For as long as Gold has been prized, there have been men who have tried to create it. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, the Alchemists strove to transmute base metals into Gold, without success. But even after its introduction to the West and the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg at the end of the Thirteenth century, no-one had the idea of trying to turn paper into Gold. In past centuries, those who would control money contented themselves with substituting paper for Gold, with limited success.
It took some true "visionaries", and the end result of a long process of economic wishful thinking, to seriously propose "paper gold". The notion goes back about 30 years, to the period just before the dawn of the "floating currencies" era. When the U.S. closed the the "Gold Window" in August 1971, the Dollar promptly dived against all its major trading partners. By February 1973, it had become impossible to pretend that any fixed ratio still existed between currencies, and the era of "floating currencies" began.
The IMF actually invented what became referred to as "Paper Gold" in 1971 - months before the U.S. severed the tie between the Dollar and Gold. The IMF knew this step was coming, and so it invented the "SDR" (Special Drawing Right). It was touted as a Reserve "Currency" that would replace both the U.S. Dollar and Gold in the basements of the world's Central Banks.
While these SDRs still exist, they have not done much over the past three decades or so except gather dust. Their prime purpose, to provide a substitute for Gold, was not fulfilled. The SDR was the last major attempt to provide a "substitute" for Gold. For at least the past two decades, the approach has been that no substitute for Gold is necessary. And to "prove it", Gold has been progressively debunked as either a money or even a viable investment option. The price has been forced down, then held down, then forced even lower.
If You Can't Replace It - Dilute It
The price of Gold cannot be held down by selling the physical metal. The decade between 1970 and 1980 proved that conclusively. Hundreds of years of history have proven conclusively that nothing can be sold as a "substitute" for Gold. In the years since the 1987 crash - when the $US 400 "glass ceiling" on Gold has been put and kept in place, Central Banks have continued to sell Gold, but only in emergencies. The real mechanism for holding down the price has been different.
Forward Selling - By Gold Producers
For most of the past decade, Gold mining companies gradually changed the way they market their Gold. To an ever-increasing extent, they have "forward sold". The mechanism is quite simple. A Gold mining company with proven reserves in the ground wants to sell a portion of these reserves forward. The company representative goes to a bullion dealer who agrees to pay him, for example, $500 per ounce for Gold to be delivered two years from now. The Gold company has locked in a profit, and on top of that, has the money now for Gold which is still in the ground.
The Gold bullion dealer is exposed, however. He is exposed to a possible loss if the Gold price falls in the future. So, to hedge this position, the bullion dealer sells Gold - for immediate delivery. "Wait a minute" (you cry), where is the bullion dealer to get the Gold to provide for immediate delivery? The answer brings us directly to the second part of the mechanism for maintaining the $US 400 Gold "glass ceiling".
Gold "Leasing" - The Central Banks' Contribution
Our intrepid bullion dealer goes out and "borrows" the Gold. Where does he borrow it from? That's easy. From the formidable 36,000 Tonne hoard still owned by the world's Central Banks.
To get the Gold - or more accurately, to get a marketable claim to the Gold - our bullion dealer pays what is known as the Gold lease rate (an extremely low rate of interest). He then sells the Gold - or the claims to Gold, and invests the money. This is the way the difference between the spot and forward prices for Gold is determined. The forward price is the money interest rate which our bullion dealer receives for his investment minus the lease rate which he paid to borrow the Gold.
The point is that this entire fandango (that's "fandango" - not "contango") can be performed by lending physical Gold, or it can be performed by lending a paper claim to Gold. The miners' Gold is still in the ground. The Central Bank sometimes lends Gold, or it lends a claim to Gold. These are what our bullion dealer sells. And since most demand for Gold is not a demand for the physical metal but a demand for paper (forward, future, etc) claims to the metal, this mechanism can meet the demand without an undue strain upon the available supply of the physical metal, and the upward pressure on the price of Gold that would cause.E-mail this page to a friend
©2001 The Privateer Market Letter