The latest data on global gold trends, Q2 2010, just popped into my email box from the World Gold Council. The bad news is that the higher nominal price of gold has caused a 5% decrease in jewelry sales over the prior year. If you’re thinking, “Hey, that’s not that bad,” you’d be right. On this date last year, gold closed at $950, which is $286 below where it trades as I write. In other words, a 30% rise in price has resulted in a decrease of just 5% in jewelry sales.
And even that number is skewed, because the currency value of the gold purchased is up – way up. For example, India – the 800-pound gorilla in the global gold jewelry market – saw total gold jewelry sales fall only by 2%, but in local currency terms, there was a 20% increase in the nominal value of the gold trading hands. China, which only relatively recently reauthorized private gold purchases, saw a 5% increase in jewelry demand, but that translated into a 35% increase in local currency terms. So, that’s the bad news.
The good news – at least for fiat money skeptics – is that total physical gold demand in Q2 rose by a whopping 36%. More tellingly, the increase was 77% when you take into account the dollar value of the ounces purchased. As you’ve already figured out, the bulk of the physical demand is coming from investment – with the amount of gold held by ETFs growing 414% over the previous year. Too far, too fast? I don’t think so.
In my opinion, as the fiat money monsters are brought to bay, the price of gold can really only go higher. Overly confident? I don’t think so. That’s because when people lose faith in a currency, as they will before this crisis is over, they unfailingly rush to exchange the unbacked paper money for something more tangible.
While pretty much anything with an intrinsic value will do – real estate, antique cars, old masters – for all the reasons that Aristotle enunciated, gold is viewed in a class of its own, and so has an unblemished history as a universally accepted store of value. And, thanks to its portability, divisibility, durability, and consistency, it has also always been looked upon as a convenient form of money.
The most pressing macro observation I’d like to make – an observation that’s critical for investors to understand (though most don’t or won’t) – is that the tectonic monetary shift now underway is truly global in nature. And it’s not going to be over until a new and markedly different monetary regime has been implemented.
It’s like this: Throughout history governments have experimented with fiat money. They have done so because the benefits to the government and the insiders that invariably latch on to power are just so damn attractive. The Romans did it by debasing their coinage, but the modern version goes one better by completely disconnecting a currency from any value whatsoever, and then wantonly printing as politically motivated needs or wants arise.
The latest fiat system kicked off in earnest in 1944 when Uncle Scam, in Bretton Woods, NH, got the leaders of the world’s war-weary countries to agree to accept the US dollar as their reserve currency. In return, the US agreed that the currency notes it would subsequently issue would be convertible into a corresponding amount of gold.
Then Tricky Nixon came along in 1971 and canceled the right of the bearer to swap the notes for gold. Overnight, the link between the currency and anything tangible was lost. That, of course, opened the door to all subsequent politicians to engage in the whole print, print, print thing. The keystone asset of the former system – gold – soon became a distant memory for the new crop of central bankers and, remarkably, to the bearers of the notes.
For any number of reasons, most of which related to the illusion of increasing prosperity, people simply stopped paying attention to what Uncle Scam was up to. Of course, that illusion was largely based on the increase in nominal wealth: if one year you’re worth $100,000 and three years later you are worth $150,000, the tendency is to feel richer even if your actual purchasing power has gone up by far less or even has declined due to a debasement of the currency. Today’s dollar is worth just 18 cents in 1971 terms.
But all scams must, in time, come to an end. And that’s what’s going on now. It ends here. Before this is over, the current iteration of the US dollar – the vaporous construct with no actual value – will lose its value as money. Which brings me to an important nuance in this discussion.
Most failed fiat money experiments involve a single currency. The most convenient recent example is provided by Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Rather than actually supporting the creation of marketable goods and services in what he sees as his private fiefdom, he took the low road of energetically abusing his fiat currency to the vanishing point.
In a situation such as that, the local citizenry suffers – as well as anyone foolish enough to be holding bonds denominated in the debased currency. But that’s about it. In the current scenario, the keystone of the entire global monetary system is the US dollar. Which means that the primary reserve holdings of virtually all the world’s significant central banks are at risk of going up in smoke.
And it’s even worse than that, because the dollar is also the number one trade currency – which means corporations around the world are sitting on huge holdings or are dependent on commercial contracts denominated in dollars.
And even that’s not the end of it. Because Uncle Scam has long served as a role model to other world leaders, those leaders have enthusiastically followed suit and universally launched fiat monetary systems of their own. It’s bad enough that the world’s reserve currency is a fiction – but the situation becomes really dire when you accept as fact that all the world’s currencies are a fiction. Man, we’re in a lot of trouble.
If you have so far resisted our constant urgings to make gold – which is to say, real money – a core portfolio holding, it’s not too late. Just start buying on the inevitable dips. I can assure you that as the fiat monetary structures continue to crumble – and they will – more and more people will be turning to gold. The latest World Gold Council data is just a straw in the wind.
In fact, thanks to the convenience of the gold ETFs (which you should make an effort to understand before blindly investing in them – there are important differences between them), once the show really gets underway, the relative trickle of investment funds moving into gold today will quickly become a torrent, completely outrunning available gold supplies and sending prices much, much higher – and in a hurry.
While no one can say when the big spike in gold will occur, one can say accurately that, given the systematic frailty, it could literally happen on any given day. That’s what happens when scams are unveiled. Remember Bernie Madoff? How many people do you think tried to give him money the day after he was arrested, versus desperately scrambled to get their money out of his sticky web? The answers are “No one” and “Everyone” – that’s what happens when people lose faith in a currency.
Of course, gold bullion, and gold bullion proxies, aren’t the only asset classes that will do well in the coming currency collapse. The chart below shows what looks to be a trend change in the gold stocks. In previous recent stock market corrections, people thought of gold stocks more in terms of being stocks and overlooked their direct connection to gold. That appears to be changing, with a divergence between gold stocks and the broader markets. The leverage in gold stocks to gold bullion could make them especially attractive.
(Click to enlarge)
Regardless of what you do, do something – because to stumble on as if this crisis will end with a whimper would be a dire mistake. Gold and large-cap gold stocks can save your wealth when most other assets decline in value. Even in the Great Depression, investors who held both ended up with gains, while others lost everything they had.
Disclosure: No positions