Since Lehman Bros. collapsed in Sept., the purchasing power of gold has shot higher...
FIRST DRAWN to the world's financial capital in 1973, Jay Taylor – now publisher of the weekly Gold, Energy & Technology Stocks newsletter – began work in New York at Barclays Bank International after earning his MBA in finance and investments.
Watching the demolition of the US gold standard and the rapid rise in the national debt, Jay became more interested in monetary and fiscal policy, particularly as it related to Gold Bullion. This led to his first investments in junior Gold Mining shares toward the end of the 1970s, and by 1988 he's added a BA in geology to his CV.
Pursuing his interest in researching and writing about mining companies as a sideline, Jay maintained his full-time banking career for a further 10 more years, but in August 1997 he left the ING Barings' mining and metals group to pursue his vocation as a full-time newsletter publisher for private investors.
Here Jay Taylor speaks to The Gold Report, starting with his new weekly radio program, Turning Hard Times into Good Times...
The Gold Report: What's the premise behind your new show?
Jay Taylor: The notion is in order to fix a problem, you have to understand it. You have to understand its origins and its pathology. In my view, the difficulties we're having in the US economy and the global economy have been diagnosed incorrectly. Our problem is really due to a monetary system that in essence has no foundation. It's a fiat monetary system unlike the commodity-based monetary systems of the past that put some limit on the amount of credit or debt, if you will, that could be issued.
Of course, Roosevelt took Americans off the gold standard in the 1930s, but once Nixon took us off the international gold standard in 1971, there was no longer any limit to the amount of money that could be created. So the central bankers of this world, the politicians and the bankers in general, have had one heck of a party and we have created enormous amounts of credit. We've created so much credit, in fact, that we have reached the level where it is no longer serviceable.
The solution that the policymakers are coming up with is more of the same, more credit. I was talking to Congressman Ron Paul earlier; he was suggesting that Roosevelt's New Deal did not work in the 1930s. His Secretary of the Treasury admitted that it did not work, that it was a total failure. From 1929 through the first eight years of the first Roosevelt administration, we had as much unemployment as we had at the start of the administration, and huge amounts of debt to boot. Well, it didn't work in the '30s, but we're making the same diagnoses now. The policymakers are trying to solve the problem with more of the very thing that caused the problem and that is enormous amounts of debt. This is the view of the Austrian School of Economics that I'm bringing to my radio show.
TGR: Could you describe that view in a nutshell?
Jay Taylor: The Austrian perspective is at odds with the mainstream Keynesian and monetarist economics view, which suggest that all you really have to do is print more and more money faster and faster. If there was a problem in the '30s, the Keynesians argue, it wasn't the treatment—it was that there just wasn't enough of it fast enough.
I believe that's wrong and, in fact, back in 2000 my newsletter started to invest on the basis that we were in for big problems. With that approach, we'd tripled the value of our model portfolio by the end of 2007, whereas, the S&P 500 had not gained anything. It was actually down a little bit. Last year we took a big hit; we lost a lot of money, unfortunately, but we almost doubled our portfolio while the S&P 500 now is down to half of where it was at its height. So I think we're doing something right.
The point is that we need to understand the nature of the problem in order to prescribe the right remedies for individuals. I would take it one step further and say that as a nation, we must understand that you cannot create prosperity by printing money, but in fact we have to work hard and create things and save money. Unless the nation understands that and comes to grips with it, we're not going to go anywhere. So that's the premise of my radio show, Turning Hard Times into Good Times. We need to understand the problem properly and then provide some solutions for individuals to preserve their wealth and hopefully expand their wealth at a time when most people unfortunately are buying into the establishment solutions. And again, those solutions are just to prescribe the same remedies that caused the problems in the first place.
TGR: So you're thinking that the US government, in following the Keynesian view, is really just going to prolong the problem? That the hard times are really going to last longer and potentially go deeper?
Jay Taylor: Yes.
TGR: Given that scenario, how do you turn even harder times into good times?
Jay Taylor: You begin by understanding that what they're doing is creating enormous amounts of money out of thin air, in essence. They're not creating wealth; they're creating units of currency. They're increasing the supply of the currency. It's just like increasing the supply of anything else. All other things being equal, when the supply increases, the value decreases.
TGR: So the Dollar is going to decrease in value against what?
Jay Taylor: Maybe not against other currencies, of course, because the same thing is happening with other currencies. The question is which currencies inflate more rapidly, and the dollar actually has been gaining strength recently. It's been gaining against other currencies – but not against Gold Bullion. Gold has been rising against all currencies. So people must understand the basic fundamentals of what's causing our problem and then invest accordingly. What will hold its value against paper money? What could actually increase versus paper money and then go into those sectors.
TGR: Does that limit people to the precious metals? Is it just precious metals that will increase in value versus currencies, or do you see other potential opportunities?
Jay Taylor: At the moment, I'm interested in gold more than any other precious metal. The reason is that I believe we're still looking at a very significant deflationary event. We've seen a little rally recently, but I think it's frankly just a bear market rally. The stock market in general is just getting murdered. The stock market and all manner of investments are way down. If the bond market turns and heads into the secular bear market, I think it's "game over" for paper assets in total.
Certainly, the financial markets are deflating, the bank stocks, financial assets of all kinds. Most commodity prices have taken a really big hit; oil prices are down threefold versus Gold Prices, for example. Housing prices, of course, is a really big one. As long as we continue to deflate and prices continue to decline, I think gold is the place to be.
It's very interesting. Bob Hoye, an analyst from Vancouver, has gone back and studied six major credit expansion periods over the last 300 years, the current one being the latest and the prior one being before the Great Depression of 1930s, when that expansion bubble collapsed. In those six timeframes, gold was a very bad place to put your money during credit cycle expansions. But during the contractions of those cycles, gold was the very best place to be. Why? Because Gold Investment gained real purchasing power.
TGR: So how high could Gold Prices go in this economic contraction?
Jay Taylor: The nominal price of gold doesn't matter so much. Actually, I try to get away from answering that particular question. I believe the right question is "How much will an ounce of gold buy?" Let's put that in some context.
September 12, 2008, was a Friday. It was the beginning of the next week, after the Lehman Brothers collapse, that the bottom fell out of the credit markets. From that time until now, an ounce of gold will buy three times more oil. It will buy more than twice as much of the Rogers Raw Materials Fund. It will buy more than twice as much copper. So gold has gained real purchasing power.
A lot of the copper and zinc and other base metal mines have closed with the collapse in those prices. Labor is available to gold mining companies now; which was not the case when those mines were open. So, just as in the 1930s, gold mining is one of the few places where you can really make money. I don't know of any other sector, aside from perhaps companies that produce guns, that is really reporting substantially higher earnings. For the most part very, very few industries are doing well right now except gold because the real price of gold stays high. The real price of gold does not decline during these periods.
That's because people instinctively know – and they've known for thousands of years – that gold is money and they just naturally hoard gold when they lose confidence in the paper or they lose confidence in the financial institutions. That certainly has been happening now. So gold is really the place that I want to be right now.
Having said that, could we be heading into an inflationary environment? Yes, I think that's possible. Then I think you'll want tangible assets in general that will retain their intrinsic value. A house that you own free and clear would be an example. Even if you have a mortgage in an inflationary environment, the right prescription might be to leverage up, I suppose, as long as you're sure you can pay – but you'll be paying with cheaper dollars in the future. To own assets, even leveraged assets, makes some sense in an inflationary environment. Of course, you have to be sure you're heading into that environment and that you will have the income to service your debt.
For now, gold is my favorite of the precious metals. Silver not as much because silver is much more of an industrial metal. It derives much more of its value from its use in industry and it has a growing number of industrial applications. We have about 55 years of above-ground gold supply, and only six or seven years of above-ground silver supply. The base metals, which have purely industrial uses, have, in essence, only a few weeks' supply.
It's just my thinking that when you go into a deflationary collapse, gold will be the beneficiary. And Bob Hoy has pointed out that over the last 300 years when the credit system imploded, when the debt was called in, when margin clerks forced people to sell whatever they could in order to pay their debts, gold rose significantly in real purchasing power.
TGR: Will gold retain its value if we move into an inflationary environment?
Jay Taylor: Yes, I'm convinced it will. Let's distinguish between an inflationary period and a period of global growth. We've had a lot of global growth until recently and gold was not a very good place to be. We can inflate the monetary system but we can't really get the global banking system to inflate or to expand as it did in Bob Hoy's six examples of the last 300 years. In fact, it's really tough getting the banks to lend money now, for two reasons.
One, they're not lending money to people because loans portfolios look like a black hole. In terms of loan losses, no one knows where bottom is. Because they can't figure that out, they're trying to shore up their capital base and trying to make sure their equity is intact.
Secondly, they're having a heck of a time finding creditworthy borrowers. You can't really get the system to expand if borrowers are not creditworthy. Finding customers who can pay loans back is a big problem. So many are so deeply in debt. They really need to repay their debts and get their personal balance sheets and corporate balance sheets back in order. Until that happens, how can the system inflate or expand? That took a long period of time in the 1930s. The New Deal didn't work then and they're trying to reenact it now. Well, how can they really get it to work now? It won't solve the problem, but as Congressman Paul suggested in my pre-recorded interview for my April 7th radio program, Turning Hard Times into Good Times, there is now a mechanism in place that can allow them to re-inflate the system that they didn't have in the 1930s. Now, the government can transfer money to people very easily now through the IRS. Essentially, they can just put money in people's bank accounts and "bingo" Joe Sixpack or ma and pa Kettle can party on. Ben Bernanke used the image of a helicopter drop. We saw a tiny little example of that after Katrina, when they handed out $3,000 checks all over New Orleans. More recently, of course, President Bush pushed through a stimulus package that gave money to taxpayers. So they can do that and Congressman Paul is convinced that they will. In his view, it's only a matter of time. And I suppose they can get people to start buying things in that way.
They'll issue checks and give income distributions to people who are likely to spend 100% of the money they receive. But can they get the economy to grow? Absolutely not, at least not in real numbers after inflation is factored out of the growth numbers. You just can't create wealth by printing money though that very common sense fact appears to have escaped all those economists at the Fed.
When demand increases very significantly as it would if the masses were handed huge amounts of money to spend, you don't get a corresponding increase in supply, so you are bound to get some very significant inflation. If that happens, you'll start looking at a lot of things other than gold and gold mining shares to make money. Then I think we'll be looking at tangibles in general. Whether mining companies will be the best place to go remains to be seen. In any event, the viability of mining projects will as always be on a case-by-case, project-by-project basis. But if the cost of producing rises too rapidly, it may be that people will forego mining company risks and simply buy commodities alone. But right now, some of the companies are really talking about the reduction of gold mining costs and production costs in the last quarter after the Lehman Brothers collapse. I think they'll still do well during inflation, but frankly, gold mining has done absolutely the best in a deflationary environment. Profit margins have improved because production costs have gone down while the real price has gone up. That's because when the global economy shrinks and there is fear in the streets, people buy gold as the safest monetary store of value. They don't buy copper or other industrial metals.
TGR: You keep mentioning Gold Mining as opposed to physical gold.
Jay Taylor: We're really talking about buying two different assets. A deflationary environment is very, very good for increasing profits in gold mining companies. Let's say the Gold Price goes up substantially and costs do not go up in line with the rise in gold, so margins improve. If earnings improve, the market will pay some multiple of those earnings. Suppose they pay 10 times earnings – all of a sudden the price of the stock can double. You usually don't see that with the price of gold. You can see a very substantial increase in the price of gold, but a lot of these mining companies can go from 10 or 20 cents to $2 or $3 or much higher than that, so the potential gains are much greater in owning mining company than in holding the gold bullion. Always remember, though, that risk goes with reward, and you have higher risks with the mining companies.
The safest way to protect your wealth, of course, is not in gold mining shares because there's always a level of risk in a business. You can own the metal and have it safely stored someplace. That's very, very conservative wealth in your possession. It's safe as long as someone doesn't rob you or the government doesn't take it.
TGR: You've been a proponent of silver in the past, but you've indicated that silver isn't so intriguing to you right now because it's an industrial metal. Have the fundamentals changed?
Jay Taylor: Silver can do well. In fact, it has done better than most things. It's gone up versus oil, copper, a lot of things. It hasn't gone up as much as gold because gold is purely a monetary metal and I said, we have something like a 55-year supply of gold above ground. Industrial uses consume silver and the base metals; people just simply hoard gold. Jewelry demand is not what drives up the price of gold. As a matter of fact, there's an inverse relationship between the price of gold and jewelry off-take. Jewelry sells more when the price of gold goes down. What really makes gold increase in value is when people hoard it, when they have fear of the paper money or the institutions.
There is an element of that in silver, too, which makes it much better than most metals. It's just that in a deflationary environment, when the global economy is contracting, the industrial demand for silver contracts, too. Unless we see enough investor demand to overcome or offset that contraction, silver loses its value compared to gold. That's what's been happening in my view, especially since Lehman Brothers failed, the credit system imploded and the whole global economy dived off a cliff into this recessionary – some people say depressionary – abyss.
So, I do like silver and I probably need to take a look at silver mining projects specifically because if you have enough silver and it's rich enough, you can make money. That's even true of the base metals now. But, until we see a turnaround in industrial demand, for the most part I'm very much partial to gold.
TGR: So you're still okay with silver to some extent.
Jay Taylor: I like silver. I even keep some junk silver, the old quarters and dimes, at home, just in case we have to go to a barter system at some point. What if I want somebody to come in and fix my toilet? The plumber may not want my newsletter or whatever else I may have to offer. What do I have to give him? I'll need something of value that he understands is valuable to him so I can exchange that to get my plumbing fixed. Silver may serve that purpose very well. So I do like silver a lot, but the system is still deflating, and as long as we continue to deflate and until I'm convinced otherwise, I'll probably continue to favor gold. And I do believe we're still deflating despite the fact we've had some stock market rallies lately.
TGR: Can you give us some perspective on how long you think this deflationary environment will last? Earlier you said we have to work their way through all of the debt, put some savings in the bank. Are we looking at one year before we can manage that? Five years? Ten years?
Jay Taylor: It's really hard to say. There's an awful lot of excessive debt needing to be unwound. If you look at the '30s, it took 15 years or so. It never ended until World War II. So I think this major secular downturn can last a long time. The question in my mind is whether the government can create enough demand with helicopter money soon enough to avert a continued deflation. Through the third quarter of last year, we saw $8 trillion worth of wealth destruction in the United States just from stocks and real estate and stuff like that. And they had created a $700 billion TARP, which was very difficult. Americans objected. They said, "$700 billion to bail out the banks? What are you doing that for?" It was not popular. The first bill went down and they had to come up with propaganda that scared the daylights out of Americans and provide enough pork to others to get the bill passed.
For the moment, we are seeing a bit of a rally in the equity markets and in fact I think that could run for several more weeks and perhaps several months. That's positive in terms of overcoming this deflationary thing, but I'm not convinced it's anything but a bear market rally. We had a bull market of 25 years or so – a long, long bull market. After long bull markets, bear markets that follow usually aren't over in a year or two. So I would think this bear market has a long way to run, and to the extent that the bear market and the deflationary environment coincide, we could have at least another three to five years.
On the other hand, if they're able to somehow stimulate the economy, we may see some nominal inflation-induced growth (although not necessarily real economic growth). If you back out the cost-of-living increases, we could see rising incomes in nominal terms but declining incomes in real terms. If we get a "successful" helicopter drop I'm fear of high levels of inflation – even possibly hyperinflation. I think we're in for a tough time no matter what happens – whether we have an inflationary depression or a deflationary depression.
Honestly, if we have to have a depression I'd rather see a deflationary depression. People who behaved themselves, don't live beyond their means, save their money and act in a responsible way would be rewarded in a deflationary depression. But in an inflationary depression, people who don't behave themselves, live beyond their means, blow all their money, max out their credit cards and then get bailed out. Everybody loses then, including the good people who saved their money because their money becomes worthless.
So as painful as it might be, from a moral perspective a deflationary environment is probably better in my way of thinking. The politicians don't see it that way and people forget that initially we had a government that was to be very limited in its objectives of what it was supposed to do. The people were meant to take responsibility for their own lives. Now we're at the point where, like most other countries, we to look to government to bail us out and take care of us. The sad part is we lose our individual freedoms when we do that. That matters to me more than anything else, certainly more than making money.
As Congressman Paul says, if we remain free, we can always rebound. But if we have our freedoms taken away or we give them away, we won't be allowed to own anything or do anything anymore. That's what happens in totalitarian governments. The more government gives, the more it takes away. There are no free rides here.
Some of the banks aren't so sure they want to take TARP money. They don't want the government telling them they can't do anything and regulating everything they can do. But that's the way it's going to be if government bails everybody out. That's the way it's going to be unless we wake up and realize that we need to take responsibility for our own lives. We need to tell our politicians we need to go back to a sound monetary system, a monetary system that is honest instead of this fiat currency system that doesn't have any gold or silver attached to it that allows the bankers to create money – not wealth.
Printing press money doesn't create wealth. It only re-distributes wealth from those who create it – hard working miners, manufacturers, inventors, doctors etc. People who do something for us create wealth. The politicians, through the debt mechanism – because there's no limit to debt money without a gold standard – are really reallocating the wealth to the bankers and to themselves. They are the ones coming out ahead on this. Everybody else is getting hosed big time.
This is bigger than just how we can make money and how we can benefit. My radio show is about two things: recognizing the problem and then finding a way to solve it both for ourselves personally and for our society. We want to do it so we don't get hurt personally and we may be fortunate enough to perhaps gain some wealth. But more importantly, through education, we want people to know how we as citizens can do our small part to help get our country back on course and return to the very basic wealth-creating activities of working hard and saving our money? Until we do that as a nation, we're in big trouble.
TGR: Where can listeners find your radio show?
Jay Taylor: It's at www.voiceamerica.com on the business channel. It will be archived so people can listen to it later as well. Our first week we featured G. Edward Griffin, author of The Creature from Jekyll Island. Second week, Mark Faber will be our guest. The third week we'll bring in Ron Paul. We have a bunch of other really, really interesting people lined up for interviews in the middle section of the program each week. We'll start each show recapping the market for the past week and then before we close every week, we'll provide some investment ideas that can help folks know what to do in this turbulent environment.
We're very excited about it, and think it has the potential to really be very helpful to people.