Gold, the precious metal most often thought of as money, is in short supply. In fact, the existing above ground horde is so small one has to question whether it is realistic to think of it as having a serious role as money in the future. The fact is there just isn’t enough of it and - once institutional and private investors realize that the supply is so disarmingly, and alarmingly, insignificant - prices will go parabolic.
Which Countries Own Gold?
The top 8 countries owning gold via their central banks are the United States, with 8,133.5 tons, followed in descending order by Germany, Italy, France, China, Switzerland, Japan and the Netherlands. None of these countries formally back their currency with this precious metal so why do they possess such substantial quantities? One can only speculate but it is probably because of their continuing belief that gold is ‘real money’ compared to the coloured paper and numeric symbols on computer screens that are the ultimate in ‘make believe’.
How Much Does the IMF Own?
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) owns the third highest quantity of gold with close to 3,000 tons, after selling some 200 tons from its inventory earlier this year, and is making an increasing fuss over its desire to lead in forming a new international currency based on its (SDR’s) Special Drawing Rights.
What Quantity do the Various Gold ETFs Supposedly Own?
The most significant non-governmental holders of gold are the relatively new Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). These gold bullion ETFs are sold through stock exchanges and can be bought (and sold) by retail investors through their stock broker like most common stocks. In aggregate, these bullion ETF’s ostensibly own more than 1,856 tons of gold, enough to rank them as the sixth largest holders of gold bullion.
To What Extent Are the Various Gold ETFs’ Holdings Backed By Physical Gold?
Unfortunately, the rapid growth of the bullion ETFs raise questions concerning exactly how much of their holdings are backed by metal in a vault and how much is just another version of ‘paper gold’.
ETFs Lack Operational Transparency
Complexity and opacity of their organizational structures and operating procedures leave many questions unanswered. Their prospectuses merely add to the fog. Most ETFs are layered organizations acting as trusts and repositories coupled with unclear practices concerning audits, segregation and allocation of the metals, unknown location of vaults and where the metals are sourced, and no clarity as to what extent the metals are leased or owned outright.
What is the Value of Gold’s Above Ground Inventory?
The total value of all the gold that exists in the world is roughly US $5 trillion at today’s price and, in terms of physical size, represents a cube measuring 66.5 feet. That’s not that much from either perspective.
What is the Value of the World’s Annual Gold Production?
The world’s annual gold production totals US $73 billion (and silver only US $10.3 billion) at today’s price. Compare that with the projected United States budgetary deficit for fiscal year 2010 of US $1.6 trillion, the official U.S. accumulated debt of US $13 trillion and unfunded contingent future liabilities and obligations of well over US $100 trillion and one realizes just how infinitesimal such production is. In addition, in spite of a 400 % rise in the price of gold over the past ten years, annual production has not been growing which has prompted some analysts to conclude that ‘peak gold’ is now, in fact, a reality, much like the scarcity of new oil supplies.
COMEX (Commodities Exchange) based in New York and the LME (London Metals Exchange) based in the UK are the two principal markets for trading gold futures contracts. Frequently the volumes of trades which take place here are cited as evidence that there is plenty of metal available to easily satisfy all central bank, industrial and investor demand but is that really the case? Associated bullion bank depository warehouse vaults are seemingly as opaque in their reports as are bullion ETF’s. Use of a variety of vague terms to describe the status of holdings such as ‘Registered’ and ‘Eligible’ are part of the problem. Central banks are similarly guilty of obfuscation by using terms such as ‘Bullion Reserve’, ‘Custodial Bullion Reserve’ and ‘Deep Storage’ gold.
The central point to be derived from an examination of futures trading in gold is that it is principally a paper trading exercise. It is the ultimate in ‘paper gold’ in that less than one percent of trades are settled by taking delivery of the metal. Since most traders are more than prepared to be paid out in cash, the metals exchanges have good reason not to hold an inventory of the metal since it isn’t needed for the settlement of trades.
Unfortunately, most people not directly involved in the business assume that the vast quantities of paper traded on the COMEX and LME is a proxy for the real deal...gold bullion. Trades are not, and apparently never have been, backed by the physical metal except in relative token fashion. Some analysts may consider this reality an attempt at deception. This writer takes no position on the issue, except to state, unequivocally, that the metals exchanges do not possess any meaningful inventory of gold bullion.
Where’s the Gold!?
“Where’s the Gold?” is a valid question for all of us who consider ourselves investors in the precious metals sector whether we own bullion and take possession or not or whether we invest only in precious metals mining companies. All of us need to ponder the same question if for no other reason than to question our prospects for future capital appreciation.
This writer contends that, given the relative scarcity of gold and silver bullion supply, prices will go parabolic once institutional and private investors realize supply is disarmingly insignificant. Also refer to my previous article on the future parabolic rise in the price of gold as posted on munKNEE.com at: http://www.munknee.com/2010/06/gold-going-to-parabolic-top-of-10000-by-2012-%e2%80%93-for-good-reasons/
Arnold Bock is a frequent contributor to both www.FinancialArticleSummariesToday.com and www.munKNEE.com. He can be reached by sending an email to email@example.com