The death of gold

While I have only been blogging for a short while, I have been following goldbug chatter since 1998 when I took up a position in the Depository division of the Mint. At that time it was all doom and gloom with the price in a downward trend, helped along by Gordon Brown with his auction.

This unheard of method of selling central bank gold (usually it was done on the quiet and announced later) was not endorsed by anyone and really only left two conclusions: either he was stupid or it was a conspiracy. For an example of the latter, see this 25 May 1999 posting by GATA: “A political decision was made by the British to make sure the price of gold did not rise above the key $290 gold carry trade borrowing point of the bullion dealers and to make sure that the price would tank when the first pre-gold sale announcement in more than 20 years was made.”

Since that time the the gold price has risen from $250 to $1000, which implies a very unsuccessful manipulation. In some sense this is true. Consider that around 2001/02 the total amount of gold leased out was estimated between 10,000 and 16,000 ounces (see this Golden Sextant commentary) compared to approximately 30,000 oz of central bank holdings. One could conclude the increase in gold from 2002 to 2009 is proof the manipulators ran out of firepower (ie gold to lease to support short selling) over that time.

If indeed central banks have leased all they can, then one would assume that the market is finally poised at the crucial tipping point that the commentators from those early days have been waiting for, where further physical buying that is already in excess of mine and scrap supply will overwhelm supply from short sold leased gold, resulting in a parabolic rise in the gold price as the shorts are broken, scrambling to cover their positions being unable to post sufficient collateral to cover the huge rise in gold.

This is the 1980 spike revisited, but at a much higher inflation adjusted price. How high? There are as many guesses as their are commentators – $2200, $5000 or more? This is the end game that many goldbugs have been waiting for, when they can shout “we won”!

But will they have won? I would argue not. I would argue that such a scenario would actually be the death of gold.

Those who welcome a 1980s spike have lost sight of the real war. There are others who are driven by base greed. They have fallen into the trap of seeing gold as an investment. It is no such thing. It has no power to create wealth – it is an inert thing. It is only the entrepreneur and inventor who create wealth. Hawking gold as an investment is bubble behaviour, no different to the debt fueled bubbles in stocks and real estate. Such people are no friends of gold.

Gold is money. Often stated, but what does it mean? Gold is for storing wealth, not making it. I can only suggest reading Whither Gold? by Antal Fekete if you want to get what I am talking about. Those who understand this understand that the real war is gold as money versus fiat as money. The winner is the one that can demonstrate an ability to store wealth.

One may argue, how can fiat win when it has lost 95% of its value since the Federal Reserve came into power in 1913? This is too broad a sweep of time for the average person. They look only year to year, and single digit inflation looks stable to them. There is some vague understanding that money loses value, but it is not dramatic and anyway, the way to deal with this is to “invest”.

To beat gold in this war, all you have to do it make it look unstable. This is why a parabolic rise in the gold price is counterproductive. It makes the average person see gold as a speculative investment, worst still, one that does not pay a dividend. Parallels to 1980 will be drawn, focusing on the bust after that bubble. This does nothing for gold’s image as a stable store of wealth.

From this point of view, the theory of suppression of the gold price misses the point. To kill gold you don’t manipulate its price, you manipulate its volatility. If gold looks unstable, it is unlikely that a gold standard will ever be accepted.

Therefore, at the one moment in time when people may lose faith in debt based investing as a way to beat inflation and preserve wealth, when they are looking for something else more stable, gold will fail to win them over.

I mentioned earlier about a tipping point. I would like to conclude with one last idea: one other advantage of manipulating volatility rather than price is that your firepower lasts longer. All you need to do is start a trend, or help a trend along. Herd behaviour and chartist momentum will do the rest. Bullish or bearish, it doesn’t matter. As long as the price moves wildly, your ends are served. For those that believe in manipulation this thesis means we are not at a tipping point and the manipulation has many more years to run.

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