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Yikes! Financial Times awakens to the paper gold fraud
Learn from Buba and Demand Delivery for True Price of Gold
By Neil Collins
Financial Times, London
Friday, January 24, 2014
A year ago the Bundesbank announced that it intended to repatriate 700 tons of Germany's gold from Paris and New York. Although a couple of jumbo jets could have managed the transatlantic removal, it made security sense to ship the load in smaller consignments. Just how small, and over how long, has only just become apparent.
Last month Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, admitted that just 37 tons had arrived in Frankfurt. The original time scale, to complete the transfer by 2020, was leisurely enough, but at this rate it would take 20 years for a simple operation.
Well, perhaps not so simple. While he awaits delivery, Herr Weidmann is welcome to come and look through the bars in the Federal Reserve’s vaults, but the question is: Whose bars are they?
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In the "armchair farmer" fraud you are told: "Look, this is your pig, in the sty." It works until everyone wants physical delivery of their pig, which is why Buba's move last year caused such a stir. After all, nobody knows whether there are really 260 million ounces of gold in Fort Knox, because the US government won't let auditors inside.
The delivery problem for the Fed is a different breed of pig. The gold market is far more than exchanging paper money for precious metal. Indeed the metal seems something of a sideshow. In June last year the average volume of gold cleared in London hit 29 million ounces per day. The world's mines are producing 90 million ounces per year. The traded volume was many times the cleared volume.
The paper gold in the London Bullion Market takes the familiar forms that bankers have turned into profit machines: futures, options, leveraged trades, collateralised obligations, ETFs . . . a storm of exotic instruments, each of which is carefully logged, cross-checked, and audited.
Or perhaps not. High-flying traders find such backroom work tedious, and prefer to let some drone do it, just as they did with those money-market instruments that fuelled the banking crisis. The drones will have full control of the paper trail, won't they? There's surely no chance that the Fed's little delivery difficulty has anything to do with the cat's cradle of pledges based on the gold in its vaults?
John Hathaway suspects there is. He worries about all the paper (and pixels) linked to gold. He runs the Tocqueville gold fund (the clue is in the name) and doesn't share the near-universal gloom of London's gold analysts, who a year ago forecast an average $1700 for 2013. It is currently $1,260.
As has been remarked here before, forecasting the price is for mugs and bugs. But one day the ties that bind this pixelated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results. So if you fancy gold at today's depressed price, learn from Buba and demand delivery.
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