Monday, July 23, 2012

Jeff & Blondie's Open Forum

That picture is not really Jeff and Blondie. It is Jeff and Jordan from Big Brother, and yes, I am a BB fan!

Blondie petitioned me for this open forum after one of Jeff's comments quoting me. I agreed, so here you go.


AdvocatusDiaboli wrote: "Blah blah blah the crazy GATA/FG assumption is somehow blah blah blah."

Jeff responded: "Only a fool would lump GATA and the hard money crowd with FOFOA:

FOFOA (from Unambiguous Wealth 2): One of the biggest struggles I observe in newish visitors to my blog is that they instinctively try to reconcile everything they learned from the hard money camp—ZH and GATA being two bright stars there—with what they read here. Their effort inevitably leads to contradictions that cannot be resolved. And because ZH, GATA and the rest of the hard money camp is so much more ubiquitous than my little blog, they win by default in minds that are unable to think for themselves.

Here are a couple of the irreconcilable concepts found on this blog that noobs must either reject or ignore in order to hang on to their ZH/GATA CB thesis.

1. Remember when Aristotle wrote this? "In working on this project, I was personally shocked when I discovered that we absolutely NEEDED paper currency in order to set Gold free. In the perfect world you lapse into in your comments, everything you say is well and good. We don't live in that world, however. My biggest challenge in piecing together my proffered solution was to accept what this real world had to offer and avoid foisting my own preferences onto the world like a square peg in a round hole."

Have you ever seen anyone in the hard money camp write anything like this? Or can you imagine them ever doing so? Yet this is one of the core fundamentals necessary to understanding Freegold.

2. And FOA wrote this: "Several years ago, many gold bugs and gold advocates missed the path as the trail turned." "Yes, the war now is between the Euro and the dollar! The Washington Agreement [a Central Bank agreement] placed gold 'on the road to high prices'." "The war between gold and the dollar has been over for a while now… Leaving gold bugs with a lot of questions that ask why this: both systems will strive for a higher currency price for gold; one doing it because they have to; the other doing it because they want to! The casualty on this battlefield will be the world gold market as we know it. A market caught between how Western perception thinks gold's price should be "discovered" and at what price level trading in physical gold craters the entire paper structure… This paper gold market will be cashed out at prices far below real bullion trading so as to inflate further the books of the Bullion Banks,,,,,, not destroy them. At least this is how the US side will proceed."

Again, have you ever seen anyone at GATA or ZH write anything like this? Or can you imagine them ever doing so?

First let me state that Zero Hedge and GATA both provide a great service and they both do fantastic work, ZH comments section notwithstanding. It is their underlying thesis about fiat currencies and central banks in general that I have a problem with. And this is not a problem with only ZH and GATA, it is a problem with the entire hard money camp.

Their foundational thesis is that fiat currencies and the CBs that manage them are the most fundamental flaw in today's system from which all other problems flow. This directly conflicts with my thesis that using the same medium in both the primary and secondary monetary roles is the fundamental flaw from which all other problems flow. My thesis applies to both hard and easy money systems. Their thesis points to the CBs as the bad guys. My thesis holds up a mirror and says, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

Blondie petitioned: "Good one Jeff,

That FOFOA quote should be a stand-alone post on this blog, just so it can be linked to regularly. The difference in thesis really is as simple as that comment states: all our monetary problems (and the problems that those problems then cause) all stem from the single act of using the medium of exchange as a store of value. Period."


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fallacies – 1. Paper Gold is just like Paper Anything

This is the first in a new series I'll be returning to occasionally. I have recently come across a number of fallacies relating to the subject matter of this blog and my plan is to compile them and then correct them one at a time.

1. Paper Gold is just like Paper Anything

This first fallacy aims to undermine a good deal of what Another and FOA wrote about by claiming that the paper gold market has the same effect on gold as any paper market has on its underlying commodity. This fallacy claims that the same arguments made for an explosive revaluation of physical gold could be made for anything else, therefore they must be wrong.

Commenter "ForLiberty" put it this way:

"This whole 'paper gold is holding the price down' argument makes zero sense to me. It is just a logical nonsense. All paper trades have two parties - bidup and biddown. A paper gold trade could have never taken place if nobody wanted to short it. This is how all markets work. There are paper tomatoes sold too. Is there a conspiracy there too?"

ForLiberty was apparently paraphrasing Martin Armstrong who wrote something remarkably similar:

"They argue that today gold is really paper gold, and the market have multiplied that many times. They argue that the real gold is only about 5 billion ounces. They then argue that the paper gold depresses the price of gold and this is why it is not where it should be right now. All this sound nice, however, you can make the same argument about anything traded today from wheat to stocks and bonds given the derivative markets. Some see conspiracy behind everything."

Is he correct? No he's not. Can we really make the same argument for anything else? No we can't. The paper market for commodities is just as likely to have a levitating effect as a suppressing one because it allows for financial participation by those who have no need or ability to hold the actual commodity. Gold is the only one that is unequivocally suppressed by the existence of a paper market.

No conspiracy. The mere existence of a commodity-like paper market for gold suppresses the price naturally, systemically. Long term systemic suppression of gold is something totally separate and different from short term price manipulation or distortion which can occur in any commodity or paper market.

Here's ANOTHER explaining that the BIS (primarily European central banks at the time) not only anticipated that a paper gold market would lower the price of gold, but that in the 1980s they supported the creation and expansion of this market for that very purpose:

Date: Mon Feb 16 1998 14:40

"The BIS leads the creation of a paper gold market that will lower the world price of gold to the extent that it remains above "production costs".

Guess what, it worked! Contrary to all expectations of oil shortages, inflation, debt collapse and what have you, It Worked! But, there is one small problem?

The BIS and other various governments that developed this trade (notice I didn't use conspiracy as it was good business, as the world gained a lot), thought that the paper gold forward market would have allowed the gold industry to expand production some five times over! Don't ask where they got this, as they are the same people that bring us government finance and such."

In other places ANOTHER explains that we should not be upset with the CBs because they were just buying us time. And later he explains what they were buying time for—to make it to the launch of the euro. He also muses about the fact that it's the Westerners playing in this new paper gold market who are most upset about the low price. The physical buyers in the East see it as a gift. But I digress.

Nobody is claiming there are more than 5 billion ounces of paper gold. In fact, there is probably far more physical in the world than paper gold. Enough physical gold to cover all of the paper a few times over perhaps. But that doesn't matter, it is only the flow that matters. It's the same with commodities that get produced and then consumed. It's the flow between production and consumption where the price is discovered in the paper markets. But gold doesn't get consumed at a rate anywhere close to its next closest competitor. It just accumulates.

In commodities the paper market regulates the flow between the producers and consumers, acting as a kind of a shock absorber against unexpected supply and demand shocks. But gold is different because it just accumulates. There are two main differences between gold and everything else. The first is that gold just accumulates rather than getting consumed, so there is no reason for there to ever be a supply side shock, even if all the mines suddenly stopped producing. In fact, today we have a 60 year "supply overhang" in gold. Nothing else comes close.

The second difference is that the vast majority of demand for gold is in currency terms, not weight terms. This is not true for commodities. If you need a ton of copper for a construction site, you need a ton of copper. That's weight-denominated demand. But gold demand is overwhelmingly in currency terms. If you need a tonne of gold, what you really need is $50,000,000 worth of gold. It doesn't matter how much it weighs because you're just going to stick it in a vault.

Having a paper market as a shock absorber for the gold market only has the effect of keeping the price too low. My explanation for the LBMA survey discrepancy is a perfect example.

Since gold is not consumed by consumers or industry the way corn, oil, copper and grains are, and because it simply accumulates, supply shocks are not economically critical. On the demand side, gold is apparently used as a "safe haven currency". And we apparently had a demand shock of around 7,575 tonnes in Q1 2011. The normal supply for that period would have been around 700-1000 tonnes, so the paper gold market acted as a shock absorber and absorbed that demand shock by expanding. That way the price of gold only rose $30 in a quarter with a demand shock of 10 times the normal physical supply flow.

But that wasn't really demand for 7,575 tonnes of gold. It was demand for $337B worth of gold. Hypothetically, if the price of gold had been $55,000/oz. in Q1 2011, that demand would still have been for $337B worth of gold, the only difference being that the $337B demand could have been supplied by only 190 tonnes (a mild 20% increase in flow rather than an extreme 1,000% increase) and the price of gold would therefore have barely felt a bump in the road, even without a paper market shock absorber.

Therefore, having an elastic paper market shock absorber for gold is only necessary if the price is too low, because there will always be plenty of supply if the price is high enough (60 year supply overhang, remember?). At today's price, having a paper market shock absorber is apparently necessary to keep the gold market from blowing up.

It logically follows that it is the very existence of the paper gold market which is keeping the price too low, because if you took it away, price alone would have to regulate the flow. Take the paper market away from other commodities and you simply remove the investor/speculator money in the middle thereby exposing producers (and consumers) to unpleasant shocks.

We have no idea what the "stock" of paper gold is. The LBMA survey only gave us a glimpse of the flow (paper gold turnover) over a given time period (Q1 2011) and in a given market (loco London spot, forwards, options and swaps, with spot transactions being 90% of the reported trades). That turnover was 2,700 "tonnes" of paper gold per day with 64% of the LBMA members reporting. We only got a lucky glimpse because the largest banks in the world (bullion banks like JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and UBS) are lobbying for a technical rule change that will make their overall Basel III compliance easier.


Sunday, July 1, 2012


Three weeks ago Vivek Kaul contacted me requesting an interview for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA), an English newspaper published out of six centers in India including Mumbai and Bangalore. The interview comes out today (Monday morning) in India. You can download the pdf here. Below is the interview just as it appears in the paper. (They always include a caricature made from a photo of the interviewee which is why he mentioned something about me refusing to be photographed. ;)


An interview with the mysterious, reclusive ‘Fofoa’

The dollar is as safe as a bomb shelter that's rigged to blow up once everyone is "safely" inside...

Gold will be repriced somewhere around $55,000 per ounce in today's purchasing power

Half way through the interview, I ask him where does he see the price of gold reaching in the days to come. “Well, I don't see gold's trajectory being typical of what you'd expect to see in a bull market….And I expect that physical gold will be repriced somewhere around $55,000 per ounce in today's purchasing power. I have to add that purchasing power part because it will likely be concurrent with currency devaluation,” he replies.
Meet Fofoa, an anonymous blogger whose writings on have taken the world by storm over the last few years. In a rare interview – one of his preconditions was he won't be photographed – he talks to Vivek Kaul on paper money, the fall of the dollar, the coming hyperinflation and the rise of 'physical' gold.

The world is printing a lot of paper money to solve the economic problems. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. What are your views on that?

Paper money being printed to solve the problems… this was *always* in the cards. It doesn't surprise me, nor does it anger me, because I understand that it was always to be expected. The monetary and financial system we've been living with—immersed in like fish in water—for the past 90 years uses the obligations of counterparties as its foundation. These obligations are noted on paper. In describing the specific obligations these papers represent, we use well-known words like dollars, euro, yen, rupees and yuan. But what do these purely symbolic words really mean? What are these paper obligations really worth in the physical world? Ultimately, after 90 years, we have arrived at our inevitable destination: the intractable problem of an unimaginably intertwined, interconnected Gordian knot of purely symbolic obligations. A Gordian knot is like an unsolvable puzzle. It cannot be untangled. The only solution comes from "thinking outside the box." You've got to cut the knot to untangle it. So the endgame was always going to be debasing these purely symbolic units. Anyone who expected anything else simply fooled themselves into believing the rules wouldn't be changed.

Do you see the paper money continuing in the days to come?

Yes, of course! Paper money, or today's equivalent which is electronic currency, is the most efficient primary medium of exchange ever used in all of human history. To see this you only need to abandon the idea of accumulating these symbolic units for your future financial security. They aren't meant for that! They are great for trading in the here-and-now, not for storing for the unknown future. To paraphrase Silvio Gesell, an economist in favor of symbolic currency almost a century ago, "All the physical assets of the world are at the disposal of those who wish to save, so why should they make their savings in the form of money? Money was not made to be saved!" In hindsight, this statement is true whether money is a hard commodity like gold or silver, or a symbolic word like dollar, euro or rupee. In both cases, saving in "money" leads to monetary tension between the debtors and the savers. When money was a hard commodity, this tension was sometimes even released through bloodshed, like the French Revolution. So no, I don't think we're swinging back to a hard currency this time.

Do you see the world going back to the gold standard?

No, of course not! "The gold standard" means different things depending on which period you are talking about. But in all cases it used gold to denominate credit, the economy's primary medium of exchange. Today we have a really efficient and ultimately flexible currency. Bank runs like the 1930s are a thing of the past. But that's not to say that gold will not play a central role in the future. It will! The signs of it already happening are everywhere! Gold is not going to replace our primary medium of exchange which is paper or electronic units with those names I mentioned above. Instead, physical gold will replace paper obligations as the reserves—or store of value—within the system. Physical gold in unambiguous ownership has no counterparty. This is a much more resilient foundation than the tangled web of obligations we have today.

Can you give an example?

If you'd like to see this change in action, go to the ECB (European Central Bank) website and look at the euro-system's balance sheet. On the asset side gold is on line 1 and obligations from counterparties are below it. Additionally, they adjust all their assets to the market price every three months. I have a chart of these MTM (marked to market) adjustments on my blog. Over the last decade you can see gold rising from around 30% of total reserves to over 60% while paper obligations have fallen from 70% to less than 40%. I expect this to continue until gold is more than 90% of the reserves behind the euro.

Where do you see all this money printing heading to? Will the world see hyperinflation?

Yes, this will end. I am pretty well known for predicting dollar hyperinflation. As controversial as that prediction is, I think it is a fairly certain and obvious end. I don't like to guess at the timing because there are so many factors to consider and I'm no supercomputer, but ever since I started following this stuff I've always said it is overdue in the same way an earthquake can be overdue. As for other currencies, I don't know. Perhaps yes for the UK pound and the yen, but I don't know about the rupee. The important things to watch are the balance of trade and the government's control over the printing press. If you're running a trade deficit and your government can (and will) print, then you are a candidate for hyperinflation.

In that context what price do you see gold going to?

Well, I don't see gold's trajectory being typical of what you'd expect to see in a bull market. Instead it will be a reset of sorts, kind of like an overnight revaluation of a currency. I'm sure some of your readers have experienced a bank holiday followed by a devaluation. This will be similar. And I expect that gold will be repriced somewhere around $55,000 per ounce in today's purchasing power. I have to add that purchasing power part because it will likely be concurrent with currency devaluation. So, in rupee terms, I guess that's about Rs3.2 million (32 lakh) per ounce at today's exchange rate.

The price of gold has been rather flat lately. What are the reasons for the same? Where do you see the price of gold going over the next couple of years?

"The price of gold" is an interesting turn of phrase because I use it often to express "all things goldish" in the gold market. In today's market, "gold" is very loosely defined. What passes for "gold" in the financial market is mostly the paper obligations of counterparties. These include forward sales, futures contracts, swaps, options and unallocated accounts. I often use the abbreviation "$PoG" to refer to the going dollar price for this loose financial "gold".

The LBMA (London Bullion Market Association) recently released a survey of the total daily trading volume of unallocated (paper) gold. That survey revealed a trading flow of such magnitude that it compares to every ounce of gold that has ever been mined in all of history changing hands in just three months, or about 250 times faster than gold miners are actually pulling metal out of the ground. Equally stunning were the net sales during the survey period. The rate at which the banking system created "paper gold" was 11 times faster than real gold was being mined.

What is the point you are trying to make?

The point is that gold is being used by the global money market as a hard currency. But it is being treated by the marketplace as both a commodity that gets consumed and also as a fiat currency that can be credited at will. It is neither, and gold's global traders are in for a rude awakening when they find out that ounce-denominated credits will not be exchangeable for a price anywhere near a physical ounce of gold in extremis—ironically failing at the very stage where they were expected to perform.

So what are you predicting?

But don't get me wrong. It is not a short squeeze that I am predicting. In a short squeeze, the paper price runs up until it draws out enough real supply to cover all of the paper. But this paper will not be covered by physical gold in the end. It will be cash settled, and it will be cash settled at a price much lower than the price of a real ounce of gold, like a check written by an overstretched counterparty. It is a tough job to make my case for the future of the $PoG in just a few paragraphs. The $PoG will fall and then some short time later we will find that the market has changed out of necessity into a physical-only market at a much higher price. If you were holding paper you will be sad. If you were holding the real thing you'll be very happy.

Why is the gold price so flat these days?

Today's surprisingly stabilised $PoG tells me that someone is throwing money into the fire to delay the inevitable. Where do I see the $PoG going over the next couple of years? Maybe to $500 or less, but you won't be able to get any physical at that price. I think that today's price of $1,575 is still a fantastic bargain for physical gold.

Franklin Roosevelt had confiscated all the gold that Americans had in 1933. Do you see something similar happening in the days to come?

Not at all! The purpose of the confiscation was to stop the bank run epidemic at that time. There's no need to do it again. The dollar is no longer defined as a fixed weight of gold, so the reason for the last confiscation—and subsequent devaluation—no longer exists. Gold that's still in the ground is a different story, however. Gold mines will likely be considered strategically important national assets after the revaluation, and will therefore fall under tight government control.

The irony of the entire situation is that a currency like “dollar” which is being printed big time has become the safe haven. How safe do you think is the safe haven?

Indeed, everyone seems to be piling into the dollar. Especially on the short end of the curve, helping drive interest rates ridiculously low. The dollar is as safe as a bomb shelter that's rigged to blow up once everyone is "safely" inside. You can go check it out if you want to (sure, from the outside it might look like shelter), but you don't want to be in there when it blows up. You've got to realize that it is both economically and politically undesirable for any currency to appreciate against its peer currencies due to its use as a safe haven. Remember the Swiss franc? As soon as it started rising due to safe haven use they started printing it back down. The dollar is no different except that it's got a whole world full of paper obligations denominated in it. So when it blows, the fireworks will be something to behold.

What will change the confidence that people have in the dollar? Will there be some catastrophic event?

That's the $55,000 question. It is impossible to predict the exact pin that will pop the bubble in a world full of pins, but I have an idea that it will be one of two things. I think the two most likely proximate triggers to a catastrophic loss of confidence are a major failure in the London gold market, or the U.S. government's response to an unexpected budget crisis due to consumer price inflation. Most people who expect a catastrophic loss of confidence in the dollar seem to think it will begin in the financial markets, like a stock market crash or a Treasury auction failure or something like that. But I think it is more likely to come from where, as I like to say, the rubber meets the road. And here I'm talking about what connects the monetary world to the physical world: prices. I think these "worlds" are connected in two ways. The first is the general price level of goods and services and the second is the price of gold. If one of these two connections is broken by a failure to deliver the real-world items at the financial-system prices, then we suddenly have a real problem with the monetary side. So I think it will be a relatively quick and catastrophic event, but maybe not as dramatic as a major stock market crash. It will be confusing to most of the pundits as to what it really means, so it will take a little while for reality to sink in.

The Romans debased the denarius by almost 100% over a period of 500 years. The dollar on the other hand has lost more than 95% of its purchasing power since the Federal Reserve of United States was established in 1913, nearly 100 years back. Do you think the Federal Reserve has been responsible for the dollar losing almost all of its purchasing power in hundred years?

Yes, inflation was a lot slower in Roman times because it entailed the physical melting and reissuing of coins of a certain face value with less metal content than previous issues. This was a physical process so it occurred on a much longer time scale. The dollar, on the other hand, has lost nearly 97% of its purchasing power in roughly a hundred years. Do I think the Federal Reserve is responsible for this? Well, given that the lending/borrowing dynamic causes expansion of the money supply, I think the government and the people of the world share in the responsibility. But just because the dollar has lost 97% of its purchasing power doesn't mean that any individual lost that much. How many people do you think are still holding onto dollars today that they earned a hundred years ago? How long would you hold dollars today? As long as the prices of things you want to buy don't change during the time you are holding the currency, what have you lost? So imagine that you simply use currency for earning, borrowing and spending, but not for saving. Will it matter how much it falls over a hundred years? Your earning and spending will happen within a month or so, and prices won't change much in a month. Also, your borrowing will be made easier on you as your currency depreciates. And your gold savings will rise. So with the proper use of money, there is no need for alarm if the currency is slowly falling at, say, 2% or 3% per year.

Do you see America repaying all the debt that they have taken from the rest of the world? Or will they just inflate it away by printing more and more dollars?

The debts that exist today can never be repaid in real terms. And as I mentioned before, they are all denominated in symbolic words like dollars, euro, yen, yuan and rupees. The debt of the US Treasury, most of all, will of course be inflated away.

What does Fofoa stand for?

I remain anonymous because my blog is not about me. It is a tribute to "Another" and "Friend of Another" or "FOA" who wrote about this subject from 1997 through 2001. So FOFOA could stand for Friend of FOA or Follower of FOA or Fan of FOA. I never really stated what it stands for, so you can decide for yourself! Sincerely, Fofoa.

(Interviewer Kaul is a writer and can be reached at