Friday, February 24, 2012

Gold to silver ratio is on the move again

The ratio between the price of gold and the price of silver is an indicator of the appetite for risk among the strange creatures who follow the Precious Metals markets.

Last year silver prices went crazy relative to gold. Instead of the previous range where gold was 60 to 80 times more valuable than silver, the ratio plunged to around 30 times more valuable.  That plunge is the main feature of the chart above.  Then in May 2011 the temporary insanity passed and the ratio started working its way back up to the mid-to-high 50s.

It looks to me that the ratio is heading back below 50.  In practical terms this means that the price of silver is rising faster than the price of gold.  Since the price of gold is also rising these days, people who own silver and stocks in silver miners are probably smiling again.

This blog occasionally points out financial ratios as curiosities, indicators that some sort of change or trend may be afoot. Don't lose your mind and think this is investment advice.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Open letter from China to Europe...Velvet glove, iron fist

Dear Sirs/Madams,

I know you are in trouble and want China to help. I have heard your repeated calls in the media for our leaders to bail you out by buying the debt of European governments. I want to assure you your entreaties have not been in vain.

Last week our premier pledged that China will "get more deeply involved" in resolving your debt crisis. Our central bank governor tried to buoy up market confidence in the euro by vowing to continue holding your sovereign debts. Such comments came even as the international rating agencies - Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings - cut their ratings for your nations because of the weakening prospects for an overhaul in Europe.

We want you to know that we are your friend in your time of need.

In fact, the ever-expanding trade ties between China and the European Union have brought us closer together. China is now the EU's top trade partner, and vice versa. So a collapse of the eurozone would also hurt China's interests. The International Monetary Fund has warned that a deepening EU debt crisis could slash China's economic growth in half this year. So we are both in the same boat.

But that does not mean you should take China's help lightly.

Yes, China has the money. Its stockpile of foreign currency, valued at nearly $3.2 trillion, is the world's largest. Yet this has been amassed over three decades of trade and built up from razor-thin profits. We are at the low end of the global value chain and we have to sweat and toil for every penny we earn. China has to export more than 800 million shirts to buy one Airbus A380.

To be frank, some of us don't understand why the rich are holding out their hands to the poor and asking for money. For common Chinese people, the wealth of your nations is unimaginable. The average monthly income of your citizens - at around $4,000 in countries such as Germany and Belgium - is 12 times that of the average Chinese citizen. The Chinese workers in the factories in coastal cities have to work 12 hours or longer each day with basically no days off, while workers in France enjoy two months of paid vacation, national holidays and regional festivals each year. If we can save 50 percent of our earnings, surely it should be possible for you to save just 1 percent of yours.

The cause of the crisis is simple: You have spent more than you earned. If we are injecting our hard-earned money into Greek, Irish, Portuguese or Italian government bonds, you should show the political resolve to clean up your own backyard. You have to stop bickering and dragging your feet over the urgently needed austerity measures. It is time to roll up your sleeves and get the job done.

And while I know that any investment has risks, I hope you will try to ensure our money does not evaporate. We have already been snared in a "dollar trap". You are not legally obliged to ensure our investment safety. But surely you don't want to be seen as luring China into a "euro trap". We have suffered huge losses from holding US Treasury bonds because of the unrestrained printing of the greenback. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has pointed out, the dollar depreciation will result in losses of up to 20-30 percent of China's investment in US bonds. That's the reason we have sought to divert our investment in a basket of currencies other than the US dollar.

Perhaps now that China has shown its goodwill toward you with its chivalrous purchasing of European debts, we can expect some demonstration of goodwill from you. I think you should recognize China's market economy status as soon as possible. After all it is of no substantial significance. China is going to get the status anyway in a few years' time according to the World Trade Organization rules. Good relations are all about reciprocity.

I hope everything goes fine with you.

Yours Sincerely

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Home e-mail management for rookies

Let's say you have a home e-mail account and several computers, for instance a laptop that you use a lot (including on the road) and an old desktop at home that you still use from time to time. And let's say you have a normal email account with an Internet Service Provider. You would like to keep up with your emails and not worry that some are on one machine and others are only on the other.

Oh, and you are not particularly computer-savvy and aren't likely to become any more savvy in the near future. And you use Thunderbird because it's smart, so you don't have to be.

Before this gets too autobiographical, let's cut to the chase. You have choices in how you receive your email and what happens to it after you receive it. You can make or change those choices right now on any computer that can access your email.

Scenario #1: One main machine gets and keeps all the email even if you read it first on another machine.
This is the one that I like. I want everything downloaded to my desktop. If I read it first on another machine, I still want to be able to read it on my desktop, without sending it from the laptop. Go into your email Account Settings/Server Settings on the desktop and set them to POP3. And Uncheck the box that says to save messages on the server for up to 14 days.

What happens as a result? Any message that you read on your desktop is downloaded onto it and removed from the email server. If a minute later you signed on with your laptop, there would be no messages to read.

Now go into the Account Settings/Server Settings on your laptop and set it to POP3 and Check the box that says to save messages on the server for up to 14 days, or whatever. Now, if you check email on that laptop, you have 14 days to check again on the desktop and get those same messages and store them where you want them. POP stands for Post Office Protocol. It works like this:
And you should never get a "mailbox full" error message, even if your friends send you those huge cloying powerpoint shows with the new age music and sunsets over camel caravans.

Scenario #2: you never know where you are going to be and you want all your email available to all your machines all the time.
The email provider's POP3 server is not for you. You want to be using their IMAP server, which you get to select in Account Settings/Server Settings. IMAP servers don't fully transfer anything to your laptop or your desktop or your mobile, they just leave all the files on the IMAP server and let you read copies, create folders and organize stuff, up to the limits of your email account. Sooner or later you will run out of room and have to get files off the IMAP server and onto some local storage. But as long as you are within the storage limits that you paid for with your email provider, the IMAP approach will be the best fit for you. IMAP stands for Internet Messaging Access Protocol. Here is how IMAP works:

Scenario #3: you have multiple email accounts, multiple machines and a need for everything all the time, everywhere.
You could forward some of your email accounts to gmail and use it with POP3 or IMAP, depending on your preferences. But your responses to the emails would go out from your gmail account, which you might not want. So then you need a service like Easy-Email which for a modest fee will handle all this stuff according to your specific instructions, regardless of how many computers and email accounts you are burdened with.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Natural Gas vs copper

North American prices for natural gas are getting hammered. Copper, by comparison, is holding up well. Here is a chart of the ratio of Natural Gas Price to Copper Price, covering the last 3 years.

Copper price is a global indicator of economic conditions. Its current strength indicates that global demand remains firm. Natural gas prices are more regional; North American gas prices reflect the new shale gas supplies and a shortage of LNG export facilities. Recall that just 4 years ago, LNG was going to be imported to North America, not exported from North America. That Peak Oil theory has some more waiting to do, perhaps...

Despite the low prices of gas, it is still not cheap to buy the shares of natural gas producers. Here is a chart of Altagas, formerly a Canadian Energy Trust.
What's the message from all this? Hell if I know, I am no investment guru. But gas prices are going to have to go up, sooner or later. And the shares already reflect that. Plus, supplies are being held back because it's not worth producing them. Next, exploration slows down. Eventually prices will rebound. Then the commodity pricing cycle repeats.

PS: Aren't and amazing?