TWST: These are somewhat trying times. What has this meant so far for the gold market and where do we go from here?
Mr. Schiff: Gold has actually held up very well compared to other asset classes. If you look at the price of gold relative to its peak, it's only off about 25%, whereas if you look at stock markets around the world, most are off 50% or more, certainly if you price them in US dollars. If you look at how gold has held up relative to industrial metals, relative to energy, relative to agriculture, gold has done extremely well. I think the fact that it has gone down in dollars has caused a lot of people to assume that gold is not performing in this correction whereas, in fact, it has. Also if you look at gold in terms of other currencies, recently you've seen all-time record highs in the price of gold in South African rand, in Australian dollars, in Canadian dollars. So gold has actually had a very strong, stealth move when viewed from the prism of something other than the US dollar.
TWST: Why does everybody key in on the US dollar side of the equation?
Mr. Schiff: Because gold was priced in dollars, it's traded in dollars and so we all look at it as the dollar price, and the fact that gold has not made a new high in dollars during this economic crisis has led some to believe that maybe it's lost its luster, it's not a safe haven. But this rise of the dollar is very suspicious to me, I don't think it's justified. But it's been the unlikely beneficiary of all the problems. You've got the problem centered in the US economy; the epicenter of the financial crisis is in America. The reason that the world is in trouble is mainly because of bad loans made to Americans and it's our economy that I think is a complete facade, a house of cards that has now collapsed, so this dollar rally actually makes no sense.
And especially in light of the monetary policies that we pursued over the course of the last six months, the bailouts, the stimulus, all of the things that are likely to happen with Barack Obama saying that the sky is the limit on budget deficits, we're going to print money until we run out of trees. Everything that we are doing is so negative for the dollar, yet the dollar has managed to rally. So I think temporarily the fundamentals are on hold, but I think once the dollar really resumes its decline, you're going to see gold really shine again not only in terms of the dollar. It will continue to do well against other currencies, but it will do particularly well against the dollar.
TWST: Isn't gold normally the "safe haven" that investors seek?
Mr. Schiff: I think it's a safe haven. A lot of people are seeking safety right now in the US dollar, but that makes no sense to me. That's like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. I think the dollar is a fundamentally flawed currency that is doomed to collapse, and temporarily it's benefiting from the fact that it's seen as the alternative to everything else. People are worried about all asset classes, nobody wants to own anything and somehow by default, the dollar is the opposite of owning other things. People are keeping score in terms of dollars and I'd certainly think that some of the most impaired financial institutions are in the United States. I think some of the losses are very heavy here and that has made a lot of American institutions — investment banks, hedge funds, mutual funds —liquidate assets all around the world, many assets in other countries; those institutions require the liquidation of those currencies to repatriate the dollars necessary to meet their margin calls, to fund their redemptions, and so that might also be temporarily propping up the dollar.
TWST: Has the supply/demand situation in gold changed at this point because of the problems with the hedge funds?
Mr. Schiff: Yes, I think that the credit crunch has certainly put the screws on a lot of gold exploration. A lot of the junior miners are basically on the verge of going bankrupt right now. I'm sure a lot of projects are on hold; a lot of exploration is simply not going to get funded. This is simply improving the supply and demand imbalances that have favored gold for some time and other commodities too. Certainly in industrial metals, in the energy complex, a lot of exploration, a lot of development projects have been cancelled or are never going to see the light of day for many, many years because of the credit crunch and because of the fear of falling prices, which I think is unwarranted. But even when prices start to recover, I think there will be a lot of suspicion of the rally. So people are going to be reluctant to commit capital to a market they have no confidence in.
So I think the supply and demand imbalances for commodities are going to continue, and that commodities themselves are still one of the best asset classes around the world to own. As for the commodity producers, it all depends on their balance sheets. Some of them are going to be spectacular buys. Looking at the gold complex, I think one positive development I've seen has been the strength of the South African miners, which seem to have bottomed first. They started to decline before the overall sector; when many of the Canadian miners were making new highs, the South African stocks were falling. But it seems like the South Africans have bottomed here. They've made significant rallies, some of them have even doubled from their lows and they seem to be stronger. So they topped out first; maybe the fact that they have bottomed first is a positive sign. Maybe they are going to lead on the way up just like they led on the way down.
TWST: How about on the political side of the equation? What's going to be the position of central banks now relative to gold?
Mr. Schiff: The Bank of Canada just slashed rates down to 1.5%. Central banks all around the world are reducing interest rates. It's the most inflationary monetary policy globally that we have ever experienced and ever will experience in our lifetime. That's a very favorable market for gold. When central banks are just putting the pedal to the metal on the printing presses and driving interest rates down to nothing, how can you not own gold? Gold is money, the supply of gold is going to grow very slowly over time, and the supply of all fiat currencies is going to grow rapidly. You're looking at maybe 10%, 20% per year or more annual increases in money supply in every country in the world, and then they pay you next to nothing for holding it. If you want to take currency that is rapidly being debased and you want to deposit it someplace, you are barely getting interest, so why not own gold instead? Even though gold doesn't pay interest, at least it's not being debased.
TWST: What about the central banks selling gold? Are they going to back off now due to the financial crisis?
Mr. Schiff: At some point, the central bank selling is going to turn into buying. Who are these guys kidding? They need to have real reserves behind their currencies. They can't simply hold the US dollars and say our currency has real value because it's backed by the dollar. When the dollar is backed by nothing and being rapidly debased and paying no interest — our rates are down to 1% and likely to head lower. What's the justification for foreign central banks holding dollar deposits rather than gold, when the dollar yields next to nothing? It doesn't make any sense. So I think central banks are going to become buyers and the central banks that own the most gold are going to have the most influence, the strongest currencies, etc. I think people are going to see that and right now, if you look at the percentage of gold owned by central banks, it's at the lowest it's ever been.
TWST: Silver and platinum have come down much more than gold. Is that because of supply/demand or just because of what's going on in the market?
Mr. Schiff: I think there are more industrial uses for those metals and so more of this whole idea that the global economy is going to collapse and no one is going to buy anything is hurting those metals relative to gold. I think gold is more of a pure monetary metal. Sure there's some jewelry demand for gold, but it's not used as much in industry, and I think it's more of a monetary metal, a safe haven metal and so, because of that function, it is holding on to its value. I think there are a number of individuals around the world who understand the difference between gold and fiat money, and I think a lot of people are worried and want to protect their wealth. There is a minority of investors who see through the smokescreen and are not buying US Treasuries, they are buying gold. At some point, the people who are doing that are going to be the ones who are going to be vindicated as gold prices ultimately make new highs, and I still think that we could hit $2,000 an ounce next year in the price of gold.