What Does Gold Hedge Against?

&#8220-Not inflation&#8221-, the gold critics will shout, in one of their go-to arguments. This is what we hear from CNBC&#8217-s Mark Haines at every possible chance: since 1980, gold has not kept up with the CPI and so shouldn&#8217-t be used as an inflation hedge. One would point out to Mark that this is analogous to arguing for global cooling based on that one 2005 start date. If you pick basically any other start date but the one corresponding to gold&#8217-s 1980 peak, you see something different, even giving CPI a long head start over floating gold prices:

Cumulative Increase Through December 2009 &nbsp-
&nbsp- CPI Gold Gold/CPI Increase Ratio
From: &nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-55 808.3% 3129.5% 3.87 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-70 476.9% 3113.9% 6.53 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-75 320.1% 514.8% 1.61 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-80 185.0% 143.8% 0.78 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-85 105.4% 254.2% 2.41 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-90 71.8% 176.3% 2.45 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-95 44.5% 197.8% 4.44 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-00 28.5% 298.5% 10.46 &nbsp- &nbsp-
Jan-05 13.3% 155.6% 11.74 &nbsp- &nbsp-

But in shorter time-frames gold critics do have half a point. Since 2003, on a daily basis, gold returns have only been 12.5% correlated to changes in the inflation rate implied by 10-year TIPs. On a monthly basis, gold returns are 9% correlated to those of the TIPs spread.

We can look back further if we examine the the monthly performance of gold versus year-over-year changes in the CPI index. The CPI index for a given month is released in the subsequent month, so CPI monthly values are shifted forward in this study to correspond to the month of their release. The YoY change in CPI is further assumed to be the market&#8217-s expectation of future inflation. All gold prices here are daily averages based on the London PM fix through December 1974, and Comex/CME spot thereafter.

Ignoring the fact that gold generally rose in this period, it doesn&#8217-t do particularly well when inflation is elevated by this definition. A cut-off of 4% was used because it was the round number that most nearly bisected the 501 months in question, but the pattern holds-up when this parameter and other assumptions are varied:

Monthly Gold Price Changes By Inflation Rate, Apr 1968 &#8211- Dec
2009
&nbsp- Sum Number of Months Average &nbsp- &nbsp-
Months where
inflation:
&nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp-
&gt- 4% 180.4% 225 &nbsp- 0.80% &nbsp- &nbsp-
&lt-= 4% 232.3% 276 &nbsp- 0.84% &nbsp- &nbsp-

So what does gold hedge against? Gold does well when real returns are low. You can&#8217-t consider inflation without looking at prevailing rates and growth. The rates used below are the average of daily 10yr constant maturity rates (GS10) within a given month. As Larry David would say, &#8220-pretty &#8230- pretty good&#8221-:

Monthly Gold Price Changes By Real Rate, Apr 1968 &#8211- Dec 2009
&nbsp- Sum Number of Months Average &nbsp- &nbsp-
Months where
real rate:
&nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp- &nbsp-
&lt- 3% 414.0% 268 &nbsp- 1.54% &nbsp- &nbsp-
&gt-= 3% -1.3% 233 &nbsp- -0.01% &nbsp- &nbsp-

3% was used because it is again the round number that most nearly bisects the observations, but it can be varied without changing the essential result. There are also simple ways to define low real returns without a fixed parameter that show similar performance breakdowns with very different distributions of months. Now, these are retrospective studies, not trading systems, but obviously there is little chance that those returns were drawn from populations with the same mean.

It&#8217-s surprising that thoughtful types like Nouriel Roubini and Martin Feldstein have questioned gold&#8217-s inflation hedging, but didn&#8217-t mention this point &#8212- it seems glaring: people hold the relatively useless metal when real rates and opportunity cost are low. This simple point somehow never comes through in the noise surrounding gold: the glib Spam-sagacity vs. the Fall of The Republic, all the go-to arguments.

Clearly there are other factors that may throw the model off for long stretches of time. These may be false positives (e.g. non-dollar weakness) or false negatives (e.g. if gold is monetized to the point that it rises in deflation).

Putting aside the current weakness related to the Euro and elevating risk aversion, since I&#8217-m expecting real rates to be on the low end compared to the late 20th century, my bias is still long gold. If yields should rise, especially if they are driven by vigilance, gold might make less sense.

[Cross-posted with minor changes from Seeking Alpha]

American Civics Exchange = CFTC-regulated Exempt Board of Trade

American Civics Exchange is enabling what InTrade (circa 2006, when they applied for the eBOT status) couldn&#8217-t&#8230- &#8212-getting the CFTC stamp of approval, and running a real-money prediction exchange from within the US territory (as opposed to offshore). The ACE does not have any direct domestic competitor, right now, but HedgeStreet could enter the political turf, later on.

ace

American Civics Exchange is a play-money and real-money prediction exchange focused on politics. Its contracts pay out depending on whether given political outcomes (e.g. enactment of legislation, regulatory decisions, etc.) take place. The contracts are based on the idea of &#8220-event derivatives&#8221- &#8212-pretty much like the weather derivatives that enable companies that are financially exposed to deviations in temperature (utilities, farms, etc.) to hedge that exposure. The ACE political contracts enable any commercial companies to hedge their financial exposure to things like increased tax rates, enactment of harmful legislation, and adverse regulatory decisions. Speculators are also welcome, of course.

The seven initial contracts are:

  1. Increase capital gains/dividend income tax rates-
  2. Elimination of the manufacturers&#8217- tax deduction for oil companies-
  3. Enactment of &#8220-card check&#8221–
  4. Enactment of &#8220-cap and trade&#8221–
  5. The EPA granting California&#8217-s Clean Air Act waiver-
  6. Increase in the minimum wage-
  7. Taxation of carried interest as regular income.

The future prediction markets might feature these topics:

  1. Various new financial services regulations-
  2. Additional industry bailouts-
  3. Major healthcare reform-
  4. FDA drug approvals-
  5. Windfall profits tax on oil companies-
  6. Renegotiation/dissolution of existing trade agreements-
  7. Resolution of major class action lawsuits.

The Delaware-incorporated American Civics Exchange will be operating as an &#8220-exempt board of trade&#8221- pursuant to CFTC regulations, the Commodity Exchange Act, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Last week&#8217-s launch consists solely of the play-money prediction exchange, with free accounts available to the general public. In the coming weeks, the real-money prediction exchange will open shop. Eligible contract participants [see 1(a)12] will then fund their accounts and begin live trading.

UPDATE: On February 10, 2009, the American Civics Exchange received an official acknowledgment from David Stawick, Secretary of the CFTC. The CFTC website, however, does not yet list ACE in their directory of eBOTs. It will, ultimately.

What ACE says (in their media kit) about hedging:

To offset a hypothetical $100,000 negative exposure to a proposed increase in the capital gains tax rate, a market participant would place a bid on 1,000 contracts. If that order were filled at $30, the position would cost $30,000 (excluding transaction costs). Matching such a bid does not require a coincident order to sell 10,000 contracts. As with established exchanges, the liquidity of a robust marketplace of buyers and sellers will enable even large orders to be automatically matched to batched bids submitted by an unlimited number of participants, including both speculators and natural hedgers.

If the tax increase is enacted before 12/31/10, the contract holder would receive $100,000, offsetting the impact of the tax increase. The contract holder can also sell the contract back into the marketplace at the prevailing price at any time before the expiration date, provided another party is willing to purchase the contracts at that price.

Press release:

Online Futures Market Enables Participants To Hedge Exposure To Political Events

NEW YORK, March 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ &#8212- American Civics Exchangecorp, Inc. announced today that it has launched The American Civics Exchange, the first US-based commercial market for political futures. The Exchange enables traders to hedge and speculate on political risk through derivative contracts based on the outcomes of underlying events, including increases in tax rates, enactment of &#8220-card check&#8221- legislation, increases in minimum wage rates, enactment of &#8220-cap and trade&#8221- legislation, and other legislative, regulatory, and legal outcomes.

The ability to offset exposure to such events using contracts traded on the Exchange will enable risk managers and investors to reduce unwanted risk and protect themselves from adverse political outcomes. All contracts that trade on the Exchange are binary in nature, meaning they settle at $0 or $100, and are fully cash-collateralized, eliminating any counterparty, credit, or clearing risk.

The Exchange&#8217-s initial launch consists of a &#8220-play money&#8221- market for prospective participants and interested members of the general public. This launch will be followed by the roll-out of the &#8220-real money&#8221- market, which will be open only to eligible contract participants (as defined in the Commodity Exchange Act). The play money market will continue to operate parallel to the real money market and will remain available to individuals not eligible to trade in the live market, members of the press, academic and policy researchers, and other interested parties. In coming weeks, the Exchange will phase in additional collaborative and community-based tools for trading and research.

Philip &#8220-Flip&#8221- Pidot, one of the founders and the CEO of the Exchange, said, &#8220-The inauguration of a new Presidential administration and the unprecedented legislative and regulatory changes being considered in response to the financial crisis have only magnified the bottom-line impact of public policy decisions. For the first time, businesses and individuals have a market-based solution to hedge against these uncertain political risks.&#8221-

The American Civics Exchange operates as an Exempt Board of Trade pursuant to federal law and CFTC regulations. Users can register accounts and trade through the secure online trading platform located at http://amciv.com.

Requests for additional information can be directed to info@amciv.com or (646) 257-2426.

For media inquiries, please contact Audrey Mullen at audrey@advocacyink.com or (703) 548-1160.

American Civics Exchange

UPDATE: The Hill on ACE&#8230-

Lights! Camera! Futures trading! Cantor Exchange!

No Gravatar

Investment News:

&#8220-Technically, you can trade anything, because wherever there is a financial interest, there can be a market,&#8221- said Andre Julian, chief financial officer of Option Investments Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based independent broker for futures and options traders.

&#8220-People love stats, and movies are something people understand, which is why it could bring some regular people into the futures markets for the first time,&#8221- he said. &#8220-Of course, it might be more difficult if it was launched in the middle of a bull market, when there would be no reason to look beyond stocks.&#8221-

With a $50 trading minimum, the movie futures exchange clearly is hoping to attract a segment of retail-class investors and movie junkies, but once developed, the exchange could also become a vehicle to allow movie moguls to hedge their investments.

&#8220-If it costs a studio $200 million to make a movie, that studio could use this exchange to protect its investment by going short the same amount, and then if they&#8217-re losing money on the open market, they could make it back on the short side,&#8221- Mr. Julian said. &#8220-It all comes down to money, and there&#8217-s always somebody on the opposite side willing to make a trade.&#8221-

Cantor Exchange

Best wishes to Richard Jaycobs.

Forbes endorses the Jason Ruspini prediction markets on tax rate.

No Gravatar

Forbes:

Whether you think prediction markets are miraculous indications of the wisdom of the crowd or just fun betting markets is sort of beside the point. Nor does it much matter if the markets are accurate or vulnerable to speculative manipulation. What&#8217-s key is that by hedging a tax increase, you are taking out a little insurance against that heaven-help-us event.

The New York Times on InTrades US political election prediction markets

No Gravatar

The NYT writers discusses 2 (different?) issues.

#1. There was market arbitrage opportunies in the recent past between InTrade and BetFair &#8212-unlike 4 years ago, and contrary to the laws of economics.

– The price of the Barack Obama event derivative was cheaper on InTrade than on BetFair and the Iowa Electronic Markets. Conversely, the price of the John McCain event derivative was more expensive on InTrade than on BetFair and the Iowa Electronic Markets.

#2. The NYT writer reports (without linking to it) the findings of the InTrade investigation about the behavior of their unnamed &#8220-institutional investor&#8221-.

– InTrade CEO John Delaney suggests that that institutional investor:

  1. might operate on InTrade at specific times where it might not be able to find liquidity on BetFair and/or IEM-
  2. might be a bookmaker willing to hedge its risks on a prediction exchange (a.k.a. betting exchange).

– Justin Wolfers&#8217- PHD student remarks that that institutional investor is not making an effort to shop around for the best prices, within each InTrade political prediction market.

RELATED: See the comments on Midas Oracle here, here, here, and here.

Are recent historical charts now useless for short-term prediction market analysis because of the non-informational trades made by that institutional investor hedging its political risks on InTrades election prediction markets?

No Gravatar

How can you assess the impact of Colin Powell&#8217-s endorsement of Barack Obama? You can&#8217-t.

The blogger at Marginal Revolution misinforms the public by repeating the misinterpretation thrown around by liberal hack Paul Krugman about the alleged manipulation on the InTrade prediction markets.

No Gravatar

Alex Tabarrok writes that &#8220-someone was manipulating Intrade to boost John McCain&#8217-s stock price&#8221-.

No&#8230-!!!&#8230-

John Delaney said that that firm has been hedging on InTrade &#8212-a normal and beneficial activity on the other (larger and more liquid) financial markets.

InTrade is not liquid enough to weather (quickly enough) the impact made by the hedging activities, at this time, but will in the future, if growth continues.

Manipulation is bad.

Hedging is good.

InTrade offers an explanation of strange trading.

No Gravatar

Intrade has made a statement on the unusual trading that many have noted and alleged to be manipulative. The statement suggests that the price action is mostly attributable to a single firm, a hedger &#8220-using our markets in good faith and in the ordinary course of their business.&#8221-

The first company that comes to mind is Centrist Messenger. Centrist is an interesting firm that re-sells political ad time and refunds sales to customers whose candidate loses. Centrist has stated publicly that it uses Intrade to hedge this exposure.* If Centrist had something to do with the unusual trading, it suggests that they sold more Obama than McCain ads, creating exposure to a GOP victory, resulting in McCain buys and Obama sales on Intrade. Why such a firm would be such urgent price-takers isn&#8217-t fully explained.

Whether or not it was Centrist isn&#8217-t important, but as these markets mature we should expect them to attract more hedging activity, and this might introduce persistent price distortions. Indeed it makes sense for people in the top tax bracket to be long Obama apart from considerations of his chances of victory. This is another uncomfortable subject that I&#8217-ve warned about in the past. When these markets become deeper and more widely available, the odds of the high-tax candidates might begin to show an upwards bias, a risk premium. Interestingly, Musto and Yilmaz predict that such markets will eventually lead to increased promises of redistribution by candidates. Talk about unintended consequences.

Intrade is doing the right thing here though, dealing with tough issues realistically and with as much transparency as possible. They provide valuable information, for free, even in places where they are not necessarily welcome. The depth of this information helps us to evaluate Intrade prices and have more confidence in them. Here is an example below, based on Obama&#8217-s market over the past two weeks. Some have noted that the purported attacks occurred in hours where the market was unusually thin. This chart measures such price manipulability. The red line represents the ease of a downwards attack. It is the 100 x the amount of margin required to sweep the top fifteen bids divided by the difference between the highest bid and the fifteenth highest bid. (That is, how much the probability of an Obama victory can be moved by risking $100. Commissions are not taken into account but would of course would be vital.) The green line is the ease of an upwards attack. This is a very preliminary study and I will leave it to others to voice initial impressions. The fact that we can gauge to what extent traders are exercising market power is in itself important and encouraging however.

* Technically another firm does the trading. Centrist is incorporated in the US, and the trading firm is incorporated in St. Kitts. Through this arrangement, Centrist cleverly avoids violating UIGEA.

[Cross-posted from Risk Markets and Politics ]