Don’t Be Afraid Buy Gold

As the price of gold has taken some lumps since it crashed into the symbolically significant $1,000 per ounce mark back in March, those on Wall Street who had consistently underplayed its potential on its way up are now assuring its continued retreat. According to these gold market spectators, prices have risen solely as a result of financial panic, and now that the fear has apparently subsided, gold’s gains will evaporate as well.

I have been buying gold and gold stocks for myself and my clients since 1999 and not once did I buy out of fear. In fact, from my perspective the only fear I’ve observed in the gold market is from those who have been too afraid to buy.

While fear may from time to time play a role in creating price spikes in gold, the underlying bull market has been driven by solid fundamentals. Those who have been too afraid to buy simply do not understand the underlying dynamics and have instead decided that the market is irrational. As a result, gold continues to climb the classic wall of worry as any dip in its otherwise upward trajectory causes the speculative investors to jump ship.

Read moreDon’t Be Afraid Buy Gold

After years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Relentless rise in oil prices tests economy’s resilience

WASHINGTON — Only a few weeks ago, prominent policymakers and economists were cheerfully asserting that the U.S. economy would dodge recession and keep chugging forward despite a housing bust, a credit crunch and continuing job losses.

“The data are pretty clear that we are not in recession,” said President Bush’s chief economist, Edward Lazear. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. declared “the worst is likely to be behind us” and confidently predicted that more than $100 billion in tax rebates would help create half a million new jobs by the end of the year.

But instead of clearing, the skies over the economy have ominously darkened in recent days. The chief reason is oil. And there are signs the nation may have reached an economic tipping point after years of shrugging off the petroleum problem.

“We may finally have crossed the line where the price of crude actually matters for most companies,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at New York financial firm Miller Tabak & Co. “The stock market has been in la-la land when it comes to oil, but they got a pretty good dose of reality the last few days.”

The ill effects of the latest price hikes would not be so surprising if it were not for the fact that the nation’s economy and financial markets remained blissfully unruffled by oil’s upward march during most of the last five years. Until this week.

“The economic outlook has been taken hostage by the relentless surge in oil prices,” said Robert V. DiClemente, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup in New York.

“We’re seeing an inexorable increase, and it doesn’t seem like anybody’s in charge or can do anything about it,” added Bank of America senior economist Peter E. Kretzmer.

Big, small firms take hits

Among the signs that the economy may finally be feeling the effect of rising oil prices was Ford Motor Co.’s announcement Thursday that it was abandoning any hope of making a profit this year or next now that sales of its gas-guzzling pickup trucks and Explorer sport utility vehicles have plunged.

And experts said that the other two U.S. automakers, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, may be in even greater trouble.

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said the industry had “reached a tipping point” where energy costs were fundamentally changing what kind of vehicles Americans buy.

Meantime, to cope with higher energy prices, American Airlines and United Airlines both raised ticket prices, and American announced plans to impose a new baggage-handling fee. But experts say the price hikes barely begin to make up for recent losses.

“The airline industry is devastated. It can’t survive $130-a-barrel oil,” said industry analyst Ray Neidl at Calyon Securities in New York.

Read moreAfter years of increases, some fear a tipping point has finally been reached

Big stores start to ration rice purchases

Supermarket chains have begun rationing rice as the effects of rising prices and disruptions to supply spill over from specialist grocers and suppliers to larger stores.

Netto, the Danish-owned discount store, has been restricting sales of larger bags of rice to one per person in all stores in recent weeks across the UK.

Mike Hinchcliffe, marketing manager for Netto UK, said: “We’re temporarily limiting our larger 10 kg bags of rice to one per customer because, like most other UK supermarkets, we are having to manage and minimise the impact the global rice shortage is having on our suppliers.

“We are experiencing a high demand for rice and have introduced this measure across our 184 UK stores to ensure that all of our customers have a fair opportunity to make their regular rice purchases. Our smaller 1kg packs remain on free sale with no restrictions planned at this time.” It expects the restriction to continue “indefinitely”.

By Lucy Killgren
Published: May 30 2008 23:45 | Last updated: May 30 2008 23:45

Source: Financial Times

Eurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Eurozone inflation surged to the highest rate for 16 years on the back of sharply higher oil prices as consumer spending in the 15-country region showed further signs of weakness.

Annual inflation in the eurozone reached 3.6 per cent in May, according to official data released on Friday, up from 3.3 per cent in the previous month. That appeared to rule out any chance of an early cut in interest rates by the European Central Bank, which aims to keep inflation “below but close” to 2 per cent.

Evidence also emerged that higher prices were wreaking economic damage by forcing households to retrench. Germany reported a surprise 1.7 per cent drop in April retail sales, extending a 2.2 per cent fall in March.

This week, the European Commission reported eurozone consumer confidence had plunged in May to its lowest level for almost three years.

As well as driving inflation higher, the soaring cost of fuel has led to Europe-wide protests this week – with fishermen blocking ports in France and on Friday giving out fish free in Madrid.

Read moreEurozone inflation reaches 16-year high

Wall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

May 30 (Bloomberg) — Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Donald Kohn raised the possibility of giving Wall Street securities firms permanent access to loans from the central bank, as long as regulators tighten oversight of the companies.

Kohn also advocated continuing Fed auctions of funds to commercial banks and loans of Treasuries to Wall Street dealers even after markets stabilize. Such channels would stay open “either on a standby basis or operating at a very low level,” he said in a speech in New York yesterday.

The remarks go beyond Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who has indicated the central bank would shut lending to investment banks when the credit crisis passes. Lawmakers and regulators are debating how to approach the supervision of investment banks in the aftermath of the Fed’s rescue of Bear Stearns Cos. in March.

“If you are a bondholder in one of these Wall Street firms, you know you have a big `Sugar Daddy’ now called the Federal Reserve that’s going to back you up,” said Jeff Pantages, chief investment officer of Alaska Permanent Capital Management in Anchorage, which oversees $1.8 billion in assets.

“But if you are a stockholder this kind of worries you” because investment banks “will be more highly regulated and won’t be able to use leverage as much as” before, he said.

Kohn said he hasn’t decided whether securities firms should continue to gain access to loans from the central bank.

More Extensive

“The more extensive the access, the greater the degree to which market discipline will be loosened and prudential regulation will need to be tightened,” Kohn said in his speech to a conference hosted by the New York Fed. “Unquestionably, regulation needs to respond to what we have learned about the importance of primary dealers and their vulnerabilities to liquidity pressures.”

Read moreWall Street May Get Permanent Access to Fed Loans

US banks likely to fail as bad loans soar

US banks set aside a record $37.1bn to cover losses on real estate loans and other credits during the first quarter in a sign of the growing economic pain being caused by the global credit crisis, regulators said on Thursday.

Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, said it was likely loan-loss provisions and bank failures would rise in coming quarters as the fallout from market turmoil hits the real economy.

“While we may be past the worst of the turmoil in financial markets, we’re still in the early stages of the traditional credit crisis you typically see during an economic downturn,” she said, adding: “What we really need to focus on is the uncertainty surrounding the economy . . . and again it is all about housing.”

Ms Bair spoke as the FDIC released its quarterly banking profile, which showed loan-loss provisions in the first quarter were more than four times higher than last year’s level. That was the main reason bank earnings fell 46 per cent to $19.3bn from the first quarter in 2007 for the commercial banks and savings institutions where the FDIC insures customer deposits.

Following restatements by banks, the FDIC revised the industry’s net income for the fourth quarter of last year from $5.8bn to $646m – the lowest since the end of 1990.

Meanwhile, the FDIC said the number of “problem” banks rose in the first quarter from 76 to 90, with combined assets of $26.3bn. Three US banks have failed this year, compared with three for the whole of last year and none in 2005 and 2006.

Ms Bair said she expected more bank failures but emphasised that the number of problem institutions remained well below the record levels of the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s – when one in 10 banks were in that category.

However, she said one worrying trend was the declining “coverage ratio”, which compares bank reserves with the level of loans that are 90 days past due. This ratio fell for the eighth consecutive quarter, to 89 cents in reserves for every $1 of noncurrent loans, the lowest level since the first quarter of 1993.

“This is the kind of thing that gives regulators heartburn,” said Ms Bair. “We also want them to beef up their capital cushions beyond regulatory minimums given uncertainty about the housing markets and the economy . . . It’s only prudent to be building up capital at a time like this.”

In a sign that some US banks may have underestimated the cost of the housing slump, KeyCorp this week doubled its forecast for loan losses – its second revision in as many months – sending its share price tumbling by more than 10 per cent. During the property boom, KeyCorp expanded in fast-growing regions such as southern California and Florida, where problem loans are now growing.

By Joanna Chung and Saskia Scholtes in New York
Published: May 29 2008 20:43 | Last updated: May 29 2008 20:43

Source: Financial Times

$75 limit on credit card charges at gas pump causes frustration

LOS ANGELES – As if sky-high gasoline prices weren’t frustrating enough, many owners of thirsty SUVs, pickups and motor homes who use a credit card at the pump are being blocked from getting a full tank.

That’s because many station operators have a $75 limit on Visa (V) or MasterCard (MA) transactions at the pump.

If motorists hit the limit, they must do a second transaction at the pump to finish filling. Another solution, though inconvenient: Go see the attendant to have the card swiped inside. But this information often is not on the pump, and it can be aggravating even if it is, so customers are venting their ire.

“It’s frustrating to them, and they let us know,” says Tom Robinson, president of Rotten Robbie, a 34-station chain based in Northern California. “There’s always an adjective associated with the pump, and it’s like ‘stupid’ or worse.”

Station owners say they simply are passing through policies of Visa and MasterCard, which won’t reimburse them more than $75 per transaction at the pump if there’s a disputed charge or a fraudulent card is used.

May 30, 08

Source: USA Today

Europe fuel protests spread wider

Flemish fishermen protest in Brussels outside European Parliament
Belgian fishermen have been protesting directly to the EU

Fuel protests triggered by rising oil prices have spread to more countries across Europe, with thousands of fishermen on strike.

Union leaders said Portugal’s entire coastal fleet stayed in port on Friday, while in Spain, 7,000 fishermen held protests at the agriculture ministry.

French fishermen have been protesting for weeks, with Belgian and Italian colleagues also involved.

UK and Dutch lorry drivers held similar protests earlier this week.

The strike reflects anger at the rising cost of fuel, with oil prices above $130 (83.40 euros; £65.80) a barrel.

Trade unions say the cost of diesel has become prohibitively high, after rising 300% over the past five years.

Wholesale fish prices, meanwhile, have been static for 20 years.

Fishermen’s leaders from France, Spain and Italy have been meeting in Paris to co-ordinate strikes and protests over the next three weeks in the run-up to a European Union fisheries ministers’ meeting.

The protesters are calling for direct immediate aid for the fisheries industry, coupled with increased subsidies.

The European Commission said in a statement it was willing to show flexibility towards the industry but it has ruled out subsidies to offset rising fuel costs.

Short-term aid packages were acceptable as long as they were used to address structural deficiencies in the fleets, it said.

‘Ruin for fishermen’

Several thousand fishermen marched on the agriculture ministry in Madrid, where they handed out 20 tonnes of fresh fish to members of the public in an attempt to draw attention to their ailing industry.


Fishermen held protests in Brussels and Madrid

Many blew whistles and klaxons, and let off firecrackers producing red smoke.

The BBC’s Steve Kingstone at the protest said he could see flags from Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia.

Read moreEurope fuel protests spread wider

Dow Chemical Raises Prices, Paving Way for Hershey, Monsanto


May 29 (Bloomberg) — Dow Chemical Co., the largest U.S. chemical maker, may not be the last to raise prices this year because of soaring raw materials costs.

Monsanto Co., Hershey Co., General Mills Inc. and Avery Dennison Corp. may follow suit, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They’re among 11 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that increased their so-called LIFO reserve, which captures rising inventory costs, by at least 20 percent over the past four quarters.

With oil and commodity prices at record highs, companies will be forced to pass on higher costs, analysts said after Dow Chemical announced yesterday it will raise prices by the most in its 111-year history. That will contribute to inflation, and may prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates for the first time in four years.

“We are going to see a cascading of higher prices through the system,” said Steve Hoedt, who helps manage $34 billion, including Dow Chemical shares, at National City Corp. in Cleveland. “Companies that are able to push prices through to their customers are the ones that are going to be successful.”

Read moreDow Chemical Raises Prices, Paving Way for Hershey, Monsanto