Precious Metals vs. Commodities
I had the opportunity to listen to an inteview with noted commodities-guru Jim Rogers, which is never a bad investment of one’s time.Rogers is both very astute, and a straight-talker; two “commodities” which I’m sure that he would purchase if he could – since both are clearly in short supply in the 21st century.
The central topic on the mind of Rogers’ interviewer was Ben Bernanke’s farcical testimony before the U.S. Congress. That love-fest had all the interrogative value of spending the day watching Sesame Street. Rogers was also totally unimpressed:
…Mr. Bernanke is going to print more money…I wouldn’t pay much attention to the man…He only knows one thing – and that’s what he’s going to do…
The interview then proceeded to Rogers’ specialty: the world of commodities. He remains totally committed to commodities over the long term, rightfully pointing out that as the global economy continues to be drowned in mountains of the bankers’ paper currencies, that these hard assets must soar in price – as all that paper collapses in value.
When asked to compare the different commodity sectors, Rogers was also unequivocal. He was most bullish with respect to “soft” commodities and industrial commodities, while less bullish on the monetary commodities: gold and silver (at the present time). It’s here that I’m going to dare to differ with Rogers to a degree.
I wouldn’t presume to contradict his long-term prognosis on the future of commodities, in a commodity-starved world. In fact I completely agree with him. However, it is over the short/medium term where I believe I detect a small inconsistency in his analysis of these markets.
The inconsistency lies in the fact that Rogers fervently believes (as do I) that we are on the verge of a Flight out of Paper. He ranked the various forms of these fraud-currencies, and said he expected the holders of this paper to soon begin an exodus out of the most-worthless of them – specifically noting the U.S. dollar.
He also observes that once this exodus starts that there will not be enough stable currency remaining in the world for all of the U.S.-dollar refugees (and other paper-holders) to find a home. This leads to the obvious question: where will all those other $trillions go?
Rogers’ implicit answer is that this paper will flow into his favored soft and industrial commodities. However this ignores a large and obvious practical issue: the absolute need for functional currency. Once we ditch the last of our banker-paper in favor of holding our wealth in some instrument which actually has value, we cannot simply all load up on commodities.
People are not going to go to their local shopping mall lugging bushels of wheat, barrels of oil, or truckloads of lumber in order to do their daily shopping. However, they will be quite happy to conduct their commerce using silver and/or gold coins, since as a species we have collectively had thousands of years of practice in using this only form of “good money”.
What we have here is the world’s foremost expert on commodities warning us that we are about to experience a shortage in a “commodity” with which our modern economies cannot function: usable currency. Then there is silver and gold. These precious metals have a 5,000-year track-record of being the world’s ultimate “safe havens”, because they are the only perfect form of money we have ever been able to devise.
At the same time, thanks to (literally) a century-long propaganda campaign to cause people to forget the true status of these precious metals, gold and silver have never been so under-owned as assets in the history of our species. Even when times are good, people have typically held between 5% and 10% of their wealth in gold and silver, while in times of peril those ratios typically soar.
With entire nations going bankrupt, and with the highly-respected Jim Rogers predicting an exodus out of many paper currencies (such as the U.S. dollar); we have never experienced an era of such extreme economic crises in our entire lives. Yet instead of even holding the “normal” 5 – 10% component of wealth in precious metals, Western investors currently hold only about 1% of their wealth in these assets.
Consequently, with demand/ownership at a temporary and artificial trough just as we are (apparently) about to experience an explosion in demand for these metals; the current rock-bottom prices for gold and silver cannot last. Here Rogers also had some guidance to offer investors.
He noted what is regularly pointed out by myself and other precious metals commentators: in relative terms silver remains a superior value to gold. Rogers based this assessment merely on the fact that the current gold/silver price ratio is sitting at an absurd level of roughly 55:1, as compared to the 5,000-year historical average of 15:1.
This alone implies the price of silver should currently be more than three times the present price, nearly $100/oz. However this ignores 50 years of ‘destruction’ of silver inventories and stockpiles; the direct consequence of well over a half century of price-suppression of this market – primarily through the extreme and relentless “shorting” of silver by the bullion banks (notably JP Morgan).
We have the world’s foremost expert on commodities predicting a shortage of the most important “commodity” for any modern economy: legitimate money, the foundation of all human commerce. We have the two most-reliable forms of money currently being the two most under-owned asset classes on the planet (implying a steep discount in current prices). And we have one of those commodities (silver) priced at a further, steep discount in relation to the other (gold).
This is called “a buying opportunity.”
[Jeff Nielson is Senior Precious Metals Analyst for SilverGoldBull.com]