My Fustration With GATA

Regular readers of my blog know my main objective is to educate. Unfortunately, this often finds me having to take objection to something GATA has written.

In Adrian Douglas’ latest dispatch he says that “the process by which only a portion of an investment is used to purchase bullion — what is politely called “fractional reserve bullion banking” — is fraudulent because it acts against the investor’s interests. … because the consequence of fractional-reserve bullion banking is undeniably price suppression.”

This is a dramatic, but exaggerated and somewhat misleading statement typical of GATA. I understand their motivation to generate passion in their readers, but I don’t think it excuses imprecision with the truth.

Fractional reserve bullion banking is not necessarily or inherently against an investor’s interest and means price suppression. For example, an investor buys 100oz from a bullion bank, who then buys 100oz of physical. If the bullion bank then lends 50oz of that physical to jeweller, it has engaged in fractional banking as there is now only 50% of the investor’s claim on the bank backed by physical. However, the other 50% of physical is with the jeweller and, most importantly, it has not been sold.

Yes, the investor is exposed in that the bank’s lending has “locked out” 50oz of physical to the jeweller for the term of the loan as well as the possibility that the jeweller may go bankrupt (assuming the bank has no form of security). However, this sort of fractional banking does not result in a sale and therefore there is no price suppression.

My point is that it is the use (or to whom) the bank puts the metal backing its unallocated liabilities to that determines whether fractional banking = price suppression. Of itself, fractional banking does not necessarily mean price suppression as Adrian would have you believe.

Having said that, I should note that the majority of lending of metal (and I do not know the exact percentage) ultimately involves the sale of that physical to back some sort of short instrument (eg a miner selling forward). On this basis Adrian probably feels his black and white statement that fractional = price suppression is justified. I don’t think it is. You may consider I’m being picky but I have a problem with this sort of rhetoric for two reasons:

1. GATA is a “tax-exempt educational and civil rights organization”. It is supposed to be about educating people. I think this is important, because a lack of understanding about how the market operates can lead people to exposing themselves to risks they may not be aware of. However by making these types of black and white statements, GATA is furthering misunderstanding. How difficult would it have been to say “because the majority of fractional lending is for short selling, it is a form of price suppression that acts against the interests of the (long) investor”? These sorts of qualifiers do not detract from the point being made, but give notice that the issues are more complex.

2. Adrian laments that “attempting to convince industry insiders … meets a lot of resistance”. Have GATA considered that simplistic statements and conclusions are interpreted by industry insiders not as rhetorical devices but read as ignorance of how the market really works. GATA therefore appears to insiders as lacking credibility, making it easy for them to ignore GATA and label what they say as “rants”.

This is the crux of my frustration with GATA and I don’t think it does them, or investors, any good.

As an aside, I note the dispatch refers to an earlier dispatch where Adrian Douglas says “a document published by the CPM Group in the year 2000 came to my attention recently”. The document is “Bullion Banking Explained” and I made reference to this document in my London unallocated: Fractional Fubar or Benevolent Banking? post of 11 April. I considered it an obscure document, buried in CPM Group’s website and had not seen it referenced to before. If you search google for “Bullion Banking Explained” with a date prior to 11 April there are only two other references to it in 2001 and 2004.

Coincidence that it comes to Adrian Douglas’ attention in his 10 May dispatch one month after I reference it? By the way, this FOFOA blog attributes my post in a discussion of fractional gold banking in a discussion about whether the backing of fractional unallocated is actually physical or just further paper.

Another claim I was particularly intrigued by was when Adrian Douglas says that “as a consequence of my article it appears that Christian has realized how damning his paper was, and while it was posted at the CPM Group Internet site for 10 years, it recently was removed mysteriously.” I was disappointed to find that it was just a website reorganisation. The document still exists at this link.

It would have been most amusing if CPM Group had been prompted to remove the paper as a result of GATA. Possibly Mr Christian no longer reads GATA – he did vow recently to never engage with them again after the debate on Financial Sense. Personally I think the paper CPM Group should remove is the two I reference at the end of my post on fractional banking where they say that bullion banks “take the opposite side of the hedge transactions, have inherent conflicts of interest, and always keep their own best interests in mind, even if these are the short-term best interests and arguably not in the banks’ own long term best interests.” Mr Christian is the expert on the gold market, who are we to argue?

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