Tag Archives: gold as safe haven

Golden Stockpiles – The Key to Gold as a Store of Value and Safe Haven

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.

Gold & Brexit

In what was an extraordinary day for global financial markets, and a day which will no doubt become legendary and enter folk memory in the UK and elsewhere, the electorate of the United Kingdom voted 51.9 % to 48.1% to leave the European Union. As the first count results began trickling in during the very early hours of Friday morning London time from northern England constituencies such as Newcastle and Sunderland, the cosy optimism that had prevailed in the Remain camp became increasingly agitated as the voting majority swung to the Leave side and quickly snowballed, in what was a shock to many.

Gold Philharmonics and Silver Philharmonics with Euro notes

The Sterling – Dollar cable rate plummeted, gold took off, especially in GBP, and BBC presenters became increasingly stony-faced and pale looking. By 3:40am UK time, Leave was ahead by 500,000 votes, and just an hour later the major UK networks of first ITV and then the BBC called the election to the Leave camp. Nigel Farage, promoter of the Leave side and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who had earlier conceded then un-conceded defeat, reappeared to the press and when asked what he would do next announced that he was going for a celebratory drink. As Farage and his boisterous entourage were undoubtedly finding a suitable early hostelry to settle into in Westminster, an ashen-faced British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared in Whitehall to announce his resignation in what had already become a day of records.

Gold & Silver Prices

All this time gold was soaring and the British Pound was folding. Gold in GBP started moving at 2:45am UK time when it was at £852, and as the voting tide turned, gold in GBP peaked at 5:30am at approximately £1004, an 18% move in less than 3 hours. GBP gold then fell slightly from the peak and has settled into a roughly £950 to £960 range.

Gold In GBP 24th June 2016

US Dollar gold, which had been as low as $1250 before the voting pattern emerged, surged past $1300 before 3am UK time, and peaked at just under $1340 before 6am UK time, for an up move of 90 bucks, before it too fell back slightly into a range of $1310 to $1325.

Gold in USD 24th June 2016

Silver also had dramatic gains intraday, especially in GBP. Silver in GBP 24th June 2016.

Exchange Rates

GBP - USD suffered an unprecedented fall by over 11% at one stage today, moving down 18 cents at one point from $1.50 to a 31-year low of $1.32, a level not seen since mid-1985. It was since recovered partially to trade at $1.375, still down over 8% on the day.

GBP - USD one day rate, 24th June 2016

The Euro weakened significantly against major currencies, one of the reasons being that the uncertainty of the UK’s exit from the EU may precipitate further defections that could include a Eurozone member country. FTSE equity indices fell sharply intraday before recovering somewhat. Bank shares were hammered especially the shares of UK and European banks.

Gold - Flight to Safety

The massive moves and volatility spikes caught much of the financial markets off-guard, hence the dramatic price movements and flight to safety. As gold was bid, it has yet again proved its role as one of the world’s preeminent safe havens and protectors of wealth that investors will flock to in times of crisis and fiat currency uncertainty. According to ICBC Standard Bank, as cited by the Financial Times, the Shanghai Gold Exchange traded a record equivalent of 143 tonnes of gold during its trading day today – 24th June. One person who seems to have been confident of a Leave win is Arron Banks, a rich donor to the Leave side. He was said to have commissioned a poll of 10,000 people (which is a large sample size), and the results of this poll, released today, revealed a 52 – 48 win for Leave. So perhaps some hedge funds and investment banks were privy to similar data last night.

Central Bank Intervention

The world’s major central banks, who were meeting in Basel at the Bank for International Settlements this week, may appear to have been also blindsided by the election result, however, being the conservative types, they seem to have been prepared for this contingency and have, in a not too subtle way, indicated their collective intention to intervene in the FX and funding markets in a coordinate fashion, and with total disregard of the free functioning of financial markets. Central banks are by their very nature interventionist, meddling and secretive in their interventions, so this is hardly surprising. However, its more blatant than usual.

The Bank of England announced that it “will continue to pursue responsibilities for monetary and financial stability relentlessly”. This use of ‘relentlessly, is quite ominous bank-speak and could even suggest intervention in the gold market, since after all, the Bank of England houses its FX and Gold operations on the same desk and is allowed to use all assets of the HM Treasury’s Exchange Equalisation Account (EEA) to pursue monetary stability. So some ‘smoothing operations’ or ‘stabilisation operations’ on the gold price by the Bank of England (or by the BIS) are not beyond the bounds of possibility. In fact, it is logical for the major central banks to intervene in the gold market since they do not want gold to play the role of canary in the coalmine as this counters their ‘stability’ meme.

The ECB said this morning that it “stands ready to provide additional liquidity in Euro and foreign currency, in close contact with other central banks

In its statement today, the Bank of Japan said that it has ”a network of currency swap arrangements is already established by the central banks of major countries. The Bank of Japan will take appropriate measures as necessary, including activation of this network”.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve announced that it is "carefully monitoring developments in global financial markets, in cooperation with other central banks,….The Federal Reserve is prepared to provide dollar liquidity through its existing swap lines with central banks, as necessary, to address pressures in global funding markets..”

Not to be outdone, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) didn’t just threaten to intervene, it did intervene today as the ‘Swiss franc came under upward pressure’. According to an email sent to Bloomberg by the SNB “has intervened in the foreign exchange market to stabilize the situation and will remain active in that market”.

Demand for Physical Gold

BullionStar saw noticeably higher website traffic today with higher demand and sales than normal, but BullionStar does not have the shortages in inventories that are being reported by other dealers. In fact, BullionStar has plenty of stock.

Where there does seem to be tightness in the physical gold market is in the London wholesale market, where gold has now flowed into London from Switzerland for 3 consecutive months (69 tonnes in May, 80 tonnes in April, and over 40 tonnes in March), most likely to top up gold holdings of the SPDR Gold Trust, whose inventory has now recorded a latest multi-year high of 915.9 tonnes. This importation of gold into London from Switzerland does seem to indicate that there is not much free float of gold sloshing around the London Gold Market.

The seismic shifts brought about by today’s extraordinary day in the UK will not settle quickly and may only just be the beginnings of further tremors that have been unwittingly released in into the global economic system. Politically, the UK is in a place where it did not think it would be. Cameron is resigning, Boris Johnson is favourite to take his place, and there is pressure on the opposition Labour leader Corbyn to resign with accusations that he is out of touch with the electorate. In the financial markets, the major banks are in deep trouble and dollar funding is an issue, even according to the central bank interventionalists. In such a climate of evaporating paper wealth, gold, and to an extent silver, are stepping forward to play their traditional roles of war chest assets, assets with real intrinsic value.