Swiss America Blog Archive

7.8.14 - American Businesses Less Than Optimistic About U.S. Economic Outlook

Gold prices end slightly lower amid chart consolidation and profit taking. U.S. stocks fall, May job openings rise to 4.64 million. Gold last traded at $1,316 an ounce. Silver at $21.01 an ounce.

The financial markets are awaiting the release of minutes from the Fed's June policy meeting on Wednesday to gauge the central bank's view on interest rates and economic strength. This release will likely set the pace for the rest of the week, though geopolitical factors could also weigh in to impact the various financial markets as well.

The stock market is also trading tentatively today in anticipation of the start of the 2nd quarter "earnings season." Stock market valuations are decidedly rich and traders are waiting to see if earnings catch up or lag behind.

In the interim, there is fresh evidence American business is less than optimistic about the outlook for the US economy.

U.S. small business sentiment weakened in June because firms felt less confident the economy would improve in the coming months.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said on Tuesday its Small Business Optimism Index fell 1.6 points to 95 last month.

Six of the NFIB's 10 indicators decreased, with about half of the decline in the overall index due to less confidence in future business conditions. The index also saw a deep slide in business expectations, which plunged by 10 points during the month. Real sales expectations, meanwhile, fell four points to 11 percent.

The NFIB index is often seen as a leading indicator for the economy and is a truly independent index, immune from the government meddling and rigging so often seen in the Labor and Commerce Department reports.

The Obama years have been plagued by economic stagnation for various reasons. One reason given for dismal economic performance in the winter of 2013-2014 was unusually bad, cold weather.

But a new report from economist John Lott suggests the weather cannot be blamed for that bad performance. Lott's historical research does not support the administration's claims that bad weather is to blame for a bad economy. Going back to 1947, 4 of the 5 the worst winters actually experienced economic growth. Moreover, there is no correlation between low temperatures and GDP growth.

One of the reasons the US economy is strapped is because there simply aren't enough Americans working. Today, in the Obama economy, only 47.7% of US adults are working full-time. That minority has to carry the burden of the rest of America and it's just too much.

We cannot expect sustained economic improvement until the fiscal and monetary factors underpinning this situation are reversed.

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7.3.14 - Unemployment Report Not As Positive As It Seems

Gold prices end lower on profit taking and upbeat economic data. U.S. stocks higher, Dow tops 17,000 on higher than expected jobs data. Gold last traded at $1,320 an ounce. Silver at $21.14 an ounce.

Irrational exuberance has returned to the US stock market.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is now trading at over 17,000, ostensibly after a positive US employment report which showed the unemployment rate in the US has dropped to 6.1%.

But as we have so often pointed out in the past, when it comes to the unemployment report, the devil is indeed in the details.

In this case, we have seen still more Americans drop out of the work force, which contributes to a lower unemployment rate. The number of Americans 16 and older who did not participate in the labor force climbed to a record high of 92,120,000 in June, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This means there were 92,120,000 Americans 16 and older who not only did not have a job, but did not actively seek one in the last four weeks.

That is up 111,000 from the 92,009,000 Americans who were not participating in the labor force in April.

In June, according to BLS, the labor force participation rate for Americans was 62.8 percent, matching a 36-year low. The participation rate is the percentage of the population that either has a job or actively sought one in the last four weeks.

In December, April, May, and now June, the labor force participation rate has been 62.8 percent.

Before December, the last time the labor force participation rate sank as low as 62.8 percent was in February 1978, when it was also 62.8 percent. At that time, Jimmy Carter was president.

At no time during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, did such a small percentage of the civilian non-institutional population either hold a job or at least actively seek one.

While the number of Americans not in the labor force increased, the unemployment rate dropped -- from 6.3 percent in April to 6.1 percent in June.

But that's not all. In June the BLS reports the number of full-time jobs tumbled by 523 thousand to 118.2 million while part-time jobs soared by 799 thousand to over 28 million! Strong economies are not built on the part-time unemployed.

Why are part-time jobs growing while full-time jobs are contracting? One big reason is Obamacare. Businesses don't want to take on full-time employees in the current, uncertain environment created by the passage and approaching implementation of Obamacare.

This is not the stuff bull markets in stocks are supposed to be made of, but Wall Street is oblivious to reality. Meanwhile, inflation is making a real comeback this 4th of July.

Rising prices for beef, ice cream and lettuce mean Americans will spend the most ever for Fourth of July barbecues this year.

An index tracking U.S. retail prices for seven foods commonly consumed while grilling climbed 5.1 percent in May from a year earlier to the highest ever for the month, the latest data from Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

Prices for ground beef are 16 percent higher than a year earlier, while ice cream climbed 1.7 percent and tomatoes soared 12 percent, government data show. Fuel costs have also hit a high this 4th of July holiday season not seen in years.

In fact, as Americans drive to barbecues and the beach in coming days, they will be paying more for gas than on any Independence Day weekend since the record highs of 2008.

A gallon of unleaded gasoline cost an average of $3.67 Wednesday, almost 20 cents above last year's price, according to automobile club AAA. In California, drivers have been paying well over $4 a gallon for weeks.

Prices at the pump are tracking a sharp rise in oil prices over the past month after Islamist militants took control of several cities in Iraq. Investors and traders have worried that the spreading insurgency poses a threat to the country's oil production.

Higher fuel prices come at a delicate time for the U.S. economy, potentially stretching consumer budgets and weighing on growth as the Federal Reserve is rolling back stimulus.

Drivers "might cut back on other things, like shopping or dining or going out," said Michael Green, a AAA spokesman. The high cost of gas "really just affects their budget, and the amount they can spend on everything else when they're traveling."

This is the stuff stagflation is made of and stagflation has not historically been associated with bull markets in stocks. In fact, just the opposite. The first time stagflation hit in the 1970s, the S&P 500 fell 45% in 21 months.

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7.1.14 - Gold Advances For Second Consecutive Quarter

Gold prices jump higher Tuesday, hitting the highest close since mid-April, on growing tensions in the Middle East. U.S. stocks climb higher on strong manufacturing data. Gold last traded at $1,326 an ounce. Silver at $21.12 an ounce.

The second quarter of 2014 officially ended yesterday and it was the second consecutive quarter in which the price of gold advanced.

In fact, gold ended the quarter with a flourish during the month of June, with its biggest monthly gain since February. Gold was up more than 6% for the month and 3% for the quarter.

Gold is also starting the 3rd quarter positively as the US dollar is down against a basket of foreign currencies as the new quarter commences.

One of the chief factors driving gold higher during the 2nd quarter was a rash of geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and Iraq.

Heading into the 3rd quarter, those tensions show no signs of abating.

Earlier this week, ISIS declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and today paraded a Scud missile for the first time.

Fighting once again flared up in Ukraine as the Ukrainian government called an end to the 10-day old cease fire there and launched an offensive against pro-Russian forces.

Now there is yet another factor with the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped three weeks ago. Israel has launched raids in retaliation and HAMAS has issued threats of escalation as well.

Another factor driving investors to gold has been the disappointing performance of the US economy in the face of the cheerleading from the financial media, outright propaganda from the Obama administration and shockingly inaccurate reports from the Federal Reserve.

Once again, as we enter the 3rd quarter, we have seen more of the same.

The pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector slowed in June.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity was 55.3 in June, down from May's 55.4 reading. The report was also lower than the 55.8 reading expected by a Reuters poll of economists.

The employment component of the gauge was unchanged at 52.8, below expectations for a read of 53.2.

A separate report showed U.S. construction spending rose less than expected in May, which could prompt a further downgrading of second-quarter economic growth estimates.

Construction spending edged up 0.1 percent to an annual rate of $956.1 billion, the Commerce Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected construction spending to advance 0.5 percent.

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6.26.14 - Experts Believe Technical Picture For Gold Looks Promising

Gold prices end the day lower on profit-taking and technical correction. U.S. stocks sharply lower as investors react to softer-than-expected economic data. Gold last traded at $1,317 an ounce. Silver at $21.11 an ounce.

A noted technical analyst is reporting that the technical picture for gold is promising.

Gold is trading around its two-month highs but legendary technical analyst John Bollinger thinks the run has only just begun.

“If you look at the chart you can see we’ve just finished a really long decline,” said Bollinger. “It started in April of 2011 and really ended in May of last year. That sort of epic ‘backing and forthing’… has existed since then. We call this building a base ... There’s a lot of bullishness building up.”

Rising inflation risks and seasonal factors have also compelled global investment firm Canaccord Genuity to upgrade its outlook on the gold market earlier than expected.

In a May 29 report, they said they were expecting to see higher gold prices in the second half of the year, when the gold market traditionally performs better.

However, the analysts upgraded the gold market to outperform from neutral on June 18, following a bigger-than-expected increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index. Because of rising inflation expectations in the medium-term, the firm sees the potential for gold to reach its 200-week average around $1,500 an ounce. Currently gold is trading around $1,315 an ounce.

The firm believes Fed policies have laid the foundation for increased risk of inflation, which will send gold prices higher--even if the higher inflation does not materialize. In other words, just the rise in inflation fears is enough to spark a rally in the price of gold.

Federal Reserve policies are also the focus of a renowned economist.

Yale lecturer and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, Stephen Roach, believes the Fed's "wildly accommodative" super-low interest rates and bond-buying program have the potential to trigger the next world financial crisis.

"As long as the Fed remains as widely accommodative as a $4.25-4.50 trillion dollar-balance sheet would suggest, there is good reason to question the Fed's commitment to financial stability and there is good reason to believe that we could, in the not too distant future, find ourselves in another mess," says Roach.

Roach's fears echoed those of U.S. billionaire Wilbur Ross, who warned that ultra-easy monetary policies by major central banks had created the "ultimate bubble" in sovereign debt.

"I've felt for some time that the ultimate bubble, when we look back a few years from now, is going to be sovereign debt, both U.S. and other, because it's way below any sort of reversion to the mean of interest rates."

So, what's the solution?

One possible solution could be a return to the Gold Standard. Unfortunately there is virtually no one at the Fed or elsewhere in the Obama administration even remotely interested in such a solution.

Such a case was made by Keith Weiner of Forbes:

"The gold standard is neither barbaric nor impractical, and it is more urgently needed every day. This is because the standard of paper money is failing. It has set in motion an accelerating series of crises, each worse than the previous. The nation cannot continue to borrow to infinity, nor can the U.S. endure zero interest much longer."

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6.24.14 - Gold Trades At Two Month High As Inflation Concerns Grow

Gold prices settle higher for a fifth straight session on continued turmoil in Iraq. U.S. stocks lower in a late afternoon selloff. Gold last traded at $1,321 an ounce. Silver at $21.04 an ounce.

Gold continues to edge higher on worries over warfare in Iraq, as well as disappointing economic performance in Germany; the European Union's largest economy.

Gold is now at its highest level in two months, after posting its biggest weekly rise in three months last week. Silver is also at its highest levels since March.

One of Europe's elite, investment advisory firms released a positive forecast for gold this week, predicting it will rise to $1500 per ounce, or nearly $200 per ounce above current levels.

Incrementum AG of the tiny, wealthy nation of Liechtenstein issued a report entitled “In Gold We Trust 2014.” In the report, the firm says gold remains a good hedge against price inflation and potential "worst-case scenarios" and may rise to $1,500 an ounce in 12 months.

Incrementum suggested gold is nearing the end of a long consolidation period, with a stable bottom having formed. "Our 12-month price target is the USD 1,500 level," the firm said. "Longer-term, we expect that a parabolic trend acceleration phase still lies ahead. In the course of this event, our long-term target of USD 2,300 should be reached at the end of the cycle."

The return of inflation as an investment factor is also something giant congolmerate JPMorgan Chase & Co. sees ahead. Like JPMorgan, Societe Generale SA economist Aneta Merkowska told clients last week to “prepare for the return of U.S. inflation.”

Those signs of inflation are not new to everyday Americans. Even if Wall Street is only now waking up to inflation, Main Street has seen its effects for some time.

Starbucks announced this week that it is raising its prices for coffee.

Heidi Moore, U.S. finance and economics editor at The Guardian says that inflation is one of America's biggest economic concerns right now, with meat prices rising 7.7% this year, dairy up 4.2%, car insurance up 5% and tuition and public transportation up more than 3%.

Finally, a new sign has emerged of which investors should take note. There is new reason to be fearful of a stock market top as the Credit Suisse's "Fear Barometer" has hit a new all-time high.

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6.19.14 - Gold Prices Surge Over $1,300!

Gold prices surge above $1,300 to two-month high on continued tension in Iraq. U.S. stocks ended mostly higher after choppy session. Gold last traded at $1,314 an ounce. Silver at $20.65 an ounce.

Yesterday afternoon, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) ended two days of meetings and Fed Chair Janet Yellen then faced the media to discuss the US economy.

When asked if she's confident the economy is finally gaining steam, she replied, "When you say confident, I suppose the answer is no, because there is uncertainty."

It's not surprising, then, that gold jumped to a four-week high as the dollar fell in the wake of her comments.

The Federal Reserve remains committed to accommodative measures and low interest rates. In other words policies that will undermine the value of the dollar and lay the groundwork for future inflation.

The Fed cut its U.S. growth forecast for 2014 from 2.9 percent to a range of between 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent.

Tensions over Iraq and Ukraine are still attracting safe-haven demand for gold, having lifted crude oil prices to nine-month highs.

The demand for gold comes despite the usual efforts to talk it down.

Famed money manager Marc Faber advises that investors should always have "some exposure to gold."

Faber has been adding gold to his own holdings recently as gold is so much cheaper than over-inflated stocks. Faber holds around 25% of his assets in gold because he believes the monetary policies of central banks will eventually lead to a further loss of purchasing power in the value of paper money.

A frequent guest on CNBC, Faber probably didn't make the on-air personalities happy with this comment:

Investors have been shunning gold "because the media doesn't like gold, nobody at CNBC owns gold. Nobody at Bloomberg owns gold. Gold is being constantly talked down by the media, and Fed officials, and economists, who also don't own any gold. They're all stocked up in equities. When people talk about people who are optimistic about gold, they call them 'gold bugs.' A bug is an insect. I don't call equity bulls 'cockroaches.' Do you understand? There is already a negative connotation with the expression of 'gold bug.'"

Faber is not the only investor adding gold to his portfolio. An anonymous investor bough nearly $500 million of gold futures in the wake of Fed chair Janet Yellen's comments to the media.

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6.17.14 - Stagflation Has Hit American Investors

Gold prices end lower, weighed down by inflation reports. U.S. stocks slightly higher, shrugging off concern over Iraq and disappointing government data. Gold last traded at $1,272 an ounce. Silver at $19.73 an ounce.

American investors woke up to news that indicates stagflation is upon us.

Consumer prices recorded their largest increase in more than a year in May as costs for a range of goods and services rose, pointing to a steady firming of inflation pressures.

The Labor Department reported its Consumer Price Index increased 0.4 percent last month, with food prices posting their biggest rise since August 2011.

Last month's increase in consumer prices was the largest since February 2013 and above economists' expectations for a 0.2 percent gain. It followed a 0.3 percent advance in April.

Stripping out food and energy prices, the so-called core CPI rose 0.3 percent, the largest increase since August 2011.

Economists had forecast the core CPI rising 0.2 percent.

Food prices increased 0.5 percent in May, rising for a fifth consecutive month. Prices for meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables rose. Poultry and fish prices also increased as did the cost of eggs.

Gasoline prices increased 0.7 percent. Prices for electricity also rose.

There were also increases in medical care costs, apparel, new cars prices and airline fares.

In other words, inflation is rising across the board. The problem with inflation is, once it gains momentum, it becomes very difficult to control. It's been compared to trying to get toothpaste back into a tube.

This is especially true when stagflation--a combination of a rising cost of living and a stagnant economy--is at hand.

Based on a new report on housing starts, the US economy is anything but robust.

U.S. housing starts and building permits fell more than expected in May, suggesting the housing market will likely remain slow for a while.

Groundbreaking for homes fell 6.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1 million units, the Commerce Department reported this morning.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said last month there was a risk a protracted housing slowdown could undermine the economy.

Despite these continual negative economic reports, the stock market seems to be climbing to the sky. But there are certainly signs of trouble ahead.

Excess cash created by loose monetary policy has gone more or less straight into the equity market, even as more and more investors now realize the asset class is very overvalued.

Global stock markets have consistently broken record highs this year, supported by that loose monetary policy.

However even as the equity bull-run continues, traders have worried about low volumes.

Something may be coming that could derail that bull market: rising interest rates by the Fed. In other words, the fuel that has artificially boosted stocks could be going away.

A new Bloomberg survey of economists predicts that the Fed will probably raise its benchmark interest rate faster than investors anticipate. This could produce a negative surprise down the road.

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6.12.14 - Investors Turn To Gold Amid Global Turmoil

Gold prices ends near three-week high on growing unrest in Iraq and weakness in U.S. equities. U.S. stocks fall on softer-than-expected economic data. Gold last traded at $1,274 an ounce. Silver at $19.53 an ounce.

Geopolitics have taken center stage in the investment world. As a result, stocks are falling across the board and both oil and gold are rising.

The turmoil stems from the news late Tuesday that Jihadist forces of the ISIS had routed Iraqi army forces and seized Iraq's second largest city, Mosul. Since then, ISIS has all but seized another city, Tikrit. They had previously seized Fallujah a couple of months back, a city they still hold.

Now, reports indicate ISIS forces are gathering for an assault on Baghdad amid rumors the government there may dissolve.

All of this is sparking worries that Iraq could descend into "failed state" status with Jihadist elements forming a base of operations there.

Given Iraq's resources and geographical position in the middle east, this could have far-reaching implications beyond the local situation there. For instance, the possibility of a disruption in oil supplies. That's why the financial markets are reacting negatively.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical situation in Iraq is far from the only news for the investment world to digest.

There were two disappointing economic reports released by the US government today.

Retail sales rose less than expected in May, according to Commerce Department data, which had sales up 0.3 percent last month. The median forecast of 83 economists in an independent survey called for a 0.6 percent advance.

Additionally, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week. This news was accompanied by the usual claims of an anomaly. Americans are no doubt becoming weary of such excuses.

The combination of chaos in Iraq and disappointment over economic conditions is helping to extend gold's rally as investors once again seek the safe haven benefits gold offers.

Market conditions also appear to be very close to turning bullish for silver as well.

Dow theory guru Richard Russell has recently gone public in stating that $19.25 an ounce is the price silver must beat to start its next upward leg. As this bulletin goes to press, the price of silver is trading right at that level.

As if the financial world didn't have enough to worry about, yesterday, as we reported, the World Bank warned the world to prepare for the "next financial crisis" and today the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a warning of its own.

The world must act to contain the risk of another devastating housing crash, the International Monetary Fund warned yesterday as it published new data showing house prices are well above their historical average in many countries.

The warning from the IMF shows how an acceleration in global house prices from already high levels has emerged as one of the major threats to economic stability.

Given the experience of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, touched off largely by a housing bubble in the US, this is a warning investors should heed.

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6.10.14 - Experts Say Current Market Trends Could Lead To Soaring Gold Prices

Gold prices settled above $1,260 on weakness in U.S. equities as traders await economic data due later this week. U.S. stocks ended higher, U.S. job openings and wholesale inventories increased in April. Gold last traded at $1,260 an ounce. Silver at $19.17 an ounce.

Former head of commodities at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and founder James Turk and John Rubino are well known figures in the gold industry. They’ve just published a new book, The Money Bubble. It argues the price of gold is about to soar to $10,000 to 12,000 an ounce.

In a nutshell the authors contend that the major paper currencies of the world actually now have less gold backing them than previously thought. Turk and Rubino contend that in the event of a crisis, governments would probably seek to restore that backing, resulting in an unprecedented surge in the price of gold.

You can calculate what the price of gold needs to be to restore gold backing to paper currencies to solve a crisis of confidence in several different ways. This is where the future price of $10,000 to $12,000 per ounce is derived.

This may seem far-fetched to some, but when one considers that the price of gold appreciated 6-fold from 2000 to 2012, it isn't so difficult to fathom. To reach $10,000 an ounce, gold would simply have to repeat that performance.

There are a variety of factors that could contribute to a crisis scenario and today's news includes a few.

Liz Ann Sonders, the chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab Corp., has warned of early signs of inflation that could cause a correction in the bull market in stocks. Sonders singled out rising rents and non-supervisory wages.

U.S. apartment rents have climbed this year at the fastest pace since the recession, property-research firm Axiometrics Inc. said last month. Effective rents increased 3.4 percent from a year earlier.

Another concern for Sonders is what she called “frothy” investor sentiment:

“When investors hear ‘secular bull market,’ sometimes they think it goes on and on forever without any corrective phases."

Last week’s survey of newsletter writers by Investors Intelligence showed bulls increased to 62.2 percent, the highest reading since January 2005, suggesting what the report said was “near fully invested positions amongst professionals.”

“I don’t think you have a lot of room for error,” Sonders said. “I think the market is set up so that if we were to get some sort of problem, geopolitical or inflation scare, sentiment is frothy enough that that probably is a problem for the market.”

“We’re at the fifth birthday” of the bull market, she said. “And 5-year-old birthday parties can erupt in tears at any point.”

Some observers believe we're in a new tech bubble and they cite a recent report to confirm their theory.

App company Uber last week raised $1.2 billion in venture capital on terms that valued the company at $17 billion, which is about as much as Hertz and Avis combined.

It's plausible to see Uber's valuation not as an artifact of its genuine potential, but of growing inflation within the high-tech bubble. There have been other examples that haven't worked out so well.

Groupon, for example, was valued at $16.6 billion back when it launched its IPO in 2011. Today its valuation is at $4.2 billion.

Maybe Uber will live up to its lofty valuation. But maybe not...

Speaking of US stocks, the companies that make up the S&P 500 are now more dependent than ever on China and that has created a vulnerability. Allegations of hacking and cyberspying threaten to disrupt business.

The U.S. Justice Department charged five Chinese military officials May 19 for allegedly hacking into the computers of American companies and stealing trade secrets.

We have pointed out repeatedly that the record stock prices do not reflect the underlying economic fundamentals in the US, which are mixed at best.

No where is this more true than in the jobs market.

The U.S. may have regained all the jobs destroyed by the Great Recession, but the new jobs that replaced the old ones aren’t better — and that helps explain why the five-year recovery has seemed so anemic thus far.

The economy has replaced a sizable number of good-paying jobs with ones that offer less than the average wage. Altogether, the U.S. has 4 million fewer jobs in well-paid sectors vs. January 2008.

While the overall jobless level has dropped the number of the working-age people with jobs is barely over 6 in 10, hovering at a level reminiscent of the late 1970s, hardly times when the economy was doing well.

In May, the U.S. workforce participation rate—the combination of those with jobs and unemployed workers actively seeking them—was just 62.8 percent. Recent surveys suggest more and more long-time unemployed workers are abandoning the search for another job and leaving the nation's workforce.

The Federal Reserve has been tasked with trying to fix America's unemployment problems through monetary policies, something that ignores other fundamental factors impacting the job market. A new study done by economists at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the University of California at San Diego indicates the Fed's efforts have not really had much success.

Under Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve’s extraordinary measures to fight the financial crisis cut the unemployment rate by about 1 percentage point from what it would otherwise have been. That’s not a huge success given all the bullets fired by the Bernanke’s Fed, including purchases of assets that ballooned the central bank’s balance sheet to more than $4 trillion.

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6.5.14 - ECB Cuts Interest Rates To All-Time Low

Gold prices settle higher after the ECB cut interest rates. U.S. stocks hit fresh highs after ECB revealed new stimulus measures. Gold last traded at $1,253 an ounce. Silver at $19.08 an ounce.

This morning, for the first time ever, the European Central Bank cut interest rates to an all-time low; well into negative territory in real, inflation-adjusted terms. It also announced a program similar to the US Federal Reserve's failed Quantitative Easing program in a futile attempt to jump start the European economy using monetary policy. This could be the beginning of the end for the euro.

The price of gold is on the rise due to the ECB's announcement as a weakening euro will increase the price of gold in terms of the euro. It will also negatively affect fixed income investments and deposit accounts in Europe.

The euro is not the only major currency in trouble. So is the dollar.

The Chinese, the Russians and the Iranians are all moving to replace the US dollar as a medium of exchange, as everyone knows. But when US corporations start having to replace the dollar with China's renminbi, it is an indication of a far more serious trend that will only hurt the value of our dollar.

The U.S. dollar is being increasingly dropped as the currency for settling international trade. The Financial Times reported today that U.S. corporations are using the Chinese renminbi to buy imports over three times more than they did last year. China’s renminbi is rapidly displacing the US dollar as a trading currency not only in Asia and Europe but also in the US home market.

US importers have found they can slash the cost of imports from China by agreeing to trade in renminbi rather than US dollars.

Not only is the US dollar weak, but so is the US economy.

The Federal Reserve and the Obama administration keep telling the American people the US economy is improving, but the economic statistics--employment figures in particular--tell a far different story.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week. This is just the latest in a long parade of disappointing labor reports.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 312,000 for the week ended May 31, the Labor Department said this morning.

In addition, the prior week's claims were revised to show 4,000 more applications received than previously reported.

In today's world, entire national governments become subservient to power brokers who hold financial controls. Never has there been a better example of this than what happened this week with Ecuador having to relinquish half of its official gold reserves to Goldman Sachs in return for promised "liquidity." This amounts to gold confiscation from a whole country. What the Ecuadorians may learn the hard way is that gold is the only asset not dependent on anyone's promises. They traded 5,000 years of security for a promise to repay.

The Ecuadorian government had no choice. They were compelled to give up the gold.

Individual investors should take this as a lesson for their own portfolios and financial security and jealously guard their gold holdings as their financial insurance policy.

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6.3.14 - Financial Experts Recognize Gold's Importance

Gold prices end slightly higher as traders look ahead to this week's economic events. U.S. stocks retreat from records as investor sentiment has sunk over the past month. Gold last traded at $1,244 an ounce. Silver at $18.76 an ounce.

Ultimately, the key to successful investing is to buy low and sell high.

Right now an opportunity to do just that exists in the financial world as it relates to gold and the stock market.

Gold is currently trading at 4-month lows. As we have pointed out, this alone represents a terrific buying opportunity as the basic, fundamental fiscal and monetary conditions that make gold so vital have not changed.

But there is another aspect to this scenario that some have been ignoring:

As pointed out this morning, one reason for the correction in gold is that investor demand has been diverted to equities. This, in and of itself, is interesting because the current bull market in stocks, driven largely by Fed pumping, is already substantially older than most bull markets last.

How long can the stock market continue to rise?

With the S&P 500 near all-time highs and gold at four month lows, where do the opportunities exist to buy low and sell high? The answer to that question is clear.

There are other factors that indicate the correction in gold won't last too much longer.

Ned Davis Research’s John LaForce and Warren Pies point out that real interest rates have stopped increasing. Real rates, at least historically, enjoy the single strongest correlation to gold prices, and they leveled out in 2014. Lately they’ve even pulled back a bit. “Gold normally reacts favorably to falling real yields."

Meanwhile, Chinese gold purchases remain massive and India has made changes in laws that seem set to rekindle demand on the subcontinent as well.

LaForce and Pies are telling investors that gold's bull market cycle does in fact remain intact. In other words, this correction won't last forever.

There are some esteemed financial experts who recognize gold's importance. Influential financial publisher and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes is out with a new warning that the U.S. faces an economic catastrophe due to the Federal Reserve's loose dollar policy. He believes returning to a strict “gold standard” is the only way to avoid disaster.

"[The Fed's] vastly misguided monetary policies are now setting the stage for a new economic and social catastrophe — one that could rival the financial crisis and horrors of the 1930s,” he wrote in the book Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy -- and What We Can Do About It co-authored by Elizabeth Ames.

"The best way to achieve monetary stability: linking the dollar to gold,” Forbes writes.

As many other critics have pointed out, the Federal Reserve seems to be acting to boost Wall Street, without much care for the broader economy. There is certainly ample evidence that this is what Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been doing ...

Yellen has spoken publicly on the economic outlook or monetary policy seven times since becoming the Federal Reserve chief. Each time her remarks have sparked a rally in stocks, so much so that Yellen’s effect has introduced a new fowl to central-banking euphemisms ... add to the doves and hawks, our first goose.

Blame Allan Meltzer, a historian of the Fed and a professor at the David A. Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, who has warned for the better part of five years that Fed interest rate cuts and asset purchases were going to trigger inflation. He says Yellen’s Fed is “goosing” equities with its provision of easy money.

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5.29.14 - U.S. Economy Shrinks in Q1, Fed Blames Bad Weather

Gold prices closed near 4-month lows on technical selling. U.S. stocks rose on upbeat housing data and ignored stalled GDP data. Gold last traded at $1,256 an ounce. Silver at $19.04 an ounce.

Today Americans received confirmation on something many already instinctively realized: the US economy is much weaker than the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration would have us believe.

Our economy contracted for the first time in three years from January through March.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell at a 1 percent annualized rate in the first quarter, a bigger decline than projected, after a previously reported 0.1 percent gain.

The last time the economy shrank was in the same three months of 2011. The median forecast of economists foresaw a 0.5 percent drop, so the economy was significantly weaker than experts thought it would be.

The Federal Reserve continues to blame the contraction on bad weather during the winter and is assuring everyone the economy was much healthier in the 2nd quarter.

But critics of the Fed are skeptical that bad weather can account for such a sharp decline in economic output. After all in the 4th quarter of 2013, GDP reportedly grew by 2.6%. A move from +2.6% to -1.0% over such a short period of time almost certainly cannot be blamed solely on snow and cold weather. It's not as if blizzards and cold snaps are unprecedented in the January to March time frame. Besides, there were some areas of the country that were not impacted by the weather.

Excuses involving the weather call into question the credibility of the Fed and the administration. It will be interesting to see if the rosy forecasts for a sharp rebound in the 2nd quarter pan out.

The stock market shrugged off this report. This sets up a possible nasty surprise down the road if the rosy projections do not materialize with the improved weather in the 2nd quarter. Even if the economy does not contract in the quarter, if GDP figures disappoint, there could be a backlash on Wall Street.

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5.27.14 - Gold Presents Major Buying Opportunity

Gold prices end lower after Ukraine's election results, technical selling and equity gains. U.S. stocks close higher on better-than-expected economic reports. Gold last traded at $1,265 an ounce. Silver at $19.07 an ounce.

A series of economic reports in the US have resulted in a terrific buying opportunity in gold. Gold is now at a three and a half month low. And the fiscal and monetary fundamentals that make gold so vital to the future of every investor have not changed a bit.

The acknowledged national debt is still $17 trillion and growing. The monetary policy that has been in place for several years is still essentially in place. It is true that the Fed is in the process of unwinding its Quantitative Easing bond-buying program, but interest rates continue to be negative in real terms and it is politically doubtful this will change anytime in the foreseeable future.

So, what prompted the correction in gold that created this terrific buying opportunity?

1. Home prices continued their rise in the month of March.

2. US durable goods orders rose during April.

3. US consumer confidence rose in May.

As we have often pointed out, a closer look between the lines reveals just why the markets have overreacted to these reports, adding to the attractiveness of this buying opportunity.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Index of property values increased 12.4 percent from March 2013. But, that was the smallest 12-month gain since last July, a possible sign that still-tight lending standards for some Americans and a rise in mortgage rates since mid-2013 have slowed demand, limiting the ability of sellers to keep asking even higher prices. In other words, a positive trend in the real estate market is anything but assured and economists generally agree the US economy cannot truly enter a recovery without a robust real estate market.

While durable goods orders did unexpectedly spike in April, a drop in a measure of business capital spending plans could temper expectations for a sharp rebound in economic growth. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 1.2 percent. Economists had expected orders for these so-called core capital goods to rise 0.2 percent. This aspect of the durable goods report should temper expectations for economic growth over the next few months.

While consumer confidence rose in May, it was only a slight rise and it came on the heels of a sharp drop the previous month. The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 83, up from 81.7 in April. But it had previously fallen in April from 83.9 in March, so Consumer Confidence is still below where it was just two months ago.

The truth behind these economic reports does not warrant a sharp drop in the price of gold or a sharp rise in stocks. Nevertheless, that's just what we've seen. Because of that--and because the prevailing monetary and fiscal climate is unchanged--this should be viewed as an opportunity to accumulate gold at bargain prices.

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5.22.14 - Economic Statistics Don't Reflect Recovering Economy

Gold prices end higher after India eases import rules. U.S. stocks higher as investors shrug off soft economic data. Gold last traded at $1,295 an ounce. Silver at $19.52 an ounce.

One of the biggest, yet most confusing factors for investors going forward is the health of the US economy.

We have the Federal Reserve, the Obama administration and the so-called "mainstream" media touting an economic "recovery" but we repeatedly see economic statistics which don't reflect a recovering economy at all.

This has created a great deal of uncertainty, as reflected by the latest survey of consumers by Bloomberg business news.

Americans’ expectations for the economy have deteriorated to a seven-month low during May, a sign that the economic rebound may be held back by still-cautious consumers.

According to the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index, an expectations gauge that tracks where the economy is heading, declined to 42.5 in May from 48 in the month prior. The share of respondents who said the economy was getting worse climbed to the highest level this year.

Elevated prices at grocery stores and gas stations are probably souring Americans’ views of the economy but persistent softness in the job market is a factor as well. And, once again, we have fresh evidence of that.

More Americans than projected filed applications for unemployment benefits last week. Jobless claims increased by 28,000 to 326,000, in the week ended May 17, after 298,000 filings a week earlier. Economists had forecast a rise to 310,000.

This combination of rising inflation and persistent unemployment is characteristic of a phenomenon known as "stagflation." It is literally a perfect storm scenario that makes it exceedingly difficult for central bankers to convince people they are taking appropriate steps to boost the economy. Stagflation was also associated with the period in the 1970s when the S&P 500 fell 45% and the price of gold tripled.

In other news, there could be a new sign of trouble brewing in the banking sector.

Billionaire investor George Soros has sold his shares of three major American banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan and Citigroup. It remains to be seen why Soros made this move and what he sees that would prompt him to exit that sector, but it is certainly worth noting.

Finally, India may be re-emerging as the world's largest consumer of gold. Last year, China surpassed India for the first time as a source of gold demand, partially because changes to laws in India placed restrictions on gold imports for the first time. The Reserve Bank of India has now liberalized gold import norms to allow more sources of gold imports into the country.

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5.20.14 - Russia And China Working Together To Erode U.S. Dollar

Gold prices end slightly higher as traders await speeches from various Fed officials later this week. U.S. stocks fall after disappointing earnings from retailers. Gold last traded at $1,294 an ounce. Silver at $19.40 an ounce.

A combination of developments regarding the US dollar, a new economic report and an emerging geopolitical factor make up today's news.

In the past two weeks we have mentioned that China and Russia have been working together to erode the US dollar's supremacy as a medium of exchange. Now they have taken concrete steps toward that end.

One of Russia's largest banks, VTB, has signed a deal with Bank of China to pay each other in domestic currencies, bypassing the need for US Dollars for "investment banking, inter-bank lending, trade finance and capital-markets transactions."

The replacement of the dollar by two major world powers in international transactions inevitably contributes to a decline in its value. Since gold has historically provided a hedge against a falling dollar, it is an excellent tool for preparing your wealth for the fallout.

Speaking of the dollar, economist John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics, has a dire prediction:

Williams says, “I don’t see what will save it at this point. . . . Now we are to the point that the dollar has been ignored for years. The federal deficit has been ignored for years. . . . That’s what we are on the brink of disaster with, and that is what has to be addressed now, and that’s not happening.” Williams also contends, “The way I see it, the dollar could go to zero in terms of its purchasing power. You don’t want to have your assets in U.S. dollars.”

How are we going to get there? Look no further that the dismal first quarter gross domestic product (GDP) numbers that officially only eked out .1% growth. This is one of the reasons why Williams thinks a “renewed broad economic downturn continues to unfold.” Williams goes on to say, “We’re turning down anew. The first quarter should be revised to negative territory, and I believe the second quarter will be reported negative as well. That will happen by July 30 when you have the annual revisions to the GDP. In reality, the economy is much weaker than that . . . . Generally, when you adjust for inflation and you use too low of a rate for inflation, that overstates the economic growth.”

Williams says the government rigs the economic numbers, and it gives a false impression of recovery.

The latest evidence of the downturn to which Williams refers may have come to us with the latest reports on profits from the retail industry.

Quarterly earnings from a slew of companies showed there is still a lot of uncertainty heading into the crucial second half, crushing sentiment and sending shares sharply lower.

Retailers from T.J. Maxx parent, TJX Cos. to No. 1 office-supplier Staples Inc. missed earnings expectations.

The 61 retailers, that have reported for the quarter, missed estimates by an average of 2.6%, well below the long-term average of a 3% beat, according to Retail Metrics President Ken Perkins. First-quarter average profit is estimated to be down 2.3%, versus the 7.7% quarterly average profit growth of the past 15 years.

The crux of the problem for retailers is the majority of Americans are not making enough money to grow their expenditures on discretionary purchases and are either keeping them flat or cutting back.

In other words, consumer spending is not in a position to jumpstart what can only be described as an anemic economic recovery.

Instead of an economic recovery, the world economy could be getting worse--much worse in fact. That's the message from one of the most popular books on Amazon these days: The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System, by James Rickards. Rickards is Senior Managing Director at Tangent Capital Partners LLC, a merchant bank based in New York City, and is Senior Managing Director for Market Intelligence at Omnis, Inc., a technical, professional and scientific consulting firm located in McLean, VA.

In the book, Rickards explains how an executive order raising the gold price to $7,000 will be the only way to break a deflationary downward spiral in the US if money printing reaches its limits and the Fed pulls back, as is happening this year.

According to Rickards, "The purpose would not be to enrich gold holders but to reset general price levels… this kind of dollar devaluation against gold would quickly be reflected in higher dollar prices for everything else. The world of $7,000 gold is also the world of $400 per-barrel oil and $100 per-ounce silver. Deflation’s back can be broken when the dollar is devalued against gold, as occurred in 1933 when the United States revalued gold from $20.67 per ounce to $35 per ounce, a 41 per cent dollar devaluation."

His conclusion is that, "if the Unites States faces severe deflation again, the antidote of dollar devaluation against gold will be the same because there is no other solution when printing money fails."

One important thing to note about Jim Rickards is that he’s a respected money manager, not a diehard believer in gold.

Finally, there is a new geopolitical factor possibly poised to confront the financial markets. The United States has increased the number of Marines and aircraft stationed in Sicily who could be called upon to evacuate Americans from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli as unrest in Libya grows. The escalating violence in Libya has contributed to higher oil prices recently.

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5.19.14- Inflation's first victim: Energy prices

The fear of inflation is creeping back into America's investment lexicon.

Those fears are now appearing in sectors that couldn't be more divergent: coffee and energy.

During 2013, many forecasts called for reduced gasoline demand in 2014. That hasn't occurred.

As the summer driving season nears, retail gas remains stubbornly lodged near $4 per gallon. According to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices rose for 12 straight weeks through late April, and were 20 cents a gallon higher than the same point last year.

The EIA expects average gas prices to rise by 3 cents during the June - August period.

Oil rose above $110 a barrel today on renewed concerns over Libya's oil output following some of the worst violence in Tripoli since the 2011 war against Muammar Gaddafi. Libya's output has fallen to about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) from 300,000 bpd earlier last week, far below the 1.4 million bpd produced last year.

The conflict in Ukraine also added momentum to the price rise as U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande agreed Russia faces significant further costs if it continues its "provocative and destabilizing behavior".

"Finding additional support from the Ukraine conflict, the [oil] price is likely to remain at its current high level and may even climb further," Commerzbank said.

Energy is an insidious component of the cost of living. When energy prices rise, they tend to produce cost-push inflation in other sectors of the economy, since energy costs are involved at some level in just about every economic activity.

In an unrelated development, coffee prices are also rising due to a fungus impacting the coffee crop in Central America. At issue is a fungus called coffee rust that has caused more than $1 billion in damage across Latin American region. The fungus is especially deadly to Arabica coffee, the bean that makes up most high-end, specialty coffees.

Already, the rust is affecting the price of some coffees in the United States and analysts estimate that production could be down anywhere from 15 percent to 40 percent in coming years, resulting in even higher prices going forward.

Gold has historically been an excellent hedge against high inflation. Since we are just beginning to see the signs of inflation appear in the economy, investors should take advantage of this situation by acquiring gold at prices that may well seem low compared once inflation really kicks in.

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5.16.14-Housing Slows, Costs of Living Rise

Metals prices held steady from market open to close. Stocks stop losses but end week lower. Gold last traded at $1,292 an ounce. Silver at $19.35 an ounce

News from around the world is impacting the financial markets as we head into the weekend.

Here in the US, there were two economic reports with implications for investors.

Consumer confidence unexpectedly fell this month showing Americans are being shaken by rising grocery bills and elevated fuel costs.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary sentiment index decreased to 81.8 from 84.1 in April. The median projection in an independent survey of economists called for a gain to 84.5. So, instead of rising, consumer confidence fell sharply – and it fell due to inflation fears.

Food prices have risen and the cost of gasoline has held near its highest level of the year, making buyers less secure in their finances.

This places gold investments in a good position to benefit investors since gold has historically performed well as a hedge against rising inflation.

There was also a report on Housing starts here in the US. On face value it looked quite optimistic, but the details indicate otherwise.

A monthly report from the U.S. Census Bureau showed total housing starts up 13 percent month to month, but that was driven by a 43 percent monthly jump in buildings with five or more units. Single-family housing starts rose just under 1 percent for the month.

This is not a sign of prosperity given that it indicates more and more Americans are having to settle for renting, as opposed to home ownership.

The home ownership rate is down to 64.8 percent versus the 2004 peak of 69.2 percent, and the 50-year average of 65.4 percent.

Single-family home construction so far this year is well below last year. Starts were up just 2 percent from January through April in 2014, while they were up nearly 26 percent during the same time period in 2013.

At this point, we should also add an addendum to yesterday's CPI and Wednesday's PPI reports indicating resurging inflation.

As part of inflation's comeback, food prices have been climbing for four months in a row--especially meat prices.

According to the latest inflation data from the Labor Department, meat prices spiked by almost 3% in April - the most since November 2003. This is also the 2nd biggest price spike in 34 years!

There are economic troubles brewing in China as well.

Statistics released this week indicate China's economic slowdown deepened with unexpected decelerations in industrial-output and investment growth and a decline in home sales.

Additionally, Chinese banks had their biggest quarterly increase in bad loans since 2005 as the economic slowdown in China causes defaults to rise.

Nonperforming loans rose by 54 billion yuan ($8.7 billion) in the three months through March to 646.1 billion yuan, the highest level since September 2008.

This is a potential threat to the world economy as China is so vital both on the supply and demand sides in many sectors.

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5.15.14 - More U.S. Economic Data Shows Signs Of Rising Inflation

Gold prices lower on stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data. U.S. stocks fall sharply, Dow has worst decline in 5 weeks. Gold last traded at $1,293 an ounce. Silver at $19.48 an ounce.

Two government-produced statistics were released today that have ominous implications for the financial markets.

First, the Labor Department released the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of the cost of living at the retail level. U.S. consumer prices recorded their largest increase in 10 months during April. The CPI increased 0.3 percent last month as food prices rose for a fourth consecutive month and the cost of gasoline surged. That was the biggest rise since June last year and added to March's 0.2 percent rise.

Stripping out food and energy prices, the so-called core CPI rose 0.2 percent. Economists had forecast the core CPI rising only 0.1 percent.

The Labor Department report released yesterday (the PPI, or Producer Price Index) showed a strong rise in producer prices in April, with increases spread from goods to services, leaving economists to anticipate gains in consumer inflation in the months ahead.

In other words, this could be the start of a trend toward rising inflation.

Meanwhile, U.S. industrial output fell at its fastest rate in more than 1-1/2 years in April, as factory production slumped, tempering hopes for a big jump in economic growth after a winter slowdown.

Production at the nation's mines, factories and utilities slipped 0.6 percent last month, the largest decline since August 2012.

Economists had expected output to hold steady.

With output slipping, U.S. industry operated at only 78.6 percent of its capacity, down from 79.3 percent in March.

This combination of rising inflation with a slowing economy could be indicative of "stagflation," a particularly tough economic problem which would leave the Federal Reserve more perplexed than ever as to monetary policy options.

As worrisome as these government reports appear to be, they're probably vastly understating conditions.

According to an influential Wall Street advisor, the government figures are an outright fraud.

David John Marotta calculates the actual unemployment rate of those not working at a sky-high 37.2 percent, not the 6.7 percent advertised by the Fed, and the Misery Index at over 14, not the 8 claimed by the government.

Marotta said that the government isn't being honest in how it calculates the numbers on those out of the workforce or inflation; the two numbers used to get the Misery Index figure.

“The unemployment rate only describes people who are currently working or looking for work,” he said. That leaves out a ton more. Unemployment in its truest definition, meaning the portion of people who do not have any job, is 37.2 percent. This number obviously includes some people who are not or never plan to seek employment. But it does describe how many people are not able to, do not want to or cannot find a way to work.

“Today, the Misery Index would be 7.54 using official numbers,” he says. But if calculations tabulating the full national unemployment including discouraged workers, which is 10.2 percent, and the historical method of calculating inflation, which is now 4.5 percent, "the current misery index is closer to 14.7, worse even than during the Ford administration.”

It's worth mentioning that during the days of the Ford and Carter presidencies, the price of gold was increasing rapidly as investors sought security and safety from the stagflationary conditions of the day.

Speaking of gold, one market expert, Michael Curran of Beacon Securities in Toronto, Canada believes gold will end the year in the $1400-$1500 range, some $100 to $200 per ounce higher than today.

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5.14.14 - U.S. Economy Beginning To See Higher Inflation

Gold prices higher, silver prices jump more than 1% after a report stated that demand for the metal rose to a record last year. DOW ends 5-day winning streak after a larger-than-expected jump in wholesale prices. Gold last traded at $1,305 an ounce. Silver at $19.78 an ounce.

For the past several weeks, we've seen signs of higher inflation creeping back into the economy. Today we have been provided with the clearest proof to date of accelerating inflation.

U.S. producer prices posted their largest increase in 1-1/2 years in April as the cost of food and trade services surged.

The Labor Department said this morning that its Producer Price Index rose 0.6%, the biggest gain since September 2012. Producer prices increased 0.5% in March, suggesting a trend.

The wholesale inflation report came as a surprise. A consensus forecast from economists had come in at just 0.2%.

Last month, food prices surged 2.7%, the biggest rise since February 2011. That followed a 1.1% increase in March and marked the fourth consecutive month of gains in food prices, leaving Americans confronting higher prices at the supermarket.

Meats recorded their largest rise since October 2003.

Producer prices excluding volatile food and energy costs increased 0.5 percent in April after the prior month's 0.6 percent gain.

The evidence of increasing inflation comes as the overall economy--especially the employment market--is anything but robust. This is prompting some analysts to fear the onset of "stagflation;" a combination of a rising cost of living and a stagnant economy with a weak labor market. The same conditions were present in the 1970s when the S&P 500 reversed course and fell 45% and the price of gold tripled.

Tomorrow, the Labor Department's measure of inflation at the retail level, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will be released.

Gold rose overnight past the $1300 per ounce level as European stocks and the US dollar both came under pressure from the yet-to-be-seen further loosening of monetary policy by the European Central Bank (ECB). The entire precious metal complex was buoyed by reports out of South Africa, the world's largest producer of platinum, of continued labor strife that could disrupt production as it appears to be escalating into violence.

Last summer, one of the big worries in the financial markets was the economic crisis in the Eurozone. Many assume the Eurozone crisis is over, but that may not be the case.

Barry Eichengreen, an economics and political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, points out that many EU countries still carry enormous public debt, the EU banking union is deeply flawed and the EU faces difficulty increasing exports. He calls the EU's outlook "dismal."

According to the world's largest bond fund manager, Pimco, the outlook for the financial markets in the US isn't much better. In a report released Tuesday, Pimco is forecasting an end to bull markets in financial assets that could last 3-5 years. The firm forecasts only 3 percent returns for bonds and 5 percent returns for stocks over the next three to five years.

The crisis in Ukraine isn't over either and we can count on periodic disruptions in the financial markets, particularly in Europe, as a result. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this morning that Ukraine was "as close to civil war as you can get."

Rebels yesterday killed seven Ukrainian soldiers and wounded eight others during an ambush in a breakaway eastern region. US satellite intelligence indicates that, despite reports to the contrary, Russian troops have not pulled back from their border with Ukraine.

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5.13.14 - Investors Should Be Nervous About The Recent U.S. Stock Market Performance

Gold prices settled slightly lower after a disappointing retail sales report. U.S. stocks build on gains from yesterday as S&P 500 and DJIA close at record levels. Gold last traded at $1,294 an ounce. Silver at $19.55 an ounce.

The US stock market is performing in ways not supported by underlying economic fundamentals and that should make investors nervous.

The S&P 500 rose above the 1900 level earlier today for the first time ever. That might be cause for celebration in some circles, but we must remember that every heavy night of partying is paid for with a hangover.

The current run in stocks is over 5 years old - well past the average length of uninterrupted bull markets - and investors must be prepared for the inevitable reversal.

Time is not the only factor working against the stock market. Economic factors are not supportive of a continuing bull market. It appears the stock market is being propped up by the artificial stimulus of the Fed, which even Janet Yellen knows cannot continue forever.

The latest worrisome data on the economy came today in the form of a report on retail sales.

U.S. retail sales barely rose in April and a gauge of consumer spending slipped, which could torpedo hopes of a sharp acceleration in economic growth in the second quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales edged up 0.1 percent last month, held back by declines in receipts at furniture, electronic and appliance stores, restaurants and bars, and online retailers.

Economists had forecast sales advancing 0.4 percent. Retail sales account for a third of consumer spending.

So-called core sales - which strip out automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services and correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product - fell 0.1 percent in April.

Retail sales were restrained by a 2.3 percent drop in receipts at electronics and appliance stores. Sales at furniture stores fell 0.6 percent, while receipts at food services and drinking places dropped 0.9 percent.

Sales at non-store retailers, which include online sales, fell 0.9 percent.

The housing market is another faltering economic sector. Higher costs and rising interest rates may signal a retreat of this major economic driver, raising fears it once again may drag down the rest of the economy.

New and existing home sales in March were down by 13.5 percent from their peak nearly a year ago.

Economists say the nearly 1 percentage point jump in 30-year mortgage rates spurred by Federal Reserve policy over the past year has combined with fast-rising home prices to make housing less affordable for the average consumer, who continues to be pinched by limited wage gains and impaired access to credit. Moreover, first-time home-buyers, a group that plays a pivotal role in propelling housing growth, have been in short supply because of high unemployment rates and bloated student loan debts among the millennial generation.

Hopes that housing would regain momentum this year amid a broader economic recovery have been disappointed. Reports show the housing slump continued, and even deepened, during the normally busy Spring.

There could be further economic trouble on the horizon thanks to the federal government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency. At least that is what the coal industry is saying.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide limits for new power plants will devastate the economy by leading to a steep surge in energy prices, the coal industry and its allies are warning.

The American Coal Council said the new standards would essentially take coal off the market as a power source for new plants.

Separately, the Chamber of Commerce said the rules would have an effect well beyond the coal industry by leading to job losses in the broader economy.

The new rules, which the EPA plans to roll out in January 2015, are a key part of President Obama’s climate change initiative and are intended to reduce global warming.

Speaking of higher prices, many Americans realize the cost of living is in fact rising substantially, despite the fact it isn't reflected in official government statistics.

The rising cost of living is visible in items like food, energy, housing and, of course, health care. It’s also in less visible items, such as contracts to service air conditioners, heating systems and motor vehicles. Not to mention in income taxes, property taxes, water bills, etc.

The market basket of goods and services used in government inflation surveys does not adequately capture buying patterns.

Finally, in Europe, banks are undergoing one of those so-called "stress tests" and even before the test concludes, things don't seem to be going well.

European banks are being urged to boost their ability to withstand losses before the conclusion of the stress test that is drawing criticism for its design.

The European Central Bank is leading the charge to prove the region’s banks are robust before it takes over financial supervision in November, and has squeezed an unprecedented Asset Quality Review and a stress-test into its year of preparation. That pressure has led to some disquiet about the compromises needed to get the job done on time.

Some banks may have difficulty passing the adverse stress-test scenario, which was unveiled by the European Banking Authority and ECB last month. The model simulates turmoil that starts in a global bond-market rout.

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5.12.14 - All Eyes on Russia and China

Gold prices up on Ukrainian tensions and fears of spreading global deflation. Stock markets close on records. Gold last traded at $1,296 an ounce. Silver at $19.53 an ounce.

As we start the week, the price of gold is rising in response to events in Ukraine.

Gold's rally began picking up steam overnight after prices broke through chart resistance just below $1,300 an ounce, with a weakening dollar contributing to support for the yellow metal.

Gold charged through the 200 day moving average at $1,298.30 per ounce, and then buying accelerated. Momentum increased strongly as the metal broke out of the $10 range it had stuck to in the previous two sessions.

Pro-Russian rebels declared a landslide victory in Sunday's referendum in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Ukrainian authorities dismissed the vote as a farce and the European Union criticized the referendum.

The vote was immediately hailed as a triumph by Russian state media and declared illegitimate by the US State Department.

With its options to keep the country together narrowing, the Ukrainian government is under increasing pressure from Moscow to create a new federal state structure that would give regions control over economic, foreign and cultural policy. This would likely cripple Ukraine.

Geopolitical tension is not the only factor to impact Europe.

The latest Bloomberg Markets Global Investor Poll, shows concern about the threat of deflation in Europe.

About three-quarters of poll respondents are concerned about deflation in the euro zone.

The Bloomberg poll also showed investors are nervous about Asia’s two largest economies. There’s growing doubt about Japan’s turnaround. And poll participants say China’s economy is in its worst shape since September 2012.

Speaking of Asia, there are some simmering geopolitical issues in the region which could also impact the economic and financial markets.

There is an ongoing political crisis in Thailand, but the most worrying questions center around various relations with China.

Protesters rallied in Vietnam on Sunday against the set up of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea.

China has been aggressive in laying claim to mineral deposits and island chains in the South China Sea for years. Vietnam and the Philippines in particular are at the pointy end of China's spear in these conflicts which could conceivably impact financial markets going forward.

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5.9.14 - Ukraine Tensions Expected To Grow

Gold prices end lower as bulls struggle to gain momentum. U.S. stocks end choppy session higher, Dow hits record close. Gold last traded at $1,287 an ounce. Silver at $19.19 an ounce.

Overseas news is dominating the headlines today as we head into the weekend.

European shares were down across the board overnight as tensions are ripe to heat up again in Ukraine.

There will be a referendum of pro-Russian Ukrainians this weekend, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for it to be postponed. This is almost sure to raise tensions.

Putin has also ramped up his inflammatory rhetoric.

Putin visited the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Friday to celebrate Victory Day, which is a Russian celebration of victory in World War II. During the visit, Putin said Russia had become stronger with the addition of Crimea.

"I am sure that 2014 will go into the annals of our whole country as the year when the nations living here firmly decided to be together with Russia, affirming fidelity to the historical truth and the memory of our ancestors," Putin said in a brief speech.

That certainly doesn't bode well for Ukraine.

Putin's speech in Crimea came as Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said security forces had killed around 20 pro-Russian rebels in Mariupol, in what looks to be a significant move by Kiev in an attempt to end the insurgency in the east of the country.

Russia's actions have resulted in economic sanctions from the US and Europe, but other nations are not going along with the sanctions. In fact, some are using them as an excuse to establish closer ties to Russia.

Top officials from China and Russia met yesterday in Beijing to prepare for a visit by Putin to China next week.

China is currently Russia’s fourth largest source of foreign direct investment.

The two countries appear to be taking direct aim at the US dollar.

“Financial cooperation between China and Russia is growing as local currency settlement in two-way trade increases and consultations on a package of currency swaps are on-going,” said Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

This would remove the necessity for transactions to be settled in two foreign exchange trades via the US dollar.

Beijing is keen on substituting the US dollar with the yuan in all of China’s trade with other countries. The Chinese currency now trades directly with the Japanese yen, the Australian dollar, the Brazilian real, the EU’s euro, the New Zealand dollar and many other currencies.

The news out of China is not all good for the Chinese though. There are growing fears about a wave of bad debt in China and no one trusts the Chinese government figures, so no one really knows how severe the problem might turn out to be.

The combination of a massive, five-year expansion in credit, with the recent economic slowdown in China, has many worried about China’s bad-loan levels.

China’s reported nonperforming-loan ratio is only 1 percent.

The real situation is probably far scarier, says a new report released May 8 by consultancy Oxford Economics. More likely, China’s bad-debt ratio is somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent, amounting to 6 trillion to 12 trillion yuan ($1 trillion to $1.9 trillion).

If indeed China’s bad-debt ratio is now in the 10 percent to 20 percent range, that has alarming ramifications. Non-performing loans on such a scale could be the trigger for a serious banking crisis in China, with major regional and global economic implications.

Back here in the United States, U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer jobs and slowed hiring a bit in March. The Labor Department reported today that employers posted 4 million jobs in March, down 2.7 percent from February. Total hiring, meanwhile, dipped 1.6 percent to 4.63 million in March. That's below the 5 million monthly hires typical for a healthy job market.

On the stock market front, the American Association of Individual Investors survey for the week ending May 7th showed 28.3% ‘bulls,’ 28.7% ‘bears’ and a whopping 43% of respondants ‘neutral.’ It’s the highest level of neutrality in more than 10 years.

History suggests a sharp move follows peaks in neutral sentiment. However, historical analysis doesn’t give a clear sign as to which direction that sharp move will take. Given the current stock market has gone well over 5 years without a bear episode, which is historically very long, prudent investors should be on the lookout for a fall.

Great opportunities exist in the gold market, at least according to one of this generation's most esteemed investors. Famed commodity investor Jim Rogers says he sees a great buying opportunity developing for gold in the next year.

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5.8.14 - Russia's Struggling Economy Starting To Hurt Europe

Gold prices ended lower on better-than-expected jobless claims. U.S. stocks ended volatile session with modest losses. Gold last traded at $1,287 an ounce. Silver at $19.14 an ounce.

Central bankers are once again in the news today.

In Europe, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced today that it is poised to cut interest rates or adopt radical measures next month to stimulate the European economy.

Unemployment remains stuck just below its record level of 12%, zapping consumer demand. The euro is trading near its recent peak above $1.39, making life harder for European exporters and exerting more downward pressure on prices as imports become cheaper. So, naturally, the ECB is going to undermine its value, which seems to be the standard practice for central banks. This will result in higher gold prices in terms of euros and higher demand for gold as well.

To make matters worse, there are early signs that the meltdown in Russia's economy is starting to hurt some of Europe's big companies. Any escalation in the conflict in eastern Ukraine could hit business and household confidence.

That crisis contains significant risks for Europe, and the region would feel the impact more than other parts of the world if it escalates.

When it comes to geopolitics, don't listen to what world leaders say, watch what they do. Amidst all the talk, Putin oversaw a military exercise involving Russia's nuclear forces and a Russian aircraft carrier task group sailed into the English Channel.

The other central banker in the news is US Fed chair Janet Yellen, who has been spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill lately.

Two statements by Yellen are cause for concern.

Responding to a question from socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, Yellen said she didn't know whether America was still a capitalist democracy or an oligarchy in which economic and political power rests with a billionaire class.

Additionally, citing the Congressional Budget Office's long-term budget projections, she told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that under current policies the federal government’s deficits “will rise to unsustainable levels.”

What she meant by "unsustainable" was left unsaid, as were the economic and political consequences.

In the 10-year budget projections it released in April, the CBO estimated the federal government will run $7.618 trillion in deficits from 2015 through 2024. At the same time, the CBO projected the federal government’s debt held by the public would rise from $11.983 trillion at the end of fiscal 2013 to $20.947 trillion by the end of 2024.

The total debt of the federal government at the end of fiscal 2013--including both the debt held by the public and the intragovernmental debt--was $16.719 trillion. The CBO estimates by 2024, the total debt of the federal government will be $27.159 trillion—of which $20.947 trillion will be debt held by the public.

If that projection holds up, the federal debt held by the public in 2024 would be more than four times the $5.035 trillion federal debt held by the public at the end of 2007.

Finally, a leading market prognosticator expressed worries this week about the possibility of a new, severe financial crisis.

Marc Faber, publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, says he believes the 2008 financial crisis could be just a precursor to a more severe economic fallout on the horizon.

As a percentage of the advanced economies, total credit—including corporate, government and consumer debt—is 30 percent higher than it was in 2007, Faber said. "I don't think the economy is recovering at all. We have in the American economy a slowdown."

Under that scenario, "stocks in the advanced economies are basically fully priced," he argued, and said government bonds are expensive, given their low yields.

He also cited the crisis in Ukraine among the geopolitical problems that serve as a negative for the financial markets.

Faber said he expects the selling in the momentum names to spread to the broader U.S. stock market. He predicted a correction later this year.

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5.7.14 - Yellen Delivers Testimony Before Congress

Gold prices end below $1,300 on news from Ukraine and Yellen testimony. U.S. stocks end mostly higher after choppy session. Gold last traded at $1,288 an ounce. Silver at $19.34 an ounce.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen delivered her first of two scheduled testimonies before Congress today. Her words do indeed have implications for investors, though those implications are probably not the ones she intends.

Yellen said the U.S. economy is still in need of lots of support given the "considerable slack" in the labor market, adding that the housing sector's weakness and geopolitical tensions also posed risks.

Yellen told the congressional committee a high rate of long-term unemployment and a slow rise in worker pay suggested plenty of room for further job gains:

“Many Americans who want a job are still unemployed. We’ve never really seen a situation where long term unemployment is so large a fraction of unemployment,” Yellen said.

Yellen then turned these factors around to justify the loose monetary policies that have already failed:

"A high degree of monetary accommodation remains warranted."

Yellen is correct about the factors that could derail the US economy and financial markets, but this does not mean easy money policies are the solution.

We have pointed out for months that, despite the statistics released by the federal government, the US employment situation is anything BUT healthy. Recent figures from the real estate market show that sector, key in a true economic recovery, is soft. And geopolitical risks abound, with Russia flexing its muscles around the world, especially on the border with Ukraine.

Yellen also indicated concerns over potentially risky investment behavior given the extended period of low interest rates. This is certainly ironic since the real impact of the loose monetary policy she is pushing is to create that very "behavior."

The economy really presents a quandary for policymakers these days. A slew of data show the Fed's easy monetary policy cannot overcome bad fiscal policy and underlying fundamentals to perk up the economy, especially given that those policies undermine the value of the dollar.

No nation ever devalued its currency to prosperity, but that is exactly what the Fed has been trying--and failing--to do.

Last week we learned the U.S. economy grew a meager 0.1% during the 1st quarter of 2014. As sad as it sounds, that estimate is actually starting to look overly optimistic.

Subsequent data have a number of economists wondering if the economy actually shrank during the first quarter. Here’s how Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, explained it in a note to clients: “Weaker data on construction spending, inventories and net exports imply that Q1 [gross domestic product] will now show a contraction.” LaVorgna now suspects the economy notched a -0.8 percent growth rate during the first three months of the year. Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, thinks economic growth fell 0.4 percent in the first quarter.

A lot of the pessimism is emanating from Tuesday’s trade deficit report as well, which showed that the U.S. trade deficit narrowed in March. This may sound good, but the government and economists were both expecting the deficit to tighten a lot more.

The trade data show the U.S. trade position is weakening across most industries. Buried in last week’s GDP data were some equally bad trade numbers. U.S. trade during the first quarter was actually a huge drag on the economy, subtracting 0.83 percentage points of growth. According to Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, that’s the biggest bite trade has taken out of growth since GDP data began getting tracked in 1947.

So apologists for irresponsible policies can blame economic weakness on the winter weather all they want, but there is clearly something more at work.

Over the long-term, the US economy has not been keeping up with population growth. Despite adding more than 8 million people to the working-age population since 2007, total employment has declined by half a million, according to an analysis by the Senate Budget Committee.

Before President Barack Obama took office, 259.7 million people were part of the working-age population (or between ages 16 and 65). Now, the number has risen to 267.7 million. However, in the same time period, total employment declined from 146.3 million to 145.7 million. In other words, 531,000 fewer people have jobs.

This statistic highlights an alarming trend that has embodied the president’s economic policies: more and more people are leaving the workforce entirely.

No where is this more apparent than in the younger workers who should be working the hardest and the longest hours to establish themselves.

The labor force participation rate in April 2014 for Americans ages 25 to 29 hit the lowest level recorded since 1982, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started tracking such data.

The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the civilian non-institutional population who participated in the labor force by either having a job during the month or actively seeking one, hit a record low in April 2014 of 79.8%.

In January 1982, when the data were first collected, the labor force participation rate for this group was 80.7%.

The actual number of Americans, ages 25 to 29, not participating in the labor force hit a record high in April 2014 as well, with 4,280,000 not working.

Those classified as not in the labor force means they are included in the civilian non-institutional population but did not have a job, and they did not actively seek one in the last four weeks.

When Barack Obama took office as president in January 2009, the number of Americans 25 to 29 not in the labor force was 3,769,000. Since then, that number has gone up by 511,000, an increase of 13.6%.

Is it any wonder that independent economists are predicting China will overtake the US as the world's top economy much sooner than previously expected? Although, not everyone agrees. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that the report from the International Comparison Program was incorrect and that she was confident China would not overtake the US.

Ms. Pelosi can stay in denial all she wants, but the rest of us don't have that luxury. The faltering of the US economy, as compared to foreign powers, has direct implications for the US dollar and investors have no choice but to protect themselves from the fallout with assets that can provide a long-term hedge against the fall of the dollar. Those assets are not US, dollar-denominated stocks and bonds. Gold, on the other hand, has historically served effectively in that role.

Another economic factor that has only recently appeared in the official statistics is inflation. One key component of overall inflation is wage inflation. A key measure that has input into wage inflation is productivity. The higher the productivity, the less wage inflation pressure.

U.S. non-farm productivity fell at its fastest pace in a year in the 1st quarter of 2014, leading to the largest gain in unit labor costs in more than a year. Productivity declined at a 1.7 percent annual rate. Economists had generally forecast productivity falling at a 1.0 percent rate.

All of the economic and geopolitical news seem to be compelling investors to buy gold. In fact, Kevin Kerr, Editor of ITrustGold, told today that not buying gold now is "somewhat foolish."

"Prospects for gold in 2014 have increased significantly in the face of fast moving Ukrainian developments,” says Kerr. Moreover, the downside risk, especially when gold’s decline last year is factored in, is “very limited" according to Kerr.

According to Kerr, other catalysts for gold gains include: The economic debacle and non-stop money-printing has “run amok,” and with resources getting tighter and tighter, there is going to be more “fiat (paper) currency sloshing around.”

So consumers will need more of that paper money to buy more real things. In other words, inflation.

Kerr says that while gold may be volatile in the short-term, its price will exceed $2000 per ounce sooner than most expect.

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5.6.14 - Ukraine Crisis Shows No Sign Of Easing

Gold prices end slightly lower on a corrective pullback and a slumping U.S. dollar. U.S. stocks fall amid caution in global markets. Gold last traded at $1,308 an ounce. Silver at $19.65 an ounce.

World stock markets are declining today due to a variety of factors.

European stocks closed lower as continued violence in Ukraine and mixed earnings results made investors uneasy. Disappointing earnings reports from banking giant Barclays and investment manager Aberdeen Asset Management also put downward pressure on the stock market in London.

Fierce clashes reportedly broke out in the eastern Ukraine region of Slavyansk on Monday. Four Ukrainian soldiers are believed to have been killed, and an army helicopter shot down by pro-Russian militants.

Pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a dozen or more Ukrainian cities in the east.

The crisis shows no signs of easing and appears to be escalating.

The combat in Ukraine coincides with increased Russian military activity elsewhere.

The commander of U.S. air forces in the Pacific is reporting a significant increase in activities by Russian planes and ships in the region.

Gen. Herbert Carlisle linked that to the situation in the Ukraine. He said Russia was demonstrating its capabilities and gathering intelligence on U.S. military exercises.

Carlisle said there had been long-range Russian air patrols to the coast of California and a circumnavigation of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. He said a U.S. F-15 fighter jet intercepted a Russian strategic bomber that had flown to Guam.

He also reported a sharp increase in Russian air patrols around Japanese islands and Korea.

Carlisle said there was a lot more Russian ship activity too.

U.S. stocks are lower today as insurance giant AIG (American International Group) reported a decline in profits. AIG was the recipient of a huge government bailout at the height of the financial crisis.

Readers may recall that US GDP growth for the 1st quarter came in at 0.1% -- barely a blip on a flat line. A closer look reveals the economy may not have grown even that much. The U.S. economy probably contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years and only the second time since the Great Recession ended in mid-2009, new data suggest.

Fresh reports on the U.S. trade deficit, construction spending and business inventories have been softer than Wall Street expected.

The result? Economists now predict gross domestic product will be revised down to a decline of 0.2% to 0.4% in the first quarter.

The last negative quarter was in early 2011, when growth fell by 1.3%.

Recent data from the Labor Department showed the US unemployment rate dropped sharply in March. The details of that report were mixed to say the least, but now some academic economists are claiming the unemployment rate is not the best gauge for measuring the health of the economy.

David G. Blanchflower, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, and Adam S. Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, argue in a new paper that the slow pace of wage growth is the best indicator of an incomplete economic recovery. Until wages start rising more quickly, the economy remains far from healthy.

Average hourly wages for American workers held steady at $24.31 last month. They have increased just 1.9 percent over the previous 12 months. But, after adjusting for inflation, real wages have only increased by something like 0.5 percent.

Today the White House released an 800-page report on what used to be called "global warming" but has more recently been called "climate change." With the release of the report, the White House coined yet another new term: "climate disruption."

The report claims that climate disruption is man-made and will result in a long list of catastrophic weather events. Unable to push such an agenda through Congress, the White House is promising to push new regulations through without using the constitutional method of lawmaking in Congress. Critics claim such measures will have wide-reaching, negative effects on the US economy.

In gold market news, an expedition to bring back the remaining gold from a steamship that sank in 1857 off South Carolina has recovered almost 1,000 ounces of gold - the first gold recovered from the wreck in almost a quarter century.

The S.S. Central America was bringing gold back from the California when it sank in a hurricane claiming 425 lives. In addition, thousands of pounds of gold went to the bottom aboard the 280-foot, side-wheel steamship.

About $50 million was recovered during expeditions to the wreck in the late 1980s and early 1990s before legal disputes shut down the operation.

Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida, announced Monday that almost 1,000 ounces of the gold was recovered during a reconnaissance dive last month.

The newly recovered gold includes five gold bars and two $20 Double Eagle gold coins. One of the coins was minted in San Francisco the year that the Central America sank. The gold bars weigh between 106 and 344 ounces.

Reports also indicate that more gold remains on the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

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5.5.14 - Gold Shines As Ukraine Tension Grows

Gold jumps to a three-week high on continued tensions in Ukraine. U.S. stocks closed higher despite a slowing Chinese economy and Ukraine fears. Gold last traded at $1,309 an ounce. Silver at $19.57 an ounce.

Violence in Ukraine is once again weighing heavily on world financial markets.

Running street battles between pro-Russian and nationalist forces claimed dozens of lives in the Black Sea port of Odessa this weekend.

The Odessa bloodshed came on the same day that Kiev launched its biggest push yet to reassert its control over separatist areas in the east, hundreds of kilometers away, where armed pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed a “People’s Republic of Donetsk.”

While stocks have suffered as a result of the continued tensions in Ukraine, investors have sought the safe haven of gold.

Gold hit three-week highs in Europe on Monday, extending the previous session's gains, as the simmering tensions in Ukraine, a retreat in the dollar and a break above a key chart level fueled buying.

Stocks have also been impacted after a gauge of manufacturing in China came in below expectations, as did quarterly earnings from drug giant Pfizer.

HSBC's final reading of manufacturing activity in China came in at 48.1 for April, below the bank's preliminary reading of 48.3. The figure marked a fourth straight month of contraction, in contrast to the country's official PMI reading that showed a reading of 50.4. A reading below 50 indicates contraction, while a reading over 50 indicates expansion.

The markets will also be waiting for two testimonies this week before Congress by Fed Chair Janet Yellen. She testifies before the Joint Economic Committee on the economic outlook Wednesday and before the Senate Budget Committee Thursday.

Yellen will be tasked with trying to continue to convince politicians that the economy is getting better, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

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5.2.14 - Unemployment May Be Shrinking, but so is the Labor Force

Gold prices back on the rise. U.S. stocks dip slightly. Jobs numbers look rosy but the devil is in the details. Gold last traded at $1,298 an ounce. Silver at $19.50 an ounce.

The US unemployment rate plunged last month from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent, the lowest it has been since September 2008 when it was 6.1 percent. Economists had generally expected the rate to only decline from 6.7 percent to 6.6 percent.

On its face, it appears this report is indicative of a booming US economy. But, as they say, the devil is in the details and, in this case, the details are simply bad news. The sharp drop occurred because the number of people working or seeking work fell. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count people not looking for a job as unemployed.

The U.S. labor-force participation rate sank to 62.8 percent in April from 63.2 percent in March to match a 35-year low. Some 806,000 people dropped out of the labor force.

Despite the unemployment rate plummeting, more than 92 million Americans remain out of the labor force. The amount of Americans (not seasonally adjusted) not in the labor force in April rose to 92,594,000, almost 1 million more than the previous month. In March, 91,630,000 Americans were not in the labor force.

Within that overall number, the number of women, 16 and older, not in the labor force climbed to a record high of 55,116,000 in April. This means there were 55,116,000 women, 16 and older, who were in the civilian, non-institutional population who not only did not have a job, they did not actively seek one in the last four weeks. That is up 428,000 from the 54,688,000 women who were not in the labor force in March.

A number of economists look past the "main" unemployment rate to a different figure the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "U-6," which it defines as "total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of all civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers."

In other words, the unemployed, the underemployed and the discouraged. The U-6 rate in April was 12.3 percent, a rate that remains high.

The jobs numbers weren't the only statistic that fell short of expectations today.

The Commerce Department reported this morning that new orders for manufactured goods increased 1.1 percent in March. A consensus of economists had forecast new orders received by factories advancing 1.4 percent. In other words, the actual numbers fell significantly short of expectations. Moreover, February's orders were revised downward to show a 1.5 percent rise instead of the previously reported 1.6 percent gain.

Bloomberg is reporting this week on a new threat which could precipitate a crisis in the global banking industry.

Banking giants Credit Suisse and BNP Paribas are at risk of being criminally charged by U.S. and state prosecutors.

Credit Suisse has been the target of a U.S. criminal probe into whether it helped Americans evade taxes. BNP Paribas has been the subject of a federal probe into possible violations of sanctions barring business with prohibited countries.

Prosecuting the companies would break with a past practice of brokering settlements with large banks considered integral to the financial system.

The 2002 collapse of Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm indicted in the Enron scandal, “should be a lesson” for prosecutors, Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., says.

Prosecutors have been stung by lawmakers’ criticism that multibillion-dollar settlements have done too little to punish Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis.

Even after talking with financial regulators about ways to mitigate damage -- such as ensuring banks keep charters -- prosecutors might not fully understand consequences for the market, according to industry lawyers and bankers who are following the case.

Bank clients -- including trustees, fiduciaries and pension funds -- could be forced to cut ties with a financial institution labeled a criminal enterprise.

Counter-parties also might think twice before entering into billion-dollar transactions with such firms. Damaging a bank’s business could lead to broader fallout across the financial industry, just as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse in 2008 prompted investors to withdraw from other firms on concern its exit would set off a wave of losses.

The mere threat of a criminal prosecution could even cause customers to lose confidence in the institution and could cause a run on the bank.

Client psychology also could come into play. For example, even if investment managers aren’t prohibited from working with a bank, they may shy away because they don’t want to explain why they put funds in a firm with a criminal past.

Mindful that the specter of criminal charges helped put financial institutions such as Bank of Credit and Commerce International and Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. out of business, prosecutors in Washington and New York have met with representatives of the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to discuss the regulatory risks of indictments.

In a scenario like this, it is comforting for investors to know that gold is an asset in its own right, not dependent on anyone's promises. That's one reason it has stood solid as a store of value and trusted medium of exchange for 5,000 years.

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5.1.14 - Price Of Gold Set To Move Higher

Gold prices fall sharply lower on a rise in consumer spending and income. U.S. stocks ended generally lower after three days of gains as jobless claims unexpectedly rose. Gold last traded at $1,283 an ounce. Silver at $19.04 an ounce.

There are fresh indications the price of gold is set to move higher. Meanwhile, technical analysis suggests we are on the cusp of a 20% correction in the stock market. Additionally, there was yet another disappointing jobs report put out today.

Gold has been one of the better performing assets year to date and has risen in value in 12 out of the past 13 years. Even so, it remains extraordinarily undervalued if we look at many historical metrics.

For instance gold is at the lowest price it has been, if we compare the value of the U. S. gold stockpile to the Federal Reserve’s monetary base. This means that, hypothetically, if the U. S. were to back the dollar with gold, we would have to see a tremendous appreciation in the gold price in order for such a system to function smoothly.

We are finding more and more that foreigners are less willing to hold dollars and are increasingly swapping these dollars, and dollar-denominated assets, for gold.

We saw extremely strong buying from the Chinese at the $1,200/ounce level. Now we are seeing buyers come in whenever we see downward price action towards that level.

Foreigners, especially in the East, want gold. We have seen tremendous central bank buying from Turkey, Russia and Kazakhstan over the past few years, and this buying goes unabated. While there is no official report of the People’s Bank of China buying, many gold market analysts believe that the PBoC has been the world’s largest buyer and that its officials are afraid to announce the bank’s official holdings because of the effect it will have on the gold price.

There are other forces supporting higher gold prices as well. Mining companies are having a very difficult time producing gold profitably at $1,300/ounce. While most large gold producers are announcing they can produce the yellow metal at $1,000 – $1,100/ounce. When all is said and done, most of these companies have razor thin margins with the current gold price. Many companies were forced to reduce their gold reserve estimates, meaning they now have less in-ground gold they can mine profitably.

If the gold price remains low, it is possible more such action will be taken. More mines may shut down and this will reduce global supply.

With supply declining and demand rising, the price must rise. Now that we are consolidating the gains from the beginning part of the year, some of the larger buyers will begin to push prices higher.

The outlook from technical analysts for the US stock market isn't nearly so bright.

Despite the Dow Jones industrial average reaching a new record high, Richard Ross, global technical strategist at Auerbach Grayson, says certain technical indicators are calling for a serious correction.

"I'm going to be completely clear here: I'm quite bearish and I think the market's going significantly lower," said Ross.

Ross sees a big problem with the S&P 500's chart—a 20 percent problem to be exact. In 2011, the index corrected by about that much to its 150-week moving average after making moves very similar to its most recent price action.

"I think that we're in exactly the same scenario," said Ross, who notes that a similar decline to the current 150-week moving average would also be roughly 20 percent to around the 1,500 level. "I think that's what we're staring at right here."

The economy may not be supportive of a continued bull market in stocks either. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week. This is yet another statistic in a parade of such statistics on the jobs market over the past few months.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 344,000 for the week ended April 26, the Labor Department reported today. That was the highest level since February.

Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits falling to 319,000.

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