Tuesday, December 28, 2010

With Stocks Stuck in Near-Neutral, Precious Metals Break Out

It's been a while since there was any excitement in the precious metals space - about a three weeks to be exact, when silver popped to a multi-year high at $30.50 and gold marked an all-time record high of $1420.00 on the London Fix. Both of those numbers were made on December 7th, and since then both have seen pull-backs in price, though nothing any serious gold bugs were losing sleep over.

Since then, talk of a gold bubble have been bandied about by the numbskull financial press, the case against JP Morgan and HSBC manipulating the silver market has expanded and stocks have done what they usually do in December, appreciate, though on close to record-low volume across the board.

With Christmas season over and stock pickers jubilant over what's being called the best holiday shopping season since 2007 (not that big a deal, since 2008 and 2009 were, by most accounts, stinkers) there may be a little bit of sanity re-emerging into the markets. Bond auctions in the EU and here in the USA have not fared particularly well, and a failed short-term government bond auction and a 25 basis point hike in China have put the fear of inflation squarely back on the table as holiday cheer and the cheering over retail stocks fades into the background.

Gold rocketed higher, up $21.30 on last check, to $1405.40, which, if it holds above $1403.50 until 5:00 ET, would be the third-highest closing price ever on the NYMEX, all recorded this month. Silver will finish with its second-highest close since the attempted cornering of the market by the infamous Hunt Brothers back in 1979-80 when it topped out at $54/ounce. Today's price is up $1.00, at $30.28, only the second time silver has closed over $30 per ounce in 30 years.

There's currently so much doubt and fear involved with trading stocks and bonds that investors, gamblers and speculators of all kind and size are bidding up the price of both gold and silver, which have traditionally performed best in times of uncertainty. To believe that sovereign economies are solvent and secure would be tantamount to believing that some mythical fat man in a red suit delivered all those nifty iPads and colorful sweaters a few days ago.

Nations are on the brink of economic collapse, and not just Greece and Spain, but larger ones such as the United States, France and Great Britain. Decades of mismanagement of government budgets have stretched the credibility of central banks and politicians to the point that smart money is moving away from the paper chase of currency and securities and back to the old standards of real money - gold and silver.

Today's moves in the precious metals may have been caused by some expiring options positions, though the past three weeks have witnessed more consolidation in the metals market than outright selling. The pullback from the December 7 highs has been brief and not particularly deep, with the move covering all of 5% in the gold price and roughly 7% in silver.

If anything is certain heading into the new year, it's that the global recovery or crisis (tke your pick) still has more to play out, and the main beneficiaries of uncertainty will be the precious metals, heading into the 10th year of an historic bull run.

Stocks and bonds will come and go, rise and fall as they always do, but the permanence of gold and silver appear to be headed for a bright and glorious future.

The day's action in the equities space was as usual: little movement, split indices and extremely thin volume. If not for the HFT computers pushing electrons around, US exchanges might as well have been closed the first two days of this week and probably won't look any better after the next three.

Dow 11,575.54, +20.51 (0.18%)
NASDAQ 2,662.88, -4.39 (0.16%)
S&P 500 1,258.51, +0.97 (0.08%)
NYSE Composite 7,931.67, +10.73 (0.14%)

Losing issues outpaced advancers for the session, 3505-2977, and there were more new highs than lows across both exchanges: 135-12 on the NASDAQ and 130-14 on the NYSE, a kind of reverse-Hindenburg indication. The volume figures should be starkly defeatist to any bulls.

NASDAQ Volume 1,144,227,750.00
NYSE Volume 2,461,884,250

A couple of key economic indicators shed some light on the US economy, which remains mired in the quicksand of bogus bailouts, high unemployment and moribund housing prices. The Case-Shiller 20-city index declined for the 4th consecutive month, making a residential housing double dip a fait accompli. Consumer confidence, as measured by the Conference Board, tumbled from 54.3 in November to 52.5 this month, a clear sign that, despite the howls of excitement over prospects for 2011 from the likes of Jim Cramer and Larry Kudlow, along with a roster of economic forecasters (charlatans) too numerous to mention, economic conditions in America continue to be just a hair's breadth from desperation.

Those wise enough to be already entrenched in niche markets, rarities, precious metals and arable acreage are sitting comfortably in the proverbial cat-bird's seat.

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