30 May 2011

SPAM comments

It seems blogger have been automatically classifying some comments as Spam and not publishing them. Apologies, I haven't been checking the spam comments folder for legit comments.

26 May 2011

We are flies in a bullion bank web

I left this comment on the FOFOA blog:

Your point about bullion banks having the best intel is important. Bullion banks are like spiders in the center of a web. They can feel the twitching of the flies in the web and determine the mood of the market better than anyone else and often in advance of others.

For example, if Mints are starting to see an increase in demand and begin running down stocks, they will start to take delivery ex-bullion banks, who as a result now have intel that retail demand is picking up before anyone else sees it in reported coin sales.

London Banker has expressed this idea much better than me in this post:

Over the past 25 years the financial markets of the world have become highly concentrated in the intermediation of a handful of firms, and regulation has been harmonised in the interests of these few firms. ...

Sadly, these few global firms have been for some time in "a conspiracy against the public", and have subverted the organs of public governance and the infrastructure of the financial markets to their purposes. ...

Four global banks are intermediaries in 85 percent of OTC derivatives transactions. The same banks dominate prime brokerage. The same banks own large equity interests in the now demutualised exchanges, clearinghouses and even warehouses of the global markets. Naturally, the same banks dominated underwriting of securitised assets. The implications have scarcely been grasped of what this portends in terms of the information asymmetries and the opportunity to manipulate markets without risk.

Each of these roles gives these few banks a view into the positions of market investors. They know who owns what, using what leverage, under what terms, and trading in which markets. Knowing that, the manipulation of prices to impoverish investors and enrich the ruling banks is child's play with a bit of ill-transparent HFT through proprietary dealing desks and connected hedge funds aligned with the firms. ...

The only resilient solution is local, transparent markets with disintermediation of the controlling banks. Eliminating the information asymetries which allow them to see everyone's positions, leverage and trading activity - and trade and ration liquidity accordingly - would go a long way to preventing further concentration.

Valcambi CombiBar

I know this is a competitor of the Perth Mint, but I really like the idea of the Valcambi CombiBar.

The CombiBar is a 50 gram gold bar with 50 detachable 1g bars, like a chocolate bar. You can break off a strip of 5 or 10 1g bars, and then further break down into individual 1g bars. Very handy for barter situations.

15 May 2011

Rational Discussion

Is this too much to ask for in the internet precious metal world?

Australian Housing to Bust, Eventually

This post by Terry McFadgen on Australian housing prices is a good summary of the question of if/when prices will tank. One thing overseas readers should keep in mind is that Australian borrowers can't walk away from their debt - the bank can foreclose on you and then go after you or bankrupt you for any remaining debt not paid by the sale of the house.

As you would expect this dampens the negative price spiral that can occur in countries where walk away is an option. However, consequence of this is that in the face of financial difficulties people will tend to restrict other spending and divert money to paying off the mortgage to avoid the stigma of bankruptcy (although this doesn't seem to have bothered "former tennis ace" Mark Philippoussi) This contraction in discretionary spending acts like the “Paradox of Thrift” Terry mentions in his article.

I think Terry makes a good case that "house prices could simply slide down gently over a long period, with inflation doing most of the work of price adjustment" but he does identify four risks/shocks which could bust prices.

He notes that the RBA is between a rock and a very hard place in trying to de-bubble housing but having to increase interest rates too much to control inflation, or having to cut interests rates too much if housing tanks which will weaken the Aussie dollar and stocks as foreign investors pull out.

My view is that push come to shove RBA will cut rates and damn the exchange rate as an imploding housing market is not good for banks and the political pressure will be too intense. This will be an extend and pretend that will work for a few years as there is plenty of room to move with interest rates at the 6% level. A weak exchange rate is good for AUD precious metals prices, by the way, a sort of hedge against house price drop in a way.

I would also not discount politicians doing something stupid to "help" housing. With debt to GDP of 20% a populist call to "do something" could be made when other countries are at 100% ratios ("we have the capacity"). It will all be wasted of course but could drag the game on a bit longer.

However, as the US shows us, once you get to zero interest rates you've got nowhere to go and QE doesn't help housing. Once we reach that point then we will really see a housing price crash as the boomer demographics, China slowdown and "income levels [don't] hold up relative to interest rates" factors all kick in together.

To sum up my view on house prices, "It Won't Happen Overnight … But It Will Happen" (explanatory link for non-Aussies)

14 May 2011

Depository Fear Index

Did a post on the corporate blog about changes in the percentage of metal held by Depository in allocated form. I see it as a sort of a “fear index” as it can indicate a change in clients’ perception of economic uncertainty and risk. It has declined from 25% in 1999 to 5% in 2007 but has risen since then to 15% - risk aversion is back baby and I can only see it increasing. This will make our coin guys happy.

03 May 2011

Producing more than you consume

"All investments are made with surplus value (some of which has been borrowed to be invested), which has been netted out of the flow of value by those who produce more than they consume. This stock of value is commonly known as wealth. But governments and borrowers are consuming more than they produce, and as such are consuming from this wealth accrued by others."

Part of the problem is that those who produce more than they consume stupidly lend to those who consume more than they produce. If the lenders only lent to those legitimately aiming to increase value by starting/expanding businesses (real wealth creation) would we be in the problem we are?

However, few can directly lend to productive members of society. That is the function performed by bankers as they are supposed to intermediate between lender and borrower, doing the checks on the borrower the lender does not have the skills or time to do.

However, the banks haven't been productively lending as proven by Money Morning who show, as an example, an Australian bank (ANZ) is currently lending 59% into the residential mortgage market compared to 25% in 1978, when they were lending a far bigger proportion to wealth creating business. As Money Morning says:

"In 1978, total lending to the business sector made up over half of all the bank’s lending. Yet today it’s a pathetic 17%. ... The result is less credit flows through to business, including entrepreneurial business. It means just as private enterprise can be crowded out by government spending, private enterprise can be crowded out by a misallocation of resources by retail banks."

02 May 2011

Dave in Denver - The Golden Truth?

A couple of weeks ago this blogger did a post about the University of Texas taking delivery. In it he made the following statement

"Delaware Depository also serves as one of the Comex depositories and you risk having your gold mingled with unallocated gold or "accidentally" borrowed"

To me he is saying Delaware Depository would defraud their clients by giving/lending a bullion bank the client's allocated gold without their knowledge. I left a comment saying as such and that I thought he had stepped over the line with this.

He replied, saying I "crossed over the line by accusing me of crossing over the line". I left another response disagreeing, but he did not allow it through. I emailed him to ask if he hadn't got the response or had, but wasn't going to publish it. No reply back from him.

My view of blogging is that you should be prepared to defend yourself (or admit you were wrong) if you are really after the truth. Dave obviously disagrees. Below is the response he would not publish - I'll let you make up your mind on whether Dave is really after the Golden Truth.

"Very few people/entities can be trusted in the world of precious metals" Agreed, but I gather you don't include Perth Mint in that :)

Your argument against DDSC is based on two red flags. First is non disclosure of insurance arrangements. Here "DDSC agrees to maintain "all risk" insurance coverage for Precious Metals stored for you." That is a bit vague as it doesn't say "fully" but they do say here that "All precious metal assets held at DDSC are maintained in customer-specific custody accounts, on a fully insured basis, and off of DDSC's balance sheet." If they aren't fully insuring but saying they are then that is not good and a real red flag - I'm assuming you know for a fact that they don't fully insure.

I would note that any depository of size is unable to be fully insured because insurance markets don't have the capacity/willingness to underwrite it. That would cut in at around $1b - $2b with the cost getting prohibitive beyond that, assuming it is even available. If DDSC's total holdings are above that you may have a point.

"DDC is a Comex depository - sorry, guilt by association and guilt by sleaze." I think you're second red flag of guilt by association is weak. As you say "With the sleaze and corruption embedded in our entire system, especially on Wall Street" you can't trust Wall Street. But then you yourself "trading on Wall Street. For nine of those years, I traded junk bonds for a large bank", so couldn't someone just raise a similar guilt by association red flag on you? You don't disclose that you didn't work for Goldman? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you are guilty by association, just suggesting you put the shoe on the other foot and see how it feels.

"If you want to read into or infer anything from what I wrote, that's your business" I don't think it is just me reading that in, I think most people would. Because I think most people would read that into it that is why I think it steps over the line.

When you say "you risk having your gold mingled with unallocated gold or 'accidentally' borrowed" you are saying there is a reasonable possibility (ie risk) that DDSC will engage in criminal fraudulent action to comingle a client's metal and/or lease it out. That is a pretty strong statement.

"you crossed over the line by accusing me of crossing over the line" So it is OK for you to accuse someone of being at risk of acting criminally but not OK for me to simply say I think you went too far by making that statement? I think our differing views about “crossing the line” is a difference between Australia and America in respects of custom and laws regarding defamation and free speech.