Plummeting Gold Prices Won't Stop Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck's Sponsors from Trying To Sell You More
For years, right-wing radio hosts Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity have been telling people to buy gold. Never mind that the dealer they pushed their flocks to was ripping off coin buyers so badly that a court ordered it to pay millions in restitution. Gold prices fell 13 percent two weeks ago. They’ve fallen 20 percent since August 2011.
Are people who bought gold dupes? Were they fooled by conservative blabbermouths, unscrupulous dealers and market speculators led by hedge fund manager John Paulson? Did they think gold would never fall, like people who bought into the recent real estate bubble? What are we to make of this market zigzag, fueled by people who love to hate the Federal Reserve, expect global inflation and fear for their economic security?
There was only one way to find out. Instead of jumping to the easy conclusion that this is just another market bubble imploding before our eyes at the speed of panicked trading, I picked up the phone and called Goldline, the company touted by the right-wingers and slapped by the courts, to see what they were telling anxious investors.
I was patched through to a very articlulate salesman, two days after the price collapse on April 12 and 15. I asked, "What are you telling people?" And, as salesmen are trained to do, he said, "No worries, just buy more!"
“I do look at at this as a buying opportunity because of the simple fact that nothing has really changed economically,” he said. “What’s been pushing gold and silver higher for the last 11, 12 years has only picked up pace. There’s only more money printing going on: $85 billion a month since December. And they’re not ratcheting that down. The Fed continues to come out and said they’re going to come out with the same money-printing programs, keeping interest rates from 0 to .025 percent, saying now through 2015… So every indication is we are expecting numbers to go higher.”
In every market bubble, people who are ahead of the curve make lots of money—whether tulip mania in Holland in the 1670s or Internet stocks in the 1990s or real estate in the 2000s. Most people make money on investments when they buy low, which includes a certain amount of luck. I wasn’t persuaded by Goldline’s answer, which seemed to ignore the gold bubble bursting with a dash of right-wingisms: bash the Fed, fear of inflation, etc. So I asked the salesman: Is it really a buying opportunity?
“We’ve seen a very interesting recent article from John Hathaway. He has a very good reputation in this industry with what he expects gold and silver to do,” the salesman said without missing a beat. “He came out and said that in his opinion, gold prices have been subjected to a cleverly orchestrated, what he called a bear raid, on Friday and then again on Monday. We did see a selling of Comex contracts, gold contracts for paper gold, not actual physical selling. It exceeded global annual production by 12 percent. One whole year of gold mining and 12 percent right after that. He did go on to say that the volume was without precedent and had all the characteristics of a panic liquidation by naked short-selling.”
Wow. Isn’t it wonderful when one of gold’s biggest boosters—Mr. Hathaway—is the one to point the conspiracy and panic-attack finger at big-time speculators, instead of liberal economic commentators like NakedCapitalism.com? But that’s an aside. Of course, the industry’s chosen expert is a cheerleader, beating the "buy now" drum.
“The fundamental rationale for positioning physical bullion and gold mining shares seems more compelling than ever,” he wrote in Barron’s on Friday, April 12, the first day of the price slide. The following Monday, prices fell another 9.3 percent, Bloomberg.com reported, “the biggest drop for a most-active contract since March 17, 1980.”
When I hear these kinds of explanations—gold speculators fleeing like drunken fratboys when the cops show up—and get the unwavering sales pitch, I conclude that individual investors don’t stand a chance in this kind of "unnatural" market dynamic. So I played a little dumb with the Goldline salesman, and said, “I don’t know how to read that.”
“My clients are not buying gold and silver to make a quick buck,” he replied. “They’re not trading in the speculative market. They are buying the physical asset. When you’re buying physical gold and silver, you’re buying it because you believe longterm that we’re going to see inflation. You’re hedging against inflation. You’re hedging against all this money printed. It’s not just the U.S—Japan just came out with the largest money printing program we’ve ever heard of. Over a trillion dollars and open-ended also.”
So now we’ve reached the classic "to close or not to close" part of a transaction. For a few years, lots of people have made piles of money or seen their portfolios bulge because they bought gold—just like people who bought Apple stock early. And people who didn’t buy anything—like me—wish we did. But that doesn’t mean that we should buy now, when the gold wave has lost 13 percent of its value.
Let’s think this through a little bit further. If you buy from these dealers, you will pay roughly a 10 percent commission when you buy and again when you sell. So, add that 20 percent spread to a 13 percent drop in price, and what do you get? A investment that needs to rise in value by one-third to bring you back to where you were—if you bought coins this way two weeks ago? Or rise by a fifth if you did it today? Nobody want to see their investments drop in value by 20 percent a second after they buy it.
I thanked the Goldline salesman and told him I was expecting a tax refund and would call him back after I got it. He was articulate and polite. He replied that I could lock in a price today, send a check or use a credit card, or even transfer money from a 401K plan without any tax penalty. They make it so easy to give your money away!
Actually, I did ask about one other thing: platinum, the other precious metal. "Do you guys sell platinum?" I asked.
“With platinum you’re looking at something that is very much dependent on the automobile market,” he said, referring to its use in catalytic converters in cars.
“I heard it was something that was based more on supply and demand than speculation,” I countered. “That’s why I ask.”
“Central banks right now are buying gold,” he said. “The reason that much more people hear about gold and silver, and actually buy gold and silver, is because it has a history of being used as money and is still being traded as money. [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke can say that he doesn’t think gold is money. But central banks are buying and holding it.”
It was time to get off the phone. “I’m a bit too conservative to do anything today,” I said, blaming the federal government sequester for not getting my tax refund fast enough.
“Yeah, I hear that,” he replied, saying he’ll call back. I’m sure he will.