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.

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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 (

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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!

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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.

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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)

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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:

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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...