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 supplyxvelocity of money over a period of time=price levelxgoods & 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.
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.
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".
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.
Would it make sense to rebuild an international gold standard like the one we had in the late 1800s? Larry White says the idea has merit, David Glasner believes it isn't worth the risk. Over the years I've followed the back-and-forth between these two blogging economists, each of whom has done an admirable job defending their respective side for and against the gold standard. Let's look at one or two of the most important themes running through the White v Glasner debate.
Like a ruler measures distances, a nation's monetary standard serves as a measuring stick for the value of goods and services. People need to be able to set sticker prices with the unit, calculate profit and loss, negotiate labour contracts, and establish the terms of long-term debts using it. If the measuring stick is faulty, then all these important tasks becomes unnecessarily difficult.
Gold as Unit of Account
Since 1971 our measuring stick has been irredeemable paper currency, or a fiat money standard. Central banks try to ensure that, within the confines of their nation, the general level of domestic consumer prices stays constant, or at least rises at a constant rate of around 2-3%. And while the first decade of the fiat standard was a disaster characterized by high and rising inflation, central bankers in developed nations have generally managed to keep inflation on track for the last thirty or so years.
To re-establish gold as the measuring stick, each nation's unit of account—say the $ or ￥ or £—would have to be redefined as a certain fixed number of ounces of gold. Banknotes and central bank deposits, which are currently inconvertible, would be made convertible into an appropriate amount of gold. It is important that all nations return to the gold standard rather than just one, because one of the big advantages of an international gold standard is that with all currencies pegged to gold, it is much simpler for citizens of one nation to make calculations using another nation's unit. And this makes cross-border trade and investment easier to engage in.
Should banknotes and electronic fiat currency once again be made convertible into gold?
In Favour of the Gold Standard: Larry White
How well have the two standards served as measuring sticks? As the chart below illustrates, year-to-year changes in U.S. consumer prices were quite variable during the classical gold standard era, rising some years and falling the next. The source for this chart is from this paper that White has coauthored with George Selgin and William Lastrapes. The classical gold standard from which the authors draws their data lasted from 1880—when the majority of the world's major nations defined their currency in terms of the gold—to 1914 when the gold standard was dismantled on the eve of World War I. Data shows that the fiat standard that has been in place since 1971 demonstrates more predictable year-to-year price changes. Citizens of developed nations are pretty safe assuming that next year, domestic prices will rise by 2-3%.
However, it is over longer periods of time that gold outperforms as a measuring stick. In the chart below, the authors show that the quarterly price level during the gold standard tended to deviate much less from its six-year average rate than during the fiat era. Because the general level of prices was more predictable under a gold standard, this provided those who needed to construct long-term debt contracts with a degree of certainty about where prices might be in ten or twenty years that is lacking under a fiat standard. White points out that this may be why 100-year bonds were common in the 1800s, but not so much now.
According to White, the main reason for the long-term stability of gold is the tendency for higher prices to encourage gold miners to increase the supply of metal, thus tamping down on the price, and conversely lower prices to encourage them to reduce production, thus buoying prices. In other words, prices under a gold standard were mean reverting. This mean reversion was generated "impersonally", or automatically, by the market, a superior sort of stability compared to that generated by a fiat standard, which depends on the skills and wherewithal of technocrats employed by the central bank.
Against the Gold Standard: David Glasner
David Glasner is skeptical about the gold standard because he doesn't agree that it mean-reverts fast enough. All of the gold ounces that have ever been mined continue to exist in vaults or under mattresses or around necks. Compared to this extant gold stock, the flow of new gold production is tiny. So if there is an increase in people's demand for gold, it is unlikely that new flows will be able to satisfy it, at least not for some period of time. Likewise, reduced gold production on the part of gold miners won't be able to vacuum up enough of the slack should people suddenly want less of the stuff. In either case, the price of gold will have accommodate shifts in demand by rising or falling quite a bit.
One thing that most monetary economists agree on is that fluctuations in the value of the item used as the standard—gold or fiat money—should not interfere with the "real" economy, say by causing unemployment or gluts of unsold goods. While many prices in an economy are incredibly flexible, like the price of stocks or gold or bitcoin, there are also many prices that are sticky, in particular labour. Under a gold standard, if there is a sudden increase in the demand to hoard gold, then there will be pressure on price of gold to rise. The rise in the gold price means that the general level of prices must fall. Goods and services, after all, are priced in terms of gold-backed notes. But with wages and many other prices locked in place, the response on the part of employers will be to adjust by announcing mass layoffs. Rather than cutting the sticker prices of goods, retailers will suffer though gluts of unsold inventory. This is a recession.
Glasner's favorite example of this occurred during the late 1920s. After WWI had ended, most nations attempted to restore the pre-war gold standard with banknotes once again being redeemable with fixed amounts of gold. But then the Bank of France, France's central bank, began to buy up huge quantities of gold in 1926, driving the gold price up. The U.S. Federal Reserve was unwilling to counterbalance what was viewed as insane purchases by the Bank of France, the result being the worst recession on record, the Great Depression.
What Type of Gold Standard?
Given that various commodity standards have been in place for centuries, why did it take till 1929 for a massive monetary mistake to finally occur? White blames this on large government actors, specifically central banks. In the initial international gold standard that ran from 1880-1914, nations such as Canada, Australia, and the U.S. didn't have central banks. Commercial banks in these nations chose to link their privately-issued banknotes to gold, the goal of these competing banks being to to earn profit rather than enact social policies. So earlier versions of the gold standard functioned far more naturally, without the meddling of large actors who refused to abide by the typical rules of a gold standard. It is for this reasons that White prefers that any return to the gold standard be packaged with an end to central banks, thus precluding episodes like the Great Depression from occurring.
David Glasner remains skeptical. According to Glasner, even the classical gold standard that ran from 1880 to 1914 required management, the Bank of England leaning in such a way as to counterbalance large demands for gold from other central banks and thus preventing anything like the Great Depression from occurring. And even if central banks were to be dismantled under a 21st century version of the gold standard so as to preclude an "insane" Bank of France scenario, there remains the problem of "panic buying" of gold by the public—and the resulting gold-driven recession this would cause.
So Where does that Leave us?
As I hope you can see by a quick exploration of the debate between Larry White and David Glasner, restoration of the gold standard is a complicated issue. I'd encourage readers who are interested to dive a bit deeper into the subject by reading David's posts here and Larry's here.
As for myself, White's work on the 1880-1914 gold standard has been helpful in removing many of the preconceptions I had of the gold standard, no doubt passed off to me by commentators who were never very familiar with the actual data. Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Glasner that under a global gold standard (with no central banks) a sudden spike in the public's demand for gold would impose large costs on the global economy. With citizens of the globe being so connected through the internet and free capital markets, these sorts of episodes might be more common nowadays than they were in the 1800s. I'm not sure the benefits of a gold standard, including exchange rate stability, make up for this risk. Given that Western central banks have done a fairly decent job of keeping inflation under control for the last thirty or so years, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt... for now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Throughout human history, gold has constantly emerged as an unparalleled form of savings, investment and wealth preservation. Due to its unique characteristics and features, gold has inherent value and cannot be debased. When holding physical gold, there is no counterparty risk or default risk. Wealth in the form of gold can also be held and stored anonymously.
From its ability to retain its purchasing power over time, to its safe haven status in times of financial turmoil and uncertainty, to gold's ability to diversify investment risk, there are many and varied reasons to own physical gold in the form of investment grade gold bars and gold coins.
1. Tangible with Inherent Value
Physical gold is real and tangible. It is indestructible, impossible to create artificially, and difficult to counterfeit. Mining physical gold is arduous and costly. Physical gold therefore has inherent value and worth. In contrast, paper money doesn't have any inherent value.
2. No Counterparty Risk
Physical gold has no counterparty risk. When you hold and own gold bars and gold coins outright, there is no counterparty. In contrast, paper gold (gold futures, gold certificates, gold-backed ETFs) all involve counterparty risk.
Gold deposits are relatively scarce across the world and difficult to mine and extract. New supply of physical gold is therefore limited and explains why gold is a precious metal. Gold's scarcity reinforces it's inherent value.
4. Cannot be Debased
Because of its physical characteristics and features, gold cannot be debased, and gold supply is immune to political meddling. Compare this to fiat money supplies which are constantly being debased and destroyed via deficit government spending, central bank quantitative easing and financial system bailouts. On a survivorship scale, gold has far outlived all fiat currencies by thousands of years.
5. A 6000 Year History
Gold has played a central role in society for thousands of years from the early civilizations of ancient Egypt, right up to the contemporary era. Gold has facilitated international trade throughout history, has been directly responsible for the economic expansion and prosperity of numerous civilizations throughout history, and has even been, due to gold exploration and mining, the direct catalyst for the growth of some of today’s best-known cities such as San Francisco, Johannesburg, and Sydney.
6. Store of Value
Gold is a preeminent store of value. Physical gold, in the form of gold bars or gold coins, retains its purchasing power over long periods of time despite general increases in the price of goods and services.
In contrast, fiat currencies such as the US Dollar are not stores of value and their purchasing power consistently becomes eroded by inflation or the general increase in the price level. Fiat currencies have a long history of either becoming totally worthless and going out of circulation, or else becoming completely debased, such as the US dollar, while remaining in circulation.
Since the creation of the US Federal Reserve in 1913, the US dollar has lost over 98% of its value relative to gold, i.e. the US dollar has lost over 98% of its purchasing power relative to gold.
7. Long- Term Inflation Hedge
Physical gold’s ability to retain its purchasing power over time is sometimes referred to as the “Golden Constant”. This reflects the fact that gold’s purchasing power is constant over long periods of time. This ‘constant’ exists because the gold price adjusts to changes in inflation and future inflation expectations. Therefore, physical gold is a long-term hedge against inflation.
8. A 2500 Year Track Record as Money
Because of its ability to retain value and act as a store of value, physical gold has been used as money for over 2500 years. Gold coins were first issued in the Lydian civilization in what is now modern Turkey. Subsequently gold was used as a stable form of money in Persia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, the British Empire, and right through to the various international gold standards of the 20th century.
It was only in August 1971 that the US famously suspended the convertibility of the US dollar into gold, a move which triggered the debt fueled expansion that is still having repercussions within today’s monetary system.
To put gold’s monetary importance into perspective, for 97% of the last 2500 years, gold has been chosen by numerous sophisticated civilizations as the form of money par excellence and an anchor of stability, precisely because of its ability to retain its value.
9. Safe Haven
Physical gold acts as a safe haven asset in times of conflict, war and geopolitical turmoil. During the financial market stresses and heightened uncertainties caused by wars, conflicts and turmoil, the counterparty risk of most financial assets spikes. But since physical gold does not have any counterparty risk, investors rush to gold during these periods so as to preserve their wealth. This is analogous to sheltering in a safe harbor. Gold can thus be seen as a form of financial insurance against catastrophe.
10. Portable Anonymous Wealth
Gold bars and gold coins combine high value with high portability. In times of conflict and war, gold bars and gold coins are ideal for transporting wealth and savings across borders and within conflict zones in an anonymous fashion.
11. Universal Acceptance
Gold is universally accepted as money across the world, with the highly liquid global market always providing ample sales opportunities for gold bars and gold coins. This means that whichever city you are in across the world, you can always sell or trade your gold bars and gold coins.
12. Emergency Money
Military personnel are often issued with gold coins that they carry with them in conflicts zones as a form of emergency universal money. For example, the British Ministry of Defense often issues RAF pilots and SAS soldiers with Gold Sovereign coins to carry on their persons during combat missions and activities, such as in the Middle East.
13. Outside the Banking System
In the current era of global financial repression, physical gold is one of the few assets outside the financial system. Gold is not issued by any monetary authority or central bank or government. Because its not issued by any government or central bank, gold is independent of the banking system. Fully owned physical gold, if stored in a non-bank vault or held in one’s possession, is outside the banking system.
14. No Default Risk
Unlike a government bond, there is also no default risk with gold because it is not issued by any authority that could default. Gold bars and gold coins are no one else’s liability. Physical gold cannot go bankrupt or become insolvent. Therefore, there is no need to have to trust any other party when holding physical gold.
15. Portfolio Diversification
Adding an investment in gold to an existing portfolio of other investment assets such as stocks and bonds, reduces the volatility (risk) of the investment portfolio and can increase portfolio returns. This is because the gold price has a low to negative correlation with the prices of most other financial assets, because gold is less influenced by business cycles and macro-economic cycles than most other assets.
Numerous empirical studies by financial academics, as well as industry bodies, such as the World Gold Council, have validated gold’s role as a strategic portfolio diversifier. Optimal allocations to gold in multi-asset portfolios have found to be in the 5% to 10% range.
16. Currency Hedge
There is generally an inverse relationship between the gold price and the US dollar, in that the gold price generally moves in opposite directions to the US dollar. Therefore, holding gold can act as a currency hedge of the US dollar, and help manage the currency risk of portfolios denominated in US dollars.
17. Gold's Metallic Properties
Gold has many and varied metallic properties. These properties provide gold with many technological and commercial applications and uses, which in turn contribute as additional demand drivers in addition to the investment and monetary demand for gold.
Gold is highly ductile (can be drawn into very thin wire). It is also highly malleable (can be hammered and flattened into very thin film). Gold is a very good conductor of electricity and heat. Gold does not corrode or tarnish. It is chemically unreactive and non-toxic to the human body. Gold has a high luster and shine, and an attractive yellow glow.
These properties explain gold’s use in electrical and electronic wiring and circuits (e.g. computers and internet switches), its use in the medical and dental fields, gold’s use in solar panels, space travel, and gold’s traditional uses in jewelry, decoration, and ornamentation. With new technological uses being found for gold all the time, gold's demand pattern is diversified and underpinned by its commercial importance.
18. Physical gold - A tiny fraction of Paper Gold
The London wholesale gold market and the US-based COMEX gold futures market generate huge trading volumes of paper gold that dwarf the size of the physical gold market. However, these markets only trade derivatives on gold (futures and unallocated positions), representing fractionally-backed and unbacked claims on gold that could never be convertible into physical gold by claim holders.
In a scenario under which these paper gold markets became unsustainable, the prices of paper gold and physical gold would diverge, with the paper gold markets ceasing to trade and collapsing, and only physical gold retaining any real value. Physical gold is therefore an insurance against the collapse of the world's vast paper gold markets.
19. By Definition - Not an ETF
Physical gold Provides all the benefits that gold-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) do not. ETFs provide exposure to the gold price, not to gold. Holding physical gold is by definition direct exposure to gold. With most gold-backed ETFs, you cannot convert the units into gold and take delivery of the gold, and in many cases, the locations of the vaults are not even known. If holding physical allocated gold bars or gold coins in a vault, such as with BullionStar in Singapore, you can always take delivery.
Gold ETFs have many counterparty risks since there are many moving parts in an ETF such as a trustee, a custodian, and a sponsor / issuer. Physical gold has no counterparty risks. When you hold a gold-backed ETF, the quantity of gold backing the ETF declines over time due to management fees being offset against the gold holdings. When you hold physical gold, you always remain with 100% of the actual gold you first purchased. There is no erosion of holdings.
20. Anonymous Storage
Gold can be stored anonymously, either in your possession within your house or property, or in a vault in a jurisdiction, such as Singapore, that has no reporting requirements. Since gold has a high value to weight ratio, storing gold does not take up much space.
21. Independent of Internet
Owning physical gold is not reliant on having internet access and access to electronic wallets and cryptocurrency exchanges. Furthermore, gold cannot be stolen by hacking an electronic address or by transferring or deleting a number in a computer.
22. Real Gold is Measured by Weight
Physical gold is measured in weight, not through a number set by a politician or central banker. When you buy a 1 Kilo gold bar, or a 10 Tola gold bar, or a 1 troy ounce gold coin, or a 5 Tael gold bar, you will always have that gold bar or gold coin, irrespective of the fluctuations of fiat currencies.
While thinking of the value of physical gold in terms of a fiat currency might be convenient, a better way is to think of a gold holding in terms of weight.
23. Coins and Bars - Build a Collection
Buying investment gold bars and bullion gold coins allows you to build a diverse collection of bars and coins that are at the same time a fascinating pastime and a form of investment and saving.
Bullion gold coins from the world’s major mints are beautifully illustrated and often have a connection to history. Investment gold bars from the world's major gold refineries are distinctively different from each other and you can vary a collection by cast or minted bars, and a selection of weights.
24. Physical Gold Feels like Real Wealth
Physical gold feels like real wealth. When you hold ten 1 ounce gold coins in your hand, you intrinsically know that you are holding real wealth, gold that is scarce and that has been costly to produce.
25. Gold as Loan Collateral
Gold can be used as loan collateral. Since gold is highly liquid and valuable, it can be lent and used as a form of financing, and as a way of generating interest. The wholesale gold lending market between central banks and bullion banks is highly active. Likewise, retail gold holders can also in various ways lend their gold to receive financing or interest, with new innovations to do this arising all the time.
26. Central Banks hold Gold
Although the world’s central banks like to downplay the importance of gold because it competes with their fiat currencies, most central banks continue to hold substantial amounts of physical gold bars and gold coins in vaults around the world. They hold this gold as a reserve asset on their balance sheets, and they value this gold at market prices.
Like private gold investors, central banks hold physical gold because it is highly liquid, it lacks counterparty risk, and because gold is a safe haven or ‘war chest’ asset that acts as a financial insurance in times of crisis. Central banks also hold gold for the unpublished reason that if and when gold re-emerges at the centre of a new monetary system, these very same central banks will not be caught out having no gold.
27. Gold for Gifting
Gold coins and small gold bars make great gifts and presents, and gold is a traditional form of gifting in many societies around the world. Gifting a gold coin or small gold bar to mark a birth, or anniversary, or a wedding or other special occasion, is an ideal present that will be highly appreciated by the recipient.
28. Gold for Inheritance
Gold bars and gold coins are a great form of inheritance for your children and family members. Because gold is real, tangible, valuable, and has a highly liquid trading market, it is an ideal asset for inter-generational wealth transfers. Because physical gold is fabricated in convenient weight denominations, such as troy ounces and kilograms, it can be distributed equitably among recipients, and specified equitably in wills and trusts.
Much is written in the precious metals world about gold’s characteristics, as well as how the behaviour of the gold price allows gold to play the role of a unique financial asset that retains purchasing power over time, acts as a safe haven asset, diversifies risk, and provides hedging benefits.
However, much of the material written in this area skips over an explanation of how the simple, yet powerful, relationships and interactions of the gold price actually work. The appreciation of these simple characteristics and relationships facilitates a far more intuitive understanding of why holding gold - in the form of physical gold - can be so beneficial.
One of the commonly overlooked yet critical attributes of gold that allows it to play the role of a monetary asset par excellence is that physical gold has a vast above ground supply, thereby making the global gold market highly liquid.
Gold is mined to be accumulated and nearly all of the gold ever mined is still in existence in various forms, such as in the form of above ground central bank gold holdings, private investment gold hoards, gold jewellery, or within industrial, medical and scientific applications. With gold recycling services now highly advanced and widespread, this also allows gold holdings to be easily transformed between uses by refineries in a cost-effective manner.
Since nearly all the gold ever mined is still in existence, the world’s accumulated stock of gold is multiple times the annual addition to the stock, i.e. the flow of gold. For ease of illustration, assume that 186,000 tonnes of gold have been mined throughout history and that annual mine production is 3,100 tonnes of gold. This gives a total gold stock-to-flow ratio of 60 times. Depending on the gold price, global holders of gold (in all its forms) are able, and sometimes willing, to step up and participate in gold transactions.
Global gold supply is therefore affected, not just by annual gold mining output, but by the existence of this vast above-ground stock of gold. And it is this stock of gold, over the long-term, that has an influence on the gold price, and that can explain gold’s role as a store of value and as a safe haven asset, as well as explaining gold’s price correlations with other asset prices.
Store of Value and Long-Term Inflation Hedge
Over long periods of time, gold has been proven to retain its real purchasing power. Therefore, gold acts as a long-term inflation hedge and as the ultimate store of value. This may appear to be a complex magical process but the theory is quite simple.
A fiat currency whose supply expands recklessly (which is really all fiat currencies throughout history and at present) will become debased. This leads to price inflation, i.e. an increase in the price levels of goods and services expressed in that fiat currency. As goods and services prices rise, the price of gold also adjusts upwards to compensate for these price rises.
The gold price rises, because on a global basis, there always exists an exchange ratio between physical gold and all fiat currencies, and the vast worldwide above-ground stock of physical gold can always be valued in terms of fiat currencies. But unlike fiat currencies, physical gold cannot be debased. Therefore, the gold price, and the valuation of gold, simply captures and reflects the purchasing power of all fiat currencies, and acts as an inflation hedge and a stable store of value. In practice, in a free market, the gold price is actually a signal of future inflationary expectations, and so gold is known as an inflation barometer.
Is his 1977 book of the same title, a UC Berkeley professor, Roy Jastram coined this phenomenon “The Golden Constant”. Jastram analyzed price level data from 1560 to 1976 for England/UK and from 1800 to 1976 for the United States. He then measured gold’s purchasing power over these periods and found it to be constant over time. Jastram’s study was updated in 2008 by Jill Leyland and also extended to the French and German economies. Leyland’s analysis arrived at similar findings, and was especially illustrative of gold’s critical role during the hyper-inflationary period in early 1920s Germany during which paper currencies rapidly became worthless. The ‘Golden Constant’ was interpreted by both studies as being due to gold’s large but slowly growing supply, resistance to debasement, as well as the gold price's unique behaviour in times of currency depreciation and market and political stress.
The gold as a currency hedge phenomenon can also explained by the above relationships. As fiat currencies become debased or suffer confidence shocks, they depreciate in value relative to gold, because gold has a large, slowly growing and finite above ground stock and cannot be debased. This brings us to the next point.
Gold as a Safe Haven and Hedge against Extreme Risk
Physical gold is a proven and accepted safe-haven. But why is this so? The answer is because gold acts as an inflation hedge and a currency hedge and so preserves wealth. In periods of market or economic stress, gold’s price rises because there is a flight to gold since, due to historical experience, the counterparty and default risk potential of most other assets gold comes to the fore, while gold has a highly liquid market, and gold is universally perceived as having no counterparty risk and no default risk. Therefore, gold takes on the role of financial insurance against monetary crises, geopolitical risks, and systemic financial system risks. Because of its high liquidity and lack of counterparty risk, gold also becomes the high-quality collateral during periods of extreme risk.
Gold’s Price Correlation vs Other Asset Prices
Fans of modern portfolio theory will be familiar with the fact that the gold price is not highly correlated with the prices of most other financial assets. Therefore, adding gold into an investment portfolio can lower portfolio risk. Again, the question is why? The answer is quite simple.
The low, and sometimes negative, correlation between the gold price and other asset prices is due to the gold price not being as dependent on economic and business cycles as most other financial asset or commodity prices. Therefore, the gold price doesn’t react to economic cycles in the same way as most other asset prices. This differing price reaction is… you guessed it… due to the large above-ground stocks of gold which can, due to gold’s liquidity and transformability, be mobilized (by price inducement) to enter the market place irrespective of the economic cycle.
Mobilizing physical Gold
As a practical example, this ability of existing above ground stockpiles of gold to be mobilized into the market is well illustrated by the large number of 400 oz gold bars that flowed out of central bank vaults and ETFs in London during 2013-2015, were transformed by Swiss gold refineries into smaller bars, and then flowed east to Asia. The west to east movement reversed in 2016, with large amounts of gold being imported into Switzerland from locations such as Dubai, Thailand, Turkey and Hong Kong for processing back into large gold bars and then sent back to the London market. Another example is gold recycling, which has an ongoing inverse relationship with the gold price. As the price rises, supplies of gold from recycling sources rise, since the price motivates potential sellers to enter the market. It's therefore worth remembering that gold mining supply is not the full story. Some of these huge above ground stocks of physical gold can and do enter the market in various ways and at various times. In this article, we have not even touched on the controversial subject of central bank gold leasing, a potentially large and hidden supply overhang, but a subject left for future analysis.
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.
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.
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.