27 December 2011

Is PAGE dead on PBOC ban on non-Shanghai gold exchanges?

Mineweb (ex-Reuters) is reporting that "Gold exchanges in China outside of two in Shanghai are to be banned, authorities said in a statement released on Tuesday."

Looks like the much hyped Pan Asia Gold Exchange is dead. Not sure where this leaves those who claimed that it "will ultimately destroy the remaining short positions in both gold and silver".

I will come back to this story but for the moment I want to see how the pumpers and hype merchants spin it, or unspin what they said before.

I also find it interesting that this story breaks at the same time as China Daily reports that "China should further diversify its foreign-exchange portfolio and make more gold purchases when the metal's price dips but is still at a relatively high level, a senior central bank official said on Monday."

What is China's game re gold? How can we weave these two stories into a coherent explanation?

23 December 2011

Safety cookies

What are safety cookies? Gold coins. Very amusing charaterisation in this article from Terry Coxon of Casey Research

Terry sees safety cookies (or coins in your pocket) as the first rung on the ladder of internationalisation. In light of the recent IRS reporting requirements, which require US persons to report "all worldwide assets subject to exceptions and applicable threshold amounts", you could also call coins privacy cookies.

22 December 2011

Unsegregated Allocated

Following on from this post from 2009 where I identified five types of storage (Segregated Allocated, Unsegregated Allocated, Unsegregated Physical Backed, Unallocated Fully Hedged, Unallocated Unhedged), we now have confirmation that "Allocated" metal at a bullion bank is unsegregated from this interview with Kyle Bass (42 minute mark) where he talks about bars being all over the place when they did an audit.

The unsegregated nature of bullion bank allocated is why Bob Pisani picked up the wrong bar in his visit to the GLD vault as part of a HSBC promo.

This unsegregated storage is not necessarily a problem and would not make a difference in any bankrupty of a custodian as the key "segregation" is the specific bar numbers and weights in the client name. Whether bars belonging to two different clients sit together on the same pallet or are on separate pallets separated by air, I cannot see making a difference.

GoldMoney is no longer Gold Money

Digital Gold Currency Magazine is reporting that GoldMoney is suspending the ability to make and receive payments in precious metals to or from other GoldMoney customers due to the "global increase of compliance requirements for payment service providers."

This capability was the key differentiator of GoldMoney to other online precious metal storage businesses. It is an unfortunate development for gold standard advocates.

The decision was not entirely driven by increased regulations as GoldMoney also indicate that "our customers’ use of the metal payments and currency exchange services is not significant." Looks like a case of disporportionate compliance effort for GoldMoney on something that didn't drive business.

Interesting then that customers have voted and said they aren't really interested in gold as money. Possibly this may change if those customers are faced with high inflation or banking system instability, but it will be hard for GoldMoney to restart the functionality and catch up with any regulatory requirements in place at the time (assuming there is any regulatory tolerance for alternative payment systems at that time).

Freegold anyone?

20 December 2011

Has Gold's Uptrend Been Broken?

I have a post up on the corporate blog featuring a Sharelynx log chart of the gold price.

There is also a very good video of why gold was (is?) favoured as money over other elements/metals in this post The Science Of Gold

And in response to this cheeky question from JR re that post "Is the Perth Mint claiming that gold is money due to its unaltering quality!?", the answer is No. The "What others are thinking" category on the corporate blog is for non official views and maybe the wording "gold is all but unrivalled as the outstanding candidate for money" could have been a bit more qualified in retrospect. :)

17 December 2011

My thoughts on Freegold

A reader, LS, asked for my thoughts on the following topics:

1) freegold
2) the gold for oil trade
3) the current price is not a real physical price of gold because of happenings in COMEX/LBMA
4) do you believe the current world affairs will resolve itself towards freegold or something similar?

Firstly, I haven't had the time to read FOFOA in depth given the amount of material and thus give it justice. My comments here are therefore tentative thoughts.

Freegold is very interesting and I can see the logic of the idea of leaving fiat to perform the medium of exchange role and gold the wealth store role. I have a feeling free banking (see also) and a restriction on maturity transformation would need to be involved for it to work. There is a hell of a lot of discussion condensed in that sentence, more than I have time for at the moment.

I would also argue that Freegold needs to allow gold leasing but not gold lending. By "leasing" I mean as in leasing a car, ie physical asset rented (not borrowed and sold). Manufacturers of gold products like the Perth Mint could not operate without leasing because with Freegold's ban on lending of gold and other financialisations it would be difficult (impossible?) to hedge against gold price movements.

This leads to my next point, which is that the gold price under Freegold would not be stable and still exhibit some volatility. This is because under Freegold people can save excess wealth either in gold or by investing in productive enterprises (ie true investment). Human nature being what it is we will still have overestimation of the success of productive enterprises, thus failures, thus business cycles, ths varying preferences to store wealth in gold versus investments.

On the Oil/Gold idea, I don't have an option as this is not an area of FOFOA I've looked at much.

The current price is a real physical price as physical buyers and sellers of size (giants) are willing to exchange at that price. When aversion to counterparty risk really hits market players (MF Global you'd think should have been enough), then we will see a divergence between paper and physical.

As to the fourth question, well this is bound to my answer in the paragraph above, which is a necessary condition, but not sufficient, for Freegold to emerge. You would also need consensus that a gold standard is not the answer, and there are strong forces working towards that end. Possibly the biggest problem is getting people to understand the reason why financialisation of gold needs to be banned. How it will end is impossible to predict.

Either way it is going to be exciting to see how it plays out.

15 December 2011

FOFOA, New Vaults and physical/paper price

A couple of weeks ago FOFOA made the following statement:

Do you remember the stories about HSBC clearing out space in their vaults, or JP Morgan building new vaults? What could be the explanation for this if the aggregate gold stock is so stable? Then it occurred to me that unallocated storage is much more space-efficient because the gold sits stacked on pallets. Allocated gold often gets put into cubby holes to assist in recordkeeping. That takes up much more space. So the process of allocation after many decades of non-allocation requires an expansion of vault space. This is how I now interpret these stories.

I left a comment suggesting other reasons for new vaults:

1. Investment's share of demand vs jewellery/industry is much higher now compared to past, thus more going into vaults rather than around necks.

2. ETFs and others (eg Goldmoney) share of investment demand vs coin/bar is greater compared to past, thus more going into vaults rather than backyards.

3. Industry consolidation during gold bear market meant vault closures and thus increase in utilisation of remaining vaults, leaving less spare capacity to absorb above factors before new vaults were needed.

Just to clarify that last point, say there were 10 vaults with capacity of 100oz but each was only holding 60oz. Total spare capacity is 400oz. Then you have 3 vaults close during gold's bear market and metal is moved into the remaining 7 vaults. You now have 600oz in 7 vaults, leaving only spare capacity of 100oz.

Another point is that allocated metal is not "often gets put into cubby holes". Allocated does not rely on physical segregation by client. For example, you can have a pallet of 32 x 400oz bars with 32 owners of each specific bar number on that pallet. My guess is that except for all but the most paranoid client (mostly likely central banks), most allocated at bullion banks is held this way, rather than piles segregated by client.

I also forgot to mention that my guess is that the amount of physical supporting unallocated metal accounts with bullion banks has increased, that is the fractionalisation has declined. This puts further pressure on vault capacity.

Evidence for this is that whereas unallocated accounts were free a number of years ago, there is now a small fee on unallocated. My guess is that the physical turnover/redemptions have increased in line with a more busy gold market and thus bullion banks have needed to hold more physical to back their unallocated to deal with day to day fluctuations.

Of course it could just be the banks going for a fee grab if they felt their clients would just accept it.

And while I'm doing posts on my comments on FOFOA's blog, here is another for those who don't follow the FOFOA blog comments closely - and I can understand that considering some posts get 400+ comments (link here):

Re 1) [major refiners would start posting their own price for physical gold, having their own auctions, making the trading volume public], that is what the Perth Mint already does. The 5 tonne or so per week we refine is currently auctioned. Settlement can be full cash, but mostly is done in London paper gold plus a cash premium. I just watch this premium, it will tell me when paper gold has really disconnected.

BTW, miners sell their metal to us either for cash or swap for paper gold (which they then on trade).

The system will break when miners find few willing to take their paper gold or the price offered is much lower than what we will pay. And in that situation we will always be after to better the offers they get because we are getting better prices for the real physical at the other end.

Because the Perth Mint stands as intermediary between physical buyer and physical seller, the miner is always informed as to the real price of gold.

We are not reliant on the London market to tell us the price, we make a Perth price every day. However currently London is a convenient settlement mechanism for us the miners and the buyers, but it is just to help the flow.

14 December 2011

Negative Gold Lease Rates (again)

If Tom from Metal Augmentor keeps on putting out great stuff like this post on negative lease rates, then I'll be out of a (blogging) job.

It is heavy going but a comprehensive discussion of the issue with a dramatic speculation that "The selective collateral nature of the tri-party format may force bullion banks to eventually declare their unallocated LBMA gold accounts as backed by 100% physical bullion." Other key points if you don't have the time to read the 8500 word article:

"leasing is probably done directly by the bullion banks on behalf of commercial banks for a fee. Instead of pledging the assets acquired with the sale proceeds of gold leased pursuant to a carry trade, the borrower of gold now pledges existing collateral that it could not otherwise sell without incurring a loss. The central bank accommodates the gold leasing by accepting a wide range of collateral that would be otherwise prohibited in conventional funding schemes"

"An outright sale of gold could always be hedged by acquiring a gold forward contract. Therefore, even if gold leasing has not experienced a recent resurgence, the increase in the gold forward rate indicates that owners selling gold to generate liquidity still want their gold back once the funding need has abated. The combination of a falling gold price and rising forward rate is quite a bullish feature of the gold market that is lost in the reporting on negative gold lease rates."

"the persistence of negative lease rates could be accompanied by the emergence of something entirely new: The result could be negative gold “lease rates” as gold price expectations may create an entirely new phenomenon: cash borrowed to buy gold for future delivery (what I call “gold bonds”). In effect, this is the equivalent of gold owners forward selling their gold at higher and higher prices, and receiving cash up front to be used for current liquidity needs. The above scenario may appear a lot like the current futures market because it involves leverage but the difference is that “gold bond” transactions are 100% backed by metal."

A few of comments:

Tom: "From the perspective of the borrower (typically a bullion bank or its customer, a hedge fund), gold was historically leased as a way to fund a gold carry trade under which excess returns could be earned by using the sales proceeds from leased gold to purchase highly-rated securities meeting the central bank’s collateral requirements."

Bron: This is by far the major use of leased gold, but gold can also be leased by users/manufacturers of gold products to provide physical funding of their work in progress inventories, which does not involve any sale of the leased gold.

Tom: "As just mentioned, the gold (or silver) lease rate does not represent the actual rate at which lease transactions are being done in the market. The published lease rate is simply an indicated value derived from two related variables, the gold forward rate and LIBOR."

Bron: In support I would say that the Perth Mint has always paid positive lease rates when borrowing gold, although it does so for inventory funding rather than carry trade etc reasons. Note Perth Mint borrows without posting ANY collateral because of the West Australian Government's AAA rating.

Tom: "a customer may execute a gold swap with a bullion bank pursuant to which the customer’s physical gold is initially stored in an unallocated account and used as the collateral for dollars loaned to the customer. The bullion bank then sells the gold from the unallocated account to replenish its funds and concurrently enters into a gold forward contract with a gold refinery. The forward contract is then used to back the gold liability to the customer."

Bron: My emphasis on "physical" in that. This sequence of transactions is what fractional bullion banking is. In this case the customer's metal is "lent" to the refiner.

Tom: "sane market participants will naturally demand that gold as a financial instrument retain its utility as the ultimate collateral for non-recourse funding. Under these circumstances, the appearance of 100% physical backed LBMA unallocated bullion accounts seems like a very good possibility"

Bron: I note that some years ago balances in LBMA unallocated accounts attracted no fee, whereas now there is a very small account fee as % of value. Indication perhaps that bullion banks have had to increase the percentage of physical backing unallocated (and thus need to recover that cost) due to an increase in physical redemption/turnover on those accounts.

12 December 2011

MF Global and HSBC case

As usual, Zero Hedge and others hype a story way beyond the reality (see here for the Bloomberg story), such as:

ZH: "is whether or not MF Global was rehypothecating (there is that word again), or lending, or repoing, or whatever you want to call it, that one physical asset that it should not have been transferring ownership rights to under any circumstances."
TF: "A lawsuit such as this one could easily bring about the total destruction of the Comex/LBMA-based, fractional bullion banking system"

Here is a suggestion, read the actual Interpleader Complaint for the facts:

1. Mr. Fane and MFGI entered into five COMEX gold contracts and three COMEX silver contracts relating to the Property. HSBC is the depository for the Property pursuant to a certain Gold Delivery Point Agreement and a certain Silver Delivery Point Agreement entered into between HSBC and the New York Mercantile Exchange, Inc.
2. By e-mail dated October 25, 2011, MFGI notified HSBC that "MF Global’s customer Mr. Fane would like to take possession of [the Property] and move [the Property] to his account at Brinks (sic). I have already canceled for load out. Customer will advise of date and time.”
3. Mr. Fane did not contact HSBC to request that the Property be transferred to his account at Brink’s prior to the Commencement Date.
4. By letter dated November 18, 2011, HSBC, through its undersigned counsel, notified the Trustee that it had possession of the Property. HSBC also notified the Trustee, in light of HSBC having received instructions from MFGI prior to the Commencement Date to transfer the property to Mr. Fane upon his request, that HSBC would act in accordance with MFGI’s prior instructions barring an injunction or contrary instructions from the Trustee.
5. By letter dated November 21, 2011, Mr. Fane requested that HSBC transfer the Property to his account at Brink’s.
6. By letter dated November 22, 2011, the Trustee, through his counsel, asserted to HSBC that the Property constitutes customer property under Part 190 Regulations of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and that the treatment of the Property must be administered by the Trustee. The Trustee further instructed HSBC not to release the Property to Mr. Fane.
7. By letter dated November 22, 2011, HSBC notified Mr. Fane that the Trustee had instructed HSBC not to release the Property to him and that the Trustee asserted an interest in and claim to the Property.

Not being a lawyer, I read this as "before you went bankrupt, you said I could have my metal", "yeah, well, you didn't take it before I went bankrupt, so it is now part of the bankruptcy proceedings".

So no rehypothecation or loaning, no "suing" by HSBC, no stealing or counterfeiting of the bars and certainly not the total destruction of bullion banking. Just another lesson in counterparty exposure and possession is nine tenths of the law.