29 December 2009

Know your customer

Interesting experience by Market Skeptics with GoldMoney. Leaving aside the way it was handled or the time taken, but it does not surprise me with what happened.

The ability to transfer balances between GoldMoney accounts means that operation really is more akin to a bank than a custodian. As a result I can see that they are more diligent about knowing their customer and what the account will be used for, otherwise they could get shut down by regulators. Just see what happened to e-gold and the changes they have had to make in this DGC Magazine article.

The money laundering/terrorism rules these days puts the onus on the business to know their customer, make assessments about the potential for their customers to be engaging in illegal activities and if the risk is considered high, either declining the account, reporting it, or seeking further information from the customer to establish whether their use of the account appears legitimate.

There would be no doubt that GoldMoney would not want to go through the e-gold experience, hence the rigorous due diligence. This tells me they are serious about becoming a real "gold bank", which is something true gold money advocates would have to support. Yes, this means they become part of the regulatory "system" and will thus not appeal to those buying gold for privacy reasons, but I think GoldMoney's objectives are to target the wider market and it will be interesting to see how this develops.

24 December 2009

Fat Prophets

Fat Prophets have been gold bulls for a long time and I give them kudos for that. However, in a recent article The Silent Gold Rush Is On they make the following faulty analysis:

The Australian newspaper reported over the weekend that the Perth Mint is not taking any more orders for gold until January. Our guess is that the Mint does not want to expose itself to higher future prices given that it does not have the inventory to meet the demand for bullion.

I sent the response below to them a couple of weeks ago, no response as yet:

Your guess that we do not want to be exposed to higher future prices is incorrect and is based on a misunderstanding of how the gold markets work. If we take an order and fix a metal price (it is also possible to take an order and agree to fix a price at the time the bullion is ready for delivery) then we immediately buy the raw gold that will be used to make the bars/coins for the client. There is therefore never any exposure the future prices. I discuss this is more detail in my blog on the value chain.

I really wish commentators would just call us up and ask us questions, rather than just guessing or making stuff up.

13 December 2009


Yes I am still alive. My break from blogging started with a trip to Canberra for the http://www.goldstandardinstitute.com/ conference. It was great to catch up with the attendees from last year and meet some new gold investors. The weekend after it was a short drive up to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for the Highland Fling - a 100km mountain bike race. Six plus hours is physically tough, but it was harder mentally.

The plan was to get back to blogging on my return but the new Treasury system project I've been working on (in addition to the revamp of the Perth Mint's retail shop) kicked in with at lot of work required to meet deadlines. The new system will give us some efficiencies and thus help with customer service but we have decided to NOT go online for trading.

It is a bit old school, but the Treasury system will be standalone from our other computer systems and with no online ability means your account is just not hackable. I'm interested in any feedback on that decision - we feel if you want the ease of online then you can trade our ASX product (code ZAUWBA) or GoldMoney or BullionVault.

This Treasury system is going to take up some time so my blogging will be less frequent over the next few months but I'll keep any eye on any big issues that come up.

29 October 2009

Golden Avalanche

Nick from www.sharelynx.com shared some quotes with me that I'd like to pass on. They are from a book written in 1939 by Graham & Whittlesey called Golden Avalanche:

“Before leaving the subject of gold supply it is interesting to relate present gold reserves to the monetary circulation of this country and the world. The gold reserves of the United States are almost two and a half times the total of all ordinary money now in circulation in this country. We could replace at its present value every piece of paper money with a gold coin and would still have enough left over to do the same for every country in Europe. There is enough gold in the monetary reserves of the world to replace all ordinary currency of the entire world 100 per cent with gold coins. Never until the present decade was such a situation as this even approached.” p.15

"It has been estimated by a number of writers, on the basis of conditions prior to 1914, that the production of gold would have to rise by about 3 per cent a year in order to preserve approximately stable price levels. The best known of these calculations are those of the Swedish economist, Professor Cassel. This estimate tends to exaggerate the rate of expansion in the demand for basic reserve money. It is based on a period when population and production, and, therefore, the money-work to be done, were increasing at an exceptional rate, and when the non-monetary demand for gold was at its highest. During these years, moreover, the need for gold rose as rapidly as it did partly because of the extension of the international gold standard system to embrace a growing list of countries.

Even if the gold standard system were again established as it was in 1913 the need for gold could not be expected to increase as it did in the half century before the World War, simply because there would not exist the same possibility of extending the use of gold over a steadily widening area.

As was noted earlier, the monetary reserves of the world are today nearly three times as great as in 1929. If commodity prices were to return to the 1929 level, if business activity were to increase at an annual rate equal to that maintained in the sixty fat years prior to 1914, and if all the countries then on the gold standard should return to it, we should still have enough gold to meet all monetary requirements for many years to come, even though not one single ounce was produced during that time. If the gold standard is not restored on such a scale, then the world is long on gold to a corresponding degree. It is absolutely fair to say that, ignoring entirely the possibility of increasing the efficiency of our monetary and banking systems and making the most liberal assumptions as to growth in the monetary and non-monetary demand for gold, there is not the remotest prospect of the world’s needing to have another ounce of gold mined for several decades." p. 18-19

20 October 2009

The King of Currencies

A reader has asked me to comment on these two recent GATA articles www.gata.org/node/7908 and www.gata.org/node/7911, which claim that London unallocated metal is a fractional reserve system.

Adrian Douglas’ assertion is that there is at a minimum four owners for each ounce of unallocated metal held in London. His support for this is to apply the ratio of average daily share trading in GLD (11.9m) to its shares outstanding (325m), rounding to a ratio of 1:30, to an estimate of the daily trading in gold in London to derive the amount of gold London should have. This is then compared to an estimate of what London does have, resulting in the 1:4 fractional ratio.

For his estimates of the London market, Douglas relies on a report by Paul Mylchreest. I haven't had time to review Mylchreest’s numbers in detail, but his report takes a very logical approach and is fact based to estimating of the amount of gold in London. His conclusion is that there is

"an aggregate pool of gold of just over 16,866 tonnes of gold to support an average of 2,134 tonnes of daily spot gold trade. On this basis, 12.7% of the pool of available gold is being turned over every day on average. … And the entire pool is turned over every 7.9 working days. In my opinion, this level of trade relative to the estimated pool of gold liquidity is excessive and doesn’t pass the smell test."

Firstly, he makes a series of assumptions to get to his figures. For example, his 16,866t figure relies on World Gold Council/industry estimates of above ground gold and the percentage that is investment. Being a trade organisation representing miners who want a high gold price one should expect that “stock” numbers will be estimated on the downside. When estimating what the real trading volume of gold is, then he steps into a more rubbery area because he is relying on only two guesses from some industry people - we need more than that.

As a result, one must consider his 12.7% turnover figure to have a fair margin of error considering all the assumptions and estimations used to derive it. This is not to say that it should be 1%, just that it is not a “hard” number.

Secondly, even if 12.7% is correct, I don’t think it logically follows that this “doesn’t pass the smell test", a conclusion he comes to by comparing gold to equity, other commodities and fiat currencies. The last one is probably the most relevant. In this he has to again make some assumptions about currency trading turnover to come to a figure of 2.6% for Sterling, conceding that when including forwards and swaps “daily Sterling turnover is only equivalent to 8.4% of UK broad money”.

Why stop at Sterling? If one does the same calculations for the Australian dollar, you get 4.1% for spot and 13.3% including forwards and swaps. Does gold’s 12.7% (which could be lower if some of Mylchreest’s assumptions are changed) now appear as an “excessive amount of gold trading relative to the likely pool of available gold”?

Mylchreest’s final conclusion is that either 1. there is “more than one ownership claim on each gold bar” or 2. “there is far more gold bullion held in private hands than is acknowledged by current industry estimates”.

I would suggest that there is another OR that Mylchreest has not considered: the very fact that gold is no one’s liability and cannot be printed means it attracts a disproportionate amount of trading and speculation. Why is it assumed that 12.7% is excessive and unreasonable? Could not the 12.7% figure be proof of the special monetary nature of gold, proof that it is the King of Currencies?

I have spent a bit of time on Mylchreest’s report because it is the key input into Adrian Douglas’ calculations. Before I move on to his numbers, I would like to say that I have a lot of respect for Mylchreest’s report and look forward to it being improved with more accurate data.

On that, I note Mylchreest’s statement on page 25 that “I haven’t a clue what COMEX inventories were in 1997, but let’s assume 200 tonnes …” That information is available at Sharelynx.com going back to 1975. A subscription is required but would be worthwhile as Sharelynx has a lot of other data that would be very useful for Mylchreest’s analysis.

Now on to Adrian Douglas’ calculations. He is basically applying GLD's turnover of 3.66% to Mylchreest’s turnover figure of 2,134t to come to an implied stock holding that London should have of 64,000t. This is then contrasted to Mylchreest’s estimate of 15,000t of non-leased physical to derive the 1:4 fractional ratio.

This analysis assumes that the behaviour of over-the-counter (OTC) players is/must be the same as those trading GLD. Let us consider each of Douglas’ statements in support of this.

“The purpose of buying investment gold is for it to store wealth. This necessarily implies that it is held for a long time.”

This is a very broad statement and one that I don’t think can be supported. Investors have all sorts of different time horizons. Remember we are talking about trading in unallocated and whether that is backed. The fact that it is unallocated rather than allocated bars would imply, if anything, that the investors have shorter time frames rather than long.

“If gold is bought and traded quickly it would destroy wealth, not store it, because there would be a large loss due to transactional fees.”

It is actually the other way around. The quicker you can trade something the less risk you have to changes in prices. Bullion banks have a spread between their bid and ask prices – they MAKE money from quickly trading gold. For those dealing with bullion banks in the OTC market, the tightness of those spreads combined with the volatility of gold mean it is entire reasonable for them to make money day trading gold.

“Considering these limitations [minimum trade limit of 1,000 ounces] it is likely that OTC participants would turn over a lot less than 1/30th of the inventory in a day.”

I do not see how the $1 million trade size must mean a lower turnover. That is not a big figure for wholesale market participants. With bullion bank spreads of $0.50 to $1.00, a 1000oz deal only means $500 to $1000 profit. This would mean that a spot gold trader would need to do a lot of trading to make a decent return on the capital employed, which means they would trade more frequently, rather than less.

As with Mylchreest’s comparisions to currency trading, I don’t think Douglas’ comparisions to GLD make any conclusive case that London gold turnover is suspicious.

For further support, Douglas notes that

“In the last 14 years the supply of dollars has increased from $4 trillion to $15 trillion (+275 percent) while the gold price has risen from $400 in 1995 to $1,000 in 2009 (+150 percent). How could this happen? … There has to be an alternative massive supply of gold to make the price rise slower than the influx of dollars.”

How it could happen is that those extra dollars were diverted into equities and house prices, rather than gold, pushing up their price more instead.

He also says that “If the OTC market traded only gold that was in the vaults on a 100 percent reserve ratio, there could never be a lack of liquidity.”

Lack of liquidity has nothing to do with stocks, backed or not. It has to do with a depth of buyers and sellers. If you have 100% backed unallocated, but few of the holders want to sell, then you have a lack of liquidity as well.

For some closing comments, I’ll quote Lawrence Williams from Mineweb:

“The big problem, though, with much of this kind of analysis is that the analysts and observers are working with a mixture of real and assumed figures. It thus tends to rely on statistics being manipulated, perhaps subconsciously, to support pre-conceived theories.”

10 October 2009

Futures COT

Adam Hamilton of Zeal LLC is one commentator I have been following for many years. His latest one on the Commitments of Traders Report is essential reading:

"The bottom line is gold futures activity as chronicled in the CFTC’s Commitments of Traders Report is often misunderstood. A minority of analysts choose to interpret facts about week-to-week developments out of the illuminating context of bull-to-date behavior in similar situations. Thus their interpretations of this complex report are often misleading. And sadly many newer traders are swayed by this shoddy analysis.

It is critical to remember gold futures are a zero-sum game. For every short, there is an offsetting long. So if the feared commercial hedgers’ net-short position is surging and hitting records, then so too are speculators’ net-long positions."

04 October 2009

SLV and Jeff Nielson

On Sep 17 Jeff Nielson posted an article on SLV. I took issue with his belief that ETFs' management fees were unrealistically cheap and thus another indicator they were a scam. Below is the exchange between Jeff and I on the matter.

Bron: You say "custodians of the vast majority of all the world's bullion-ETFs – a service which they are providing free of charge" but SLV has an expense ratio of 0.50%, some of which if I remember the prospectus correctly, is paid to the custodian. If SLV holders pay 0.50% how can it be considered "free". By what do you mean free?

Jeff: Hi Bron. Just look at all that is SUPPOSEDLY covered by this 1/2% fee:

1) Transaction costs. Purchases must be made CONSTANTLY, all day long - in order to buy the actual silver for unit-holders at the same price they bought their units at. Given the huge volatility with silver, it's not even feasible to restrict buying to once a day - since silver has had MANY daily moves of 5% or more.
2) Insurance/delivery costs
3) Storage/security costs.

Obviously BILLIONS of dollars of silver require significant security to guard such a hoard. The U.S. government has an entire military battalion guarding Fort Knox - so no one can find out how much gold is NOT there.If you think these costs are minimal, then answer this question: why do the small number of companies who hold their own bullion need to charge MANY times that premium for their own security/storage costs?

Bron: Before I comment, just want to state upfront that I work for the Perth Mint, but I am speaking here in a personal capacity. While I’m speaking personally, obviously the ETFs are competitors to my employer’s business, both in respect of physical coins and bars as well as our own storage facility, so I’m not any apologist for the ETFs. Taking each of your points in turn.

1) Transaction costs. I note that SLV’s average Bid Ask Ratio is 0.08%. This is very tight but is not necessarily unprofitable for a market maker. You are right that the market maker must be purchasing (or selling) gold constantly as it sells (or buys) SLV shares. My experience with the Perth Mint’s ASX listed product (code: ZAUWBA) is that the market maker will simply set their stock exchange price for an ETF higher than their cost on the wholesale over-the-counter market and adjust this constantly during the trading day. This way they always make a profit on transactions, it is not a cost to them. If individuals bid prices under this than the market maker misses out on a trade. It is only where there are excessive buyers or sellers that the market maker’s prices will get hit.

2) Insurance/delivery costs. Delivery costs are effectively zero, as the metal is most likely already in the vaults as sellers of physical need to bring their metal to London to trade it. Insurance is a real cost, but are easily covered by 0.50%. Important to note that the metal is not fully insured, just the first couple of billion (I don’t think the prospectus says anything about the first loss limit of the insurance). Once you get to a certain size therefore, the insurance cost is a fixed cost, not variable.

3) Storage/security costs. These are fixed costs, once you have a vault and have secured it, every additional ounce does not result in any change in costs. Once you get to the point that you have covered these fixed costs, every ounce above that is pure profit and this is where custodianship can be highly profitable. At 280 million ounces, SLV is definitely there in my opinion. Storage business is a classic case of economies of scale, which is why smaller companies have to have higher storage charges (eg Perth Mint allocated silver is 2.5% pa).

I have been a bit brief on explaining the above, but my view is that they are making money with a 0.5% expense ratio. That is why I think the “free of charge” line of attack is not supported and you are better off focusing on your other criticisms.

Jeff: Bron, at the time that SLV was created, there was only 200 million oz's of silver in GLOBAL inventories. Now SLV and others hold close to 450 million oz's. Obviously there MUST be both delivery AND insurance charges for AT LEAST 250 million oz's of silver - which could NOT have "already been in vaults".

As for security/storage costs, I'll happily concede (for purposes of argument) that no new storage space was created. This brings me back to my point about the ludicrous idea of a BANKER (holding a massive short position) SUBSIDIZING "longs" by providing free storage/security.

Even if you subscribe to that ludicrous fantasy, there is still the issue of the "opportunity cost" to banks. Precious metals are not the ONLY items in the world for which there is a demand for high-security storage. Will ANYONE suggest that banks will provide a FREE service for precious metals longs - rather than charge someone a fee for storing other valuable assets? Try asking JP Morgan to store YOUR OWN precious metals for free - and listen to how hard they laugh at you.

Bron: "Obviously there MUST be both delivery AND insurance charges for AT LEAST 250 million oz's of silver - which could NOT have already been in vaults"

You've missed my point. Lets assume the additional 250moz is real and was bought by bullion banks to back SLV & others. In that case, the bullion banks would incur no delivery charges as the seller delivers metal to London at their cost to be able to sell it on the spot market in London. Secondly, the additional 250moz has no insurance charges - as I said, they only insure the first $1b of holdings, not the entire holdings.

"the ludicrous idea of a BANKER (holding a massive short position) SUBSIDIZING longs by providing free storage/security" & "Will ANYONE suggest that banks will provide a FREE service for precious metals longs - rather than charge someone a fee for storing other valuable assets?"

Jeff, you keep on saying they are doing it for free when SLV charges 0.5%. Some of that 0.5% goes to the custodian, they are being paid. That is not "for free" - I don't understand why you keep on saying they are providing free storage.

The question is whether the 0.5% charge is realistic, profitable assuming the volumes of metal SLV and others hold is physical. As explained in my previous reply it is. Saying this does not mean that they have physical, but nor does it mean they do not.

Jeff: Bron, your assumptions about delivery cost are only valid if you're implying that silver (and gold) goes straight from refineries into bankster vaults - rather than having to be PURCHASED by the banksters (first) on the open market, and then transferred to their vaults.

When you mention the 0.5% fee charged by SLV, my understanding is that this also (supposedly) covers their OWN administrative costs AS WELL AS all the shipping costs, transaction costs, insurance costs, and storage/security costs.

You would be hard-pressed to find any ONE bankster service (in ANY of their business activities) which they are willing to provide for a 0.5% fee. Suggesting that they are willing to REDUCE their fees (to close to ZERO) to SUBSIDIZE the entry of longs into the market is simply nonsense.

Bron: "your assumptions about delivery cost are only valid if you're implying that silver (and gold) goes straight from refineries into bankster vaults - rather than having to be PURCHASED by the banksters (first) on the open market, and then transferred to their vaults."

No it doesn't. There is no difference between purchasing from refineries or on the open market - refineries are all in different countries just like existing stocks. If market makers cannot acquire metal from investors or sellers already holding it in London, they will actually be able to acquire it at a discount to London spot (which is the usual state of the market), the discount equalling the shipment cost into London. Even if they have to pay a premium (or pay shipment costs into London), then they just factor this into their bid and ask prices quoted for SLV. This is why delivery is not a cost that comes out of the 0.5% fee.

"When you mention the 0.5% fee charged by SLV, my understanding is that this also (supposedly) covers their OWN administrative costs AS WELL AS all the shipping costs, transaction costs, insurance costs, and storage/security costs."

The 0.5% does cover their administrative and compliance costs, but as I have discussed above and in my previous replies, any shipping and transaction costs are recovered via market making activities, so these do not come out of the 0.5%. As I have also replied, insurance and storage/security are FIXED costs, not variable, whereas the revenue of 0.5% is variable. This means that once you cover you fixed costs, the 0.5% on any additional metal is pure profit.

"You would be hard-pressed to find any ONE bankster service (in ANY of their business activities) which they are willing to provide for a 0.5% fee. Suggesting that they are willing to REDUCE their fees (to close to ZERO) to SUBSIDIZE the entry of longs into the market is simply nonsense."

0.5% is not "close to zero". On 280moz, 0.5% = $24 million, that is not anywhere near zero. The fact is that in the wholesale market storage is offered for much less than 0.5%. Do you remember David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital exiting his GLD in favor of physical bullion? He did this because it was CHEAPER, in other words he could get storage for less than GLD’s 0.4%. In fact, quoting http://www.hardassetsinvestor/:

“By contrast, a $400 million player in the bullion market has substantial room to negotiate. You can be sure his [Einhorn] bullion holdings are being custodied for less than 12 basis points.”

If you believe that 0.5% is an unrealistic fee, a subsidised fee and therefore proof that SLV is a scam, then logically you must also believe that Bullion Vault, with a 0.12% storage fee, is also a scam. This puts you in a bit of a spot, because Bullion Vault is one of the most transparent operations in the market, and favoured by many goldbugs and commentators. Your stepping out on a limb here.

The post above was on Sep 21, Jeff replied to another post on Sep 22 but ignored mine. I posted the comment below on Sep 27. No response by Jeff as at Oct 4.

Bron: You have replied to someone else's comment which appear after mine, but ignored mine. Does this mean you conceed on the issue of the reasonableness of the storage fee?

01 October 2009

Canberra Trip

I have been busy preparing for two presentations I'll be doing at the Gold Standard Institute's seminar in Canberra. As a result my blogging will be infrequent.

On Sunday 1 Nov there is a free gold investor day and I will be explaining how London metal accounts are used to facilitate the flow of gold from mine to you. There is a great range of other speakers from Daily Reckoning, BullionMark, Global Speculator. If you are within driving distance of Canberra you would be crazy to miss it as it is a great opportunity to catch up with fellow precious metal investors.

2 Nov to 5 Nov is the formal seminar with Professor Fekete the key speaker. I'll have an hour session on COMEX stocks. Daily Reckoning will also be speaking and has a good explanation of what you can expect. Cost is $790 and a 4 day committment but if you have the time will be well worth it.

I have also forgottent to mention a new precious metals forum for Australians called Silver Stackers (they let gold investors in :). If you are tired of US centric discussions on forums like Kitco, it is worth a look.

15 September 2009

Protecting yourself from World War III: Debtors vs Creditors

Steve Keen is an Australian Post-Keynesian economist credited as having "seen it coming" in this survey of research by economists or financial market commentators. Keen was one of only eleven researchers who qualified, which included Schiff, Roubini, and Shiller.

Steve Keen is a follower of Hyman Minsky’s “Financial Instability Hypothesis”, which he summarises as:

1) Capitalist economies periodically experience financial crises;
2) These are caused by debt-financed speculation on asset prices leading to bubbles in asset prices;
3) These bubbles must eventually burst because they add nothing to productive capacity while increasing the debt-servicing burden;
4) When they burst, asset prices collapse but the debt remains;
5) The attempts by both borrowers and lenders to reduce leverage reduces demand and causes a recession;
6) If the economy survives such a crisis it goes through the same process again, with another boom driving debt up even higher, followed by yet another crash; but
7) This leads to a level of debt that is so great that another revival becomes impossible since no-one is willing to take on any more debt;
8) Then a Depression ensues.

A plausible but dismal explanation. Consider this comment on Steve's latest blog post:

"This is one of the great questions for all of history, how to get out of this. For one thing, one persons debt is another persons asset or in many cases their money. ... It is clear that everyone that has something is going to take a haircut on it. Either by a systematic bankruptcy or by a natural one."

As Steve Keen says:

Some form of price chaos has to be expected though, whatever is done. One side-effect of the bubble has been an enormous dislocation in prices, not just with overvalued financial assets, but also with drastically overinflated incomes for the financial class, and concomitant price distortions all the way through commodities.

How do you protect yourself from this economic World War III? Simply swallow the red pill and step outside the Financial Matrix: bail out of your "has something"s into precious metals and sit by and watch the annihilation as everyone else takes "a haircut".

14 September 2009

Scotiabank Certificates

The article Scotiabank and the Real Silver prompted me to have a closer look at their 2008 Annual Report. Two interesting quotes (note all dollars are Canadian):

“In Scotia Capital, revenue declined by 25%, due mainly to charges relating to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, valuation adjustments and generally weak capital markets. These were partially offset by record foreign exchange and precious metals trading revenues, and strong growth in corporate lending.” (p28)
“Precious metals trading revenue was a record $160 million, an increase of $44 million or 38% over last year, with higher revenues recorded in each of our major centres.” (p30).

Not surprising to see strong precious metal results from Oct 2007 to Oct 2008 (Scotiabank's reporting year). What I did find interesting is the observation by ispeakofpeak that Scotia's gold and silver certificates declined from $5,986m to $5,619m (p122), a 6.1% drop. This drop would reflect both changes in precious metal prices as well as changes in ounces held.

Unforunately, Scotia do not provide a breakdown of how many gold or silver ounces made up the certificate dollar total. But we do know that Canadian dollar gold prices were up 18% from 1 Nov 07 to 31 Oct 08 and that silver was down 14%.

If you think about it, assuming all the certificates were gold, then if the price was up 18% but Scotia's value dropped 6.1%, they must have lost a lot of ounces. On the other hand, if it was all silver, then as the silver price dropped 14% yet Scotia's value dropped only 6.1%, then they must have had an increase in ounces of silver.

Either of these would not be correct - there must be a mix of gold and silver. For sake of example and to put some numbers to it, lets assume for every $1000, $500 was gold and the other $500 silver. This is not unreasonable, I have seen many clients make this sort of "portfolio allocation" when buying precious metals. A 50:50 split by value works out as:

Gold Oz 2007: 3,996,336
Gold Oz 2008: 3,179,160
Change: -817,176

Silver Oz 2007: 220,173,903
Silver Oz 2008: 240,380,913
Change: 20,207,010

First off, some pretty impressive ounce totals, that would put them up there in my gold and silver league tables, if they were prepared to publish their actual ounce numbers.

What I do find interesting is that they lost gold at a time when everyone else (ETFs, GoldMoney, etc) were gaining. And it does not matter what you assume the split at. If you chose 75:25 gold:silver, or 25:75 it may change the amounts of gold and silver, but it still results in a loss of gold and a gain of silver.

Another interesting observation is that on their balance sheet they list Precious Metals at only $2,426m ($4,046m for 2007, p106). So dollar value precious metal liabilities only down $365m, but precious metal assets down $1,620m. This means that in 2007 they had 68% of their liabilities covered by physical but in 2008 only 43% cover.

If we look to their derivatives, p150 shows that “Foreign exchange and gold contracts, futures” with 1 year or less maturity were $2,602m out of a total of $4,239m. Gap between 2008 precious metal liabilities and physical assets was $3,193m. Conclusion: remaining 57% covered by COMEX futures and/or over-the-counter forwards.

Michael Pascoe - Gold Hater

Hat tip to Justin - Gold drops 25%! by Michael Pascoe:

So much for the rampant gold bugs wetting themselves about chart levels and such, never mind the overtime being worked in the mini-industry that exists around promoting gold.

As gold sceptics know, the yellow stuff occasionally has a day in the sun when there's fear and loathing in the financial system ...

But don't try to tell hard-core bugs that – they've long been inured to Shakespeare's warning that all that glisters is not gold.

I've created a new label called "Gold Haters" so I can keep track of them for future reference.

12 September 2009

Alan Kohler - Gold Hater

One to bookmark and shove in his face when gold is $5000. From Gold fever looks incurable by Alan Kohler:

But underlying demand is weak and getting weaker, and supply is on the rise – big time.

Gold is the commodity of craziness.

... gold investors are that unique breed of incurable optimists who don’t want to be paid any income on their capital

... it is not a currency. I can’t go into JB Hi-Fi with a lump of it and buy a TV.

It’s just a commodity they [central banks] got stuck with because it used to be a currency a long time ago and will never be again.

So gold is also the commodity of confusion: is it an investment safe haven or just a commodity? Answer: it’s whatever everyone thinks it is, and right now it’s a haven.

10 September 2009

To roll or not to roll, that is the central bank's question

Yesterday I was dismissive of the recall of Hong Kong's gold as significant, but it is another bit of evidence of a shift in central bank attitudes towards gold. Far more significant indicators include (see this MineWeb article):

* China's announcement that it had moved 454 tonnes of gold into its reserves since 2003
* Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) quota being reduced from 500t to 400t a year
* Russia's Prime Minister stating that it should hold 10% of its reserve assets in gold

It points to a renewed appreciation of the role of gold in turbulent times. Recalls of gold like Hong Kong may also indicate a reassessment of counterparty risk. Moves to return gold are eminently sensible, of course: what is the point of a country having its gold out of its immediate physical control if everything goes to hell. That is really the whole point of having gold reserves. In a time of war (not that I'm suggesting that is where we are heading) you ain't going to be able to buy guns or food from another country with your funny paper money.

Some have claimed that repatriation of gold by other central bankers following Hong Kong's lead will translate into higher gold prices. However, this depends on the extent to which that gold is actually sitting in a vault somewhere or has been lent out to bullion banks. If the former, then obviously there is no effect on the price – the gold is just changing location. If the latter, then it could be potentially explosive if Frank Veneroso's estimates of leased gold of between 10,000 and 16,000 tonnes are correct.

I would point out that central banks can't just recall gold mid-lease, they have to wait till it's maturity. Consider also that the leases will have been made over varying terms, from a few months to a few years, and all at different points in time. This means that all of the central bank leases will mature over a number of years. What the term to maturity of this global lease book is, is hard to say. I'll have a stab at most of it being 1 to 2 year leases, but am prepared to stand corrected.

So not all of Mr Veneroso's leases will be recalled immediately, or to be more accurate, declined to be rolled. Plus not all central banks will decline to roll their leases (although that may change depending on how bad things get).

Also, don't fall into the trap of assuming that all of this leased gold has to be bought back from the market to repay the gold loans. This sort of simplistic analysis is based on an ignorant view that “leasing = bad”. The reality is a bit more complex. To explain, I am going to have to be a hypocrite and be simplistic myself. There are three things someone can do with borrowed gold:

1) Manufacture it into jewellery, coins or bars. Sell these for cash. Use cash to buy replacement gold. Hopefully have left over cash = profit. Repeat many times.
2) Sell the gold. Use the cash to build a mine. Extract the gold from the ground. Repay your gold loan. Hopefully have left over gold. Sell this for cash = profit.
3) Sell the gold. Invest the cash to earn interest. Hopefully gold price drops. Use part of your cash to buy gold. Repay your gold loan. Left over cash = profit.

All of the above are ultimately promises to repay gold, but not all of these have the same risk profile. I've ranked them in terms of risk and the first two are materially different to the third. In the first two the gold loan is backed by gold, either in inventory or below the ground.

In the current gold market, one would have to consider the risk of failure low for the coin/bar business – everyone wants the stuff – and I'm sure that central banks, through bullion banks, would not consider these leases high risk and necessitating recall. For jewellery, the increasing gold price equals less sales, so we could expect some business failures, so while these leases are backed by physical it would have to be considered at some risk.

For miners it is a bit more risky. Sure they have it in the ground, but lets not forget Bre-X or Sons of Gwalia. As long as any hedging is modest and loan maturities tied to production, these would also be considered lower risk by central banks.

In the case of the first two it ultimately comes down to the extent that the lease is secured: the first two are not risk free - business ventures do not always turn out as expected. To the extent that they are not secured in some way, central banks would have to be nervous, but not as much as our third category.

In the case of the short sellers, the gold is gone and only cash is left. To the extent that a miner has excessively hedged (did I hear someone say Barrick?), then they are also in this category. The crux of the issue is to what extent have the short sellers put up collateral and more importantly, have the ability to put up more (or the willingness to put up more)?

This collateral issue I will discuss in my next post. My point for the moment is to not get awe struck by the 16,000t figure (or whatever other figure is bandied about) and think it is all going to have to be bought back, and now, and therefore the gold price is going to the moon.

If central bank reassessment of counterparty risk results in requests for leases to be repaid, then it will occur over a number of years as those leases mature. This will manifest itself as a steady stream of short covers, not as a big bang, and be a source of solid "base" demand for gold for a number of years.

09 September 2009

Bubble top indicators

The report that Hong Kong requested the return of its 2 tonnes of gold to be stored in its new vaults and its suggestion that other Asian countries do the same and store their gold with them resulted in a wave of uninformed hype.

Statements like “the move deals a significant blow to London's historical role as a global hub” (from the aptly named Fool.com) and this weird non-article from a Marvin Clark that is all questions and no answers or opinions are typical of the new breed of gold commentary.

With reported central bank holdings of 30,000t, how can anyone think 2t is “significant”, even if the whole lot had been short sold by whoever they had it “stored” with? As one wit commented, “I moved my BBQ from my mom's house to my house last week. According to the vague premise of this mysterious 'logic', my BBQ must be going up in price soon!” They are in the running for my quote of the year.

I would also note the similarities between the Hong Kong announcement and this report on Dubai: talk of Dubai a “natural choice” for central banks in the region, Dubai to be home to gold backing an ETF. Well, they can't all be. These attempts at cracking London's fix (pun intended) on gold trading and settlement occurs with some regularity and is met with a yawn from experienced gold players. Every now and then a country tries to become a “bullion centre”: Shanghai, Thailand, India. They never get off the ground because the rest of the world doesn’t trust them, or trusts them less than London.

Unfortunately, I have noticed an increase in gold commentary from people who have no experience in the gold markets, and it shows. I suppose if no one wants to read your opinion on a leverage stock play, what else are you going to do but write about what is hot, even if you know sweet FA about it.

Editor to Journalist: “hey, gold seems to have passed some magic number, go write something on it for tomorrow's paper.” Journalist searches for last newspaper article on gold, does a google search and picks up some third hand commentary which misinterpreted “Gold ETFs allowed for EFP transactions” into “Gold ETFs allowed to settle COMEX futures”, and mashes it all together with some clich├ęs and there you have an article for consumption by the general public who believe that the financial journalist knows what they are talking about.

I am thinking of starting an index of commentaries on gold and more specifically, the number by those who have never commented on gold before. I think it would make a very good bubble top indicator to be used along with the “receiving stock tips from a shoe-shine boy” (today to be substituted with taxi drivers I suppose). The number of Kitco forum posts might also be good, particularly the occurrence of the text “to da moon”.

08 September 2009

But when we buy, the price goes up

From China alarmed by US money printing quoting Cheng Siwei, former vice-chairman of the Standing Committee and now head of China's green energy drive:

"Gold is definitely an alternative, but when we buy, the price goes up. We have to do it carefully so as not to stimulate the markets," he added.

This is a strong contender for my quote of the year.

Capital Gains Tax and gold

Question from a reader:

“No-one seems to be able to give a clear answer due to the sorry state of knowledge about PM’s in Australia but seeing as you work for the Mint, are an accountant, and want to make this site a source of information for Australian gold investing, are you able to make some comment about the capital gains treatment of gold bullion in Australia? Are there any precedent cases in tax law? In particular, is the conversion of unallocated to allocated considered a capital gains event? I know that you are not able to give investment advice but perhaps you could give some hypothetical situations or similar.”

Before I start, let me say that my comments below are general in nature and do not take into account the specific taxation circumstances of each reader. Readers should not rely on what I say and should seek their own independent advice on the taxation implications relevant to their own circumstances before making any investment decision.

The only publically available information on the tax treatment of precious metals in Australia I know of is that contained in the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for our ASX listed product, Perth Mint Gold (PMG). This product is structured as a right to receive gold, so is different to unallocated or allocated, but it does give some pointers as to the likely treatment of physical bullion.

Note that the PMG PDS advice assumes an Australian resident individual taxpayer who acquires PMGs and holds them on capital account, in other words the frequency of your trading would not constitute carrying on a business of trading or dealing in gold.

Firstly, gold is a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) asset. Some gold investors seem to think that gold is a special asset to which the normal tax rules don’t apply. Sorry, it is just like any other real asset, like property. It is taxable.

The PMG PDS advice notes that gold does not earn any income and that it is held with the intention of selling it for a capital gain. This affects the treatment of the costs incurred in acquiring and storing gold. Below is a summary of the tax issues for PMG:

* Sale of PMG on ASX [same as sale of gold]: Disposal of PMG is a taxable CGT event. 50% Discount may be available if PMG held for more than 12 months.

* Physical Settlement [same as unallocated conversion to physical]: No CGT event. Costs of acquisition and exercise of PMG become part of cost base of the gold.

* PMG Management Fee [same as storage fee]: Not deductible in the year in which it is incurred. Forms part of the cost base of the PMG. Can be utilised to reduce any capital gain on the disposal or cancellation of the PMG. Does not form part of the reduced costs base of the PMG and so cannot increase any capital loss on disposal or cancellation of a PMG. Not a cost of acquiring or exercising the PMG. Will not become part of the cost base of any physical gold a Holder acquires through exercising the PMG.

I think the sale of gold and storage fees advice for PMG would apply to physical gold. I am not so sure about the unallocated to allocated conversion because the exact advice on Physical Settlement refers to the option nature of PMG: “Under section 134-1 of the 1997 Tax Act, any gain or loss on the exercise of an option is disregarded and any payment made to acquire the option, plus any payment made to exercise the option, will become part of the cost base of the asset acquired on exercise of the option. Therefore, no CGT will arise if the Holder completes an Exercise Notice requesting physical delivery of gold bullion.”

I think it would be important in any unallocated to allocated (or unallocated collection) transaction to ensure that you are only invoiced for fabrication and storage/delivery and that it is not processed as a sale of unallocated, purchase of allocated. Common sense interpretation is that conversion of unallocated to physical is merely a change in form and as you do not give up the gold in exchange for cash, there is no CGT event. But since when does tax law make any sense? Always best to get specific advice from a tax expert.

07 September 2009

How to protect your privacy and your gold

Question from a reader:

"I have been acquiring Perth Mint silver and gold in the depository scheme and am concerned about confiscation issues in the long term. Probably it will not happen, but again given the mindlessness of recent policy decisions there is no reason why the Australian government could not just decide to tax the gains at a punitive level – ‘because people are making unfair gains from it’ or some other vacuous reason. Seems to me the main risk is not holding bullion, but also the 'privacy risk' if you want to call it that, that the government knows that you've got it and can therefore either tax it highly or confiscate it. Are you able to make comment about how best to acquire completely private gold and silver (ie no record of the sale therefore no one knows you’ve got it and therefore can’t confiscate it), in quantities of up to 100 oz?"

The scenario you suggest is certainly probable in any country. In an environment where other assets have declined and gold is $5000, the politics of envy may come into play. Classic example of this is the Luxury Car Tax introduced in Australia in 1986. While one can expect that a populist "gold profits tax" would get support, I think it is an open question as to whether it will go down well in Western Australia considering the high profile of gold mining in this state.

As I discuss in Australian Gold Confiscation, secessionism would be "in play" in such an environment. A "gold profits tax" could be considered as an Eastern States Federalist tax grab on Western Australia's wealth, and could provide yet another reason to secede.

As to Government knowledge of your gold, note that the law only requires Australian bullion dealers to record your identity for purchases above $5000, not report them (unless you give cause for the bullion dealer to believe it is a suspicious transaction).

Therefore for the Government to confiscate, it will first need to personally visit each bullion dealer and go through their sale records. This gives you a bit of time between announcement of confiscation and a knock on your door. It is possible that the data collection will happen in advance of an announcement, but it is likely that rumors would circulate quickly.

In any case, those looking to take possession of physical gold should always consider the privacy implications. The risk here is a thief getting hold of the records of a bullion dealer or courier company. One needs to weigh up the convenience and cost of a telephone or Internet sale (which will leave records) versus a cash and carry purchase from your local bullion dealer.

The only way to protect yourself against this risk is to establish a relationship with your local bullion dealer and buy in cash under the relevant reporting/recording limit ($5000 in Australia). There is nothing illegal about buying a little gold with each pay packet, and most bullion dealers would understand that you are a prudent saver and not a drug dealer. But doing twenty $4990 transactions twenty days in a row would be considered a suspicious transaction and reportable.

For those whose personal circumstances mean the risk of theft is greater than privacy/confiscation considerations and thus choose to store their gold in a facility, just a word of warning not to get tricky with your identification. It needs to be clear to the facility operator who is the beneficial holder of the gold, otherwise you may have trouble establishing title to it (or being impersonated) in the future.

For example, even if there were no account identification requirements for bullion, the Perth Mint Depository would still want photo identification as an additional security measure. It is really the only way we can ensure that the person standing at our doors to collect your metal is you.

By way of example, a couple of years ago we had a call from a person who gave us an account number and account name and wanted to sell. However, he did not have the password, nor was he a signatory, so we could not take his instruction or reveal any details of the account. He gave us details, like purchase dates and amounts, that did correlate exactly with the account, but we couldn't confirm or deny any of that - because he was not identified on the account. He became extremely agitated, but to no avail.

It turned out that he had the account opened in the name of a company by a broker/agent of his and they were the nominee directors and signatories. This privacy mechanism may have sounded good at the time, and maybe he had some other agreement with the broker to ensure they could not abscond with his metal. However, whatever structure he put in place, he had not considered the scenario where his broker was arrested and put in jail!

Not being keen contact his broker in jail, there was no way for him to get the broker to give us an instruction. He therefore had to wait, unsure if the broker had cleaned out his account. There is a happy ending to the story, as the broker did eventually get out of jail (but it was some months) and put in the sale instruction for him. In some cases, privacy may be too much of a good thing.

02 September 2009

No Massive Institutional Gold Market Change

Trace Mayer writes some good stuff, but his recent Massive Institutional Gold Market Change article hypes an midly interesting strategic development in the gold market. There are two statements he makes which are not correct.

“gold demand that was previously satisfied with physical bullion through forward contracts between private parties can now be satisfied with unallocated gold accounts”

This is the key on which the whole article hangs. The problem is that a significant majority, if not all, of institutional forwards are already settled via unallocated. Accordingly, this move by CME is not “a massive change” in the market – OTC market transactions are primarily settled via London unallocated accounts, and will continue to be if they move to CME. No change here.

As a result this so-called "scheme" provides no support for his conclusions that it "will allow for gold demand to be shunted into gold substitute products and keep the price of gold in fiat currencies low" or "the reason for this move is that physical gold bullion is getting increasingly scarce".

“Why the CFTC would allow supposedly gold-backed ETF shares to satisfy the physical commodity component in an exchange of futures for physical transaction” and "like settling either COMEX futures contracts or OTC forwards with GLD ETF shares"

That announcement is about Exchange of Futures for Physical (EFP) transactions, not physical settlement of a COMEX futures contract. I checked COMEX rule 113.02 and there is no mention of ETFs being allowed - only physical is allowed.

The issue with EFPs is explained better by Tom Szabo. His key point is that an EFP is an "exchange" and there is no change in the number of futures at the end of the transaction - therefore EFPs do not settle a COMEX futures contract as Trace claims. I would also refer to the comments of a retired precious metal wholesale dealer who comments on Seeking Alpha.

29 August 2009

Martin Armstrong & FOFOA articles


Armstrong believes that gold is NOT a hedge against inflation but rather a hedge against a loss of confidence in government. There is a difference, and Martin does a good job explaining it. He is reiterating his latest papers in stating that a loss of confidence in the government sector is coming soon if not here already.

He gives a complete technical update for gold stating:

“I have provided the technical analysis on Gold based on a monthly chart. The first real resistance is formed by the Primary Channel that shows $1,350 - $1,750 between 2010 and 2012. this represents still a plain old normal technical move with nothing that would reflect a meltdown. It is breaking this overhead resistance where it becomes support that we enter in the “danger zone” of a true meltdown in PUBLIC CONFIDENCE.

Most of the projected resistance from the major low back in 1999, shows various targets from $1,700 to $2,750. However, if gold exceeds this level and it too forms the subsequent support, now we are looking at the $3,500 to $5,000 target zone. This is where we see the potential for Gold is a true economic meltdown of CONFIDENCE.”


Here is the problem though, kids. Most mature investors retain their life savings fully invested within the financial industry, denominated in dollars, and will not get off these tracks even when they see the train coming. They will stay there because it is impossible for them to believe they occupy the wrong position! Who can blame them or call them fools? They have been trained their whole life to believe in saving for the future inside of a monetary system that serves no purpose other than as a medium of exchange.

Worse, they perceive that all of their assets are correctly valued by this system that does not care about the value of a digit. How can they possibly be correctly valued in a system that only functions properly as a medium of exchange, not a store of value? How can assets meant to be stores of value be correctly valued when denominated in a unit whose value DOESN'T EVEN MATTER in the context of its primary function? They can't. They shouldn't. They aren't. And soon this FACT will be known by everyone.

25 August 2009

Power pentagons, Hayek, GFMS and Bear Traps

It is certainly quite in goldland these past few months. Both of my anecdotal indicators are down compared to a year ago when retail shortages were rife: posts on Kitco's forum and comments to article about gold on Seeking Alpha. Seems everyone is distracted by green shoots.

I have just finished The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power, which I mentioned in a Sep 08 post and republished on Seeking Alpha to very little acclaim :). I have pages of notes to bash into shape, nothing to do with gold but more on management theory (my BComm major) - organisations as totalitarian “regimes”, CEO's as dictators and if this is the environment in which people spend a lot of time and see as normal why would they see any problem with increasing Government intrusion and authoritanism. Considering that, was it a good idea to make organisation's legal entities/persons leading to reification that acts as a shield against any sense of responsibility by the individuals who actually make decisions? Anyway, I did say some panel beating was required.

I am currently reading Hayek's Serfdom Revisited (1985), put out by The Centre for Independent Studies, which should be familiar to Australians. Considering my previous comments about Governmental intrusion, I may wait until I finish this before writing a blog on the Lewis Mumford book.

I also found this article of interest: Adrian Douglas: GFMS cooks books to make gold look bad.I do think the GFMS/WGC numbers have some sticky tape and rubber bands holding them together. Admittedly it is difficult to really know what is going on in gold, but they don't really explain how they do their numbers or give some +/- confidence levels. I think they want people to think it is super accurate and this works because a lot of people really treat it as gospel.

The dodgy nature of the GFMS numbers is revealed if you go to the WGC website and go through their past Demand Trends reports, which I did when putting together some numbers for the Mint's CEO on general supply/demand trends (as detailed in this Mar 09 post). If you go through each Demand Trends report and compare the figures it it to the previous report, you will see all the revisions. And I'm not talking about just revising the prior period's figures, which you can expect. The reports usually have 5 quarters of past data. If you look at a specific quarter as reported originally and then subsequently in the following 5 reports, you can see them changing the figure each quarter, that is, they are revising supply demand numbers every quarter over one year later!

If I could be bothered getting the data off it, it would make for an interesting analysis of the accuracy of the data – memo to self: write GFMS expose blog.

Finally, I found in the Mint's library/archives a report by Blanchard and Company Inc titled “Gold Bullion: Caught in a Bear Trap”. I remember when it first came out, we got one of the advance copies December 2001 (note the date), 53 pages in all. Quote: “Sell your gold and take your tax losses now, before they get even bigger. If, at some time in the future, you find that you miss your gold, you'll be able to buy more of it for less.” I leave it to Mineweb, Maurice Rosen and Clif Droke to give you more details (everything is remembered on the Internet). Memo to self 2: never make ballsy calls on the direction of the gold price!

15 August 2009

Animated Gold Lease Rate Curve

I've been playing around with Google Docs. This chart shows the change in the lease rate curve over time. Key feature is the kick up that happens in the short end during certain periods, when the curve inverts. For it to make sense, change the x-axis to alphabetical order.

14 August 2009

Gold to break $1000 but then down to $500!

I have kept my super secret system a secret for many years, but I have to let you in on it now because a great calamity will befall gold shortly – once it breaks $1000 it will be downhill to $500. The chart below does not lie!

You will note on my chart that the time scales for the two different time periods does not match. This is because the world has gotten faster, information move quicker, therefore chart patterns are compressed. After many years of study I discovered that the world had accelerated by 40%, so that each day in the 1970s equals 1.4 days in the 1990s.

I then realised that one cannot study gold patterns until 1975, when it was no longer illegal to own gold. This allowed for human emotions to show up in prices. I then realised that the speeding up of information began in 1996, because this was the year that the Internet really began to take off. With this insight, I found this pattern and have kept it to myself to make massive profits but now the charts foretell collapse. You have been warned, get out now.

PS - As you can tell from the above that I don't put much store in reading tea leaves, sorry, charts. There is a legitimate use of them, but I think a lot of people choose timescales and see patterns just to reinforce their preconception.

10 August 2009

Silver ETF League Table

Further to my post on Gold ETFs, below are the figures for silver.

ETF/Custodial FacilitySilver Ounces as at July 2009% share of Total Privately Held
Central Fund/Trust of Canada59,648,7934.3%
Zurcher Kantonalbank52,343,8423.7%
ETF Securities19,133,4591.4%
Bullion Management Group5,444,6850.4%
Silver "Products" Sub-total438,956,95131.4%
Total Other Privately Held842,564,86660.2%
Total Privately Held1,400,000,000100.0%

Compared to gold, the silver ETFs provide more transparency, which is another way of saying there is less privately held silver stock compared to gold.

Gold ETF League Table

With gold looking to attack the USD 1000 level, it is fitting to review the new kid on the gold block – securitised bullion – that many say has been a contributor to gold’s resurgence. I say “new kid on the block” because gold ETFs are only seven years old whereas people have been storing wealth via gold for over 4,000 years.

The key change ETFs have brought to the market is transparency. In the past, gold was purchased in bar or coin form and either stored at home, in safety deposit boxes, or with a custodian. Problem is that all this activity was private, with no reported numbers on the volume traded or held. The ETFs, by reporting their balances daily, now provide a small window into the activities of private investors.

According to the World Gold Council’s (WGC) 2007 figures, private investors (which includes institutions) hold 16.4% of all the gold ever produced (1). Adjusting for latest mine production, this means that as at March 2009 private investment in gold totalled 865 million ounces.

The table below shows all the ETFs and other non-listed custodian facilities who publish regular figures on their holdings. This data has been sourced from http://www.sharelynx.com/, who is the guru for data on gold. Sharelynx tracks all of these products daily and has built an extensive history on their movements, making it an essential subscription for any serious analyst of the gold markets.

Gold OuncesAs at July 2009% share of Total Privately Held Gold
Gold Bullion Securities40,465,4454.7%
Zurcher Kantonalbank4,738,3970.5%
ETF Securities2,716,2820.3%
Julius Baer1,849,3750.2%
Central Fund/Trust of Canada1,571,0370.2%
Xetra Gold1,019,5400.1%
Bullion Vault583,7050.1%
Bullion Management Group92,5440.0%
Benchmark (India)68,6740.0%
GoldIST Turkey46,7800.0%
UTI (India)46,1360.0%
Reliance Captial (India)38,9350.0%
SBI (India)23,9200.0%
Kotak (India)11,0600.0%
Quantum (India)1,9610.0%
Gold "Products" Sub-total56,456,8446.5%
Total Other Privately Held798,816,80092.4%
Total Privately Held864,594,753100.0%

This table clearly shows that Gold Bullion Securities (listed across many exchanges) is the “King Kong” of gold products. What is more interesting is that it only represents 4.7% of the total amount of gold held by individuals and institutions. Even including in the reported physical inventories of the COMEX and TOCOM futures markets only brings us to 7.6%.

While this is a small “market share”, compare it to the situation five years ago. In July 2004 there were only five visible gold products totalling 2.4 million ounces. Combined with COMEX and TOCOM inventories, this amounted to less than 1% of privately held gold.

The other interesting feature of this table is the small size of the ETFs listed in Turkey and India. GoldIST has been around since 2004 and the Indian ETFs first appeared in mid-2007. By July 2007, there was 141,271 ounces in ETFs across both of these countries. Two years later is it a mere 237,466 ounces. Compared to the considerable size of the physical gold markets in these countries, this is not an impressive performance and shows their continued preference for physical over paper.

06 August 2009

Crash Course in Sound Economics

Amusing read from Unqualified Reservations (UR) blog. Introduction comments:

Here at UR, "economics" is not the study of how real economies work. It is the study of how economies should work - in other words, of how sound economies work. Sound economies, as we'll see, are also stable economies.

Since there are no economies on the planet which are even remotely sound, nor is there any prospect of any such thing appearing, this discipline cannot conceivably be empirical, quantitative, or worst of all predictive.

Readers familiar with Austrian economics will find much to skim, especially at the start, but should also watch out for nontrivial differences in the origin of money and the structure of the loan market.

05 August 2009

Conspiracy of Optimism

Love this comment on a Zero Hedge article:

As near as i can tell forecasters don't forecast anymore than analysts, analyze or reporters, report. What they do is cheerleader. They all are all engaged in the conspiracy of optimism. Which leads to delusions of prosperity.

Seriously if loose monetary policy and rapid asset inflation were the route to economic prosperity, Argentina would be the richest country in the world by now.

On another matter, I find it interesting how misinformation/misinterpretation is propagated on the Internet. Example is the Adrian Douglas piece The Alchemist, which lodges itself in people's minds in simplistic terms, as evidenced in this comment on a Seeking Alpha article:

Delivery of futures contracts in gold and silver is allowed in bullion or GLD and SLV.

The statement is refuted by another commenter kohalakid. I would also recommend Tom Szabo's Exchange of Futures for Physical (EFP) Explained.

30 July 2009

Multiple Anomalies Detected In Silver ETFs

Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge has posted an analysis of SLV's bar list by "Project Mayhem Research" (PMR for short) that concludes:

During our research into the inventory lists of the iShares SLV and London-based ETFS physical silver funds, we discovered multiple anomalies which cannot be easily dismissed. These included the presence of internal duplicates, rough internal duplicates, weight duplicates, statistical clustering, and cross-reference duplicates.

It would probably have helped perceptions of impartiality if PMR hadn’t made references to "world silver price management and a functional oligopoly for the elite" and “one might expect Western governments and megabanks to be openly hostile towards silver” in their introduction, but I suppose in these times it is best if one is transparent about one’s biases. In that spirit, I should point out that as an employee of the Perth Mint, the gold and silver ETFs are competitors of our Depository facility so it would be in my/our commercial interests for SLV or GLD to be revealed as a scam.

Unfortunately, I operate under the ethic of reciprocity, otherwise known as "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" so I'll have to be fair and factual in my analysis of this analysis. This may mean that, shock horror, I say some things in defence of SLV.

At this time I would also like to issue a warning that what follows is some technical nit picking probably only of interest to myself, PMR and a few other nerds, done on the basis that the PMR analysis is a working paper. If this sounds a bit too boring, and you are of a conspiracy bent, may I suggest this article to reinforce your prejudices. For those who think gold and silver “enthusiasts” are nutters, you’ll find this article more to your liking.

Firstly, it is worth noting the London Bullion Market Association’s (LBMA) delivery standards for 1000oz silver bars, as this is the standard to which the bars on the lists have been produced:

Minimum weight: 750 troy ounces
Maximum weight: 1100 troy ounces
Minimum purity: 99.9%
Weight rounding: rounded down to the nearest 0.10 of a troy ounce
* Brand
* Serial Number
* Year of Manufacture
* Purity
* Weight (optional on the bar but not on the bar list of course)

PMR makes reference to a choice of “primary key”, in other words, how does one uniquely identify a bar? I think it would be obvious to most that Brand and Serial Number together are needed, as we cannot assume that each manufacturer uses a totally unique numbering range or system.

However, it is crucial to note that many manufacturers restart serial numbers each year. By way of explanation, I quote from a letter dated 8 Dec 2004 from Johnson Matthey to the World Gold Council:

I am writing to confirm the marking protocol for Johnson Matthey Good Delivery Gold bars produced in the UK. Prior to 2002 all bars were stamped with a two letter code and number, i.e:– BT 12345 for a bar produced in 1999, CT 12345 for a bar produced in 2000. Therefore, some bars will have the same numbers but with different Pre-Fixes. Both the letter AND number combination need to be taken into account to identify the bar. After 2002 we moved to a year stamp i.e. 2003 and a number sequence.

This means that we must ensure a year designator is included along with the Brand and Serial Number in our Primary Key. In the case of the pre-2003 Johnson Matthey gold bars, the inclusion of the two letter prefix performs this function for us; for post-2002 bars, we would have to ensure there is a year prefix in the serial number.

Now this is where we come into a problem. A scroll through the 7000+ page SLV bar list reveals many occurrences of the same Brand and Serial Number but different weight (see page 509 for an example). The different weight implies that these are different bars and that the person originally recording the bar’s details failed to include the year prefix (either as letters or the actual year) in the serial number or as a separate field in the bar list. This means we are unable to conclusively create a unique identifier.

I would note at this point that it is necessary to know which manufacturers restart serial numbers each year and also their serial number/ marking protocol. This is the only way to know if a serial number we see for a bar on a listing is complete or is missing the year prefix.

As an alternative to contacting each manufacturer for their serial numbering protocol, I would suggest combining all published silver bar listings and then analysing for what PMR calls “Internal Duplicates” (common Brand and Serial Number). Manufacturers with no restarting policy would show no (or few, if you’re expecting fraud) duplicate serial numbers. Those with many duplicate serial numbers and differing weights would imply a restarting policy (Britannia Refined Metals is one clear example). Further analysis may reveal patterns in the serial numbering enabling confidence which part of the serial number represents the year.

At this point I would also make a small point about human error. In the last audit of GLD Inspectorate International Ltd did a random check of 7772 bars out of a total of 88445. They found 22 bars with incorrectly recorded serial numbers (a 0.28% error rate). I quote this not to make excuses, but as a reminder there is such a thing as human error. In a case of duplication we must therefore consider the possibility of recording error. What is a reasonable error rate can be debated, but I would note that in the surface finish of 1000oz silver bars can be heavily pitted, resulting in digits of the serial number or weight not stamping clearly. In my previous roles in the Perth Mint I have done many stocktakes and can confirm that the quality of some manufacturers leaves a lot to be desired and have had some difficultly confirming bar markings.

Given the above, for those manufacturers with no restarting policy, one can confidently use a Primary Key composed of Brand and Serial Number only. Therefore I would suggest that PMR first needs to prove/establish which manufacturers have no restarting policy. Then, if they find the existence of an identical weight for such branded bars, they have clear proof of a duplicate, or double counting.

The rest of the discussion below focuses on those manufacturers with a restarting policy. In this case one first has to look at the recording accuracy of the serial numbers. A cursory look at the SLV list reveals that Britannia Refined Metals, Cominco Ltd Tadanac Canada and Russian State Refineries operate under a restarting policy due to the existence of many duplicate serial numbers with different weights. Therefore, for these manufacturers the occurrence of a duplicate serial numbers with the same weight is not conclusive proof of itself that we have a duplicate bar, as the serial number may be incorrectly recorded.

As a result, I do not feel that PMR’s "Perfect Internal Duplicate" (identical brand, serial number and weight) rate of 0.0242% for SLV (69 bars out of 285479) is not conclusively proven at this stage. I would note that removing the three manufacturers mentioned above brings this duplication rate down to 11 bars.

One way around the problem of restarted serial numbers, but incomplete recording of year to distinguish duplicated serial numbers for a manufacturer, is (apart from custodians producing a decent/detailed bar list to start with) to look at the frequency of what PMR calls “Rough Internal Duplicates” (identical brand and weight with an almost-identical serial number (eg AB1024 vs 1024). Effectively this is the process of stripping out the year identifier from the serial number so that all serial numbers for that manufacturer are on “equal footing”, so to speak.

PMR makes reference to the technique of removing prefixes in this comment and this comment. But for this to be valid PMR must first prove/establish which manufacturers restart their serial numbers each year and then their serial number/ marking protocol. If for a certain manufacturer the prefix is not a year designator but just part of the sequential serial number, then removing it creates false duplications. It would be the same as removing the first digit from identical weighted bars with serial numbers 1234 and 2234 and concluding they are the same bar.

It is worth noting at this time that the LBMA standards round down actual weights to the nearest 0.10 of a troy ounce. This means that two bars with a reported (bar listing weight) of 1001.1 could actually be two different bars with weights of 1001.11 and 1001.19 when put on scales. This complicates things so lets park this to the side for now.

PMR notes that “To find the same manufacturer with an identical bar weights is not unusual, but beyond some expected statistical occurance it is”. This statement depends on one crucial assumption – the normal distribution of bar weights. As PMR says, “If these exceed what would be predicted by the Gaussian bell curve, one explanation which may be considered is bar ‘cloning’”. I would caution here that normal distributions assume random variables.

Remember that the LBMA standards accept bars with weights between 750 troy ounces and 1100 troy ounces. The reason for this is that is make manufacture of the bars cheaper as one does not have to accurately weigh out granules/shot of silver for each bar – these are industrial wholesale bars after all.

The minimum of 750 is in reality too low and in my experience the distribution of weights is not so wide. One commentator has noted that “there seem to be two categories of weights, one with target weight of 970 oz., the other one 1030 oz”, which does not surprise me. The point I would like to make is that I think a proper statistical analysis of the weight distributions will show that they are not normally distributed and have a material amount of skewness and peaks around certain weights.

To understand why this is the case, consider that pouring bars is much like making cupcakes or muffins. You have standardises moulds in which you pour your cake mixture. One can expect that first time cooks will put too much or too little in, and their resulting muffins are too big or too small. However, over time one builds up skill to the point that we would observe that each muffin is very much the same size.

There is no difference with pouring bars. If you have an experienced pourer, you can expect that they sequence of bars they pour have little variation in weight. You can also expect that some pourers err on the side of underweight bars (too much and the silver may spill on the floor) whereas other more experienced pourers are confident with attempting to fill the mould. If you had an entire sequence of serial numbers, you may also find a group where the bar weights are all over the place – this being when the apprentice pourer had their first go. Wide bar weights could also indicate a workplace where the staff don’t have any pride in their job, so don’t care about accuracy, or maybe where the expected work rate is high so it is not possible to be accurate.

The result is that even within manufacturers their may be significant variances in what constitutes a “normal distribution” of bar weights. I am sure statisticians have ways around this, and PMR needs to get a bit more sophisticated in this regard if it is to make a conclusive case.

Finally, I’d like to make some comments on the three other types of duplicates PMR referred to in their analysis.

Weight Duplicate (brand and weight): Of itself, this is the most useless of the duplicates. Considering the weight variances discussed above, it is inevitable that for any manufacturer over many years of production there will be many duplications of weight. The real use of this is to establish the distribution of weights (histogram) for a manufacturer as a basis against which to check whether an observed frequency of duplicate weights is “normal”.

Internal Duplicate (serial number and brand): Given that some manufacturers restart numbering each year, the lack of a year designator (either as letter prefix or year incorporated into the serial number) means that this duplicate is of no use in proving double counting. It is clear from the Britannia bars (see page 509 of the SLV listing) where there are many occurrences of duplicate serial numbers (but different weights) that the year or year prefix has been left off the bar listing. This use of this duplicate is in determining which manufacturers restart serial numbering and which do not.

Cross Reference Duplicate (brand and serial number on two different ETFs): Again, because we have established that serial numbers are not consistently incorporating the year of manufacture, this duplication is not conclusive proof. For those manufacturers with restarting serial numbers, you also need the addition of weight. I would also note that both lists are not issued at the same time: ETFS bar list is dated 29 July 2009 whereas SLV bar list is dated 24 July 2009, which does allow for the fact that bars redeemed by market makers out of one ETF could have been reallocated to the other ETF (note that both ETFs store their metal in London and allow for sub-custodians, so it is possible that one custodian holds bars for both ETFs).

24 July 2009

Isaac Newton and the madness of people

Great quote by Isaac Newtwon from this Bloomberg story about a new book, “Newton and the Counterfeiter”.

In 1720 Isaac Newton lost millions in today’s currency in the infamous South Sea Bubble. He hated being reminded of any mistake. The only reference that people have found to his South Sea losses is in the comment:

“I can calculate the orbit of a comet, but I cannot calculate the madness of the people.”

21 July 2009


Received the email "parable" below today. Interesting that I received it just after reading Chris Leithner's latest newsletter (yesterdays post) - synchronicity?

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before but had once failed an entire class.

That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism. All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade."

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B.

The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.

As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Could not be any simpler than that.

20 July 2009

Leithner and Macfarlane

Interesting newsletter, as always, from Chris Leithner on Crusoe Economics, but not for those who like Kevin Rudd (the Poindexter of the title): Poindexter: Philosophical Mediocrity, Economic Illiterate and Evil Political Genius

Also worth a read is Jame Macfarlane's article If The Future's So Bright How Come I Don’t Need Shades?:

"... rumors of the economy’s rebound have been greatly exaggerated. And that’s the thrust of this article. I wish to argue that we are not now, nor will we soon be, in a recovery. This point will be made simply by demonstrating that we are not actually in a recession. Rather, we are in a depression. I present this thesis on the basis that information is power, and that being forewarned allows one to become forearmed."

15 July 2009

2009 isn't 1979

Many commentators like to draw parallels between the run up in the gold price in 1980 and now, or to look for matching patterns. A perfect example of this is a chart by www.zealllc.com where he overlays 1971-1981 over 2001-2009, but I can't find the link at the moment.

When reading Martin Armstrong's Practical “Laws” of Global Economics (26 Nov 2008) this bit got me thinking about drawing parallels:

Before fax machines, the analysis I produced was delivered by Western Union via telex and in the early 1980s, sending just one telex on one market cost $50 to the middle east. Every day, each market was covered in the financial group including precious metals, stock indexes, and all major currencies. The cost to take all the subscriptions could exceed $200,000 just in telex fees that adjusted for inflation in 2006 dollars would be $1.6 - $2 million. So the audience just happened to be the major institutions and government around the world.

Compare the slowness, and limited distribution, of information at that time to what the Internet now provides us with. As a result I can see no validity in trying to deduce what will happen to the gold price by analysing movements from the 1970s, apart from generalisations. Information flow and feedback are hyper accelerated. So will be the rush to gold if (when) confidence in fiat is lost.

The Story of the Gold Standard

While this Australian Radio National program on the Gold Standard is a bit one sided, worth a read. Summary:

Once upon a time currencies were backed up by gold - piles of gold bullion sitting in bank vaults. When the gold standard was abandoned during the Great Depression, there was public panic, and the end of Western civilisation was predicted. Luckily that didn't happen, but could the present crisis be a reason to return to the gold standard?

06 July 2009

AUSTRAC Identification Rules

Further to my post on AUSTRAC rules on identification for bullion transactions, I can report that the Perth Mint has just received an approval to set the limit above which some form of identification for a bullion transaction is required from $2,000 to $5,000. This now gives some more room for people to privately acquire gold and silver.

Looking at page 11 of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Rules Amendment Instrument 2009 (No. 2), it appears this approval is for every bullion dealer, not just the Perth Mint. If you are having problems with bullion dealers wanting to ID you for deals under $5,000, maybe handy to show them this Amendment Instrument.