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The Screaming Fundamentals For Owning Gold
By Chris Martenson
Updated 2014 edition Friday, April 4, 2014, 9:44 AM
This report lays out the investment thesis for gold. Silver is mentioned only where necessary, as a separate report of equal scope will be forthcoming on that topic. Various factors lead me to conclude that gold is one investment that you can park for the next ten or twenty years, confident that it will perform well. Timing and logic for both entering and finally exiting gold as an investment are laid out in the full report.
In 2001, as the painful end of the long stock bull market finally seeped into my consciousness, I began to grow quite concerned about my traditional stock and bond holdings. Other than a house with 27 years left on a 30 year mortgage, these paper holdings represented 100% of my investing portfolio.
So I dug into the economic data to discover what the future likely held. What I found shocked me. It's all in the Crash Course, in both video and book form, so I won't go into that data here; but a key takeaway is that the US is spending far more than it is earning, and supporting that gap by printing a whole lot of new money.
By 2002, I had investigated enough about our monetary, economic, and political systems that I came to the conclusion that holding gold and silver would be a very good idea. So I poured 50% of my liquid net worth into precious metals, and sat back and waited.
So far so good. But the best is yet to come... unfortunately. I say 'unfortunately' because the forces that are going to drive gold higher in current dollar terms are the very same trends that are going to leave most people, and the planet, much worse off than they are now.
Part 1: Why Own Gold?
The reasons to hold gold (and silver), and I mean physical bullion, are pretty straightforward. So let’s begin with the primary ones:
To protect against monetary recklessness
As insulation against fiscal foolishness
As insurance against the possibility of a major calamity in the banking/financial system
For the embedded 'option value' that will pay out handsomely if gold is re-monetized
By ‘monetary recklessness,’ I mean the creation of money out of thin air and the application of more liquidity than the productive economy actually needs. The central banks of the world have been doing this for decades, not just since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis.
In gold terms, the supply of above-ground gold is growing at 1.7 % per year, while the money supply has been growing at more than three times that yearly rate since 1960:
Over time, that more than 5% growth differential has created an enormous gap due to the exponential 'miracle' of compounding.
Now this is admittedly an unfair view, because the economy has been growing, too. But money and credit growth has still handily outpaced the growth of our artificially and upwardly-distorted GDP measurements by a wide margin.
Even as the economy stagnates under this too-large debt load, the credit system continues to expand as if perpetual growth were possible. Given this dynamic, we continue to expect all the resulting extra dollars, debts and other assorted claims on real wealth to eventually show up in prices of goods and services.
And since we live in a system where money is loaned into existence, we also have to look at the growth in credit, as well. Since 1970 the US has been compounding its total credit market debts at the astounding rate of nearly 8% per annum:
This desperate drive for continuous compounding growth in money and credit is a principal piece of evidence that convinces me that hard assets, of which gold is perhaps the star representative for the average person, are the place to be for a sizeable portion of your stored wealth.
Negative Real Interest Rates
Real interest rates are deeply negative (meaning that the rate of inflation is higher than Treasury bond yields). This is a forced, manipulated outcome courtesy of central banks that are buying bonds with thin-air money. Of course, the true rate of inflation is much higher than the officially reported statistics by at least a full percent or possibly two, and so I consider bond yields to be far more negative than your typical observer.
Historically, periods of negative real interest rates are nearly always associated with outsized returns for commodities, especially precious metals. If and when real interest rates turn positive, I will reconsider my holdings in gold and silver, but not until then. That's as close to an absolute requirement as I have in this business.
Monetary policies across the developed world remain as accommodating as they’ve ever been. Even Greenspan's 1% blow-out special in 2003 was not as steeply negative in real terms as what Bernanke engineered over his more recent tenure. But it is the highly aggressive and ‘alternative’ use of the Federal Reserve balance sheet to prop up insolvent banks and to sop up extra Treasury debt that really has me worried.
There seems to be no way to end these ever-expanding programs, and they seem to have become a permanent feature of the economic and financial landscape. In Europe, the equivalent is the sovereign debt now found on the European Central Bank (ECB) balance sheet.
In Japan we have prime minister Abe's ultra-aggressive policy of doubling the monetary base in just two years. Suffice it to say that such grand experiments have never been tried before, and anyone that has the vast bulk of their wealth tied up in financial assets is making an explicit bet that these experiments will go exactly as planned.
Federal fiscal deficits are seemingly out of control and are now stuck in the $1 trillion range. Massive deficit spending has always been inflationary, and inflation is usually gold/silver friendly. Although not always, mind you, as the correlation is not strong, especially during mild inflation (less than 5%).
Note, for example, that gold fell from its high in 1980 all the way to its low in 1998, an 18 year period with plenty of mild inflation along the way. Sooner or later I expect extraordinary budget deficits to translate into extraordinary inflation.
Banking System Risk
Reason #3, insurance against a major calamity in the banking system, is an important part of my rationale for holding gold.
And let me clear: I’m not referring to “paper" gold, which includes the various tradable vehicles (like the "GLD" ETF) that you can buy like stocks through your broker. I’m talking about physical gold and silver because of their unusual ability to sit outside of the banking/monetary system and act as monetary assets.
Literally everything else financial, including our paper US money, is simultaneously somebody else’s liability. But gold and silver bullion are not. They are simply, boringly, just assets. This is a highly desirable characteristic that is not easily replicated.
Should the banking system suffer a systemic breakdown, to which I ascribe a reasonably high probability of greater than 1-in-3 over the next 5 years, I expect banks to close for some period of time. Whether it's two weeks or six months is unimportant; no matter the length of time, I'd prefer to be holding gold than bank deposits.
During a banking holiday, your money will be frozen and left just sitting there, even as everything priced in money (especially imported items) rocket up in price. By the time your money is again available to you, you may find that a large portion of it has been looted by the effects of a collapsing currency.
How do you avoid this? Easy; keep some ‘money’ out of the system to spend during an emergency. I always advocate three months of living expenses in cash, but you owe it to yourself to have gold and silver in your possession as well.
The test run for such a bank holiday was recently tried out in Cyprus where people woke up one day and discovered that their bank accounts were frozen. Those with large deposits had a very material percentage of those funds seized so that the bank's more senior creditors, the bondholders, could avoid the losses they were due.
Most people, at least those paying attention, learned two things from Cyprus:
In a time of crisis those in power will do whatever it takes to assure that the losses are spread across the population rather than taken by the relatively few institutions and individuals that should take the losses.
If you make a deposit with a bank, you are actually an unsecured creditor of that institution; which means you are legally last in line for repayment should that institution fail.
The final reason for holding gold, because it may be remonetized, is actually a very big draw for me. While the probability of this coming to pass may be low, the rewards would be very high for those holding gold should it occur.
Here are some numbers: The total amount of 'official gold,' or that held by central banks around the world, is 31,320 tonnes, or 1.01 billion troy ounces. In 2013 the total amount of money stock in the world was roughly $55 trillion.
If the world wanted 100% gold backing of all existing money, then the implied price for an ounce of gold is ($55T/1.01BOz) = $54,455 per troy ounce.
Clearly that's a silly number (or is it?). But even a 10% partial backing of money yields $5,400 per ounce. The point here is not to bandy about outlandish numbers, but merely to point out that unless a great deal of the world's money stock is destroyed somehow, or a lot more official gold is bought from the market and placed into official hands, backing even a small fraction of the world's money supply by gold will result in a far higher number than today's ~$1,300/oz.
The Difference Between Silver and Gold
Often people ask me if I hold goldandsilver as if it were one word. I do own both, but for almost entirely different reasons.
Gold, to me, is a monetary substance. It has money-like qualities and it has been used as money by diverse cultures throughout history. I expect that to continue.
There is a slight chance that gold will be re-monetized on the international stage due to a failure of the current all-fiat regime. If or when the fiat regime fails, there will have to be some form of replacement, and the only one that we know works for sure is a gold standard.
Therefore, a renewed gold standard has the best chance of being the ‘new’ system selected during the next bout of difficulties.
So gold is money.
Silver is an industrial metal with a host of enviable and irreplaceable attributes. It is the most conductive element on the periodic table, and therefore it is widely used in the electronics industry.
It is used to plate critical bearings in jet engines and as an antimicrobial additive to everything from wall paints to clothing fibers. In nearly all of these uses, plus a thousand others, it is used in vanishingly-small quantities that are hardly worth recovering at the end of the product life cycle -- so they often aren't.
Because of this dispersion effect, above-ground silver is actually quite a bit less abundant than you might suspect. When silver was used primarily for monetary and ornamentation purposes, the amount of above-ground, refined silver grew with every passing year.
After industrial uses cropped up, that trend reversed, and today it's thought that roughly half of all the silver ever mined in human history has been irretrievably dispersed.
Because of this consumption dynamic, it's entirely possible that over the next twenty years not one single net new ounce of above ground silver will be added to inventories, while in contrast, a few billion ounces of gold will be added.
I hold gold as a monetary metal. I own silver because of its residual monetary qualities, but more importantly because I believe it will continue to be in demand for industrial uses for a very long time, and it will become a scarce and rare item.
NOTE: PeakProsperity.com reserves its deeper analysis for our enrolled members, which is usually contained in Part 2 of our reports. Given the importance and widespread interest in this particular topic, we are exercising the rare exception to make Part 2 (below) available to the public.
Part 2: Supply & Demand Are Shockingly Out Of Balance
Gold demand has gone up from 3,200 tonnes in 2003 to 4,400 tonnes in 2013, and that's even with a massive 800 tonnes being disgorged from the GLD tracking fund over 2013 (purple circle, below):
Note the dotted red line in this chart: it shows the current level of mine production. World demand has been higher than mine production for a number of years. Where has the additional supply come from to meet demand? We'll get to that soon, but the quick answer is: it had to come from somewhere, and that place was 'the West.'
A really big story in play here is the truly historic and massive flows of gold from the West to the East, with China being the largest driver of those gold flows.
Alasdair McLeod of GoldMoney.com has assembled the public figures on China's cumulative gold demand which, notably, do not include whatever the People's Bank of China may have bought. Those are presumably additive to these figures unless we are to believe that the PBoC now purchases its gold over the counter and in full view (which they almost certainly do not).
Using publicly available statistics only, it's possible to calculate that in 2013 China alone accounted for more than 2,600 tonnes of demand, or more than 60% of total demand or, as we'll soon see, almost all of the world's total gold mine production:
Of course China has a lot of money to spend, a long and comfortable relationship with gold as a legitimate asset to hold, and has to be very pleased by the repeated bear raids in the western markets that drive the price of gold down, even as gold demand has surged to record highs as a consequence of these lower prices.
Of course the big risk in all that Chinese demand for gold is that China may stop buying that much gold in the future for a variety of reasons.
One could be that the Chinese bubble economy finally bursts and people there no longer feel wealthy and so they stop buying gold.
Another could be that the Chinese government reverses course and makes future gold purchases illegal for some reason. Perhaps they are experiencing too much capital flight, or they want to limit imports of what they consider non-essential items.
I do know that Chinese demand has been simply incredible and, keeping all things equal, I expect that to continue, if not increase.
India, long a steady and traditional buyer of gold, saw so much buying activity as a consequence of the lower gold prices that the government had to impose controls on the amount of gold imported into the country, even banning imports for a while:
Go to Part 2
Comments may be made at the end of Part 3 Thank You