When most precious metals commentators (including myself) recommend gold and silver to investors, we label it as a means of “wealth preservation,” or simply as “insurance.” Few (serious) commentators talk about bullion as a means of “making money” (above and beyond the rate of inflation).
The reason for this is clear. When one is strongly encouraging people to “play defense” and focus on wealth preservation and “insuring” that wealth, then it is simply inappropriate to advertise precious metals as some sort of get-rich-quick scheme. Nonetheless, investors are naturally curious to know if bullion will ‘only’ provide them with wealth preservation, or whether they can actually expect real gains in the price of bullion – in other words, does it offer a rate of return above the real rate of inflation.
The best/easiest way to answer that question is to compare the rate of change in global wealth levels with the rate of change in global, bullion stockpiles. However, such a direct analysis is not practical, for two reasons. First, with humanity having mined-and-refined precious metals for close to 5,000 years, we can only make a crude guess at the total amounts of bullion which have been refined.
Secondly, in the case of gold, much of these global stockpiles would simply never come onto the market – at any price. Many of the world’s most treasured religious/cultural icons contain lavish amounts of gold, and all of that gold could never come onto the market unless/until those religions were to die-out. There is also vast quantities of antique jewelry, and irrespective of the price of bullion, such bullion will always command an additional premium as an antiquity – meaning that such items will forever remain a part of the antiques-market, not the gold-market.
In the case of silver, global stockpiles must be much more radically revised – to reflect the fact that most of the world’s silver has (literally) been “consumed” by industrial applications. Compounding this, as I reported in a recent commentary, inventory and stockpile numbers for silver have been grossly distorted by “lapses” in record-keeping which are so absurd and glaring that they strongly suggest a deliberate attempt to deceive.
Deprived of using the most direct means of assessing the increase (or decrease) in the absolute value of bullion, we can fortunately rely upon a “proxy” for this measurement – using data which is readily available, and relatively reliable.
While we can’t measure the absolute change in bullion stockpiles, we can measure the rate of change in those stockpiles, or (in other words) the acceleration or deceleration in the change of those stockpiles. Similarly, we can measure the acceleration or deceleration in global incomes. By comparing the two rates of change, we can come up with a clear measurement as to whether bullion is becoming “absolutely” more valuable (i.e. its value is increasing faster than inflation) or only “relatively” more valuable (that is, bullion only tracks the rate of inflation, but produces no “real” gains).
Because of the dramatic differences in the fundamentals for the gold and silver markets, and because the gold market is, by far, the larger of the two markets (at the moment), I will restrict my analysis to the gold market, with the obvious implication that whatever conclusion is produced for the gold market will be applicable (in approximate terms) to the silver market.
With respect to the rate of change in gold stockpiles, the principal variable is mine-supply. Roughly nine years into this gold bull-market, and after a quintupling in the price of gold, mine supply is “flat” (at best) with a clear trend toward lower production over the long-term.
Because increases in the price of a good (especially large increases) are supposed to lead to increased supply, the actual data is not what we would have expected. Mining experts will tell you that it takes “5 to 10 years” to start bringing new supply on-stream: the time it takes to develop a gold deposit “from scratch”.
With year-after-year of strong price-growth, we should have seen some clear evidence of rising mine supply by now. The fact that this supply-growth is absent is leading myself (and a growing number of other precious metals commentators) to suggest – if not embrace – the concept of “peak gold”.
In this respect, I’m influnced by the superb research into commodities markets which was undertaken by Chris Martenson, and reflected in his ground-breaking presentation: “The Crash Course”. Martenson constructs many eloquent and powerful arguments that “peak supply” is a concept which is applicable (to greater or lesser degrees) to many of our most “precious” non-renewable resources. I encourage all doubters to take the time to view this presentation – with the expectation that there will be far fewer “doubters” once they view Martenson’s analysis.
There is, however, a second component to the rate of change in gold stockpiles. Because gold is the world’s best “money,” it has been almost completely “conserved” by our species. In other words, nearly every ounce of gold ever mined could (theoretically) be gathered together, into a single stockpile. On a much more practical level, what this means is that significant amounts of gold are continually being recycled through “scrap sales” – primarily selling old, gold jewelry, melting it down, and re-converting it to ingots.
Once again, we have an “expectation,” based upon the fundamentals of economics: as the price of gold rises, we would expect more and more of this scrap-supply to come onto the market. In fact, as with mine supply, the actual data does not reflect the expected trend.
More specifically, scrap-supply is also relatively “flat”, although there is much more volatility in this part of the gold market – meaning that this number regularly bounces up and down. In reviewing the fundamentals of the gold market, the World Gold Council has concluded that scrap-supply has not been a simple function of price, but instead is a more complicated function of the rate of change in price.
What the World Gold Council has observed (to date) is that while there has been no steady trend higher in scrap-supply to match the advance of prices, whenever there is a sudden spike in the price of gold, there is a corresponding spike in scrap-supply – but these “spikes” are of very brief duration.
In this respect, I can go beyond the analysis of the World Gold Council to provide a more detailed explanation for this fact-pattern. As I mention on a regular basis, we are being subjected to an endless deluge of anti-gold propaganda. Indeed, it is now impossible to go even a single week without some pseudo-expert boldly proclaiming a “bubble” in the gold market.
As I pointed out in a recent commentary, such articles not only reflect the sheer idiocy of the author(s), but are in fact completely immoral. Discouraging people from acquiring (and keeping) their gold and silver insurance – while bankers destroy our wealth with the most insane money-printing in human history – is identical, conceptually, to discouraging people from getting fire insurance for their homes, in the middle of an epidemic of arson. These bullion “Chicken Littles” should be both ignored and reviled.
Nonetheless, these despicable fear-mongers have served one “purpose” in the gold market: they are continually flushing-out all of the potential, short-term sellers of scrap-gold – and suddenly the pattern observed by the World Gold Council makes perfect sense.
With gold being ridiculously under-valued (even if we use the fraudulent inflation numbers of the US government to gauge this), all the ridiculous bubble-propaganda generally only has a mild impact on the gold market. It’s only when there is a sudden spike in the price of gold that the bubble-propaganda becomes plausible to significant numbers of gold-holders – and thus they start selling.
Thanks to this phenomenon, we can rule-out one of the warnings of the gold-bears: that, at some point in time, there will be a “flood” of scrap-gold coming onto the market. Indeed, without the perpetual, round-the-clock gold-bashing, and bubble-propaganda, that would have been a reasonable prediction. However, because the Chicken Littles are ensuring maximum sales of scrap at every price level, gold investors can confidently rely upon the fact (confirmed by nine years of empirical evidence) that there will never be any floods of scrap-sales – apart from the very short-term spikes previously mentioned. In other words, thanks to the manipulative propaganda, scrap sales can also be considered as a flat variable.
In fact, there is a persuasive argument to be made that we will begin to see a steady trend lower in scrap sales. If it sounds intuitively absurd that people would start selling less gold, after a quintupling in price, and with the price still rising, we need only look at the Central Bankers: the world’s foremost, monetary “experts.”
These officials, who are literally “worshiped” by most of the slavish, mainstream media, spent roughly 20 years dumping their bullion at a furious rate, and at fire-sale prices. Now, only after gold has quintupled in price are these “experts” experiencing “sellers’ remorse”. Central bank sales of bullion have not only ground to a complete halt, but now these esteemed-experts are buying back the gold they previously dumped at a fraction of current prices.
What has prompted the world’s foremost experts on monetary policy to engage in the practice of “selling (very) low” and “buying (very) high?” Simple. These are the same officials who are destroying our (paper) currencies with their money-printing – and thus they know (better than anyone else on the planet) that gold will continue to rapidly appreciate versus their own debauched, diluted paper.
The tidal wave of inflation which is being unleashed by these reckless, monetary pirates is only just beginning to be felt by the average person. Indeed, Wal-Mart just reported a 6% month-over-month change in store prices. This translates to an annual inflation rate of 72%, and represents the largest month-over-month price increases in Wal-Mart history.
What this means is that we have every reason to believe that individual gold-holders will undergo the same born-again transformation to “gold bugs” which we have seen with central banks. Thus, we could easily see scrap sales suddenly collapse.
Tempering this trend, however, is the economic reality that ordinary individuals have had their standards of living destroyed by the greed and incompetence of bankers. Because of this, many ordinary citizens may be forced to liquidate some of their bullion – to simply survive. Indeed, we (as precious metals commentators) would be charlatans, ourselves, if we told people that they needed precious metals “insurance” – and then predicted that they would never use it.
It is impossible to precisely quantify these variables, but certainly not unreasonable to treat this as a neutral factor: that while extreme volatility will continue to exist in scrap-sales, the overall trend will be flat. After all this analysis, we ultimately reach a simple position: on the supply side, we should expect neither acceleration or deceleration in the supply of gold.
This means we can answer our initial question (will bullion appreciate in absolute terms?) by focusing totally on the “demand” side: the acceleration (or deceleration) in global incomes. This analysis will be much simpler (and shorter) as it can be laid out very clearly.
The statistic which I will focus upon is GNI (or “Gross National Income”) per capita.
Global per capita GNI:
2001: $5120 (USD)
Looking at global incomes for the entire duration of this bullion bull-market (up to the end of 2009), we see that they have increased by just over 70%. With an acceleration in global incomes of 70%, while there has been zero acceleration in gold supplies, this one piece of data (alone) indicates that since the bull-market began, gold has become 70% more valuable (above and beyond all inflation over that span).
There are two reasons why we don’t need to convert these nominal numbers into “real dollars”. First of all, we are measuring percentage-changes, and deflating these numbers (year-by-year) for the existing inflation would have little impact on the numbers. Secondly, and more obviously, we are buying our bullion based upon the current, nominal value of our paper currency.
As a last note for readers, keep in mind that the change in global, per capita incomes significantly underestimates the increase in wealth, as this statistic does not include any of the increases in the value of the assets held by these individuals. File this away as yet another factor which under-estimates the true increase in the value of bullion.
Because this income measurement is being done on a per capita basis, we also need to factor-in changes in population – in order to calculate the total acceleration of global incomes. It’s not simply “people making more money,” but “more people making more money.” While in recent decades, global population growth has averaged around 2% per year, last year, the growth in population was only 1.1%.
As gold-bulls, we can afford to be conservative in our estimates, so I’ll use the lower, current number – instead of the long-term average. This leads to the following “equation”:
Acceleration of incomes = acceleration of per-capita income X increase in population; or:
70% X 1.1% = 77%
Note that choosing a very conservative number for population growth dramatically lowers our “multiplier,” and thus dramatically affects our estimate of the real increase in the value of gold. Had I chosen the long-term average of 2%, then instead of estimating the rise in value of gold at 77% over eight years (nearly 10% per year), our estimate would have changed to 140%.
I would also ask readers to note that the eight years in question covered several serious shocks to the global economy, most-notably the “Crash of ‘08.” Yet, if we look at gains in per capita GNI from 2001 – 2005, versus 2005 – 2009, we see roughly a 44% gain for the first four-year period, but still a 26% gain for the last four years (a very respectable 6.5% annual gain).
What this means is that while changes in per capital GNI will fluctuate considerably, that we can rely upon significant, real increases in the value of gold – even during periods of global economic crises. Moreover, by (deliberately) using a very conservative multiplier for population growth, we can rely upon the 77% increase in value over eight years as (if anything) a conservative estimate of what to expect in the future.
It is extremely important for investors to understand and realize the appreciation of the value of bullion – in real dollars – as it instantly eliminates some of the myths which the gold-bears use to try to scare-away investors.
Presumably, we have all heard that tired, old line that “gold produces no income”. Well, neither do (most) stocks. However, equities are widely preferred by investors over fixed-income instruments (for any investor focused upon “growth”), because the capital appreciation of equities will dwarf the returns of fixed investments (over time) – if an investor chooses his stocks carefully and competently.
In the case of bullion, there are only “two stocks” gold and silver. I have already demonstrated the rapidly appreciating value of gold. As regular readers know, we can expect silver to greatly outperform gold – due to the destruction of global silver stockpiles, combined with the extreme-and-absurd gold/silver price ratio.
This analysis should result in all rational investors dumping all fixed-income investments, since they are all denominated in the bankers debauched, diluted paper, and no fixed-income investment can equal the rate of increase in the value of bullion. Show me a “bond” that pays 10% per year, and I’ll show you a debt that is about to default.
More importantly, this analysis should hopefully go a long ways toward curbing the irrational aversion of many investors with respect to holding their own “physical” bullion. Listening to the lies of the bankers and the bears, most investors have been brainwashed into believing that they face a “double-loss” holding bullion: the supposed “interest” they get paid on banker-paper + the (minimal) storage costs of holding bullion.
In fact, there is not one, single paper currency which pays “interest” anywhere near the actual rate of inflation. All fixed-income investments lose value, every year, when (real) inflation numbers are factored-in. “Bank interest” is the cruelest of banker-illusions. Meanwhile, the (roughly) 10% per year increase in the real value of bullion not only more-than-covers any/all storage costs – but generates a real, net increase in wealth for its holders.
Given the unprecedented economic crises which we are now experiencing, and which we can expect (with complete certainty) to worsen in the future, I will continue to advise people to accumulate bullion as “insurance”. However, the genuine, objective increase in the absolute value of bullion guarantees to investors that there will be no (net) costs to buying and holding this insurance. Indeed, their “insurance” will likely outperform most of their “investments.”
This is the real truth of the bullion market. Investors must not allow any dishonest bankers or shrill fear-mongers to deter them from the only, reliable means to protect themselves from what is to come.
Disclosure: No positions