Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Doug Casey on ISIS, Gold, Crude Oil, and What to Expect in 2015

By Louis James, Chief Metals & Mining Investment Strategist

Today's feature is a special treat: a peek into the brain of one of the most successful speculators of all time. In what follows, Doug Casey talks to Louis James about what to expect in 2015. Doug weighs in on today's most important issues, including ISIS, oil, Putin, and the stock market. He even sticks his nose out to make a bold call on gold.

This (usually subscriber only) content originally appeared in The Casey Report.......Enjoy!

Louis James: It’s been a long, eventful quarter since we last spoke, Doug. What’s most on your mind as 2014 draws to a close and we look ahead to 2015?

Doug Casey: Let’s start with gold, since that’s the main focus we’ve had for so long. The Swiss gold reserve referendum just went down in flames, of course, and that was a big disappointment to many.

L: Really? I don’t know anyone who was surprised.

Doug: Well, surprise and disappointment aren’t the same thing. I’m constantly disappointed by how stupid people are, but I’m never surprised by it. There were early signs of support for the measure, but the powers that be mounted an immense propaganda campaign against it, and they succeeded. I hear that the balance sheet of the Swiss central bank has expanded faster than that of any other central bank in the world—

L: Whoa—that would explain a lot.

Doug: Yes. Relying on the Swiss franc to preserve your capital today is like relying on Swiss banks to preserve your privacy. Only fools would trust in either at this point. Despite that, Switzerland may still be sounder than any other country in Europe—which is really saying something about how bad things have gotten in Europe.

L: I’ve learned from you, Doug, not to pay too much attention to gold’s daily fluctuations, but I have to say that it was a singular day the Monday after the Swiss referendum failed. Gold dropped like a rock the moment it started trading, but quickly reversed and kept rising and rising all day long, making an $80/ounce swing from trough to peak. Did you notice that, and what do you make of it?

Doug: I suspect short covering; too many people were short because they expected the referendum to fail and then had to cover. Those inclined toward conspiracy theories may say that the initial retreat was “da boys” hitting the paper gold market with thousands of gold contracts in the middle of the New York night—timed perfectly to coincide with the Swiss vote. If there were any truth to that, the people promoting the notion would all be billionaires. But they’re not.

L: I understand your position that it could have been private players doing the same thing for profit, but let’s suppose for a moment that the government conspiracy is real. If so, the fact that gold buyers swamped the selling and pushed the price higher that day shows that the conspirators can at most influence gold, not control its price, and there’s hope in that.

Doug: I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories regarding gold price suppression. There’s zero credible evidence for it, and I’m embarrassed having to discuss the subject with outsiders who have heard it; for them it’s more evidence that gold investors all wear tinfoil hats. The fact is the government doesn’t care about gold; they really do think it’s a barbarous relic that should be used to plate urinals, as Lenin supposedly suggested. They don’t care about its price, and even less about that of silver. That said, I’ll stick my nose out and say that I think the bottom for gold has come and gone, with that spike downward.

L: I haven’t made a formal call, but my gut take is the same, and I said so in the current edition of the International Speculator. I published a chart showing one of those days—and there have been quite a few recently—in which gold sold off sharply during a time of light trading volume, only to rebound and close the day higher. To me, this is evidence that there’s a large pool of deep-pocketed buyers out there for whom the current gold trading range is attractive and who back up the truck for more every time it gets cheaper.

Doug: At least two of those buyers are the Chinese and the Russians. The Russians at least appear to disclose their gold holdings every month, and they keep rising and rising. China is less transparent, but they have become the world’s largest gold producer—and they not only don’t export any gold, they import more than anyone else, with the occasional exception of India.

This is important because at the end of the day, the paper market must eventually follow what’s happening in the real world of physical trade in a physical thing like gold. And the reality in the physical market for gold is that global demand is very strong. If any genius is actually suppressing the gold price in Western dominated paper markets, they are simply doing the Russians and Chinese a huge favor, helping them move gold from West to East cheaply. That’s all anyone really needs to know.

L: Understood. But of course, for many gold investors out there, it’s once bitten, twice shy.

Doug: There’s no question that gold has had a severe retracement since its high in September of 2011. I understand their feelings. But we’re not talking about feelings here; we’re talking about markets. Markets cycle. This one has cycled about as low as any gold market in past corrections, and now I think it’s time for it to cycle up again.

L: Now there’s a “forward-looking statement.”

Doug: It’s just my opinion. Everyone’s got one.

L: Heh—well, as Captain Kirk once said to Mr. Spock, “I trust your guesses more than I trust most people’s so-called facts.” But enough on that: what else are you seeing in the markets today?

Doug: The big retreat in oil prices is obviously important.

L: It’s certainly capturing a lot of headlines. What do you think: is this new US oil boom the beginning of the end for OPEC, as so many would love to believe?

Doug: OPEC works fine in a bull market, when everyone is a rich genius. But half the governments in OPEC are broke, they’re all run by morons, and they all cheat on quotas as suits them. OPEC is really just a public relations gimmick at this point—one that allows a bunch of corrupt ministers a chance to live high off the hog and feel important at their meetings.

But there’s no denying that there’s been a sea change in the global energy markets. Fracking and horizontal drilling have created a major surge in US oil production—a big deal in a fungible commodity that has impacted the whole world. The technology will spread everywhere, and costs will drop. But decline curves are steep. You probably need $70-$80 oil to make it work.

Meanwhile, countries like Venezuela, Iraq, and Iran live off of oil revenue and will sell all they can produce at any price they can get. Besides, I think the world economy is slowing down—just look at Europe and China. All of this just means that the energy market went through an entirely predictable down cycle.

L: Any sense of where that bottom is?

Doug: Not a clear one, but we’re probably approaching it, if it hasn’t come and gone as well. Remember that most commodities move roughly together in cycles. Grains, metals, energy—a lot of commodities have fallen significantly in price. And the next step is down for the world economy. Way down.

L: That reminds me of what Rick Rule likes to say: the cure for low prices is low prices. People aren’t going to suddenly decide they don’t need metals, energy, or food. If high oil prices made expensive shale oil production profitable, lower prices will cut back on that supply, driving the price back up again, starting a new cycle.

Doug: Yes, though in the long run, oil supply will simply not be a problem. Oil is just a hydrocarbon, and all you need to make it is CO2, water, and energy. I really don’t worry about future supplies of energy. We’ll have to go through the wringer to get there, but things will eventually get better—not only better than most people imagine, but better than most can imagine.

L: So with that big picture in mind, do developments like the Russians canceling their South Stream pipeline idea in favor of a new route through Turkey matter?

Doug: Not really. The devil can be in the details, but these are just details. More important, as Marin points out in his new book, The Colder War, Putin is the smartest and toughest politician on the international scene today. Whether or not we like him isn’t relevant; we should expect his decisions to be intelligent, given his goals.

For example, as we’ve discussed before, from the Russian perspective, his actions helping Russian populations break their provinces away from Ukraine make perfect sense. The actions of the US-installed puppet government in Kiev are criminal and insane, trying to recapture those people who want independence in eastern Ukraine by force.

So even though he’s not a “nice guy,” I’m a Putin fan.

L: We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one. I fear the man wants to be Tsar of the World—and he may be ruthless enough to pull it off. And I don’t understand why you’re so quick to dismiss US/EU propaganda but buy into Russian propaganda. You haven’t been to Ukraine to determine the facts for yourself. Neither have I, but I have friends there, and I believe you’re misinformed. That said, I know that you’re basically in favor of all secession movements regardless of the particulars. You’d ultimately like to see every person on earth secede from any and all governments, and with that I agree.

Doug: I don’t think a visit would help. And just because the Russians say something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You simply have to support breakaway provinces, whether they’re in Spain, Italy, Ukraine, or wherever. It’s logical the Russians would try to help them secede and extremely provocative of the US government to arm the bankrupt regime in Kiev to prevent it.

L: Okay then—what else is on your mind?

Doug: The ISIS phenomenon in the Middle East. Everyone sees these people as the latest devil incarnate, but to me this turn of events is perfectly predictable—

L: It’s not just predictable, Doug: you did predict it. You’ve been saying for years—decades—that all these lines on the maps of Africa and the Middle East were drawn up in boardrooms in Europe with no regard for the historical, tribal, linguistic, religious, and economic groups they cut apart or the different and often mutually hostile peoples they forced together. I’ve heard you say many times that those lines would change, and now it’s happening.

Doug: Well, okay, that’s true. But the point is that as distasteful as these ISIS people may be to Western sensibilities, they speak for a large number of people who see the world their way, so it’s no surprise to see them gaining ground, cutting across borders they never believed in to begin with. What’s happening with ISIS is natural and inevitable.

The fact that they execute people by beheading is picturesque in a way many Westerners find offensive—but it is by nature no more offensive than state executions in the US. Strapping a guy to a chair and running electricity through him or strapping him to a table and injecting poisons into him is equally barbaric. The public executions are a distraction, however; the Saudis execute scores of people the same way for much the same reasons every year, and they’re supposed to be our bosom buddies.

What matters is that this movement has a great deal of support and it’s growing. It’s actually a good thing from the perspective of the people in that part of the world who want that kind of society. That means it will dig in and have staying power. I don’t think it’s going to dry up and blow away. I would not, however, rely on the media for an accurate description or interpretation of events.

And we should expect similar disintegrations of nonsense countries and reorganization of peoples into more natural groupings to spread across the Middle East and throughout Africa. You’d think some heads would roll, at least metaphorically, in Washington after the Iraqi Army—which was the recipient of scores of billions of wasted US taxpayer funds—collapsed totally. They fled and left their weapons for the insurgents. The neocons have absolutely no shame—which, incidentally, is a hallmark of a real sociopath. I’m much more afraid of the people in control of the US government than I am of ISIS.

L: What I don’t understand about this ISIS thing is that they seem to be setting up a “real” government—this new caliphate they want recognized—with defined and accepted territory. That makes them vulnerable to straightforward military action; they become a country that can be warred upon, not just a terrorist group that can disappear in the desert. So, if they are the Bad Guys, why don’t those governments that oppose them wage real war on them and wipe them out?

Doug: Well, what stupidity doesn’t explain, incompetence often does. None of the state armies in the Middle East is worth the powder it would take to blow it to hell; they’re nothing but vehicles for graft and oppressing the people. Half the soldiers are likely sympathetic with the jihadists, if only because they hate their corrupt officers. In warfare, Napoleon said, the psychological is to the physical as three is to one. So don’t bet against ISIS.

And don’t call them terrorists. The word has become a meaningless pejorative. I’m a freedom fighter, you’re a rebel, he’s a terrorist. Entirely apart from the fact that terrorism is just a tactic or sometimes a strategy, like artillery barrages or cavalry charges. We’ll see if they succeed in staking out a territory. Maybe they won’t bother; maybe they’ll become a phyle.

I suggest people analyze the situation in a value-free manner. If you involve your emotions, you’re unlikely to arrive at the most rational conclusions. ISIS is not a friend, but rest assured its members see themselves as good and just people who are fighting evil.

L: It occurs to me that ISIS may be more useful to the powers that be, beheading journalists on YouTube—a great distraction from the woes affecting people’s daily lives in the West.

Doug: Exactly. The worse the economy gets, the more governments look for someone else to blame or some danger somewhere that makes for a good distraction. There needs to be a dog to wag.
I suspect that there are a lot of neocons out there who wish they’d left Saddam alone, rather than whacking the hornet’s nest. Now that the cat is out of the bag, to mix metaphors, I think the phenomenon is really going to spread. And most neocons will learn absolutely nothing from it, since their views aren’t influenced by facts but set by a psychological aberration.

L: So the Forever War intensifies in 2015?

Doug: Yes. I think it’s inevitable. For a bunch of reasons.

L: Speaking of economic woes that people need to be distracted from, have you seen that there’s a national movement building steam in the US, advocating a $15 per hour minimum wage?

Doug: Yes. What these people don’t realize or want to face is that rote labor is not worth $15 per hour, and the only thing they will succeed in achieving is their own unemployment—and unemployability. This movement will only encourage companies like Amazon—which uses thousands and thousands of robots to do work people once did—to automate even more.

So maybe it’s a good thing; it will spur innovation and progress. It might even cost us less for those who lack value-adding skills to go on welfare than for business to be forced to pay them to do work machines can do better and faster. Let me hasten to add that welfare in all its aspects should be abolished. But that’s not going to happen until the present system actually collapses. Which, incidentally, will happen. Nothing overcomes the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

L: Perhaps it’s a form of poetic justice. People see that the government prints all the money it wants to bail out its friends on Wall Street—and itself—why not just print more for them directly? If governments can print, borrow, and spend an economy into prosperity, why indeed can’t societies print money for all to spend as they please? We can all be Zimbabwe—rejoice!

Doug: Looking at this from a historical point of view, you realize that 100 years ago, there were only five central banks in the world. Now every country in the world has a central bank, and they’re all doing exactly the same thing: creating currency units out of thin air as fast as they think they can get away with.

More broadly, a century ago, governments were very limited in their power to regulate the day-to-day lives of citizens. They were actually quite weak. The whole world has transformed tremendously since then, starting with the mega-disaster of World War I, and governments now have unprecedented power over people’s lives—made possible not only by laws, but by the power of central banks… and by the fact the average person has been programmed to believe that’s the way it ought to be.

The good news, I think, is that this situation has already crossed the point of no return; it’s unsustainable. It must and will fall apart. There’s going to be a gigantic reset within the next decade. Within 10 years, I’m sure we’re going to see something that’s going to be not just the biggest thing since World War II, but the biggest thing since the Industrial Revolution. I remain an optimist for the future, but the next big historical turning point is coming, and it’s going to be very unpleasant for most people.

L: That brings to mind how bad things have gotten already, with waves of protest wracking the US over excessive use of force by the police. I don’t know if Obama’s idea of putting cameras on cops will really help—does anyone really trust the watchers to watch themselves?

Doug: It’s all related. Look, rather than discuss the details of the day, I think that at heart, we should remember that cops are people, albeit people who generally have an extra Y chromosome and are loyal first to other cops. Their actions should not only be judged and responded to in the same way we would for any other people, but more severely. If, for example, a citizen kills someone, there’s a grand jury convened and a trial. The same should be the case for cops—every time and in all cases. In fact, cops should not be scrutinized less for the sake of expedience, but more—for the sakes of justice and freedom.

I think it’s unconscionable that cops have gotten away with shakedowns, murder, and other crimes for so long because of the mistaken belief—both theirs and among people in general—that the rules must be different for them. I’m not a fan of today’s cops in general; they’re no longer peace officers concerned with protecting the people, but law enforcement officers concerned with protecting themselves and strong-arming the people as directed by their masters. Maybe people are finally getting fed up. I don’t know how this will end, but it’s hard to see much change before things get worse—something like they were in the movie V for Vendetta.

L: So, pulling back to look at the big picture and looking ahead to 2015, it seems to me that there is something deeply and disturbingly wrong with the global picture. Everyone desperately focuses on whatever good news they can even as the bad news continues unabated. China, which now has the world’s largest economy, is failing to hit even its reduced GDP growth targets, and the EU has fallen and can’t get up. But no one wants to admit that the emperor has no clothes—it’s time to go holiday shopping.

Doug: Good point about China. I see an economic collapse as an almost sure thing for them; the collapse of iron ore prices in 2014 is clear evidence of this, with so much of global iron production having been gobbled up by China until recently. Their banks are broke, which will be a huge problem for the average Chinese worker, who still saves 25%-30% of his or her income. If those people can’t get their money out of their banks or if the money they get is worthless, there won’t just be riots and civil unrest, there will be a revolution.

Japan is destroying the yen and will wipe out the savings of the Japanese people. Europe is a socialist basket case at this point. And I have to say: the US isn’t far behind. Next year and 2016 are really going to be something to behold.

L: Grim. So… how to invest?

Doug: I have no desire to be in the mainstream stock market for the duration. Even less to be in the bond market—the bubble there has gotten bigger and bigger over the last few years, to the point that it has reached a truly unholy size. Real estate is holding on, but it’s floating on a sea of debt, so when the bond bubble breaks, real estate—certainly in the Anglo-Saxon world—is in for big trouble. (And real estate is the most obvious thing for cash-strapped local governments to tax, as things turn down.) So, as we’ve said before, I really don’t see any way out of this thing, other than through the wringer we’re now caught in. However long they last, I do think we’re in the last moments of calm before the storm breaks.

L: I see it as maybe a last chance to back up the truck on the best speculative picks in various sectors poised to surge whenever the storm does break. I don’t know when the balloon pops, but it’s growing and growing in a room full of pins, and our readers will want to be prepared when it blows. The best way I can think of is to subscribe to our various publications, both for strategic guidance and for potentially life-changing—or saving—stock picks.

Fortunately for those late to the game or who wish to diversify into new sectors, we're opening up subscription to our most exclusive and comprehensive service, Casey’s Club, through February 20. I do encourage everyone reading this conversation to take advantage of this opportunity, and prepare for what’s coming—perhaps faster than anyone imagines.

Doug: Yes. It will affect us all, everywhere, but I’m happy to be down here in the peaceful and productive wine country of Cafayate, Argentina.

L: I look forward to my next visit—and hope you’ll visit me soon here in Puerto Rico.

Doug: I’ll be interested to see what the actual change in your taxes turns out to be, net of all your costs.

L: Me too. Well, thanks for another very thought-provoking, if not exactly cheerful conversation. I don’t think I need to ask you to spell out the details of what to do as a result of your projections; it’s all here in these pages and in the International Speculator, of course.

Doug: Just so. Until next time, keep some powder dry; I think you’re going to see some spectacular buying opportunities, and I think those who stick with the program are going to achieve fantastic returns.

L: Hear, hear!

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