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  • Archive for October, 2009

    Missing Gold Bars at GLD ETF?

    Posted by Frugal on 30th October 2009

    Rob Kirby has recently alerted people at financialsense.com for the possibility of missing gold bars at GLD. Here is what he said:

    An alert reader I communicate with [who shall remain anonymous] has been documenting the length of the published GLD bar list:

    1. on Friday, Sept. 25 – the list was 1,381 pages long
    2. on Friday, Oct. 2 – the list was 208 pages long
    3. on Friday, Oct. 9 – the list was 195 pages long
    4. then, on Wednesday, Oct. 14 – after questions were being raised about the strange machinations with the bar list in chat rooms on the internet – the list was back up to 855 pages long

    Something TRULY stinks here. No explanation has been offered for the DRAMATIC swings in this list. Where gold is concerned nothing happens by accident.

    Such anomaly if it’s true would be totally outrageous. Before going into total panic, obviously one should do the due diligence first. Therefore, I spent a couple of weeks observing the gold bar list at the GLD, which can be downloaded right here from spdrgoldshares.com. I was able to obtain 2 different copies of GLD bar list. One is 855 pages long, and another is 1291 pages long, both of which can be downloaded from my site by clicking on the links.

    The first thing that I noticed was that on the 855 page version, it is attributing to Bank of New York, while the 1291 page version, it is stating the rightful new owner as HSBC. This seems to be extreme slopiness on the part of GLD. Yes, HSBC has bought the ETF, but it has been quite awhile (I couldn’t google a link to verify the above, but only recalled reading GLD being bought out by the new owner.) Anyway, I don’t think anybody would make such a mistake in title regarding one’s own assets.

    The second thing is obviously that the two versions did confirm what Rob Kirby said about very different length in the bar list itself. I was not able to get the versions with much shorter list. I tried Internet Archive Wayback Machine, and it didn’t have any archives for the bar list link. So I guess any archiving for observation will need to be done by oneself.

    Once I begun to actually count the number of gold bars, it became clear to me that the page length has nothing to do with the number of bars. On the 855 page version, there are about 104 bars per page, while on the 1291 page version, there are about 69 bars per page. That makes the total number of bars to come out to be roughly the same or consistent with the number of bars stated in both documents.

    Because of the minor differences that I still couldn’t reconcile by manual counting & estimation, I decided to write a short program (which can be downloaded here, requring a Unix system to parse) to actually go thru the entire document and count the number of bars, while also checking for possible duplication entries in the table. By the way, if anyone wants to know how to run this program, just send me an email.

    Well, to no one’s surprises, the number of bars, gross weight and actual number of gold ounces are EXACTLY the same as stated in the documents. There is NO missing gold bars! BUT there are some 5000 duplicated bar entries (here is the duplicated list for the 1291 page version)!! I manually checked a few entries (such as 100341 JOHNSON MATTHEY, 813 NAVOI MINING, AA22338 JOHNSON MATTHEY) dumped out from my program, and they are indeed correctly duplicated. Besides, since my program verified the number of bars and ounces exactly, I think programming errors on my part is very low.

    Then I googled the internet a little bit more. I found out that the problem of duplicated entries have been found before, and they were caused by not listing the complete bar number in the document. For example, Johnson Matthey before used two letter to encode the year of fabrication before year 2002. Therefore, the duplicated bar entries are only in the text, but not in vault.
    Although I still felt that statistically having 5037 duplicated bar numbers out of 88941 bars or 5.7% is abnormally high to me, at least there is some plausible explanation.

    From the investigation on the different length of the two GLD documents, I must conclude that the two other versions of 208 and 195 pages are more likely to be human errors. In fact, I believe that the same person Rob Kirby referred to on the Yahoo message board has posted and corrected his own extraction error in this very later post “Re: Barlist Missing 65,497 bars”:

    ….My earlier numbers reflected an issue with correct extraction…..

    In fact, if there is any fraud or theft in GLD, I just don’t think that GLD owner will commit such big blunder of revealing it in a such stupid way. It will have to be more subtle and elaborate than this.

    I personally like to read whatever Rob Kirby has to say. But like everything you read on internet, you should always take it with a grain of salt, making sure you have filtered out the dis-information from information. For example, on Kirby’s previous post claiming big physical transactions in gold at the end of September in gold futures market, I simply cannot find this trace of physical delivery in any of the reported futures market. That is not to say that it is not possible, but just that I cannot trust such information with certainty.

    Despite the finding from my personal investigation, I will still not hold GLD, due to problematic custodian structures. In fact, if anyone doesn’t want to buy physical or too much of it, one should simply diversify the physical gold holding in various gold/silver physical ETFs: GLD, GTU, SGOL, CEF, SIVR, SLV, etc. This way in case one of the ETFs in the unlikely scenario of actual theft or confiscation by government, you will still be left with majority of your holdings intact (in paper money at least). It will certainly increase your transaction costs, but at least it’s far better to let an unpredictable future event to hit your financial well being. And I also want to add that nothing can beat physical gold/silver, because in the time of crisis (and heavy demand), there is always an added premium which is not available in the paper market.

    Frugal at 1stMillionAt33.com

    Posted in Gold/Silver | 1 Comment »

    Time to change your auto insurance company?

    Posted by Frugal on 17th October 2009

    I have noticed that Ameriprise, the auto insurance company thru Costco has been raising its price. I just have recently changed to GEICO, because when calling their sales agent, he was willing to not only match the prices from Ameriprise, but also lower the price by a little bit more.

    A solid proof again that NOT everything at Costco is cheaper.

    After my previous minor car accident, which cost GEICO about $500, they still did NOT raise my price as promised by their customer representative. I’m amazed, and a little guilty, since this is the first time ever that I take money out of the insurance system. GEICO was extremely unlucky in the sense that I have never had an auto claim in my life so far, which is about some 20-year driving history. For all of their great customer experiences, and my “under-water” account (a negative $130 return for the first six months), I’m giving them a thumb-up.

    I’m 95% sure that you cannot beat this deal from all major insurance companies. I only pay for $370 every 6 months for two cars having

    $100K/$300K body injury liability,
    $100K property liability,
    $1000 deductible for comprehensive on both cars
    rejecting uninsured/under-insured motorists coverage
    and $1000 deductible for collision coverage only on my 2-year old Honda Odyssey. My other car is a 10 year old Toyota Camry.

    I believe GEICO is quite aggressive in acquiring new customers. So you should be able to negotiate with the sales agent for a little better price if you call them up.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 10 Comments »

    Gold at new high in $US

    Posted by Frugal on 6th October 2009

    Gold broke all time record in $US today. It is a confirmation that the bull market is alive.

    Some people could argue that this may be a double top. That is definitely possible. However, if gold does get up to more than $1100, then I think that argument is a little weak. Furthermore, based on the recent consolidation of gold prices, it just doesn’t look like it’s a double top formation. A double top usually falls sharply afterwards. Gold consolidation has been quite flat, indicating its continual strength.

    gold_price.png

    In fact, gold has indeed climbed a giant wall of worry. Majority of gold investors have not put in more money because of fear in impending stock market correction.

    I have no way to know whether the gold mining index HUI is making a small double top right here. It is certainly possible. But I try not to predict the short term moves too much. After all, it’s not easy to out-smart the markets on a daily basis.

    I understand that the great trader Bill at BillCara.com has sold partially out from stock markets & gold/mining. I also know that JC, one of the very few successful traders amid 2008 stock market crash at www.simplyprofits.org have gone out of markets for quite a while. I understand that the person who called the credit market crash in 2007, Bob Hoye (normally at HoweStreet.com), has turned bearish on general stock markets, and especially on silver, for a number of months. But I kept thinking to myself that in this wave 3 up, most people/traders will be missing the bull ride. Ha, ha, myself included!!

    The next big milestone if it comes will be a new high in international currency, first in Euro, and then in commodity currencies. I continue to believe that this new high will NOT come until the next big fall in the financial sector happens, which may be next March/April. From that regard, at least, for the international investors, they probably still have time to digest the current volatility in gold market. However, I wonder whether there may be some fireworks first when priced in $US before the year ends. Yeah, I know $US is supposed to rally right here right now. But is this another episode of “markets stay irrationally longer than one can stay solvent”?

    Next Friday is an option expiration week. Maybe there is a chance of pullback. Maybe BillCara & Bob Hoye is right. I dare not to go in nor go out of this market. Brave trader I’m not. Patient investor I am, and I need to take actions accordingly.

    Best luck,

    Frugal at 1stMillionAt33.com

    Posted in Gold/Silver | 5 Comments »

    Reality check of option ARM recast

    Posted by Frugal on 5th October 2009

    I have blogged about “different ways for a busted refinancing plan” back in 2006 at the height of housing market. I argued that once the housing markets fall, most of the real estate “investors” will NOT be able to refinance out of their payment troubles. It was very clear to me that a housing Ponzi scheme simply cannot last forever, and was destined to pop. Of course, according to Greenspan, Bernanke, Wallstreet, and traditional news media, nobody could have seen the financial crisis coming.

    I definitely thought that things would be worse in the housing markets. Due to various factors that I didn’t forsee, including Obama’s home affordability programs, delays in foreclosure processes by banks, and a dramatic drop in the interest rate curve, things are not terrible as of now. In fact, in 2009, housing markets actually went up (at least in California), sucking in the last bunch of ever-hopeful real estate “investors”. Regardless, numbers won’t lie, and let’s see how the negative amortization or option ARM homebuyers are doing.

    Below is a summary from the monthly payment history based on a hypothetical case that I’ve made up for a California home ($500K, 20% down). I think it is pretty representative. You can get the original complete Excel spreadsheet here. All the interest rate data are from X-mortgage. I’m listing both MTA and COFI indexes which are the two most common indexes for option ARM:

    Date MTA (%) 11th District COFI (%) Monthly payment (MTA) Balance (MTA) Monthly payment (COFI) Balance (COFI)
    2004 1.2383 1.802 1,286.56 400,042.88 1,286.56 400,230.78
    2005 2.5042 2.515 1,383.05 402,760.80 1,383.05 403,981.61
    2006 4.1425 3.759 1,486.78 410,981.87 1,486.78 411,293.82
    2007 5.0292 4.224 1,598.29 424,437.96 1,598.29 422,556.80
    2008 3.5283 3.111 1,718.16 436,514.40 1,718.16 432,092.15
    2009 1.34 1.38 2,332.69 436,960.64 2,325.33 433,770.30



    From the original teaser payment of $1286.56, the payment increased 7.5% annually, and is recast to about $2200 after 5 years from 2004. I think the more aggressive homebuyers who couldn’t cover the annual payment increase of 7.5% would have dropped out already. They either
    1. sold and made some profits,
    2. refinanced into another option ARM before housing markets dropped in 2007 (which will cause more problems later in 2012),
    3. or defaulted already.
    The more “conservative” homebuyers who were able to sustain thru 4 years of annual payment increases of a total of 30%, now will be facing an additional payment shock of 28% from $1718.16 to $2200. That is a total increase of 71% from the original $1286.56.

    Needless to say, an increase of 71% in 5 years will be huge for anyone. Very few family will be able to make it thru a combination of salary increase, second job, and/or having non-working spouse going back to workforce. Unfortunately, refinancing to 30-years loan at today’s 4.75% will not be an option either, since the monthly payment for 30-years is about $2200, the same as the recast option ARM loan, if not more. I originally thought that these people probably would have problems with LTV or loan-to-value ratio. But Obama’s home affordability program has “solved” the LTV problems for these most of these homeowners. The monthly payment issue is still there. One cannot make an unaffordable home in the first place to be affordable.

    Looking forward next year, once the home affordability program expires in mid-2010, we will probably get more defaults and walkaways from homes. Due to Bernanke’s cutting of interest rate, and a huge buying program in both treasury and mortgage market, current interest rates are temporarily held down. If the option ARM indexes like MTA and COFI rise up to 3% for example, the monthly adjustable payment will go up by another 25% to 30%. I don’t think the housing markets will recover anytime soon due to this impending supply of homes (from defaults of the option ARM loans).

    So what should you do if you are one of the option ARM homeowners? There are many sites & articles that talks about foreclosure options. In my opinion, short sale would be the best choice (if you have this choice), since you won’t be liable for the deficiency judgment, and it will hurt your credit report the least. The second best choice is loan modification, although not many can negotiate a good deal with banks. The rest of the choices such as foreclosures are not ideal, but it’s probably earlier the better under the assumption that it does not affect your job prospects based on a much worse credit report.

    Here is some of good sites & articles that I’ve found on foreclosure-related options. Some of the site owners are very helpful, and may be able to provide you with needed advice or services:

    Posted in Mortgage, Real Estate | 1 Comment »