Tuesday, March 25, 2008

All The Glitters Isn't Gold, It's Also Silver

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

Commodities are priced in U.S. dollars. When the Fed began its rate cutting campaign in earnest on September 18, 2007, it became inevitable that the U.S. dollar would fall. While the value of the dollar goes up and down all the time, this time the drop would have serious consequences. The trade-weighted dollar was hoovering just above all time lows in August and would fall through multi-decade support by the end of September to reach levels never before seen. Since the dollar was hitting all time lows and commodities were priced in dollars, everything else being equal, it was reasonable to assume many commodities would subsequently be hitting all time highs. This is exactly what happened to commodities that were consumer necessities or that were currency substitutes.

The biggest price rises took place in food commodities. Wheat had already started rallying in mid-2007. Once it became clear that the Fed was beginning a new easing policy in mid August, the price of wheat on the charts started to move straight up. By the end of September its price would almost be double what it had been only three months before. Major rallies in soybeans, corn, and rice also occurred taking them to multi-decade or all time highs as well. These rallies in turn showed up in rising global food prices, up 20% for 2007 and 75% since the lows of 2000. While U.S. consumers were paying more at the supermarket just like consumers elsewhere, the Federal Reserve continued it long term policy of generally ignoring rising food (and energy) prices because they were 'volatile'. While food prices can indeed be volatile, a report by Bloomberg News found there had not been a year over year drop in food prices in the United States for at least 40 years.

Like food, energy prices were also not a part of core inflation, so the Fed tried its best to ignore them as well. U.S. consumers unfortunately did not have this option. By the end of September, oil had broken through it's all time high set in mid-2006 and headed toward a $100 a barrel, which it reached around the turn of the year. While this was a new nominal high, it was approximately only the 1980 high adjusted for (official) inflation. Interestingly, the price of gasoline at the pump did not break its 2005 post-Katrina high, when oil was only $70 a barrel, until March of 2008.

Finally, the money-substitute commodities, gold and silver, also had significant rallies. Gold broke its April 2006 high before the end of September, while silver lagged by several weeks. Gold would break its January 1980 nominal closing spot-price high in November and the all-time intraday high of $875 an ounce somewhat thereafter. Gold would reach 1000 in March 2008. Unlike oil, gold was not even near its (official) inflation-adjusted high of approximately $2200 an ounce. While percentage wise, Silver had an even bigger rally than gold, reaching $21 an ounce in March of 2008. This was not even near its approximately $50 nominal price high in January 1980, not to mention its over $130 inflation adjusted high.

For more on this topic, please see notes for the talks, "Thinking Outside the Bucks - Inflationary Investing" and "How to Profit from the Falling Dollar" at: http://invesing.meetup.com/21/files
and our video, "Commodity Investing - How to Profit From the Falling Dollar" at:

Next: Australian and Canadian - the Only Dollars Worth Holding

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

Please see our web site for more about our group: http://investing.meetup.com/21.

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