Friday, June 29, 2012

Chinese Gold Imports Increase 640%

"The Chinese gold imports from Hong Kong in April, 2012 surged almost 1300% on a YoY basis. Total gross imports for the month of April were 103.6 tonnes and the net imports were 66.3 tonnes1. It is not the data for April alone which has caught our eye. There has been a stunning increase of gold imports through Hong Kong for export into China over the past 2 years. Between May 2010 and April 2011, China imported a net 66 tonnes of physical gold through Hong Kong. Between May 2011 and April 2012, that number jumped to 489 tonnes. This represents an increase of 640%."

- Source:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eric Sprott & David Baker Present The Ministry of [Un]Truth

By Eric Sprott & David Baker

Speaking at a Brussels conference back in April 2011, Eurogroup President Jean Claude Juncker notably stated during a panel discussion that "when it becomes serious, you have to lie." He was referring to situations where the act of "pre-indicating" decisions on eurozone policy could fuel speculation that could harm the markets and undermine their policies' effectiveness.1 Everyone understands that the authorities sometimes lie in order to promote calm in the markets, but it was unexpected to hear such a high-level official actually admit to doing so. They're not supposed to admit that they lie. It is also somewhat disconcerting given the fact that virtually every economic event we have lived through since that time can very easily be described as "serious". Bank runs in Spain and Greece are indeed "serious", as is the weak economic data now emanating from Europe, the US and China. Should we assume that the authorities have been lying more frequently than usual over the past year?

When former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan denied and down-played the US housing bubble back in 2004 and 2005, the market didn't realize how wrong he was until the bubble burst in 2007-2008. The same applies to the current Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, when he famously told US Congress in March of 2007 that "At this juncture… the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime markets seems likely to be contained."2 They weren't necessarily lying, per se, they just underestimated the seriousness of the problem. At this point in the crisis, however, we are hard pressed to believe anything uttered by a central planner or financial authority figure. How many times have we heard that the eurozone crisis has been solved? And how many times have we heard officials flat out lie while the roof is burning over their heads?

Back in March, following the successful €530 billion launch of LTRO II, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi assured Germany's Bild Newspaper that "The worst is over… the situation is stabilizing."3 The situation certainly did stabilize… for about a month. And then the bank runs started up again and sovereign bond yields spiked. Draghi has since treaded the awkward plank of promoting calm while slipping out enough bad news to ensure the eurocrats stay on their toes. As ING economist Carsten Brzeski aptly described at an ECB press conference in early June, "Listening to the ECB's macro-economic assessment was a bit like listening to whistles in the dark… It looks as if they are becoming increasingly worried, but do not want to show it."4 And the situation has now deteriorated to the point where Draghi can't possibly show it. Although Draghi does now warn of "serious downside risks" in the eurozone, he maintains that they are, in his words, "mostly to do with heightened uncertainty".5 Of course they are, Mario. Europe's issues are simply due to a vague feeling of unease felt among the EU populace. They have nothing to do with fact that the EU banking system is on the verge of collapsing in on itself.

When Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy assured the Spanish press that "There will be no rescue of the Spanish banking sector" on May 28th, the Spanish government announced a $125 billion bailout for its banks a mere two weeks later.6 This apparent deceit was not lost on the Spanish left, who were quick to dub him "Lying Rajoy". But Mr. Rajoy didn't seem phased in the least. As the Guardian writes, "Even when the outpouring of outrage forced Rajoy to call a hasty press conference the next day, he still refused to use the word "bailout" - or any other word for that matter - and referred mysteriously to "what happened on Saturday". He went as far as to say that Spain's emergency had been "resolved" ("thanks to my pressure", he said). He then took a plane to Poland to watch the national football team play ("the players deserve my presence")."7 Sound credible to you?

Then there are the bankers. Back in April, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon blithely dismissed media reports as a "tempest in a teapot" that referred to massively outsized derivative positions held by the bank's traders in the Chief Investment Office in London. That "tempest" was soon revealed to have resulted in a $2 billion trading loss for the bank roughly four weeks later. In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee this past week, Dimon explained that "This particular synthetic credit portfolio was intended to earn a lot of revenue if there was a crisis. I consider that a hedge."8 He went on to add that regulators "can't stop something like this from happening. It was purely a management mistake."9 That's just wonderful. Can we expect more 'mistakes' of this nature in the coming months given JP Morgan's estimated $70 trillion in derivatives exposure? And will the US taxpayer willingly bail out JP Morgan when it does? Everyone knows the derivatives position wasn't a hedge - but what else is Dimon going to say? That JP Morgan is making reckless derivatives bets overseas with other people's money that's backstopped by the US government? Credibility is leaving the system.

There is certainly a sense that the authorities can no longer be candid about this ongoing crisis, even if they want to be. On June 11th Austria's finance minister, Maria Fekter, opined in a television interview that, "Italy has to work its way out of its economic dilemma of very high deficits and debt, but of course it may be that, given the high rates Italy pays to refinance on markets, they too will need support."10 Her honesty sent Italian bond yields soaring and earned her some harsh criticism from eurozone officials, including Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. As one eurozone official stated, "The problem is that this is market sensitive… It's one thing if journalists write this but quite another if a eurozone minister says it. Verbal discipline is very important but she doesn't seem to get that."11 See no evil, hear no evil… and speak no evil. That's the way forward for the eurozone elites.

We have no doubt that everyone is tired of bad news, but we are compelled to review the facts: Europe is currently experiencing severe bank runs, budgets in virtually every western country on the planet are out of control, the banking system is running excessive leverage and risk, the costs of servicing the ever-increasing amounts of government debt are rising rapidly, and the economies of Europe, Asia and the United States are slowing down or are in full contraction. There's no sugar coating it and we have to stop listening to politicians and central planners who continue to downplay, obfuscate and flat out lie about the current economic reality. Stop listening to them.

NOTHING the central bankers have done up to this point has WORKED. All efforts have simply been aimed at keeping the financial system from imploding. QE I and II haven't worked. LTRO I and II haven't worked, and the most recent central bank initiatives are not even producing short-term benefits at this stage of the crisis. Just take Spain, for example. Following Rajoy's announcement of the $125 billion bailout loan for the Spanish banks on June 10th, Spanish bond yields were trading back over 7% one week later - the same yield level at which other eurozone countries have been forced to ask for further international aid.12 The market still doesn't even know what entity is going to pay the $125 billion, let alone when the funds will actually be released or whether the Spanish government will have to count it as part of its national debt. Spain is the fourth largest economy in the eurozone and larger than the previously bailedout Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined. At this point, it's not even clear if the ECB will be allowed to bail out a country of Spain's size, let alone Italy, which is now asking the ECB to use bailout funds to buy its sovereign bonds.13

The situation in Europe is becoming an exercise in futility. The positive effects of LTRO I and II, which combined pumped in over €1 trillion into European banks back in December 2011 and February 2012, have now been completely erased by the recent bank runs in Spain. Of the €523 billion released in LTRO II, roughly €200 billion was taken by Spanish banks.14 Of that amount, roughly €61 billion was estimated to have been reinvested back into Spanish sovereign bonds, which temporarily helped Spanish bond yields drop back to a sustainable level below 5.5%. Fast forward to today, and despite the LTRO infusions, the Spanish banks are all broke again after their underlying depositors withdrew billions over the past six weeks. The only liquid assets Spanish banks still own that they can sell to raise euros just happen to be government bonds… hence the rise in Spanish yields. So in essence, the entire benefit of the LTRO, which was a clever way of replenishing Spanish bank capital AND helping calm sovereign bond yields, has been completely reversed in roughly 14 weeks. It's as we've said before - it's not a sovereign problem, it's a banking problem. This is why Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy is now pleading for help "to break the link between risk in the banking sector and sovereign risk."15 Without a healthy sovereign bond market, peripheral eurozone countries simply have no way of supporting their bloated and insolvent banks.

The smart money is finally waking up to the dimension of the problem here and realizing that it's really a banking issue. Deposit flight has revealed the vulnerability of the European banking system: when depositors make withdrawals, the only assets the banks can sell to raise liquidity are sovereign bonds, which creates the vicious downward spiral that up to this point has always resulted in some form of central bank bailout. Many eurozone authorities still have trouble understanding this. As Spanish Economy Minister, Luis de Guindos, recently stated to reporters at the G20 Summit, "We think… that the way markets are penalizing Spain today does not reflect the efforts we have made or the growth potential of the economy… Spain is a solvent country and a country which has a capacity to grow."16 Every country has the capacity to grow. Not every country has a domestic banking system that has already borrowed €316 billion from the ECB so far this year (pre the most recently announced bailout), and needs to rollover roughly €600 billion in bank debt in 2012.17 That may be why the markets are reacting the way they are.

If you want to know what's really going on, listen to the executives of companies that actually produce and sell things. On May 24, Tiffany & Co cut its fiscal-year sales and profit forecasts blaming "slowing growth in key markets like China and weakness in the United States as shoppers think twice about spending on high-end jewelry."18 On June 8th, McDonald's surprised the market with lower than expected same-store sales growth in May, following a lacklustre April sales report that the company stated was "largely due to underperformance in the United States, where consumers continue to seek out very low-priced food."19, 20On June 13th, Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. steelmaker by market value warned that its second-quarter profit will miss its previous guidance after a "surge" in imports undermined prices and "political and economic uncertainty affect buyers' confidence".21 On June 20th, Proctor and Gamble lowered its fourth quarter guidance and profit forecast for 2012. Factors that drove the company's challenges included "slow-to-no GDP growth in developed markets", high unemployment levels, significant commodity cost increases and "highly volatile foreign exchange rates".22 Other companies that have recently lowered guidance include Danone, Nestle, Unilever, Cisco Systems, Dell, Lowe's, and Fedex. It's ugly out there, and many companies are politely warning the market about the type of environment they foresee ahead in both the US and abroad.

To give you a hint of how bad it is in Europe today, the most recent retail sales out of Netherlands showed a decline of 8.7% year-over-year in April.23 In Spain, retail sales fell 9.8% year-on-year in April, which was 6% greater than the revised drop of 3.8% in March.24 Declines of this magnitude are not normal occurrences and signal a significant shift in spending within those countries. We fear this is a sign of things to come within the broader Eurozone, which will only serve to complicate an already dire situation that much more.

The G6 central banks are out of conventional tools to solve this financial crisis. With interest rates at zero, and the thought of further stimulus rendered politically unpalatable for the time being, we cannot see any positive solutions to this problem other than debt repudiation. We continue to note the contrast between the reporting companies who by law cannot lie about their fiscal realities, versus the central planners who admit that they MUST lie to preserve calm and control. We'll leave it to you to decide whose version of the truth you want to believe.

- Source:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Silver to Go Supernova, Paper Markets are a Joke

This has been said before in the past, but as markets continue to go sideways, remember silver will go supernova one day. It is only a matter of time.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Perfect environment for gold

“It’s the perfect environment for gold”

"It is the ultimate place to be if you don’t want to worry that your currency may be devalued or somebody pulls out of the EU.”

“There is no growth going on in the United States,” he said, pointing to both weak consumer sentiment and wages, and little activity in financial markets. “The 99% is suffering and now the 1% is suffering.”

“We have financial chaos, so much so that we all have to assume QE3 is coming, which is just printing money,” he said. “We’re in a very chaotic state and there is really only one safe place to be, and that is precious metals.”


- Via the Financial post, read the full article here:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Real Banking Crisis - Part II

By: Eric Sprott & David Baker


Here we go again. Back in July 2011 we wrote an article entitled "The Real Banking Crisis" where we discussed the increasing instability of the Eurozone banks suffering from depositor bank runs. Since that time (and two LTRO infusions and numerous bailouts later), Eurozone banks, as represented by the Euro Stoxx Banks Index, have fallen more than 50% from their July 2011 levels and are now in the midst of yet another breakdown led by the abysmal situation currently unfolding in Greece and Spain.

CHINA HONG KONG GOLD IMPORTS AND GOLD SPOT PRICE

Source: Bloomberg


On Wednesday, May 16th, it was reported that Greek depositors withdrew as much as €1.2 billion from their local Greek banks on the preceding Monday and Tuesday alone, representing 0.75% of total deposits.1 Reports suggest that as much as €700 million was withdrawn the week before. Greek depositors have now withdrawn €3 billion from their banking system since the country's elections on May 6th, seemingly emptying what was left of the liquidity remaining within the Greek banking system.2 According to Reuters, the Greek banks had already collectively borrowed €73.4 billion from the ECB and €54 billion from the Bank of Greece as of the end of January 2012 - which is equivalent to approximately 77% of the Greek banking system's €165 billion in household and business deposits held at the end of March.3 The recent escalation in withdrawals has forced the Greek banks to draw on an €18 billion emergency fund (released on May 28th), which if depleted, will leave the country with a cushion of a mere €3 billion.4 It's now down to the wire. Greece is essentially €21 billion away from a complete banking collapse, or alternatively, another large-scale bailout from the European Central Bank (ECB).


The way this is unfolding probably doesn't surprise anyone, but the time it has taken for the remaining Greek depositors to withdraw their money is certainly perplexing to us. Official records suggest that the Greek banks only lost a third of their deposits between January 2010 and March 2012, which begs the question of why the Greek banks have had to borrow so much capital from the ECB in the meantime.5Nonetheless, we are finally past the tipping point where Greek depositors have had enough, and the past two weeks have perfectly illustrated how quickly a determined bank run can propel a country back into crisis mode. The numbers above suggest there really isn't much of a banking system left in Greece at all, and at this point no sane person or corporation would willingly continue to hold deposits within a Greek bank unless they had no other choice.


The fact remains that here we are, in May 2012, and Greece is right back in the exact same predicament it was in before its March 2012 bailout. Before the bailout, Greece had approximately €368 billion of debt outstanding, and its government bond yields were trading above 35%.6 On March 9th, the authorities arranged for private investors to forgive more than €100 billion of that debt, and launched a €130 billion rescue package that prompted Nicolas Sarkozy to exclaim that the Greek debt crisis had finally been solved.7 Today, a mere two months later, Greece is back up to almost €400 billion in total debt outstanding (more than it had pre-bailout), and its sovereign bond yields are back above 29%. It's as if the March bailout never happened… and if you remember, that lauded Greek bailout back in March represented the largest sovereign restructuring in history. It is now safe to assume that that record will be surpassed in short order. It's either that, or Greece is out of the Eurozone and back on the drachma - hence the renewed bank run among Greek depositors.


Meanwhile, in Spain, bank depositors have been pulling money out of the recently nationalized Bankia bank, which is the fourth largest bank in the country. Depositors reportedly withdrew €1 billion during the week of May 7th alone, prompting shares of Bankia to fall 29% in one day.8 The Bankia run coincided with Moody's issuance of a sweeping downgrade of 16 Spanish banks, a move that was prompted over concerns related to the Spanish banks' €300+ billion exposure to domestic real estate loans, half of which are believed to be delinquent.9 The Spanish authorities were quick to deny the Bankia run, with Fernando JimĂ©nez Latorre, secretary of state for the economy stating, "It is not true that there has been an exit of deposits at this time from Bankia… there is no concern about a possible flight of deposits, as there is no reason for it."10 Funny then that the Spanish government had to promptly launch a €9 billion bailout for Bankia the following Wednesday, May 24th, an amount which has since increased to a total of €19 billion to fund the ailing bank.11 Deny, deny some more… panic, inject capital - this is the typical government approach to bank runs, but the bailouts are happening faster now, and the numbers are getting larger.


The recent bank runs in Greece and Spain are part of a broader trend that has been building for months now. Foreign depositors in the peripheral EU countries are understandably nervous and have been steadily lowering their exposure to Eurozone sovereign debt. According to JPMorgan analysts, approximately €200 billion of Italian government bonds and €80 billion of Spanish bonds have been sold by foreign investors over the past nine months, representing more than 10% of each market.12 The same can be said for foreign deposits in those countries. Citi's credit strategist Matt King recently reported that, "in Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, foreign deposits have fallen by an average of 52%, and foreign government bond holdings by an average of 33%, from their peaks."13 Spain and Italy are not immune either, with Spain having suffered €100 billion in outflows since the middle of last year (certainly more now), and Italy having lost €230 billion, representing roughly 15% of its GDP.14


As we've stated before, no matter what happens in the Eurozone, the absolute worst case scenario for the authorities is a bank run. It terrifies all involved, because they can spiral out of control faster than governments can react to stop them, save for the most Draconian measures. They also prompt banks to liquidate whatever assets they can, revealing the truth about what their "assets" are actually worth. In this environment, no one wants to find out what the market will really pay for them. We're seeing this now in Spain, where according to Bloomberg, "Many Spanish banks are avoiding property sales so they don't have to "mark to market" valuations. Instead, they're giving developers new loans to pay debt coming due to prevent defaults."15 Sound familiar? We're now at the point where a bank run in one Eurozone country could quickly seize up the entire system - not just in Greece or Spain, but throughout the entire Eurozone and beyond. Greek and Spanish banks are just like all the others; they operate with leverage ratios averaging 25x their equity capital. They are all so overleveraged that it takes very little in deposit withdrawals to cause instantaneous liquidity issues. This is why we'll likely see another ECB-induced printing program announced (with a new abbreviation, hopefully) before a broader bank run can take root. The Eurozone authorities simply cannot risk the consequences of bank runs in countries like Spain, Portugal or Italy, which are far too big to bailout for the over-stretched ECB. It's not about Greece staying or leaving the European Union anymore, it's about the ability of the European banking system to survive the impact of massive money transfers.


Nothing is really being solved here, and everyone knows it. We're essentially in the same place we were when the crisis erupted back in 2010, only now there's more total debt outstanding. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney remarked in a December 2011 speech that "the global Minsky moment has arrived", and it's now plain for all to see.16 The "Minsky moment" refers to the work of Hyman Minsky, a deceased American economist who developed theories on how debt accumulation eventually leads to financial crises. You don't have to be an economist to understand the crux of Minsky's theories. As an economy grows it takes on increasing amounts of debt. The point eventually comes when the cost of servicing that debt can no longer be met by that economy's productive capacity - that's the Minsky Moment, and we're watching it play out all over the world today. When Greek bond yields spiked back in February 2012, bond investors looking at the country's €368 billion of debt outstanding, its population of 11 million people, and its nominal GDP of $312 billion realized that it couldn't possibly work. There was no way Greece could pay the interest on its debt load. There was no way the bond market could keep pretending everything was ok, like it currently does with the UK, US and Japan… for now.


Greece clearly needs another large-scale bailout, and we think they'll get one. Greece's exit from the Eurozone represents a Lehman-like scenario to the global banking system - why wait to see what carnage it will unleash? It's always easier to print money, and printing another couple €100 billion is nothing compared to the trillions that have been printed since last November. Where this will get tense, however, is when the market acknowledges the Minsky moment in a larger EU economy, like Spain or Italy. As we go to print, Spanish bond yields are now trading back above 6.5%, signaling the market's non-confidence in the country's ability to back-stop its own banking system. Spain has a population of 47 million, a GDP of roughly $1.3 trillion, national debt of roughly $1.1 trillion, debt owed to the ECB and various bailout funds totaling €643 billion, and now, a banking system that also appears close to collapsing.17 Their Minsky Moment has already arrived, and it's simply a matter now of how the market will react to it, and how long it takes the ECB to come to Spain's rescue.


Without a doubt, the most counterintuitive aspect of the Greece/Eurozone debacle has been its impact on the price of gold. Gold is now back below $1600 for the third time since August 2011; each time has coincided with severe banking stress within Greece and the broader Eurozone. Some pundits have suggested that various European banks are selling gold to raise liquidity, and this would make sense if the Eurozone banks had gold to sell, but we cannot find any evidence of large physical sellers out of Europe. Also, ever since the unlimited US-dollar SWAP agreement was launched in November 2011, USD liquidity has not been the key issue in Europe - rising sovereign bond yields and deposit withdrawals have. On the contrary, the selling pressure in gold once again appears to be expressed primarily through the futures markets, which are highly levered and rarely involve any physical transactions involving actual bullion. The futures market sell-off also appears to be waning now, since the European banking crisis has provided central banks with a politically-palatable excuse to take action if it deteriorates any further.


The recent gold price has been particularly frustrating given the continuation of bullish demand trends out of China. China posted another record Hong Kong gold import number in March of 62.9 tonnes. Gold imports into China have now totaled 135.5 metric tonnes between January and March 2012, representing a 600% increase over the same period last year.18 We don't have to connect the dots here - China is stockpiling the precious metal while investors in the West scratch their heads wondering why the spot price is so low.


CHINA HONG KONG GOLD IMPORTS AND GOLD SPOT PRICE

Source: UBS, Bloomberg

Non-G6 central banks have also continued to accumulate physical gold, with the latest reports revealing another 70 tonnes of gold purchases completed in March and April by the central banks of Philippines, Turkey, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka.19 We won't bore you with the exercise of annualizing those numbers and comparing them to the annual global mine supply, but suffice it to say that the fundamentals still remain firmly intact. It's now simply a matter of improving sentiment towards gold in the West, and if the current banking crisis in Europe gets any worse, or if we see another large-scale policy response, it will likely happen on its own accord.


Although the last eight months have not played out the way we would have expected for gold, they have played out the way we envisioned for the banks. The question now is how long this can go on for, and how long gold can remain under pressure in a banking crisis that has the potential to spread beyond Greece and Spain? So much now rests on the policy responses fashioned by the US Fed and ECB, and just as much also rests on what's left of European citizens' confidence in their local banking institutions. Neither of these things can be precisely measured or predicted, but we continue to firmly believe that depositors in Greece and Spain will choose gold over drachmas or pesetas if they have the foresight and are given the freedom to act accordingly. The number one reason we have always believed gold should be owned, and why we believe it will go higher, is people's growing distrust of the banking system - and we are now there. We will wait and see how the summer develops, and keep our attention firmly focused of the second phase of the bank run now spreading across southern Europe.


- Source:
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