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Why QE didn’t send gold up to $20,000

This blog post is a guest post on BullionStar's Blog by the renowned blogger JP Koning who will be writing about monetary economics, central banking and gold. BullionStar does not endorse or oppose the opinions presented but encourage a healthy debate. 

Why didn't quantitative easing, which created trillions of dollars of new money, lead to a massive spike in the gold price?

The Quantity Theory of Money

The intuition that an increase in the money supply should lead to a rise in prices, including the price of gold, comes from a very old theory of money—the quantity theory of money—going back to at least the philosopher David Hume. Hume asked his readers to imagine a situation in which everyone in Great Britain suddenly had "five pounds slipt into his pocket in one night." Hume reasoned that this sudden increase in the money supply would "only serve to increase the prices of every thing, without any farther consequence."

Another way to think about the quantity theory is by reference to the famous equation of exchange, or

  • MV = PY
  • money supply x velocity of money over a period of time = price level x goods & services produced over that period

A traditional quantity theorist usually assumes that velocity, the average frequency that a banknote or deposit changes hands, is quite stable. So when M—the money supply— increases, a hot potato effect emerges. Anxious to rid themselves of their extra money balances M, people race to the stores to buy Y, goods and services, that they otherwise couldn't have afforded, quickly emptying the shelves. Retailers take these hot potatoes and in turn spend them at their wholesalers in order to restock. But as time passes, business people adjust by ratcheting up their prices so that the final outcome is a permanent increase in P.

In August 2008, before the worst of the credit crisis had broken out, the U.S Federal Reserve had $847 billion in money outstanding, or what is referred to as "monetary base"—the combination of banknotes in circulation and deposits held at the central bank. Then three successive rounds of quantitative easing were rolled out: QE1, QE2, and QE3. Six years later, monetary base finally peaked at $4.1 trillion (see chart below). QE in Europe, Japan, and the UK led to equal, if not more impressive, increases in the domestic money supply.

U.S. monetary base (banknotes and deposits at the Fed)

So again our question: if M increased so spectacularly, why not P and the price of gold along with it? Those with long memories will recall that while gold rose from $1000 to $2000 during the first two legs of QE, it collapsed back down to $1000 during the last round. That's not the performance one would expect of an asset that is commonly viewed as a hedge against excess monetary printing.

How Regular Monetary Policy Works

My claim is that even though central banks created huge amounts of monetary base via QE, the majority of this base money didn't have sufficient monetary punch to qualify it for entry into the left side of the equation of exchange, and therefore it had no effect on the price level. Put differently, QE suffered from monetary impotence.

Let's consider what makes money special. Most of the jump in base money during QE was due to a rise in deposits held at the central bank, in the U.S.'s case deposits at the Federal Reserve. These deposits are identical to other short-term forms of government debt like treasury bills except for the fact that they provide monetary services, specifically as a medium for clearing & settling payments between banks. Central banks keep the supply of deposits—and thus the quantity of monetary services available to banks—scarce.

Regular monetary policy involves shifting the supply of central bank deposits in order to hit an inflation target. When a central bank wants to loosen policy i.e. increase inflation, it engages in open market purchases. This entails buying treasury bills from banks and crediting these banks for the purchase with newly-created central bank deposits. This shot of new deposits temporarily pushes the banking system out of equilibrium: it now has more monetary services than it had previously budgeted for.

To restore equilibrium, a hot potato effect is set off. A bank that has more monetary services then it desires will try to get rid of excess bank deposits by spending them on things like bonds, stocks, or gold. But these deposits can only be passed on to other banks that themselves already have sufficient monetary services. To convince these other banks to accept deposits, the first bank will have to sell them at a slightly lower price. Put differently, it will have to pay the other banks a higher price for bonds, stocks, or gold. And these buyers will in turn only be able to offload unwanted monetary services by also marking down the value, or purchasing power, of deposits. The hot potato process only comes to a halt when deposits have lost enough purchasing power, or the price level has risen high enough, that the banking system is once again happy with the levels of deposits that the central bank has injected into the system.

What I've just described is regular monetary policy. In this scenario, open market operations are still potent.  But what happens when they lose their potency?

Monetary Impotence: Death of the Hot Potato Effect

A central bank can stoke inflation by engaging in subsequent rounds of open market purchases, but at some point impotence will set in and additional purchases will have no effect on prices. When a large enough quantity of deposits has been created, the market will no longer place any value on the additional monetary services that these deposits provide. Monetary services will have become a free good, say like air—useful but without monetary value. Deposits, which up to that point were unique thanks to their valuable monetary properties, have become identical to treasury bills. Open market operations now consists of little more than a swap of one identical t-bill for another.

Zimbabwe 100 trillion dollar notes together with gold bullion
100 Trillion Dollar Notes are not yet required to purchase gold. Why hasn't the increased money supply significantly increased the gold price?

When this happens, subsequent open market purchases are no longer capable of pushing the banking system out of equilibrium. After all, monetary services have become a free good. There is no way that banks can have too much of them. Since an increase in the supply of deposits no longer has any effect on bank behavior, the hot potato effect can't get going—and thus open market purchases have no effect on the price level, or on gold.

This "monetary impotence" is what seems to have overtaken the various rounds of QE. While the initial increase in deposits no doubt had some effect on prices, monetary services quickly became a free good. After that point, the banking system accepted each round of newly-created deposits with a yawn rather than trying to desperately pass them off, hot potato-like.

And that's why gold didn't rise to $20,000 through successive rounds of QE. Gold does well when people find that they have too much money in their wallets or accounts, but QE failed to create the requisite "too much money".

The Role of Gold as Turmoil hits wider Financial Markets

As market turmoil hits both equities and cryptocurrencies, the heightened volatility in these assets underscores gold’s unique role as a safe haven, store of value and portfolio diversifier.

Stock Market Selloffs

With major US stock indices falling again sharply on Thursday (DJIA - 4.02%, NASDAQ - 4.08%, S&P -3.41%), last Monday’s equity market selloff and spike in volatility looks set to be a more prolonged affair than a one-off plunge and recovery. The Dow’s Thursday close of 23860 is 2756 points, or 10.3% lower, than the all time high of 26616 from 26 January, and the Dow is now officially in correction territory. This week also saw two records added to the history of stock market selloffs, Monday’s biggest ever points drop in the Dow, and Thursday’s second biggest ever Dow points drop.

Similarly the S&P 500 index closed on Thursday at 2581 and is now 292 points, or 10.1% lower than its all-time high of 2,872.87 from 26 January, again in correction territory.

The NASDAQ composite, which also reached its all-time high of 7505 on 26 January, is virtually in a 10% correction zone below 6755, as it closed just a few points over this level at 6777 on Thursday.

Finally, the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), the widely used measure of stock market volatility - which is also known as the investor fear gauge - had spiked up massively late Monday and into Tuesday to the 35-40 range, and critically was again seen approaching those levels at Wall Street market close Thursday.

Equity market indexes across the globe, as normal taking their cue from Wall Street trading, have also been falling in tandem, with markets in Europe, Asia and the Americas all lower on the week.

Whatever the reasons for the shift change in market sentiment, from macro factors to algorithmic trading, these abrupt index plunges and the rise in volatility have spooked investors across the globe and have led to panic selling and active profit-taking. With a low volatility environment less certain than before, market consensus on ever-increasing stock prices may be beginning to unravel.

Clouds over Cryptocurrencies

In cryptocurrency markets, the price euphoria seen in December and early January led by Bitcoin and some other large alt coin rivals has also given way to deep corrections and unclear price direction.

Until earlier this week when Bitcoin rallied back to above $8000 from below $6000, Bitcoin’s price had been on a consistent downward trajectory for nearly a month. From its intermediate high of US $17,000 on 7 January, in less than 30 days, the price had collapsed to below US $ 6,000, an approximate 65% drop. From the ultimate high of just over $20,000 on 17 December to the recent low of below $6000, Bitcoin’s price collapse exceeded 70%. Similar price movements were seen across the board in other crypto coin prices, both large and small cap.

Coupled with Bitcoin’s equally sharp price gains in late 2017, the short-term price movements of Bitcoin, both up and down, are hugely volatile. As recently as a year ago in early February 2017, Bitcoin in US dollars was still trading in the $1000 range. It was only in May 2017 when the price first breached the $2000 mark and August when it initially hit the $3000 range. As its meteoric rise continued, by late October the price had again doubled to $6000, and it was just mid-November 2017 (less than 3 months ago) when the Bitcoin price first traded in the $8000 range, a similar price range to where it now finds itself back at now.

Mid-November is also arguably the point at which Bitcoin’s dizzying ascent really got going, shooting up to over $11,000 before the end of November. It was at this point that hundreds of smaller alt coin prices started to really explode upwards also, taking the broad cryptocurrency market and the overall sector MarketCap much higher.  Within a week between 1 December and 8 December, the Bitcoin price had again exploded to over $18,000, and the ultimate peak of $20,000 was reached less than 10 days later on 17 December.

After this, a series of lower highs and lower lows saw the Bitcoin price oscillate wildly in the $12,000 - $18,000 range before its prolonged fall from 7 January onwards to below $6000 on Tuesday 6 February, and its subsequent bounce  to $8000. This high price volatility must raise the question of Bitcoin as store of value, and to what extent it is primarily a payment system versus a dependable store of value.

Gold's Attraction in Market Turmoil

Investors in financial and other asset markets prefer predictability and stability. Hence investor apprehension at the growing uncertainty and heightened volatility in global stock markets and the recent pump and dump chart patterns of many cryptocurrencies.

But it is during market turmoil that gold’s safe haven qualities come to the fore. Since gold has no counterparty or default risk it is a universally known and universally used safe haven for preserving wealth during market crises. Gold's high liquidity also adds to its safe haven appeal. During financial market turmoil, gold's price therefore generally reflects this movement out of risk assets and into the safe harbour that gold provides. The below chart plots a relatively comparison between the US dollar price of gold and the S&P 500 index, over the week beginning Monday 5 February, showing gold's outperformance as the US stock market suffered a series of selloffs.

USD Dollar Gold Price in terms of the S&P 500 Index, Week from 5 February 2018. Source: BullionStar Charts

Gold is also one of the traditional and best-known stores of value, some others being land and property. A reliable store of value asset will allow you to park your wealth and retrieve it at a later time knowing that it will still have value and will have retained the value that it had when you converted some of your savings or wealth into that asset. A reliable store of value will also adjust for inflation and retain its purchasing power relative to inflation. Physical gold in the form of gold bars and gold coins does just that and retains its purchasing power over long periods of time precisely because the gold price, as an inflation barometer, adjusts to reflect expected inflation.

Finally, gold can also reduce the volatility of a portfolio of investment assets such as stocks and bonds. By adding an investment in gold, the resultant portfolio displays less volatility of returns, and can also exhibit higher expected returns. This is due to the gold price having a low to negative correlation with the prices of securities such as stocks and bonds.

Bitcoin backwardation, gold contango

People often refer to bitcoin as digital gold because of the similarities between the two assets. One big difference between gold and bitcoin is currently playing out in their respective futures markets. Since bitcoin futures were introduced last December by the CBOE, futures prices have often been inverted, or in backwardation. This sort of phenomenon rarely happens in gold markets, which trade normally, or in contango. Let's explore why inversion seems to be relatively common with bitcoin and whether this will continue to be the case in the future.

Backwardation or inversion is when future prices for a commodity lie below its current price. For instance, at lunch-time on January 16 (EST), when the current price for bitcoin was $12,170 on the Gemini bitcoin exchange, the March 2018 contract on the CBOE futures exchange was being bid at $12,000, a discount-to-spot of $170 or 1.4%.

At that very same point in time on January 16, gold's spot price was at $1334 whereas the March futures contract was trading at $1336.90, a premium-to-spot of $2.90 or 0.2%. This is contango, or a normal-yielding market. I’ve illustrated both markets below.

A comparison of the spot prices of bitcoin and gold to their futures prices on Jan 16, 2018

In theory, the future price of a durable and easily storable commodity—say like gold, silver, and bitcoin—should always lie above the current price, or in contango. This is because storables incur holding costs, and a higher futures price is the market's way of paying for those costs.

Contango as the fee for hoarding gold

To see how this works, let's trek through an example. Say that you are jeweler. It is January and gold is trading at $1300/ounce, which you think is a fantastically cheap price. However, you can't take possession of the gold right now because you have no space for it—your vault is already full. Three months from now, at the end of March, your existing inventory will have run down and you'll have room for the stuff. Can you lock in today's price while having someone else hold the metal for you until then? Say you strike a deal with a counterparty. They will buy the gold at today's price of $1300 and store it in their vaults on your behalf, only delivering the stuff to you at the end of March.

Your counterparty won't provide this service for free, they have to be compensated for the burdens of carrying the product for you. These costs include the interest payments on the loan required to buy the gold, vaulting fees, and insurance. So if gold is currently trading at $1300, and the total cost of carrying it till March is $10/ounce, then the contract you strike with the counterparty will be priced at $1310. Of this amount, $1300 allows the counterparty to pay off the face value of the loan they originally took out to buy an ounce of the yellow metal, the remaining $10 covers them for the cost of storing it, insuring it, and paying interest.

With the futures contract trading at $1310 and the current price at $1300, we say that the market is in contango. Contango is the fee—in this case $10—that buyers of gold-in-the-future pay to counterparties in order to induce these counterparties to hoard the metal on their behalf for a period of time.

As the chart below shows, gold has spent most of the last ten years in contango. The spread, or difference between the spot price and the futures price (from 2 months out to 20 months out) almost always lies above 0%.

Source: www.goldchartsrus.com

There have been two exceptions on the two and four-month spread (the red and pink lines), one in 2014 and another in 2016. I described the 2014 episode here. But  inversions like these will only ever be fleeting, the dominant pattern in gold markets being a normal market characterized by futures prices trading above spot prices. (If you want to get into the specifics of the relationship between gold spot and future prices, Koos Jansen has written an in depth treatment here).

Backwardation as a negative fee

Compared to other commodities, gold compresses a lot of value into a small amount of space. Which means it is relatively cheap to store. For instance, ten bushels of wheat—which is worth around $40—would require an entire closet as storage space. To store $40 worth of value in the form of gold, a gram would be sufficient for the task. If we look at the data, with gold trading at $1334 and the March contract was $1336.90, the cost of storing gold in a vault, insuring it, and financing it until March is just $2.90.

Bitcoin's $170 backwardation on January 16 meant the opposite. Counterparties who were offering to store bitcoin through to March were so desperate to provide this service that they were willing to pay a fee to do it rather than charging a fee. That anyone would take on the task of storing bitcoins for free, let alone paying to take on the burden, is especially odd given that the cost of securely "hodling" bitcoin is probably not that much less than storing gold. Commercial storage of bitcoin involves depositing private keys in vaults, much like how people keep the yellow metal safe. Consider this recent Times article that describes how the Winklevoss twins, who own a big bitcoin stake, have cut up printouts of their keys and scattered the pieces in safes all around the U.S., so if one safe is broken into the thief would still lack the full key. It is difficult to find insurers that offer bitcoin insurance products, this rarity presumably translating into fairly high insurance costs. And like gold, the financing necessary for purchasing bitcoin incurs interest expenses. So in theory, the price of bitcoin in March should permanently lies a hundred or so dollars above the spot price in order to cover these carrying costs, not below the spot price.

There are two theories for why bitcoin might be spending a disproportionate amount of time in backwardation.

1. Undeveloped market for short-selling

Imagine that a crowd of large Wall Street traders suddenly want to sell bitcoins short, but they can't because their stringent investment mandates prohibit physical bitcoin positions. So they express their short bias by selling CBOE futures contracts which—because they are listed on a legitimate exchange—do not contravene these traders' mandates. Bitcoin futures, which had been in contango, are abruptly driven into backwardation, a discount-to-spot.

Normally an arbitrageur would correct this discrepancy. If an arbitrageur is holding some bitcoins, the $170 discount means that the market is rewarding her not to store those bitcoins. She purchases futures at $12,000 and sells some of her bitcoins at $12,170, earning a risk free $170 profit. As long as this backwardation continues, she can keep earning profits by selling her bitcoins and buying futures until she has run out of bitcoins to sell. At which point she will try to borrow bitcoins from other people and sell them. The combined effect of her constant selling of physical bitcoins and futures buying should eventually drive the market price from its inverted state back into contango.

But if our arbitrageur can't borrow enough bitcoin to counterbalance Wall Street's demand to sell bitcoin short, say because lending markets are still undeveloped, then there is no way for her to fix the anomaly. Markets are stuck in backwardation. Both Kid Dynamite and Jayanth Varma have posts explaining the difficulties of arbitraging bitcoin in more detail.

An undeveloped market for borrowing and lending bitcoins is not innate to bitcoin. Presumably if bitcoin markets develop, these sorts of inefficiencies will be addressed and bitcoin—like gold—will trade more normally. That being said, bitcoin does have one innate property that can lead to backwardation: forks.

2. The omnipresent threat of forks

The second explanation for bitcoin backwardation is the ever-present threat of contentious forks.

To help understand how forks affect bitcoin futures prices let's first look at how S&P 500 futures work, because there is an important similarity between the two assets. While storing gold is a drag, there is an upside to storing the S&P 500. The person who does the storing gets to enjoy dividend payments! As long as dividend payments are higher than the cost of paying interest on the loan originally used to buy the S&P 500 (there is no vaulting or insurance costs on equities), then it is possible to come out a net winner by carrying the S&P 500 through time.

Over the last ten years or so, S&P 500 futures have generally been inverted, with futures prices trading below spot prices. The reason for this is that short-term interest rates have generally been lower than dividend yields. Those who store equities through time on behalf of buyers of S&P 500 futures accept a discount-to-spot because the dividends they earn make up for it.

Although bitcoin doesn't pay dividends, it does throw off an unusual set of rewards—forks. When a fork occurs, anyone who held x bitcoins now gets x newcoins in addition to their existing x bitcoins. Forks occur because participants in the Bitcoin network disagree about certain technical features of the code that runs the network. One set of actors continues to use the original code while the other modifies it, this modification leading to the creation of newcoins.

A futures market like the CBOE must define what sort of bitcoins are sufficient to settle a bitcoin futures contract. In the case of a chain split, this gets complicated. Is someone who owns a futures contract entitled to get just 1 bitcoin from the seller of a futures contract, or are the entitled to 1 bitcoin and 1 newcoin? The short answer is that the CBOE defines a 'bitcoin' in such a way that it does not include newcoin. So in the event of a fork, a futures seller who is storing a bitcoin in order to deliver it to a futures buyer gets to keep the newcoins for free.

Any newcoin that is created will hive off or steal a chunk of bitcoin's original value—after all, you can't get something for nothing. Thus, in the event of a fork, those who have bought a futures contract are now entitled to an inferior bitcoin, one that has had the value of a newcoin ripped out of it. Conversely, anyone who has been storing bitcoin on behalf of someone else no longer needs to deliver the full bitcoin when the futures contract expires; the terms of the futures contract stipulate that they get to retain a chunk of the original bitcoin in the form of a newcoin.

So to protect themselves against the potential for lost newcoins, those buying bitcoin futures will always demand a lower futures price than they would otherwise demand in a world in which bitcoin could not be forked. If the threat of a fork is deemed large enough, bitcoin futures will actually go into backwardation.

Think of it this way. Backwardation means that those storing bitcoin on behalf of others will not only do so for free, but will even pay to have the task thrust on them. This may sound odd, but if part of the calculus of storing bitcoins is that all free and valuable newcoins can be retained by the person who does the storing, then it makes sense that people will eagerly pay a fee for the right to store someone else's bitcoins.

An example: backwardation and the failed Segwit2x fork

We can see an example of a fork-induced backwardation happening back in the fall of 2017, when a proposed change to Bitcoin's source code called Segwit2x was on the verge of leading to the creation of a newcoin. Bitmex, a fledgling futures exchange, stressed to its users at the time that its December 2017 bitcoin futures contract would not include the Segwit2x newcoin.

Through late October and early November, Bitmex's December futures contract fell to an ever deeper discount relative to the spot price of bitcoin. You can see this in the chart below. This inversion occurred in conjunction with growing odds that the upcoming newcoin's debut would be a success and that it would 'steal' quite a bit of value from each already-existing bitcoin. A futures buyer who wanted to take delivery of one bitcoin in December 2017 needed to adjust for the fact that this bitcoin could have a large chunk ripped out of it by Segwit2x. Driving Bitmex's futures contract into backwardation was the market's way of making this adjustment.

The Segwit2x fork drove bitcoin into deep backwardation

The Segwit2x fork was abruptly cancelled on November 8, and Bitmex's December 2017 contracts immediately reverted to contango. Since the cancellation of Segwit2x meant that existing bitcoins would not have any value sucked out of them, there was no need for futures buyers to protect themselves.

To sum up...

Because bitcoin is a young and inefficient market, borrowing bitcoins in size may be challenging. And that may explain at least some of the observed backwardation in bitcoin futures prices. But even if the market matures, Bitcoin will always be subject to the threat of contentious forks. This permanent threat gives rise to a set of forces that will always pressure the future price of bitcoin down relative to spot price. When the odds of a fork are low, these forces will not be sufficient to drive futures prices into full backwardation—they will simply push them down until they are relatively flat relative to the current price. But as the odds of a fork grow, all-out backwardation will be the result.

As for gold, there is no way it can be forked. Thus gold futures should spend far more time in contango than bitcoin futures should.

Why does money inflate?

People who live in developed nations have grown used to inflation of around 2% a year over the last few decades. Why do prices generally rise by that amount? What drives the purchasing power of money in these countries? Why can’t prices stay constant year-over-year rather than increasing?

To help answer some of these questions, let's go far back in time. We'll divide the last one thousand or so years into three monetary eras: the silver coin period, metal-backed notes, and fiat money. How would the nature of inflation have changed as you passed from one era into the next?

The medieval coin era

Silver coins were the chief medium of exchange in the first five or six centuries of the last millennium. Even though coins were composed of scarce metal, inflation was a fairly common occurrence in medieval times. Coins were not perfectly durable. They suffered from wear and tear, both from sweaty hands and as they came into contact with other coins while in a pocket or purse. Since the value of a medieval coin was ultimately determined by the amount of silver in it, the purchasing power of the coinage would naturally decline each year as it shed silver. So rising prices, or inflation, was inherent to medieval coin systems.

The wear and tear of the coinage would often be accompanied by deliberate attempts on the part of the public to remove silver from coins. This came in the form of clipping, in which people would cut small bits of silver from the coin's edge, and sweating, in which a bag of coins was shaken, the dislodged bits collecting at the bottom of the bag. Clipping and sweating were illegal and punishable by death during medieval times, but that didn't stop people from doing it.

Clippings from old coins

To make matters worse, from time to time kings and queens would adopt a policy of aggressively reducing the silver content of coins in order to raise revenues, mostly to fight wars. In medieval times, mints operated differently than they do now. Anyone could bring raw silver to the mint to be turned into coins, paying a small minting fee to the monarch. By reducing the silver content of the coinage, the monarch incentivized everyone to quickly bring in their old silver coins to be coined into new coins. After all, people could get more coins for each ounce of silver they owned, thus allowing them to pay off more debts than before. This would create a one-time spike in mint throughput, thereby boosting royal revenues from fees.

A Thousand Years of Prices: UK Consumer Price index

One of history's most aggressive medieval debasers was Henry VIII, who announced ten debasements between 1542 and 1551, each in the region of 30-40%. These diminutions were so successful in driving silver to the royal mints that Henry had to erect six new ones just to meet demand. Between 1541 and 1556, the English consumer price index rose by 123%. It's possible to see this spike in the chart above.

Not all kings and queens debased the currency. Every once in a while one of them would try to restore the standard by announcing a general recoinage. All citizens were obliged to bring in their coins to the mint where they would be weighed and then melted down into new coins. The new coins would have a restored amount of silver in them, thus undoing some of the wear-and-tear-induced inflation of previous years.

Finally, advances in silver mining technology and new discoveries had a major role to play in determining the level of medieval prices. If the supply of silver suddenly increased while demand remained unchanged, the price of silver would decline relative to that of other goods. And since coins were themselves composed of silver, their purchasing power would decline. Or, put differently, inflation would occur as all prices in the economy rose. Deflation, a fall in prices, was just as likely to occur under a silver coin standard. If the population was growing with the supply of silver failing to keep up, then the price of silver would have to rise, or a general deflation would set in.

To sum up, inflationary episodes during the medieval silver coin area could be explained by a complex combination of natural wear and tear of coins, debasement by kings and queens counterbalanced by the odd recoinage designed to restore the standard, and changes in the fundamentals of the underlying silver market. The strongest inflations occurred when all these forces were aligned. For instance, if a new drilling technique suddenly opened up deeper silver deposits for exploitation, and the monarch was simultaneously debasing the standard to help fund wars, then—combined with natural wear and tear—the result would be a rapidly increasing prices.

The metal-backed banknote era

Bankers soon learnt how to make money out of paper. This would begin to change the complexion of inflation.

As long as bankers maintained full convertibility of their banknotes into the underlying commodity, then the banknotes they issued could not have any direct influence on the economy-wide price level.  Alterations to the quality and nature of the coins themselves, as well as deeper changes in the underlying silver market, still dictated inflation, as they did in the coin era.

It's worth investigating this point further. Inflation occurs when people have too much money in their wallets relative to demand. With nowhere to go, money becomes a hot potato. Merchant A doesn't want to hold an extra $100 bill or silver coin in their wallet, so he spends it at Merchant B's store, who doesn't want it so she spends it at person C's store, and on and on, each trade in this chain pushing up prices ever so much. The hot potato process only comes to a halt when all prices in the economy have been driven high enough that the $100 bill or silver coin is no longer unwanted, and it comes to a rest.

By providing an alternative exit for banknotes, convertibility short-circuits this hot potato effect. Say a banker had lent too many banknotes into circulation relative to demand. Rather than boomeranging through the economy hot potato-like, an unwanted $100 bill quickly returns to the issuing bank for redemption, long before it has exerted any influence on the price level.

Although they had no direct influence on the general level of prices, banknotes would have had an indirect influence on prices. As paper money gradually became more popular relative to coins, the demand for silver would have declined relative to the supply, and this would have put gentle downward pressure on the silver price and conversely upward pressure on the economy-wide price level. Second, as people opted to use paper money to meet their spending requirements, coins would have slowly disappeared into vaults. Since this mean that coins circulated less, the inflation that had historically occurred thanks to wear & tear, clipping, and sweating would have receded.

The real novelty in the age of metal-backed bank notes was when convertibility was temporarily suspended. During these periods, bankers and the banknotes they issued could have a direct influence on the economy-wide price level. With the traditional exit into specie or coin being severed, any banknote issued in excess of public demand would act like a hot potato. Rather than returning to their issuer, they caromed through the economy, pushing prices higher.

While there were a number of early paper money experiments, the most well-known include the Swedish experience under an inconvertible paper standard from 1745 to 1776, the British suspension of pound convertibility from 1797 to 1821, and the U.S. Greenback era from 1861 to 1878. Each of these periods of inconvertibility was accompanied by high inflation and coincided with major wars. For instance, in the mid-1700s the Swedes had entered into several conflicts including the Seven Years War, while by the late 1700s the British were on the verge of encountering Napoleon. In the U.S., greenbacks were used by the Union to finance their war against the Confederates.

A US $1 greenback note from 1862

Had banknotes remained redeemable during these conflicts, it would have been impossible for governments to issue large amounts of them—they would have quickly returned to the issuer. By severing the window, many more banknotes could be put into circulation than would have otherwise been the case.

All three suspensions were only temporary as they ended with a return to specie convertibility. It was only in the 20th century that the first permanently-inconvertible standards emerged.

The fiat money era

In 1971 President Nixon removed the ability of foreigner governments to convert U.S. dollars into gold. The world was now on a permanent fiat standard.

Under both coin-based monetary systems and fully-convertible paper standards, the monetary authorities had only a little bit of control over inflation. The key influences over the price level—wear and tear, clipping and sweating, and new precious metals discoveries—were things that happened to the currency, the monetary authority having little say in the matter. When they did exercise control, it was only through policies of coin debasement or attempts to restore the standard.

Under today's permanent fiat system, these external influences have all but disappeared. Instead of being foisted on the economy by chance, the economy's inflation rate is now created by the monetary authority.  Those who are in charge can choose to have the currency gain purchasing power over time (i.e. deflation), stay constant, or lose purchasing power over time (i.e. inflation).

In most western democracies, the monetary authorities have chosen a 1-3% inflation rate. This may seem odd, given that a constant price level is attainable. One drawback of perpetual 1-3% inflation is that people must constantly face losses on their holdings of coins and banknotes. This induces wasteful behaviour. For instance, people may choose to hold less cash than they would otherwise prefer. And they will have to constantly make trips to the bank and back to deposit banknotes in order to earn interest (this is what economists refer to as shoe leather costs). If inflation was 0%, or even -1 to -2%, the public would no longer have to worry about perpetual losses from cash and could choose to hold comfortable amounts of the stuff.

While monetary authorities understand the drawbacks of 1-3% inflation, they still choose it as a target because they see a much bigger threat in the form of sticky wages. In the simplest model of an economy, when a shock hits and demand suddenly disappears, prices fall until buyers are once again drawn back into the market. But if some of these prices are sticky, in particular the wage rate, then this downward trek in prices can never occur. Rather than reducing everyone's salary, employers will be forced to fire workers. General unemployment and gluts of unsold inventory—or a recession—are the result.

Central bankers believe they can offset some of these unpleasant effects. While a $20 per hour wage rate may be so sticky that it can’t adjust in the face of an economic shock, an inflation rate of 1-3% means that even though the nominal value of that wage stays constant next year, its real value will have adjusted down to ~$19.60. So in the event of a shock to the economy, a central bank that targets an inflation rate of 1-3% provides the missing flexibility to wage rates, and thus promotes a quicker readjustment period.

The second reason for adopting an inflation target of 1-3% is that at these levels, short-term interest rates have typically ranged between 3-6%. After all, lenders need to make a profit, and will demand a sufficiently positive interest rate to compensate for losses from inflation. The tool that modern central bankers use to guide the price level is the overnight interest rate on balances maintained by commercial banks at the central bank. This tool becomes useless when it falls much below 0%, the effective lower bound to interest rates. Once interest rates are reduced to around -0.75%, banknotes (which yields 0%) begins to look quite attractive as an asset. Reduce interest rates a little bit more and a mass exit from bank deposits into cash will begin, the banking system imploding in the process. So by targeting an inflation rate of 1-3%, central bankers are attempting to build a big enough cushion into interest rates so that they can be sure that their main monetary policy tool has little chance of becoming useless.

And that's why people in Western nations experience a 1-3% increase in prices each year.

What is in store for the future?

So if you had lived through the last 1000 years you'd have experienced a number of different monetary regimes, the price level dynamics different in each one. Even under commodity standards, inflation was a common occurrence. And even on a fiat standard, deflation is an entirely possible phenomenon.

In closing, will the current 1-3% inflation target that has been adopted by most Western monetary authorities ever change? In certain quarters, there is talk of central banks increasing their inflation targets to 4%- 5%. Over the last few years, interest rates have fallen close to—and even in some cases underneath—the 0% bound, muting the power of the central bank's interest lever. If inflation was 4%, say many central bankers, then short-term rates would be much higher (say 6-7%), thus building in an even bigger cushion for subsequent interest rate reductions come the next crisis.

Alternatively, central bankers might one day decide to target an inflation rate of 0%. This would mean that short-term rates would be very low, leaving little-to-no cushion for further policy rate reductions when the next crisis hits. But there are several ways to guide interest rates far below 0%. Some economists talk of banning cash (especially high denomination notes like the ones below), for instance, or introducing a digital alternative on which a negative interest rate can be imposed. These measures would allow a central bank to reduce interest rates to -3% or -4% during a crisis without having to fret over an exodus out of bank deposits into banknotes. During these episodes with deeply negative rates, the public  would flee into stocks or gold or cryptocurrencies—but this would be a sign that the desired hot potato effect was working. Having bought plenty of room to reduce interest rates into negative territory when a shock hits, central bankers could safely target 0% inflation rather than 1-3% inflation.

Singapore's S$10,000, one of the world's largest value banknotes

Finally, might we ever see inflation in the teens like we did in the 1970s? Western central bankers have exercised a large degree of independence from their political masters in the executive branch of the government over the last several decades. This has allowed them to maintain careful control over the price level. However, if some unforeseen event were to occur that led Western governments to require huge amounts of financing—say another world war—then governments may try to re-exert control over monetary policy. If so, keeping inflation under control could cease to be an important goal of the monetary authority, and the high inflation of the 1970s might return.

Bitcoin isn’t Digital Gold, it’s Digital Uselesstainium

This blog post is a guest post on BullionStar's Blog by the renowned blogger JP Koning who will be writing about monetary economics, central banking and gold. BullionStar does not endorse or oppose the opinions presented but encourage a healthy debate. 

People often like to describe bitcoin as digital gold, but that analogy isn't a very good one. Bitcoin is categorically different from the yellow metal. If we had to choose a metal as an analogy for bitcoin, that metal would be boring grey in colour (and thus lacking ornamental purpose), useless for industrial purposes, but scarce. As far as I know no such material exists, so let's come up with a name for this imaginary metal: uselesstainium. Bitcoin is digital uselesstainium.

Before bitcoin fans get angry with me, I should confess that I got the idea for uselesstainium from a 2010 discussion board post by Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin. Below are his thoughts on a scarce metal that is "boring grey" and "not useful for any practical or ornamental purpose":

Let's dig more into the difference between gold and this stuff we call uselesstainium. There are two reasons to value something: 1) because you want to use it, or 2) because you expect to pass it off in the future. Pass-it-off demand may be for short-term purposes, like money—you only expect to have a dollar bill in your wallet for a day or two before spending it on. Or it may be for the long-term, like a speculative asset that you intend to keep for a few years before selling to someone else. Either way, pass-it-off demand means that the item's value to you depends on what *the next person* is willing to provide, not on its use-value.

The demand for gold is made up of both types of demand. A portion of those active in the gold market value it as jewellery or a collectors item, or because it can be used to make circuitry or in satellites. The other portion likes the metal for its pass-it-off purposes, say they expect that someone else will pay twice the price next year.

Because it is an ugly grey colour and thus unsuitable for collectors or jewellery wearers, and it can't be used in teeth nor for industrial purposes, uselesstainium has no use-value. If it is going to be valued at all, then pass-it-off demand will have to be wholly responsible for generating that value.

Gold and a fat-finger trade

Thanks to this difference, the prices of gold and uselesstainium will act very differently. Let's say the two metals are each trading at $1000/oz. Each of them suddenly suffers from a freak $100 drop in price. No event has occurred to cause it, nor have people's tastes change, nor has the technological backdrop been altered. It's a fat finger event.

In this context there is *no* fundamental reason for uselesstainium to return to $1000. With gold, however, strong market forces will emerge to help fix the mistake and push the price up towards $1000.

Gold is a good conductor of electricity. And unlike copper and other metals it doesn't corrode, which means that gold electrical connections are superior to most. However, an ounce of gold is much more expensive than an ounce of copper or any other metal. When gold was at $1000, manufacturers of printed circuit boards (PCB) will have made a tradeoff between gold and other materials subject to the preferences of their customers, choosing the optimal amount of gold for the parts of the board that are too delicate to suffer from corrosion while directing copper, silver, and other materials to the rest.

But with gold now at $900, the yellow metal has become marginally more competitive than other metals. At these prices, PCB customers can afford to ask for a bit more gold on their boards. This demand will help drive gold back up to $1000. The PCB market won't be the only market to demand more gold. Collectors, jewellers, dentists, and many others will all find gold a little more advantageous than before relative to alternative materials and will step up their buying. Their combined purchases will help counterbalance the mistaken fat finger trade.

Speculators who are attracted to gold solely for its pass-it-off value will contribute to this rebound. Because they are constantly trying to anticipate the needs of future buyers, including those in the PCB market, speculators will purchase as much gold as they can from the fat finger trader based on their informed opinion that they can resell it to board manufacturers at a higher price.

Uselesstainium and a fat-finger trade

When uselesstainium falls to $900, no equivalent forces exist to drive the metal's price back to $1000. Remember, because uselesstainium has no industrial value the only basis for valuing it is by trying to guess what price it can be passed off to others. Whereas a gold speculator can try to anticipate the needs of participants in the PCB market, a uselesstainium speculator can only sell to other speculators. This means that she must try to anticipate what other speculators are likely to pay, while at the same time these potential buyers are in turn trying to anticipate what she will pay.

This sort of expectations game was beautifully described by the economist John Maynard Keynes back in 1936 as a beauty contest. Presented with a row of faces, a competitor has to choose the prettiest face as estimated by all other participants in the contest:

"...each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees."

Confronted with a sudden $100 crash, there is no inherent reason for a uselesstainium trader to anticipate that average opinion anticipates average opinion to move the price back up to $1000. A move up to $1100, or down to $700, or a collapse to $0, are all just as likely. In a beauty contest, there is no right or wrong price for uselesstainium.

Bitcoin is digital uselesstainium

Since there is no use-value to anchor uselesstainium's price, we'd expect it to be far more volatile than gold. Likewise with bitcoin, which is both rare and demanded solely for pass-it-off purposes. Let's take a look at a chart of the relative volatility of bitcoin and gold to see what it shows.

What you see in the above chart is the median daily change for each asset plotted over a moving 200-day period. By using the median rather than the average I am stripping out some of the large gut-wrenching changes that assets experience, in an effort to give a sense of what happens on a day-to-day basis.

Gold's median change since 2011 (the black dashed line) is around 0.5%. This means that on a majority of days you should expect a gain or loss of around 0.5% if you hold the yellow metal. Over the same time range, bitcoin's median change (the dashed red line) is about 1.7%, which means that an owner of bitcoin must generally deal with moves of +/-1.7% each day, more than three times what a gold owner must bear.

Bitcoin's rolling 200-day median return (the solid red line) is much less stable than gold's. It almost fell to the same level as gold in late 2016, hitting a low of around 0.75%, but has quickly moved back above 3%, a level last seen in 2011 and again in 2013-14. The volatility gap between gold and bitcoin—the distance between the two solid lines—is currently at its widest since 2012.

Bitcoin will always be an incredibly volatile asset because it exists entirely on pass-through demand. Like uselesstainium, it is a pure Keynesian beauty contest. If all contestants in the bitcoin price-setting game come to believe that the average contestant believes that the average contestant believes bitcoin is worth $0, then that belief will self-realize itself and bitcoin will fall to $0. If they all become 100% sure that it should be worth $100,000, then it will jump to $100,000. These sorts of price implosions and explosions can't happen with gold because its usefulness inspires economic behaviour that counterbalances beauty contest dynamics.

Now it is possible that bitcoin inherits some useful properties and therefore shifts from being a form of digital uselesstainium to a form of digital gold. Bitcoin advocates will often mention time-stamping as a service. People can take a digital representation, or hash, of a document and put it on the bitcoin blockchain by spending a small amount of bitcoin. Once accomplished the owner of the document will be able to publicly prove that they were the owner of that document on that date. Bitcoin time-stamping would in theory compete with other alternatives, like real-life notaries or the post office. In the event of a bitcoin price crash, anyone who wants to get cheap time stamping services may step in as buyers of bitcoin, in the same way that PCB makers support the gold market.

However, time stamping is still in its infancy. Certainly other uses for bitcoin apart from time stamping may eventually be found, but until then bitcoin remains digital uselesstainium, not digital gold. Plenty of money can be made betting on uselesstainium, and much can be lost. But no one should be buying uselesstainum—whether it be the digital type or physical—unless they are comfortable playing in a pure Keynesian beauty contest.

This blog post is the second in a series of guest posts on BullionStar's Blog  by the renowned blogger JP Koning who will be writing about monetary economics, central banking and gold .

Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe – It’s back, but maybe not for long

When a nation adopts a foreign currency it will typically face significant hurdles when it tries to rid itself of that currency, or de-dollarize. But Zimbabwe’s autocratic ruler Robert Mugabe has appeared to have done the impossible. After dollarizing ten years ago, over the course of the last year or two he and his cronies have managed to throw off the U.S. dollar and re-introduce a Zimbabwean replacement.

We can see evidence of this new currency in Zimbabwe's stock market. Below I've charted the country's main equity index, the Zimbabwe Industrial Index, going back to 2011. What an incredible rise over the last year, right? Beware; these returns have nothing to do with real economic growth. Zimbabwean equities have switched from being claim on an a stream of cash flows denominated in U.S. dollars to a stream denominated in Zimbabwe's new currency. Because investors expect inflation of the new currency to drive up future cash flows, they have responded by bidding stock prices up. In real terms (i.e. U.S. dollar terms), stock prices are probably flat–and may have even declined.

Dollarization and de-dollarization

Let's back up a bit. For those countries that mismanage their currency, the penalty box has typically been some form of dollarization. The citizens of a nation grow so tired of the hyperinflating currency that they opt for an alternative, whether that is euros, dollars, or some other medium of exchange.

Dollarization is usually only partial, the mismanaged currency continuing to circulate–albeit to a lesser extent–in conjunction with a stable alternative. Zimbabwe is unique in being one of the few countries to fully dollarize. By late 2008 the hyperinflation of the Zimbabwe dollar had become such a burden that Zimbabweans–without the permission of the Mugabe regime–threw their local currency notes into the gutters and adopted the U.S. dollar as their sole medium of exchange and unit of account.

Zimbabwe 100 trillion notes and gold bullion
Do you prefer to own 200 trillion dollars or do you prefer to own gold?

In 2016-17, the reverse has happened. Before I go into how the new Zimbabwean currency was introduced, it should be emphasized how difficult it is to replace an existing currency with a new one. Currency usage is locked in place by tradition and broad acceptance. Even when a national currency is doing very poorly, any single individual will be loath to be the first to desert it for a more stable alternative. Money is only useful when many people are using it, and since any new money lacks a base of users, it faces the paradox that it cannot ever get jumpstarted. In the case of modern Zimbabwe, the communal benefits of using the U.S. dollar as the "language of trade" are significant, so any alternative should have faced a huge hurdle in gaining acceptance.

The birth of Zimbabwe’s new currency

That the new Zimbabwean currency managed to make it past this hurdle is a testament to the powerful combination of subterfuge, brute force, and good old Gresham's law that overpowered the staying power of the U.S. dollar. What follows are the steps that led to this switch.

After the 2008 dollarization rendered it useless, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) sneakily got back into the money printing game in 2012 or 2013. Creating a new national currency from scratch would have been politically impossible; the population was still furious with its leaders' previous monetary mistakes. So instead the central bank began issuing a U.S. look-alike. Domestic banks had the option–and later were required–to open U.S. dollar accounts at the RBZ. These accounts weren't available to the public but could be used between banks to settle domestic payments flows. At first, the RBZ's U.S. dollar deposits were as good as the real thing. Banks could easily convert them into U.S. paper currency.

As time passed, Robert Mugabe's government drew down on the RBZ's resources in order to fund a massive spending campaign. This depletion of the RBZ's hard currency reserves eventually forced it to renege on its promise to commercial banks to redeem in dollars. Regular Zimbabweans only got their first sign of trouble in early 2016. Since commercial banks could no longer rely on the RBZ to convert its U.S. deposits into real U.S. cash, the banks had no choice but to pass their inability to get cash on to their customers. The ability of the public to withdraw cash from U.S. dollar accounts was steadily cut back until they could only take out $50 per day, leading to massive lineups at banks across the nation. With the convertibility promise having been betrayed, dollars held in the banking system ceased to be equivalent to U.S. dollars. They began to trade at a 5-20% discount to genuine U.S. cash in the black market.

In November 2016 the RBZ introduced the bond note, its first issue of paper money since the old Zimbabwe dollar had expired worthless in 2008. (For more details, read my post on the topic here). As in the case of the accounts at the central bank, bond notes were supposed to be redeemable on demand into U.S. dollars. But this redemption promise proved to be a sham–and bond notes quickly began to trade at a discount to U.S. paper money.

Gresham’s law makes an appearance in Zimbabwe

Having duped the population into accepting RBZ-issued dollar notes and deposits, the government proceeded to declare its new currency legal tender. This meant that any creditor who had lent out U.S. dollars was obligated by law to accept payment in bond notes at par. At the same time, the authorities required retailers to treat all payments media as equivalents–they could neither discount the inferior currency nor accept the superior currency at a premium, the penalty being seven years in jail.

Which gets us to Gresham's law. A rule going back to medieval times, Gresham's law tells us that when a government dictates the exchange rate between different types of money, the 'good', or undervalued money will be chased out by the 'bad', or overvalued money.

To see how Gresham's law has played out in Zimbabwe, consider a Zimbabwean street hawker who prior to 2016 had been selling oranges for $1 per bag. The new Zimbabwean currency is introduced. Because this new currency is inferior to the U.S. dollar, the street hawker continues to charge $1 per bag for those paying with genuine dollars but requires everyone paying with new currency to pay an extra 50 cents, or $1.50. With this new dual-pricing scheme, some customers will continue to pay with U.S. dollars, others will pay with bond notes. Both types of money circulate together.

Zimbabwe 100 trillion dollar notes with bread, eggs and milk
In 2008, on the first day of issuance, a 100 trillion dollar note reportedly could buy 3 eggs in Zimbabwe but only 1 egg the day after

When the government announces that all currencies must be treated as equals, the street hawker can no longer charge an extra 50 cents to those paying with Zimbabwean currency. To meet the letter of the law, he sets his price at a flat $1.50 per bag of oranges, irrespective of the type of currency used. However, this undervalues the U.S. dollar. After all, $1.50 in U.S. cash should be capable of buying a bag-and-half of oranges, not just one bag. The result is that none of the street hawker's customers will ever pay with U.S. dollars, preferring to hoard them and proffer Zimbabwean currency as payment instead.

This parable of the street seller has occurred all over Zimbabwe over the last twelve months. Thanks to the government's edict that all currencies be treated as equals, U.S. dollars have been driven entirely from circulation. No one wants to use them because they are undervalued. As a result, bank money and bond notes have become the main media of exchange in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has dedollarized.

Hyperinflation 2.0

Prices are on the rise. I used the stock market as an illustration of this in my introduction. Consumer goods have been slower to adjust, but earlier this month Equity Axis–a local financial research firm–reported that the prices of basic goods have gone up by between 50- 100% over the past eight weeks. On the streets, illegal currency traders will buy $1 worth of bank money for just 54 cents in genuine cash, according to recent reports.

Comparing the price of bitcoin in Zimbabwe against its international price also gives some clues into how far the new currency has tumbled. Last week bitcoin traded at $13,185 on the Golix, a Zimbabwean bitcoin exchange, but only $7190 on U.S. exchanges. We need to take the price of $13,185 with a grain of salt, because Golix is a very illiquid exchange. In any case, the ratio between the two bitcoin prices implies that a Zimbabwean bank dollar is only worth 54 cents in genuine U.S. dollars ($13185/7190), confirming the unofficial street price in the previous paragraph. Put differently, in just one year Zimbabwe's new currency has lost almost half its value.

Economist Steve Hanke, who helps maintain the Hanke-Krus World Inflation Table, has used interlisted stocks on the Harare and London stock exchanges to infer that Zimbabwe’s inflation rate has soared to 77%. (I described this technique in more detail here). When inflation exceeds 50% per month and lasts for at least thirty consecutive days it qualifies as hyperinflation, which means that Zimbabwe’s current currency collapse will be added to the Hanke-Krus table.

Going forward…

Given that Mugabe and his cronies have already shown a penchant for destroying currencies, as long as they are in power it seems unlikely that the current inflation will stop. As I was writing this post, however, the situation in Zimbabwe has dramatically changed. On November 14, the army announced that it had placed Mugabe under house arrest. We don’t know if he will be permanently removed from power or if the situation is just a temporary one. If a new government can be established, and the international community mobilized to support it, it is possible that the collapse in the new currency will be halted, perhaps even reversing back to par. For instance, a large enough IMF loan might allow the RBZ to uphold its original promise to convert bond notes and deposits into genuine dollars on a 1:1 basis.

The market may already be pricing in an improvement in the odds of the Zimbabwean currency being stabilized. Over the two days the Zimbabwe Industrial Index has plunged by over 100 points or 20%, as the chart at top illustrates. This correction may be partly due to operating uncertainties faced by listed firms given the lack of visibility surrounding future leadership. But the largest chunk of the decline is surely a pure monetary phenomenon. Since all stock prices are quoted in Zimbabwean money, a massive increase in the purchasing power of money will cause stock prices to fall.

Many outside the country have no doubt been anxiously watching Zimbabwe's monetary experiment, especially in Europe. In the same way that Zimbabwe was part of the U.S. dollar-zone, most European nations are part of the Eurozone, in some cases reluctantly so. Zimbabwe offers these nations a blueprint for quickly exiting the monetary union. That may be one reason why the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, was so quick to shoot down Estonia's recently mooted state-backed cryptocurrency, the Estcoin. By nipping it off at the bud, he ensured he wouldn't have a home-grown bond note problem.

This blog post is the first in a series of guest posts on BullionStar's Blog  by the renowned blogger JP Koning who will be writing about monetary economics, central banking and gold .

New Release Now Available! Australian Lunar Series 2018

Background

It's that time of the year again where the Perth Mint unveils its' lineup for the year ahead. Today, we will be focusing on the latest release of the much loved Lunar Series – the 2018 Australian Lunar Series Year of the Dog. This release is part of the second lunar series released by the Perth Mint, which consists of lunar coins minted from 2008 to 2019. We are excited to bring in these coins and they are available for ordering now.

The Chinese Zodiac series, or the “Sheng Xiao”, is a circle of 12 animals that links each year to a particular animal. Each animal is thought to possess different character and personality traits that are often seen in individuals born that year. Those who are born in the Year of the Dog are said to be honest, friendly and have a strong sense of responsibility. People born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018 are said to be born in the Year of the Dog.

First Look: Gold

gold_coin_perth_mint_lunar_dog_2018_1oz_front

The Lunar Dog coins have continued the tradition of “less is more” and we think it looks great! The gold coins feature a Labrador retriever proudly standing on rocks with a stylized pine tree in the background. The design also incorporates the Chinese character for "Dog", the inscription "Year of the Dog", and The Perth Mint's traditional "P" mintmark. Kudos to the Perth Mint for going with a classic interpretation of the animal. The designer portrayed the animal in its’ natural surroundings with a clean and simple background. By continuing with the classic design seen in the previous editions, the Lunar Dog coins should perform well in terms of sales.

Mintage

As with previous editions, the one ounce denomination has a limited mintage of just 30,000 globally and is expected to sell out quickly like the previous years. For the other denominations, the mintage is unlimited. That means that the Perth Mint will mint the coins for the entire of 2018 and will declare the final mintage at the end of the year. Mintages for fractionals are usually low. For example, the 2016 Year of the Monkey ½ oz gold coin had a mintage of only 11,947.

First Look: Silver

silver_coin_perth_mint_lunar_dog_1oz_front

The silver edition is equally stunning. As with previous editions, The Perth Mint has created two different interpretations for the gold and silver editions. The silver coin depicts a German shepherd dog and its’ puppy lying on grass with Chinese peony flowers in the background. The design also incorporates the Chinese character for Dog, the inscription "Year of the Dog" and The Perth Mint's traditional "P" mintmark.

Mintage

As with previous editions, the one ounce denomination has a limited mintage of 300,000 that is guaranteed to sell out. For the other denominations, the mintage is unlimited. This means that the Perth Mint will mint the coins for the entire of 2018 and will declare the final mintage at the end of the year. Mintages for other denominations are usually low. For example, the 2016 Year of the Monkey 2 oz silver coin had a mintage of only 34,368.

Availability

Our first shipment of lunar gold and silver coins will be arriving soon and the following denominations are ready for ordering:

Gold
2 oz Australian Gold Lunar 2018
0.5 oz Australian Gold Lunar 2018
0.25 oz Australian Gold Lunar 2018
0.10 oz Australian Gold Lunar 2018
0.05 oz Australian Gold Lunar 2018

Silver
1 kg Australian Silver Lunar 2018
10 oz Australian Silver Lunar 2018
5 oz Australian Silver Lunar 2018
2 oz Australian Silver Lunar 2018
1 oz Australian Silver Lunar 2018
0.5 oz Australian Silver Lunar 2018

Collectors always lament how the prices for previous editions are much higher after the year has passed. It is noteworthy how the high premiums of past editions are resilient even during periods of lower spot prices. Hence, if you are looking to collect yearly and complete your set, don't wait! For the Perth Mint Lunar Series coins, waiting is not a good idea if you want to get the coins at a reasonable price as they tend to trade at a higher premium above spot compared to other coins due to their relative rarity.

We only have a limited quantity for each denomination available so place your orders now before the coins sell out!

Gold Price: USD 65,000/oz in 5 years? Speech by Torgny Persson

Gold Price: USD 65,000/oz in 5 years? Is it realistic that the price of gold could reach this level in the foreseeable future?

This speech by BullionStar's CEO, Mr. Torgny Persson, was recorded during FreedomFest 2017. FreedomFest is the world's largest gathering for freedom oriented people. BullionStar participated by exhibiting and educating about the monetary system.

The following topics were covered in Mr. Persson's speech:

1) Money System of Today

How does our monetary system work - or doesn't work? Do fiat currencies like the US Dollar have any real intrinsic value?

Mr. Persson describes the purposes and characteristics of money and explains why fiat currencies are not true money per definition. Mr. Persson educates about how money is created and how most money of today only exists in electronic form.

2) Gold Manipulation - Gold Price

Is the price of gold dictated and artificially suppressed? What happens if the current system for gold price discovery fails? Is a gold price of USD 65,000/oz in 5 years realistic?

Mr. Persson discusses how the price of gold is set/discovered on the gold marketplace and how it is vulnerable to manipulation.

3) Singapore 

Why is Singapore the best country in the world for asset preservation and wealth protection?

Mr. Persson presents the advantages of Singapore as a safe jurisdiction for buying and storing bullion. No taxes on bullion in Singapore, no reporting requirements, strong property ownership rights and safety are some of the properties that makes Singapore uniquely positioned as the best country in the world for asset and wealth protection and preservation.

4) Offshore Bullion Protection with BullionStar 

Mr. Persson introduces BullionStar's products and services such as bullion vault storage in Singapore, Bullionstar Gold Bars and Silver Bars that can be traded without any spread in between the buy and sell price, cash & bullion on the same account and more.

The slides from Mr. Persson's speech are accessible below.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 – Year in Review

BullionStar has adopted a transparent approach in releasing BullionStar financials i.e. information about the company's overall company performance and sales data for each financial year. This blog post presents the BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review as the financials stood at the end of the financial year 2016 which ended on the 30th June 2016 (FY 2016).

FY 2016 was a very strong year for BullionStar with sales revenues totaling SGD 134,200,000, a 111.7% increase from FY 2015.  BullionStar launched several new products and services during FY 2016 - the BullionStar Stored Value Facility, which allows customers to keep funds on account with BullionStar, being the most notable one. BullionStar also launched the Gold University, a unique Wikipedia-style resource of up-to-date factual information covering topics such as gold markets, gold vaults, refineries and mints and central bank policies during the financial year.

In FY 2016, BullionStar increased the product range to include over 500 different bullion, numismatics and coin supply products across 10 different product categories. We also revamped our savings and tradings product, the Bullion Savings Program, enabling our customers to convert their BSP Grams to physical bullion at any time without any charge.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - Sales

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - Sales revenues for the financial year 2016

BullionStar’s sales revenue for FY 2016 was SGD 134.2m, up from 63.4m in FY 2015.

For Q1 2016, the total global bullion demand increased by 21% when calculated in tonnage and by 17% when calculated in USD, based on data from the World Gold Council comparing Q1 2016 to Q1 2015.

BullionStar saw strong demand from local investors/savers in H2 2015 and an increased demand from international investors/savers in H1 2016.

Overall bullion demand in Singapore decreased from 1.6 tonnes in the first quarter of 2015 to 1.2 tonnes in the first quarter of 2016, marking a 25% decrease, according to the World Gold Council. For Q1 2016, BullionStar sold approximately 0.5 tonnes of gold bullion, thereby contributing to 42% of the total Singaporean bullion market based on the figures published by the World Gold Council.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - BullionStar has a 42% market share of the Singaporean gold bullion market

BullionStar has grown substantially during the financial year and we continue to demonstrate strong performance regardless of whether the price trend for precious metals is positive or negative. Our growth is derived from a mix of increased sales originating from both domestic and international customers. With more and more international customers finding out about the jurisdictional advantages of buying and storing bullion in Singapore, the international customer segment is increasing in importance.

BullionStar is in a strong financial position and continued to be profitable for the third year in a row with FY 2016. BullionStar has no long term debts to any financial institutions.

The strong performance and growth of the company are evidenced in the below diagram. The volume of orders, average order size and median order size all increased for FY 2016 compared to FY 2015.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - BullionStar orders, average order size and median order size for FY 2016

Sales per Product Category

A comparison between the below chart for FY 2016 and the corresponding chart for FY 2015 reveals that the proportional demand for gold, in relation to all metals sold by the company, increased in FY 2016. Gold consisted of 66.30% of total sales for FY 2015 whereas it increased to 72.57% of total sales for FY 2016. The increase in popularity for 100 gram gold bars and 1 kg silver bars are attributable to the high demand for the BullionStar 100 gram gold bar and the BullionStar 1 kg silver bar.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - BullionStar sales per bullion product category

What Lies Ahead

In the wake of the high uncertainty in the global markets post-Brexit and post-Trump, the demand for gold has been revived in the west while gold continues to be the savings asset of choice in the east. This combination of demand continues to put pressure on the wholesale gold market with virtually no gold available in the gold capital of the world, London.

BullionStar expects FY 2017 to be an even stronger year and has to date increased its sales revenue significantly compared to the figures as presented in this BullionStar Financials FY 2016 report.

Gold & Silver Prices

The first half of 2016 was characterized by a trend reversal in the spot prices for gold and silver.

During FY 2016, the gold price increased from SGD 50.85/gram on 1 July 2015 to SGD 57.15/gram on 30 June 2016, equivalent to a 12.39% increase when denominated in Singapore Dollars.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - Spot gold price development 2015-2016

The silver price, when denominated in Singapore Dollars, increased 17.65% during the period, from SGD 0.68/gram on 1 July 2015 to SGD 0.80/gram on 30 June 2016.

BullionStar Financials FY 2016 - Year in Review - Spot silver price development 2015-2016

BullionStar Vault Storage

When our customers store their metals with us, they have full control of their bullion portfolio online 24/7. We employ no less than 5 different audit schemes, including third party audits by the LBMA-approved auditor Bureau Veritas, to verify the existence and correctness of the stored bullion. With our vault being integrated into the same venue as our shop and showroom, customers can physically audit and withdraw their precious metals without any prior notification.

By the end of FY 2016, we stored approximately SGD 84.1m in precious metals as vault storage provider on behalf of our customers. This corresponds to an increase of 58.7% compared to one year ago.

fin7

Customer Satisfaction

We are proud of our status as the premier bullion dealer in Singapore offering customers a unique solution to international diversification.  At BullionStar, we continuously develop new products and services enabling our customers' full control of their precious metals online combined with the physical accessibility of our bullion center in Singapore.

BullionStar: 700+ reviews with an average of 4.8                                BullionStar: 700+ facebook reviews with an average of 4.7

About BullionStar

BullionStar is Singapore's premier bullion dealer offering a wide range of precious metals products and services. BullionStar is breaking new ground by introducing modern technology into the age-old precious metals industry. With a proprietary online platform, BullionStar offers customers the ability to efficiently handle and control their bullion holdings 24/7 at their convenience.

BullionStar runs a one-stop retail shop and vault for precious metals at 45 New Bridge Road in Singapore where customers can view, buy, sell, value, deposit, test, audit and physically withdraw precious metals.

With original research and analysis covering the precious metals market on a whole and the Asian market specifically, world renowned analysts Koos Jansen and Ronan Manly keep readers updated on the news that matters.

Wrap-Up of BullionStar’s visit to FreedomFest 2016 in Las Vegas

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.

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.

Saving in Gold vs. Investing in Gold

There are differing views on choosing the optimal percentage of gold to hold in an asset portfolio.

These different viewpoints depend on how one views gold. Those looking for a return on their money in currency terms perceive gold as an investment which they can sell at a currency price higher than what they bought it for.

We would however argue that the idea of trading your fiat paper currency for gold today, hoping to trade the gold for even more fiat currency in the future, defeats the purpose of owning gold in the first place. Saving in gold is an insurance against the failure of fiat currency, not a means of accumulating more of it.

The healthiest and most natural way of looking at gold is to view gold as savings or as a form of wealth preservation.

Saving in Gold

Gold is, and for thousands of years has been, the focal point for many prominent savers of wealth. The European aristocrats, the Middle East oil barons, the ultra-rich, and even the central banks, all save in gold to preserve generational wealth. They save in gold without thinking about the return in currency terms because they understand the fundamental principle of gold as a generational and long-term store of value. They understand that gold is not an investment but that its a form of money that cannot be printed or controlled by central bankers.

As the world's financial and monetary systems become increasing fragile, saving in gold is the ultimate safe haven for protecting you against a systemic collapse. In the inevitable transition that will follow such a collapse, holding gold as wealth is the ultimate strategy for survival.

Prudent savers understand that gold cements wealth over time which is why you do not need to care much about the ‘gold price’ as denominated in fiat currencies.

If you do not want to bear the high risk associated with chasing returns on the currency markets, you should save in physical gold because gold is the safest form of liquid money. Staying liquid is the same as keeping your wealth in gold. There is nothing wrong with investing, but buying physical gold is not an investment in the real sense – it is a timeless wealth-preserving asset.

When fiat currencies crash, your gold will become a truly priceless asset that will empower you through the transition.

A 100 trillion dollar note can't buy you any bullion. By saving in gold you can sleep at night.

Gold as Wealth

If you are trapped in relentlessly chasing paper profits while worrying about your positions, it is time to consider a shift of mind-set. To become a saver, you have to shift your focus from profit-seeking to sustainability, from chasing egoistic personal highs to becoming a family provider for generational wealth.

With a mind-set of viewing gold as a savings asset, you will not only solidify your own wealth but have the power to pass on your wealth to the next generation. This has been the case for many European aristocrats who were able to pass on wealth from generation to generation.

As we can appreciate from history, cash is not king when the cash is not backed by anything. In fact, the world’s fiat paper currencies have all lost 99% or more of their value in the last century.

Gold is the safest and most stable store of value known to man. No other asset class comes close to gold in terms of stability over history. Gold is not an investment per se. Gold is money. Gold is savings. Gold is wealth.

If you have the mind-set of a saver and want to minimise your risk, it is actually natural to keep most of your savings in gold. If you are unable to determine a favourable risk-reward ratio for any of your potential investments, you might even consider keeping close to 100% of your savings in gold. It is certainly better to keep 100% of one’s savings in gold than keeping one’s savings in the form of constantly depreciating fiat currencies. Ask yourself, are you buying gold as a means of generating fiat currency returns or are you acquiring currency as a means to buy gold (as wealth). We much recommend the latter.

Work and invest to acquire currency but hold your wealth in gold. This is the fool-proof strategy that has worked for thousands of years.

Saving in gold frees your mind. With gold, you can sleep well at night and do not need to worry about inflation, financial markets and currency risks. By saving in gold you can stand strong and avoid the flawed western mentality of chasing paper money returns.

Investing in Gold

If gold is viewed from a western investment portfolio perspective, studies have shown that the gold price is inversely correlated with the prices of most other financial assets. Adding gold into an existing investment portfolio can therefore lower portfolio risk. This use of gold as a risk-reducing strategic asset class has been empirically validated by numerous studies (such as studies by the World Gold Council), and from the perspectives of different classes of portfolios, different investor backgrounds, and varying base currencies. Optimal allocations of gold in multi-asset portfolios by these empirical studies are usually found to be in the 5 - 20% range.

The reason that there is a 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 does not react to events in the same way as the prices of most other asset prices react.

However, we advice you to view gold as savings/wealth rather than as an investment. Gold has the power to change your life for the better. It can give you peace of mind like nothing else if you just let it sit there without worrying about it.

 

Gold Price: USD 65,000/oz in 5 years?

16 June 2021 is exactly five years from today. What will the gold price be on 16 June 2021?

Currencies are Worthless

As the world’s fiat paper currencies have lost 99% or more of their purchasing power over the last 100 years, its critical to understand that fiat paper currencies are not a suitable unit of account for accurately measuring prices.

In fact, gold is a far superior measuring stick of value than paper currencies.

A paper currency doesn’t measure anything. It merely has an arbitrary value placed upon it by the population using it. It’s not backed by anything and it can fail at any time. From historical experience, we know that the unbacked fiat paper currencies used today will ultimately destruct and become worthless. All unbacked fiat currencies throughout human history have failed.

A more accurate measurement would be to measure fiat currencies in gold. If we look at the US Dollar measured in gold, we can see that the US Dollar has utterly failed in retaining its value, as its value has plunged about 98% over a mere 50 years. It cannot therefore be seen as a store of value.

Chart of US Dollar measured in Gold. USD price instead of Gold Price.Source: Gold Price Charts, BullionStar

Extrapolating into a likely future, a future in which you will need a stack of USD 100 bills to buy a carton of milk and a couple of eggs, underlines that the US Dollar gold price is meaningless as an indicator of value. When discussing the price of gold, the key is to recognise that gold retains its purchasing power over time. If a 1 oz gold coin can buy an exclusive men’s suit today at USD 1,300 and the same 1 oz gold coin buys an exclusive men’s suit at USD 2,600 tomorrow, this only means that gold is still reflecting USD 1,300 in today's purchasing power and hasn’t gained in value. It’s the US Dollar that has depreciated vis-à-vis gold. Similarly, if the gold price goes to USD 650 and it can still buy the same suit, then it’s merely the US Dollar that as appreciated vis-à-vis gold.

With a gold price of USD 65000, what will the USD be for Milk, Egg and Bread

As a society, we should by now have transcended the idea of measuring value in fiat currencies. Currencies are not a reliable measuring stick. Just imagine if the centimeter, meter, yard or foot were to fluctuate in length.

100 cm 100 years ago has become 2 cm today. Think about it. This is what has happened with our currencies.

The Gold Price                                  

The gold price is an interesting term because the gold price doesn’t reflect what’s happening on the physical gold market whatsoever.

In today’s marketplace, a lot of things are regarded as “gold”. On the London Gold Market alone, there’s 600 times more gold traded each day than there is gold mined globally on that same day.

All sorts of paper gold passes for “gold” on the financial markets. The vast majority, certainly more than 95%, and likely more than 99% of this paper gold is not backed by any physical gold.

“Gold” is created out of thin air as paper obligations. The demand for and supply of this paper gold has little to do with the physical gold market.

During the last couple of year, demand for real physical gold has been insatiable , however the price of gold has not reflected this huge demand. Physical gold has been flowing from the Western vaults to Asia. The Chinese in particular have been vacuuming the London vaults for gold. However, this substantial physical demand hasn't been reflected in higher gold prices because whereas Easterners have been buying physical gold, Westerners have been selling paper gold.

Given that the price of “gold” is set on the OTC paper market in London and on the COMEX futures market in New York, the US Dollar denominated gold price continued to fall between 2012 and 2015 despite the massive physical demand, and instead, it created a physical shortage of gold.

Whether physical demand is up or down 5 tons in China or India matters little when there’s 5,500 tons of paper gold traded each day in London  as visualized in this infographic. London, and to a lesser extent COMEX in the US, are the price discovery markets for gold. However, paper gold on these markets is almost exclusively cash settled with less than 1% of the contracts/futures settled with delivery of physical gold.

The gold price is therefore not dependent on the market fundamentals of physical gold but this may very well change in the future.

With China picking up all physical gold available every time the price slides, widespread shortages are a likely outcome if the gold price ever were to decrease significantly again. Given that the historic vaulting capital of the world, London, has already been running out of stockpiled gold, there just wouldn't be enough physical gold to satisfy demand if the price were to ever plunge significantly again.

It's actually been a healthy development for the physical market’s demand/supply balance  that the gold price has increased 22% in USD Year-to-Date 2016. However, we have to understand that the largest potential for a revaluation of the gold price paradoxically may be preceded by a decrease in gold prices.

When trend seeking Western investors sell their paper gold and the price slides, Easterners take the opportunity to buy physical gold at bargain prices, thereby stressing the physical market with shortages as a result. Such shortages may very well be what ultimately breaks the neck of the paper markets. Because when there is no longer any physical gold available at the price dictated by the paper markets, there will be a disconnect between the price of paper gold and the price of physical gold. Paper gold will go towards zero whereas the price of physical gold will skyrocket.

Such a revaluation of physical gold will bring the fiat paper currencies to their knees as their worthlessness as a store of value will become clear to all.

USD 65,000/oz

What will the price of gold be in 5 years’ time?

Gold is savings - Gold is wealth, and as such, the price denominated in something as inferior as the US Dollar isn't very important.

For the sake of reflection, we can play with the idea of what the price of gold would have to be if the US Dollar were to go on a fully-backed gold standard.

The US gold reserve officially stands at 8,133.5 tons although it has never been properly independently audited. At USD 1,300/oz, this would be equivalent to 340 billion dollars. The total US money supply is about 17,000 billion dollars. For each "gold backed" dollar today, there are therefore 49 unbacked dollars. The gold price would thus have to increase 50-fold to USD 65,000 if the US Dollar were to be fully gold-backed by 16 June 2021.

 

Offshore Bullion Storage or 3 eggs?

What does one hundred trillion dollars buy you?

How about a mansion in every country, an airplane at every airport and a private island in every ocean?

How about 3 eggs?

When Zimbabwe issued its infamous 100 000 000 000 000 dollar bill, it could buy 3 eggs on the day it was issued. A few days later, it could only buy one egg.

Zimbabwe 100 trillion dollar note buying 3 eggs

Hyperinflating Currencies

Unbacked fiat/paper/credit, and nowadays electronic currency, has a poor track record. After studying this list of 609 defunct currencies, out of which 153 died due to hyperinflation, it's obvious that every time fiat currencies are tried, they die through hyperinflation, war or political decrees.

Using the debt-based US Dollar as a store of value creates massive imbalances and misallocations globally. With an unprecedented debt bubble fuelling paper markets such as stocks and bonds, we stand on the cliff edge of a vertical drop.

Since the Nixon era, we have suffered under a fiat currency ponzi scheme wiping out most of the purchasing power of our currencies.

In MLM schemes, the idea is to recruit naive participants downstream to generate compensation for the recruiter.

This is exactly how the US Dollar and other fiat currencies work.

Early receivers of the MLM scheme such as the government, the banks and the central bank gain purchasing power whereas late receivers, such as us normal people, lose purchasing power.

Fiat paper currency is nothing but a cleverly designed MLM scheme to slowly over time steal and redistribute your private wealth.

Defend Your Assets

With the massive redistribution of wealth taking place through taxation and inflation, you have to defend your assets. Key self-defensive tactics include:

- Protect yourself by keeping your assets out of reach for the government and banks
- Minimize counter-party risks
- Ensure you are protected against currency collapses and bank runs
- Hold your assets in such a way that there's no reporting required to government
- Protect yourself against exchange and capital controls

Crooks can't help steal whether it's directly in broad daylight through a bail-in like in Cyprus in 2013, through taxation, through inflation or through confiscation such as the gold confiscation in the 1930's when the US president Roosevelt took the United States off the gold standard and confiscated private gold holdings.

How can you protect yourself? Gold is the natural answer as it resists inflation, maintains purchasing power and can be held confidentially.

Buying gold isn't enough though. What if your gold purchase is within reach of the government? If you buy gold in your home country, a tax agency such as the IRS in the United States can easily audit the bullion dealer to find out about your purchases. In addition, there's also reporting requirements for certain bullion transactions.

Defend your bullion from confiscation risks

When it comes to bullion storage, diversification is key. It's certainly wise to keep some of your bullion in your own possession but don't put all your gold eggs in one basket.

Offshore Bullion Storage

With the financial repression we are witnessing in the West expressing itself through taxation, inflation, bail-ins and confiscations, it's important to store some of your bullion offshore in a safe jurisdiction favoring confidentiality and security.

Gold has traditionally been stored in financial hubs such as in London, New York and Zurich. With doubts whether there is any gold left in the London and New York vaults which isn't already encumbered, Singapore is emerging as the strongest alternative for offshore bullion storage. Singapore clearly distinguishes itself as the best jurisdiction in the world to buy and store gold:

  • Singapore has no taxes on bullion
  • Singapore has no reporting requirements when you buy/sell/store bullion
  • Singapore has a stable pro-gold government creating a gold trading hub
  • Singapore has a strong rule of law and is one of the safest countries in the world
  • Singapore is a centre for wealth and asset preservation
  • Singapore consistently ranks top 3 in the world for business friendliness
  • Singapore strongly protects property ownership rights

Although we don't recommend holding wealth with banks, other than what you need for short-term expenses, Singapore is host to some of the best capitalized banks in the world such as DBS, UOB and OCBC.

With banks and international institutions pushing for a cashless society so as to be able to impose negative interest rates, surveil your transactions, and impose restrictions on your wealth, Singapore continues to be a cash-friendly jurisdiction. Although Singapore in 2014 stopped printing the world's most valuable banknote, the SGD 10000 dollar note, it's possible to use cash for all purchases including purchasing bullion. The SGD 10000 dollar note will continue to be valid indefinitely and the SGD 1000 note is still one of the most valuable worldwide.

Offshore bullion storage pamp gold bars sgd 10000 sgd 1000

With Singapore emerging as the new global center for wealth protection, it's wise to check how you can buy & store gold in Singapore.

Infographic: COMEX Gold Futures Market

This COMEX Gold Futures Market infographic guides you through the largest gold futures market in the world, COMEX.

Did you for example know that only 1 in 2500 contracts on COMEX goes to physical delivery whereas the other 2499 contracts are cash-settled? This corresponds to a delivery percentage of 0.04% of all gold contracts.

The US government claims to hold a fair bit of gold in reserves but how much is it really holding?

In this infographic you will learn more about the COMEX gold futures market considering

  • COMEX Trading Volumes
  • Fractionally Reserved Futures Trading
  • Cash-settlement of COMEX Gold Futures Contracts
  • Eligible and Registered Gold on COMEX
  • US Treasury Gold Reserves
  • Location of US Treasury Gold Reserves
  • Foreign Gold at the Federal Bank of New York
  • US Gold Mining

You can learn more about the US Gold Market at the BullionStar Gold University.

COMEX Gold Futures Market Infographic

Infographic on COMEX gold futures market, the world's largest gold futures market

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