Counting on Gold

Happy Dhanteras. If you buy gold today, you’ll become rich tomorrow. Except for gold merchants.

Who sell gold & become rich today only.

Jokes apart Yesterday I was going through the commentary provided by Satyajit Das to a financial daily that was focused on “The return of the Golden age”.  He quotes Investors have poured money into exchange traded funds that buy gold. Some central banks are now rebuilding their gold reserves. In Germany, gold is available in airports and train stations from “Gold to Go” vending machines. Shoppers can buy a 1-gram wafer of gold or a larger 10g bar. Gold bugs speculate about a new age of gold.

The above statement was made as the Federal Reserve is giving the U.S. economyanother injection of financial stimulus, and, on cue, gold buyers cheered. The world now remembers financier J.P. Morgan’s words to Congress in 1912: “Gold is money. Everything else is credit.

Since the replacement of the gold standard with the U.S. dollar standard, gold’s price has fluctuated widely. In January 1980, gold reached a high of $850 an ounce, reflecting high rates of inflation and economic uncertainty. Subsequently, the recovery of the global economy saw gold prices fall over almost 20 years, reaching a low of $253 an ounce in June 1999.
From 2001, gold began to rise due to a mixture of increased demand, especially from emerging nations such as India and China. In 2007 and 2008, gold received an additional boost from the onset of the global financial crisis. Concern about a banking system collapse drove gold prices to a peak above $1,900 an ounce in August 2011.

In reality, the rise was driven by fear. The depth of the financial crisis, concern about the security of other assets including once risk-free government bonds and a fragile banking system prompted a flight to gold as a safe haven. The monetary policies of governments and central banks, emphasizing low-interest rates and printing money to restart the global economy, also underpinned the gold price. A weak U.S. dollar and the questionable prospects of other major currencies, such as the euro and yen, also drove demand for gold, as de facto currency.
This is ironic given the fact that the investment in gold is specifically motivated by fear of the failure of the financial system.

Investors also worry about the risk of confiscation of gold holding. In reality, any government can confiscate anything — gold, savings, property — in times of economic emergency.

In 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, prohibiting the private holding of gold and requiring U.S. citizens to turn over their gold bullion or face a $10,000 fine (equivalent to around $170,000 today) or 10 years’ imprisonment. In response, opportunistic coin dealers encouraged investors to buy expensive “numismatic” or “collectible” coins, taking advantage of an exemption in the 1933 order which protected these assets from government seizure.

Seeking to reassure investors, some ETFs have installed fiber-optic cable-linked cameras in their gold vaults. Investors can monitor their holdings via the Internet. Of course, this clever marketing gimmick does not protect the investor from the failure of a custodian or financial counterparty as well as confiscation risk.

Moreover, gold is not a great store of value, at least over long periods.

Warren Buffett observed that if stock investors are driven by optimism about prospects, then “what motivates most gold purchasers is their belief that the ranks of the fearful will grow.” Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the central character in John Updike’s novels about American suburban life, spends $11,000 on the purchase of 30 Kruggerrands (a South African-minted gold coin). Rabbit explains the purchase to his wife: “The beauty of gold is, it loves bad news.”

In chaos, war or collapse, gold reasserts its grip on humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s