Sunday, April 18, 2010

Life in the Ant Farm

Dear reader, is all of this Goldman Sachs securitization and interest rate swap business making your head spin? SPVs, SIVs, SPEs, PPPs, PPIs, PFIs, SPCs, CDOs, CDSs, ABSs, MBSs... whew! I know it's making me dizzy. And I find that when my head starts to spin it is useful to fire up the old hooch still and cook it down into something more easily consumable.

We all like animal analogies, right? I probably should have gone with rats in a rat race or hamsters on a treadmill, but instead I chose ants in an ant farm. Not very glamorous, I know, but let me explain why selected these robust yet delicate creatures.

Did you ever have an ant farm when you were little? An ant farm makes the ants' behavior easily visible and controllable. They are imprisoned in a two-dimensional world in which their decisions are limited and their needs are met by you! They can only go side to side and up and down. And up usually leads them to the leaf you dropped into the ant farm for their lunch! But in the wild...

Ants form highly organized colonies which may occupy large territories and consist of millions of individuals. These large colonies consist mostly of sterile wingless females forming castes of "workers", "soldiers", or other specialized groups. Nearly all ant colonies also have some fertile males called "drones" and one or more fertile females called "queens". The colonies are sometimes described as superorganisms because the ants appear to operate as a unified entity, collectively working together to support the colony. (Wikipedia: Ant)

A superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms. This is usually meant to be a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labor is highly specialized and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods of time. Ants are the best-known example. The technical definition of a superorganism is "a collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective," phenomena being any activity "the hive wants" such as ants collecting food or bees choosing a new nest site.

Superorganisms exhibit a form of "distributed intelligence," a system in which many individual agents with limited intelligence and information are able to pool resources to accomplish a goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals.

Nineteenth century thinker Herbert Spencer coined the term super-organic to focus on social organization... Similarly, economist Carl Menger expanded upon the evolutionary nature of much social growth, but without ever abandoning methodological individualism. Many social institutions arose, Menger argued, not as "the result of socially teleological causes, but the unintended result of innumerable efforts of economic subjects pursuing 'individual' interests." (Wikipedia:

Methodological individualism does not imply political individualism, although methodological individualists like Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper were opponents of collectivism. Detaching methodological individualism from political individualism... if a properly-functioning communist regime were to arise, it too would have to be sociologically understood on methodological individualist principles. (Wikipedia:
Methodological Individualism)

Hopefully I didn't lose you yet. I know, I'm supposed to be distilling not mixing, but I needed to draw the connection between ants and economics. Did you get it? Ants are dumb little creatures by themselves. But even as dumb as they are, some are more skilled at smelling and finding food while others are better at fighting, and some others are really strong, for carrying food back to the colony for lunch.

And in a wild colony of ants these individuals end up specializing in what they do best which leads to a collective intelligence far greater than the intelligence of any individual ant.

In this way, humans are similar to ants! A normal IQ distribution among humans ranges from 60 to 140. To me as an average human this seems like a very wide distribution. The dumb seem very dumb, and the smart seem really smart. But in the big scheme of things the human intelligence distribution is not so far off from the ant "intelligence" distribution. In other words, the smartest ant in existence doesn't even come close to the "distributed intelligence" of a wild colony. And the same goes for humans!

But when we put ants into a two-dimensional, controlled environment, the distributed intelligence of the superorganism is stifled and nearly snuffed out. As a confined group they end up no smarter than an individual ant.

Throughout human history the division of labor, or economic specialization, has brought fantastic growth in total human output and led to the astonishing complexity of modern computers and industrialization. These vast leaps were truly the accomplishment of the distributed intelligence of the human superorganism, with a relative IQ perhaps in the thousands.

And behind each great leap of mankind was a string of important decisions made by methodological individuals. This is true capitalism. In order for the human superorganism to display its "IQ in the thousands", certain specialized individuals must be free to make the most important decision. The individuals I'm talking about are the savers, or as I sometimes call them, the "super-producers".

They are the people whose contribution to society exceeds their own daily needs, creating an excess of wealth. And the most important decision for the human superorganism is the savers' choice between hoarding their wealth, or deploying it into the economy!

It is this decision process, made millions of times at the individual level, that lends the superorganism its superior IQ. There is no single human that possesses an intelligence high enough to compete with the human superorganism, just as there is no single ant that is smart enough to make better decisions for the colony than the colony itself. In fact, there is not a single human that could do a better job running the ant colony, although man has written many complex algorithms trying to mimic and even improve upon the collective intelligence of ants.

Debt and Specialization

As it turns out, the people that contribute the greatest leaps for mankind often don't have the wealth to realize their dreams on their own. They must engage other people with wealth, who on their own don't possess the knowledge and ability to make great leaps for mankind. It is this "working together" that made things like electricity possible.

I said earlier that the most important individual decision is between hoarding and deploying one's wealth. Modern socialist thinkers will all tell you that hoarding is always bad for the economy. That the key to a thriving economy is the free (read: forced) deployment of all wealth back into the economy immediately once it is saved. But the problem is that removing the decision process from the savers changes the behavior of both the savers (lenders) and the debtors.

Debt becomes cheap and easy to get, therefore debtors no longer need great ideas like "electricity" to get a loan. And for the savers, the choice becomes as simple as a multiple choice test for a government job. The lowest common denominator rules the collective as those with a 60 IQ face the same choices as those with a 140: low yield (supposedly safe) or high yield (more risky). What is missing is the option to hoard, without losing purchasing power, which forces lenders to look at debtor's "proposals" more closely.


Debt is the most fundamental cause of this Global Financial Crisis (GFC). More specifically, it is the modern method of usury that compels large pools of savings into the service of new debt. Savers must have a way to hoard outside of the economy for the economy to be efficient. It is the selection process of when and how to deploy one's savings that keeps both debt in check, and the economy efficient and productive. And it is the coerced loaning of all savings, with the lenders and borrowers segregated by a "Chinese wall" of bankers interested only in fees and bonuses, that has led to the massive malinvestment and explosive debt of today.

This GFC is the final stretch in the long evolution of money, spanning centuries, that led to a global monetary system in 1944, a purely symbolic fiat system in 1971, an electronic computer-assisted system in the 80's and 90's and today's insurmountably complex system of derivatives. With each step adding new layers of complexity and distancing finance from reality, the savers and the debtors have now become so disconnected from each other that our human superorganism is now literally dumber than the lowest functioning human. The collective IQ is now probably well below 50, thanks in large part to the "geniuses" on Wall Street who created SPVs, SIVs, SPEs, PPPs, PPIs, PFIs, SPCs, CDOs, CDSs, ABSs, MBSs... We are truly ants in an ant farm!

As Paper Burns

In Sultans of Swap - Explaining $605 Trillion of Derivatives, Gordon Long writes "The cheaper money is, the more borrowing will occur. Everyone is happy except the unwitting lender."

This line really gets to why all these "genius" Wall Street creations are such an explosive problem today. "Everyone is happy except the unwitting lender." The "unwitting lender" is all the savers and "super-producers" of the world. It is everyone you know who has a pension or a pension fund. It is everyone you know who has a 401K or an IRA. The "unwitting lender" is anyone and everyone who relies on the $IMFS and its network of specially trained and licensed financial advisors with official titles like RIA, CFP, CFA, CPA, ChFC, CRPC, RFC, MSFS, all of whom are practically bound by law and fiduciary duty to NOT tell you the true nature of the risk you are facing.

On the other hand we have the writings of one with remarkable wisdom, relegated to pseudonymous postings on an Internet forum, warning us more than 12 years ago of things like this...

Much paper value will burn before this fire is done!

If you owned an oilwell in your back yard and no-one could take control of it, then oil is the best investment. But, most people use various forms of western paper to trade oil and that paper will burn in a currency fire.

Metals have not shown their true worth for many years as the world has done very well. This is very good. But, all things do change! As it is our time and place to live this change, our thoughts must view the future as it must be. Who can know the minds of men and countries as paper burns?

Remember, "when the currencies go to nuclear war, all paper and paper markets will burn"! Many hard assets will lose in the public mind as confusion will rule. In the thoughts of many, gold will perform!

In that day, debts will burn and currencies will war, and you sir will, with honor, raise your standard of living with Gold!

Your profits from such trade, will, on the last day, in the heat of fire, burn as paper does! Sir, the world is going to change, and the rules of engagement will also change. Gold will be repriced, once! It will be enough for your time of life.

Sir, The history of "Hot" paper money does show it to "burn easily" from "much heat"! If you read my Thoughts in today's replies, we see much "fuel" in dollar derivatives trading in foreign markets.

During this result, all paper will burn and the world economy will start over. However, the BIS is buying gold for customer governments as they begin to lower the dollar. This action, began some months ago will bring gold up, perhaps to the middle $360 range. If the world paper markets do not destroy themselves, gold stocks may rise for a time. But, physical gold is the good hold for this time.

This kind of advice is all but illegal within the $IMFS! If it's ever even spoken, it is whispered and "off the record". But I guess that's why you're here, reading "voluminous posts" by a pseudonymous blogger, eh?

At the top of this section I mentioned Gordon Long. I recommend his recent articles for an in-depth yet digestible view of the head-spinning, mind-numbing world of "genius" Wall Street contributions to mankind, like SPVs, SIVs, SPEs, PPPs, PPIs, PFIs, SPCs, CDOs, CDSs, ABSs, MBSs...

Exponential Debt

One of the things Gordon writes about is probably the most catastrophic aspect of this mountain of debt: the maturity wall. This is the hurdle of old debt rollover that is facing us collectively right now, where all of the world's present saving must be compelled into the interest payments alone on the old debt. Talk about the unproductive and inefficient use of savings! What I can tell you is it ain't gonna happen. The system cannot be saved at this point.

I received an email from a reader, Lars Olsson, with a nice article he wrote about exponential growth and debt. Here is an excerpt from his piece with an exercise you can try at home to wrap your mind around what happens when savings are compelled into indiscriminate debt:

If you believe that 2+2=4, then you should believe the following. Compound interest at 2% is a miniscule interest charge measured by today's standards. Compounding the interest charged on a single unit of money can be written as follows: money-amount * 1.02 * 1.02 * 1.02 .... (adding another term for each year) .... and on and on. That is, if you can place your faith in mathematics and calculations and really "believe" that the calculator will return a correct result when you punch the buttons. We reckon our current time since the long ago birth of a civilization some 2000 years ago. History tells us they had money then. A functioning economy of sorts. Mediterranean trade. Payments for goods. Money of gold and silver. If any man would have placed only a fraction of his purse at interest, his descendants would be wealthy beyond imagination, and the world have been hollowed out.

Let me show you. Open the calculator function under Windows. If you run Apple you are smart enough to figure out a substitute on your own. You'll find the calculator under Accessories. Set the "View" to Scientific. Got that! If not, that's ok too, but you probably shouldn't be reading this. On the keypad, punch in 1.02, then hit the "x^y" button, then on the keypad punch in 2000, then hit "=". The display now shows you a large number. This is the multiplier for some amount placed at 2% interest for 2000 years compounded annually. On the keypad hit the "*", then punch in 0.01, then hit "=". Now the display shows you what one cent ($0.01) would have turned into. To make this a little easier to view, hit the "/" key, the on the keypad punch in "1","Exp","12","=" to get the answer in trillions of dollars. Yes. The calculator really does say that $0.01 placed at 2% interest for 2000 years turns in to $1,586 trillion, or $1.586 quadrillion, or a hundred year of US GDP. If you don't like 2%, change it. If you don't like 2000 years, change it.

What the previous exercise shows is that a purse of silver was certainly not placed at interest anywhere in the world 2000 years ago, and allowed to compound at 2% interest, since that numerical representation of wealth would today dwarf all known hoards of "money", electronic or otherwise. So compound interest is not a sustainable operation spanning millennia. Compound interest applied to any finite system will grow out of bounds, which is what we are experiencing today. The current "money" system, which is engineered with "debt/credit" as its foundation has breached its sustainable limit. Stimulating the economy without addressing the fundamentals of the "money system" decay will not restore economic prosperity. Money at interest, does not price risk in venture. A functional society requires an efficient "money system", but "money" can be made available through means other than extending fractional reserve privilege to the banking class and putting a price on the existence of money.

Lars' piece may seem simplistic, but I like it. I'll even take it a step further and say that a monetary and financial system that uses compounded interest cannot afford to compel all savings into the hands of debtors. It must have a means of hoarding wealth outside of the system in order to constrain the exponential growth function, or else the entire system will become retarded and then collapse. In return, this constraining function of "gold the wealth reserve" will restore intelligence to the human superorganism. Intelligence that has been sucked dry by Wall Street's systemic aggression against a free-floating physical gold price.

We are all like ants in an ant farm when we patronize Wall Street. Our contributions to society, should they exceed our day-to-day needs, are deployed by a system that does not care how they are deployed, just that they are deployed ASAP. If you would like to make a real contribution to the future of civilization then please buy physical gold and find a way to keep it close. Hoard your efforts outside of the system and watch as they receive a tremendous power boost just in time for deployment. You will be rewarded with the freedom to choose when and how your saved effort will be deployed and in so doing, you will help shape the future.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

The 21st Century Bank Run

What bankers fear most is a bank run. Yet for how many weeks now have we lived with the event affectionately named Bank Fail Friday with nary a jog? How is this possible?

Seemingly our monetary patriarch Ben "POTY" Bernanke his Holiness has eliminated the greatest systemic threat of the Great Depression, the bank run. Is this possible?

Before we peer into what the 21st Century Bank Run is going to look like, let's first jump back into our history lesson from last week...

Coming to terms with the dollar and with money
by Aragorn III

(a continuation from earlier)
My good friend Aristotle has relayed to you much of the modern story. (Where has he been these days?) I am pleased it met with acknowledgements regarding its assistance, and would like to continue with perhaps some additional background for assistance to some in the understanding of money. Please forgive me the many oversights for which haste may have to play the fall guy. As later time allows, I shall attempt to repair what is necessary, but meanwhile this should help continue our dialog on these matters.

Aragorn III (08/09/99; 03:06:13MDT - Msg ID:10714)--Looks good, Peter
Yes, indeed, this is a good way to view our currency, such as it is...
Peter Asher (08/08/99; 22:51:59MDT - Msg ID:10701)--Fractionalization limits are just a regulation.
<<"Lets try this possibility.--- The extra [FED "liquidity"] can get into circulation by withdrawal of deposits, or my writing loans. If they write loans, up goes the Money Supply. If people withdraw their demand deposits, all that has happened is a ledger entry has been replaced by a receipt. That's really what a banknote is. Not an IOU as some have said, but a UOI. 'You the people of this country owe me this numerical value of goods or services.' So in a sense, when you take that currency out of the bank you are saying, "Hey tear me out that piece of the page where you have my deposit written down. I'd rather hold on to it myself."">>

Very nice! As the only "value" which is to be found in our currency exists entirely within an elaborate accounting system of "who owes how many numbers to whom", the physical dollar we may carry in our wallets is truly nothing more than a portable and transferable piece of the official ledgers; one that has been duly certified to stand alone as one of those ledger numbers with the proper pedigree to pass as currency. Numbers that remain in ledger form may only be added or removed through official banking channels, such as we see in the example of the check clearing house of the Federal Reserve. This has been Aristotle's attempt recently to explore with others why his simple act of typing "$17" does not create 17 spendable dollars; because it does not have the proper pedigree of origination within the banking system. Specifically, it was not borrowed into existence by the Treasury from the Federal Reserve, or even perhaps borrowed by you or me from our own Main Street bank.

Fancy designs with presidents on paper is an assurance that these "ledgers to go" so to speak do bear the proper pedigree as numbers acceptable for legal tender. When they exist in ledger form, they demonstrate this proper pedigree by the integrity of the database that tracks their movement. Nothing more, nothing less.

This gets us back to the thread I began a few hours ago in an examination of the dollar and money, and I shall now try to return to that...

This is where we left off from before, more or less...
Aragorn III (08/08/99; 17:19:07MDT - Msg ID:10664)
"...It should be obvious by the nature of our topic (money) that our conversation is focused on tomorrow, in addition to today. Were we to be truly concerned about today only, we would instead discuss whether our needs of food, clothing, and shelter had been adequately met, we would not speak of money. To speak of money is to speak of today's confidence in our ability of meeting tomorrow's needs."

A currency with an unknown expiration date is arguably of limited use for the role we expect our money to hold its value within acceptable limits of fluctuation based on normal market pressures and thereby successfully fulfill its ultimate destiny to be spent as a medium of exchange for our future needs (food, clothing, shelter, hardware, medicine, etc.). No one wants to be the one left holding the bag when the purchasing value drops out the bottom.

Prior to 1971 the dollar was truly money (gold standard defined the dollar as gold) in the international economy, freely convertible with gold, with an equivalency of 1 oz. @ $35 -- FIXED, no questions asked! (Though it is fair to say there was squawking from time to time when overseas paper came home for redemption). Unfortunately, the U.S. had painted itself into a corner and was trapped. Here is how it happened.

Prior to 1933 the U.S. was on a gold standard domestically, also, at which time the equivalency was 1 oz. @ $20.67 -- fixed, no questions asked. A bank would readily exchange paper currency for the equivalent gold currency on demand. There was a general confidence in the banking institutions, and people were content to use their paper dollar equivalents, and further, were content to let their deposits remain in the bank. Fractional reserve lending privileges allowed banks to expand the money supply--YES...even while on a fixed gold standard! As long as not everyone together would choose to withdraw their money and convert the paper proxies for the gold dollars, this fractional reserve lending privilege did not cause any apparent problems. Did prices stay reasonable as the dollar still appeared "good as gold"? I give you... The Roaring Twenties! When the attendant stock market bubble popped in 1929, the financial system, and much necessary confidence began to unravel, and the bank run became a probationary event for the Olympics. In 1929, 659 banks failed. In 1930, 1352 banks failed. In 1931, 2294 banks failed. Late 1932 and early 1933 witnessed this trend swell to envelop not small or isolated banks alone anymore, but entire communities and statewide banking institutions. (I will tell you that by 1933's end, nearly half of U.S. banks had disappeared...such is the "privilege" of issuing excessive claims on money that cannot be backed through this fractional reserve system!)

You can see why the Roosevelt Executive Order of a bank holiday effective March 6, 1933 was something other than a trip to the beach. In this year, 4004 banks failed, or else were found to be unfit to reopen at the end of the "holiday". In the following year, only 62 failed. Why? Because as you already know, it was at this point that President Roosevelt took the money (gold) out of the domestic dollar, and it should be obvious to us all that a crippling bank run is no longer a threat when a bank need not be held to deliver real money. It could easily deliver the ledger numbers endlessly in portable paper form. A bank run becomes meaningless because the people are not at risk of being cheated by arriving too late, they have all already been cheated 100% in full! The government knew international parties would not fall for such trickery, so the gold convertibility was maintained, but only after defaulting on the paper dollars they held by redefining their equivalency to 1 oz. @ $35 (as was maintained from this point until the Second World War, and reaffirmed at Bretton Woods until 1971).

With domestic U.S. companies and citizens now subject to the inflationary dollar supply through fractional reserve lending, and a new dollar that even with the best confidence was not as "good as gold" within the U.S. borders, the anticipated effect of higher wages and higher prices was soon to follow. Here is the trap we fashioned for ourselves. The U.S. dollar would easily buy overseas products, as simple math and occasional "confidence reassurances" (by testing the success of convertibility) proved that to be paid $35 was truly to be paid one ounce of gold. Foreign goods were then priced accordingly, and imports flowed to American shores in due course as we spent down our national gold savings. And what of our balance of trade...the exports?

Domestically, with higher wages and prices reflecting a paper dollar rather than a gold dollar, American goods were not a bargain to foreign shoppers. The dollar itself (gold) was the best deal they could get from America in exchange for their own goods, and this money would then be used to shop where a gold dollar was properly held in value...anywhere but America! U.S. imports rose and exports fell against each other until the risk of gold exhaustion caused President Nixon to end international convertibility in 1971. This was essentially a world-scale replay of the 1933 Roosevelt action for the same reason...too many claims had been created on the gold money, and when the confidence for convertibility eroded to bring about a "bank run", the paper system failed to continue in its former manifestation. In the 1930's, gold was made available only outside the U.S. and the paper "price" rose from $20.67 to $35...a 70% increase. In 1971, the paper currencies lost their attachment to real money everywhere else in the world, and gold found a paper "price" in the many hundreds. So ended a time period of a fixed notion of a dollar's value.

Today, the international need for long-term reliable money still exists. Only gold can play that role to satisfaction. Speculators aside, the paper gold trade (as largely explained in Aristotle's work) has functioned as a much needed currency of gold in a fashion very similar to that just described for the dollar during the Roaring Twenties...albeit with a floating dollar attachment rather than a fixed one. The paper gold is received and held as a contract that specifies a right to gold delivery, perhaps some as a lump sum, perhaps as installments. (Contracts can be written so many ways!) The key parallel, and purpose of this post is to show you that this works only as long as confidence is retained, and that excessive issues of claims has not jeopardized the real ability to get gold without being the one left holding the bag of paper gold when the bottom drops out.

These various gold contracts have been a temporary patch in the monetary system, filling a niche in the economic environment of the world. You see why the dollar failed in 1933...too many claims issued on the available gold. You see why the "new dollar" failed in 1971...too many claims issued on the available gold. You see why the "new patchwork currency" of paper gold contracts will fail in due course...too many claims issued on the available gold. The caution is that more is in jeopardy than only the viability of this paper gold system. The dollar stands to fall with it as the excess paper side is firmly attached to dollars. In the 1920's, you might run to the bank with your "paper side of the deal", and the bank would be expected to make the contract "whole" by honoring the gold side or else it would FAIL trying--with no where else to turn. The parallel in today's system is that you might run to your contract writer (bullion bank) with your "paper side of the deal", and when the bank cannot itself produce the gold to settle the claim, it will have no choice but to turn to the spot gold market (if central banks will not stand for the clearing of gold reserves--such as the U.S. would not in 1971!) to buy gold with dollars, or else FAIL the dollar and themselves in the attempt.

Look for signs of lost confidence in the paper gold system to read the road ahead. Abnormally high lease rates on borrowed gold. The Bank of England, in the backyard of the LBMA, is selling much of its preciously small gold reserves into the hands of this same LBMA. The BoE has been the primary agent to push for IMF sales of gold. LBMA average daily turnover has been slowing, (to be taken as a sign of failing support of this paper system perhaps?) The ECB has called for a halt to gold lending activity among the euro system of member banks. This aggravates the fractional reserve system that depends on new loans to out pace loan repayments to the extent not provided by dishoarding and new production. And on those accounts, Y2K and low prices have brought record bullion sales, and these same low prices have brought failing mine production through shutdowns and curbed exploration. The warning signs are plentiful. When this paper system collapses, the gold metal that always remains will inherit the value currently spread thin throughout the expansive paper system.

Now I am aware of some relatively new and modern monetary theories that claim our system is no longer a fractional reserve system at all. Fine, but let's at least agree on some truths. Ever since gold was removed from the modern banking system and "bank credit money" system, the system has operated such that "private bank credit money" is a derivative of fractionally reserved "central bank credit money". CB credit money being the monetary base, physical cash plus reserves held at the Fed.

Whether or not the actual fraction is controlled or regulated is irrelevant to the fact that a fraction exists. It may not be 10%. It may not even be 1%. It may not even have the least bit of constraining function anymore. But there does exist, at any given time, a fraction at which "commercial bank liabilities" circulating in the economy relate to base money or Central Bank liabilities. And it is these Central Bank liabilities that settle imbalances between private banks when clearing their circulating liabilities, the role previously held by gold.

Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about and others, I'm sure, are a little bit lost at this point. But don't pause if you are lost. It will make sense in a moment.

Physical gold, like physical dollars within the "private bank credit money" system, is also fractionally reserved within the gold banking system... what we like to call "paper gold". This in and of itself is not necessarily bad or dangerous. But there is still disagreement as to whether this "paper gold" system is fractional at 100:1... or at 10:1, to wit this post from Bron Suchecki at his Gold Chat Blog:

London unallocated: Fractional Fubar or Benevolent Banking?

A number of readers of my blog have asked me to comment on the 100:1 comment by Mr Christian of CPM Group in his CFTC testimony and whether London unallocated metal accounts are fractional. Well short answer is no, they are only 10:1 fractional. Do you feel much better now?

The 10:1 statement was made by Mr Christian in a April 10 interview with Jim Puplava of Financial Sense. Mr Christian is interviewed at the 26 minute mark and explains his 100:1 statement at the 36 minute mark. However, it is the comments at the 44 minute mark that are most illuminating, which I have transcribed below:

If you are a bank in the United States and you take in a deposit the office of the controller of the currency says you have a reserve requirement of 12.5% or something which means that for every dollar you take in deposits you can lend out 8 and that's how the money in banking 101 works.

Now if you're a bank in the United States and you take in gold and silver deposits not on an allocated basis but on an unallocated basis the same way you take in dollars when you put them in – when people put money into a savings account or a chequing account that's an unallocated account and the bank is allowed to lend it out. If they put the money in their safety deposit box that money belongs to the investor and the bank can't lend it, the bank can't hypothecate it, it stays there, and it means nothing to the money in circulation.

In the gold market if you put your gold and silver in a safety deposit box or an allocated account the bank can't touch it legally but if you put it in an unallocated account that is now an asset on the bank's book, they have a liability to give it to you if you ever want it back but in the meantime they can lend it out. Now if you give the bank in the United states money the law, the office of the controller of the currency says the bank can lend it out 8 times. If you give it gold and silver the office of the controller of the currency says the bank can lend it out in a “prudent fashion” and the bank has the discretion to decide what's a prudent multiple for its credit lending. Most of the banks I know, commercial banks, 8, 10, maybe 12 as a leverage factor.

AIG was not a bank, was not a commercial bank, and under the US laws non-commercial banks don't come under the law, the guidance of the office of the controller of the currency. AIG used a leverage factor of 40, so if people gave them a million ounces of gold to hold for them, they could lend out 40. I mean, I have friends who are metals traders who were looking for job years ago and, you know, they went to AIG and AIG said “we use a leverage factor of 40” and the trader is a seasoned guy and he's worked at major banks and investment banks, he said “I can't operate at that level of leverage its just too risky more me” and AIG trading said “well this is what we do”, right, so there is a loophole in our regulatory system, its doesn't really have anything to do with gold and silver per se but it allows non-banks to participate in banking activities in a way that skirts banking regulations that are designed to promote stability in the banking system.

In the interview, Mr Christian recommended that listeners go to the CPM Group website where there was a free download Bullion Banking Explained. I took him up on the offer. Below are some extracts that fill out his statements above.

This article may help to clarify the complex world of commodity banking, in which gold, silver, and other commodities are treated as assets, collateralized and traded against. When we explain these processes to clients, we often refer to the same mechanics as they are applied to deposits, loans, and assets by commercial banks in U.S. dollars and other currencies. Banks treat their metal deposits in much the same way as they do deposits denominated in money, as the reserve asset against which they lend additional money to borrowers. ...

Many banks use factor loadings of 5 to 10 for their gold and silver, meaning that they will loan or sell 5 to 10 times as much metal as they have either purchased or committed to buy. One dealer we know uses a leverage factor of 40. (Long Term Capital Management had a leverage factor of 100 when it nearly collapsed in 1998.)

A bank does not even have to be buying gold at a particular time to be able to use it as collateral against which it can trade, sell forward, and lend gold. If a bank has gold held in an unallocated account, or a forward purchase on its books committing a producer to sell it gold later, it can use these gold assets as collateral for additional gold trades.

Is London unallocated fractional fubar or just benevolent banking? Maybe this statement by Mr Christian in a presentation to the International Cotton Advisory Council in October 2002 will help you decide:

A producer should use an advisor such as CPM Group, which is not trading against the producer. Banks and dealers have a conflict of interest between their own trading positions and the hedges they advise their clients to take.

Or maybe Recent Lessons Learned About Hedging (January 2000):

Hedgers should not rely on their trading counterparts for hedging strategies. These entities 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.


You see, when a Bullion Bank issues new paper gold, what we like to call a "naked short", it is constraining itself by making sure it has at least 10% reserves, according to Mr. Christian, in case someone decides to take delivery. Now in the case of a commercial bank, 10% reserves of physical cash may not be such a problem during a modern bank run because new cash can be printed relatively quickly. But with gold this is not the case. So even at 10% reserves, any bank run on the Bullion Banks would be a disaster.

But the real problem comes from what these Bullion Banks consider reserves. You and I obviously realize that the only reserves that will suffice in a bank run are actual physical pieces of gold. But these banks are presently relying on certain "paper gold" items as their "physical reserves".

During the CFTC hearing Mr. Christian admitted that the CPM group uses the term "physical" in a very loose way. That "physical" actually means paper claims and physical combined. So these Bullion Banks are holding paper liabilities from other Bullion Banks and mining operations and calling them "physical reserves". Very circular, don't you think?

So under this loose definition of "physical gold", perhaps Mr. Christian was not lying. Perhaps the banks do constrain their naked shorting with at least 10% paper longs from "credible sources". And if so, I would guess that those credible sources also have 10% "reserves" behind their paper. And so on, and so forth.

Well, I hope you can clearly see the problem here. When the bank run finally begins people and entities will want real physical gold, not paper longs, or liabilities from credible sources.

It all comes down to gold, the actual physical stuff. That's what the people wanted during the bank runs of the 1930's. It is what brought down the London Gold Pool. It is what forced the closing of the Nixon gold window. And it will be what people want this time too. That's the real bank run... to actual physical gold in your own possession.

Think back to Exter's pyramid, and how demand collapses downward during a crisis. Think about "commercial bank credit money" as being higher on the pyramid than FRNs, actual physical cash. This is true. As we collapse downward to gold the banks themselves will shun each other's credit receipts in favor of central bank liabilities.

This is where all those excess reserves held at the Fed will finally come into play.

Not through economic lending, but through interbank clearing preference, as the banks first try to jettison each other's "digits" as fast as possible. Once the bank run on physical gold begins, these banks are going to be very nervous about holding each other's liabilities, even over night. They will only "sleep well" holding Central Bank liabilities.

This is how the transition from plastic to wheelbarrow begins. We may not see a bank run on Fed cash by the people before we see it within the banks themselves, as interbank faith vaporizes during the run on gold.

By this time, the bond will be gone. As the people are running on the Bullion Banks the Fed is going to be very busy monetizing the entirety of US federal spending, from Social Security to Medicare, national defense and even Nancy Pelosi's entourage's per diem. It will all have to be monetized. Meanwhile the Fed will have to keep its remaining banks happy with Fed liabilities to clear the private liabilities, or else they will cease to circulate. Printing dollars and buying up private equity so that each bank only has to hold Fed liabilities.

And as the US Government starts spending its fresh new Fed credit, the Fed will have to supply the banks receiving those trillions in USG payment transfers fresh cash to back the massive inflow of new Fed liabilities.

You see, this is what hyperinflation is all about. It is about not only demand collapsing down the pyramid, but the system itself also collapses down a pyramid, from modern monetary theory on down to Austrian monetary theory. What seems antiquated in today's digital age still lies dormant beneath the surface, just waiting to emerge with a vengeance.

Our physical world didn't change just because we invented the 1971 purely symbolic fiat dollar or the fictional reserve banking system. These were merely derivative layers atop an inverse pyramid no different than CDS or IRS, and just as fragile in times of systemic collapse.


Jim Rickards gave another fantastic interview with King World News this week. Here's the link...

Jim Rickards interview on KWN

In it he makes a very convincing argument for the US dollar to return to a gold standard, backed by the physical gold the US still owns. He explains that the remaining US gold hoard, assuming it is not encumbered and/or swapped for paper longs from "credible sources", mining operations or Germany, is enough at present market values to back the M1 monetary measurement at a 20% fractional reserve (5:1).

And furthermore, that a full 1:1 backing of the M1 would restore the credibility of the $-global reserve currency so that the US could resume rolling over its insurmountable debt until it finally reaches infinity. And that this 1:1 backing of M1 would require only a 5-fold increase in price, to say $5,500/ounce or so.

Now I do agree with Jim that full backing is not necessary under normal circumstances, but that it would be necessary in order to repair severely damaged credibility. I am not one of the "hard shell gold standard people", but instead, I look for what actually can work, and what will happen.

The first problem that struck me with this idea of repairing US credit with a gold revaluation was the use of M1 as the measuring stick of dollars in existence. Again, this could work under normal circumstances, but most of the world's perceived wealth held in dollars is not in M1 holdings. And in the case of credit reparation, I intuit that M3 would be the bare minimum starting point. And to his credit, Jim points out that a mere $20,000/ounce would take care of this concern.

But this is not the big problem I see with this plan. The biggest problem is what stands in the way of this controlled revaluation. And that is the paper gold market that is already fractionally reserved at 100:1 if we define reserves strictly as physical gold in immediate possession.

A Fed revaluation of gold is different than Freegold because it aims to control the revaluation and set a new fixed parity. As nice as this sounds to those of us with some gold, it will always be unsustainable and in the case of today's gold market, is completely impossible without wiping out all of Wall Street and the dollar in the process.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that NOT doing it will save Wall Street and the dollar. I am simply saying that this Catch-22, no-win situation the dollar finds itself in just doesn't have an out as easy as this.

Here's what would happen if the Fed tried this tomorrow: For those that own gold today, gold would suddenly become their most prized possession. And all of those paper gold holders would suddenly start thinking about what we have been saying for 12 years now. There would be a run on the Bullion Banks and the scramble to find physical gold and stay alive would drive its price well above $5,500 or even $20,000/ounce, driving the dollar and the Fed/US credibility into the dirt simultaneously.

Or the Bullion Banks would be backstopped by the Fed and delivery made in paper currency at the new price. Again, people would start to take seriously what we and so many others have been saying and at least some would decide, just to be on the safe side, to turn that paper money into physical.

And just imagine, paper delivery being needed even at $5,500 or $20,000 per ounce would destroy the new image the Fed was trying to establish of 1:1 gold backing. How is that going to help the crippled US credit rating in its resumption of debt rollover?

Jesse suggests it is more likely the US will issue a new dollar, let's call it an "Amero" for lack of a better name, at 100:1 parity with the old dollar. This is certainly possible. Every fiat currency in all of history has had "an unknown expiration date" as Aragorn III put it above.

The point of doing something like this would be to keep some things at nominal parity while devaluing others 100x. Obviously the debt would be devalued, otherwise what would be the point? And this would include the savings of those who held debt. Of course it would give the government the power to pick and choose who and what suffered the devaluation, printing new currency for a few special friends.

But again, the biggest problem with a scheme like this is the paper gold market, presently leveraged 100:1 under a strict physical perspective. One would assume a reset of gold at 100x the current price in old dollars if this was attempted. In other words, gold would still be $1,150 in new Ameros, while a debt of 100 old dollars is now only $1 (new Amero). So what happens to a debt denominated in gold instead of dollars?

A Bullion Bank that is short an ounce of gold before the reset owes the equivalent of $1,150 old dollars. After the reset it owes the equivalent of $1,150 Ameros. At 100:1 old dollar:Amero exchange that is $115,000 old dollars, for one ounce of gold. So while debt in dollars drops by a factor of 100, debt in gold does the exact opposite, it RISES 100x! Buh bye Wall Street... buh bye reserve status... buh bye USG credibility.

The bottom line is that any debt denominated in gold must be unwound BEFORE the Fed or the USG even THINK about something like this. Otherwise it is "advance to Freegold and collect wealth transfer as you pass Go". And to unwind the paper gold market today means exactly "advance to Freegold and collect wealth transfer as you pass Go". The only alternative, pretend and extent, what the Fed is doing right now, means only one thing...... wait for it...
"Advance to Freegold and collect wealth transfer as you pass Go".

This is The 21st Century Bank Run! It is a run on the gold banks, which is a run on Wall Street (because they are the bullion banks), which is a run on the entire $IMFS and on the dollar itself in the end. And for those of you inside the US, this will be the second best thing that ever happened to America, because it will kill the long march toward socialism dead in its tracks. Just be sure to protect your own wealth so that you can be part of the rebuilding effort.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

GOLD & MONEY: More Than Meets the Eye

by Aristotle

Thanks in advance to Aragorn III for his direct input and valuable insights for what I am embarking on here. Much of this I hope will help to illuminate many of the developments and ideas that have been valiantly offered by ANOTHER and FOA over many preceding months.

Part 1 --- Stormclouds Gather...

The estimable economist Milton Friedman stated his forgettable opinion in 1974 that OPEC would collapse and oil would never get up to $10 per barrel. In all fairness to Professor Friedman, we must recognize his position as coming from a staunch monetarist, emphasizing money supply as the "true religion" for the Federal Reserve to keep the US Dollar as good as Gold. At times, he half-seriously argued for the abolition of the Federal Reserve in light of the simple monetary policy guidelines that could serve in its stead, with the economy returning to a state of self-regulation. (In the past sound-money days, economic hardships were far from unnatural, and they were not necessarily attributable to acts of government. However, modern attempts to centrally manage the economy ensures that any blame for systemic difficulties today may be clearly laid at government's feet.)

Milton's mistake was two-fold. First was his knowledge that Arabian oil could be produced for one dime of real money, and that inevitable competition among OPEC members would surely keep the price close to cost of production. Second, and most importantly, Milton failed to account for the possibility that the government would abandon such reasonable monetary management to keep the dollar nearly as good as Gold. This fact was NOT lost, however, on the oil producing countries. Ask yourself, what would YOU do if your business or trading partners suddenly started offering you payment with Monopoly money instead of "real" money? Would you shun real money as though it were the plague, and embrace Monopoly money as the greatest thing since sliced bread? If you would, then I have got a job for you!! Bring your shovel and some work-clothes, you have been hired for life...

Upon the 1971 declaration by the United States that redemption of dollars for Gold would be terminated, the entities in receipt of dollars for balance of trade settlements had no difficulty recognizing this as an outright default on payment contracts. The scramble was on to make sense of this new payment system in which the dollar was no longer a THING of value (a small amount of Gold), but was now reduced to a CONCEPT of value; an undefined unit with which the world would denominate the amount of value in contracts for goods and services. The problem ever since has been in coming to terms with the meaning of value for this shifting and undefined unit, and its vulnerability for mismanagement and abuse.

Jelle Zijlstra, who became head of the Bank for International Settlements, said while with the Bank of the Netherlands in regard to the 1971 severing of Gold from the dollar, "When we left the pound, we could go to the dollar. But where could we go from the dollar? To the moon?"

As I continue this tale, I hope it becomes clear that not only have we gone to the moon, but that Gold is going there also.

Part 2 --- A Transition: Things Are what they Are...

Do you see the world as it is? Or, do you see the world as you are? A tough obstacle, to be sure, as our experiences weigh heavily on our perceptions, and many people have no practical earthly experience with real money. There is hope..."the Truth is out there!" as a popular show is quick to proclaim. Albert Einstein puts an interesting slant on this theme: "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."

So with a ready admission our minds are frail and feeble, let's prepare to tackle something so ponderous it must hopelessly remain an abstraction to us mere mortals. I refer to the U.S. national debt, expressed in dollars, that stands at 5.6 trillion. Wow! What does that really mean? To put it in some perspective, we will revisit the 1970's, and try to get our arms (and feeble minds) around some much smaller numbers, and yet numbers that themselves are large enough to be abstractions. Let's examine the incredible and overwhelming wealth and economics of oil.

Imagine having claim to a sandy and barren land that reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Summer, making your living through the ages on goats, dates and Pilgrims to Mecca. Not a posh existence when compared to America in the Roaring 1920's, but the passage of time reveals the fortunate few that were in the right place at the right time. When the Standard Oil Company of California was granted an exploration concession for Saudi Arabia in 1928, the 35,000 Gold sovereigns paid by Socal were reportedly counted by Sheik Abdullah Sulaiman himself. Wispy shades of things to come! This can be thought of similarly to how you might view a collection of skinny stock investors who found themselves heavily invested in penny internet stocks when the technology market exploded in the 1990, making them all millionaires. Except this: Oil is much, much bigger! We will soon examine what it means to be in the right place at the right time.

I will talk about pricing and balance of trade in the next part...stay tuned for the biggest transfer of wealth the world has ever seen. The key-currency gets debased in 1971, and Gresham's Law rules the land.

Part 3 --- It's Only (a mountain of) "Money"...

Having purchased this Saudi Arabian concession, in subsequent drilling Socal's Damman Number 7 struck oil in 1937 (I believe old Number Seven is still flowing.) Socal partnered with Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco to form the Arabian-American Oil Company. Over a thirty year period, Aramco discovered petroleum reserves in Saudi Arabia in excess of 180 billion barrels...a quarter of the known reserves of the planet at that time. And as the world aged and changed, the amount of oil consumed daily in world trade climbed dramatically, from 3.7 million barrels per day in 1950, to 9.0 mbpd in 1960, to 25.6 mbpd in 1970, to 34.2 million barrels per day in 1973 during the first Oil Crisis.

Consider this for better perspective: the average yield per well at the end of the 70's in the United States was 17 barrels per day per well, in Venezuela (one of the co-founders of OPEC) it was 186 barrels per day per well, and in Saudi Arabia (the other OPEC co-founder) it was 12,405 barrels each day per well. Wow! Just imagine if the internet companies today issued new, additional shares each day at this same rate as oil consumption...the stock price would plummet! But unlike internet stocks, because this oil is consumed, it must be replaced (and paid for) every single day.

But before I can move into the fascinating region of this miniseries that sheds light on how and why the Gold market is as it is today, this background is vital, so please bear with me, and I shall thank you for your patience. Oftentimes, understanding is its own reward, but in this case it may well prove essential for wealth preservation at a minimum. To begin, we must look at life in these United States (and in the process we will see a compelling reason that import barriers must be fought tooth and nail)...

What does the Texas Railroad Commission have to do with this story? Plenty. So much oil was being produced in Texas in the 1930's that engineers were concerned about depletion and wastage, and the owners would fret over the effects of oversupply that would at times bring the price per barrel down to ten cents. Tiny independent producers were often drilling side by side with the majors, but when the price slumped their profitability suffered more because they didn't have income from the downstream processes like the majors did. Because some of the individuals operating these independent companies happened to be multimillionaires, their complaining voices were heard thanks to their political contributions.

The state government responded by giving the Texas Railroad commission the power to regulate drilling. And while they didn't have the authority to set prices, they could regulate production levels. By setting an appropriate rate of production, oil would be conserved and this restricted supply would achieve price levels high enough to keep the independents in gravy. This Texas price became the American price, and also the world price (in the 1950's the U.S. was producing half of the world's oil.) This meant pure profit for the major companies with overseas production that cost only ten cents per barrel. To keep the price of oil up, what started as a gentlemen's agreement among the American oil companies to limit the imports of cheaper oil later became enforced by the U.S. government--known as the "invisible dike" against the outside world of cheap oil. Throughout the 1960's, the Persian Gulf offered the world oil at $1.80, while inside the "invisible dike" oil was being sold to the nation at the Texas price of $3.45 per barrel by the end of the decade.

The great irony is that a Venezuelan lawyer (and oil minister) named Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso studied and used the Texas Railroad Commission as his model for OPEC, which he co-founded with the Saudi Arabian director of the Office of Petroleum Affairs, Abdullah Tariki, in 1960. OPEC from the beginning maintained that oil was a depleting asset, and it had to be replaced by other assets to balance national budgets and fund developments.

Now that we know a bit about the producers and the price and cost of oil during the era of "real money," let us take a look at the dollar itself. The dollar and the world was pegged to Gold via the post-WWII Bretton Woods agreement in which $35 was convertible to one ounce--but for foreigners only, not U.S. citizens. The rate for international currency exchange was coordinated through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with each currency pegged to each other through the dollar and Gold. The U.S. economy steamed along nicely in the 1950's, producing half of the world's oil as I've already stated, and half of the cars that burned up this oil. By the arrival of the 1960's, American industry was buying foreign factories, equipment and raw materials. In addition, the government was spending for its foreign bases and troops, and Vietnam was funded largely in the red.

An overhang of dollars was developing overseas--and while at first the foreigners were reassured that the Gold guarantee of the dollar was solid, as ever more dollars piled up, ever more of them cashed in the dollars for Gold. General de Gaulle summed up the sentiment, saying that America had "an exorbitant privilege" in ownership of the key-currency. By that he meant that the dollars America was able to issue via simple printing carried the same value in trade as the dollars that had to be earned by other nations through meaningful productivity. It quickly became clear that too many claims had been issued on the limited Gold, and President Nixon was prompted to close the Gold exchange window in the face of a certain run on the Treasury.

In a quick repeat from Part 1: " Upon the 1971 declaration by the United States that redemption of dollars for Gold would be terminated, the entities in receipt of dollars for balance of trade settlements had no difficulty recognizing this as an outright default on payment contracts. The scramble was on to make sense of this new payment system in which the dollar was no longer a THING of value (a small amount of Gold), but was now reduced to a CONCEPT of value; an undefined unit with which the world would denominate the amount of value in contracts for goods and services. The problem ever since has been in coming to terms with the meaning of value for this shifting and undefined unit, and its vulnerability for mismanagement and abuse."

With OPEC in place, and the dollar now rendered meaningless by traditional standards, the stage is adequately set to describe what followed. With OPEC now united and able to conserve, and threaten to cut back in the grand tradition of the Texas Railroad Commission, they were able to name their terms of payment, and decide essentially what value the dollar would have in oil terms. That is important enough to repeat: They were able to name their terms of payment, and decide essentially what value the dollar would have in oil terms. The increased world demand for oil ensured that the price would be met (Texas was pumping around the clock and still coming up short), and the printing presses essentially ensured that there would be no lack of dollars, so to speak.

It is important here to realize the attitude of OPEC, and notably the Middle East. In the mid 1970's, the finance ministers of both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia stressed that their needs were only to provide for the welfare of their citizens, and that oil in the ground is better than paper money. Who from the West can argue with that? They called our money's bluff, fair and square. So in 1971, while the Texas price of oil was $3.45, OPEC re-priced their Middle Eastern oil up from $1.80 to $2.20 (such audacity, don't you think?) only to see the market price due to demand in 1973 overtake the official posted price, at which point OPEC saw the writing on the wall, and in October raised the price per barrel to $5.12 while curbing production. By December, the Shah of Iran called a press conference to announce the official price would now be $11.65. Well, why not? It's only paper to you if you are not in NEED of this currency through a debt to someone else. And so began the First Oil Crisis of the 1970's.

Just as America had been issuing claim checks on the national Gold throughout the 1960's, its spending habits didn't change with the advent of the all-paper dollar. As a consequence, the world's greatest transfer of wealth was underway. Watching the rising cost of real estate became a national pastime in the 1970's--an odd distraction from the gas lines and cost of fuel. By raising the price of oil $10, from $1.80 to $11.65, at those current production levels OPEC raised its annual revenues by approximately 100 billion dollars. Now recall from Part 2 where I promised you we would tackle some large numbers, though nowhere near as incomprehensible as the $5.6 trillion U.S. debt. Here we go...

How much IS 100 billion dollars per year? It can't be much, because we all know the Middle East is heavily in debt with struggling economies even now at the end of the 1990's. Right? Well, I invite you to follow along, and judge for yourself. Let's try to spend that $100 billion, and is 1974. And let's not waste time on small stuff, we'll go right for the big ticket toys.

How about some F-14's? Fully equipped (minus missiles because we are a peaceful bunch) they are ours for $9 million each. Grumman on Long Island assembles 80 each year. Hell, let's take 'em all for $720 million. How about some F-15's too? At $12 million each, we conclude our visit to McDonnell Douglas with 100 under our arm for a cool $1.2 billion. Let's take home the biggest brute the U.S. has to offer--a top of the line nuclear-powered aircraft carrier for $1.4 billion. Better yet, make that two carriers. Throw in some destroyers, some submarines...let's see... We've spent a total of $2 billion on a kicking air force and a little more than that on a fine little navy. How much money is left in round figures? About $100 billion. And this amount comes in not only this year, but the next, and the next, and the next... [a side thanks to Mr. Goodman for these historical prices.] $100 billion is a large annual paycheck, and we haven't even touched the $30 and $40 dollar prices brought about in the Second Oil Crisis. Now consider again that America has written future claims on $5.6 trillion dollars. Can you imagine how such a figure might be settled? Ouch.

Where did all of this money come from? It would seem that America found an efficient means to issue claims on the country in exchange for something that goes up in smoke. Would OPEC own America lock, stock, and barrel? What would OPEC do with all of that cash? And would there be any end to it? How are the poorer countries that must EARN their dollars, as General de Gaulle indicated, going to fund their own oil needs? Banks are the answer. Buy banks, fill banks, and recycle the petrodollars. Oh, and let's not forget Gold. Straight from two ministers of finance, "We would rather keep the oil than have the paper money." We thank you for that insight.

Now that I have properly set the stage, in the next part I shall relate the really good stuff of Aragorn's tale suggesting where this money went, and how the system survived 20 years after the end was nigh, bringing cheap Gold crumbs for anyone mindful enough to pick them up. To quote that good knight, "With a payday reaching that magnitude, the question of destiny begs no answer. You set your own, and hope for nice weather."

Part 4 --- A 1970's History Lesson (without the disco)

One Oil Crisis down, one to go. We looked at some pretty incredible figures in Part 3. Where did this money go, and maybe more importantly, where does it come from? For the sake of brevity I will assume the reader is well acquainted with the process of money creation via modern banking. If not, then you have some important questions to ask and research to do. For now, accept on faith that new money is created (as a simple ledger entry at a bank) through the process of borrowing. A loan creates new money, and banks collectively may create money far in excess of what they hold on deposit. As a contract, the loan is quite real, but the dollar is not. A dollar is an undefined concept--an undefined unit of measurement for value, so to speak. You can see how such an arrangement favors those in a position to name their price.

As you can well imagine, for a country such as Saudi Arabia that had been subsisting on simple agriculture and the business of Pilgrims, a sudden infusion of such a magnitude of money can be seen as pure profit, and a fine opportunity for capital improvements to national infrastructure. Much of this money flowed back to the rest of the world to pay for international contractors and materials. But clearly, much more money was coming in than could possibly be spent. Vast sums of it found its way into the world's largest international banks--the five largest American, three largest Swiss, three biggest German, two biggest British, and then on to the next tier... Suddenly there were over one hundred banks that set up shop in tiny Bahrain: Citicorp, Chase Manhattan, Barclays, and Bank of Tokyo among them; all competing for surplus oil profit deposits. Paris suddenly found itself host to over 30 new Arab banks.

So much money flowed in, and so much was lent in turn to the poor countries that could scarcely afford to buy oil with their meager exports, that the financial system became a large game of musical chairs, and the biggest risk was that the music might stop. There were no chairs to sit on! To protect themselves from the unthinkable--that the Arabs might pull their deposits out of an individual bank--the banks developed a system. This system provided for the relatively smooth inter-lending of funds. Because even though a bank can create new money "out of thin air," they have to have deposits in the bank as a starting point. If these funds were to be withdrawn, the bank must locate other deposits to cover their outstanding loans. If the money were pulled, say from a British bank, it had to go somewhere; the amount of money was too great to "hide" for long. This British bank could call around, and arrange to borrow the funds back from a Swiss bank, or German bank, by paying a nominal interest rate on this inter-bank loan. The important concept to grasp here is this: as long as the petrodollars stayed in the banking system, the banking system would survive.

In fact, that is how the world weathered the storm of the First Oil Crisis. Such a grand scheme of inter-reliance was formalized by several central banks in a meeting in Switzerland to handle any event should money come up short in one area or another--the Basel Concordat. Have you ever heard of the LIBOR in any of your financial reading? Some credit card issuers make use of the LIBOR instead of the US. prime rate in their contracts. It is the London Inter-bank Offered Rate, and functions as the international bank borrowing rate, and it is the tie that binds the group together into a nearly seamless global financial System.

When the First Oil Crisis caused a global tightening of belts, only America, as the issuer of the key-currency, could shamelessly create new money with ease to pay its bills. Other countries had to balance their own books with productive output, or else turn to the banks to borrow the needed funds. And borrow they did! Let there be no doubt that these petrodollars were recycled through the banking system. Throughout the Oil Crisis and the distractions of the Nixon Watergate scandal, the former Secretary of Defense under the Johnson administration, and then president of the World Bank, Robert McNamara, was focused on one thing only--maintaining the good graces of OPEC. McNamara had to ensure continued access to OPEC's funds. During 1974, the World Bank had drawn on OPEC for $2.2 billion, for a total at the time of $3 billion--one quarter of all World Bank debt. For Euroland banks, business was booming because lending was their business. And the IMF had its hands full trying to hold together the international currency exchange system.

Some of the countries that quickly found themselves behind the eight-ball: Brazil, Korea, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Thailand, Kenya. (You can easily imagine that there aren't enough coffee drinkers in Saudi Arabia to achieve a meaningful balance of trade of coffee beans for oil for a country like Kenya.) So in a move driven more by politics than banking to ease the financial squeeze upon a nation's citizens and industry, the governments would turn to their central banks and to the international and multinational banks to secure the needed money. And the banks couldn't stop lending, because many countries relied on new loans to pay off the old loans in addition to their continued need for oil. Loans in default were simply rescheduled. There were no chairs, and the music could not be allowed to stop.

If a bank were to fail, what would the Arabs do with their remaining deposits, now clearly in jeopardy? Further, the inflationary impact of all of this borrowing was also a fact not lost on the OPEC nations. Many of the OPEC members' advisors and ministers held Ph.D.'s from prominent American colleges. They did not have their heads in the sand. The inflation would lead to a new price of oil just to recapture the value that was lost, and the cycle would intensify in the next round. OPEC knew the western currencies were depreciating faster they were compensating with price hikes. They were getting less "real" money as a result. Hopeless.

Remember Jelle Zijlstra with the "moon" comment earlier? As head of the BIS in 1980, he confidently predicted that the Second Oil Crisis could be worked through, slowly, but that the System (international financial system) could not survive a Third Oil Crisis--the inflation would make it impossible to recycle the petrodollars to the oil importing countries with any hope of repayment, trade would crumble, and the System would be brought to its knees. On that grim note, we need to take a quick look at how the world reacted to the Second Oil Crisis. It opens the door to everything that follows.

By now you are patiently awaiting mention of Gold. There it is. Now back to the story... No, seriously, pay attention here, and things will start to fall into place. I hope you have noticed the few references to oil prices throughout this series. In most cases, the oil was made available at a posted price. In the 1960's, OPEC's posted price was $1.80 (though sometimes the producers would undercut that to gain an advantage through additional volume), then it was $2.20, then $5.12, and within weeks it had been changed again to $11.65 (in late 1973). By May 14 of 1979 the posted OPEC price was $13.34 per barrel, but life was about to change. The key element to keep in mind is that oil was not priced directly by the market. It was mostly sold under long-term contracts at posted prices that were set by the producers after careful analysis of what the market could bear under self-determined production levels.

When the Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution deposed the Shah, Iran's 6 million barrel per day production fell off dramatically, and the resulting shortage sent the downstream processes scrambling for sources of oil anywhere to feed their refineries. Many turned to Rotterdam for oil, to fill their empty tanks. The deepwater port at Rotterdam was the principle harbor where huge tankers could be found to deliver oil on the spot, and hence the spot market for oil was often referred to as the Rotterdam market--but in truth, the spot market was available worldwide. This spot market was never meant to determine the price for oil, but was only supposed to supply day-to-day purchases.

Due to the stresses of low supply, the Rotterdam price sailed above the $13.34 posted OPEC price on Tuesday, May 15,1979 to $28, and two days later it reached $34. Iran immediately took what little production remained and sold on the Rotterdam market. OPEC then set a ceiling price for oil at $23.50 per barrel, but that was soon broken by Libya and Algeria. Obviously, Rotterdam was the place to sell oil at the best price, so many tankers with long-term contracts for oil stood empty waiting for delivery while ever more of OPEC-member production was diverted through Rotterdam. Countries and many companies looked at the low levels in their storage tanks, and soon they were rushing to support the Rotterdam market with their business. The "spot" price reached $40 per barrel as uncertainty about the future brought forth every empty tank or dilapidated tanker out of retirement to be filled.

Gresham's law can help explain this phenomenon-- bad money is spent and good money is saved. Oil was being bought and saved as a store of value, while paper money was spent. The flames of this Rotterdam inferno were eventually cooled as the last available storage tank was filled to capacity. This display of the spot value for oil reinforced OPEC's concept of value, and they had no qualms about raising the posted price to the spot value. Please recall, "We would rather keep the oil than have the paper money." Any student of history will also recall that the explosion in Gold prices also occurred in 1979 to early 1980, showing us Gold priced at $850 per ounce.

So what exactly has changed in the world since 1980? There haven't been any similar blowups in the pricing of important how was this wild tiger tamed? Is the money better than it once was? Or are the OPEC nations now suddenly and truly beggars upon the West's doorstep? What happened? Are the multinational banks (once scrambling to hold together the System) now calling the shots with nary a care in the world?

In Part 5, I put an end to this tale, and answer the biggest mysteries about Gold in the easiest of terms. The road will seem so straight and fair to travel, you will kick yourself for struggling through the brambles for so long, and wonder at your neighbors who STILL can't see the path, though it is truly a freeway.

Part 5 --- Gold, Money, and the Free Market

Before I conclude this commentary, let me first express my gratitude to USAGOLD for hosting this illuminating site, and for the tolerance I've been extended by so many here for my four long posts that up until this moment probably didn't seem germane to the topic of Gold.

On any journey, the first few steps are the most important, and in this case they were also the most difficult--to include enough for context without drifting off-topic. This last part is easy. The task at hand is to provide an explanation of Gold's pre-eminence as a monetary asset. Gold is, in fact, Money, while the dollar and others are merely currencies--an importance difference!

I am not claiming to be offering new findings of my own. The inspiration for this tale originated from many sources, comments Aragorn III offered to a small group last month, a knowledge of history, and keen perception. I have been challenged to render this tale into the clearest of terms suitable even for those not acquainted with Gold and worldly economics. If I have succeeded in my challenge, at the conclusion of this final part you will fully grasp how the free market has managed to provide a sophisticated asset (Gold) at a laughably minute fraction of its relative value. You will know that Gold is Money, and will gain new respect for its "price." Although this information isn't new, it might be new to you, and hopefully this explanation of financial operations with Gold, together with the background information of the 1970's Oil Crises, will help you anticipate and conclude for yourself an outlook for events ahead, and will also help you to better understand and evaluate the important messages being presented by ANOTHER and FOA, in addition to the other worthy knights of this Table round. Knowledge is power, and with it your destiny shall be yours to decide.

To start, I'm going to paraphrase some specific remarks made by Aragorn III that some people need to hear and think about, though most of the Forum posters are already in tune with this.

'The falling price of Gold has had various effects on people. The common person says, "Of course it is falling, because Gold has been demonetized." The Goldheart knows better, so the falling price has a more remarkable effect, bringing out insecurities and irrationalities of some. Though these people don't question that Gold is money, their insecurities start to question whether the world really needs money at all...that somehow this greatest device of mankind has been antiquated. Simply preposterous. If they knew the truth they would confidently buy today at triple the price and call it a bargain of a lifetime. People ask, "Why waste effort to dig up Gold from the ground, only to rebury it in vaults?" I say, "For the same reason the central banks toil to print millions of fancy notes that nobody reads. If you've read one, you've read them all." The effort is needed to prevent cheating, though we easily see the fancy cash does not stem the abusive tide of money from nothing. People also say, "Gold is a dead asset. It does not earn interest." What is the point of such a comment, to demonstrate their naiveté? Did banks not pay interest when coins were stamped from Gold?

You see, it is not the nature of money itself to earn interest, but rather, it is the investment risk that maybe earns a reward. A modern dollar in a shoebox is as a Gold coin beside it. No interest for either. You should know the interest paid by a bank savings account is not a product of the money itself, but instead it is the rewards on the risk the bank takes with the money you have provided for their investment use. Sometimes these banks choose poorly, and in those cases even the modern dollar earns no interest, and does not come back at all--lost with the closing of the bank doors. Money must be risked (invested) to expect a yield, and in this regard, the big players in the world risk Gold money as they do paper money (though often not as aggressively), while the small players are content with the shoebox yield. You are forced to be more aggressive (more risky) with paper because its value dies quickly, unlike Gold that stands forever even in a shoebox of no risk.'

With that, I will now conclude this tale that shows Gold functioning in its role as Money. And because preconceived notions of words often cloud a person's ability to see the case before them, I shall try to deliver this message with the slightest use of such terms as Gold loans, leases, shorts, etc. In fact, I will be so bold as to simply refer to Gold as Money (I will write it as "Money (Gold)" to ensure you know my meaning, but as you read, simply pronounce it as money). As far as what you might think is money (dollars, yen, pesos, etc.), I shall from this point forward not call them money, but refer to them by their given name (dollars, yen, pesos, etc.) or else will call them "fiat currency," or just "currency" for short. Fiat means "by decree, and fiat currency is currency because the government tells us it is.

Enough of the preamble. Let's pick up where we left off from Part 4. In days past, the oil exporters had been poor to modest countries scraping by when two things occurred. They discovered that they owned lots and lots of oil, and they also found that the rest of the world had developed a voracious appetite for oil. Think how different the world situation would be today if this supply of oil had simply never existed. We are certainly lucky to have its availability, and it is a reasonable expectation to pay fairly for all that we take. As bald as that statement is, it is necessary because some people have suggested (as Kissinger did in the 1970's) that warfare is a possible alternative to obtain what isn't ours. Such a world!

We've already discussed much of the turmoil that resulted from consumption that outpaced ability to pay. Payment in Money (Gold) was terminated, and many payment scenarios were developed in addition to the ever rising prices in paper currency. While it can be suggested that currency is a reasonable means in which to track balance of trade accounts (equating oil exports with similar value of imports such as infrastructure improvements), it should be readily admitted that paper currency is an unacceptable means in which to pocket one's profits. Book the trade balances with paper currency, but pocket the profits (savings) with Money (Gold). That's what I do every month, too!

Paper currency was falling fast in value when it was no longer tied to Money (Gold), and this was causing international settlement difficulties on many fronts in addition to oil. It is instructive to investigate some of the tools of the international financial System, because what worked for Money (Gold) and currency back then, certainly works for Money (Gold) today. (Please reread the paraphrasing of Aragorn's money comments if you have forgotten them already.)

Back in the 1960's when dollars were still tied to Money (Gold) under the Bretton Woods agreement, the American penchant to spend for goods abroad led Kennedy's Undersecretary for Monetary Affairs, Robert Roosa, to fear a mass "cashing in" of these dollars in international hands for Money (Gold)--a run on the Treasury. Roosa created a new financial device, referred to as a "Roosa bond," which was a special issue of Treasury bonds that were denominated in Swiss francs. As the bonds were sold to the world, they would sop up excess U.S. dollars with the terms that repayment at a future date would be in a given quantity of Swiss francs. (Notice I said quantity, and not value.) While these Roosa bonds stemmed the tide of a possible run on the Treasury, they ended up costing America more because the Swiss currency appreciated versus the dollar during the life of the bond.

In 1978, the U.S. issued 10 billion dollars worth of bonds denominated in foreign currencies (marks or yen) to milk extra life out of a dying dollar system, and the fix lasted until the 1979 Oil Crisis made mincemeat of it. It was an acknowledgment that some foreign investors wouldn't hold U.S. government obligations that would be repaid in dollars worth less than originally spent on the bond. Further, it was at this time that the U.S. promised to sell Money (Gold) from the Fort Knox stockpile to foreign central banks unwilling to hold dollars. (On his last day of office, March 31, 1978, Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns suggested that the entire $50 billion of the nation's Gold stock be sold for foreign currency in defense of the dollar, at which time the foreign reserves could be used to buy up the collapsed dollar in international markets. While this plan was originally rejected, within three weeks the Treasury Department was forced to announce it would auction Money (Gold) on a regular basis.)

Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal pledged in a meeting two days later with top-level Arab businessmen that the integrity of the dollar would be defended vigorously, and asked them to do their part to stabilize the global economy by keeping a price freeze on oil in place at least through 1978. (You should have no questions now about where the dollar found its value after the 1971 delinking with Money (Gold). The asking price by oil--influenced by many factors--is what established the dollar's value.)

It is also important to realize that not all international arrangements are conducted on the open market. For example, to avoid the German mark from being bid up in strength with a result of ever more people bringing them dollars for an exchange, Germany's Bundesbank issued bonds directly to the Middle Eastern buyers, avoiding the marketplace impact altogether. This was at the time Saudi Arabia was swimming in cash and spreading the excess among the world's largest banks (as mentioned in Part 4). My point is this (which I shall expand on soon): don't be surprised that banks are far more creative in their operations than revealed in your common experience through savings and checking accounts and home loans.

Eliyahu Kanovsky, an oil economist, won renown by many for accurately forecasting long-term oil production and pricing trends by OPEC where all others had gotten it wrong. In the 1970's he maintained that economics, not politics, were the determining forces behind the decisions of OPEC. In 1986 he wrote in response to the prevailing notion that OPEC would eventually own the world as a result of its oil wealth: "It is, by now, abundantly clear that these forecasters committed gross errors not only in terms of magnitude of change, but, far more important, in terms of direction of change. Instead of increased dependence on OPEC and especially Middle East oil, there has been a very sharp diminution. ... Oil prices have been weakening almost steadily since 1981 and there has been a collapse since the end of 1985. Instead of rising 'petrodollar' surpluses, most OPEC countries, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are incurring large current account deficits in their balances of payments, and are rapidly drawing down their financial reserves."

In the 1990's, Kanovsky maintains that OPEC has lost its ability to raise income through raising prices, and that oil below $20 is virtually assured. (This should remind you of Milton Friedman's poor prognostication from Part 1.) Kanovsky claims competition among producers ensures an end to price fixing. They can only pump it and sell it for whatever the market will provide. He contends (rightfully so) that Iraq can be counted on to "pump like mad" upon lifting of UN sanctions. He also contends that with the current account deficits of many OPEC members, notably the Saudis, they have no option themselves but to add to the oil glut with overproduction to raise revenue.

Since it has been brought to our attention by Kanovsky, let's take a look at the Saudi budget, and the toll taken on it in the aftermath of the Gulf War. IMF data reveals that the Saudi deficit climbed from $4.3 billion in 1990 to $25.7 billion in 1991. Oil had been selling at around $14 per barrel until June 1990 when Saddam Hussein pressured OPEC to raise the price to about $20 to help repair Iraq's national budget (which had been wiped out and sent into the red by their 1980-88 war on Iran). Iraq's subsequent invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 temporarily spiked the price higher.

Here I must ask you to pause for a moment to reflect on those huge oil trade surplus figures we toyed with in Part 3, and recall that they were from early 1970's oil demand at a price of $11.65 which caused the First Oil Crisis. What happened to the vast amounts of petrodollar revenue that was being pumped into international banks, and recycled as fast as the loans could be written to borrowers throughout the 1970's? Further, what happened to the earnings that were surely being generated on these deposits through the activities of the lending institutions? As I noted at the end of Part 4, the System miraculously survived the Second Oil Crisis of 1979, and concurrently the skyrocketing price of Gold promptly abated in 1980. Further, Kanovsky points out that oil prices started weakening in 1981, and then plunged in 1985. Force yourself to make the connections. You will be one step ahead of Kanovsky, who has identified the effect, but no doubt has missed the cause entirely. Let us now tie together everything we know, and fill in the remaining pieces.

Historically, the price of oil had been simply posted by the producers for contracted delivery until it was unleashed to respond to daily supply/demand forces on the "spot" Rotterdam market, at which time the price exploded in 1979-80. Although the dollar had been historically fixed to Money (Gold), after it was unpegged in 1971, the currency price of Money (Gold) was determined by the daily supply and demand, similar to Rotterdam. Gold auctions began in May of 1978 because the U.S. had trouble getting international entities to accept its dollar currency. After "booking" their trade balances with dollars, the House of Saud, among others, wanted to "pocket" their profits with Money (Gold), and therefore competed with everyone in the world for Gold on the spot market. As the price shot right through $700 it was clear that every ounce purchased made it that much more difficult to purchase the next ounce. There was little trouble raising the price of oil as needed, except the financial structure of the world was coming apart at the seams. Each dollar withdrawn from international banks to buy Money (Gold) made life ever more difficult for the banks to square their books against outstanding loans or to write new loans. There had to be a better way...the return of Money!

The high price of Gold brought mining companies out of the woodwork. The Earth was suddenly crawling with geologists looking for the next jackpot Gold deposit. The mining companies needed capital to finance the construction of these numerous new mines. It's not strange to you to accept that banks can lend currency. It should not be difficult for you to accept that banks can lend Money (Gold) also. Struggling with that thought? Don't. They lent Money (Gold) in the days prior to Roosevelt's 1933 confiscation of Money (Gold) in exchange for currency, and they can lend Money (Gold) today. In fact, they can even create Money (Gold) out of thin air, in a manner of speaking, and I'll walk you through it.

Sometimes a parallel familiarity assists comprehension. Consider the existence of Government-Sponsored Enterprises (G-SE's) such as the Federal National Mortgage Association (commonly known as Fannie Mae). Fannie Mae is in the business of creating financing for people to acquire a house. The government's involvement in this affair is that they underwrite the risk of a default on the repayment of the loan. Dollars are borrowed, dollars are lent, and dollars are repaid. It doesn't matter what happens to the exchange rate of the dollars versus other currencies. A certain amount of dollars are owed, plain and simple, under the terms of the loan contract. If a home mortgage loan is sold on the secondary market, the purchaser of the loan is effectively buying not the house that was financed by this loan, but rather the rights to receive the borrower's scheduled repayments over a span of time.

Think of a loan to a mining company in a similar fashion. Interest rates on Money (Gold) loans are often much less than on currency loans because the Money (Gold) holds its inherent value over time (despite its "price",) whereas the paper currency fails so fast you must return more for the lender to at least break even, not to mention show a profit for the risk. Because miners will be pulling Money (Gold) out of the ground, it makes the most sense to them to seek a loan of Money (Gold) rather than currency in order to finance their new mine construction. But because Caterpillar has its head in the sand, it requests dollar currency for the purchase of its mining equipment, so an exchange must be made for paper currency as an integral part of this Money (Gold) loan. These arrangements can take place in every conceivable fashion, but this following example will be representative.

As 1980 arrived, the Saudis naturally still wanted Money (Gold) for their oil, and the rest of the world was struggling with liquidity. Much currency "wealth" had already been transferred to OPEC, leaving many countries toiling to service their own debts--much of their credit existing as recycled petrodollars. Let the lending continue! Bullion banks would facilitate these deals, and central banks (CB's) would act in the same capacity as with the G-SE Fannie Mae, guaranteeing ultimate repayment in the event of a borrower's default. In this simple example, the House of Saud could be looked at as the principle lender (although the borrower doesn't see this)...providing the currency equivalent of the Money (Gold) borrowed by the mining company to pay for Caterpillar's equipment to build the mine. Because this is contracted as a Money (Gold) loan, Money (Gold) must be repaid over time. In a sense, from the Saudis' viewpoint it is similar to the Roosa bonds where U.S. dollars are paid for the bond, with a fixed amount of another currency (in this case, Money (Gold)) expected to be returned upon maturity.

With the simple but vital central bank guarantee against the default of these Money (Gold) loans, the House of Saud, for example, would have no qualms about supplying the cash side, effectively buying not the Gold metal immediately, but rather the rights to receive the borrower's Gold repayments over a span of time. Just like buying a home loan on the secondary market. And the Money (Gold) of the central bank need not ever move or change ownership unless the borrower defaults on the loan, and the CB is obligated to deliver on its guarantee for the full repayment in Money(Gold).

There is nothing sinister in all of this. The price of Gold has fallen simply because anti-gold sentiment has been fostered throughout the common investment markets while the principle buyer at the Golden "Rotterdam market" had found another avenue in which to obtain the Money (Gold) desired in exchange for oil profits. This is very much like the off-market Bundesbank offerings that I mentioned about earlier. Please appreciate the patience in this approach, and the commitment it shows to Money (Gold), knowing full well that for many years it might be getting ever cheaper, while they would appear the fool for buying it from the top prices all the way down to the lowest. But the big payoff is in the end--which is near--and I'll get to that.

Now that you grasp the basics, let's take things up one level. So many Money (Gold) loans were written, that the House of Saud in our example spent down their past petrodollar surpluses. What now? It is time for banks to do what banks do best...create new money. This is the typical example I promised you earlier:

The miner approaches a bullion bank for a Money (Gold) loan. Let's assume the current dollar price of Money (Gold) is $400 per ounce, and the miner needs $20 million to pay Caterpillar for equipment. The bullion bank (such as can be found operating in the network of the London Bullion Market Association--LBMA) writes the Money (Gold) loan contract specifying the term of repayment of 50,000 ounces of Money (Gold) plus interest at 1% - 2%. The borrowing miner collateralizes this Money (Gold) loan with company stock, the deed to the mine, etc., and is sent down the road with $20 million in currency for Cat. Where did this cash come from? The bullion bank turned to the House of Saud, which is currently out of currency. However, using their oil in the ground as collateral, the bullion bank is able to write them a currency loan out of thin air (just like banks can do) with which the Saudis purchase the repayment rights on the Money (Gold) loan. They will be receiving future Gold for their future oil! As they sell oil, they will use their dollar revenue to repay their currency loans, and in the meanwhile, the miner's Gold loan repayments will be directed to the Saudis' account.

What does the bullion bank get for all this trouble? First, the central bank gets 1% - 2% for underwriting or guaranteeing the loan. (Just like the underwriting done with Fannie Mae.) The bullion bank had added on top of this low interest rate an applicable margin for its cost of funds to establish the final interest rate for the miner that borrowed the Money (Gold). This rate might run 3% - 5% (while currency loans would demand much more.) Each year the miner produces Gold, and after paying the required installment of Money (Gold) for the Loan, the remainder of his annual production can be sold on the spot market for currency used to meet business expenses.

There's one hitch. Because the biggest Gold buyer is no longer shopping on the spot market, the pricing pressure has come off, and prices could very well be expected to fall. To protect against this leading to the possible bankruptcy of the miner, and hence his default on the repayment of Gold, the terms of the Loan might also require that the miner lock-in a certain amount of future production at the current Gold prices at the hedging counter. (Economists first scrutinize the mining plan to ensure that it will in fact be viable at current prices before granting the Loan.)

As described so far, it should come as no surprise that the House of Saud would also step right up to purchase the delivery side of this hedged production. Enough must be hedged to ensure the mine will remain viable (even at lower prices) at least long enough to repay the Loan. Lets assume this mine is operating today with Money (Gold) at $260 per ounce, while their cost of production is actually $320. The current price of Money (Gold) is not a factor on the Loan repayment...they owe 50,000 (plus interest) ounces, regardless. Any additional production would be sold under the terms of their hedge, at $400 per ounce, and they can pay their bills comfortably and stay in business. Is the House of Saud a fool for paying $400 long ago for the Loaned ounces, and for paying $400 today to honor such hedged ounce agreements? You or I could pay $260 today for that same ounce on the spot market. Have you started to develop a new opinion of your currency, or at least a new opinion of Money(Gold)?

OK, so what else does the bullion bank get out of this, other than the applicable margin on the Money(Gold) loan mentioned above? It also collects the interest on the currency loan that was written to the Saudis using their oil as collateral. You can see how the mechanism that has brought us temporarily cheap Money (Gold) over the years has also given us cheap oil not subject to the same shocks witnessed in the Seventies. You can also see why the economists can look at the Saudi balance books and see tremendous currency debts and budget deficits where once there were surpluses that threatened to buy up the world. They have in fact bought up a significant portion of the Gold mined well into the future...through Loans and Hedges bought all the way down from the top. So who are we to question whether to exchange our currency for Gold now or tomorrow, and to gripe over a missed opportunity of $10? The equation is simple. If you have cash, buy Gold immediately, because the downward trend has become terribly unstable. Here's why...

The various financial Hedge Funds saw how easy it was for miners to raise low interest capital, and further appreciated the fact that even if they were not themselves a producer of Gold, the Gold itself needed for repayment could be purchased on the spot market at ever lower prices. The Hedge Funds could meanwhile invest the capital received through taking out this Loan and expect to have a double profit potential in the end. (The infamous Gold Carry Trade would invest the currency received through the 1-2% Gold Loan into U.S. bonds that yield over 5%.) And of course, with the proper central bank guarantees, the House of Saud would be there to buy up the repayment contracts expected on these Money (Gold) loans also.

The problem is that these speculating Hedge Funds have cumulatively driven the price so low (well beyond where mines would have long ago stopped seeking this type of Loan) that some unhedged mines are shutting down or going bankrupt. This aggravates the spot market with thin supplies of real metal reaching it (due to so much production already having delivery obligations) such that it becomes hypersensitive to any real effort to make substantial purchases there.

As a result, the Hedge Funds will be in for a rude awakening in their efforts to purchase the Gold needed to repay their Loans. And the bullion banks are sweating, because they stand next in line having facilitated the Money(Gold) loans and pledged to the CB's that they were credit worthy of the CB Gold guarantees. And the important Oil Producer sees that the big bucks paid long ago for future Gold delivery has actually purchased only uncertain arrival. And further, some miners, despite their hedges, have played fast and loose liquidating them for cash, and through general mismanagement have not been able to stay so viable as to ensure future operation and delivery of the repayment terms.

The CB's are fretting because their guarantees were used over and over again, and they are on the hook for a lot of Money (Gold) when the speculating Hedge Funds and bullion banks find it impossible to cover their Loan repayment obligations on the spot market as the price races away from them due to the hypersensitivity that low supply has caused. Shades of Rotterdam. Currently aggravating this spot market problem is the massive demand by individuals brought about by the low prices and concerns for Y2K. I hope this give you new perspective on the push lately by some CB's to free up some Money (Gold) from the vaults, whether it is Bank of England, IMF, or maybe even Swiss. It should also give you perspective on the anti-gold propaganda delivered regularly by the media. Consider that a skyrocketing price of Gold would not only be viewed by the masses as a viable investment avenue, it would also tend to shake the confidence in paper currencies, and threaten the banking system and Wall Street in general.

It is this same currency, borrowed against oil collateral for the purchase of Gold, that has added the massive liquidity to the world over the past decade and a half that many people have used in turn to fan the flames of the stock markets here and overseas. That's a lot of cash born unto Gold, and were it not for the prospects of receiving the real wealth of Gold metal, this supply of currency would have been stillborn, and oil would likely only come forth by way of brute force rather than by civil, economic means. I realize that I have left a lot out, but this should get you started along the clear road traveled by smart currency. Now, knowing what you know, what would you do with your dimes? Because this is really his tale, not mine, I'll leave you once again with perhaps my favorite statement made by Aragorn one evening last month among his old friends. "If I were given a dime for every time I cursed the market for providing easier gold, I'd have a dime...and that one was found on my way over here."

Everyone, your comments are welcome. And thanks again to MK for the USAGOLD forum and for the opportunity to obtain a world-class Money education and shiny yellow metal diplomas all at the same place!

Gold. Heading to the moon at a world near you. ---Aristotle


The above was written in June of 1999, in case you didn't notice. It is a repost on this blog from last July. The original can be found here.



US Mints ‘Gold Disks’ for Oil Payments to Saudi Arabia

The following speech, despite the fact that it was given at a "climate change" conference, contains some very interesting information about how the Saudis use their own oil. This is what I wish to draw to your attention in this video...

The Speaker: Jeff Rubin, the former Chief Economist of CIBC World Markets and the author of Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller built his reputation as one of Canada's top economists based on a number of successful predictions including the housing bust of the early 90s and the rise of oil prices. In his recent book, Mr. Rubin predicts $225 per barrel oil by 2012 and with it the end of globalization, a movement towards local sourcing and a need for massive scaling up of energy efficiency.