A Joke From Ben Bernanke

Runaway Train

Let’s start off with the joke of the week. We have “Runaway Ben” to thank for it. Last week Ben Bernanke said with a straight face that as soon as he sees signs of inflation and a sustainable recovery, the Fed will begin to tighten money supply. Ha! We already have signs of inflation and it could be years before we see sustainable recovery especially if sustainable means without government or Federal Reserve stimulation. Normally this type of news plus all the crises in the world would send the US Dollar soaring in value. It didn’t. Instead the greenback fell even further into the abyss of third world currencies making your next vacation much more likely to happen in Mexico than in Monte Carlo…habla Espanol?

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Gold, our favorite recommendation for now soared on all the bad news coming out of almost every corner of the world, except for Iceland. That country of 300,000 people was voted the happiest nation on earth. I don’t quite know why, although I do have a couple of Icelandic friends and they seem happy most of the time – but that’s because they’re living in Florida where it’s a tad bit warmer! As I have said on many occasions gold is still relatively cheap by historical standards. Now, was it to move over $2,500 per ounce, nearly a double from here, it would start to approach a valuation that makes sense. It won’t happen this year, but the possibility of a mega-move in gold is increasing daily. Technicians were looking for a breakdown just three weeks ago, down to the $1,100s – foiled again!

China Sneezes – Who’s Going to Catch the cold?

China is tightening money supply and reducing growth expectations. Of course that means they will only grow at 8% instead of 10%. But, it’s big news, especially for the hot money, which has lost its collective pants investing in Chinese stocks the past couple of years. Of all the major world indices, the Shanghai composite is trading closest to its two year lows. If this continues, Asian markets will follow first. They are the beneficiaries of Chinese largesse along with one other non-Asian country, Australia. Australia is one of the largest exporters of raw materials to the Chinese, makes sense since they are fairly close geographically speaking. Look for weakness in Aussie resource companies (except for gold producers) as the first canary in the coal mine so to speak, signaling a slowdown in Asia.

Speaking of Asia, on Wednesday of last week the Minister of the Interior for Pakistan was assassinated. The Taliban took credit – they always do. Seems that the gentleman was opposed to Pakistan’s “blasphemy law” which prohibits people from speaking ill about Islam, the Prophet or the Quran. As I mentioned recently, I think Pakistan is the biggest “flashpoint” in that part of the world, bigger than Iran, Iraq and certainly North Africa. If there was any question about whether the Taliban was still a major force, this major assassination should answer it. Worse still, there is talk of the US actually negotiating with the Taliban behind the scenes in Afghanistan – no surprise here either.

The VIX

Volatility in US markets is increasing. The VIX or Volatility Index has spiked by over 30% in the past two weeks, albeit from a very low base of 16 to over 20. This is not a sign of panic – the VIX would have to trade into the 30s before things look more serious for the markets. But, the sentiment is changing to a more negative tone. It’s time to tighten up your stop losses and to begin to think about insurance. When the house is burning down it will be too late. The Middle East and North Africa are flashpoints and when you have delusional dictators like Quadaffi, there is no telling what can happen. If you recall, another delusional dictator, Saddam Hussein set ablaze his own oil fields and those of the Kuwaitis on separate occasions. One doesn’t get the title of ruthless dictator by giving up easily or non-violently.

Oil prices are up as a result of the crisis. This could be the prelude to a huge run-up or a huge bust. Right now there is no shortage of oil – maybe even a glut. The Saudis have vowed to keep it flowing and increase production if need be. But, in the short-term perception rules. Longer term, the region is going through a cathartic event, which may actually lead to lower oil prices if the right people take over some of these countries. A big component in the price of oil has always been political and country risk. Take that away and oil prices could easily fall $30 per barrel in a heartbeat. So, play oil for momentum for now, but don’t bet the farm on this move.

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