Gold-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have grown strongly in scale and popularity over the last decade and their combined gold holdings now surpass all but the largest central bank gold reserve holdings. However, its important to understand the mechanics of these gold-backed ETF investment vehicles and to appreciate what they can and can't provide to gold investors.
This infographic takes you on a tour of gold-backed ETFs and illustrates insights into how these products really work, including the following:
The contemporary gold holdings of the world's largest gold-backed ETF platforms
Why holders of gold ETFs are holders of units / shares, not gold holders
The characteristics and common objectives of gold-backed ETFs
How the world's largest gold ETFs support and perpetuate the opaque practices of the London Gold Market
The secretive vault network within which many large gold-backed ETFs allocate and store their gold in
How the amount of gold represented by an ETF unit erodes over time
The summary mechanics and infrastructure of many of these gold ETF vehicles
For more information about the mechanics of gold-backed ETFs, please also see BullionStar Gold University article Gold ETF Mechanics.
To embed this infographic on your site, copy and paste the code below
The following speech, by BullionStar precious metals analyst Ronan Manly, was given to an audience during a Precious Metals Seminar held at BullionStar's shop and showroom premises in Singapore on 19 October 2016.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, you are all very welcome to this event at BullionStar.
This evening, I will be discussing the topic of transparency versus secrecy in the gold market, and specifically looking at this transparency and secrecy by highlighting a number of areas of the gold market which claim to be transparent but which are in fact very secretive.
Transparency is an important concept in financial markets mainly because it encourages informational and market efficiency. Applied to the gold market for example, this would prevent larger gold traders having an information and trading advantage over the retail gold buying public such as ourselves. So transparency is not just an abstract concept, it has real world implications.
To illustrate this contradiction of transparency versus secrecy, I’ll look at two main sets of gold market participants:
- firstly the central bank or official sector, which includes central banks and organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS),
- and secondly the wholesale London gold market as represented by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and its bullion bank members.
I have chosen the official sector and the investment sector since together they represent two of the largest areas of gold ownership and gold activity globally, with central banks claiming to hold about 33,000 tonnes of gold, and bullion banks being the largest traders of gold globally.
The London gold market, which is a wholesale gold market dominated by bullion banks, is also arguably the most influential market for gold price discovery. And as Torgny explained just now, these bullion banks are generally defined as the large commercial or investment banks involved in the wholesale gold market.
Central banks and bullion banks also overlap in the gold lending market which is also centred in London, and which is an ultra-secretive market, probably the most secret market on the planet.
The title of my talk actually stems from a recent article that I wrote about the 2010 International Monetary Fund (IMF) gold sales and how those sales were marketed by the IMF as being transparent but which in actual fact were the exact opposite - they were highly secretive, and information about those sales even remains highly classified to this day, six years later.
But first, let's quickly define what we mean by transparency. We are talking here about financial market transparency. A Transparent financial market is one in which, simply put, much is known by many.
In a transparent market, the market institutions are also transparent, and importantly, the institutions can be held to account - i.e. accountability.
In a transparent market there is also open exchange of information between all market participants, and accurate information is freely available about price, supply, demand and market transactions.
And one last point, which is very important, is that in a transparent market, the market data of that market is available and open to independent verification by investors and analysts. Which is totally not the case in the gold market as we'll see shortly.
In short, a transparent market is one in which all relevant information is freely and fully available to the public (and to all participants).
The opposite of transparency is obviously secrecy, which comes from the Latin ‘Secretus’ meaning hidden, concealed, and private. Secrecy at the extreme allows collusion to occur between market participants.
So the extent of transparency in a market can be visualised as a spectrum with transparency at one end of the scale and secrecy, or opacity, at the other.
Lack of transparency in market structure also contributes to lack of transparency in the derivation of market prices, in other words lack of transparency stifles price discovery, and also causes associated higher trading costs for market participants than would otherwise be the case.
Transparency is also a prerequisite for market efficiency. Simply put, market efficiency is the degree to which financial asset prices reflect or embody all available information.
An efficient market is also informationally efficient. This information efficiency requires competition, low barriers to entry, and very importantly, it requires low costs of information gathering. i.e. 'transparency'.
Some of you might be familiar with the work that Nobel prize-winning financial academic Eugene Fama did on market efficiency. I used to work at Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) which is an investment firm that subscribes to market efficiency and which actually has Eugene Fama on its board of directors. So this market efficient view was drilled into me.
But you don’t have to agree with market efficiency theory to see how it's linked to transparency. The more transparent a market is, the more information is available in that market, and therefore the more likely it is to be an efficient market.
The opposite of this is inefficient markets which can allow a situation to develop known as asymmetric information. That’s where some market participants possess far more information than others, who then have an advantage over others in trading and transacting.
There are some markets such as the stock market where there is a relatively high degree of transparency since individual companies have to maintain high standards of investor relations, high standards of corporate governance, and proper corporate communication because of the intense scrutiny under which the market puts those companies and also the in-built checks and balances that exist in common equity such as company voting rights.
Similarly in bond markets, be it sovereign bonds or corporate bonds, there is a high level of available market data about those markets, and in-depth information on the mechanics and market mechanisms of those markets.
There is a debate as to whether it’s the army of equity and bond analysts and hedge fund analysts actually scrutinising stock and bond markets that keeps them efficient, or whether those markets are inherently structurally efficient, but whatever the answer, stock and bond markets are generally considered to be quite efficient.
So, when I turned my attention to looking at the gold market a few years ago, it was actually quite a shock, at least when looking at the central bank and London Gold Market segments of the market, that there is little information of real substance available about the workings of these areas of the gold market, and also, and this is a critical point, there is a culture of secrecy in the gold market that I had never witnessed before in other financial markets.
Perhaps as surprisingly, is the fact that the gold and commodity market analysts working in the major investment banks in places like London and New York don't seem to ask the simple questions, at least in public, as to how the central bank and wholesale London gold markets actually work. This lack of scrutiny also extends, in my view, to the London financial media, who as far as I can see, almost never question how the gold market really works or question why the gold market is so secretive. Whatever most of these financial reporters actually do all day, they don't investigate the gold market. That is for sure.
Back in 2011 and 2012, I visited the Bank of England archives in London and the Banque de France archives in Paris a number of times and read and photographed a lot of files about central bank gold operations and transactions that took place between the 1960s and early 1980s, which I then subsequently researched using file copies that I had made.
Those documents made me realise that central banks and the large bullion banks used to regularly discuss the gold market, and also operated within it, and often the discussions and memos were classified and even Top Secret. There are literally hundreds of these files and memos on gold markets in the archives, if not thousands. So, my view is that although 30-40 years has passed since the 1960s - 1980s, and although technology and products have changed, that behind the scenes, the physical gold market is still pretty much the same, and still generates a lot of discussion by central banks and their bullion bank counterparts.
So when I see an opaque contemporary gold market and knowing that central banks and bullion banks used to discuss this gold market in-depth, it motivated me to research this area and try to find out how the contemporary gold market works, how its infrastructure and its transactions work, because I still think that central banks and bullion banks regularly and frequently discuss the market, although never in public.
Transparency claims by Central Banks
There are many examples where central banks claim transparency in their operations and policies, but where these claims don’t stand up to scrutiny when applied to their operations in the gold market. Given this contradiction, the only rationale conclusion is that the central banking sector merely pays lip-service to operating with transparency.
Let’s look at a few examples:.
We'll start with The Bank of England, one of the largest gold storage custodians in the world, also custodian for the UK's gold reserves, and also heavily involved in the London Gold Market in conjunction with the clearing group London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL), and also central to facilitating lending in the London gold lending market. The Bank of England actually established the LBMA in 1987. So what does the Bank of England say about transparency? The Bank of England says:
“A transparent, accountable and well-governed central bank is essential not only for effective policy, but also for democratic legitimacy”
This quote comes from a Bank of England report in 2014 titled ‘Transparency and Accountability at the Bank of England’.
Next we have the transparency claims made by the European Central Bank.
“Today, most central banks, including the ECB, consider transparency as crucial.”
This quote actually come from the ECB's web site from a page entirely devoted to describing the ECB's supposed transparency.
Then we have the International Monetary Fund, with a transparency claim that it pronounced in relation to its 2010 IMF gold sales:
“The need for transparency and evenhandedness, which is essential for an international financial institution, argues for providing as much information as possible to the public”
So how do these organisations respond when asked questions related to the gold market? I've asked the Bank of England a number of gold related questions over the years, and their answers are mostly classic deflection, i.e. not answering the question. As an example, the Bank of England is involved in gold clearing in the London gold market, where each of the 5 clearing members of LPMCL maintain gold accounts at the Bank, and where the Bank of England clears the net positions of the 5 clearers (from the AURUM system) each day using book entry transfers (BETs) at the Bank of England. In effect, the Bank of England is the London Gold Market's central clearer.
So I asked the Bank of England to explain its role in this gold clearing? The Bank of England's answer...
"The Bank is not a member of LPMCL and therefore has no links to AURM. The LPMCL website should be able to answer most of your questions."
However, the LPMCL website has zero information about this process. So, as you can see, the Bank of England is engaging in disinformation and deflection. And this is an institution which claims to be gold custodian for 4857 tonnes of gold held in its London vaults.
The UK Government also claims that all of its departments are transparent and it even launched a 'Public Sector Transparency Board" in 2010 at which time it stated:
“We want transparency to become an absolutely core part of every bit of government business.”
However, the UK Treasury doesn't seem to have gotten this message about transparency, since Her Majesty's Treasury (HM Treasury), a UK government department, is even more uncooperative than the Bank of England in relation to gold market related questions. The UK's gold reserves are actually owned by HM Treasury and managed by the Bank of England in an account called the Exchange Equalisation Account (EEA).
I was recently writing an article about central banks that hold both gold bars and gold coins in their gold reserves. The UK holds some gold coins, including gold Sovereigns, in its gold holdings. These holdings of gold Sovereigns are actually mentioned in the UK National Archives files as well as in the Bank of England archives.
So I asked HM Treasury what any reasonable person would consider an innocuous question about HMT's gold coin holdings, and I even included the links to the Archive websites that discuss the HM Treasury gold sovereign holdings:
Can you clarify which gold coins are held as part of the EEA gold holdings, it is gold Sovereigns?"
Not surprisingly, HM Treasury replied:
“Data on the composition of the EEA’s gold is not disclosed due to its market sensitive nature”
HM Treasury actually wrote an entire page to me as an answer while deflecting the question and padding it out with irrelevant material which had nothing to do with my question.
What about the ECB, an institution which holds over 500 tonnes of gold reserves. More transparency than the aloof British institutions? Actually, far from it. As preparation for this presentation, I sent a question to the media department of the ECB asking:
"Where is the ECB gold held, how is it audited, and can you send me a weight list?"
Answer? After two weeks, and 2 emails (including a follow-up), there is no answer from the ECB media team, i.e. complete radio silence.
[Note, since this presentation, the ECB responded after I sent additional emails to them. Their response said that the ECB gold is held in 5 locations in London, Paris, New York, Rome and Lisbon. The ECB hold is not physically audited at all since the ECB considers the central banks that hold it to be 'totally reliable, and no surprise, the ECB will not publish a weight list of the gold bars which it claims to hold since it says that "the weight of each gold bar is a technicality" and " does not warrant a publication“. See BullionStar blog "European Central Bank gold reserves held across 5 locations. ECB will not disclose Gold Bar List" for full details.]
Next we come to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers' central bank, based in Basel, Switzerland.
In a 2007 presentation, the BIS actually had a slide titled the ‘Golden Triangle of central bank autonomy’ where it links the concepts of Transparency, Accountability, and Autonomy and says that transparency is "important for holding central bank to account", while accountability is the "crucial counterpart of autonomy in open society" as it "makes transparency more credible".
The BIS holds its own gold holdings on its balance sheet, as well as holding gold as a custodian on behalf of other central banks, and it also offers these banks a gold deposit taking service. Altogether these BIS holdings represent over 900 tonnes of gold.
So you may think maybe the BIS takes these transparency claims seriously, for example in the gold market, especially given its fondness for gold with the Golden Triangle analogy. However, unfortunately no.
Quite recently, I asked the BIS about its gold as follows:
:Can you confirm the storage locations of the BIS custody gold and the BIS’ own gold?"
The BIS answered:
'I regret that we cannot be of assistance with your query, as the information that you have requested is not made publicly available.”
So it seems that the only gold that the Bank for International Settlements will talk about is the 'gold' in its ‘Golden Triangle’ gimmick of Transparency, Accountability, and Autonomy. In the real world, transparency does not apply to the BIS real gold. Another example of the fiction and deception practiced by central bankers.
IMF Gold Sales
As mentioned earlier, the title of my talk is based on some research I did on the gold sales of the International Monetary Fund which I wrote about recently. Between November 2009 and December 2010, the IMF sold 403.3 tonnes of gold in a series of off-market and on-market sales. The off-market sales were direct sales to a number of central banks: 200 tonnes to India in November 2009, 10 tonnes to Sri Lanka, 2 tonnes to Mauritius, and later on in late 2010, 10 tonnes to Bangladesh.
Then 181.3 tonnes of gold were sold via ‘on-market’ transactions over 10 months between February to December 2010. You might think that "on-market" means that the gold was sold on a well recognised market somewhere, but this was not the case, or at least we don't know what market was used since the entire operation was and is still secret.
When these 'on-market' sales began in February 2010, the IMF came out with a statement saying “A high degree of transparency will continue during the sales of gold on the market”.
Actually, the well-known gold investor and entrepreneur, Eric Sprott, was starting a gold fund at that time and went to the IMF saying that he was interested in buying the entire 181.3 tonnes of IMF gold, but the IMF quickly told him his money wasn't good with them. The well-known website Business Insider then asked the IMF a series of questions on why Sprott couldn't buy the IMF gold. These questions were also either arrogantly not answered or dismissed by the IMF’s external communications officer.
Last year, when looking at the IMF online archives for a different reason, I stumbled upon 3 IMF reports titled 'Monthly gold sales' which actually covered the first 3 months of these sales in 2010, i.e. Monthly reports on gold sales for February / March 2010, March / April 2010, and April / May 2010. These reports contained some, but not a lot, of information about the sales process and seemed to indicate that the BIS had been used as the sales agent. I wrote about these reports in my blog and you can find all the details on the BullionStar website.
But a footnote in the 3 monthly reports caught my eye since it referenced 2 further IMF papers as follows:
“Modalities for Limited Sales of Gold by the Fund (SM/09/243, 9/4/09) and DEC/14425-(09/97), 9/18/09“.
SM stands for "Staff Memorandums" which are classed under the IMF's Executive Board Documents series. DEC stands for ‘Text of Board Decisions’, which are also Executive Board Documents. These 2 document titles looked interesting and relevant, however, when I checked, neither of these 2 documents appeared to be retrievable in the IMF archives. The IMF have a 3 year rule on releasing Executive Board Documents into their archives, so both of these documents should have been available by at least 2013, and definitely by 2015.
So I went to the IMF archives people with 2 sets of questions. Firstly, could they confirm where these 2 missing documents were, the staff memorandum about the IMF gold sales, and the text of the board decision about the same sales.
Secondly, in a separate question, I asked the IMF archives staff where the other 7 monthly gold sales reports that were missing were, since logically, as these gold sales were conducted over 10 months, one would expect 10 monthly reports in the IMF archives, not just 3 reports covering February to the middle of May 2010.
After a large number of email exchanges with the IMF Archives people about the staff memorandum and the text of the Executive Board decision, they ultimately responded and said:
“these two documents are still closed because of the information security classification”
“The decision communicated back to us is not to declassify these documents because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.”
On the 7 missing monthly gold sales reports, the IMF responded that:
"The reports after May 2010haven’t been declassified for public access because of the sensitivity of the subject matter."
So as you can see from the slide, there is absolutely nothing transparent about these gold sales when the documents relating to them have not even been declassified due to the supposed "sensitivity of the subject matter".
So the IMF's claims that “The need for transparency and evenhandedness, which is essential for an international financial institution, argues for providing as much information as possible to the public” is actually a complete lie. And this is an institution which still claims to hold 2815 tonnes of gold.
Based on the IMF archive rules, these Executive Board Documents can only be declassified on the authorisation of the IMF Managing Director, who is currently MS Christine Lagarde. I'm not making this up. I did think of maybe sending her an email asking 'Please can you declassify these documents' but then I thought what's the point, it wouldn't be any use.
My personal theory is that some or all of these sales involved the IMF using the BIS to transfer gold to either the Chinese State (People's Bank of China), or else helping to bail out bullion banks by selling IMF gold to a set of bullion banks, or both of these scenarios.
It looks like we'll have to wait a long time to find out the exact answers, but this incident hopefully illustrates to you that in the official sector gold market, Transparency really does mean Secrecy. So, gold is not just a 'Pet Rock', as the Wall Street Journal would have you believe. In the IMF world, gold is a topic whose discussions remain highly classified due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.
The Secrecy of Gold Storage Locations
Last year in 2015 I did some research on which central banks stored gold at the Bank of England's vaults in London, and how much each bank stored there. This required asking a number of central banks, by email, about their gold storage locations. While a few such as the Bank of Korea told me that they store their gold at the Bank of England vaults, many central banks didn't divulge this information. Lets look at a few examples:
The Banca d’Italia, one of the biggest central bank gold holders in the world, which holds 2450 tonnes of gold, half of it in Rome, said “The Banca d'Italia will not be giving information in addition to the website note.
The Bank of Japan, which claims to hold 765 tonnes of gold: “We have nothing to comment on the matter”.
The South Africa Reserve Bank (or SARB), a holder of 125 tonnes of gold: “The SARB cannot divulge that information”
The Spanish central bank claims to hold 280 tonnes of gold. They replied to me that: “The only information provided [to the public] on Banco de Espana's gold reserves is total volume [held]”
Between them, these 4 banks claim to hold more than 3,600 tonnes of gold, and they won't even provide a breakdown of where their gold is stored.
Since we happen to be in Singapore at the moment, what about the central banks in the local South east Asian region? Do you think these central banks would be more transparent than some of the examples we've just looked at, or less transparent, or about the same when it comes to gold storage locations?
As it turns out, they're pretty much the same, i.e. not transparent. The Bank of Thailand replied “I could not share that information as requested”.
The Malaysian central banksaid “If the information you require is not on our website [which it's not], it may imply that the said information is not meant for public viewing / reference”. Since they knew that this storage information is not on their website (hence the question), this is a particularly lame response from Bank Negara Malaysia.
TheMonetary Authority of Singapore, here in Singapore replied that “We are unable to share with you where we store the gold as the information is confidential.”
The Bank of Thailand claims to hold 152 tonnes of gold reserves, Singapore 127 tonnes, and Malaysia 36 tonnes, that's 315 tonnes of gold where central banks in the region won't say where its held.
These central banks we've just looked at were actually some of the central banks which did bother to respond to me. Many central banks such as the central banks in Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Cambodia didn't even respond.
Where are the Central Bank gold bar Weight Lists?
Another huge area for central bank secrecy on gold is the topic of weight lists, or gold bar lists. A gold bar weight list is, as the name suggests, just an itemised list of all the gold bars held within a holding that uniquely identifies each bar. In the wholesale gold market, such as the London Gold Market, there are rules on the data that this list has to contain.
These rules are specified in the LBMA's "Good Delivery Rules", actually in Annex H which is titled "Sample Weight Lists". For each gold bar on a weight list, and these are the large variable weight bars which each roughly weighs 400 ozs, it must include the bar serial number, the refiner name, the gross weight of the bar in troy ounces, the gold purity of the bar and the fine weight of the bar (i.e. the gold content weight). The LBMA also state that "year of manufacture is one of the required ‘marks’ on the bar"
The Good Delivery Rules annex even states that “This Annex shows the form of weight lists that should accompany shipments of GD bars to London vaults”, which confirms that all gold bars entering and exiting the London vaults will be on such a list.
The large gold-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) such as the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), which holds nearly 1,000 tonnes of gold, and the iShares Gold Trust (IAU), actually produce and publish weight lists of their gold bar holdings in pdf format each and every trading day. It's not a big deal and it doesn't take long to produce these lists because the process is automated from the vault to the custodian back office all the way to the ETF websites.
For example, here's a line item for an iShares gold bar weight list, where you can see the refiner name PAMP, the bar serial number, the purity, and the bar weight (gross and fine weight). It even says where the bar is stored, in JP Morgan's vault in London.
BrandBar No.AssayGross OzsFine Ozs Vault
PAMP. SA. TC7490 9998 413.425 413.342 JPM London V
A full weight list is also needed when completing a physical gold bar audit, which is something that the large gold-backed ETFs perform twice per year.
So you would think that since commercial gold-backed ETFs produce gold bar weight lists, then central banks should be able to also? And given that large central banks have large teams of technology staff, and good IT infrastructure, that it will not be a big issue for them to produce such a weight list, in either pdf or Excel format.
However, the reality is that not a single central bank, when asked, will produce and publish such a gold bar weight list.
Koos Jansen, precious metals analyst at BullionStar, recently asked the Dutch central bank, De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), to provide a weight list.
The De Nederlandsche Bank, which holds gold in Amsterdam, London (Bank of England), and New York, replied:
“We do not intend to publish a gold bar list. This serves no additional monetary purpose to our aforementioned transparency policy, however it would incur administrative costs.”
Frankly, this reply from the Dutch is an absurd and infantile excuse and is implausible since gold-backed ETFs produce pdf versions of their gold bar weight lists on their websites each and every trading day which run into hundreds of pages in length.
In preparation for this presentation, I recently asked the Austrian central bank (the OeNB) the same question, could they provide a weight list. The Austrian central bank holds 280 tonnes of gold, 80% of which is currently stored in London at the Bank of England. The OeNB's response was:
“We are sorry to inform you that the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB) does not publish a weight list of the gold reserves.”
Last year in October 2015, the German Bundesbank issued a useless list of its gold bar holdings, useless since the industry standard required refiner brand and bar serial number details were omitted from the weight list. As the Bundesbank, which claims to hold 3,378 tonnes of gold, stated at the time:
“Information on the refiner and year of production are not relevant for storage or accounting purposes and merely provide supplementary information.”
This continual accumulation of evidence that central banks refuse to issue industry standard gold bar weight lists suggests that there seems to be a coordinated campaign between central banks never to release this information into the public domain.
FOIA: Central Bank of Ireland
The Central Bank of Ireland holds 6 tonnes of gold, the majority of which, according to its annual report, is in the form of “gold bars held at the Bank of England”. In June 2015, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Central Bank of Ireland asking for a weight list / bar list that identifies these bars of gold held on behalf of the Central Bank of Ireland by the Bank of England.
My request was refused by the central bank. The FOIA reply mentioned that the Central Bank of Ireland didn’t have a weight list, and couldn’t find one. Their exact reply was:
“the record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken.”
The only documentation the Central Bank of Ireland claimed to have was a statement from the Bank of England dated 2009 which listed a 'total' of the number of bars stored on behalf of the Central Bank of Ireland and an equivalent total in 'fine ounces', but they said that could not provide this statement to me on the basis that it could have “serious, adverse effect on the financial interests of the State”.
I followed up with a phone call to the FOIA officer who had handled my request (as is the procedure) and was told that the Central Bank of Ireland had conducted 2 conference calls with the Bank of England about my request, with the second conference call even including a 'chief security officer' from the Bank of England FOI office, and that the Bank of England told the Central Bank of Ireland that 'you absolutely cannot' send this statement out to this guy with bars total and fine ounces since its 'highly classified'.
While you will note the conflict that arises when a request made under the Freedom of Information Act of one country (Ireland) can allow interference from the central bank of another country (the Bank of England) in determining its outcome, the pertinent point here is that the Bank of England views the topic of gold bars as ‘highly classified’.
Given that the Central Bank of Ireland reports to the Minister of Finance who, as part of the Irish Government, works on behalf of the citizens of Ireland, this refusal shows that the Central Bank of Ireland is not in the least bit transparent or accountable to its citizens, especially about a topic as important as its gold bar holdings.
Fully Opaque - Central Bank Exemptions on Trade and Reporting
There are many other areas of central bank secrecy in the gold market that make a mockery of their transparency claims. The gold that central banks hold on their balance sheets as official reserves alongside major currencies and Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) is conveniently defined as by the IMF as a ‘financial asset’ and so is exempt from international merchandise trade statistics. Therefore, central banks can transport gold between countries and foreign locations and no on will ever know, since customs authorities are prohibited from reporting on these gold movements.
Central Bank accounting of gold holdings is another area of complete secrecy where the reporting does not follow international norms, and where for most central banks, ‘Gold and Gold Receivables' are reported as one line item. This ‘get out clause’ accounting rule for central banks arose from lobbying of the IMF at the BIS in Basel in 1999 by a group of European central banks including the Bank of England, Bundesbank and Banque de France when they forced the IMF to drop plans to split out gold receivables such as gold loans and gold swaps, since, in the words of the bullying central banks, the data was ‘highly market sensitive’.
As you can see, the words ‘highly classified’, ‘sensitivity of the subject matter’, ‘highly market sensitive’, ‘confidential’, and ‘not publicly available’ are all different forms of the same thing, i.e. they reflect a culture of secrecy, where aloof and arrogant central bankers think that they have a mandate to cover up market sensitive information and not allow free markets to operate efficiently nor allow free market price discovery to work.
This arrogant and misguided behavior by central banks is not surprising given their constant meddling and intervention in all things market related. Again, the mainstream financial media will never discuss this, preferring to be invited as ‘embedded reporters’ for freebies at events such as the LBMA conference that we’ve just attended here in Singapore.
London Gold Market and the LBMA
We now look at the London Gold Market, its industry representative body, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and its bullion banking members. The LBMA has recently begun to make soundings that it wishes to improve transparency in the London bullion market, a desire which is partially in the context of a UK regulatory Fair and Efficient Markets Review (FEMR).
However, this newly found sense of duty by the LBMA for transparency is hard to believe when you realise that the gold market today is even less transparent than it was 20 years ago.
In January 1997, the LBMA published Issue 6 of its magazine ‘The Alchemist’ and devoted the entire issue to the theme of Transparency, even going so far as to title the cover page “Towards Transparency”. The very title of the publication, ‘Towards Transparency’, conceded that the London Gold Market was not transparent at that time and admitted that the bullion market was secretive and lacking in information and data.
There was an introduction to that issue written by the then chairman of the LBMA, Alan Baker, who worked at Deutsche Bank at the time. I want to share with you just the first few lines of that introduction since its quite eye-opening:
Alan Baker wrote:
“The bullion market is oftencriticised by observers for being secretive and lacking in information and data. Unfortunately, to an extent, this is inevitable given the need for a duty of care to clients which dictates that a high level of discretion is an essential element in so much of the business that takes place in the market, particularly for gold.
While discretion and integrity will always be bywords in the London Bullion Market, the LBMA is nevertheless conscious of the general call for greater transparency. With this in mind we have considered ways in which to enhance transparency in the market while in no way compromising integrity, something perhaps of a delicate balancing act.”
Therefore, we have a situation where the ‘Towards Transparency’ era of January 1997 has not only not improved, but it's actually gone backwards. So if January 1997 was ‘Towards Transparency’ what exactly should 2017 be called, perhaps ‘Still Towards Transparency but quite a way to Go’?
There was also an article in Issue 6 of the Alchemist about GOFO, the Gold Offered Forward Rate (GOFO), which also had a notable quote about what the London gold forward market was like before GOFO was introduced in 1989. The author of that article, Martin Stokes of JP Morgan, quoted Winston Churchill, saying that before 1989, the gold forward market was “a riddle shrouded in mystery wrapped up in an emigma”, and that ‘transparency was non-existent’.
The January 1997 issue of the Alchemist covered 3 developments of the time which the LBMA considered as moves towards transparency:
The launch of clearing statistics for the London gold and silver markets
The publication of trading data from a 1998 survey by the Bank of England
The launch of a London Gold Lease Rate page by the LBMA on the Reuters terminal to compliment the GOFO rates that the LBMA had begun publishing in 1989.
Now, fast forward nearly 20 years from January 1997 to practically January 2017, and what do we have? What we have is:
The same high level practically useless rolled-up London gold and silver market clearing data each month which doesn’t really explain anything since it’s not granular enough, and which baffles people more than anything due to the phenomenally large clearing volumes stated in the data
There was a trading survey in Q1 2011 but nothing since then, nothing in nearly 6 years
GOFO has been discontinued since January 2015
So the question needs to be asked, what happened to this “general call for greater transparency” back in 1997?
Looking at the ‘London Gold Market’ in 2016, there is:
No trade reporting, physical or otherwise, Monthly Clearing data is practically meaningless
No data on the size of unallocated gold positions in the market
No confirmation of the identities of central bank & bullion bank customers at the Bank of England
Commercial gold vault locations in London are not published by the LBMA
No official data about the London Gold Lending Market. Zero!
GOFO and Forward Curve submissions were discontinued by January 2015
The LBMA ‘Moved the goalposts” – as they altered 2013 refining production figures from 6600 to 4600 tonnes after I had reported on the original numbers, thereby obscuring the fact that a few thousand tonnes of large bar wholesale gold left the London market for Switzerland, where it was melted down into kilobars and shipped to markets in Asia.
This list is just a sample. There are plenty of other areas where there is no transparency in the LBMA controlled London Gold Market.
As mentioned, the LBMA has recently been making soundings that it will improve transparency in the London bullion market, specifically in the context of trade reporting. There was even a slide titled “LBMA’s commitment to enhance transparency” in one of its Singapore conference presentations that addressed trade reporting and the appointment of BOAT Services and Cinnober as the planned provider of a London gold and silver market trade reporting service in the first quarter of 2017.
But this new awareness of transparency seems, in the first instance, to be being undertaken for regulatory reasons and to optimise something called the Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) which is a Basle Committee concept for banking sector stability. So transparency for transparency's sake and for the benefit of the smaller participants in the global bullion market is not the raison d'être.
Furthermore, the LBMA has made it clear that central banks will be exempt from any 'transparency' that may arise out of the planned London bullion market trade reporting project in 2017. In a letter dated January 2015 to the Bank of England Fair and Efficient Markets Review, the LBMA wrote that:
"it is worth noting, that the role of the central banks in the bullion market may preclude ‘total’ transparency, at least at public level, but that transparency could be increased via post-trade anonymised statistical analysis of nominal volumes, provided by the clearing banks."
As to what exactly the role of central banks is in the bullion market, the LBMA did not say, nor did the Bank of England query. But I think we can conclude that this nudge-nudge wink-wink codespeak about central banks' operations in the bullion market is exactly as it appears to be, i.e. nefarious.
So here again we see that central banks are going to be given an exemption from transparency, i.e. central bank trading in the London Gold Market will remain opaque, with the blessing of the LBMA and the banking regulators. The post-trade anonymised statistical analysis unfortunately looks like it will be another stitch up and cop-out, and as useless a set of data as any data that gets deliberately rolled-up and masked.
In conclusion, why do central banks refuse to release details of the serial numbers of their gold bars Because after all, If the gold is allocated, then there shouldn't be an issue. This secrecy around weight lists appears to be deliberate.
In my view, the reason for non-publication of central bank weight lists is because of gold lending. If a gold bar serial number turned up in the weight list of an ETF, then it would become clear that the ETF was holding borrowed gold that the central bank still claimed to hold. And the more lent gold that appears in transparent gold holdings such as ETF weight lists, the more the wider gold market knows the extent of the gold lending market. The same would be true of gold for US dollar swaps.
Similarly, if a gold bar turns up in one central bank's list when it was previously in another central bank's holding, this could suggest undisclosed central bank gold sales or alternatively it could suggest a location swap, where gold was swapped between holdings at two different gold depositories / vaults.
Publishing a central gold bar list would forever more also allow those bars to be independently traced with a high accuracy due to the serial number - refiner brand - year of manufacture attributes.
So there appears to be a concerted and coordinated effort by central banks, most likely formulated and imposed by the large gold custodians, to absolutely prevent any central bank gold bar weight list from ever being published anywhere.
However, in my view, there are other reasons for the secrecy. Like major currencies, monetary gold is a reserve asset on the balance sheets of central banks, and like major currencies, gold can be used for international payments, gold swaps, and for interventions into fx and gold markets. Monetary gold is also a strategic asset, what the Bank of England called a ‘war chest’, or the ultimate store of value. The Bank of England also described the rationale for holding gold as an insurance policy against gold making a re-appearance at the centre of the international monetary system
There is also a general culture of secrecy in central banking and an aloofness where central banks don’t feel obliged to justify their policies and decisions due to an entitlement issue with ‘independence’.
Turning to bullion banks, and to put it simply, these large banks are commercial enterprises, and they wish to protect their status quo and also to protect their profit margins. This motivation goes back to asymmetric information, where one party possesses more information than the other.
However, for investment banks, some of the superior knowledge relative to the wider gold market is obtained, not because of superior skill, but because of being able to operate in an environment where secrecy is not just tolerated, but where secrecy is actively protected by the industry body (LBMA) and the regulators (the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England).
Although central banks and large bullion banks often have different motives in the gold market, their motives align in protecting the market’s secrecy. Taken central bank secrecy and bullion bank secrecy together, the phrase ‘A riddle shrouded in mystery wrapped up in an emigma’ is unfortunately still an excellent description for the entire London Gold Market.
India’s Government Makes Banknotes Worthless by Decree Overnight
As I write this in the morning of 9th November 2016, there are huge lines forming outside gold shops in India — and gold traded heavily until late into the night yesterday. Depending on who you ask, the retail price of gold has gone up between 15% and 20% within the last 10 hours.
At some places, it was sold for as much as US$ 2,294 per ounce. That is, if you can actually find physical gold — gold inventories at stores are rapidly depleting. All of this happened well before the international price started to move up because of the election results coming out of the US.
Last night (8th November 2016), India’s government banned the use of Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 ($15) banknotes. This pretty much made most currency-in-use illegal. Banks and ATMs are closed today. The government believes that doing this will help eradicate corruption and push counterfeit money out of circulation. According to the Indian government, the counterfeit money tends to come from Pakistan and helps finance terrorism.
My first instinct when I heard the news was that people would be on the streets this morning. There would be riots and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, would be unceremoniously thrown out. Despite being a huge critic of him, I thought he at least had the spine to take bold action, however erroneous it might have been.
I am sometimes too optimistic about India and expect too much goodness from Indians. And I was wrong.
In the morning no opposition against the government was in sight. But there was some animosity detectable between people. Forgetful that they had lined up until late into the night yesterday trying to get cash out of ATMs before midnight, had fought at gas-stations to get their gas tanks filled, and had suddenly been trapped with unusable currency, people exchanged congratulations on what Modi had done.
What Modi had done — contrary to what I initially thought — wasn’t a bold move. It was a populist move, designed to please the 98% who do not save. While they are really driven by envy, these 98% are putting on a brave face, celebrating the alleged defeat of corruption. To them the fights of yesterday — at gas stations and elsewhere — and the loss of trust in their fellow citizens is merely collateral damage.
Fresh Avenues for Corruption Immediately Open Up
Those who find themselves stuck with high denomination bills today, must accept as little as Rs 700 in usable currency for every Rs 1000 of banned currency.
At least theoretically, people can still use the otherwise banned bills at hospitals, gas stations, pharmaceutical shops, and train stations. As one would expect in India, these places have been converted into corrupt currency-exchange shops as of today. Some well-connected people are prepaying for their medical treatment.
But for most legitimate uses, none of these organizations are accepting the otherwise banned instruments. Why should they, when they can force customers to pay in the still-legal currency and then buy the banned instruments for Rs 700 for every Rs 1000 in face value, making a neat 43% extra profit without doing anything?
In India, a country not driven by morals or reason, almost everyone will exploit an opportunity to make an extra buck, however unethical it might be. Those who look deeper, understand that corruption in public life comes from ingrained corruption in India’s society and culture. If one had to make an effort to remove corruption this is where one should start.
1,000 rupee banknotes – worth 700 rupees each today, available from the newest entrants into the money-changer business. Unfortunately, their business model is fraudulent; it sure seems a strange way to “fight corruption”. Photo credit: Reuters
Today, there is utter chaos in the market, with only the spontaneously erupted black market available to bypass the ban — most people simply don’t have anything else but the banned currency bills. Some are booking train tickets for future rides and are subsequently canceling them — they can use the banned currency to buy the tickets and can then get legal currency back after ticket-cancellation charges. This is costing people a lot of time, but it is the only way they can stay afloat and buy food. Others are taking different measures, equally desperate.
By any sane person’s reckoning, corruption has skyrocketed for the moment. So has gold. Those who run businesses have lost whatever remnant of trust in the government they still had. In recent months several businessmen have confessed to me that they are closing down, because the state has become increasingly heavy-handed and bureaucratic. Contrary to what the World Bank and IMF are saying, India is suffering economically. Its institutions are crumbling. And India is on the path to becoming another banana republic.
Within a few days, assuming this issue is handled appropriately — which it won’t be — most people with a certain amount of banned currency will be able to deposit it at banks, although tied to withdrawal limits. The banking system will stay partly frozen. After the banks open tomorrow, I expect to see riot-like scenes outside bank branch offices for a few weeks.
Huge chaos in the Indian economy should be expected to continue — as India’s government is simply incapable of bringing liquidity back any time soon. Businessmen will waste their time dealing with this nonsensical event, instead of investing and creating wealth. India simply continues to do more and more of what makes it an uneconomical and wasteful place to invest in.
Will the Plan Succeed in Reducing Corruption?
But will this eventually lead to a reduction in corruption? Let us use the gold market as an example to understand how the Indian economy operates. Any import of gold is subject to a cumulative tax of about 11%. The retail price of gold should be around 111% of the international price. Ironically, it mostly sells for 105% of the international price. Putting it simply, any law-abiding businessman must lose this 6% differential, ensuring his bankruptcy.
In reality most of the gold entering India is brought in by smugglers. These smugglers are happy to pass on almost half of their profit to consumers, while at the same time paying bribes to the Indian army, customs officials, other bureaucrats and politicians. If one wants to run a gold business, one must use smuggled gold if one wants to be competitive.
Virtually all businesses in India have to be run this way. Without paying bribes, no business has a hope of succeeding in India. Corruption is in the blood of India and is not easy to get rid of, even if by sheer luck India finds good political leaders one day.
Corruption is so omnipresent in India that you don’t really have to look for it. It is always there. What Modi is doing is merely political theater to fool the gullible. His decision to ban cash currency is actually proof that he has utterly failed to achieve any meaningful change in India.
I have yet to meet a public servant in India who does not ask for a bribe. During Modi’s reign, not only corruption has gone up, the state has become extremely heavy-handed. As what is happening today shows that the government’s anti-corruption measures themselves are ironically leading to a huge increase in corruption.
Unsuccessful Google search in India… - Cartoon by Thommy
Conclusion - Part 1
Unfortunately, India’s degradation will not stop. Indians have become extremely nationalistic over the last two decades. They are now very easy to herd around. Under the color of nationalism they can be made to accept anything – of course, only as long as the victim is someone else. The currency issue of today affects maybe 2% of the entrepreneurial population of India, so the remaining 98% can claim higher moral ground for themselves. The reality is that without these 2%, India could rapidly become a carbon copy of Idi Amin’s Uganda.
What India needs is not a focus on the removal of corruption, but the removal of regulations and restrictions on wealth-creation. For now the state is doing exactly the opposite, as it has in the past. Most importantly, this poison of totalitarianism comes from the extremely irrational society of India - in which corruption is entrenched.
Part 1 above covered what happened in the first two days after India’s government made Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes illegal. They can now only be converted to Rs 100 (~$1.50) or lower denomination notes, at bank branches or post offices. Banks were closed the first day after the decision.
What follows is the crux of what has happened over the subsequent four days.
Today India is on the verge of a major social-political crisis, unless either the government backs off from the decision of banning the currency or some real magic happens. There is chaos in the streets and daily life is slowly but surely coming to a full halt.
What Modi did was not only heavy-handed, hugely arrogant, and of no value, it has been very badly implemented to boot — as everything in India always is — and carries the real potential of escalating and snowballing into something horrific. They could have seen that this was not going to end well by simply using primary school math.
Modi, Nationalism, and the Public School-Indoctrinated Middle Class
India today is like a cult under the influence of Narendra Modi — in which unlike in the past, not the poorest or uneducated citizens, but mostly members of the so-called educated middle class participate. Over the last two decades, people have been exposed to mass education, TV and nationalistic propaganda without being taught an iota of critical thinking skills.
In a society in which the concept of reason does not exist, this has made these people receptive to any kind of propaganda with a nationalistic or Hindutva bent. (Hindutva = fanatical Hinduism, which is rapidly metastasizing).
To aggrandize his position, Modi ordered a lot of military-hardware that India cannot afford, escalated tensions with Pakistan, and conducted what was very likely a fake surgical strike inside Pakistan. This united Indians under the flag.
Now, the demonetization of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes was tagged with nationalism, anti-corruption, and anti-terrorism. Simple-minded, slogan-susceptible persons were hardwired to accept an erroneous causality. Those who did not go along were made to be afraid of being called pro-terrorist elements.
Those in the middle class have taken what they deem to be the higher moral ground, for they have mostly avoided suffering from the demonetization. Lacking moral instincts — which is unfortunately the case with much of Indian society, given its deep-rooted irrationality and superstitions — they cannot see or feel the pain of those who are suffering, even if that suffering stares into their faces.
But events are in motion that will likely very soon lead to these salaried members of the middle class starting to feel the pain as well. Their instinctive trust in Modi is likely within weeks of coming crashing down, not because of reasoned argument, but because they will be facing similar problems as the ones the common man is now facing.
Conversion to the New Currency
I went to convert my banned banknotes into new ones. The largest amount one can have converted is Rs 4,000 ($60), until further notice. There was a huge rush of people at the bank. Arguments were erupting, as people refused to stand in queues and the banks gave no explanation of what needed to be done. Fights were breaking out.
Amid the chaos I finally learned that there were three queues I had to go through in a sequence. I had to get a form from one counter, which I had to fill in with my name and address, my ID card details, the serial numbers of all the bills I wanted to exchange, and my cell-phone number.
At the second counter, I then had to present the completed form along with a photocopy of my ID card. I had to sign on the photocopy which an official then stamped. With my banknotes, the form and the photocopy of my ID card, I then went to the next queue to get my currency converted at a third counter. The whole process took about two hours. For most people in the busier parts of the cities, it took much longer.
Day 1 of the banks opening. Poor, desperate people, whom the government treats like slaves or perhaps insects. Somehow these people have been brainwashed into thinking they live in a free country. My granddad kept photographs of British royalty on the walls of his office until his final days, for he had realized that the British had treated him much better.
Anyone who thinks that a country which wastes two hours of every citizen’s life to convert his own $60 can ever hope to be an economic power is drinking too much Kool-Aid and cannot do primary level math. Forget any possibility of removing unaccounted for money or reducing corruption, what Modi is doing is a recipe for the destruction of whatever legitimate economy there is.
That same afternoon, I went to the post office with a friend who wanted to get his money converted. After waiting a long time there, we found out that the post office had run out of cash. Since then most ATMs have had limited amounts of cash available and banks keep running out of cash as well.
The queues have continued to grow. People start lining up late into the night waiting for banks to open and still have to go back home with no cash. What started with two hours of queuing is becoming an endless slog now.
An endless queue to convert Rs 4,000 (USD 60). Will they actually go home with their new cash?
The Problems Go Much Deeper
Half of India’s citizens do not have a bank account and around 25% do not even have an ID card. These are the country’s poorest people, who have no way of converting their money – even if they learn how to do it, which is already a nigh insurmountable hurdle. Also, those who are old, disabled or sick have no choice but to suffer, for without personally visiting a bank branch office, one cannot convert one’s banknotes.
97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill. The daily-wage laborer, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in a country with GDP per capita of a mere $1,600, no longer has work, as his employer has no cash to pay his wages. His life is in utter chaos. He is not as smart as Modi - despite the fact that Modi has no real life experience except as a bully and perhaps in his early days as a tea-seller at a train-station. He has no clue where his life is headed from here.
These people are going hungry, and some have begun to raid food shops. People are dying for lack of treatment at hospitals. Old people are dying in the endless queues. Some are killing themselves, as they are unable to comprehend the situation and simply don’t know what to do. There are now hundreds of such stories in the media.
Small businesses are in shambles, and many will probably never recover. The Hindu wedding season has just started and people are left with unusable banknotes. Their personal and family lives are now an utter disaster.
Desperate people raiding a supermarket
Lacking moral and rational anchors, and hence compassion, members of the salaried middle class are unperturbed. Their salaries get taxed and most of the bribes they are getting end up in gold or property investments. In their minds, poor people and small businesses don’t matter. In the hypocritical culture of India, as long as the middle class is not suffering - for the time being — they prefer to take what they believe to be the higher moral ground.
Why This Problem Will Get Much Worse
Let us do a few simple numbers… What has been made illegal comprises 88% of the monetary value of all currency notes in circulation. In an economy based primarily on cash, the liquidity of cash is the lifeline of the economy. This requires that 88% of the new currency be rapidly dispersed into the market.
The Indian government has absolutely no history of being able to entertain a project of this type or magnitude ever and after the British left, India’s institutions have continued to deteriorate, so hope is not an option. If they fail to issue enough new bills, the very limited supply of Rs 100 notes will disappear within a few days.
As any rational person has a tendency to store good money while using bad money in transactions, people will hide all newly released currency as well as Rs 100 banknotes until full liquidity is restored. The rich and the well-connected have already done what was needed.
A reminder of Gresham’s law for Modi: “Bad money drives out good money.”
Those who have no need to convert their money as all their cash is already in the banking system (as is the case with the salaried middle class), which they think is making them look like a heroes in the eyes of Modi and is giving them a sense of moral superiority – they are nothing but turkeys being groomed.
Banks are giving out a mere Rs 20,000 ($300) a week at best. Their lives will suffer and for all intents and purposes, their accounts are frozen. This is Cyprus ten times over – they just haven’t realized it yet.
Whichever way one looks at the above numbers, India’s economy is going to start suffocating, within weeks, if not within days. And a serious political and social crisis will take place, which will eventually acquire a life of its own. That is when the as of yet unperturbed salaried middle class wakes up with pain.
As in any irrational system, it is not reason and morality that will have convinced them to scuttle their hypocrisy and limited vision, but the violence and pain that they themselves will suffer.
Politicians and bureaucrats of course cannot be seen queuing at the banks. Many bank branches apparently had their cash secretly replaced by the now-illegal bills before the first day of reopening. While no more than two bills of Rs 2000 each should have been collected, those better connected apparently haven’t had a problem with this and have been shown showing off packets of the new currency they have. All this cash will do nothing but end up under mattresses, as it has in the past.
As I walk around, corruption is everywhere and has grown exponentially, not only in financial terms but worst of all, in terms of the humiliation and degradation Indians are suffering. And I don’t know how a humiliated, soulless person can be anything but corrupt.
In village after village people have stopped working, even if they had work, as they can now join the queues at the banks to convert other people’s banknotes for a commission. For many young people, this is a wise entrepreneurial decision, as they are making many times the money they would have otherwise made for now.
But they are being trained to make money from non-productive activities — not from wealth-creation, but from unnecessary problems created by the government. Are they being groomed for a corruption-free society? One has to be naive to respond affirmatively.
Fear of the tax authorities means that the level of bribes being offered has gone up. Random people can now impersonate tax officers and collect bribes. People are in the grip of a fear psychosis. Many are emptying their bank deposit boxes, which means that crime will inevitably increase in coming days.
People are constantly worrying about what Modi’s next knee-jerk act might be and how to protect themselves against it. A police state is knocking at the doors.
A receptive environment has been created in which all kinds of rumors are taking wing. Today, salt is selling for Rs 400 ($6) per kilogram, as rumors have been making the rounds that it is about to disappear. This of course creates a situation in which it will actually disappear. The same is happening with sugar. The largely irrational masses are eagerly devouring a great many random rumors.
Lesson for Modi: Never, ever destabilize a society that works through conventions rather than reason, for it has no way to return to a normal state of affairs without a huge amount of pain and violence. Simply look at neighboring countries in order to understand this.
Chronic fear is slowly overtaking the mood of Indians, particularly those who run businesses. They have not only completely lost their trust in the government, but the tax department has been raiding people’s premises to scare those who are trying to salvage what they have.
They have stopped worrying about creating value. Everyone is talking about what to do with the banned banknotes, for even if they are fully accounted for, people fear that the increasingly rapacious tax authorities will make trouble anyway.
Uncertainty has gripped the populace. Not everyone is capable of grasping the situation and dealing with it.
People are now converting whatever they can into gold, silver, and mostly for the first time into the US dollar and other foreign currencies as well, all of which are trading at huge premiums. Money is also moving out of the country. Gold has shot up to as much as $2,800 per ounce, if you can find it.
Lesson for Modi: The reason people trust Switzerland is because it has hundreds of years of history of protecting private property. Singapore has done an equally good job, but it still lags behind Switzerland, because trust requires a very, very long history of institutional honesty and integrity. India is back to level zero for now. When future generations look back, they will see the current demonetization as the worst event in the history of post-colonial India.
Finally, the new bills have actually worsened the counterfeiting problem they were supposed to solve. People do not have any experience with what the new banknotes look like. Within a mere three days, counterfeits are already in circulation. Contrary to the government’s claims, the new bills are not any more sophisticated than the old ones and are made of simple paper.
Why Has the Government Miscalculated?
The most productive job Modi ever had was running a tea-shop at a railway station, which he then gave up to become a bully. He is a complete stranger to complex thought. He is simplistic in his thinking and does not understand the second-order consequences of his actions.
First he increased Hindu fanaticism, then he participated in collectivizing people using nationalism, then he created problems with Kashmir through his heavy-handedness.
A simplistic mind is also arrogant. Such a mind — unable to conceive the possibility of unintended consequences — thinks all that has to be done is to issue orders and everything will fall in place. Alas, this may work when shooting innocent people in Kashmir and in other destructive ventures, but when it comes to institutionalizing social progress, a more complex and intelligent approach is needed.
All of India’s institutions have continued to deteriorate since the British have left. They are rotting away and are in shambles. India had some breathing space over the past three decades because of the free gifts of the internet and cheap telephony which it got from the West.
This has merely made Indian governments more rapacious and so-called educated Indians more arrogant. They collectively lack the capacity to improve India’s institutions after having destroyed them. Demonetization may well be the straw that will break the camel’s back by accelerating the deterioration of India’s institutions toward the point of breakdown, perhaps in weeks if not already in coming days.
Conclusion – What Can One Do?
As Indian, be a speculator – even if the government does not like it and will blame you for all ills. Try to keep as much of your money in cash, in Rs 100 notes. Rs 2,000 notes have no value when you go shopping for groceries. Keep a supply of water and dried food sufficient for a few months’ needs.
Cash is disappearing and even before that the economy was stumbling. It might take just one more small domino — more strain on liquidity — to bring about systemic problems in the economy that could bring crucial transactions, businesses and supply lines to a halt.
If systemic violence spreads, everything will be complicated further. Think of Zimbabwe. It pays to be prepared, particularly when we are ruled by zombies.
Image captions by PT. Photos and videos by courtesy of Jayant Bhandari.
Jayant Bhandari grew up in India. He advises institutional investors on investing in the junior mining industry. He writes on political, economic and cultural issues for several publications. He is a contributing editor of the Liberty magazine. He runs a yearly seminar in Vancouver titled Capitalism & Morality.
The following speech, by BullionStar CEO Torgny Persson, was given to an audience during a Precious Metals Seminar held at BullionStar's shop and showroom premises in Singapore on 19 October 2016.
What have I got here?
It’s 87 grams of gold.
As many of you know, we have our own bullion vault integrated in BullionStar's bullion centre here in Singapore. What if I told you that every day we sell 6 kgs (6000 grams of gold), meaning that we sell about 1500 kgs gold per year to customers storing with us, but that we actually only keep 87 grams of gold in storage as reserves.
You would call it fraud and have me arrested, right? I’m obviously running a Ponzi scheme with very small fractionalised reserves backing up huge trading of unallocated paper gold.
Now, for clarity, that's not how we conduct business. When you buy and store bullion with BullionStar, your bullion is fully allocated and you can withdraw your metals at any time by just walking into BullionStar's bullion centre. You don’t even have to notify us beforehand.
What I just explained to you is something else - it’s bullion banking per definition - more precisely it’s unallocated gold trading by bullion banks.
As most of you know, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) has held its annual Precious Metals Conference in Singapore over the last two days. The LBMA is at the core of the world’s bullion trading system, a system which generates extremely large trading volumes every trading day. To understand the gold market, one has to understand the LBMA system as it is of great significance to both the price of gold and also to the physical movements of gold around the world. I will therefore provide you with an introduction to bullion banking and this LBMA system, and talk about how bullion banking operates.
Bullion Banking - Unallocated Gold
Almost all gold traded in the LBMA system today is in the form of unallocated gold which is accounted for in unallocated accounts. The definition of an unallocated gold account, as we can read on the LMBA’s website, is that the holder of such an account with a LBMA bullion bank does not have any ownership interest in any specific gold bars.
Instead, the account holder is merely an unsecured creditor of the bullion bank and holds a claim on the bullion bank for an amount of gold. At the same time, the bullion bank has a liability to this customer for this same amount of gold. Therefore unallocated gold is essentially paper gold. It is gold that doesn’t exist in the physical realm.
The creation of unallocated gold is in fact very similar to how fiat currency is created in the fractional reserve banking system. The fractional reserve banking system provides a good gateway into understanding bullion banking.
How is Fiat Money Created Today?
Let’s quickly recap on how fiat money is created in the fractional reserve banking system.
Money is created out of thin air. When a bank extends a loan, the money is created out of thin air.
Let’s take an example:
1) Robert plan to buy a house for $1 million.
2) Robert goes to a bank and the bank takes a look at Robert and deems him credible. With today’s low lending standards, it is rather easy for Robert to secure a loan. The bank deposits $1 million into Robert's account.
3) Where does this $1 million come from? The answer is 'nowhere'. It doesn't come from anywhere. The money is created out of thin air when loaned out to Robert.
This is easy to understand but hard to believe for some people. But it is true that this money is created out of thin air and lent into existence. About 92% of our money today is lent into existence in this fashion.
Banks keep a very small amounts of money in reserve to cover withdrawals, but they face liabilities which are far larger in size that their reserves.
The term "loan" as used in banking has been corrupted and twisted by banks. When a bank extends a loan, there is nothing loaned. To loan something you need to be in possession of it first, but when banks make loans, there is no countervailing transaction - The money is just created when the loan is extended.
How is Paper Gold Created?
Now, what about gold? How is gold created? You might say gold can’t be created, it has to be mined, right? Yes, you would be correct, physical gold cannot be created, but gold as an investment product definitely can be created and is created on a massive scale.
When a bullion bank customer goes to the bank and requests to buy gold, the standard procedure is for the bullion bank to create unallocated paper gold and credit this paper gold to the customer’s account. This ’gold’ is simply created out of thin air as a book-keeping entry in the bank’s accounting system.
Similarly, if actual physical gold is deposited into an unallocated account operated by a bullion bank, this deposit of gold is also in fact very similar to a deposit of fiat money. Just as a bank keeps deposited fiat money on its own balance sheet, a bullion bank keeps deposited physical bullion on its own balance sheet.
Bullion banks don’t generally safeguard or segregate gold deposited with them or held by them unless they are specifically instructed to do so if a customer opens an allocated gold account.
This means that depositors of gold into bullion banks' unallocated accounts are no longer the legal owners of the gold that they have deposited. Instead, they are just one of the general creditors to the bank, and they merely hold a claim for gold against the bank.
By depositing gold into an unallocated account at a bullion bank, you therefore lose ownership of your gold in return for a mere claim on gold.
Trading in unallocated gold by the bullion banks is thus based on book-keeping entries denominated in gold. The gold is fractionally reserved. Gold is created out of thin air as book-keeping entries in the banks' ledger systems, and even gold that is deposited into an unallocated account becomes the property of the bank.
LBMA Unallocated Gold Trading Volumes
From the LBMA’s published clearing statistics, which is one of the only transactional statistics that the LBMA does publish, we know that 600 tonnes of gold are "cleared" in the London Gold Market each and every trading day. Cleared means that it’s 600 tonnes of gold that's transferred between participants after netting out all trades between all trading participants.
According to a LBMA gold trading survey conducted in 2011 (the last such survey), the ratio between trading turnover and clearing on the London Gold Market was about 10 to 1. This means that the total amount of gold traded in the LBMA system each day is about the equivalent of 6,000 tonnes!
In other words, almost twice as much gold is traded in the LBMA system in a single trading day than is physically mined globally during an entire year.
But what is backing this 6,000 tonnes of unallocated gold traded each day, or 1.5 million tonnes of gold traded each year?
Let’s take a look at the reserve side of bullion banking in the LBMA system.
Bullion Bank Gold Reserves
The LBMA bullion banks' outstanding gold liabilities, and the unallocated trading system in the London Gold Market are ultimately backed by a quantity of 400 oz Good Delivery gold bars.
However, bullion banks don’t really want to hold physical gold. They will buy it if someone forces it on them but bullion banks have no real need for physical gold and are therefore incentivised to keep as little gold as possible in reserve, and lend out the gold they hold in reserve so as not to incur storage fees and handling costs. Banking reserves are looked upon as a dead asset so the banks minimise these reserves and try to make them into live assets by loaning them out.
When a bullion bank receives a gold bar by buying or borrowing it, it either sells, leases or allocates that bar elsewhere.
This sets a bullion bank apart from any other bullion entity because a bullion bank can hold deposits of gold on its balance sheet as assets even if it no longer has, or never had, the actual physical gold in its possession.
How much backing is there for all the unallocated gold traded in the LBMA-system?
We don’t exactly know as there are no reserve figures published but we can make an educated guess.
Vaulted Gold in London
How much gold is actually vaulted in London? The LBMA recently said on its website that there was approximately 6,500 tonnes of gold stored in London, about three-quarters of which was at the Bank of England. The Bank of England recently revealed that it was custodian for 4,734 tonnes of gold in its vaults.
This would leave 1,766 tonnes of gold privately stored in the LBMA vaulting system outside the Bank of England.
BullionStar research recently calculated (30 September 2016) that ETF gold holdings held in London accounted for 1,679 tonnes. This would mean that there are only 1,766 - 1,679 = 87 tonnes of gold in the LBMA system which is not allocated to ETFs!
Therefore, nearly all of the LBMA reserves are allocated to the ETFs with only 87 tonnes of gold left to back up the vast amorphous of unallocated gold trading amounting to 6,000 tonnes per day or 1.5 million tonnes per year!
Chart layout inspired by GoldChartsrus /Nick Laird. Data gathered by Goldchartsrus/BullionStar's Ronan Manly
Physical gold in the LBMA bullion banking system is therefore like physical cash in the monetary system. It is rarely seen!
LBMA is a banking system that by definition is based on fractional reserve banking.
HSBC, JP Morgan and ICBC Standard Bank are the only LBMA bank custodians with their own precious metals vaults in London. Most of the circa 42 LBMA bullion banks don’t even have their own gold vaults but still keep books denominated in gold ounces. A bullion bank without a gold vaults instead holds its gold reserves with a bullion bank that does have a gold vault.
For example, if Citibank keeps its reserves with a bank with a vault such as JP Morgan, then Citibank merely holds a gold claim for which JP Morgan has a gold liability. These unallocated gold reserves are therefore just pooled with the bullion banks that do have vaults.
The bullion banks without a vault never see or touch the metal they keep in reserves. If a bullion bank stores its gold reserves at another bullion bank’s vault, this means that the reserves are unallocated credits/claims which are standing behind the bank’s own liabilities. So even the reserves are fractionalised. So not only are bullion banks’ liabilities to their customers unallocated, even the reserves are unallocated inter-bank liabilities which are fractionalised.
Paper gold thus stands behind the liabilities of paper gold.
The LBMA system serves as a pool of reserves and uses coordinated reserve management where the different participating bullion banks can loan and lend to each other the few physical reserves that there are in the system so as to meet any demand for physical bullion.
Gold Bank Run
The bullion banks face massive liabilities in the form of unallocated gold credits. Bullion banks are thus, just like normal banks, susceptible to bank runs.
The difference between bullion banks and normal commercial banks is that whereas central banks are the ultimate lenders of last resort to commercial banks, most central banks no longer back-stop bullion banks as the lender of last resort because most central banks no longer sell or lease bullion that can be used to prop up bullion banks' reserves.
In case of the LBMA, the central bank is replaced by a private company called London Precious Metal Clearing Limited (LPMCL) which is run by 5 clearing bullion banks and whose clearing system AURUM nets out all gold claims and liabilities in the LBMA system. The clearing system functions as a pooled system in that only net balances are cleared and the bullion banks' gold reserves are essentially pooled and can be leased and double counted whenever necessary.
When they no longer have any physical gold to deliver, the ultimate rescue plan for bullion banks is to use cash settlement instead.
In the same way that banks increasingly promote cashless solutions as a means to reduce cash handling costs, earn credit card fees, reduce the risk of bank runs and lock in customers, LBMA system bullion banks promote gold-less gold transacting.
Just as the banking system inherently incentivises reckless debt behavior, the bullion banking system inherently incentivises the reckless creation of paper gold assets.
LBMA – The Paper Gold Protector
In creating artificial paper gold, bullion banking protects the fiat money system.
If even a small minority of the paper gold traded today was backed up by physical gold, the price of gold would have skyrocketed. A gold price significantly higher than today would point towards the inferiority of the fiat money system, and possibly the collapse or implosion of the current monetary system.
Bullion banks and gold industry organisations, such as the LBMA and the World Gold Council, which itself has developed and owns securitized gold products, can profit from gold trading volumes that are far higher than they would be if they were limited to the constraints imposed by the availability of physical gold to trade.
The bullion banks and the LBMA work hard to overcome the tangible limitations of physical gold mining. By promoting gold-less gold transacting, the LBMA unallocated system artificially increases the supply of gold, earning the banks higher fees from artificially large trading volumes.
To reiterate, the LBMA unallocated gold trading is a banking system based on fractional reserve banking which is all about exposure to the price of gold but not to gold itself.
The LBMA system is used to coordinate unallocated paper gold trading where ‘gold’ is created out of thin air, and the tiny physical reserves held are pooled and shared out among participants so as to minimise costly reserves and avoid gold bank runs.
When bullion banks need to allocate gold to the ETFs, such as to the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) in London, they use credits from the same unallocated gold credit system as was previously used to offset other gold liabilities. Even though the ETF may own the gold outright, the gold is still being double counted within the system because its being allocated out of a bullion bank pooled systems of credits.
To summarize what the LBMA is all about, it is a paper gold protector for the bullion banks which allows the bullion banks to earn fees from an artificially high trade turnover while at the same time protecting the fiat currency system.
The Guarded Secret of no Gold
The fractionally-reserved bullion banking system is a fragile system. Many investors and savers holding paper gold believe that the gold they are holding is backed up by real physical gold. But if the bullion banking system implodes, which it will do if the high demand for real physical gold in Asia is sustained at anywhere near today’s levels, these holders of paper gold will at best end up holding paper claims which will be cash-settled, or at worst these paper gold holders will be empty-handed.
Demand for ETF’s and unallocated gold will likely not stress the system systemically since the pooled LBMA gold reserves are used for leasing and double counting. It is the demand for real physical gold, draining bank gold reserves, that stresses the system.
Many gold investors/savers buy various paper gold products as a means of protecting themselves against the fiat currency Ponzi scheme. It may therefore come as a surprise to some holders that these investments are no safer or even less safe than the fiat currency against from which they are seeking to protect themselves. Bullion banks give the impression that these investors into unallocated gold are actually holding gold, whereas in reality they are just unsecured creditors holding paper gold, gold that is created out of thin air, in a fractionally-reserved Ponzi scheme.
As long as everyone is happy to buy and sell ledger entries/book-keeping entries, this fragile system can continue to balance on a thin thread. The systemic problem arises when larger entities start to demand physical delivery, a trend which has been happening in the last few years, most notably in Asia and Russia. There is therefore an imminent risk of the bullion banking system collapsing in the next few years.
This is an accident waiting to happen, because when enough holders of paper gold ask for delivery, the default that will follow will trigger the biggest bank run for gold in history, which due to gold’s significance as a monetary proxy, will shake the entire monetary system.
When there is no longer any physical metal to deliver, the ensuing shortage will result in a disconnect between prices, in which paper gold will become worthless while the price of real physical gold will be revalued at a much higher level based on the market equilibrium for physical supply and demand of gold.
It was an event-filled and turbulent evening last night as the results for the 45th US presidential election rolled in, signalling that the majority of the American electorate had voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump received over 270 of the 538 electoral college votes needed to secure a majority. Trump will now be inaugurated as US President on Friday January 20, 2017.
Media and Polls eat Humble Pie
This, the 58th US presidential election, will no doubt go down in history as one of the most unusual, divisive and wrongly predicted US presidential elections of all time. The official surveys of the expected outcome were proven to be way off the mark, and in fact the entire US polling industry may have to reassess its methodologies and enter a period of self-reflection. The mainstream media machine, particularly but not exclusively in the US, was also shown up throughout this election campaign to be glaringly slanted and in favor of the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at the expense of Trump, and a large amount of shock, back-peddling and embarrassment seems to have hit that section of the media today, in a 2017 version of 'Dewey defeats Truman'.
The media and survey driven, but shockingly wrong, consensus of an assured Clinton victory, which was relentlessly pitched over the last few months, also seems to have been priced into the financial markets, which is arguably why the actual outcome of a Trump victory caused acute volatility and large moves across the markets last night and into today.
US stock market index futures all fell sharply during trading in US evening hours last night as the prospects of a trump victory began to crystallize. S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures both went limit down in trading, each losing about 5%, and Dow equity index futures at one stage was 800 points lower. Asian market equities were also weaker, and the US Dollar weakening against most major currencies, and the Mexican Peso also plummeting.
The markets had a very Brexit feel to them, in a similar fashion to how the markets had reacted overnight between late Thursday June 23rd, the day the Brexit EU referendum was held in the UK, and early morning Friday June 24th, when it became clear that the referendum results pointed to a majority of voters wanted the UK to leave the European Union. In both these events, Brexit and a Trump win, financial market uncertainty has been a big factor.
Florida and Ohio
Results from the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, and to a lesser extent North Carolina were decisive to Trump’s election and to the market’s moves. Florida, with 29 electoral votes, and the 3rd highest population by state at just over 20 million people, was called to Trump late on Tuesday night before 11pm. Ohio, with 18 electoral seats and 7th largest state population of 11.6 million people went to Trump at about 10:20pm. North Carolina, with 15 electoral seats and a 10 million population, was called for Trump just after 11pm NYT. Within the space of an hour, Trump had won the 3 key states of Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, which between then have 62 electoral college seats. By just after 1:30am, Pennsylvania was called to Trump, and following that Wisconsin. A trump majority in Iowa also helped. The rapidity of these results coming in also had a resonance with the Brexit results back in June.
Previously, the states of Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, had all majority voted for Obama on both occasions when he had been elected. This is why these particular state results going to Trump were a) critical for Trump and b) caused the volatile market reactions due to the markets' perceptions that a Trump presidency will create more unknowns and greater uncertainty.
Precious metals prices, as would be expected, moved higher on the back of the market uncertainty and the Trump gains. Gold’s low in US Dollars was about $1270 at 8pm New York time (NYT), then it made a $50 ascent to a high of $1336 just after midnight NYT, an up move of 5.2%. See BullionStar gold chart for one day move. Silver in US Dollars moved up from $18.40 at about 8pm NYT to $19.02, an up-move of up 3.37%. Platinum also had a sizable up move, at one stage rising $20 from $1000 to $1020. These moves in precious metals prices were also reminiscent of similar moves on the morning of the Brexit results.
Trump and a Gold Standard
Beyond these short-term benefits to the gold price and the prices of other precious metals from a Trump victory, there are some other longer-term benefits to gold that a Donald trump presidency might create.
These longer term potential benefits to gold stem from Trump's affinity for the use of a gold standard as part of the US monetary system. A gold standard, to define the term generally, is a monetary system that employs gold as a monetary unit, and links the economy's currency to that monetary unit of gold. When used by a number of countries, each country's currency can then be expressed in terms of gold, i.e. the exchange rates between the currencies are defined in terms of gold.
Donald Trump is known to be sympathetic to the concept of a gold standard, and even attracted to the prospect of implementing a gold standard as a way of maintaining the stability and value of the US Dollar. The first of Trump's recent references to a gold standard came in a 2015 interview with WMUR-TV, New Hampshire, in a segment called ‘Conversation with the Candidate’, published on March 31, 2015, in which Trump commented on the gold standard in response to an audience question:
Question: “Can you envision a scenario that this country ever goes back to a gold standard?”
Trump: “In some ways, I like the gold standard and there is something very nice about it but you have to go back at the right time... We used to have a very solid country because it was based on a gold standard for it. We do not have that anymore. There is something very nice about the concept of that. It would be very hard to do at this point and one of the problems is we do not have the gold. Other places have the gold."
The transcript of this interview can be read in an archived page of the WTAE-TV Pittsburgh website. See ‘web extra’ section. WTAE is a sister channel of WMUR.
It's slightly odd that Trump thinks the US doesn't have the gold, or maybe he knows something about Fort Knox and the US Treasury gold reserves that has not been made public.
Following his March 2015 comments, Trump again addressed the gold standard in November 2015 in a short video interview with GQ magazine when he said:
“Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy would it be wonderful. We'd have a standard on which to base our money."
You can see the short GQ video interview with Trump on visiting this page.
Some of Trump's economic advisers also have notable views on gold, and the possible utilization of gold within the US currency system. In an interview with Forbes magazine in August this year, Dr. Judy Shelton, part of Trump's economic advisory team, was asked on her view of a gold backed monetary system:
Forbes Question: "You’ve written before about going back to some sort of gold-based monetary system. Is that something the U.S. could do unilaterally, or would we need to convene other nations and get them on board?"
Shelton: "In terms of gold being involved [in the system], some people may think of that as a throwback, but I see it as a sophisticated, forward-looking approach because gold is neutral and it’s universal.
It’s a well-accepted monetary surrogate that transcends borders and time. If you look at the foreign reserves of the most important countries, they keep them mostly in gold. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it proves that gold is not some barbarous relic.”
Shelton also referenced a Bretton Woods style conference:
"I’m not opposed to a new Bretton Woods conference, and if it takes place at Mar-a-Lago, I’m fine with that."
Bretton Woods being the 1944 conference in New Hampshire at which the attendee countries planned the introduction of a gold backed system of fixed exchange rates, where the value of the US Dollar was linked to gold and other participating currencies were linked to the Dollar. Mar-a-Lago is a hotel and club in palm Beach, Florida, owned by Trump.
John Paulson, the founder and head of the well-known and successful hedge fund company Paulson & Co Inc, is also an economic advisor to Trump. Paulson is known, among other things, for his fund's investments in gold, and for example, Paulson & Co is currently the 5th largest institutional investor the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD). The appointment of Paulson to a position on Trump's team could also arguably bolster Trump's position on gold in the monetary system.
As an aside, in the WMUR-TV interview in March 2015, Donald Trump also expressed a view on auditing the Federal Reserve, a view that it will be interesting to see if he still holds during his Presidency. In another answer to a question from the audience, Trump agreed that the Fed should be audited:
Question: Let's go back to our audience now coming from Bob. What is your question? ...[Bob]:"My question is about Federal Reserve. What if any changes would you make to Federal Reserve and do you think they should be audited on a regular basis?"
Trump: "Audited, absolutely. I really think you can have it or not have it. A lot of people like it and a lot of conservative people like it. They think there is an adjustment with interest rates and other things. I'm not a fan. I'm not a big fan. Audit, 100%."
Keynes, Greenspan and Bernanke
Any time the gold standard is mentioned, such as when Trump mentioned it on the occasions back in 2015, there are invariably sections of the financial media which wheel out the old misquote by the economist John Maynard Keynes, and state that Keynes said that gold is a barbarous relic. Even Shelton seems to have used the old misquote.
However, Keynes never said that gold was a barbarous relic. Keynes actually wrote the words “the gold standard is already a barbarous relic”, in chapter 4 of his 1924 book “A tract on Monetary Reform”, when specifically discussing whether Britain should return to a gold standard. Britain returned to a gold standard in 1925, against the advice of Keynes. The quote is at the bottom of page 172 of Keynes book “A tract on Monetary Reform”, (1923, this edition Published 1924), chapter 4, “Alternative aims in Monetary Policy”.
Arguably, Keynes was referring to the move after World War I by some countries to return to a gold standard (the inter-war gold standard), and even if he was talking about the classic gold standard (which ran from 1821 to 1914), Keynes just had a personal view that the gold standard was too constraining for what he saw as a "modern" economic system. But what Keynes was essentially advocating at that time, in other language, was a debasement of currency. Fast forward nearly 100 years and its obvious now that fiat currencies' purchasing power has been heavily debased vis-a-vis the gold standard period.
Contemporary endorsements and appreciations for a gold standard are not actually the far out radical ideas that some might claim them to be and are not exclusive to Trump and his advisors. The concept of a gold standard is actually discussed by serious and mainstream monetary economists and even to an extent endorsed by them. In June this year, in an interview with Bloomberg in the aftermath of the UK’s Brexit results, Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman had this to say about the gold standard:
“Now if we went back on the gold standard and we adhered to the actual structure of the gold standard as it exists let’s say, prior to 1913, we’d be fine. Remember that the period 1870 to 1913 was one of the most aggressive periods economically that we’ve had in the U.S., and that was a golden period of the gold standard.”
And in March 2004 in a speech 'Money, Gold, and the Great Depression', even ex Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, who always seemed to give a somewhat grudging partial endorsement to gold, had this to say:
"The gold standard appeared to be highly successful from about 1870 to the beginning of World War I in 1914. During the so-called "classical" gold standard period, international trade and capital flows expanded markedly, and central banks experienced relatively few problems ensuring that their currencies retained their legal value. The gold standard was suspended during World War I, however, because of disruptions to trade and international capital flows and because countries needed more financial flexibility to finance their war efforts.
With Trump soon at the helm and in the White House, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Trump and his advisors may explore the utilization of gold within the US monetary system over the next 4 years. And who knows, they might even bring Greenspan and Bernanke in as consultants, but perhaps only if Trump does not audit the Fed!
This year, the well-known annual conference of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) was held in Singapore between Sunday 16 October and Tuesday 18 October at the impressive Shangri-La Hotel. The conference attracts delegates and speakers from across the world of bullion, with representatives from precious metals refiners, mints, bullion banks, brokers, trading and technology providers, bullion dealers and bullion wholesalers. This year over 700 delegates attended.
The main speaker sessions, presentation and panel sessions of industry representatives ran over two days, between Monday 17 October and Tuesday 18 October. Topics covered in the speaker sessions were numerous and varied and included the bullion market in China, developments in the Indian gold market, responsible gold guidance, LBMA updates and developments, a dedicated session on platinum group metals, and a session on the financing of refineries.
As interesting as the speaker sessions and presentations are, many of the conference attendees use at least some of their time at the LBMA conference to engage in meetings with each other on the sidelines. This explains the constant stream of small breakout meetings that took place in the hotel lobby's seating areas, as well as in dedicated meeting rooms around the hotel. BullionStar also used the occasion to meet with existing suppliers from the refining, minting and wholesaling world, as well as to discuss potential business opportunities with new suppliers.
There were also approximately 20 exhibitor stands at the conference, including stands hosted by CME Group, Brinks, the World Gold Council, IE Singapore (Singapore's trade development authority), Istanbul Gold Refinery (IGR), Metals Focus consultancy, Cinnober, and Nadir Refinery.
Hong Kong - Shenzhen Gold Connect
On the Sunday prior to the conference, the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange (CGSE) and the Singapore Bullion Market Association (SBMA) co-hosted a pre-conference presentation titled “Building a physical gold corridor in Asia: Shanghai – Hong Kong / Qianhai – Singapore”, at the hotel, which featured a series of discussions about the CGSE’s new gold trading and vaulting project located in the Shenzhen free trade zone at Qianhai, just across the border from Hong Kong.
Haywood Cheung, Permanent President of CGSE, gave an introductory overview of the Qianhai project, showcasing it as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan, after which Dong Feng, Ping An Commodities Trading in Shenzhen presented a detailed explanation of how the linkages between the CGSE’s trading platform in Hong Kong and Qianhai’s clearing and settlement will for the first time enable the trading of both onshore and offshore Renminbi and the trading of onshore and offshore gold. The Qianhai project integrates trading, clearing, settlement and vaulting, with a 1500 tonne capacity vault, and a trading hall. ICBC will provide settlement of both onshore (Shenzhen) and offshore (Macau) Renminbi as well as providing use of its Shenzhen gold vault (onshore gold settlement) until the CGSE Qianhai vault is completed.
This onshore and offshore trading and settlement of Yuan and physical gold will facilitate arbitrage trading, and is another step in China’s liberalisation of its currency and its gold market as it links the Chinese currency to physical settlement of gold inside and outside of China. This initiative is one to watch and will demonstrate the Chinese government’s gradual easing of cross-border restrictions on currency and gold flow. Next phase gold trading in Qianhai by CGSE member companies will commence on 7 December.
With the CGSE having already established a gold trading link with the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) though its Shanghai-Hong Kong Connect, and with the Shenzhen (Qianhai) - Hong Kong Connect now coming on stream, the CGSE is also planning a Singapore - Hong Kong Connect, and a Dubai - Hong Kong Connect, which, if they materialise, will extend physical gold corridor (trading and vaulting connections) across the Asian region and beyond.
Albert Cheng, CEO of the SBMA, wrapped up the afternoon with an overview presentation of SBMA’s aspirations to evolve Singapore into a bullion market hub for the entire ASEAN region, including countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. However, details of how this plan will be implemented were not addressed. Cheng also showcased the SGX gold contract which is backed by the SBMA, but which has yet to take off despite being launched over 2 years ago.
LMEprecious gold Futures
The first event we attended on Monday was an early morning presentation by the London Metal Exchange (LME) about LMEprecious, its new suite of spot, daily, and monthly gold and silver futures contracts to be launched in the first half of 2017, that will trade on LME’s trading platform, with market-making offered by 5 investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and ICBC Standard Bank. These futures are for delivery of unallocated metal in the London market and the contracts will still clear through the London bullion market's LPMCL unallocated bullion clearing system. In time, the LME plans to launch platinum and palladium futures contracts on LMEprecious, as well as options contracts on all 4 metals. The LMEprecious platform will also link into LBMA’s planned trade reporting system.
ICE gold Futures
On Monday morning, ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA), a direct competitor to LME in the precious metals trading and clearing space, used the LBMA conference to make a very well-timed announcement that it too will be launching a new gold futures contract for delivery of unallocated gold in London (loco London). The ICE contract will trade on the ICE US futures platform and will begin trading in February 2017, in advance of the LME contracts. This contract is being designed to be compatible for settlement within the LBMA Gold Price auction which IBA administers in London, and it will, according to IBA, allow the introduction of central clearing into the auctions, and thus facilitate wider auction participation. Currently,the direct auction is exclusively open to a handful of large banks that have large bi-lateral credit lines with each other. At this stage it’s unclear how the connections between the futures contract and the LBMA Gold Price auction will work, but BullionStar plans to examine this development in future coverage.
Unallocated Gold, Gold Lending and Central Banks
Given that the LBMA Conference is attended by dozens and dozens of precious metals refineries and mints, it was notable that the subject of "unallocated gold" cropped up in the discussion of LMEprecious and ICE futures contracts, but that there was no discussion in the actual LBMA conference programme schedule of 'unallocated gold' as the term is used by the LBMA. An unallocated gold position in an account in the London gold market is merely a contractual claim for gold against the bank that the account is held with. As such, it is a synthetic gold position.
It was also odd in our view that there was no seminar or discussion about the London gold lending market within the conference programme. As gold lending is an important and influential area of the London gold market, it affects marginal gold supply, and it has an impact on gold price formation. Notably, the topic of central bank activities in the gold market was completely missing from the conference schedule this year, a notable omission compared to previous years.
Gold price benchmark for Singapore revisited
In another announcement on Monday morning at the conference, the Singapore minister for trade and industry announced that the SBMA in conjunction with the LBMA and ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA), they'll begin a feasibility study on launching a “pre-AM gold price” auction, which would serve as a benchmark for the Asian region and which would be held at 2pm Singapore time, in advance of the European trading day. This Singapore benchmark was already discussed and announced over 3 years ago, but has put on hold in 2014 due to European regulatory investigations at that time into manipulation of the London Gold Fix.
LBMA Trade Reporting
The conference speaker programme opened on Monday morning with introductory remarks from Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry, outgoing LBMA chairman Grant Angwin, incoming newly appointed Chairman Paul Fisher who recently arrived from the Bank of England, Tim Pearce, the chairman of the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM), and LBMA CEO Ruth Crowell.
The LBMA CEO’s introductory speech touch on the planned launch of trade reporting services for the London Gold Market. This trade reporting contract has been awarded to financial technology providers Cinnober – BOAT Services – Autilla, after those partners won the LBMA’s recent RfP tender which had been launched in October 2015. Ruth Crowell referred to trade reporting as ‘Phase 1’ of a new suite of technology services. Trade reporting will be launched in Q1 2017, and will, according to the LBMA “demonstrate of the size and liquidity of the market for clients, investors and regulators”. Phase 2 of this project refers to services such as central clearing in the London bullion market.
Further background to the chosen trade reporting solution was provided by Jamie Khurshid, the CEO of BOAT Services. Surprisingly, even though this RfP took the LBMA over 1 year to complete, it will still now require a 'design phase' where BOAT/Cinnober needs to meet with LBMA member firms to discuss the scope of reporting, followed by a period of customisation and configuration of the implementation. Details on what exactly will be reported (the scope) remain sketchy, and since full London gold and silver trade reporting by all participants (including central banks) is not mandatory in a regulatory sense, it remains to be seen to what extent transparency will be improved. Because if you don't have full mandatory reporting, you don't have transparency. In another related presentation, Sakhila Mirza, LBMA General Counsel stated that trade reporting will apply to loco London spot trades, forwards and options, but that "LBMA and its members retain control over the scope of reporting", which highlights the self-regulatory nature of the reporting, and again may suggest that the trade reporting may not be as granular or have as much informational value as some may think, especially given that central banks will be exempt from trade reporting.
The Shanghai Gold Exchange and Chinese Gold Market
Monday's schedule also included an informative series of presentations titled "The Bullion Market in China" from an impressive list of experts. Jiao Jinpu, chairman of the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), provided an overview of the latest developments from the SGE, which has a network of 61 vaults across 35 cities in China, and where physical trading volume reached 34,100 tonnes of gold in 2015. Jinpu revealed that the International Board of the SGE (known as SGEI) has, since launch in September 2014, traded 7,838 tonnes of gold, while the daily Shanghai Gold Price auction, only launched in April 2016, has already traded 384 tonnes, worth RMB 105.5 billion, giving it an average daily trading volume of 3.4 tonnes. Jinpu also vindicated BullionStar's estimates of 2015 SGE gold withdrawals, because, in the words of Jinpu, he sits on the SGE tap, and knows exactly how much gold has been withdrawn from the Exchange vaults.
In his speech, Jinpu announced that in the near future, the SGE and other exchanges will begin using the SGE Gold Price benchmark to develop gold price derivative products.
In another notable confirmation, Yang Qing, from the Bank of China, one of China's largest commercial banks involved in the global gold market, responding to a question posed by BullionStar, said that he thinks that in future, the Chinese currency, the Renminbi, should have an element of gold backing.
In what was probably one of the most interesting and revealing presentations from BullionStar's perspective, and which vindicates the extensive research and analysis that BullionStar's precious metals analyst Koos Jansen has done on the Chinese gold market, Matthew Turner from Macquarie Commodities Research in London gave a presentation about how to accurately capture and estimate the total trade flows of gold into China given that China does not publish this data itself.
One of Turner's approaches is to use the trade data of all other countries which do report gold exports to China. This approach reveals that China imported 1626 tonnes of gold in 2015 from a number of countries, primarily Hong Kong, Switzerland, the UK and Australia. Another more elegant Turner approach is to take China's total import figure which it does publish, as well as the summated figures of all of China's other import categories of data, which China also does publish, and then derive the gold import quantities as the delta.
This approach yields a net gold import figure of 1693 tonnes in 2015. Both of these figures are very close to BullionStar's previously published Chinese gold import data estimates, as calculated by Koos Jansen. Adding 2015 Chinese gold mining production to imports gives total new supply coming into the Chinese market in 2015 in excess of 2000 tonnes, which is over 1000 tonnes higher than consumer gold demand as estimated by consultancies such as GFMS and the World Gold Council.
LBMA and SGE familiar with BullionStar's research
On the Monday evening we attended a dinner hosted by Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ) at Singapore’s famous Raffles Hotel. Just after arriving we had the privilege of chatting for a few minutes to Jiao Jinpu, chairman of the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) via his colleague and interpreter Jess Yang, and we highlighted to him BullionStar’s extensive research from Koos Jansen on the China gold market and the SGE, which we were impressed that he was already familiar with. Dinner conservation was interesting and varied as we were seated at a table with representatives of the London Metal Exchange, ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA), the CME Group, GFMS, Metalor Singapore, and the Royal Canadian Mint.
During the conference, we also learned that the LBMA is familiar with BullionStar's research into the London gold market, another confirmation that the analysis that we publish is read widely within the bullion industry.
As the conference wrapped up on the Tuesday afternoon, delegates were asked to forecast what the US Dollar gold price will be this time next year. Audience members submitted their forecasts via a special handheld device in the auditorium, which resulted in an average forecast of US$ 1347.
BullionStar Seminar during LBMA Week
To coincide with the fact that the LBMA conference was located in Singapore this year, BullionStar hosted a number of events at its shop and showroom premises on New Bridge Road, Singapore. On the Saturday prior to the conference, 15 October, BullionStar held a 'meet and greet' morning, where customers and anyone in town for the conference could pop in and chat with BullionStar staff. On Wednesday 19 October, BullionStar held a precious metals seminar in its showroom premises at which BullionStar CEO Torgny Persson and Precious Metals Analyst Ronan Manly presented to an audience on the topics of Bullion Banking, and Transparency vs Secrecy in the gold market, respectively. The presentations and transcripts of the speeches will be published on the BullionStar website in the near future.
The Indian gold market is one of the world’s largest and most extensive gold markets, with an estimated 23,000 tonnes of private gold held within India’s borders. In India, gold is revered and held as a traditional form of savings and wealth preservation, particularly in the form of gold jewellery. With minimal gold mining production, Indian gold demand is predominantly met by gold imports, both official and unofficial (smuggling).
Unlike China, where the Chinese government actively encourages its citizens to invest in physical gold, in India the government wages a constant War on Physical Gold. Despite this war, Indian citizens largely ignore their government and continue to purchase physical gold in large quantities.
This infographic guides you through the following characteristics of the Indian Gold Market:
Gold held in India versus other major gold holding countries
Gold Price Quotation standards in India
Sources of Gold Imports into India, both fine gold and doré gold bar imports
Gold Smuggling into India
The Drivers of Indian Gold Demand
Gold Trading Volumes on India’s commodity exchanges, the MCX and NCDEX
The Indian Government’s constant War on Gold
Further information about the Indian Gold Market can also be found in BullionStar's Gold University gold market profiles.
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Starting 1 September 2016, the exemption of gold, silver and platinum coins from Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Singapore has been extended. The following coins, all available for ordering at BullionStar.com, are now available for purchase without any GST.
The updated IRAS Guide on Exemption of Investment Precious Metals (IPM) can be found here.
The 1 oz Queens' Beast gold coin is the first of ten coins in a newly released series by the British Royal Mint featuring the heraldic beasts that stood guard at The Queen's coronation. Each 1 oz Queen's Beast is minted in .9999 fine gold and is legal tender at £100. With the coin priced as a bullion coin, it is expected to find its' way into both the hands of investors and collectors.
This is the third coin released by the United Kingdom Royal Mint as part of its' Lunar Series program. The series began in 2014 with the release of the UK Gold Lunar Horse and has attracted investors and collectors alike who are impressed with the design of the coin, as well as the high quality of the finish. The front of the coin features a rhesus monkey swinging through the trees, along with the inscription "Year of the Monkey" . The UK Gold Lunar Monkey has a maximum mintage of just 8,888 coins.
This coin is part of the "Call of the Wild" Series released by the Royal Canadian Mint in 2014. The series highlights animals living in the wild that have been hunted to near extinction. The Gold Growling Cougar 2015 is the second coin in the series. The coin is unique in that the purity of the gold used to mint the coin is 99.999% pure, making it one of the purest gold coins in the world. The coin is legal tender at CAD$200 which is an unusually high denomination.
The 2 oz Queen's Beast silver coin is the first of ten coins in a newly released series by the British Royal Mint featuring the heraldic beasts that stood guard at The Queen's coronation. Each 2 oz Queen's Beast silver coin is minted in .9999 fine silver and is legal tender at £5. 2 oz silver bullion coins are relatively rare. With the attractive design of this coin, it can be purchased for a combination of its investment and collectors' properties.
The Armenian Silver Noah's Ark is one of the most price-worthy bullion coins on the market. The premium is very attractive and is on par or lower than other popular bullion coins like the Silver Maple and Silver Kangaroo. The coin has been minted since 2011. The Armenian Noah's Ark features a dove in flight with an olive branch and Noah's Ark floating on the flood waters. The coin is minted by the German mint, Geiger Edelmetalle. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .999 fine silver and is legal tender at 500 Dram. Also available in 1/2 oz and 1/4 oz.
The Silver Kangaroo is a new bullion release from the Perth Mint and follows in the footsteps of the popular Gold Kangaroo. The Silver Kangaroo features the iconic Australian Red Kangaroo, surrounded by outward radial lines. This enhances the image of the Kangaroo, rendering a 3D-like effect to the kangaroo. With the Silver Kangaroo now exempted from GST, the pricing of the coin is very competitive even compared to the popular Canadian Silver Maples. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .9999 fine silver and is legal tender at AUD$1.
This is the third coin released by the UK Royal Mint as part of its' Lunar Series program. The series was launched in 2014 with the release of the Lunar Horse and has attracted investors and collectors alike who are impressed with the design of the coin, as well as the high quality of the finish. The front of the coin features a rhesus monkey swinging through the trees, along with the inscription "Year of the Monkey". The UK Silver Lunar Monkey has a maximum mintage of just 138,888 coins. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .999 fine silver and is legal tender at GBP£2.
The Peregrine Falcon was the first coin released in the 4-coin "Birds of Prey" Series minted by the Royal Canadian Mint. The series depicts predators in action hunting for its' prey. The reverse of the coin depicts a Peregrine Falcon which can be seen on the coin ready to swoop down to catch its' prey. The mintage for each coin in the "Birds of Prey" series is limited to a maximum of just 1,000,000 coins. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .9999 fine silver and is legal tender at CAD$5.
The Great Horned Owl was the fourth and final coin released in the 4-coin "Birds of Prey" Series minted by the Royal Canadian Mint. The reverse of the coin depicts a menacing Great Horned Howl, wings spread as it descends upon its prey, along with the weight and purity of the coin. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .9999 fine silver and is legal tender at CAD$5.
The Wood Bison was the sixth and final coin released in the Canadian Wildlife Series, a series of coins minted by the Royal Canadian Mint. The series depicted animals in their natural habitat and has proven to be very popular with collectors. The reverse of the coin depicts the Wood Bison, which can be seen galloping through the snow. The mintage for each coin in the Wildlife series is limited to a maximum of just 1,000,000 coins. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .9999 fine silver and is legal tender at CAD$5.
2016 is the inaugural year for the Platinum Philharmonic which follows the Gold Philharmonic, first released in 1989, and the Silver Philharmonic released in 2008. The Platinum Philharmonic features the same loved design as the Gold Philharmonic and Silver Philharmonic. The obverse of the coin depicts the pipe organ in the Vienna Musikverein's Golden Hall. The reverse of the coin shows some of the instruments of the Vienna Philharmonic. Each coin is minted in 1 oz of .9995 fine platinum and is legal tender at €100.
Full official list of Gold Coins qualifying for GST exemption
(i) America Buffalo
(ii) Australia Kangaroo Nugget
(iii) Australia Lunar
(iv) Austria Philharmonic
(v) Canada Maple Leaf
(vi) China Panda
(vii) Malaysia Kijang Emas
(viii) Mexico Libertad
(ix) Singapore Lion
(x) United Kingdom Britannia
(xi) Canada Call of the Wild 3-coin series
(xii) United Kingdom Lunar
(xiii) United Kingdom The Queen's Beasts 10-coin series
Full Official list of Silver Coins qualifying for GST exemption
(i) America Eagle
(ii) Australia Kookaburra
(iii) Australia Koala
(iv) Australia Lunar
(v) Austria Philharmonic
(vi) Canada Maple Leaf
(vii) China Panda
(viii) Mexico Libertad
(ix) United Kingdom Britannia
(x) Australia Saltwater Crocodile
(xi) Canada Wildlife 6-coin series
(xii) Canada Birds of Prey 4-coin series
(xiii) United Kingdom Lunar
(xiv) Armenia Noah’s Ark
(xv) Australia Kangaroo
(xvi) United Kingdom The Queen's Beasts 10-coin series
Full official list of Platinum Coins qualifying for GST exemption
(i) America Eagle
(ii) Australia Koala
(iii) Australia Platypus
(iv) Canada Maple Leaf
(v) Austria Philharmonic
There are many precious metals refineries throughout the world, some local to their domestic markets, and some international, even global in scale. Many, but by no means all, of these refineries are on the Good Delivery Lists of gold and/or silver. These lists are maintained by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and they identify accredited refineries of large (wholesale) gold and silver bars that continue to meet rigorous proficient standards of refining and assaying, and that are, at the same time, financial viable and stable companies. Currently, there are 71 refiners on the LBMA’s gold Good Delivery List and 81 refiners on its silver Good Delivery List, or which just over 50 of these refineries are accredited to both the LBMA’s gold and silver lists.
But within the top echelons of the world’s precious metals refineries, a number of names stand out due to their sheer scale and pedigree, as well as their global brand recognition in the production of a wide range of investment grade gold and silver bullion bars. These names include PAMP, Argor-Heraeus, Metalor Technologies, Heraeus, Valcambi, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, and Rand Refinery.
5000 Tonnes of Gold
Together these seven refinery groups have a combined gold refining capacity approaching a mammoth 5000 tonnes per year. And that’s not even taking into account their refining capacity for other precious metals such as silver and platinum. Valcambi has a gold refining capacity of 1600 tonnes per annum, Metalor 800 tonnes, Heraeus 400 to 500 tonnes, PAMP over 450 tonnes, Argor-Heraeus over 400 tonnes, Tanaka 500 tonnes, and Rand Refinery 600 tonnes.
Notably four of these refineries are based in the gold refining powerhouse of Switzerland, of which three, PAMP, Valcambi and Argor-Heraeus, are clustered literally within a few kilometres from each other in the golden triangle of Swiss refineries centred within the very south of the Swiss canton of Ticino near the Swiss-Italian border. Metalor Technologies is the exception, as its Swiss headquarters facility is based in Neuchâtel, in the north-west of Switzerland. Of the non-Swiss refineries, Heraeus, Tanaka and Rand Refinery, these are headquartered in Germany, Japan and South Africa, respectively.
International in Scale and Ownership
Although three of the four giant Swiss refineries have historically each been owned by a Swiss bank, and although groups such as Heraeus and Tanaka are still privately owned and controlled by founding shareholders, its important to note that none of these giant refineries are purely local concerns, so their headquarters locations are to some extent a secondary concern. From operating facilities, to metal supplier networks, to customer bases, all of these refineries are now absolutely global in nature.
For example, Metalor operates four precious metals refineries globally, in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Massachusetts (US). Heraeus runs gold refining and gold bar production facilities in Hanau (Germany), Hong Kong, and Newark (US). In addition to its Swiss refinery, PAMP, part of the Geneva-based MKS PAMP group, runs a joint venture refinery in New Delhi, in conjunction with MMTC, a large state-owned Indian trading company.
In many cases, the ownership of these refineries is international and cross-border in nature, and increasingly so over the last few years. Agor-Heraeus is owned by the Austrian Mint and two German entities Commerzbank and Hereaus. In 2015, Valcambi was acquired by Indian jewellery producer Rajesh Exports, with one of the selling shareholders being US-based gold mining giant Newmont. Indeed, just last month, Tanaka announced the acquisition of Metalor Technologies, a development which has initiated an upcoming major Japanese - Swiss precious metals refinery combination. Metalor was already international in ownership, as its controlling shareholders are French and Belgian private equity companies. While Rand Refinery of South Africa is exclusively owned by five of the largest South African gold mining companies, some of these owners, such as Anglogold Ashanti and Goldfields, are vast international concerns. Rand Refinery has also increasingly had to cast its new wider for sourcing gold to process in its refinery as South African gold mining output has declined. Rand Refinery now refines over 75% of the gold mined on the African continent (excluding South Africa), and is also increasingly tapping into gold mining output from the US and Asia.
The World's Refinery Referees
Another indicator of the esteem within which these select refineries are held is their membership of the exclusively small panels of good delivery list referees which have been appointed to run the LBMA’s good delivery lists, and similar good delivery lists maintained by the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM) for platinum and palladium bars.
The LBMA’s good delivery referee panel is a five refinery member panel made up of Argor-Heraeus, Metalor Technologies, PAMP, Rand Refinery and Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo. The LPPM’s referee panel also comprises five refiner members, namely Metalor Technologies, PAMP, Valcambi, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo and platinum specialist Johnson Matthey. So not only are these refineries listed on these LBMA and LPPM good delivery lists, they actually help run the entire set of good delivery standards and processes. With the upcoming acquisition of Metalor by Tanaka, these LBMA and LPPM referee lists may need some adjustment, since Tanaka and Metalor are members of both referee panels.
Overwhelmingly, the gold and silver bars of these refiners are all also accepted as good delivery for the COMEX gold 100 oz and gold kilo futures contracts, the gold contracts of the Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM), the Dubai Good Delivery gold list maintained by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), and the good delivery standards of the Shanghai Gold Exchange.
Investment bullion bars
Although all of these precious metals refineries, to various extents, supply semi-fabricated precious metals, alloys and industrial precious metals suppliers to a diverse set of industrial and jewellery sector clients, it is perhaps the investment grade bullion products of these giant refiners that they are best known to a global audience.
PAMP fabricates a vast range of cast and minted gold and silver bars which are extremely popular across Asia and the Middle East, in fact, the premier brand in those regions. Valcambi manufactures a wide range of gold, silver and platinum / palladium investment bars, as well as precious metal coins and medals, and has become well-known as the international supplier of Combibars. Heraeus, Metalor and Argor-Heraeus produce a wide selection of gold and silver bars ranging from large wholesale (good delivery) bars through to smaller cast and minted gold and silver bars. Tanaka’s gold bars dominate the Japanese market and notably, Tanaka is also the sole distributor in Japan of gold and silver bullion Maple Leafs coins from the Royal Canadian Mint and gold and platinum Philharmonic coins from the Austrian Mint. Tanaka's acquisition of Metalor will be interesting in terms of how the combined group markets and distributes its investment bullion products going forward.
It's also not widely appreciated that Rand Refinery has refined over 50,000 tonnes of gold since it first opened in 1921, which is a staggering nearly one-third of all the gold ever mined. Rand Refinery large gold bars are held widely by central banks across the world. Rand Refinery’s flagship gold bullion Krugerrand coin is also held very widely, with over 60 million Krugerrands minted since 1967.
This article has not touched on the Perth Mint, Royal Canadian Mint or Royal Mint, which its important to remember, each operates its own precious metals refinery facilities in addition to being a sovereign national mint.
In summary, the seven refineries featured above are truly giants of the industry, and their longevity and customer trust attest to the authenticity and quality of their investment bullion products.
To learn more about the world's top precious metals refineries featured in this article, please see the full refinery profiles which have now been published on BullionStar's Gold University pages:
This Chinese Gold Market infographic guides you through the largest physical gold trading market in the world, China.
An impressive 16,000 tonnes of gold are held within China's borders.
Did you know that the Chinese wholesale demand for physical gold was an astounding 2,596 metric tonnes in 2015? This was supplied by China mining more gold than any other country in the world as well as importing more gold than any other country.
The chief architect of the Chinese gold market, the Chinese State, is continuously moving forward China's position as the dominant market player for physical gold globally.
The Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) is the largest market in the world for physical gold trading. It has 10 million institutional customers, 8.3 million individual customers and 55 certified gold vaults connected to it.
In this infographic you will learn more about the following features of the Chinese Gold Market:
Total Chinese Gold Reserves
Important Chinese Gold Developments
Trading Volumes on the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE)
Trading Volumes and Trading Lots for the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE)
Official Chinese Gold Reserves
The Role of the Chinese Banks on the Chinese Gold Market
Much is written in the precious metals world about gold’s characteristics, as well as how the behaviour of the gold price allows gold to play the role of a unique financial asset that retains purchasing power over time, acts as a safe haven asset, diversifies risk, and provides hedging benefits.
However, much of the material written in this area skips over an explanation of how the simple, yet powerful, relationships and interactions of the gold price actually work. The appreciation of these simple characteristics and relationships facilitates a far more intuitive understanding of why holding gold - in the form of physical gold - can be so beneficial.
One of the commonly overlooked yet critical attributes of gold that allows it to play the role of a monetary asset par excellence is that physical gold has a vast above ground supply, thereby making the global gold market highly liquid.
Gold is mined to be accumulated and nearly all of the gold ever mined is still in existence in various forms, such as in the form of above ground central bank gold holdings, private investment gold hoards, gold jewellery, or within industrial, medical and scientific applications. With gold recycling services now highly advanced and widespread, this also allows gold holdings to be easily transformed between uses by refineries in a cost-effective manner.
Since nearly all the gold ever mined is still in existence, the world’s accumulated stock of gold is multiple times the annual addition to the stock, i.e. the flow of gold. For ease of illustration, assume that 186,000 tonnes of gold have been mined throughout history and that annual mine production is 3,100 tonnes of gold. This gives a total gold stock-to-flow ratio of 60 times. Depending on the gold price, global holders of gold (in all its forms) are able, and sometimes willing, to step up and participate in gold transactions.
Global gold supply is therefore affected, not just by annual gold mining output, but by the existence of this vast above-ground stock of gold. And it is this stock of gold, over the long-term, that has an influence on the gold price, and that can explain gold’s role as a store of value and as a safe haven asset, as well as explaining gold’s price correlations with other asset prices.
Store of Value and Long-Term Inflation Hedge
Over long periods of time, gold has been proven to retain its real purchasing power. Therefore, gold acts as a long-term inflation hedge and as the ultimate store of value. This may appear to be a complex magical process but the theory is quite simple.
A fiat currency whose supply expands recklessly (which is really all fiat currencies throughout history and at present) will become debased. This leads to price inflation, i.e. an increase in the price levels of goods and services expressed in that fiat currency. As goods and services prices rise, the price of gold also adjusts upwards to compensate for these price rises.
The gold price rises, because on a global basis, there always exists an exchange ratio between physical gold and all fiat currencies, and the vast worldwide above-ground stock of physical gold can always be valued in terms of fiat currencies. But unlike fiat currencies, physical gold cannot be debased. Therefore, the gold price, and the valuation of gold, simply captures and reflects the purchasing power of all fiat currencies, and acts as an inflation hedge and a stable store of value. In practice, in a free market, the gold price is actually a signal of future inflationary expectations, and so gold is known as an inflation barometer.
Is his 1977 book of the same title, a UC Berkeley professor, Roy Jastram coined this phenomenon “The Golden Constant”. Jastram analyzed price level data from 1560 to 1976 for England/UK and from 1800 to 1976 for the United States. He then measured gold’s purchasing power over these periods and found it to be constant over time. Jastram’s study was updated in 2008 by Jill Leyland and also extended to the French and German economies. Leyland’s analysis arrived at similar findings, and was especially illustrative of gold’s critical role during the hyper-inflationary period in early 1920s Germany during which paper currencies rapidly became worthless. The ‘Golden Constant’ was interpreted by both studies as being due to gold’s large but slowly growing supply, resistance to debasement, as well as the gold price's unique behaviour in times of currency depreciation and market and political stress.
The gold as a currency hedge phenomenon can also explained by the above relationships. As fiat currencies become debased or suffer confidence shocks, they depreciate in value relative to gold, because gold has a large, slowly growing and finite above ground stock and cannot be debased. This brings us to the next point.
Gold as a Safe Haven and Hedge against Extreme Risk
Physical gold is a proven and accepted safe-haven. But why is this so? The answer is because gold acts as an inflation hedge and a currency hedge and so preserves wealth. In periods of market or economic stress, gold’s price rises because there is a flight to gold since, due to historical experience, the counterparty and default risk potential of most other assets gold comes to the fore, while gold has a highly liquid market, and gold is universally perceived as having no counterparty risk and no default risk. Therefore, gold takes on the role of financial insurance against monetary crises, geopolitical risks, and systemic financial system risks. Because of its high liquidity and lack of counterparty risk, gold also becomes the high-quality collateral during periods of extreme risk.
Gold’s Price Correlation vs Other Asset Prices
Fans of modern portfolio theory will be familiar with the fact that the gold price is not highly correlated with the prices of most other financial assets. Therefore, adding gold into an investment portfolio can lower portfolio risk. Again, the question is why? The answer is quite simple.
The low, and sometimes negative, correlation between the gold price and other asset prices is due to the gold price not being as dependent on economic and business cycles as most other financial asset or commodity prices. Therefore, the gold price doesn’t react to economic cycles in the same way as most other asset prices. This differing price reaction is… you guessed it… due to the large above-ground stocks of gold which can, due to gold’s liquidity and transformability, be mobilized (by price inducement) to enter the market place irrespective of the economic cycle.
Mobilizing physical Gold
As a practical example, this ability of existing above ground stockpiles of gold to be mobilized into the market is well illustrated by the large number of 400 oz gold bars that flowed out of central bank vaults and ETFs in London during 2013-2015, were transformed by Swiss gold refineries into smaller bars, and then flowed east to Asia. The west to east movement reversed in 2016, with large amounts of gold being imported into Switzerland from locations such as Dubai, Thailand, Turkey and Hong Kong for processing back into large gold bars and then sent back to the London market. Another example is gold recycling, which has an ongoing inverse relationship with the gold price. As the price rises, supplies of gold from recycling sources rise, since the price motivates potential sellers to enter the market. It's therefore worth remembering that gold mining supply is not the full story. Some of these huge above ground stocks of physical gold can and do enter the market in various ways and at various times. In this article, we have not even touched on the controversial subject of central bank gold leasing, a potentially large and hidden supply overhang, but a subject left for future analysis.
The following is the transcript of a presentation made by BullionStar's CEO Torgny Persson on 14 July 2016 to an audience at the FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, USA:
Liberty is Prevailing
Freedom, ladies and gentleman.
Freedom is the right to think, speak and act the way that we want.
I think I speak for a lot of us here today in saying that we no longer believe in the imposed concept of a government taking care of us from cradle to grave.
I love the principles on which this country was founded.
Freedom of Speech,
Freedom of Thought,
Freedom of Movement,
and Property Rights
But a lot has changed since. Authoritarian tyrants have kidnapped free society. But make no mistake, people across the globe are waking up. The tyrants are losing.
We can see clearly that the tide has turned. Political correctness is crumbling.
We had Brexit in the UK a couple of weeks ago. The end of the world according to mainstream media. We have the rise of Donald Trump here in the US. Love him or hate him but he’s breaking political correctness. He’s saying the unsayable.
It is starting to dawn on the tyrants that it’s all over.
More speech is always better than less speech.
So people are rising up, finally, people are rising up.
Liberty is prevailing! Liberty will always prevail. Freedom is a powerful concept. Freedom to think, say, read and do what you want.
We don’t need to be instructed how to live our lives. We have been oppressed by the government and lied to by the media long enough. Freedom is a force that can’t be stopped.
We don’t need anyone’s authority to govern our own lives. Freedom, think about it, is simply the concept of living your life the way you desire.
My name is Torgny. I’m an economist by training. I’m the founder of 3 different precious metals dealers worldwide. Being Swedish by origin, I first started the Swedish bullion dealer LibertySilver.se in 2008. Liberty because if you own precious metals, you can gain independence and liberty from the oppressive financial system as you’re not locked in to the fraudulent banking system.
I have a Master’s Degree in Economics. If you ever get the chance to study economics, don’t do it. Economics is upside down. Instead of modelling what is actually happening in the real world, economics is a product of professors peer reviewing each other, holding each other’s hands, coming up with obscure models that they try to push onto the world.
First, I will cover what is happening on the gold market by looking at the most important gold trends of 2016. What’s happening in the gold market and what can we expect ahead?
Then I will talk about Singapore because Singapore is the very best place in the world for wealth preservation and asset protection and it’s the best place in the world to buy and store precious metals.
And I will conclude by talking about how I have set up BullionStar with the purpose of servicing offshore bullion protection. I moved to Singapore with my family 3 years ago to establish BullionStar in Singapore simply because it is the best country in the world from which to offer precious metals services for international diversification, and asset and wealth protection.
Global Economy 2016
To understand the gold market, we have to understand what is happening in the global economy - and the relative ‘health’ of the global economy today.
Stock and bond markets have been performing well over the last years but the underlying economies are struggling. Record low interest rates, sub-zero in many countries, and massive money printing have’t triggered any real economic or trade growth.
We can even see that the viability of innovating, of creating new products, of selling products for a profit has become secondary to the goal of just having a corporate presence on the public investment markets. Today, it’s more important for company managers to list their company on the stock exchange than it is to actually create an innovative product that makes money.
So we have an economic system that incentivizes reckless debt behaviour, which leads to asset bubbles, boom-bust cycles, massive debt, mal-investment and inflation.
But how has this monster of debt and inflation been created? What’s at the core of our current economic system?
Today’s Monetary System
It’s the monetary system that allows government to steal through taxation and inflation. Taxation is of course the same as theft. They just had to invent another world of it. Income tax of 30% sounds a hell of a lot better than income theft of 30%. Everyone agrees that it would be wrong for me to go up to someone in this room with $100 and steal $30.
Just because a group of people get together and call themselves the government, it doesn’t change the immorality in stealing.
The monetary system, of course, also redistributes wealth via inflation. Inflation is also theft but in a discreet way as it happens slowly without the general population being aware of it. What did a gallon of milk cost when you were young? What did an ice cream cost?
Inflation is a redistribution of wealth from late receivers of newly printed money i.e. you and I, normal people, to the early receivers. i.e. the government, the central banks and the commercial banks.
The US Dollar is important in this context because the US Dollar is the reserve currency of the world. As we can see from this chart, the US Dollar actually did pretty well until the beginning of the 20th century. But what happened in the beginning of the 20th century?
The Federal Reserve was created in 1913 and the world went off the gold standard.
Since then the world’s currencies have lost 99% or more of their value.
We have been indoctrinated into believing that the world’s current monetary system is a natural system, but nothing is further from the truth. We should have moved on from it a long time ago as this monetary system really is the root cause of the financial debt disease that we are seeing today.
How is Money Created Today?
Today more and more people are becoming aware of the Federal Reserve’s counterfeiting of money through Quantitative Easing (QE). However, it’s still a mystery to many how most of our money is created today.
Most of today’s money is created not by central banks, but by normal commercial banks. It’s just created out of thin air when the commercial bank extends a loan. There’s nothing backing this money creation, there’s nothing tangible to it.
Let’s illustrate how it works with an example. We have Robert who is in the market for a 1 million dollar house. Robert’s career choice is as a fast food restaurant worker, part-time, on minimum wage. But Robert knows he has to look credit worthy when meeting his bankster so he dusts off his tie for the occasion.
The bankster takes a quick look at Robert and judges him as credible. No problem. You’ll get the mortgage. Now, where did the USD 1 million that the bank lent Robert come from?
It was created out of thin air when the bank extended the loan to Robert. It was just created as a book-keeping entry in the bank’s accounting system out of thin air.
This is how approximately 92% of US money supply is created today. It’s created by banks out of thin air when lending. It’s easy to understand, but for some people hard to believe as it’s just too absurd.
92% Electronic Currency
Only 8% of the US Dollar money supply today exists in physical form and even this 8% are just worthless pieces of paper that only have a value as long as people can be brainwashed into believing they have a value.
Some people actually still think that the US Dollar is gold backed. As a thought experiment, let’s calculate what the price of gold would have to be for the US Dollar to be backed by gold.
The Federal Reserve claims to hold, and note that I say claims to hold because there has never been any independent proper audit of the US Treasury vault holdings, 8133 metric tons of gold. At the same time there’s about 17 trillion of US Dollars in circulation. The price of gold is currently about USD 1300 per troy ounce. The US gold reserves as valued in US Dollars would therefore be worth about 340 billion dollars. This means that the price of gold would have to rise 50-fold for all outstanding US Dollars to be backed by gold today. 50-fold. This is how much the value of our currencies have been eroded.
What is Money?
We can thus see that the world’s current money system isn’t serving us the people. But what is money in the true sense?
For something to emerge as money on a free market, it needs to serve three purposes.
Medium of Exchange – Money is the intermediary in the exchange of goods and services. If we don’t have money, we’re back to barter systems of medieval times which is very impractical.
Unit of Account – Money is supposed to serve as a measuring stick that everyone understands. Money is a frame of reference. And sure, if I tell you that something costs $100 you have a pretty good idea how much that is, but the problem is that it takes $100 today to buy something that cost $1 a hundred years ago.
Store of Value – Money is supposed to keep its purchasing power over time, to keep its value.
Let’s now compare paper currency and gold to see which has the best monetary characteristics.
Durability – Money is not supposed to corrode, oxidize or burn. Well, paper money burns easily whereas gold melts under heat but isn’t destroyed.
Portability: Paper money and gold can both be moved. Electronic currency can be moved very easily but can also be deleted by the stroke of a key.
Divisibility – Let’s do an experiment. I have here a 10 dollar note and a 1 gram gold bar. Now what happens if a split this 10 dollar note, what does it become? Does it become two 5 dollar notes? No it doesn’t, it becomes two worthless pieces of paper. Now what if I instead split this 1 gram gold bar into two equally sized pieces, what does it become? It becomes 2 bars of 0.5 grams each which together is still what I had at the beginning i.e. 1 gram! This tells us a lot about the worthlessness of our paper money.
Fungibility – Fungibility means that each and every unit is indistinguishable from the other
Intrinsic Value – Gold has a high value because of its metallic characteristics. It has high density, it’s soft but still strong, and it’s what’s called malleable, meaning that it can be stretched without breaking. A 1 oz gold coin can actually be stretched out 50 miles without breaking. That’s 6 times all the way up and down the Las Vegas strip!
Imbalances from Using Dishonest Money
By using dishonest money as the world is doing today, we get huge global imbalances.
The US is running a massive trade deficit. There’s much more stuff coming into the US than there is leaving. How are the excess imports paid for? The answer is that it’s paid for by newly created money.
It’s interesting to note that it’s only possible to run trade deficits to this enormous extent if you issue the currency that is used as reserve currency. This is thus only possible in the US, as the US Dollar is used as the world’s reserve currency. In any other, non-US country, it wouldn’t have been possible because the currency would depreciate when there’s a continuous trade deficit.
When the currency is depreciating, it becomes more expensive to import goods and it becomes cheaper for others to buy exported goods. Trade is therefore rebalancing.
This is not happening in the US though and the reason for it is that the US Dollar itself is demanded as reserve currency around the world.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing towards the US because of this, blaming the US for living beyond its means. I don’t agree with that though as it is the rest of the world, i.e. non-US countries, that is demanding US Dollar as reserves which they don’t necessarily have to do. So this is what’s called an exorbitant privilege.
China & US Debt
Things are changing rapidly though as structural changes to the system are long overdue. The system we have today is in no way sustainable. The US Dollar is losing structural support from surplus countries, most notably from China.
Foreign countries are no longer increasing their reserves of US Dollars. China is no longer increasing its holdings of US Treasuries. They stopped buying them. So the system of the US Dollar acting as a reserve currency is very fragile and is only holding together based on the premise of more bribes. Private investors, especially in countries where the markets and currencies are failing such as in South America, buy bonds but they only do so on the promise of more and more easy money to come. People have been conditioned for many decades to run to the US Dollar as a safe haven although I predict that to soon change.
Foreign governments and particularly China are not interested in owning anymore US debt though. The question is when will the private support for the US Dollar stop, because then there’s no one to support US debt anymore except the Fed itself. When will it happen? Timing wise I’m not sure. When I started Liberty Silver in 2008, I thought it would happen much sooner that it has. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen though. We will first get a strong deflationary pressure, we are basically in that phase already. Credit will default but this will not be accepted by the governments, who will buy up debt at all costs, eventually leading to a crisis of confidence and then we’re in big trouble because then people will start to spend their savings quickly leading to hyperinflation. And when that happens, debt and credit is not a good store of value.
And who best understands this situation today? China still has a big surplus though so what do they buy instead?
Chinese Gold Rush
They are buying tangible assets. Gold is one such asset but China is also a major foreign direct investor in all sorts of projects from mining in Africa to infrastructure in central Asia.
The Chinese understand that the days of the US Dollar are numbered.
Whereas Westerners have mostly been shunning gold for the latter part of this decade, the Chinese have been vacuuming the world’s vaults for physical gold. This chart shows that the Chinese, including both the government and private sector, are holding at least 16,000 tonnes of gold.
The Chinese government even runs adverts on national TV encouraging everyone to buy gold. Just imagine the US government running adverts on national TV encouraging people to buy gold.
Why do the Chinese do this? The simple answer is that they understand that gold is a stable savings asset, but they also understand that the days of the US Dollar as the reserve currency of the world are numbered, and they understand that gold is a much better safeguard against inflation and currency destruction than anything else.
This trend of gold flowing from the West to the East is the same as a flow of power from the West to the East. It has huge geopolitical implications because whoever has the gold in the end has the power. In my opinion, the Chinese are buying as much gold as they possibly can without breaking the neck of the market.
Western vs. Eastern Gold Mentality
I’m in a fortunate position because I’m running 3 bullion dealers across the world, both in the west and in the east. I have two businesses in Europe and one in Singapore in Asia so I’m fortunate to be able to compare eastern and western gold mentality.
What I see is that when the price of gold is going up, westerners buy. In the west, most people are looking to get a return on their investment. That’s how we’ve been conditioned because if we don’t get a return, inflation will eat up the value of the money.
But when the price of gold is dropping, there are a lot of Asians buying. We get queues outside our shop. Easterners are not looking for a return on their investment. What I see is that easterners don’t view gold as an investment vehicle. They view gold as real wealth, they view it as a safeguard against inflation and currency destruction. They view it as savings which provides independence.
In the west, we see the opposite. When the gold price is dropping, Westerners give up. It’s not good for my investments so I need to chase some other investment. So in the West, people instead buy when the price goes up, due to being trend seekers, as we’ve also witnessed this year.
But in my opinion, we can learn a lot from the Eastern mentality because the Eastern mentality is that gold is savings. There’s no counterparty risk for gold. You don’t have to trust any government, central bank or commercial bank when you buy and hold gold. You don’t need to trust anyone because you hold your wealth yourself so you’re in control.
Simply put, in the East, people are value buyers and buy for generational wealth, whereas in the West people mostly buy gold for the lure of currency profits.
How can Westerners piggyback this successful strategy to save/invest in gold outside the reach of intrusive governments?
Let’s take a look at Singapore. I’ve been living in Singapore for about 3 years. I relocated with my family 3 years ago from Sweden, the worst socialist country in the world. And the country with the most political correctness by far anywhere. You think it’s bad in the US, check out Sweden. Socialism is cancer. I’m not going back there.
I moved to Singapore simply because it’s the best country in the world for precious metals, it’s as easy as that. Whether my kids agree, I don’t know but they like to play with silver coins and actually understand the intrinsic value of precious metals much better than most people in their 40’s and 50’s.
Singapore is the new Switzerland for asset protection. It’s the best and safest country in the world for wealth preservation.
Singapore is unique. Let me tell you my story about when I first went to Singapore. My business partner and I first visited Singapore on an exploratory trip researching whether to establish BullionStar in Singapore after we discovered that the Singaporean government was abolishing the sales tax on precious metals in Singapore in 2012. This is interesting because how many countries today are deregulating anything let alone precious metals? In other countries the rulebook just gets bigger and bigger. I know there’s many absurd examples from the US. From Sweden where I originate, the guidance on the sales tax that all companies must know and follow is 3,000 pages long. That’s insane. The rulebook of absurdity is just growing. Singapore may be the only country that is taking the opposite route of actually removing rules.
In Singapore, the government wants to create a trading, transit and storage hub for precious metals so they actually removed the major hindrance to that, the sales tax (GST / VAT as it’s called in some countries), which is rather unique.
So on my first trip to Singapore together with my business partner, we went to one of the suppliers in Singapore to discuss business opportunities. We had a general business discussion and they said, have you talked to the government yet? So I’m from Sweden where if you send a question to a government authority, in best chance you may get a reply after a few months if you’re lucky and they’ll most likely harass you with an inspection or audit while they’re at it.
We’ve been through a lot of that in Sweden even though we’re following all the rules meticulously.
The Singapore supplier told us that we can indeed contact the governmental trade agency in Singapore so I said why not and I sent the government contact person an e-mail 11 pm. I get a reply in three minutes saying that we’re welcome to meet them the next morning at their office.
Baffled, I replied that we will show up so we rock up to their office at 9 am in the morning. There are two guys meeting us. They are in their 20’s - 30’s and we discuss business opportunities with them. They tell us that we are welcome in Singapore, and that they want us here, and they encourage us to get started, and facilitate the introductions to different stakeholders and suppliers.
I met many bureaucrats in my life but that has never happened before, because bureaucrats are normally just interested in growing their reach, killing anything productive around them. Whereas in this case, they wanted to help us and even came up with their own private business ideas. And this is the Government! Where else would that happen, would it happen in the US? ‘
We were quite amazed and we went for it and established BullionStar in Singapore four years ago.
So in general terms, the Singaporean government is keen to incentivize productivity and they understand that the private economy is the backbone of the economy.
Singapore was actually literally kicked out of the Malaysian Federation 51 years ago. With nothing going for them and with no natural resources, the journey since has been a tremendous one. In a mere 50 years, which isn’t a very long time when it comes to building a country, they’ve established the premier financial center of the world. They have done this with a very strong rule of law where there’s a lot of freedom within a set framework. You have a lot of freedom as long as you keep within that framework and you especially have good business freedom.
Now, if you bring in guns or drugs, you’ll be put away for a long time if not forever. I’m a libertarian so I don’t really agree ideologically but I can see how this has been serving Singapore very well as a city-state, as there’s no shootings whatsoever and very little drugs.
Singapore is the most business friendly country in the world. Hands down. The Singaporean government runs Singapore like it was a company.
They focus on productivity and innovation and luckily they are a too important as a country to be listed on any grey or black list because of their low tax regime and financial protection. They are also very good diplomats. A few years ago, OECD put pressure on Singapore to start signing Tax Information Exchange Agreements. The Singaporean government said, yes we will start signing these agreements. To date more than five years later, they have signed one such agreement with…Berumda…Strengthening Singaporean-Bermudian ties to ensure that the OECD doesn’t bother them.
Compare this to Sweden is day and night. Sweden is often perceived as some sort of mellow well-working ideal. Bernie Sanders is touting Scandinavia as some sort of socialistic dream. Let me tell you, he’s got no clue what he’s talking about. Sweden’s been going downhill severely in the last decades. Crime is rampant. Due to the migration crisis, Sweden tops all countries for sexual violence. In 2015 alone, 163,000 asylum seekers predominantly from Syria and Afghanistan, arriving into a country with a population of only 9 million. Everything is totally breaking down. You could never run a storefront precious metals dealership in Sweden like we do in Singapore.
Sweden is also practically cashless. Cash is rare as a payment mechanism, and oftentimes no longer accepted. I was very concerned about my family while we still lived in Sweden even though my Swedish bullion dealer business, Liberty Silver, didn’t have a physical shop but just sent parcel deliveries via insured registered mail.
In Singapore, you can see currency exchangers exchanging tens of thousands of dollars without any security glass or any protection whatsoever and it’s completely normal. A couple of months after I moved to Singapore, I walked past Raffles Place, in the Central Business District, and there was a currency exchanger in the process of counting cash in a counter, standing outside his booth with a currency counting machine. Just when I walked past, there was a gust of wind and a pile of bills were taken by the wind and this was on the busiest street of Singapore with lots of people walking by. The exchanger calmly walked around and picked up the 100 dollar notes like nothing had happened. I had to veer to the side not to step on any of them.
What does that tell you about the security in Singapore? It’s incredibly secure. No one would dream of doing anything. It’s a combination of no social exclusion and harsh penalties. There’s no unemployment whatsoever in Singapore. Every shop you walk into has a sign: “we are hiring”. There’s a shortage of labor. Social standards are thus good. At the same time, the punishments for violent crimes are extremely harsh and includes caning.
Michael Fay, a US citizen, was actually sentenced to six strokes of the cane in 1993 after vandalising cars. The US protested loudly that caning was excessive for a teenager who committed a non-violent crime. The US embassy pointed out that the damage to the cars he vandalised wasn’t permanent but the scars from the caning would leave permanent scars on the US citizen. Bill Clinton pressured Singapore to grand Mr. Fay clemency but Singapore stood its ground and carried out the sentence although reduced to four strokes. It’s a rather harsh punishment. Your buttocks are bared and after three stokes, deep cuts are usually opening with blood squirting out. The enforcer must use the full force of his arm.
So this is an example of the rule of law in Singapore and whether you like it or not, it seems to serve as a deterrent.
Bullion in Singapore
Singapore is the very best country in the world for buying and storing precious metals.
There are no taxes on bullion whatsoever in Singapore. The Singaporean government has actually deregulated the precious metals market. There is no sales tax, no capital gains tax, no import or export taxes, no tariffs or restrictions, no inheritance tax, no gift tax, no dividend tax. Before 2012, there used to be GST (sales tax) on physical bullion, but as I mentioned they abolished that tax in 2012 as they want to encourage bullion dealers to establish in the country.
As we all know, Western countries introduce numerous invasive laws targeting privacy and that place the right to buy and store bullion confidentially under attack.
Importantly, there are no reporting requirements, whether domestically or internationally, when someone buys or stores precious metals in Singapore. Your bullion is your private business and we are under no obligation to report your holdings to anyone. If you buy and store bullion with us, we don’t report it to anyone. You can hold bullion completely confidentially in Singapore and that also applies to FATCA. There’s no FATCA reporting for BullionStar because we are not defined as a financial institution. We are keen on helping you defend your right to buy and store bullion confidentially without your local authorities prying into your bullion ownership.
The Singaporean government has chosen precious metals as a growth industry. Singapore is keen on creating a trade, transit and storage hub for precious metals in Singapore.
As regards safety, you can confidently walk into our storefront bullion retail store in central Singapore and buy bullion with cash, then hand carry your bullion out without being hassled due to the zero crime rate. This has the advantage that the insurance cost for bullion in Singapore is low. By the way, the sentence for robbery in Singapore is up to 20 years in prison and a minimum of six strokes of the cane.
In Singapore, property ownership rights are also very strong. Singapore doesn’t allow frivolous litigation. Remember that it’s less than 100 years since the US outlawed gold ownership. Western governments have a long history of stealing. It seems they can’t help themselves when it comes to stealing. Singapore has no history of any confiscations, seizures or anything like that.
So, storing bullion in Singapore is an insurance policy against government intervention, wealth confiscation and frivolous litigation.
What makes BullionStar unique is that we combine online usability with physical accessibility.
BullionStar.com is our website where you can buy, sell and store physically allocated and segregated bullion.
Buy & Store Bullion in Singapore
It’s very easy to get started with us. Other bullion dealers also say that it’s easy but then they nonetheless slap you with 7 steps and require you to send in documentation. Signing up for an account with us is a one page registration form. It takes less than a minute. Much easier than signing up for a Gmail account or booking a flight online.
There are no documentation requirements. We don’t force you to send us any documentation at all. You input an e-mail address, password, your address and select a PIN number. It takes, if you’re quick on the keyboard, 30 seconds, and placing an order takes another 20 seconds. You select the items to buy, you go to the checkout and submit your order. One page checkout. I think I speak for many of us in how unnecessarily complicated everyone makes their online interfaces. PayPal, booking a flight ticket, government agencies, banks. They try to trick you into different things you don’t want. Add insurance, add car rental etc.
It should be easy to buy and store gold. A lot of customers are genuinely surprised about how easy we make it. We get good feedback on how easy it is to deal and transact with us, and we have over 600 genuine Google reviews with an average of 4.8.
You can handle everything online 24/7. You can buy, sell, store, order physical withdrawal of your metals online and even audit your metals online.
Trust is very important in the bullion industry. If you trust as with your hard-earned savings, you have to be able to trust us. What I tell our customers is, don’t trust us. Do your own due diligence. Don’t take my word for it. Read up on us. Google us and do your own due diligence.
BullionStar Vault Storage
If you choose to buy and store bullion with us, it’s important to know that we have five different auditing methods. We employ the LBMA-approved auditor Bureau Veritas to do third-party audits on all customer holdings bi-annually. We have something called the Live Audit Report where everyone can anonymously check on their own and all other customers’ bullion holdings. Furthermore, we allow and encourage customers to walk-in to our bullion center in Singapore and do their own auditing of their own metal. If you choose to go to Singapore to audit your metals, you don’t even have to notify us beforehand. You can just show up and ask to audit your metals, and we facilitate this on the spot. We will bring out your metals from the vault to the meeting room. You can go through everything and compare your bars and coins against your records and have a look at your own metals. This auditing program it thus very comprehensive.
We also take photos of your bullion and upload these images to your account. As soon as you have settled your payment, we process the metals into vault storage and take pictures of the actual bullion so that you can compare the bar serial numbers with your invoice. If you then come to our bullion center to do a physical audit yourself, you can again check on the serial bar numbers and if you physically withdraw your bars, those are the exact bars you receive.
With us, you own specific products. Your bars are allocated with you holding the direct legal title to the physical metal.
You can of course have your products shipped to you at any time fully insured. Even though Singapore is the safest country in the world, we have full insurance protection with the largest specie underwriter in the world, XL Insurance, for all risks at full replacement value. You can download the insurance document online. What’s good is that as there’s virtually no crime in Singapore, it makes the storage premiums low. We charge 0.39% of the average value per annum for gold and 0.59% for silver which includes full insurance for all risks, and all handling and online access for your segregated and allocated gold, which is very competitive.
Just like you can physically audit your metals, you can also come in to our shop to physically withdraw your metals without any prior notification. You show up, present your ID and tell us that you want the metals now and we simply hand over the metals to you.
Walk-in Bullion Center in Singapore
We can do this as our vault is actually integrated into the same venue as our shop.
Our bullion center consists of a retail bullion shop, showroom and vault in one and the same venue truly making it a one-stop-shop for everything precious metals. Our shop used to be a bank branch and has an old style bank vault built into it. The vault was built several decades ago and I believe the reason why the vault is still there is because of its sheer impenetrability. It’s 30 inches thick, constructed from concrete and full of steel bars in the walls.
This is a unique shop. Nowhere else in the world do you have the flexibility of buying, selling, storing, depositing, valuing, physically auditing and physically withdrawing metals in one and the same storefront place without any prior notification.
You can just walk in, we have 20 showcase displays full of precious metals. So unlike many other dealers, we don’t hide online on the internet and we believe this combination is quite unique.
Singapore is a long way from the US and you don’t need to visit us to buy and store bullion with us. You can handle everything online. But if you ever go to Asia, I highly recommend that you pay us a visit to have a look. Whether you’re a customer or not as it’s a pretty cool concept.
BullionStar Cash & Bullion Account
Another unique feature that we offer is our BullionStar account. If you’re considering opening an offshore account, we have the ideal solution for that. It’s becoming more and more difficult to open bank accounts abroad. This is true generally but especially true for US customers.
With a BullionStar account, you can hold not only bullion on your account but also cash. You can hold US Dollars, Euros and Singapore Dollars on the account. It works like a bank account but we are not a bank. This is what is called a stored value facility and is under the same regulations as e.g. how PayPal holds client money.
As we don’t operate under the risky fractionally reserved banking system, this is much safer than a bank account.
It makes it very easy to trade physical bullion, and makes it easy to average in or out of positions.
Funds can be held indefinitely on the account and can be used towards purchasing bullion at any time or you can withdraw your funds at any time.
BullionStar Gold & Silver Bars
BullionStar Gold & Silver Bars are the world’s first and only gold & silver bar traded without any spread without the buy and sell price. This means that at any given point in time, the buy price is the same as the sell price.
What’s the hook you might ask. Well, the initial price premium is slightly higher compared to the spot price of the metal than for other bars of comparable price, but instead there is no spread so you don’t have trading cost whatsoever thereafter.
The bars are also very aesthetically attractive and if you haven’t been yet, come by our booth 425 to check them out.
The BullionStar gold bar is produced by the Swiss refiner Argor-Heraeus and there’s an inscription on the back side of the bar stating “Money since 4,000 B.C.” matching our ideological belief that gold is money.
The BullionStar silver bar is produced by the renowned German refiner Heraeus.
These bars have become tremendously popular as they eliminate the often large spreads faced by physical silver investors.
BullionStar Offshore Bullion Solutions in Summary
BullionStar was set up for the purpose of international diversification, and to provide confidential offshore bullion storage while being very accessible and transparent for the customer him/herself.
Even though we have a lot of local Singaporean customers given our local shop, it was, to a large degree, set up to cater to offshore bullion protection specifically.
There are no taxes on bullion in Singapore and there are no reporting requirements whether locally or internationally. We treat your holdings with full confidentiality although we are very transparent to our customers.
BullionStar is unique in that we combine online usability with ease of registration and ease of online trading coupled with the accessibility of a physical bullion shop and vault in central Singapore. It’s a one-minute process to sign up and place your first order with us.
With your BullionStar account, you can hold both bullion and cash funds in US Dollars, Euros and Singapore dollars on the same account, which is very convenient as it takes out the banks as the middle man between you and us.
When you hold metal with us, it’s your metal – fully allocated and segregated. We deal with physical metals only. With us, you specifically choose which items you buy. You place an order on e.g. a 1 oz PAMP gold bar. We upload pictures of the specific gold bar that you own to your account. We input the serial bar numbers on your invoice. We store that specific bar for you specifically and you have the legal title to that gold bar.
You can then follow your holdings online in real-time and when you prefer, you can sell or physically withdraw (or audit) your 1 oz gold bar. When you audit or withdraw your gold bar, you are given the exact same gold bar with the exact same serial number as you were allocated when you bought it.
By introducing the BullionStar Gold & Silver Bars which can be traded without a spread between the buy and sell price, we’ve solved the problem of large premiums that physical bullion investors and savers were facing.
And we have the most competitive storage fees in the industry.
But don’t take my word for it, check us out online and while Singapore is a long way from here, if you’re ever around in Southeast Asia, come and visit us at 45 New Bridge Road in Singapore. Our booth number is 425 where we have some awesome metal on display and also a very cool video game, the QE defender, where the objective is to obstruct the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan from dropping money into banks.
Saturday July 16 wrapped up BullionStar's attendance at its first FreedomFest conference and convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. During the event from Wednesday July 13 through to the Saturday afternoon, the BullionStar team interacted with a wide-range of interesting event attendees, discussing topics ranging from the role of precious metals in investors portfolios, to the safety and security of having offshore storage of investment gold and silver at BullionStar's vault facility in Singapore.
Prospective US customers were interested in the fact that there are no sales or other taxes on bullion in Singapore, no reporting requirements on bullion, and that Singapore is a safe and stable political jurisdiction which upholds property ownership rights and where the Singaporean government actively supports the gold sector. On the topic of specific vaulting infrastructure, potential customers learned that BullionStar's "My Vault" facility provides secure, insured, allocated and segregated bullion storage with 24/7 on-line access to your holdings, using multiple levels of auditing, and that you can hold both bullion and cash on your BullionStar account, thereby using your BullionStar account as a real alternative to a bank account in Singapore.
BullionStar Grand Prize Draw - Silver Bars
Throughout the 3 day convention, attendees could enter a draw at the BullionStar stand for a chance to win one of three substantial silver bar prizes. Additionally, everyone who entered the draw received a free 1/10 troy oz silver coin of .999 purity produced by Golden State Mint, a coin with a design based on the Walking Liberty silver half-dollar historically issued by the US Mint.
The prize draw for the BullionStar silver bars took place on Saturday afternoon as the conference was wrapping up. First prize in the competition was a BullionStar 1 kg silver bar worth nearly US $800. BullionStar silver bars are 99.99% pure silver bars with a high-lustre finish produced by German refinery Heraeus on behalf of BullionStar. Second price was a 10 troy oz Heraeus minted silver bar, produced by Heraeus at its refinery in Hanau, Germany, while third prize was a 5 troy oz Heraeus minted silver bar.
Luke Chua, BullionStar COO and Torgny Persson, BullionStar CEO sum up their impressions of FreedomFest 2016
One of the major themes resonating at this year's FreedomFest event appeared to be that the founding principles of the US such as property ownership rights, personal liberty, and freedom of speech are being eroded, and that the government is encroaching on personal privacy. These themes were also picked up by Rand Paul's keynote speech noted in a previous BullionStar dispatch. A common talking point for people who came to the BullionStar stand during FreedomFest was the worldwide banking reporting obligations imposed on banks by the US Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) rules and regulations.
Beyond the Frozen Monopoly - Third Party Candidates
Given the current media focus on Republican and Democratic candidates in the upcoming 2016 US presidential election, US and international media often forget that there are other parties’ candidate nominees running in the US presidential race such as Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. And so FreedomFest was eye-opening in that it was a reminder that other political parties do exist in the US apart from these two powerful incumbent parties, and that there is plenty of political thinking in the US outside the mainstream media's narrowly defined consensus.
In a Reason.TV interview conducted at FreedomFest with Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, and his running mate for vice-president, William Weld, former Governor of Massachusetts, Weld opened the interview with the interesting perspective that there is a “frozen monopoly of the two parties that has frozen a lot of people's thinking in place,… And they think, 'I have to be a right-winger,' or, 'I have to be a left-winger.' They're not thinking, 'What do I think?”
Steve Forbes - Gold Keeps its Intrinsic Value
During another interview at the convention, Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, posed a very timely and interesting question, asking not which way the Fed will move on interest rates but “Why is the Federal Reserve manipulating interest rates in the first place?”. Forbes highlighted that interest rates are the cost of borrowing money and rewarding lenders, and that “by manipulating interest rates, the Fed has deformed credit markets”.
On the subject of gold, Forbes said that “gold is an insurance policy against turmoil and against government’s mis-behaviour towards the currency” and he underscored that it was important to remember that "gold keeps its intrinsic value", and that the price changes in gold are just people’s changing perceptions of the value of currencies. No doubt most BullionStar readers would tend to agree with these sentiments.
That wraps up our coverage of the FreedomFest 2016 event. We hope that these insights have been helpful, and we look forward to providing readers with updates at future events around the world that BullionStar may attend.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul, a Republican representative of Kentucky in the Senate, was a keynote speaker at the second full day of the FreedomFest conference on Friday afternoon. Paul who was himself a GOP presidential candidate this year, is the son of well-known Ron Paul, former Republican congressman for Texas. Rand Paul, like his father, advocates libertarian policies such as limited government, personal liberty, and free market capitalism.
In his speech, Senator Paul highlighted the continual encroachment of government regulations on personal liberty, regulations which are mostly imposed by unelected bureaucrats, the EU being a case in point. Paul referenced the Brexit vote as an example of the growing concern among populations of such bureaucratic unaccountability.
Turning to the US, the senator highlighted the often arduous process of getting bills through the Senate and said that over-regulation and the erosion of checks and balances between Executive and the Judiciary has created a stifling environment of control. This he said, was analogous to invisible barbed wire around the people, but that it is government, and not the people, that should be the ones ring-fenced by this invisible barbed wire.
On economic issues, Paul said he was concerned that it is becoming increasingly hard for ordinary American people to attain the American dream of pursuing free enterprise to achieve wealth creation and success, but that it was vital for reform and political action to ensure that this remained possible for the current and future generations of US citizens.
Fielding questions from the floor, the senator, said that he was in favor of an independent structure to allow the growth of a viable third political party in the US, and that he was still pursuing the audit the Federal Reserve bill through the Senate.
Earlier that afternoon, libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, also spoke at the same forum in FreedomFest.
BullionStar's interactive game - End the Fed
BullionStar's philosophical view is that gold is money part excellence and that the current monetary system is one in which a fraudulent fractional reserve banking system sits center stage. This monetary system is now experiencing round after round of quantitative easing and intervention by central banks, while simultaneously inflating the global money supply. These developments primarily benefits central banks, governments and the large commercial banks at the expense of everyone else.
As a light-hearted way of illustrating this important message, BullionStar has created an interactive video game which captures this central bank - commercial bank symbiosis, featuring a number of well-known central banker characters such as Mario Draghi and Ben Bernanke. A video show-casing this game has now uploaded to BullionStar's YouTube channel - see above.
The first full day of the FreedomFest conference took place 14 July in Las Vegas, USA, an event at which BullionStar is attending and exhibiting. Conference proceedings took the form of general speaker and panel sessions in a large auditorium in the morning, and multiple breakout sessions of speakers and panel discussions in the afternoon. Morning events included the well-attended "The Big Bull vs Bear Debate", a panel session of well-known investment commentators such as Alexander Green and Peter Schiff. Lunchtime speeches included a keynote speech by former supreme court judge and constitutional expert Andrew Napolitano who discussed the topic 'Do We still have a Constitution?".
How Safe is Your Gold?
In an afternoon speakers session, BullionStar CEO Torgny Persson presented on and discussed the topic 'How Safe is Your Gold?".
In his presentation, the BullionStar CEO gave the audience an insightful introduction into how the current global monetary system is based on the fraudulent concept of central banks monetizing debt and debasing currencies, and how commercial banks dilute money supply even more than central banks by creating money out of thin air via their lending practices. Mr Persson highlighted how a fully gold backed US Dollar would require a gold price multiple times higher than the current trading price, and the exorbitant privilege that the US Dollar, for now, retains as global reserve currency. He then illustrated and discussed the purposes and characteristics of money, and the degree to which fiat paper currency and gold fulfill these characteristics.
The discussion then focused on how Singapore is the world's safest place in which to store bullion, due to a number of factors such as the Singaporean government's support for the bullion industry, the economic and political stability of the city-state, and the near zero crime rate. Further advantages of storing precious metals in Singapore include the lack of sales and other taxes, the fact that there are no reporting requirements to report bullion transactions or holdings to any authorities either in Singapore or worldwide.
The discussion wrapped up with a Q & A from the audience covering topics such as how to transfer in existing bullion holdings from the US to Singapore, generational wealth transfers of bullion holdings, how Singapore would fare off if the US Dollar collapsed, and storage costs of gold and silver using BullionStar's vault storage services.
BullionStar's stand in the exhibition area of FreedomFest near the entrance to the conference auditoriums proved popular with attendees throughout the day, especially in the breaks between speaker and panel debate sessions. BullionStar staff manned the booth, fielding questions on a wide spectrum of bullion and bullion storage related topics from a diverse selection of attendees. BullionStar's decision that all staff members would wear tailored gold suits (see below) proved a popular talking point among attendees. During some downtime we got to chat with fellow exhibitors and media exhibitors in the hall such as Kitco's Daniela Cambone and GoldMoney's Josh Crumb.
The FreedomFest conference continues on 15 July with its 2nd full day or speakers and presentations. Check back at the Inside BullionStar blog for further updates.
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