Investing is For the Birds

–The office was nearly empty on Friday evening and your editor was just about to head for the door when a head popped around the corner. The head belonged to Diggers and Drillers editor Alex Cowie. The head then spoke. “Did you see the gold price?”

–We hadn’t. But we looked. And it was up. Silver was up nearly two per cent as well. Meanwhile, thanks in part to some lousy US employment numbers, the Dow Jones Industrials fell 2.20%. The gold price closed at US$1889.

–More from Alex below on silver. But the jobs data from the US was actually lousier than it first appeared. No new net jobs were added in the US economy. None. The official unemployment rate is 9.1%. But if you included people who had dropped out of the employment pool altogether and those who are marginally attached to the workforce, the unemployment rate is more like 16%.

–As we wrote last week, this is a structural problem. It’s one Australia is starting to encounter. When government policy favours the financial industry with unsound money and low interest rates, it creates ideal conditions for banks and their shareholders and for industries that depend on cheap finance, like real estate.

–But the manufacutring jobs that have disappeared thanks to a globalised work force are awfully hard to get back. They certainly won’t come back by Monday. Monday is a US public holiday. The hangover from the US jobs report will afflict the Aussie market for at least a couple of days.

–Something else happened on Friday worth noting. Wikileaks got tired of waiting for the mainstream media to sift through all those US diplomatic cables. Some 65 gigabytes of uncensored US diplomatic cables were set free on the Internet late Friday afternoon. The data mining has begun.

–One interesting item that’s been published already is that China views gold as a weapon against the US dollar. A US diplomatic cable from April 28th, 2009 – gold closed at $906.20 in New York that day – quotes Chinese media on the subject of currency warfare and gold. Under the subject, China increases its gold reserves in order to kill two birds with one stone, the cable reads (emphasis added is ours):

‘The China Radio International sponsored newspaper World News Journal (Shijie Xinwenbao)(04/28): “According to China’s National Foreign Exchanges Administration China’s gold reserves have recently increased. Currently, the majority of its gold reserves have been located in the U.S. and European countries. The U.S. and Europe have always suppressed the rising price of gold. They intend to weaken gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the U.S. dollar or Euro. Therefore, suppressing the price of gold is very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in promoting the internationalization of the RMB.

–This cable reveals that one primary method of intelligence gathering for US diplomats is to read the local papers. If the papers are good, then maybe the intelligence will be better than nothing.

–But God help American diplomats reading Australian financial journalists! They would have to conclude the country is ruled by economically ignorant elitists. GK Chesterton defined journalism as, “writing badly on an enormous scale” and the journalist as, “one who is vastly ignorant about many things, but who writes and talks about them all.”

–Perhaps now we know why American intelligence gathering has been so poor in the last 20 years. It’s taking its cue from the media. But it’s not surprising that the first step in open-source intelligence gathering is to see what’s in the papers. That tells you what the social mood is.

–In fact, some traders are even trying to harness “social mood” as a predictor of stock market prices. There are products out there now that promise to track Twitter trends and issue you buy and sell alerts derived from social media trends. Check out Wall Street Birds. Prepare to laugh.

— Other products are based on the same idea but sound a lot more complex. They are based on artificial neural networks – computer networks and software designed to mimic the structure of the human brain. The programs claim to be self-learning and adaptive and, of course, predictive. They claim to help you anticipate future stock behaviour by analysing rapidly evolving social trends.

–The idea sounds plausible. It appeals to a kind of emotional logic that if you collect enough real-time data about what other people are doing and saying, the right algorithm can tell you what they’re about to do. Now that social media like Twitter and Facebook are producing so much output, you just need to aggregate the data, crunch it, trade it, and rake in the dough, baby.

–But we’re not sure there’s any real advantage in knowing what other people are thinking, especially if they’re not thinking. The social media aggregator/neural network stock prediction theory promises to operate the same way a price does in a free market. That is, it promises to communicate useful information by reducing millions of different individual sentiments into one.

–A price IS useful information, as long as it is not distorted by, say, easy credit. Easy credit causes people to spend more money than they have. Producers of goods and services react to this and overestimate consumer demand. Real resources are misallocated based on bogus price signals.

–But a neural network that tells you what people are Tweeting about can’t possibly tell you what BHP stock is worth, can it? No. Why? Because what people are thinking about is not the same as what they are actually doing with their money. Prices measure human action. Indicators that measure sentiment are useful. But sentiment fluctuates. It’s subject to manipulation. And basing your financial decisions on the quality of other people’s aggregate thinking is the same as not thinking at all.

–That was a long diversion from China and gold. But really both subjects – gold and neural network/Twitter stock prediction theory – are about absolute vs. relative value. The Chinese know that the consensus belief in the US dollar as a reserve currency requires the suppression of the gold price. The rising gold price communicates useful information to investors: fiat money is a fraud.

–In the Chinese view, gold has a real value no matter what people think about it. It has absolute value. This is why China is planning for a new world reserve currency in which gold is remonetised. Our guess is that they are aiming for a 2015 launch, in which the Yuan is partially internationalised and included in the IMF’s special drawing rights basket of currencies.

–This brings us back, in a roundabout way, to Alex and silver. The logical end of a monetary crisis is a reissuing of currency and a revaluation of that currency relative to gold and silver. This was the point Alex made over the weekend when talking about Isaac Newton and silver in 17th century England.

–Alex pointed out that English silver was underpriced. That is, the silver content of English coins was worth more as silver on the Continent than it was as a sovereign coin. Arbitrage ensued. Speculators bought silver coins in England at face value, melted them down, and sold them in Continental Europe for a profit.

–Newton concluded that in Europe, the natural ratio of gold and silver in circulation was 15:1. He suggested a recoinage of English money and a revaluation of the currency. Both took place. And off England went to a century of Imperial dominance with sound money. You can read the whole story form Alex here.

–Our point? We are nearing a major monetary transition in world history. It will inevitably involve the disappearance of some currencies and the emergence of new ones. You don’t need Twitter to tell you that. And you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that the new global reserve currency is going to be at least partially backed by gold.

Dan Denning
for Markets and Money

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

Leave a Reply

2 Comments on "Investing is For the Birds"

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

Paper or gold. Not so much difference in intrinsic vale. Same stories of manipulation on either as currency.

See below on cornering the market in gold as a play on ramping the price of grain sold to Europe. See what happened to silver prices as gold became the only standard. See what happened to gold when the government forced all producers to sell to them at their nominated price.

Anyway… article of the day :

Jeff Johnson
Dan, I have been doing some back testing related to social media programs like Wall Street Birds, and have used Wall Street Birds as well. The FAQ page on the website you refered to is very basic, but the software allows you to record social media data as a whole or you can track specific companies and their products and record that data for back testing. You can even place key words and negative keywords related to a specific stock, forex and record that data to create a trading stategy based on social media data. There is a white paper… Read more »
Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to