Although I have been writing about the subject of gold price manipulation (check out Thunder Report) rarely have I seen the relationship of paper gold sales volume put in context to physical gold sales volume. The figures are quite startling and quite clearly demonstrate that the real price of physical gold is a multitude higher. In Q1 2011, on the LBMA, sales of paper gold per day was the equivalent of over 2 years annual production of gold.
To start with lets take a look at the LBMA and its attitude.
Most gold trading – both physical and paper – clears through the London market, with dealers and banks settling transactions for clients around the world. According to the LBMA website, “a credit balance on a loco London account with an LBMA member represents a holding of gold or silver the same way that a credit balance in the relevant currency represents a holding on account with a New York bank or Tokyo bank.” Further, the LBMA explains “Credit balances on the account do not entitle the creditor to specific bars of gold or silver, but are backed by the general stock of the bullion dealer with whom the account is held. The client is an unsecured creditor.” (London Bullion Market Association, 2012)
Let us pause here to re-emphasize a point. When you deposit money at a New York or Tokyo bank, you no longer own the money. You own a claim – you own bank credit. Banks are free to use deposits as they please – typically as a base to leverage – aka fractional reserve banking. As the LBMA points out, loco London accounts operate in the same way – they are bank credit denominated in gold. So long as the bank meets its’ contractual obligation, paper gold and allocated physical are fungible.
Over the decades, the derivative market for gold has grown exponentially. What began as a means to finance new gold production has morphed into an untenably leveraged marketplace.
To maintain confidence in the USdollar, the gold price must be suppressed.
As long as the marketplace holds “paper” gold on par with physical gold, the dollar price of gold is suppressed because of the new, synthetic paper flow. In order to maintain confidence in the $USD as a store of value – flow of gold bidding for dollars is desperately needed. As we see it, the US Dollars’ ability to function as a store of value, and global reserve currency, is now completely dependent on the continued flow of (and confidence in) ‘paper’ gold.
Paper Gold Volume size Vs Physical Gold Volume.
How big is the flow of this combined market? Total trading volume for 2011 was estimated at 50,459,865,000 ounces. (Gold Fields Mineral Services, 2012) 50 BILLION OUNCES!! As a point of reference, the World Gold Council states that annual mine production for the last 5 years has averaged approximately 83,000,000 ounces, and total above ground stock of physical in all forms is approximately 5,465,500,000 ounces. (World Gold Council, 2012) One might conclude that a significant amount of leverage exists in the gold markets given the fact that in 2011, the volume of paper gold that traded equaled 10x the amount of physical gold that has been mined in history! Consider further that the WGC estimates that only 19% of existing above ground stocks is categorized as “investment”, and nowhere near all of that 19% sits in LBMA vaults in good delivery form, ready to satisfy paper claims. Further, Central Banks (estimated to hold approximately 20% of the gold stock) today are net buyers – not sellers.
The last liquidity survey by the LBMA of its members revealed some startling information regarding paper gold sales volumes.
By August 2011, 36 of the 56 Full LBMA trading members submitted returns for the new survey, and the results were rather shocking. Quietly, the size of the “paper” gold market had grown to monstrous proportions – successfully creating a tsunami of paper gold flow. In fact, according to the Q1 2011 LBMA Liquidity survey, over 173,713,000 ounces or 5,400 tons of “paper gold” per day (more than 2 year annual physical production) turns over with only 2/3 of LBMA members reporting!
Looking to the COMEX we can get another glimpse of the ratio of paper contracts to the physical.
How many paper claims exist on the relatively small stock of bullion? For a few hints, we can look to the COMEX. As of October 30, 2012 COMEX gold Open Interest equaled 454,742 contracts (45,474,200 ounces of gold). COMEX registered inventory stood at 2,735,041 ounces for a factor of 16.6X. (CME Group, 2012)
Is a leverage factor of 16 enough for you to take action? For some very prominent fiduciaries, the answer is a resounding “YES”. In a 2011 interview Kyle Bass of Hayman Capital (who helped the University of Texas Endowment take delivery of nearly $1 Billion in physical gold bullion) described a conversation he had with an exchange official:
“When I talked to the head of deliveries at COMEX NYMEX, I was like, ‘What if 4% of the people want deliveries?’ He said, ‘Oh Kyle, that never happens. We rarely ever get a 1% delivery.’ And I asked, ‘Well, what if it does happen?’ And he said, ‘Price will solve everything’ and I said, ‘THANKS, GIVE ME THE GOLD’ – (Bass, 2011).
When looking at the demand figures, you would normally expect the price to sky rocket, but not gold.
Let’s look at the leverage a different way. In 1Q11, the 36 reporting members of the LBMA disclosed gold sales of 5,593,743,000 ounces versus purchases of 5,350,183,000 ounces (see line 1 – London Turnover). Based on the survey, we deduce that in 1Q11 excess demand for gold was 243,560,000 ounces which translates into approximately 7,575 metric tons. In a typical year, quarterly physical production (new mining supply) is approximately 625 tons. One would imagine that with a traditional commodity, physical demand outstripping new supply in a given quarter by a factor of 10 would cause a significant increase in price!! And for commodities like copper, corn, or cotton that would certainly be true. Yet during 1Q11, the price of gold rose from $1410 to $1439…a $29 dollar per ounce increase. (LBMA, 2011)
So with the true price of gold masked behind the paper gold price, the smart hands are holding onto their physical. Where does that leave the true price?
We believe that the largest holders of physical gold have very strong hands – and $1,400 per ounce is nowhere near high enough a price to coax significant new flow into the market. As a simple mind exercise, let’s imagine this dollar denominated gold demand was met exclusively from new mine production – no paper flow and no existing physical bidding for dollars. Based on the LBMA liquidity survey and WGC data, newly mined (average) per quarter flow of 625 tons physical gold would have needed to absorb 100% of that $337 Billion dollar demand. And in order to do so – gold could not have been at $1,400/oz. Instead, to clear the market gold would have averaged a price of $16,920! This is a partial glimpse at the true Freegold concept (Another, 1997) – no paper gold flow – a return to a purely physical marketplace. Although this may sound like an amazing price – if we apply a “reserve” factor of 16.6 to the LBMA demand statistics, we’d suggest that $16,000 gold would be a bargain. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Finally, the best description of paper gold yet..
Paper Gold is just like allocated, unambiguously owned physical bullion…until it’s not.