esp. stocks. Then that bubble burst twice in less than a decade. Stung by this double whammy to their savings, many are still too scared to bet on the market again, and so Bernanke, and the other sovereign banks around the world are robbing them blind through their loose monetary policies; the euphemism for excess money creation is “Quantitative Easing”–it used to be called just simply “inflation”.

Loose money is also created by low interest rates.  In Canada, for example, there has been something like a 20% increase in the cost of houses since the summer of 2008, due to the Bank of Canada keeping the rates at ridiculously low rates. So you can’t sit on cash–because the riskiest investment in an inflationary environment is cash in a savings account that pays 1%. Here in Canada since the nadir of the stock market crash, such cash has lost about 19% against real estate and much more against stocks and gold.  Commodity prices on world markets are rising rapidly too.  Or rather, fiat currencies are losing their symbolic value quickly.  A interest bearing GIC, savings account or bond is recipe for a portfolio with a rapidly declining buying power.

I’ve devised an aggressive and flexible investment style to beat the coming inflation, if possible.  The stock portfolio I manage is now almost all commodities (oil and gas, gold mining), 100% Canadian-based (as I live in Canada), and I am shorting the US dollar to buy these companies. I am selling cash or margin covered puts on oil and gas, gold-mining companies (etc.) for income (which gives from 5-10% downside protection) and, because I can’t trust my margin to stay high in market downturn, I am accumulating unused lines of credit (notably my HELOC) as my hedge against deflation,with the view of seizing the day if there is a market crash. I believe the investor must be aggressive and engaged–you can’t have a “lazy” portfolio today (John Mauldin said the same in his most recent interview with Steve Forbes). The goal must be to beat inflation, and the higher that goes, the more aggresivity is necessary. Or if I had to sit out as you suggest, then I would put most of my funds into silver, gold, non-perishable foods, or other commodities–things with durative and intrinsic value (gold and silver are liquid and so are excellent choices, but you have to have a safe place to put it).

Most people’s best hedge against inflation is still their mortgage, as Bernanke’s devaluation of the dollar will also reduce everyone’s debts. It’s the Year of Jubilee, when everyone’s debts will be canceled, especially the Federal government’s. Or as Dickens says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ”

This post is a revised comment that was featured today at Monty Pelerin’s blog, “One man’s approach to investing in dangerous times“.  Thanks Monty!!

Please read my financial disclaimer, if you haven’t already.