Gold vs. the Dollar: A Crisis Case in Point

Includes: GLD, JYN
by: Kevin McElroy

You might have wondered, “What will happen to the price of my gold holdings if (when) there’s a real crisis in the United States?”

On April 4, just two weeks after the worst of the Japanese earthquake and ensuing tsunami, gold priced in Japanese yen sells for 9% more, and it’s in a sustained uptrend. Meanwhile, gold priced in dollars only sells for about 1.5% more over the same period.

[Click to enlarge]

Japanese demand for gold increased, but so did demand for yen. The yen rose almost exactly commensurate with the rise in gold. It makes sense, after all – if you’re selling assets in order to tap into emergency funds, you’re essentially buying the local currency with those assets.

The question is: What are the Japanese selling in order to raise capital (yen) or to buy gold? If the 30 year Treasury bond price is any indication, I think we have our answer:

It’s well-known that Japan is among the largest holders of U.S. Treasuries. According to the U.S. Treasury website, the Japanese only come second to China in terms of Treasury ownership, with $885 billion in Treasury holdings as of January 2011. And almost on cue, my favorite contra-indicator proclaimed to the world just days after the earthquake that the Japanese will be forced to sell Treasury holdings.

You might be familiar with my contra-indicator. I’ve called it many things, but it comes down to this: When Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, goes on the record to say one thing, you can be almost guaranteed that the opposite will happen. And on March 15, Geithner gave me my answer when he said he didn’t believe the Japanese would sell Treasuries.

I don’t know for sure if Japan is selling Treasuries at this point. But somebody is, and that’s the opposite of what you’d expect, and what historically happens, after a significant crisis. Usually, capital flies to Treasuries in these circumstances. But today, people are selling dollars and flooding into gold and alternative currencies like the yen.

I’m sure the dollar will rally at some point in the near future, but that doesn’t make this series of events any less significant. Remember this Japanese earthquake as the crisis where investors fled the dollar and headed into other assets.

They say that no one rings a bell at a market top or bottom, but that’s about as close to a bell as we’re likely to see for the dollar.