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Eat Gold

A popular phrase in segments of the mainstream financial media is that “You Can’t Eat Gold”. We don’t know who first uttered this comment, but it was more than likely a talking-head or Wall Street analyst on CNBC or Bloomberg.

The disparaging claim seems to be based on concluding that in a financial or monetary crisis, if you own gold, that “You Can’t Eat It”. And so, according to the logic of whoever came up with the phrase, this would make gold useless during a financial crisis.

In addition to the misleading and irrelevant nature of the comment, which we will discuss below, the claim that “you can’t eat gold” is actually factually wrong. And that is because you can eat gold. And also drink it.

Eating and Drinking Gold

While gold can be eaten, it cannot be digested. But it is non-toxic to the human body. And it does not react chemically in the human body. That is why gold can and does appear safely in a number of foods and drinks, not surprisingly foods and drinks which are predominantly at the luxury end of the market.

Some readers will have heard of Goldschläger, a Swiss/Italian liquor which has flakes gold suspended within it. On a similar note, a Swiss gin called ‘Studer Swiss Gold Gin’ also contains flakes of gold. Staying within Switzerland, you can also buy edible gold products including “Swiss chocolate truffles with gold flakes”. Not to be outdone by the Swiss, the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) offers a ‘Palace Cappucino” which is sprinkled with gold flakes.

In Selfridges department store in London, you can buy a “billionaires soft serve” ice cream cone topped with both sprinklings of gold leaf and a gold leaf covered flake. While in New York, in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a high-end restaurant offers a "Golden Opulence Sundae” topped with gold leaf, for US$ 1000 a glass. Back in England, a specialist cheese producer in Leicestershire created Britain's most expensive cheese - "Clawson Stilton Gold", a stilton cheese interwoven with edible gold leaf and shot-through with gold liqueur. These uses of gold in food and beverages illustrate that gold is a sought after and prestigious substance, but also that gold is real, that gold is tangible and that gold is of value.

Wall Street's Selective Focus

The logic of the “you can’t eat gold” comment, as well as being wrong, is also flawed. Because by extension, you can’t eat any of Wall Street's favorite investment assets. Imagine chewing on financial securities or fiat currencies. But whoever coined the phrase “you can’t eat gold” conveniently failed to mention this on CNBC. We would challenge anyone, especially CNBC and MSNBC, to eat share certificates or bond certificates or the electronic equivalent thereof.

Nor can you eat the electronic coins of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum’s Ether or Litecoin. Real assets such as art, antiques, real estate, agricultural land, or vintage cars are also off the menu. A possible exception is that can drink an expensive investment wine collection, but would you really want to do this, as then you would be consuming your principal investment?

Wall Street analysts fail to mention that you can't eat stocks and ETFs

Gold's Many and Varied Benefits

But beyond the fact that you can in fact eat gold, and that Wall Street never points out the non-edibility of stocks and bonds, there are many beneficial reasons to buy and own investment grade physical gold of which we recently pointed out in 28 reasons to buy and own physical gold. What we are talking about is real physical gold in the form of gold bars and gold coins. This is true both during times of financial crisis, and also over the long-term as a form of investment and savings.

Gold is without doubt the ultimate safe haven asset. In times of financial crisis and turmoil, investors and savers flock to gold as a wealth preservation strategy. The reason for investing in gold during times of crisis is based on the fact that investors instinctively know that the gold price behaves differently to the prices of other assets, particularly during crises. This is because the gold price moves independently of economic and business cycles.

In times of war and social upheaval, physical gold's benefits also come to the fore. Since gold has a high value to weight ratio, significant personal wealth can discreetly be carried in the form of gold across borders and frontiers and within areas of conflict.

Since gold is a universal money supported by a highly liquid global market, it will always be accepted everywhere at the going gold price. Gold can easily be sold. Gold can easily be traded or even bartered with, especially in non-functioning economies where the local paper currency has collapsed or has become worthless. The fact that gold coins are regularly issued to elite military personnel in areas of conflict attests to gold's critical benefits in times of monetary crisis and localized economic collapse.

Gold as Store of Value

But gold is not just of use during financial crises. It is also an essential asset to own over the long-term as a strategic form of saving and investment. Physical gold retains its purchasing power over long periods of time. This is in contrast to fiat currencies issued by the world's central banks, which generally lose most of their purchasing power over time. In other words, gold is a great hedge against inflation, as the gold price adjusts upwards to offset inflation. The gold price even adjusts to inflation expectations, hence it is sometimes called an inflation barometer and is watched like a hawk by central bankers because the gold price signals future inflation.

Physical gold is also an asset without counterparty risk. This is because when you own physical gold in the form of gold bars or gold coins, there are no counterparties. In other words, the physical gold that you own outright is no one else's liability. Nor are there any governments or central banks involved in issuing gold, or in trying to increase and debase its supply. Gold also lacks default risk, because it cannot default.

Physical gold is also inherently valuable because it is a scarce precious metal that is difficult and costly to mine and refine. Gold's price will never go to zero because it has a finite and significant production cost. Physical gold is difficult to counterfeit, impossible to create artificially, and cannot be debased.

These are just some of the reasons for buying and owning physical gold. Please see BullionStar's recent article "28 Reasons to Buy Physical Gold" for a  list of reasons why you should consider buying physical gold.

Gold in Zimbabwe & Venezuela & South Korea

In the real world, owning physical gold can be of critical importance in scenarios where trust in a nation's money supply has evaporated, such as is currently the case in Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

Gold can also be of critical importance when entire nations suffer economic shocks.  A case in point is the interesting experience of South Korea during the Asian financial crisis that swept the region in the late 1990s. This crisis left the South Korean economy severely impaired, with it’s currency, the Won, collapsing against the US dollar.

In addition to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, the South Korean government also launched a patriotic campaign in early 1998 to actually collect physical gold from the South Korean citizens which was then sold on the international market to raise much-needed foreign currency. This collective campaign was pursued precisely because the South Korean government understood that gold is a high-quality liquid asset that has substantial value.

National Mobilization of Gold

By mid-March 1998, the South Korean citizenry had donated more than 220 tonnes of gold, worth over US$2 billion, in the form of investment gold coins and bars, and other gold in the form of rings, jewelry, and gold medals. More than 3 million households were said to have contributed. This collective mobilization of gold to overcome a nation's economic adversity and raise financing is a great illustration of how gold comes to the fore in a time of crisis, due to its store of value, safe haven, and high liquidity characteristics.

In conclusion, knowing the many compelling reasons to buy and hold gold, and how gold can sometimes be a lifeline in a time of crisis, the claim that "you can't eat gold" is exposed for what it is, misguided and disingenuous, and shows either ignorance on the part of the people who use it, or more likely, a deliberate intention to mislead and deceive.

28 Reasons to Buy Physical Gold

Throughout human history, gold has constantly emerged as an unparalleled form of savings, investment and wealth preservation. Due to its unique characteristics and features, gold has inherent value and cannot be debased. When holding physical gold, there is no counterparty risk or default risk. Wealth in the form of gold can also be held and stored anonymously.

From its ability to retain its purchasing power over time, to its safe haven status in times of financial turmoil and uncertainty, to gold's ability to diversify investment risk, there are many and varied reasons to own physical gold in the form of investment grade gold bars and gold coins.

1. Tangible with Inherent Value

Physical gold is real and tangible. It is indestructible, impossible to create artificially, and difficult to counterfeit. Mining physical gold is arduous and costly. Physical gold therefore has inherent value and worth. In contrast, paper money doesn't have any inherent value.

2. No Counterparty Risk

Physical gold has no counterparty risk. When you hold and own gold bars and gold coins outright, there is no counterparty. In contrast, paper gold (gold futures, gold certificates, gold-backed ETFs) all involve counterparty risk.

3. Scarcity

Gold deposits are relatively scarce across the world and difficult to mine and extract. New supply of physical gold is therefore limited and explains why gold is a precious metal. Gold's scarcity reinforces it's inherent value.

4. Cannot be Debased

Because of its physical characteristics and features, gold cannot be debased, and gold supply is immune to political meddling. Compare this to fiat money supplies which are constantly being debased and destroyed via deficit government spending, central bank quantitative easing and financial system bailouts. On a survivorship scale, gold has far outlived all fiat currencies by thousands of years.

5. A 6000 Year History

Gold has played a central role in society for thousands of years from the early civilizations of ancient Egypt, right up to the contemporary era. Gold has facilitated international trade throughout history, has been directly responsible for the economic expansion and prosperity of numerous civilizations throughout history, and has even been, due to gold exploration and mining, the direct catalyst for the growth of some of today’s best-known cities such as San Francisco, Johannesburg, and Sydney.

6. Store of Value

Gold is a preeminent store of value. Physical gold, in the form of gold bars or gold coins, retains its purchasing power over long periods of time despite general increases in the price of goods and services.

In contrast, fiat currencies such as the US Dollar are not stores of value and their purchasing power consistently becomes eroded by inflation or the general increase in the price level. Fiat currencies have a long history of either becoming totally worthless and going out of circulation, or else becoming completely debased, such as the US dollar, while remaining in circulation.

Since the creation of the US Federal Reserve in 1913, the US dollar has lost over 98% of its value relative to gold, i.e. the US dollar has lost over 98% of its purchasing power relative to gold.

Since 1913, the US Dollar has lost more than 98% of its value, while gold has retained its value.

7. Long- Term Inflation Hedge

Physical gold’s ability to retain its purchasing power over time is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Constant”. This reflects the fact that gold’s purchasing power is constant over long periods of time. This ‘constant’ exists because the gold price adjusts to changes in inflation and future inflation expectations. Therefore, physical gold is a long-term hedge against inflation.

8. A 2500 Year Track Record as Money

Because of its ability to retain value and act as a store of value, physical gold has been used as money for over 2500 years. Gold coins were first issued in the Lydian civilization in what is now modern Turkey. Subsequently gold was used as a stable form of money in Persia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, the British Empire, and right through to the various international gold standards of the 20th century.

It was only in August 1971 that the US famously suspended the convertibility of the US dollar into gold, a move which triggered the debt fueled expansion that is still having repercussions within today’s monetary system.

To put gold’s monetary importance into perspective, for 97% of the last 2500 years, gold has been chosen by numerous sophisticated civilizations as the form of money par excellence and an anchor of stability, precisely because of its ability to retain its value.

9. Safe Haven

Physical gold acts as a safe haven asset in times of conflict, war and geopolitical turmoil. During the financial market stresses and heightened uncertainties caused by wars, conflicts and turmoil, the counterparty risk of most financial assets spikes. But since physical gold does not have any counterparty risk, investors rush to gold during these periods so as to preserve their wealth. This is analogous to sheltering in a safe harbor. Gold can thus be seen as a form of financial insurance against catastrophe.

10. Portable Anonymous Wealth

Gold bars and gold coins combine high value with high portability. In times of conflict and war, gold bars and gold coins are ideal for transporting wealth and savings across borders and within conflict zones in an anonymous fashion.

11. Universal Acceptance

Gold is universally accepted as money across the world, with the highly liquid global market always providing ample sales opportunities for gold bars and gold coins. This means that whichever city you are in across the world, you can always sell or trade your gold bars and gold coins.

12. Emergency Money

Military personnel are often issued with gold coins that they carry with them in conflicts zones as a form of emergency universal money. For example, the British Ministry of Defense often issues RAF pilots and SAS soldiers with Gold Sovereign coins to carry on their persons during combat missions and activities, such as in the Middle East.

Worthless paper Currencies vs the Inherent Value of Owning Physical Gold

13. Outside the Banking System

In the current era of global financial repression, physical gold is one of the few assets outside the financial system. Gold is not issued by any monetary authority or central bank or government. Because its not issued by any government or central bank, gold is independent of the banking system. Fully owned physical gold, if stored in a non-bank vault or held in one’s possession, is outside the banking system.

14. No Default Risk

Unlike a government bond, there is also no default risk with gold because it is not issued by any authority that could default. Gold bars and gold coins are no one else’s liability. Physical gold cannot go bankrupt or become insolvent. Therefore, there is no need to have to trust any other party when holding physical gold.

15. Portfolio Diversification

Adding an investment in gold to an existing portfolio of other investment assets such as stocks and bonds, reduces the volatility (risk) of the investment portfolio and can increase portfolio returns. This is because the gold price has a low to negative correlation with the prices of most other financial assets, because gold is less influenced by business cycles and macro-economic cycles than most other assets.

Numerous empirical studies by financial academics, as well as industry bodies, such as the World Gold Council, have validated gold’s role as a strategic portfolio diversifier. Optimal allocations to gold in multi-asset portfolios have found to be in the 5% to 10% range.

16. Currency Hedge

There is generally an inverse relationship between the gold price and the US dollar, in that the gold price generally moves in opposite directions to the US dollar. Therefore, holding gold can act as a currency hedge of the US dollar, and help manage the currency risk of portfolios denominated in US dollars.

17. Gold's Metallic Properties

Gold has many and varied metallic properties. These properties provide gold with many technological and commercial applications and uses, which in turn contribute as additional demand drivers in addition to the investment and monetary demand for gold.

Gold is highly ductile (can be drawn into very thin wire). It is also highly malleable (can be hammered and flattened into very thin film). Gold is a very good conductor of electricity and heat. Gold does not corrode or tarnish. It is chemically unreactive and non-toxic to the human body. Gold has a high luster and shine, and an attractive yellow glow.

These properties explain gold’s use in electrical and electronic wiring and circuits (e.g. computers and internet switches), its use in the medical and dental fields, gold’s use in solar panels, space travel, and gold’s traditional uses in jewelry, decoration, and ornamentation. With new technological uses being found for gold all the time, gold's demand pattern is diversified and underpinned by its commercial importance.

18. Physical gold - A tiny fraction of Paper Gold

The London wholesale gold market and the US-based COMEX gold futures market generate huge trading volumes of paper gold that dwarf the size of the physical gold market. However, these markets only trade derivatives on gold (futures and unallocated positions), representing fractionally-backed and unbacked claims on gold that could never be convertible into physical gold by claim holders.

In a scenario under which these paper gold markets became unsustainable, the prices of paper gold and physical gold would diverge, with the paper gold markets ceasing to trade and collapsing, and only physical gold retaining any real value. Physical gold is therefore an insurance against the collapse of the world's vast paper gold markets.

19. By Definition - Not an ETF

Physical gold Provides all the benefits that gold-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) do not. ETFs provide exposure to the gold price, not to gold. Holding physical gold is by definition direct exposure to gold. With most gold-backed ETFs, you cannot convert the units into gold and take delivery of the gold, and in many cases, the locations of the vaults are not even known. If holding physical allocated gold bars or gold coins in a vault, such as with BullionStar in Singapore, you can always take delivery.

Gold ETFs have many counterparty risks since there are many moving parts in an ETF such as a trustee, a custodian, and a sponsor / issuer. Physical gold has no counterparty risks. When you hold a gold-backed ETF, the quantity of gold backing the ETF declines over time due to management fees being offset against the gold holdings. When you hold physical gold, you always remain with 100% of the actual gold you first purchased. There is no erosion of holdings.

20. Anonymous Storage

Gold can be stored anonymously, either in your possession within your house or property, or in a vault in a jurisdiction, such as Singapore, that has no reporting requirements. Since gold has a high value to weight ratio, storing gold does not take up much space.

21. Independent of Internet

Owning physical gold is not reliant on having internet access and access to electronic wallets and cryptocurrency exchanges. Furthermore, gold cannot be stolen by hacking an electronic address or by transferring or deleting a number in a computer.

The Benefits of Owning Gold Coins and Gold Bars

22. Real Gold is Measured by Weight

Physical gold is measured in weight, not through a number set by a politician or central banker. When you buy a 1 Kilo gold bar, or a 10 Tola gold bar, or a 1 troy ounce gold coin, or a 5 Tael gold bar, you will always have that gold bar or gold coin, irrespective of the fluctuations of fiat currencies.

While thinking of the value of physical gold in terms of a fiat currency might be convenient, a better way is to think of a gold holding in terms of weight.

23. Coins and Bars - Build a Collection

Buying investment gold bars and bullion gold coins allows you to build a diverse collection of bars and coins that are at the same time a fascinating pastime and a form of investment and saving.

Bullion gold coins from the world’s major mints are beautifully illustrated and often have a connection to history. Investment gold bars from the world's major gold refineries are distinctively different from each other and you can vary a collection by cast or minted bars, and a selection of weights.

24. Physical Gold Feels like Real Wealth

Physical gold feels like real wealth. When you hold ten 1 ounce gold coins in your hand, you intrinsically know that you are holding real wealth, gold that is scarce and that has been costly to produce.

25. Gold as Loan Collateral

Gold can be used as loan collateral. Since gold is highly liquid and valuable, it can be lent and used as a form of financing, and as a way of generating interest. The wholesale gold lending market between central banks and bullion banks is highly active. Likewise, retail gold holders can also in various ways lend their gold to receive financing or interest, with new innovations to do this arising all the time.

26. Central Banks hold Gold

Although the world’s central banks like to downplay the importance of gold because it competes with their fiat currencies, most central banks continue to hold substantial amounts of physical gold bars and gold coins in vaults around the world. They hold this gold as a reserve asset on their balance sheets, and they value this gold at market prices.

Like private gold investors, central banks hold physical gold because it is highly liquid, it lacks counterparty risk, and because gold is a safe haven or ‘war chest’ asset that acts as a financial insurance in times of crisis. Central banks also hold gold for the unpublished reason that if and when gold re-emerges at the centre of a new monetary system, these very same central banks will not be caught out having no gold.

27. Gold for Gifting

Gold coins and small gold bars make great gifts and presents, and gold is a traditional form of gifting in many societies around the world. Gifting a gold coin or small gold bar to mark a birth, or anniversary, or a wedding or other special occasion, is an ideal present that will be highly appreciated by the recipient.

28. Gold for Inheritance

Gold bars and gold coins are a great form of inheritance for your children and family members. Because gold is real, tangible, valuable, and has a highly liquid trading market, it is an ideal asset for inter-generational wealth transfers. Because physical gold is fabricated in convenient weight denominations, such as troy ounces and kilograms, it can be distributed equitably among recipients, and specified equitably in wills and trusts.

Infographic: Gold ETF Mechanics

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.

Gold ETF Mechanics Infographic

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Back to Basics: ETF Gold 101

By Luke Chua, BullionStar

 

etf 2

 

What are the key differences between buying ETF Gold and physical Gold? 

A Gold Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) attempts to track and 'mirror' the price performance of gold bullion by holding gold bars or derivatives and issuing shares backed by their holdings of physical metal or derivatives.  A Gold ETF, like GLD, has their shares sold in baskets of 100,000 and is marketed by State Street.  As compared to physical Gold, a key difference is in ownership and redemption.

Ownership and Redemption

Even though an ETF like GLD might be “physically backed,” ordinary investors cannot simply go to the ETF marketer or the vaults in which the bullion is claimed to be stored at and redeem their bullion.  Only “authorized participants” are allowed to deposit or withdraw gold and create or redeem shares.  Authorized participants are registered broker-dealers or other securities market participants which have entered into agreements with the trustee and sponsor (think Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Citigroup, etc.), allowing them to deposit either gold or shares in exchange for the other through unallocated accounts until the operation is completed. Ordinary investors can only buy or sell shares in the open market, after Authorized Participants decide to place or sell them.

In short, ordinary investors and regular shareholders of ETFs have no rights of redemption and the gold is not required to be insured by the Trust, which is not liable for loss, damage, theft, nor fraud.  Therefore, an ordinary investor/shareholder does not actually “own” gold, but rather, owns an asset that is backed by gold which tries to mirror the price performance of gold.

If the ETF is an open ended mutual fund, like GLD, its holdings mainly change due to arbitrage: whenever the trust's shares trade at a discount to the Gold price, "authorized participants" will sell Gold short and buy the trust's shares. Thereafter they will obtain the Gold by redeeming the shares. Conversely, if the shares trade at a premium, they will buy the Gold and sell short the shares concurrently. Then they will create new 'baskets' of shares by delivering the Gold they have bought to the trust.

Hence, as an ordinary investor,  at no time do you actually own a gold coin or bullion bar and the risks entailed in owning ETF Gold are much the same as those of other financial instruments – counterparty risk. In addition, there is the risk of pricing failure, as well as a risk that some of the gold bars owned by the fund are encumbered in some way - you never get to see them anyway.

Fees

There are management fees for the ownership of ETFs. These fees will continually cause the ETF price to negatively diverge from the bullion price over time also known as the expense ratio. Management fees or expense ratios can range from 0.4 % to 0.95 % each year.

Paper or Digital Wealth vs. Physical and Real Wealth

In summary, as an ordinary investor, when you buy ETF Gold, you do not own a title to the Gold itself, but rather, you are placing your funds in the hands of the banks that serve as "authorised participants" of the ETF. Essentially, you own nothing more than a stock symbol in your portfolio and this does not protect you from the systematic risks inherent in the financial system.