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March 14, 2024 | Accidentally Funny CNBC Grapples With Costco Gold Sales

John Rubino is a former Wall Street financial analyst and author or co-author of five books, including The Money Bubble: What to Do Before It Pops and Clean Money: Picking Winners in the Green-Tech Boom. He founded the popular financial website in 2004, sold it in 2022, and now publishes John Rubino’s Substack newsletter.

The legacy media has never understood gold, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Costco and Walmart stocking precious metals — to booming demand — would seem a bit odd. But CNBC just outdid itself with a piece that can be divided into two parts: A befuddled but more or less factual accounting of the trends and numbers, followed by an absolutely batshit crazy attempt at “balance” (did you know that owning gold is basically the same thing as craving a dictator?). Here’s the first part:

How doomsday preppers made gold and silver precious end-of-the-world assets

Among the cans of tuna and flashlights in doomsday preppers’ closets, there is an increasingly popular staple — gold bars.

The recent rise in value of the yellow metal is not just another chapter of favorable economic conditions for the asset, experts say.

People’s interest in gold — and silver, too — reflect deep anxieties about our society and its future.

“People are looking for permanence in a crumbling world,” said Timothy Morton, a philosopher and ecologist.

To that point: Costco last year began selling 1-ounce gold bars for around $1,900; they sold out within hours. The retail warehousing giant sold more than $100 million of the precious metal in its first fiscal quarter, it said, and has now added silver coins to its shelves, too. Experts say its target audience for these products likely include at least some of the same people who’d consider buying its $6,000 doomsday prep kit, which comes with 600 cans of food.

“Lots of people are more confident that a massive disaster is impending than that American prosperity will continue,” said John Hay, editor of “Apocalypse in American Literature and Culture” and an associate professor at the University of Nevada.

“Tangible goods and products can feel more secure than promises and assurances,” Hay said.

Indeed, one of the chief doomsday fears is that the global economy will collapse, rendering all conventional assets, from government bonds to real estate, worthless, said James Berger, a senior lecturer at Yale University who teaches courses on apocalyptic literature and film.

Gold tends to gain value when people lose faith in banks and money, as it did in the Great Recession. In mid-March, the gold contract for April settled at $2,188.60 per ounce, the highest level since the contract’s creation in 1974.

Even financial advisors and investment experts can sound dire when talking about gold.

William Bernstein, author of “The Four Pillars of Investing,” mostly dismissed the metal as a serious investment, pointing out that it has risen around just 1% a year, on average, over the past century.

Still, Bernstein said in a recent interview with CNBC, that a small allocation to the metal was useful insurance against “an economic catastrophe.”

At this point the semi-factual analysis gives way to hilariously unhinged speculation about the motivations that drive gold investors, such as … well … let’s just allow the “experts” to have their say:

Gold, nostalgia and the end of the world…

At the heart of people’s apocalyptic fantasies is nostalgia, Berger said.

Many preppers feel “deeply disturbed by the complexity and ambiguity of modern life,” he said.

“Gold represents a traditional, pre-industrial, pre-modern-finance form of wealth and exchange,” Berger said, adding that its “simplicity, solidity and ancient tradition” appealed to people’s desire for a vanished cultural stability.

Hay, who grew up in the Rust Belt, said he’s well aware of the feeling that “the prosperous days belong to the past.”

“In the United States, people are very worried about decline — that the future will be worse than the present,” Hay said.

More than 70% Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a NBC News poll at the end of 2023.

“The turn toward gold is like the turn toward authoritarian leaders, toward the ideal of someone who knows what is true and right and who has the courage to return a nation to its former truth and greatness,” Berger said.

“Make America gold again!” he joked, referring to former President Donald Trump’s nostalgic campaign slogan.

Trump has called for returning to the gold standard and, at least at one point, owned up to $200,000 of the metal, reports found.

…and climate change denial?

To be sure, fears over the world’s future are hardly baseless.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned of nuclear conflict and “the destruction of civilization” if other countries sent ground troops into Ukraine, where war rages along with in Gaza. Experts are concerned that Trump would try to pull the U.S. out of NATO if he was reelected, which could raise security risks across the globe.

And then there’s climate change.

“People have always been afraid of the end of the world, but what makes this special is that the Earth could in fact return to weather we haven’t seen since the Triassic period,” said Morton, a philosopher and author of the upcoming book, “Hell, In Search of a Christian Ecology.”

Morton describes global warming as a “hyperobject,” an idea that is too big for us to understand, and he believes that the purchases of precious metals feed into denial about climate change.

“Unlike stocks and paper money, we dig them right out of the earth, so they symbolize the way the planet has seemed to us, for thousands of years — that it is for humans to extract value from.”

With the risks of global warming only rising, he said, “people are holding on to these symbols for dear life.”

Articles like this are kind of a good news/bad news proposition for gold bugs. On one hand, they herd normies into financial assets like tech stocks and government bonds and away from precious metals, thus allowing better-informed savers to build their gold/silver stacks more cheaply. On the other hand, a lot of those normies are our friends and family, who are prevented from protecting themselves against what’s clearly coming — journalistic malpractice of the most despicable kind.

But at least this particular article was funny.

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March 14th, 2024

Posted In: John Rubino Substack

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