Don't want to post? Email me instead.

cavehillred AT yahoo.co.uk

Monday, January 10, 2011


That's Ireland's per capita safety net if the euro goes belly-up. €46 per man, woman and child.

Let me explain. Ireland holds a mere 6 metric tonnes of gold. (This is an improvement on only a few years ago, when our gold holdings were a tiny 2 metric tonnes.)

Six metric tonnes translates into 192904.478 troy ounces. That amounts to around 0.0433 troy ounces per person in Ireland. At the current price of €1061 or so per ounce, that's a mere €46 of insurance each if the single currency goes boom.

Why does this matter? Because gold is real money. The euro is simply currency - fiat currency, created by the EU in an ill-fated attempt to challenge the post-Bretton Woods hegemony of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

And why is that important? Because increasingly, fiat currencies are collapsing. The dollar is engaged in an almighty printing press operation designed to destroy America's overseas debt even as it erodes American citizens' personal wealth. The euro, due to the ongoing debt crisis in Ireland, Greece, Portugal and other member states, will inevitably follow.

The markets are well aware of all of this, and have been fleeing to safe havens for months now, such as the Swiss Franc and the Brazilian Real, both of which are so overvalued as to be harming their indigenous economies. But money has also been flowing into commodities. In a world where money is potentially infinite, only finite commodities can store value meaningfully.

Hence the upswing in oil, gold and silver prices.

Weimar Germany is the most memorable example of what happens when a currency ceases to be a meaningful store of wealth. But we've also seen it recently in Zimbabwe too, where hundred million Zim dollar notes became the norm.

In the current economic climate, all currencies are in a race to the bottom, as governments seek to devalue in order to restore competitiveness. At such a time, hedging wealth in real money - gold, oil, land, commodities, precious metals - becomes inevitably more popular, driving up the price.

Of those commodities, gold is the most important, because it has held the role of real money among humanity for over 5,000 years. You can't print more of it. It is non-inflationary. That's why all central banks hold it - as a hedge against currency fluctuation and hyperinflation.

To a lesser extent, silver, the former 'people's money' fulfils a similar role, or did until the last century when stringent efforts managed to remove most of the planet from a bimetal or gold standard and onto a fiat currency system that is now unravelling.

What does this mean for the average person? Well, there are only around 4.5 billion ounces of gold in the world, and more than 6.5 billion people. Gold has shot up in value in recent years, as the world economy began to fall apart. But this is not a bubble so much as the beginning of its rally.

What will happen if the world currencies continue to devalue at the current rate? More and more people will seek to hedge their wealth in the only non-eroding, infinitely divisible store of wealth there is - gold. And there's less than 3/4 of an ounce per person to go around.

Don't expect the government to be in any position to help you at that point, if paper becomes almost worthless and gold takes off for the stratosphere. Because, as we now know, they only hold 1/25th of an ounce for every person in the country. You're going to have to look after yourself on this one.

An even more interesting role is held by silver. Historically the money of currency (being of a lesser value than gold by an historical ratio of c. 15:1), silver has been undervalued for many years, partly due to price suppression by big banks like JP Morgan.

But silver is also in huge demand industrially, and there is even less of it available for personal investors than there is of gold. If paper begins to collapse as a viable means of exchange, we will see what is already happening in Zimbabwe - people reverting to precious metals as currency.

And in that context, the value of silver, currently nearly 50 times cheaper than gold, will rise even more quickly than the yellow metal. It will become again the means of exchange, as gold itself will be so valuable as to be unusable for small transactions.

For such reasons, I think it is wise for people to consider holding some gold and silver. Note, I don't say invest in gold or silver funds, such as GLD or SLV on the market. Those funds simply don't have the metal. They are fractionally leveraged in the same way banks are.

IE they hold only a fraction of what they trade (believed to be less than 1% currently). If you have such investments, I'd consider divesting them and seeking actual physical metal if I were you, as the price of physical metal and 'paper' metal already appears to be decoupling.

There are bullion accounts out there, where your money is stored as gold and silver in your name, thereby saving you the anxiety of stashing metal around your home. A quick google will throw them up if that interests you. I have an account with one for peace of mind.

Because if the euro collapses, then your euro savings go with it, and you'll experience the same poverty that Germans in Weimar did if you don't have some gold or silver - real money when the paper goes poof.

After all, the government only has 1/25th of an ounce with your name on it.


David said...

I visited the Bank of England museum a few years ago where they have a gold ingot you can pick up (quite a thrill!). It was, then, the only gold that the Bank of England owned.

Not that I know much about these things but I believe the link between currencies and gold was broken a long time ago. Central banks have been running down their holdings since then, no? It just takes time if you don't want to depress the market.

I'm glad you called out those gold funds. I can't believe we are on to the next pyramid scheme after property so quickly. To be honest, I am idly wondering if gold itself is a bubble at the moment (it's entirely academic when you don't have a bean :-).

JC Skinner said...

My opinion is that we are ultimately entering a gold bubble, but we're a long way from bubble territory currently. It will inevitable end up in bubble territory, but in the interim precious metals is set to climb much higher than it is currently, silver being the main beneficiary.

JC Skinner said...

Oh, on the central bank thing - yes, they were running down their holdings into the Nineties and beyond, as there was a perception rampant that gold was some sort of primordial, primitive investment that no longer served any purpose.
It also suited many central banks to flood gold onto the market as that suppressed metal prices and propped up the value of fiat currencies.
Today, of course, things are a little different. Central banks are once again buying up gold. Ireland has trebled its meagre holdings in just a few years, and countries like India and the oil producing nations just can't get enough of the yellow metal.