Monday, November 24, 2014

What If We BEARS Are Wrong?

For decades I have typically been bearish, very cautious re stock prices and other investments.  In my column today, I would like to review the performance of some investments followed by many, and these people include heavy hitters (eg, pension fund managers) who manage money on a professional basis for other people.

It is important to note that "cherry picking" time frames very much influences price performance of investments!  I am trying to show both long-term price patterns (20 years) as well as medium term patterns (3 years), but I will comment on price movements for other time frames as well.

Common stocks of US companies are a major component of almost all funds (pensions & retirement funds, mutual funds for general investors, etc.).  The "S&P 500" stock price index is probably the most commonly referred to index of investment pros (as the Dow Jones Industrials index has various well-known problems and is limited to just 30 companies).

The below chart shows the performance of the S&P 500 over the last 20 years or so (last price 2063 last Friday, 21 Nov).  Over this particular long period, the performance of the S&P is pretty close to its "long term average" of about 8% per year (not including dividends, nominal dollars (does not include inflation)).

These past 20 years have included such scary times as the tech crash in 2000 as well as the financial crash of 2008.  Note the two well-known "Double Tops" of 2000 and 2007, these are formations that technical traders follow.

8% plus dividends is not bad at all!  For 20 years...  Compared to many other longer-term investments, that is hard to beat.

If we look at the shorter-term, the percentage gains are even better.  "Exquisite timing" of buying at the March 2009 lows until now would yield a spectacular return of around 20% per year!

Just looking over the last three years ("weekly chart", from is spectacular in its own way as well (*click* this or any image for a clearer view):

Woooowww...  That is one of the most spectacular (unusual) charts I have ever seen.  The S&P 500 has gone almost straight up since about January 2012.  Why, it almost looks manipulated!

Doing the (approximate) math tells us that the S&P 500 is up about a mighty 20% per year (again not including dividends).  This pretty much matches the gains since the lows of March 2009.

20% per year (plus dividends, call it 1% more yields a total gain of some 21% per year) is a return very rarely seen among legitimate investments.

*    *    *

GOLD is perhaps the Bears' best investment.  I hold a pretty fair amount of gold.  I have owned physical gold since the late 1980s.  Most gold that I have bought has been since 2002, I have bought fairly regularly (and in about the same quantities).  Here is a 20 year chart of gold:

The time frame (Jan 1994:present) is the same as the first S&P 500 chart.  Note that these are monthly prices of gold, so the very peak price seen in 2011 (almost $1900) is not shown.  Still, the peak prices of gold are shown, as we holders of gold are aware...

Gold's price has been going up an average of about 6% in the above period.  Here are a couple of other quick comments on the two 20 year charts (S&P 500 vs. Gold):

-- the charts look very different even though BOTH are up moderately
-- stocks being up some 8% per year (vs. gold at 6%) is a MUCH better performance

And, to illustrate gold's performance over the past three years (

*    *    *
Below is a chart showing performance of both gold and the S&P 500 over the past 20 years, this is just a combination of the earlier two charts.

Stocks outperformed gold from 1994 to about January 2008.  Gold then was better until mid-2011.  And more recently stocks have performed better.  Being curious, I ran the 20 year data to get a correlation coefficient of 0.486, values around, say, 0.400 to 0.600 are considered "moderate" correlations by the statisticians.  But, 0.486 for asset price increases for a 20 year period is rather low, remember that almost all prices are up over 20 years...

Below is a similar chart, but only for the past three years:

Mmm...  Gold has gone down over the past three years while stocks have gone up.  Granted, three years is not a long time, at least for this three year time frame, stocks have performed much better than gold.  Correlation coefficient: an impressive -0.912!  Stocks have been in favor, gold out of favor.

For this three year period, we BEARS (defined as bullish on gold and bearish on stocks) have been wrong!

*    *    *

There are lessons to be learned here...

One topic I have written about at some length (and from different viewpoints) is on the idea of diversification.  I continue to believe that a proper diversification is a key to maintaining good and less risky returns on investments.  If I had had the "courage of my convictions" and gone "All Inn" on buying gold, say, three years ago, I would be down...  I am going to state that for all but a tiny minority, diversification is a better investment idea than concentration.

Secondly, all of the above analysis is looking at the past...  I still believe that we are in for rocky times ahead (even if I have believed THAT for a long time).  It is possible that we BEARS may be right before long. *

* Even broken clocks are right twice a day.

Um, do some of us see a "Part Two" coming...?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bitcoin No. 10, "The Ringer" And Provident Metals

A nice series of events has come together lately to provide some information that I hope is of use or interest to you dear readers.

I continue to dabble in Bitcoin, even with its price volatility.  Just today (Weds., 12 Nov) it has spiked majestically, up some $60 (or 16%)!  I was lucky to buy some BTC over the past 10 days or so while the price was in the $300s (so, yes, I "BTFD").

I bought an interesting new product from Fisch Instruments ("The Ringer"), a device which allows you to "ring" a gold coin (or silver or platinum) to check to see if it is counterfeit.  The Ringer will be discussed below.

Also discussed below (after The Ringer) is my buying experience with Provident Metals, which is one of at least four precious metals suppliers who accept Bitcoin as payment.

*  *  *

I have now gained some experience in a limited amount of the Realm of Bitcoinistan.  Almsot all of this I have written about in my various pieces in the "Fun with Bitcoin for Beginners" series I started late in 2013 as I was learning.  Recently I have continued buying, mixing and now spending BTC (spending for just the second time).

It is hard for me to find actual PEOPLE to buy BTC from in my area, so I have found that the service that works the best for me is, who now will sell BTC by credit (or debit) cards in some 22 states.

Once I have the new BTC, I like to "mix" (aka "tumble" or "launder") them through two different services, in sequence if possible.  These are the same two I have written about before:


So now I typically buy some BTC through trucoin, then mix them through (first) bitmixer and then through sharedcoin.  I believe the latter service is only offered through wallets used with's wallet service.  ( is perhaps the premier monitoring service of the vital BlockChain infrastructure of Bitcoinistan, I strongly encourage everyone to tour their interesting website)

So, Step One (for me) is buying the BTC from trucoin (the only real drawback is that you do not have the privacy offered if you are able to buy from a person that you meet).  Once the incoming BTC are "confirmed (typically 8 - 15 minutes, but can be as long as 12 hours...), I then will send them (Step Two) on to bitmixer at the first opportunity.  Their service takes anywhere from 20 minutes - 12 hours, depending on confirmation times (I do not know why sometimes it takes so long to get transactions confirmed).  Once the BTC arrived "mixed" from bitmixer (and confirmed), I then run them through sharedcoin (Step Three), doing the pair of transactions bitmixer first and sharedcoin second means that I am likely to have less "taint" after multiple transactions...  Less taint (and running the BTC through two different mixers with different algorithms) also means that very few hackers *as best I can tell) would be able to follow my BTC trail.  Privacy.  It's one of the things that Bitcoin is all about...

Simple, right?  Steps One, Two and Three.  Well, OK, I have a system down with which I am reasonably familiar, but there can be snags...  The Bitcoin Ecosystem is a little clunky (like the Internet was in 1994, say, or PCs when they used early versions of DOS...).  Clunky and (alas) somewhat error-prone.

I have had three "incidents" (problems) come up in the past three weeks or so. All three were resolved OK, I lost nothing, but my BTC did seem to be in peril.  I will mention a bit on each incident, how it was resolved and how you can try to prevent similar from happening.  OK, but, the very nature of the infrastructure of Bitcoinistan now is that these kinds of things are likely to happen.

  1. My problem with trucoin arose because I had a new debit issued (with a new expiration date, of course) which did not match the one in trucoin's system.  Updating and untangling this took part of a day, but I was not in a real hurry.  Their team solved the problem pretty quickly and amiably.  Bravo!  Apparently (a guess) my situation was that a debit card change was not programmed into their software, they actually thanked me for helping to improve their service.
  2. I also had a problem with sharedcoin, although this was several weeks ago.  There was a glitch that happened right during the mixing process, I never got my BTC, yet they were sent (left my wallet).  Yikes!  I got through to their Help Desk, where the man suggested I try to recover the "intermediary wallets" (part of their mixing system).  And I was able to recover them.  Whew!  But, I learned an angle, so on balance the experience was worth it.
  3. The other day I had my problem with bitmixer.  I am not sure exactly what happened, but the mixing process was taking very long, uncharacteristically so.  The transactions I sent them were possibly confusing as well.  It took a fair amount of back & forth with them to recover my BTC, my guess is that it was an involved process because they wanted to be sure that I was not scamming them and that they would be sure that the errant BTC actually DID belong to me, and that they needed to be SURE.  I am going to guess that there is a lot of scamming going on in Bitcoinistan, the fact that BTC transactions cannot be "undone" makes it attractive for cyberthieves to try taking away money...
I learned three general rules that may help:

--  Follow instructions carefully!  <== Very important!  Document your actions.
--  Work in a calm and considered way with the service provider, with all info possible
--  Be patient, some problems work themselves out on their own (confirmations)

*  *  *

In my travels around the Internet, I found out that Fisch instruments (the makers of the fairly well known, well known among people who collect gold coins anyway, Fisch balances to detect counterfeit precious metal coins) also came out with a new product called "The Ringer".

The Ringer is a plastic device that holds a coin in its jaw and that has a plastic hammer that strikes the coin to produce a characteristic "ring".  Most metals (in coin form) will ring at least a little bit (but not post-1982 pennies (zinc), lead "coins" or, importantly, tungsten).  Here is a photo of The Ringer (black plastic near the back) with a page from their notebook (showing pictures of coins on the right) as well as my recently arrived platinum coin (a Platinum Eagle (USA) from Provident Metals (center-left):

The Ringer, page from Fisch (right) and Platinum Eagle from Provident

All coins will have a distinctive ring.  The exact sound-signature of the ring depends on the metal (or alloy), the exact shape of the coin, and its size.  A fairly easy way to learn about different rings of coins is to get a modern (1965 and later) quarter and a silver quarter (1964 and earlier, you know, when those coins were made with silver), and drop one of each onto a hard surface (a granite countertop or bathroom tiling both work fine).  The silver quarter has a ring that is very distinctive vs the modern "clad" quarters.

The Ringer is precision-made to test the ring of coins, it works best on 1 oz coins, but will work on smaller ones as well.  I have not yet tested The Ringer on smaller coins, but I did test them on a few 1 oz precious metals coins I have in my own collection.  Here is a photo of my recently arrived platinum coin mounted in the jaw of The Ringer, ready to be tested:

The plastic hammer is not shown distinctly here, but is just below the left edge of the coin.

The Ringer is best used with a pen (or screwdriver in my case) to bend the hammer down so it will snap up and strike the left edge of the coin:

When the hammer strikes the coin, the coin will have a distinctive ring that is somewhat different than any other different coin.  In the case of a Platinum Eagle, it rings, but the ring is subdued and goes away in less than one second.  Here are some other "quick & dirty" results from my coin testing two nights ago (all 1 oz coins):

--  Platinum Maple (Canada), a dull ring similar to the Pt Eagle tested above
--  Palladium Maple, a nice ring, somewhat high tone, went on for several seconds
--  Silver Eagle, a decent ring, lasted several seconds
--  Gold Eagle, a very nice ring, went on and on (like a Chateau Latour...), beautiful!
--  Gold Buffalo (USA), a dull ring
--  Gold Kangaroo (Australia), another dull ring

I am very satisfied with The Ringer and will likely buy another.  And probably one of their balancesa as well (to test weight and dimensions of Gold Eagles).  The Ringer cost me $104.00 (delivered), it took a bit over a week to arrive from when I mailed my check.

See more (including an audio as well as a video) at their website:

*  *  *

I was also very satisfied with my just arrived Pt Eagle from Provident Metals.  I bought the 2014 piece, which I have not seen (yet) at the coin shops I have been to.

The US Mint only re-started minting them after a pause of about six or seven years.  {latinum Eagles are kind-of hard to find!  For me anyway.  Also the price that Provident offers them at is at least $50 less than the coin shops (if the latter had them).

I received the coin in three business days after ordering.

I also paid with Bitcoin!  This was the second purchase I have made with Bitcoin (I bought a 0.25 oz Gold Eagle late last year).  They do want 1% more for BTC payment (vs. a wire transfer or check), but that is not much for the convenience and speed of paying by BTC.

Provident has a wonderful selection of precious metal coins!  Here is a link to their 2014 Platinum Eagle:

Provident has some kind of relationship with Elemetal LLC, my guess is that Elemetal owns Provident, but I am not sure of that, they do, at a minimum, have a special relationship.  See the very interesting website of Elemetal LLC:

Elemetal is a prime advertiser in American Hard Assets, the magazine I review on occasion.  I mentioned a while back that I was eventually going to try to learn more about Elemetal, as it seems to be very large (it owns Ohio Precious Metals, the largest gold refiner in the USA for example).

Watch this space, then...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Republicans Need To Man-Up

While going about my business today, I had the chance to listen to three Right-Wing Radio talk show hosts.  The anger among them was very real, about the angriest I have ever heard before.  Spittle was flying from my radio as at least one of them essentially blew up, I just hope that you cannot catch Ebola over the radio...

What set them off (albeit after much recent provocation by Obama & Co.) was the appointment of political hack Ron Klain to be the "Ebola Czar" by our inept (or maybe not...) President Obama.

Let's take a quick look at Attorney Ron Klain:

-- Vice President Joe Biden's Chief of Staff
-- Vice President Al Gore's Chief of Staff
-- Vice President Al Gore's lawyer (one of many) in the 2000 Florida voting dispute
-- Worked with Fannie Mae (housing corruption)
-- Approved loans (totaling $500 million) to Solyndra, which went bankrupt *

* Where did the Solyndra money go, Ron Klain?

Note that Ron Klain has no experience in medical matters nor in emergency management.

*  *  *

*  *  *

I will briefly outline a few points not being made in most of the MainStream Media (MSM) that seem relevant:

The following countries have enacted, in one form or another, travel restrictions on visitors from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (I believe the info is current, but please be aware that some info might be wrong or outdated) of one sort or another:

           -- South Africa
           -- Zimbabwe
           -- Zambia
           -- Guinea-Bissau
           -- Senegal (had one Ebola infection, apparently NO Ebola now)
           -- Kenya
           -- Ethiopia
           -- Cape Verde
           -- Seychelles
           -- Equatorial Guinea
           -- Cameroon
           -- South Sudan
           -- Chad
           -- Belize (just today denied a cruise ship permission to call)
           -- Haiti
           -- Trinidad & Tobago

That's 16 countries.  So far.  Note the USA is not among them.

*  *  *

The President is proposing, as Commander-in-Chief (so I believe that Congress cannot step in) to send our Reserves and/or National Guard to one or more of the afflicted countries in West Africa.  One report is that our troops (Reserve & National Guard!) will receive just four hours of training re virus control during or prior to their deployment to Africa.

Mothers and fathers.  How would YOU feel if your young soldiers were going to deploy in AFRICA to "fight Ebola"?  What a horrible assignment...

*  *  *

For MONTHS now, we have had an essentially open border with Mexico.  Virus "D-68" apparently came along with the "unaccompanied minors" from Central America.  This virus has already killed a small number of students.  The virus is now epidemic in many states.

Have you been hearing THAT via the MSM?

*  *  *
And let this be known:

I am extremely disappointed with the weak Republican responses to Obama's terrible handling of the Ebola matter.  It looks like it will soon become a real crisis.  Yet the Republicans have been quiet on this, the response by the R-Team during the House questioning of Frieden, Fauci, et al was very weak.

And the Republicans are the POLITICAL OPPOSITION!  (or are they?)

Here are some prominent Republicans who could and should be speaking out:

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.  Governor, the time has come for YOU to declare that TEXAS will not send its National Guard to West Africa!  Instead, you will deploy them along the Texas/Mexico border.  As the US government has failed in its duty to protect and defend the people of the USA, Texas will have to do the job itself, even if it is expensive and would invite vindictive retribution (oh yeah) from the Obama administration.

Minority Senate Leader McConnell and House Speaker Boehner.  Where the HELL are you guys?!  You should both be screaming bloody murder!  YOU TWO are the leaders of the "opposition", have you two decided that now is the time to show that maybe Republicans and Democrats really are the same?

Republican Senate and other Candidates.  NOW is a good time to speak out against Obama and his dangerous policies!  IMO, this would be not only good for the country, but good for your election prospects!  So, speak out!  WTF are you waiting for?

*  *  *

It looks like I may be the one who must speak some truths here (run, hide the kids!).  I cannot understand (political cowardice does not sound like it explains such damp responses...) why the R-Team will not pound the table for the below:

--  Secure the southern border with Mexico.  Now.  "Immigration reform" later.

--  Restrict/quarantine/whatever ALL incoming visitors from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.  What is so hard about this?  The 16 countries above have dome more than we have, and ALL of them are poor.

--  The House of Representatives should go on record NOW passing defunding ObamaCare.

--  ALL Republican candidates should be HAMMERING President Obama on the Ebola response disasters.  ALL Republicans should be demanding that incompetent CDC Director Tom Frieden (last job: NYC Mayor Bloomberg's point man on banning large sodas there in NYC...) be removed (likely he will be thrown under the bus by Obama soon).

--  Texas and Arizona should be leading the way as the Obama declines to protect our country.  Just do it.

-- All Republican Governors.  Do not let Obama send your young men & women on the fool's errand to Africa!

WHAT am I missing here?  WHY is no one screaming for the above?

The answers to reducing risks to our citizens (the primary duty of the federal government) are obvious and dead-drop easy!  I just listed some just above!

Next step?  I suppose I will have to send letters to my worthless politicians "representing" me in Washington, DC.  NONE of three (two Senators, one House Rep) have said jack-squat...

/rant off

Monday, October 13, 2014

Deflation First, Then Inflation?

In this article, I would like to illustrate the case for a deflation (soon), perhaps later to be followed by an inflation (a possibly severe inflation).  Here, I am using the "popular definition" of deflation (prices declining) rather than the more correct definition of a deflation as a decline in the supply of money.  Economic history has shown that an inflation (or even hyperinflation) is often preceded by a deflation.  People are making the case now that we may have just entered a deflation phase, this is what I would like to examine today.

This article is "chart-heavy", and so illustrates weakening prices...  I am still not convinced that charts can help "predict future price movements" (technical analysis).  Also, please note that there are scale differences among these charts, interpret with caution!

I recently wrote about the US dollar being very strong lately, it has continued up, but this week has just turned down.  A strong US$ would likely negatively correlate (somewhat) with many commodity prices.  As always, *click* on any image for a better view.

Note the US$ is up about another 0.5% since my September article (recall that the US$ chart above is the US dollar vs. other currencies).  Keep this chart in mind as we look at below commodity prices.

I am going to examine some commodity prices that would support this case of deflation now.  I will later look at a pair of commodities "going the other way", that is, NOT supporting deflation now.

It is important to note that each traded commodity has its own "industry characteristics", its own patterns of production (supply) and usage (demand).  These characteristics will cloud this analysis, but if we find a general pattern across most commodities, that would tend to be supportive evidence that deflation may be on its way...

*  *  *

So, what is going on with other commodity (and similar) prices lately?   Below are charts and comments on 10-year treasury interest rate, the Baltic Dry Index (shipping rates of bulk commodities), oil & gasoline, steel and iron ore, copper and silver.  The general trend for all of these is down.

US Treasuries (here, 10-year Note, a three-year chart (note above US$ chart is a six month chart)) typically move with the US$, but the correlation is not all that strong.  Here is what the 10-year rate has been doing (lower rate = higher Treasury price approx. = weaker economic conditions):

Note that interest rates is a complicated topic, even Treasury rates (being about the easiest to analyze of all interest rates) are difficult enough, even for professional traders!  Treasuries and the stock market interact with each other more so than either with commodity prices.  Bottom line here is that lower 10-year rate hints at weakness...

The "Baltic Dry Index" ("BDI") is a aggregation of shipping rates for bulk commodities in ocean-going ships.  Think cement, iron ore, and corn.  A weak BDI suggests weakening economic conditions.  The BDI is down lately, as conditions are weakening in China:

I would characterize shipping rates as additional, but weak, further evidence that things are getting weak, which implies deflation...  Treasury interest rates and the BDI both hint at weakness.

*  *  *

Energy prices (here we will look at crude oil and gasoline) have been weak lately.  Even retail gasoline has been going down, I have not had to pay $70 to fill my SUV's gas tank in some two months.

Crude oil:

Gasoline (three-year chart):

The above price of gasoline chart is a two-year chart of gasoline prices in BULK.  Note that over the past two weeks that the price is down some 10%.  I will be watching to see if prices at the pump start to decline (at least some).  I have seen reports of some retail prices for regular unleaded at just under $3.00 per gallon!

Oil and gasoline prices are down.

*  *  *

There are reports out of the Far East (China) that iron ore prices are down.  Iron ore, of course, is the raw material most used in making steel.  Recent iron ore prices:

China is the main world driver of iron ore prices.  China (particularly construction) is slowing, they are using less steel (and so iron ore) as well as cement.  Steel prices are approximately stable, here is a chart of steel rebar (used for reinforcing concrete in construction), note this is a 12-year chart, so it does not clearly show recent price moves in detail.  I should also note that there are LOTS of different kinds of rebar (not to mention steel), so the +/- 15% price decline since perhaps Jan 1, 2012 does not give us much information.  Note that the peak price was in late 2008 (when the financial crisis hit).

Rebar prices fairly well correlate with other forms of steel, see

Two-year copper (used by China in construction, electricity and automotive):

Copper has been relatively weak in 2014 (as well as the past two years).  But, the above copper chart is but weak evidence (but additional) that deflation may be imminent...

Metals prices are down for 2014, and even over the past couple of years.  But, prices are not down dramatically!  I would characterize metals prices as being weakly correlating evidence of current or soon-to-be deflation.

*  *  *

US produced agricultural commodities are weaker, but each of these have other factors that affect prices (like crop size!).  Corn:


Soybeans, very weak!

Note that all three ag charts show substantial 2014 price weakness.  I would characterize those charts as additional evidence of price weaknesses ("deflation"), at least for 2014.  Note that each of the above charts do not look exactly the same (although corn and soybeans do correlate fairly well).

*  *  *

US$ strength, declining Treasury rates (2014), declining BDI (2014), lower oil & gasoline prices, lower metals prices and lower US agriculture prices all point, to varying degrees, a deflation.  Note that all of the above are commodities that are heavily traded...

On the other hand, some commodities do NOT point to a deflation.  Coffee (which after crude oil is the world's most heavily traded commodity!):

Coffee is up big in 2014.  Maybe there was a poor harvest somewhere...?  There is very little coffee produced in the USA.

Stocks?  Up, up and away (except for the past two weeks!):

Coffee may be some kind of a special case.  The S&P 500 seems very highly valued (overbought) to me...  Beware buying stocks now...

IMO, the strength of the stock market is perhaps a warning bell!  And coffee may have characteristics that currently do not reflect world economic weakness.

*  *  *

China is weak.  Europe is weak.  Peru is weak.  The USA is outperforming the world!  Will this continue?  Ahh...

Yet, we hear that QE is happening everywhere (China, Japan, soon in Europe, and probably to continue in the USA particularly if stocks go down, the Fed will ease...).

At some point, IMO, the strong US$ and additional money-printing (in whatever form) will lead to the commodities to start going up.

"Deflation Now, Then Inflation?"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I-95 Curiosities

My "SMS Trip" has concluded, I am back home safe and sound having met with a large number of people (for me) and it all went so much better than I expected.  My thanks go out (again) to the many wonderful people I saw over the past 12 days (that would be 17 people).

*  *  *

All of my trip was along or near to Interstate 95, the world's busiest highway.  I drove some 2500 miles!  I have been on nearly all of that highway, from Maine to S Florida.  Some parts of it many, many times.  Much of it is boring, I have heard I-95 characterized as very boring (but I concur with one of my oilfield co-workers who long ago called I-10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette (Louisiana) as "the world's most boringest highway").  Much of I-95 IS boring, but not "the world's most boringest highway.

In Georgia, for example, I saw this billboard, I do not know who paid for it, but this kind of sentiment is getting around...:


Here is a sign "with all five of them".  Can you figure out what all five of them are?  It's not too hard...

This next picture has a humorous history, but from long ago.  Its story is famous in our little family!  I used to drive this stretch of I-95 between South Carolina and the DC area a lot in the past.  For several of those trips I liked to drive at night (less traffic), I would take a long afternoon nap before leaving, and around sunset take off.  Well, driving long distances means stops to get gas, and driving at night means coffee and pit stops...  It was "that time" again, I needed gas anyway, so I stopped at the first gas station I saw heading north.

I paid and then asked to use their bathroom (coffee is VERY diuretic as anyone who drinks coffee and drives long distances knows).  I was directed to go to "the other building, and walk in the door "just" around its corner.  The out-building was dark, and I made my way there, turned the its corner and saw the door was open.  I also saw a chicken standing guard there (hey I grew up in the South for much of my youth so have a working knowledge of farm activities).  I slipped past the chicken, flipped the light switch (not working) to go to the metal trough (if any of you fellas have been around an old facility, you have used them).  As I was conducting my business, I glanced down to the floor just to my right and saw a soaked roll lying between me and the stall (with no door).

I felt rather lucky that I had just the smaller job..., and then I thought to myself, "Wow, all this bathroom needs is a condom machine, and it would be the PERFECT Southern Bathroom."  Yes, it had such a machine.  I went back and informed my two women of the classic old-style Southern Bathroom, which naturally they wanted to see...

Well, the same buildings are still there, but, no longer in use.  The out-building is the partially burned-down one (visible between the two support columns of the roof above the gas pumps), note the roof is partially collapsed.  So, the building is still there (sort of), but the memories remain (maybe you had to be there for this to be of interest...):

*Click* on the above image for a better view!  There is a sign that the station is "temporarily closed" (not visible in this photo).  There are LOTS of derelict properties in South Carolina, a state that suffered harshly in the recent years of the bad economy...

One of THE most famous tourist traps in the world is "Pedro's South of the Border", a Mexican-themed (though clearly not even close to looking like Mexico...).  You can see many signs (in both directions) for MANY miles (it used to be over 100 miles when I was younger) letting you know South of the Border is coming up.  It is located in Dillon, SC on the NC/SC border.  Fireworks (including explosive firecrackers illegal almost EVERYWHERE else in the USA, yes, they still sell "Black Cat" brand, all such fireworks are made in China).  The billboard ads are very cheesy:

South of the Border from about about a quarter of a mile away:

Pop Quiz!  Who is the most famous person to come from Dillon, SC?

Quick Clue!  He worked (a summer job IIRC) for the local crime bosses... *

This last picture is shows something that is much rarer than many would suspect.  If you have driven enough (or looked enough at US highway maps), you probably have a basic understanding of how the highway numbering system works.  The "US Highways" were funded long ago by both the individual states and the federal government.  They are all marked with a "shield" with the highway number, the signs are in black & white.  Our "Interstate Highways" (a big infrastructure program started under President Eisenhower) are a simpler shield design, but with blue and red coloring.  The NUMBERS of these highways are fairly logical, and one thing the road engineers did was to use a different numbering system between the two highway systems (to avoid confusion, say, when a stranger would hear "just go west on Hwy 50").  So it is RARE to see a US Highway and an Interstate Highway both have the same number in one sign!

This is the only example of such a sign that I have seen, do let me know if there are others!  The sign is near Wilmington, NC.

*  *  *

* Answer for famous resident of Dillon, SC:

Ben Bernanke!  That is what I read, that Ben Bernanke grew up in that small South Carolina town that, surprise!, was corrupt.  Hmm, indeed!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bethune, SC

If tears could build a highway
And memories a lane
I'd walk right up to Heaven
To see you again.
written in cement in Bethune, South Carolina
(Bethune Pottery)

My family and I lived in a small town when I was a child (9 - 13 years old) in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina.  Bethune had a population of about 500 people.  We moved there because my father's employer moved him around as part of his career.

Here is a photo of our family taken about 1968 of the us on the front porch by my Uncle John that we used as our Christmas card that year, (as always *click* on any image for a better view):

"Bethune Gothic"
Sitting: Stephen Mix, Amelia Mix, Robert Mix (holding lunch)
Standing: Lin Mix, Joseph Mix

I bring up this topic today because of my visit to see people there I have not seen in some 45 years!  Most preparations have been made by my former classmates.  As I write, I am preparing to make the three hour or so drive over from I-95 in NC where I am now (my journey up and down the East Coast along I-95 has had its moments to which I will cover in the near future).  This promises to be an interesting and fun day!
*  *  *

Those years there were among the happiest of my life.  The people (kids in my school class) were very nice and decent kids.  Even though we had just moved down there from Massachusetts (where my father's company was headquartered), and so being a Yankee (um, recall that in the mid-1960s the War Between the States was a mere 100 years before...), the locals treated us very nicely (well, most of them...).

Small towns in the South in the 1960s were typically rather poor by US standards.  You will need to look on a good map of use a search engine to find it.  Bethune had one stoplight (at the junction of US 1 and SC Hwy 341).  Two small elementary schools with one high school.  The one cop also had to split his duty with nearby McBee, seven miles away.  There was little crime, so Officer Falkenberry was not overworked.  Recall those days: Vietnam protests, "sex & drugs & rock 'n' roll", hippies..., much of that had not arrived to Bethune yet, although the social changes DID get there later on.  After the 7th Grade we moved away as my dad got a promotion to HQ up in Boston.

And as the years went by, I lost track of my friends there in Bethune.

Until recently, when one of them found me via Facebook.  O, ye doubters of Facebook and technology!  Responsibly used, even Facebook is of great value!  (LOL)  So, as I had plans to pass relatively close on I-95, some of them helped me to plan a small reunion this Sunday.

So, for now I pause in writing this piece, all that follows will be what happens (happened) later today...

*  *  *

Today was a beautiful day to visit.  In addition to seeing whatever friends I could from the 45 or so years ago, I wanted to see certain places that I remember well.  Here is the house we lived in (for real, of course the picture at top was a joke, it is our family though).

602 S. Walton St., see number written vertically in blue at far right.  The trees are different, and the house appears to have improvements, but that's the place!  Note sandy soil at lower left, almost all of the soils around this part of SC are sandy, but they still grow plenty of corn, soybeans and cotton.

Most of Bethune is centered on Main Street and US Highway 1 (Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, is 52 miles away on US 1).  It is (and was) the main intersection in town.  Here is a photo of Main St. (SC Hwy 341), recall that Bethune is very small!

There is one stoplight in town, you can see it some 50 yds. from where I took the picture, way beyond is a blinking red light (you can just see it to the "left" of the car with headlights on), where US 1 crosses (and has the right-of-way).  You can also notice the railroad crossing signal, this was the Seaboard Coast Line when we lived there (now part of CSX).  Yes, my brother and I would put a couple of pennies on the rails when a train would come...

Welcome to Bethune:

*  *  *
I arrived in town early, before I had scheduled to meet whomever would come (3:00 PM, so it would not conflict with church or lunch), that is why I took the above pictures.  But, each arrived, in two cases with spouse, neither of whom I had met.  We met at the eating part of the Exxon (not visible in the photo I took of Main St. and US 1 I took above).  Meet five of my friends from the Bethune High School of 1974 (even though I went on to another school after we moved from Bethune):

Left to right: Libby Catoe, Leroy Stevens, Starling Stokes (green shirt at back), Larry Farmer (with SC Gamecocks hat), Ronnie Newman (partly blocked by Larry) and Libby's husband.  All of them (ex. Ronnie) still live in Bethune, Ronnie lives in Columbia, SC.  Two more were hoping to come by, but had commitments they could not abandon.  (Maybe next time!)  We talked mostly about other friends, people and teachers we had, o so many years ago.  There have been a couple of people I know who have passed along, and another one or two with health problems, but this is what people in their fifties all experience...

It is very important for me to now mention something.  These five classmates, from long ago, are among the finest & kindest people I ever had the pleasure of being friends with. 

I moved there from the north (ie, I was a Yankee, yes in the South they have long memories), yet I was treated wonderfully, much better than at the school I then went to up north for five years (Grades 8 - 12).  I now wish I had come to Bethune years ago...  These valued friends today added a LOT of value to my life!  Thank you very much for your kind hospitality.  I will never forget today.

*  *  *

We chatted awhile, but Leroy had to leave.  He had work to do, on Sunday!  Leroy owns a business (which I will describe below).  After he left, the others mentioned his incredible work-ethic.  It was normal for him to work (at least some) on Sundays.

Some 30 minutes after he left to go back to work, we saw him drive his backhoe by on US 1, on his way to pick up some clay.  HE went, not one of his employees.

Leroy owns Bethune Pottery, he makes lots of lawn ornaments and similar products out of a mixture of cement and clay.  (I did not ask anything about his production processes, other that he uses molds that he gets from various places)  His business is the largest "small business" in Bethune, he employs about 10 people.  Here is a fun little item from a Yahoo pottery group about clay coming from Bethune and mentioning Leroy's business:

The Augusta (Georgia) newspaper had an article listed by Google, but I could not bring it up.

After our snack & chat, Larry and his lovely wife Jean led me out to Leroy's business.  Here is an overview picture:

If I understood correctly, his is one of the very largest businesses of this type in the South!

While we there, Leroy had come back.  Here he is off to get more clay, but using his tractor and a wagon...  The man, my old friend works (Sunday today...)!  And his success proves it.  And, he REALLY WAS working today, the photo is not a posed shot, I had to STOP him to take the picture.

*  *  *

If you haven't figured it out yet, I was and am very moved by re-starting my friendships from such fine people from so long ago.  These people, from a remote place not well connected to most of my readers, I deeply thank and welcome their friendship again.

Fare well Bethune, until I have the chance to back.

Friday, September 26, 2014

King Dollar?

Lately we have seen almost everything go down vs. the US dollar.  Other currencies, gold & other commodities, almost everything investable (except, arguably US Treasuries, which have performed extremely well in recent years much to my surprise).  This almost begs for an examination of US dollar recent performance as well as discussing likely future prospects of the dollar versus other investments.

First I would like to show what has been happening lately with the dollar compared to some of its alternatives, I just use the "US Dollar Index" (I believe it is some 50% composed of the Euro, and almost all of the rest is the Japanese Yen and the UK Pound).

Most of what I present below is from which a free (but limited) service. To my knowledge, stockcharts does not track Bitcoin, so I had to go elsewhere for that chart (see below).

 Here is the US dollar over the past six months, this is a measure of the strength (going up) vs. weakness.  *Click* on any image for a better view!

All three marked indicators show very strong performance by the US$.  7% in a little under three months is a very large move in foreign currency terms.  The dollar has moved up big vs. the Euro (now just under $1.27), and the Japanese Yen (109 Yen to the dollar).  The UK Pound is around $1.626 (it has not fallen as much as the Yen, Euro and Ruble).  The Russian Ruble is near a new low.

  • Sidebar: Speaking of the Russian Ruble and Russia, I will mention that the Ruble is very low as Western sanctions bite, and I wonder (woooh, conspiracy theories!) if the US .gov is working with Saudi Arabia to beat the Russians down "a la Reagan" by cutting Russian hard currency income because of lower prices for their exported oil.  I do not think this the case for lower oil prices, as oil and everything else has been going down lately.  But, I promise that I will get around to looking at a conspiracy theory or two before too long...

Of interest to technical analysts, here is a rather amazing chart, note how the dollar's recent move is very impressive even looking back two years...:

Each of those little red and white bars are what the pros call "candlesticks".  I cannot recall EVER having seen 10 white ones in a row...

*  *  *

OK, most of the foreign currencies (that would also include the Peruvian Sol for those interested) are down vs. the dollar.  What about gold?  Gold over the last 6 months, note that at that the ticker for gold itself is $GOLD, and may differ slightly in its price movements from the gold ETF (ticker: GLD), the GLD is "paper gold"...

Notice how gold moved almost exactly inversely with the dollar.  US$ up, gold down.  Not pretty for gold owners!  Here is the sad story for the past two years:

Note how gold (priced in dollars) is essentially at a "triple bottom" (for anyone interested in technical trading), this is usually NOT a good sign...

Six month crude oil ("West Texas Intermediate Crude"):

Crude oil is moving very similarly to gold, down!  Note the rather orderly "channel" (gray lines) from about $107 per barrel (late June) to $93 and change now, a decline of about 12%.  Note also the ominous-sounding "Death Cross", this is a pattern where the 50-day moving average (blue curvy line) crosses over (downwards) below the 200-day moving average (red curvy line, less volatile), while at the same time the prices are below both.  I do not have statistics as to whether a Death Cross has any predictive value or not, but the technical traders watch these kinds of patterns closely.

Gasoline prices seem to have edged down just a bit, not much, but a little.  I have not had to pay $70.00 to fill up my SUV in a month or two, smile...  Gasoline prices are "sticky" to the downside, that is, when crude goes up gasoline goes up right away.  But, when crude goes down, there is a lag time..., they do not cut prices as quickly as they raise them, hmm, funny that.

Bitcoin 6 month chart, note eerie similarity to decline (with gold) since early July (source:

Bitcoin has gone down some 30% from its recent (July) peak.  But, Bitcoin is extremely volatile!  Bitcoin topped out at over $1100 last December, when the craze was going full-blast (yes, that was the general time-frame I started learning about and buying BTC...).

6 month cotton price, ugh!  A slowdown in China figures into here too...

That "Death Cross" business (50-day moving average (blue) crossing below 200-day (red) with prices even lower about July 9) looks like it predicted lower prices.  Cotton, like many commodities, has its own price dynamics and is influenced by weather (for example) in cotton-producing areas.  (Gold is not really influenced by weather, strikes, etc.)  But, China is importing much less cotton currently.

I had to take a "screen shot" of this next chart, it is an index of food and beverage prices of the last few months and is only through August.  But the general trend is clear, DOWN!  I know nothing about this particular index, but it would appear that in the aggregate, wholesale commodity food prices are down about 7% (again, April - August).


*  *  *

STOCKS have been somewhat positively correlated with the dollar.  Although last week was down and volatile in the stock market, stock prices have been surprisingly weakly correlated with the dollar, stocks in general ARE up (and near all-time highs), but the price action only somewhat similarly matches the dollar movements.  It is possible that foreigners are buying dollars more aggressively than buying US stocks, but that is just a speculative thought on my part.  Because the correlation is somewhat weak, I do not put the chart in here, but you can look at it (the S&P 500, the most important stock index for the pros) here:

Normally (but things have not been "normal" since at least 2007...), the US$ and the longer-dated US Treasury bonds move together (positive correlation).  But they have not, the 10-Year Treasury price chart appears to have very little correlation with anything!  See for yourself if you don't believe me:

I can offer no explanation for this -- the Treasuries not being strongly correlated with the US dollar.  QE (or at least the "Taper") is slowly ending, which MAYBE would push prices down some, but that MIGHT be balanced by foreign (or other) demand for a "safe haven" investment.

*  *  *
Bottom Line:

The US dollar has indeed been King Dollar recently.  Nothing else seems to match it, nor do I have a ready explanation based on price movements (at least the ones above).

Will this continue?  Is the US$ really the King?

Or is it just the "cleanest dirty shirt in the closet"?

Hmm, we will have to wait and see.  Because I do not know.  But, something seems very wrong with this latest King Dollar...

How do we deal with this?  If ("a big if") this trend continues (and it might, deflation -- at least short-term -- is a threat), one way is to have plenty of CA$H.  Dollar goes up, the value of cash does too.  But it is safer ONLY if you have at least some of it outside of the banks!

Monday, September 22, 2014

China & Peru Now Point To Recession?

Recently China has been in the news re their huge debts, new QEs, real estate overbuilding and other signs that they may be on the verge of recession.  Chin has also stopped importing the massive amounts of copper and iron ore that they had been importing for years.

Australia has started shutting down some iron ore mines.  Zero Hedge recently reported that iron ore prices have sunk to a very low $80 per tonne.

Peru has for the first time arrived at the edge (or worse) of recession.  The below chart comes from the INEI (Peru's economic statistics agency):

peru_gdp_july_2014.gif (538×253)

I found this at Otto Rock's interesting blog on Latin America and mining (especially Peru), here is the link to the article with the chart:

Note how close to zero Peru's growth has been in the past four months or so.  Otto comments that this news is being "spun" as good news, but..., if you account for the fact that governments often lie, then you might infer that Peru may have entered recession.  Otto's blog ( is quite irreverent, but is really more interest to people in mining or involved with Peru.

If Peru HAS entered recession, that would be the first time since the mild one in 2008-2009 (mild for Peru).

Another indicator that Peru may be slowing down is the recent performance of our own bearing business there.

Year Expr1001
2007 $543,000
2008 $610,000
2009 $597,000
2010 $620,000
2011 $607,000
2012 $759,000
2013 $874,000

(figures rounded)

Some of the above lower 2014 sales figures (6% lower) we can explain away by noting that some of our best selling pieces have not been available, but Peru's slowing economy is a factor.  Many of our customers are telling us that business is slower.

Lower commodity prices (which hint at lower Chinese demand) also affect Peru as a major exporter of copper and other metals.  Gold production is likely to decline this year as well, as Peru's production at their huge Yanacocha mine is going down faster than production from mines gearing up.  Lower export volumes at lower prices, this is known in economics as "deterioration terms of trade", which is not good for an export economy.

* * *

In addition to the well known facts of China's risks (eg, credit bubble, "ghost" cities, bad demographics), there are some new tidbits of information:

-- Zero Hedge and others have been reporting a new giant QE in China...

-- A recent surveys of Chinese billionaires shows some 40% are considering leaving...

-- A LOT of Chinese money has arrived (and still coming) buying US real estate...

-- Alibaba has just IPO'd...  The largest IPO ever.  A typical sign of a top...

The Alibaba IPO may be significant in that it is typical of OUR country slowing as well as any Chinese themselves cashing out by buying US real estate.

Mish (Michael Shedlock) often comments on important financial issues out of China, often he cites respected Chinese observer Michael Pettis:

Pettis has his own blog, mostly on China (where he teaches and writes):

The Telegraph out of the UK has coverage of China that is usually better than that of the US media, although only a percentage is financial news:

* * *

And it is not just Peru and China.  Brazil entered recession recently (probably due at least in part to lower commodity exports).  Europe and Japan are teetering...:

Spain and France are both in Mish's latest (France apparently now is recession).

Abe's "Abenomics" (deficit spending witgh help of the Bank of Japan's new QE).

The above remarks include nothing about the arguably recessionary conditions in the USA (if we ever recovered from 2008/2009).

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Collecting The Heaviest Metals: Re, Os, Ir and Pt

I am indebted to Zero Hedge member "Silver Rhino" who first presented to me the idea of collecting very heaviest of the elements, the four metals rhenium (Re), osmium (Os), iridium (Ir) and platinum (Pt).  In particular, he suggested these might be "collectible" as they would be very hard to counterfeit because of their density.   Counterfeiting precious metals is becoming more of an issue as those who are doing it are getting better at it...  There have been various reports, at least some of them true, of gold being counterfeited by tungsten.

All four of these are the densest (highest "specific gravity") materials found (not counting the radioactive elements).  All but Re are "Platinum Group" metals, all four share pretty similar chemical characteristics.  Here is a quick look at the densities and prices of these four metals:

(gm / cc)
($ / toz)


1)  Rhenium is available by the kilo, and has large price differences depending on form.
2)  Iridium has large price differences depending on form.
3)  Platinum price is as of today.

I would like to note that the above are heavier by a pretty good margin versus other metals, I believe gold is next at 19.30 gm / cc and tungsten at 19.25 gm / cc.  Depleted uranium (U-238) weighs in at about 19.05 gm / cc, but is radioactive (and so could be easily detected with Geiger counters and other detection equipment).

Platinum would be about 8% heavier than tungsten or depleted uranium, a good caliper and scale would be sufficient to tell Pt from W or U.

Rhenium is not a "Platinum Group" metal, but does lie adjacent to osmium on the Periodic Chart, and it also is rare, expensive and sought after (by some industrial users).

The other "Platinum Group" metals (palladium, rhodium and ruthenium) are considerably less dense (around 12 gm / cc, relatively close to silver and lead), and so are not examined in this article.

Each of these metals are discussed in nice articles at  ALL of the chemical elements are discussed there in separate articles, and wiki is the place to start for further research.

* * *

Platinum, of course, is by far the most familiar of these four heaviest metals.  A number of nations make Pt bullion coins (including the US Mint, which started making the Platinum Eagles again in 2014 due to investor interest).  Although Pt coins are not as popular as gold and silver ones, they can be found at larger coin shops.  Platinum would be the "third" precious metal for small investors interested in this kind of hard assets.  The price spreads are not too high for platinum, meaning that they are relatively easy to buy and sell, particularly the Platinum Eagle (here in the USA).  The Pt Eagles do however, command a premium (perhaps $100 per 1 oz coin) over other coins, but you would "get that premium back" upon selling (similar to buying and selling Silver Eagles here in America).

Of the four metals examined in this article, platinum would definitely be the one to start with if you own none of them yet.  Platinum is reasonably familiar to those who deal in precious metals, the price, while expensive, would not differ substantially from "wholesale" prices (which are a problem with the other three metals, as discussed below).

Platinum is used in catalysts (both car engine catalytic converters as well as in chemical & refineries) and is used in jewelry (diamond mountings in rings and even as platinum jewelry itself -- particularly in China).  While used in jewelry, many jewelers (small ones, say) find platinum to be hard to work with, as it is hard and has a high melting point vs. gold and silver.  But, silver is too weak to be used in mounting expensive diamonds.

Platinum was even used as a genuine circulating currency (in Russia in the 1800s for a while), in the unusual denominations of three, six and 12 rubles.  Here is a picture of a Russian Three Ruble coin from 1828 (image from

These Russian coins are extremely rare, one of my friends sent me an eBay link a year or so ago offering a six ruble coin for $19,000...  These platinum coins, of course, are for numismatists and other specialized coin collectors.

* * *

Osmium I have covered before, I bought a 1 troy ounce pellet (blob) from some time ago.  Os is said to have a blueish tint, and mine does, see the photo:

That little tiny blob weighs 1 troy ounce (about 31 gm).

Osmium is very hard and the densest (stable) material in the universe!  So, one would think that it would be a "must have" for everyone interested in materials.  Yes, well, OK it is kind-of cool, but Os reacts (slightly in blob form, much more so in powder form) to form TOXIC osmium tetroxide...  So, even though it is so rare, heavy and hard, well, I do not think it is a good "investment".  Apparently only some 2000 ounces are used in the USA each year, and the USGS (last I heard) does not even track its production.

* * *

Iridium is just barely behind osmium in density, hardness and rarity.  But, iridium has more industrial applications.  Like the other Platinum Group metals, it is used as a catalyst and is used in more applications than osmium.  Iridium apparently has a slight yellow tint (as osmium has a slight blue one).

Wikipedia's article mentions that iridium is used as a source of antiprotons (a form of antimatter).

Iridium, you may also recall, is the metal found in over 100 outcrops all over the world that marks the "K-T Boundary" (now officially called the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary), it is thought that this layer is remains of a meteorite that hit the Yucatan some 65,000,000 years ago, killing off the dinosaurs.  Iridium is much more common in meteorites than in rocks from the earth's crust.

Iridium powder (similar to what I recently bought) apparently is used to make the darkest black colorant in adding color to porcelains.

I was told by my iridium vendor ( that powder is the most usual way iridium is sold to (and used by) industry.  This source of iridium offered the one ounce to me for $709, where wants $980 plus shipping).  On the other hand, I have dark gray / black powder vs. a cool looking pellet.

Iridium is much less toxic than osmium, but as a powder it can react and burn in air (like so many other powders). has cut its price of 1 oz of iridium (to $1495 for their 1 toz ingot, I have their picture from my recent article:  That is still more than what I want to pay though...

* * *

Rhenium is available from for $269 per toz, here is their picture of their ingot:

Rhenium (Re)

I believe that investors may be able to get a better deal on rhenium from Lipmann Walton and Co., Ltd. (of the UK), I am waiting on price and/or availability (they might only quote by the kilo however), their website is very interesting to anyone likes chemistry or materials science:  Lipmann Walton buys rhenium from places like Kazakhstan, and then sends it off to metals refiner Heraeus of Germany to make it at least 99.9% pure.

A price I just saw (I do not know how current) is about an average of $3500 per kg (not toz), or some $105 - $110 in round numbers per toz:

Rhenium has one very interesting application that any prospective investors might want to know about: it is used in current "superalloy" third generation (newest jet engines, like used in the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" or the engines in the new US F-35 jet fighter) jet engine turbine-blades.  Rhenium superalloy provides better performance at some 50 degrees C than current alloys.  And there are no substitutes, an engine maker wants higher performing engines, they MUST use up to 6% rhenium.  For each turbine blade...

See the below cool picture from wikipedia's article on rhenium (this is Pratt & Whitney's F-100 engine):

Rhenium is extremely rare, platinum is 10 times more common.  Only about 50 metric tons (50,000 kg) are produced each year.  It is typically produced from molybdenum residues, it is a "by-product of a by-product" (from copper mines, especially Chile).

Apparently rhenium is of low toxicity.

* * *

OK, so all four of these "heaviest metals" are sufficiently dense vs. tungsten (or uranium) to be detected relatively easily.  So, if you have money left over from buying gold and silver, here would be my suggestions on investing in this "micro-sector":

1)  The obvious place to start would be platinum.  Platinum coins are produced by a number of mints, and are not really all that scarce.  Platinum is useful to industry (where gold has relatively minor applications).  Platinum is fairly easily recognized, and is liquid (an important consideration if you must sell it).

2)  IMO, if you could get it a good price, rhenium looks to be a pretty good "speculation in physical metal".  I really like that non-substitutable nature of its use in jet engine turbine blades, that bodes well for the demand of this metal going into the future.  If the future is going to be good (like we all hope, yet worry that it may not be), then rhenium looks promising.

3)  In third place is iridium.  This is easier to get than osmium, is not toxic, and has more applications.  I have not completed my research into iridium.  Perhaps by buying in large lots (say 100 toz or more), the prices might be more reasonable.

4)  Osmium, alas, is really only for hobbyists or if you "just want it" (and there are plenty of people who "want" stuff like that).  Osmium does have the bragging rights as to being the earth's scarcest metal and the densest.  Too bad it is toxic.  But, what do you want for only $400 (or so) per ounce?