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Archive for April, 2012

The BRIC attack: A major political event

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Translated from an original article by Charles Sannat, Director of Economic Studies, AuCOFFRE.com, Paris

The Fourth Summit of the BRIC nations, a major political event.

This is a huge story and yet has gone largely unreported by the major western media. On the 29th of March in New Delhi, the Fourth Summit of the BRIC nations took place (Brazil, Russia, India, China).

“The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) should no longer use the US Dollar in their bilateral exchanges. That is what was decided on Thursday the 29th March, 2012, during the Fourth Summit of leaders of these five nations in the Indian capital”.

Source: algeriedz.info and rian.ru

The following was decided during this meeting: an essential step was taken towards a “multipolar” global monetary system. March 29th 2012 will undoubtedly not be the date remembered in history as marking the end of the era of the Dollar. Nonetheless, the change is major.

Towards an overhaul of the IMS

We are entering a phase of disintegration of the International Monetary System as we know it. Our monetary system dates back to the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 which was brought to an end by the Jamaican agreement of 1976 (this ended the gold standard).

So what will happen now? Stock markets are starting to fall because the issuing of European bond funds is doing badly or is disappointing (depending on your degree of optimism about the outcome of this policy), which is the case for Spain and now Italy.

What one must understand is that according to the current economic system it is the surpluses of some which finance the deficits of others, thus creating a balance. In other words, western countries are in a chronic deficit which has been, and I stress has been, financed by the major Asian exporting nations on the one hand (China and India) and the oil-producing nations on the other.

For the last few years, nobody was lending to western states (by this we mean the US and Europe) which now find themselves in an irreversibly compromised situation.

It is this lack of external funds which is pushing the central banks, the FED and the ECB to massively intervene in the markets. The only option that remains for us is indeed the use of the printing press and the creation of money with all the negative consequences that follow.

Though this Fourth Summit of the BRIC nations is a founding step towards the overhaul of the IMS this is certainly not the ultimate goal.

Ground-breaking events in international relations

Discussing the topic of the monetary system without mentioning the political dimensions would be a mistake. The future International Monetary System will be shaped by the international balance of power and alliances between the major players in the context of the fight for access to energy and agricultural resources and in the broader sense to raw materials. A strong axis is taking shape amongst the BRIC countries, and Iranian diplomacy is also far from insignificant.

The trans-Atlantic relationship remains strong despite the strains and divergences. Lastly, one should not imagine that the United States of America will let their status as world leaders slip away without a colossal “fight”. American policy has always been based on a simple concept: “America First”.

We are thus entering a new phase in the current crisis:

In 2007, the subprime crisis led to a financial and stock market crisis.

The financial crisis led to an economic recession.

The economic recession lead to massive state intervention in the form of stimulus packages which resulted in massive debts for these states.

The debt crisis can only lead to a major monetary crisis.

The monetary crisis (which is on its way) will lead to the restructuring of the International Monetary System.

And… the manoeuvres have already begun. The global repercussions will be deeply felt, as the International Monetary System is to the global economy what tectonic plates are to geology. We are touching upon the essential part. The tremors will truly be felt.

Will you be ready?

KRUGERRAND SCANDAL AT SOUTH AFRICAN MINT: FURTHER REFLECTIONS

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

By Mark Rogers

Needless to say, there is a great deal of concern about this story, first addressed on this site on Monday. Conspiracy theorists are in little doubt this is a government swindle, though leveller heads are pointing out that this is unlikely. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the Mint’s Media Statement is very cagey in what it says about the origin of the dud coins: the suspension of senior staff last December was because of “technical issues”, and the longer statement quoted in my last article doesn’t exactly link those “technical issues” to the dud proofs.

Nor does it link the criminal gang which stole R5 circulation coins to the minting scandal. While it is entirely understandable that the Mint does not want to debase the trust that any such institution must maintain and therefore does not want to say too much in case panic ensues, why, then, has it said anything at all?

The curator of modern money at the British Museum, Thomas Hockenhull, is quoted in The Washington Post, April 24, as saying that it is unusual for mints to go public on problems of this kind, while Tom Hallenbeck, the American Numismatic Association’s President is also quoted to the effect that glitches in manufacturing are to be expected given the volume of coins produced.

Exposed

An obvious reason for saying anything at all is damage limitation. Whatever is going on at the SA Mint was already under investigation by CNBC and Forbes, and with television exposure and Forbes publishing its findings next month, perhaps the Mint thought that its hand was being forced.

Undoubtedly, it has fallen between two stools as a result. The clarification that it had (somehow) produced under specification coins and not as TimesLive reported underweight ones, led at least one commentator to conclude that this was evidence of a deliberate skimming exercise by the Mint itself:  “A national mint producing investment grade gold coins for several months with debased gold is not accidental. Period.”

That, of course, still does not rule out infiltration by a criminal gang, but that having been said, that such a gang could get away with it apparently for so long says volumes about accountability and transparency in a major public institution.

Effect?

A claim is made here that dealers are buying Krugerrand bullion coins at a lower premium than usual, while raising the possibility that there will be a “flight” from the coin. Did it escape the mind of the author of the Mint’s statement that this might happen, and that if the proof Krugers fell under suspicion, the contagion might spread to the bullion coins?

Even the mere speculation by a writer with an “anonymous source” on an internet site might be enough, especially in the light of the generally gloomy picture of politics in South Africa.

All over the world, political elites are coming under fire: high taxation, monetary incompetence, the keeping of a self-serving distance from their electorates – general nannying while the ship of state flounders.

Even if the problems of the SA Mint were occasioned by such political incompetence, rather than a deliberate crime sanctioned at the highest level, the suspicion that is falling on governments everywhere is reason enough to seek safe havens elsewhere – indeed, they are vital as havens from the financial incontinence of the state.

Alternative

Whatever else is revealed, and happens in consequence, there is an alternative, again as mentioned on Monday: the Vera Valor. Not only is this coin of the highest standard of purity; not only is it audited to a high standard, and its source and manufacture of a high standard of purity; it also has another quality – it is a purely commercial venture, with no connections to malfunctioning government institutions and suspicious officials.

KRUGERRAND SCANDAL AT THE SOUTH AFRICAN MINT

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

By Mark Rogers

On 8 December 2011, the Board of the South African Mint Company suspended the Managing Director of the Company and its General Manager Numismatic Coins, having become “aware of certain technical issues within the operations of the SA Mint Company.” The media statement went on to say that:  “Investigations into the matter have been instituted and are on-going.”

Nothing at this time was said publicly about what these “technical issues” were. However, dealers were alerted in confidential meetings to the need to assay their stocks of proof Krugerrands. A further statement, going into much more detail, was publicly issued on 13 April 2012.

This stated that “investigations into the matter have revealed that some of the proof Krugerrand coins cast between April 2011 and May 2011may not meet all the required quality specifications. Based on information that there had been fluctuations in assay results in the production process starting from April 2010, a conservative approach was adopted to analyse results from 01 April 2010 until 31 October 2011, the latter date being one on which  new quality control measures were introduced.  The extended period was adopted merely as a precaution.”

Proof and Bullion Kruggerands and Investment

The SA Mint only strikes the proof Krugers, bullion Krugers being the preserve of the Rand Refinery. Proof coins are issued in smaller quantities for the collectors’ market and are struck in a way that provides a mirror-like finish with a contrast of matt. They are important to collectors who are interested in “a perfect uncirculated” coin, a distinction that mattered when the Krugerrand was first struck given that the bullion coins were intended to circulate as currency.

This means that Krugers are minted from a copper-gold alloy, as the copper gives the coin greater durability. Apart from the mirror finish, the other difference between the proof and the bullion coins is the number of serrations (or reeds) around the edges, being 180 on the bullion and 220 on the proofs.

While the minting process is different between the SA Mint and Rand Refinery in order to achieve the required finish, the gold content and ultimately the investment are the same: bullion coins are still as valuable for their gold content and premium and are the most prevalent, but there is no difference to an investor if the Kruger is proof or just bullion.

The proof can be found to be more expensive but usually in collectors’ circles as they insist on this type of coin. However, in effect all of the Krugers are bullion coins and they can be found at the same purchase price. The importance of all this comes into play when demand is high: investors buy them all for the same reason. Even “proof” Krugers are important as they are part of the available investment quality bullion coins and there is no real need to differentiate their importance as an investment. Most Krugers are held for their investment potential and not by collectors – they are very “liquid assets” that contain a sure value (1 oz of gold).

Scandal Story Breaks – Misleadingly

Within a couple of days of the latest Media Statement issued by the SA Mint, TimesLive published a story that some of the proof coins were underweight. This was a very careless reading of the Mint’s statement which is quite clear on this point: the coins were under-specification, containing less gold than required by law. The South African gold collector who first alerted the Mint to the problem makes the crucial point on PM Bug (Precious Metals Forum):

“The coins are NOT underweight in any way, shape or form, they are under-spec. They weigh exactly the same as any of the Krugers available. This is just bad reportage from TimesLive. Now people will just weigh their coins, see the weight is right, and forget about it.” (Readers should view the short excerpt from CNBC Africa report that is posted on this forum after the statement just quoted – and look out for the moment when a gold coin being assayed registers at 94% silver! GoldCoin.org is attempting to discover more…)

Apparently TimesLive was aware that CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa were onto this story and wanted to scoop them – hence the sloppy reporting. Forbes Africa is due to publish the fruit of its investigations in its May issue.

So what was happening at the Mint?

“Concurrent with the investigation into proof Krugerrand coins, the SA Mint investigated the evidential theft of R5 circulation coins. This crime was ostensibly committed by a number of employees who appeared to have acted in collusion with what appears to be a syndicate-style operation that included external parties. Appropriate steps have been taken and all evidence gathered has been handed over to the Police’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.”

How did a criminal gang come to be operating at the South African Mint, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the South African Reserve Bank? How far up the scale of management did it penetrate? Were the two officials suspended because this happened on their watch or is there evidence that they were somehow complicit and/or bought off? Is this yet another instance of the corruption and malfeasance that have embroiled South Africa after the early promise of the post-apartheid years? The ANC is after all no more than a tribal ascendancy and there is widespread disillusion with the ruling elite in South Africa.

True Value

This is an astonishing story and one that may have considerable implications for the Krugerrand, a popular investment because widely regarded as a strong one. Perhaps investors should start taking a very serious look at the Vera Valor, recently highlighted in the luxury magazine Meze.

The Vera Valor is a serious contender for replacing the Krugerrand as the gold coin of investor choice.

Gold Investment in Spain

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

We here at Goldcoin.org have had the pleasure to interview Señora Lizette Paternina, the editor of LingORO.info, a blog dedicated to gold investment, gold coins and the unstable economics of our time. Her story has an interesting evolution based on the response she had to her blog articles. The popularity of her blog has paved the way for the launch of a commercial website, LingORO.com, which enables the Spanish speaking market to have access to a proven, reliable method of gold investment.

Editor: When did you first launch the blog LingORO.info?

Lizette: In March 2011 I posted my first article on line having spent some months previous immersed in the research of blog content. The first article is always special and I remember the feeling of excitement when I saw the visits to my blog and knew that people were reading my article. I was encouraged to continue producing and evolving content that was obviously attracting a growing audience.

Editor: What do you look for in an article?

Lizette: A story that tells a truth, with substance, meaning, logic and often on a subject ignored by the mainstream media. My articles present information to readers regarding the current economic climate and its impact on all of us. Many things are left unsaid that need expressing and this can be particularly true in the gold industry. I am originally from Colombia and so issues regarding “ORO VERDE” that could be so important for the survival of whole communities & their livelihoods need highlighting. Similarly I fully support the Clean Extraction initiative for 100% traceable gold that respects people and the planet. It is also important to have an historic perspective on the economy and gold investment as well as for the evolution of everyday changes in the economy. To this end I like to combine numismatic and historical facts about gold coins as well as the story of certain important coins that have a particular place in Spanish or Latin American history.

Editor: Why have you launched LingORO.com now?

Lizette: This is the ideal moment to launch an alternative method of Gold Investment to the Spanish and Latin American markets because there is no similar offer currently available. The current market is based more on jewelry and physical possession of gold bars and coins. However, our experience suggests that this is not the best way to invest in gold as it is difficult to realise a good value at resale when you inevitably have to sell it back to a dealer. Our business model allows Members to freely trade between themselves, therefore maximizing the opportunity to realise the full potential of their gold coins. It’s easy, practical, logical and has a proven track record in the French and the English speaking worlds as demonstrated by our sister sites AuCOFFRE.com & LinGOLD.com.

The advantages of LingORO are that investors can buy and sell on-line 24/7 from anywhere they want and also that we offer vault storage – this model allows ease of resale.

Editor: What type of products are available and why? Where do they come from?

Lizette: Only professionally sourced investment quality gold coins are available – these are all verified and sealed in cases. We also have a focus on certain Spanish and South American gold coins which are of great interest including the 25 Pesetas, The 50 Pesos and the Soles and Libra from Peru.

We also have the VERA VALOR which is the first Clean Extraction product in the world .

We also have a savings product called LSP – Libreta de Salvaguarda del Patrimonio – which operates on a simple plan to make a minimum purchase of 1g of pure gold per mont. In doing so there are no vault storage charges and this product means investors of all budgets can participate. This is an excellent alternative to a traditional savings account with the advantage of being in physical gold and without the contracts and restrictions. The LSP is totally flexible and a Member can buy as much as they wish without storage charges (as long as they buy a gram a month).
The big difference for investors is that they own outright everything they buy and are in complete control of when they buy and sell as well as the prices they wish to sell at. This is really important when you need to sell your gold because our system allows Members to sell at the best price of the market rather than at the mercy of over-the counter dealers who are obliged to offer below spot buy back prices to make their margins.

Editor: Why should we invest in gold?

Lizette: Gold is an excellent way to save, it is an alternative to the traditional bank products which have proved to be unreliable (particularly during the current crisis) and of course it is a diversification of a portfolio. Perhaps most importantly Gold is the safe haven currency when all other currencies are failing and losing value.
It is worth noting that most investments have a risk attached – that is to say a risk to the counterpart offered in the investment. If these are shares, certificates, funds etc there is a possibility that the counterpart to your investment ie. the shares or assets supposedly backing funds could fall to zero in a crisis due to company failure, the debt cycle or unscrupulous traders who have oversold their funds such as is the case with ETFs (less than 20% physical gold to back the certificates sold).
Gold can never fall to zero as it has consistently had value for 6000 years which is better than any modern day currency or fund.
Finally, we should think of gold as an insurance against economic crisis. It will protect your wealth against inflation and it will always maintain purchasing power whatever happens during the crisis. No other product can offer this. If you have a house you usually have fire insurance in case one day the unthinkable happens. At least you have the peace of mind that you can rebuil it.
If the crisis deepens as is largely expected our whole way of life could be challenged – therefore it is prudent and wise to take out an insurance against the effects of crisis.
As in the case of fire insurance it is wiser to buy insurance before the catastrophic event!

Editor: Do you have a message to the people?

Lizette: Choose a good option that helps you save not only in a moment of crisis but which will also work for them during normal situation.
Gold protects money and the people can have a real savings to leave for the family or indeed help them with the costs of life, houses, holidays, cars, university fees etc.
We have a beautiful collection of professionally certified coins that are designated as investment quality which is not always the case elsewhere. We offer quality of service as well as trust and confidence with our Members.
My message to investors is to look at what we have to offer and then compare this to other methods that they have traditionally used and evaluate which is the better option for you – that way I know I will be welcoming lots of them real soon.

Editor: Many thanks for your time and best of luck with LingORO.com

Lizette: You’re very welcome and thank you. I am a regular reader and fan of Goldcoin.org because there are so many interesting facts and articles that are pertinent to the economic situation and the gold market. I often post links to your articles and sometimes translate quotes made by economists and commentators about the gold market. I wish you continued success with your blog and hope to see you in Spain soon.

GOLDCOIN.ORG: MIXING POLITICS AND NUMISMATICS?

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

By Mark Rogers

Is there a necessary connection between gold coins and politics? The short answer is: yes. Undoubtedly over the course of the last century, and beginning fairly early on, gold became, and still remains, a highly controversial political subject. The most influential economist of the century, John Maynard Keynes disparaged not just the gold standard but the metal itself: he thought wealth creation a sort of secular sin, and considered those who saved to be selfish. In 1933, President Roosevelt banned the private ownership of gold, and passed measures to confiscate privately held gold – something that may be about to occur in places as widely diverse as the European Union, Turkey and Vietnam, with a suspicion that the same is afoot in China.

Not surprisingly, these animosities towards gold have gone in tandem with the creation and expansion of the Welfare State, the political entity that is utterly bankrupt and is the prime cause of the financial crisis.

So, yes indeed gold, whether in the form of collectable coins or other types of investment, is very political indeed, but not just because it is seen as a store of selfish wealth, or, as its enemies derisorily call it, “hoarding”.

Ray Vicker in The Realms of Gold (published by Robert Hale, London, 1975) makes this very important point:

“The deeper one gets into monetary matters, the more one realizes that the whole argument about gold’s monetary role, or its inability to perform it, involves fundamental emotional attitudes toward man and his environment.

“Not only technical monetary systems are at odds when the chrysophilites and the chrysophobes argue money. This is cash versus credit. Sound versus easy money. A balanced federal budget versus deficit spending. Rugged free enterprise versus government economic management. A black-and-gray world versus utopia. The belief in sinful man meeting the conviction that man is essentially good. The idea that progress only comes through individual gain clashing with the contention that communal efforts spell forward movement.”

Gold, therefore, is not only a measure of prudence, it is also the summation of the political arguments of the last century – and even a repository of some of the profoundest truths of human existence.

Those who invest in gold are, in the long run, realists, as the following account by Vicker of what happened in the 1960s and 70s makes clear:

“When sense and nonsense are being evaluated the chrysophobes must explain how come they erred so much in the 1960s when they were denigrating gold and claiming that it was on the way out. It was in the 1960s and early 1970s that the great monetary battles involving gold were fought, with few people in the United States realizing what was happening even after the dollar experienced two devaluations. Briefly, the dollar, which had been ‘as good as gold’ for so long, no longer was as good as a thirty-fifth of an ounce of gold. And many people were discovering this fact.

“These people were termed ‘speculators’ through the monetary cyclones which erupted. Actually, they were ordinary businessmen, bankers and others who had sense enough to protect their assets. In politics, whenever anyone disrupts a pet project of the party in power, it is customary to tack some derogatory term onto the disrupters. The word ‘speculator’ has enough of an unsavoury connotation that it appealed to those in government who saw themselves as ‘defenders of the dollar’, though they couldn’t see the easiest method of preserving the whole system – a doubling of the monetary price of gold.”

Therefore, however unlikely it may seem on the surface that a numismatic website should feature regular political commentary, the central role that gold plays in human affairs means that its political and economic aspects need constant analysis.

TAX: AFTER THE DIDDLERS, THE DODGERS

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

By Mark Rogers

Taxation in the modern state is an attack on wealth and its creation.

Which is illogical, because without wealth creation there can be no tax base.

The Welfare State was founded, and is foundering, on conundrums such as these. So perhaps it is not surprising to see a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer engaging in what amounts to left-wing style class warfare.

George Osborne has just announced that he is “going after the wealthy tax dodgers”. As reported in The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 10th April, he has been examining “anonymised” tax returns furnished by HM Revenue and Customs which show the completely legal measures that some very rich people have been using to reduce their tax bills, through what the Chancellor and the Revenue are pleased to call “loopholes”.

If the measures are legal, how can those who use them be called “dodgers”? (And see here for another example of the Revenue being rude.)

Osborne has cleverly turned the issue into a moral one and in doing so has introduced a novel legal concept on the hoof. These schemes of tax avoidance have been dubbed “aggressive” avoidance, as if by hurling an adjective about what is legal is suddenly rendered “un”-legal.

Now one of these legal “loopholes” is offsetting tax liabilities by making donations to charity, which in the nature of things would be large ones for the offset to work. Closing this “loophole” is therefore going to deprive flourishing charitable organisations of substantial and necessary sums.

And it is to be observed that such charities find more efficient and targeted ways of spending the money they receive through such donations. Can the government be expected, can the government even promise, to spend the money that it thus intends to steal as efficiently? Of course not.

One obvious practical problem that also looms is that many of these allegedly “aggressive avoiders” are foreigners, who settled here because of the way the tax rules had already been drawn up: they run businesses, they spend – in other words, they are already “contributors” in various ways to the economic life of the country. If the rules that encouraged them to settle here are changed, then they will simply leave, or if they stay, the taxes imposed on them will dry up certain expenditures, which will amount to much the same as if they had departed.

So the plans to deal with people who have done nothing illegal will have the opposite effect: less wealth creation, less voluntary “distribution” through getting and spending of that created wealth through the rest of the economy and more government waste – of human resources as well as cash…

Once upon a time, these things were done so differently: here is the opening paragraph of A. J. P. Taylor’s volume in the Oxford History of England, “English History 1914-1915”:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without any restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-1914, or rather less than 8 per cent. of national income.

GOLDEN NUGGETS: THE GOLD STANDARD

Monday, April 9th, 2012

An occasional series of curiosities of Gold, its history and ideas about it.

By Mark Rogers

For all practical purposes, it has looked for a very long time as if the gold standard has become a curiosity; reviled by Keynesians, found impractical by politicians (I wonder why?!), alleged to be unworkable as a medium for regulating international trade – these are just some of the reasons that anybody who advocates a possible return to it is regarded as a crank. (This does not stop governments from wanting to get their hands on gold or control it, as witness the buying of gold in China, and the curtailing of paying for gold in cash in Europe.)

That is not the only reason why I am, at least for the purposes of this article, putting the gold standard in the category of a curiosity. Although Britain came off the gold standard in 1931, at least as late as 1934 candidates sitting the Final Examination of the Institute of Chartered Accountants were still being asked questions on the gold standard.

I discovered this in a small crib published in 1934 for such candidates: “109 Examination Questions on General Financial Knowledge together with Answers Thereto” by R. Byrne (A.C.A, A.S.A.A., F.C.I.S), published by The Coaching Association Ltd, London E.C.2.

Here they are, giving as good and succinct a definition as one could wish for, written with essentially practical business in mind:

Q.77 Explain concisely what is meant by the gold standard, and mention the various forms of the gold standard.

By “the gold standard” is meant a system of monetary management whereby the currency of the country has a definite gold value, even though the circulating medium is a paper currency or a metal other than gold.

Any country which is on the gold standard undertakes that its standard coin shall contain a fixed and unalterable amount of pure gold. It also undertakes that such standard gold coins shall be legal tender to an unlimited amount, and that its central agent (the Bank of England in this country) shall buy and sell gold at certain fixed prices.

Under the gold specie or circulation standard – which is the most perfect form of gold standard – gold coins are actually in circulation and the central bank undertakes to redeem any of its bank notes in gold coin. Gold coin, therefore, is readily available for the settlement of debt. This is the system which was in operation in this country prior to 1914. The gold bullion standard, which was in operation in this country from 1925 until 1931, is a more restricted form of gold standard. Under this system the central bank is bound to buy and sell gold bullion at fixed prices. In England, the Bank of England was compelled to buy gold of standard fineness at the rate of £3 17s. 9d. per oz., and to sell it – in bars of not less than 400 ozs. – at £3 17s. 10½d. Consequently, gold was always available for shipment in payment of debts, and the £ always had a value fixed in relation to these prices. The gold exchange standard is that adopted by silver-using countries. Thus, a country such as India would maintain the gold standard by purchasing the exchange or securities of a country which was on the gold standard, e.g. England. These securities could be sold, and with the proceeds gold obtained from the Bank of England. This gold could then be transferred to India’s creditors so that the rupee, although silver, could be definitely linked to gold.

Q.78 Explain how the gold standard operates to adjust the balance of international trade.

The gold standard maintains stability of the exchanges, for when the currency of a gold standard country is convertible into gold at a fixed price, the value of that currency in terms of the currencies of other gold standard countries will only vary within small limits known as specie points. Therefore, international trade may proceed without any fear on the part of the trader of loss owing to exchange fluctuations.

In order that the gold standard shall operate freely, it is necessary that no restrictions shall be placed upon the free movement of gold from centre to centre, and that there should be some relationship between the internal and external purchasing power of a currency.

When a country has an adverse balance, payment will be made in the form of gold. The loss of gold will result in a contraction in the volume of money, and prices will tend to fall. In consequence, the country exporting gold is able to produce more cheaply, and its exports tend to increase. Its imports, however, tend to decrease because of the higher costs of production prevailing abroad. In the countries receiving the gold the opposite results will be noticed, i.e. more imports and fewer exports, so that in due course the country which had the unfavourable balance will tend towards equality with the others, and will ultimately have a favourable balance, resulting in the receipt of gold.

The gold standard therefore operates as a corrective, whereby the course of international trade is facilitated by the transfer of gold.

If the gold standard is not permitted to operate freely, i.e. by an inflationary policy on the part of the gold-losing country, or by excessive tariffs on the part of others, gold will tend to move one way only, resulting in the exhaustion of gold supplies of at least one country, and the eventual abandonment of the gold standard by that country.

For good measure, Q.79 is What are the disadvantages of a paper standard of currency? the last sentence of the answer reading emphatically: It may be remarked that inflation has always occurred in cases where a paper standard has been adopted.

[The author is, amongst other things, a dealer in secondhand books and is always picking up little gems such as this crib on his rambles!]

Watch out for swindlers when dealing with gold!

Friday, April 6th, 2012

By Simone Wapler (translated from an article originally published in France)

In the middle of a difficult economic situation, investors rush for gilt-edged securities, among them: gold. But watch-out for the swindlers… do not confuse actual stocks with virtual stocks.

Everyone is talking about gold at the moment, especially as it is falling. Those who believe in a gold bubble are licking their lips. These bears are primarily to be found in the world of the big money men, the people who explain to you that your money must be made to “work”… in their own interest, clearly, just like Goldman Sachs. A recent survey carried out in France by the IFOP for the company AuCoffre.com produced surprising results. This particular French company is on the way to becoming the leading French company selling gold coins online. According to this survey, 68% of French people believe that gold is an investment with a future, but 60% find that it is incomprehensible and reserved to a privileged audience.

Some people who recently tried to buy gold through their banks found that it was not easy. Banks prefer to put forward their own certificates, or trackers, that are supposed to respond to the price of gold, rather than sell physical gold.  At first sight, if people want gold it is because they think that it will go up. Which is completely untrue. It is not gold that rises but currencies that drop. Here is the rise in the price of gold in the main currencies over the last 10 years:

  • Peso 694%
  • Rupee 487%
  • US$ 474%
  • Rouble 443%
  • Pound Sterling 421%
  • Real 339%
  • Euro 287%
  • Yen 262%
  • Rand 262%
  • $CAD 258%
  • Francs 219%
  • AU 186%

It is obvious that with the help of the crisis and the restarting of dubious monetary transactions, currencies continue to lose ground to gold and therefore its rise (since it is the commonly used term) continues. It is because currencies fall, with the dollar in the lead, that the central banks of the emerging country buy gold to diversify their reserves.

Who are the people holding gold for investment?

Out of the 166,000 tons of gold extracted from the ground, the central banks have 28,000 and private sector investment 30,000. Gold for investment is therefore to be found in the safe deposit boxes of the central banks, therefore the official sector, but also (and especially) in the private sector and in this case in two forms: in a shared form with the ETC (Exchange Traded Commodities) and in a private form for individuals. The ETCs are continuously listed certificates, in theory guaranteed by a physical gold reserve. Private individuals may also choose to obtain gold through their bank, and store it in their bank. In this case gold appears simply as one line on the bank account statement (1 ingot with a value of €40,000) and the bank stores it. Benefits: reduced management fees (since they are shared with others) and the safety of the large deposit-box of your bank.

But the real question is “does everyone actually have the gold that they claim to have”?

Why does the Fed refuse to have its reserves audited?

Our eyes are immediately focussed on the Fed, its colossal balance sheet of bad debts and its gold reserves. The Republican Senator Ron Paul has been asking for years for an audit on the gold reserves. In vain. [And see here for an analysis of this problem.] Just to stir up more problems, false ingots lined with tungsten have been discovered. They would appear to be of American origin.

Why do the central banks loan out their gold?

During the double decade (1980-2000) and the flat-period in the gold market, central banks engaged in the regrettable practice of giving gold out on loan in order to get some income from this dormant stock-pile. They can loan it out to commercial banks which use it to satisfy demand from an institutional client, for example. The last report on these strange practices goes back to 2006 and emanates from a private player, the specialized trader Blanchard. One then has to ask the question: do the ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) ETCs actually possess their gold?

There exist various legal arrangements according to country. The following question is often repeated: wouldn’t these reserves not just be gold out on loan?

When banks give gold in exchange is it their own or your own?

In February 2011, The Wall Street Journal informed us that gold is accepted in the swaps transactions of commercial banks.  At this date, the inter-banking market is completely seized up. Banks are terrified and refuse to lend between themselves. Where does this gold, that suddenly appears, come from? Is this gold out on loan by central banks or is this the famous gold in the pipeline of the customer? Deafening silence.

Comex sets the price of gold… paper gold. The largest futures market in the world remains Comex. A futures contract is a bit of paper which bears an expiry date, a commodity, a quantity and a price. At the expiry date, the owner of the bit of paper has a choice: to take delivery at the agreed price of the commodity or “roll-over his position”, i.e. take the following contract. The majority of speculators choose the latter. In the warehouses of Comex, there is therefore much less gold than that which is covered by the futures contracts which circulate. So much less that the Canadians (who are large gold producers) got annoyed: Comex sets its prices, disconnected from reality, on paper. Short sellers are financed by the lobby of the large US banks and everything is distorted, they claimed.

A revolt was organized in 2008 Vaporize Comex (Let’s smash Comex). Principle: that the holders of futures contracts ask for delivery, in unison, all on the same date to show to the face of the world that the warehouses of the Commodities Exchange were almost empty. The Canadian rebels had agreed on a contract at the end of December. Shortly after, rumours circulated according to which certain contract holders had agreed not to take delivery in exchange for substantial compensation in dollars…

 And that’s why the premium goes up!

 Simone Wapler is Chief Editor for Agora Publications (financial analysis and consultancy).

Source: Reuters

Why do investors buy gold?

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

A lucid analysis from France on the logic of gold investment

Translated from an original article by Charles Sannat, Director of Economic Studies, AuCOFFRE.com, Paris

With regard to the economy, we have just gone through a “settlement” period with the Greek crisis. But in reality nothing has been settled. As far as Greece is concerned, we have gained a few months’ respite in so far as that country remains indebted to the tune of more than 120% of its GDP and nothing indicates that a recovery in the public finances can succeed. Having said that, we shall see within 12 to 24 months.

More worrying of course is the economic situation of Spain and Portugal, with here too monumental social damage in progress and popular demonstrations which are starting to become extremely significant in the fight against austerity plans. Beware. Spain is not Greece. Spain is a great country, with a great history and Franco’s nationalism only dates back to 1975, i.e. yesterday. As any expert on Spain will tell you, that country will never accept a Greek-style humiliation. The Prime Minister has in fact called a stop to certain reforms. And he is right-wing. Spain will not be able to find a way out of the economic, financial and property crisis with a strong euro which does not correspond to the intrinsic characteristics of its economy. The same applies to Portugal.

We should not forget our own country, France. If we recall, in 2010, there were 1.42 working people for every retired person. Retirements will end up by no longer being paid for because there is quite simply no more money. The problem is not in 20 years’ time. It is now.

France is also in bankruptcy. The Court of Auditors in France, chaired by the Socialist Migot, has stated that it is necessary to dispense with indexing pensions to inflation. With real inflation of 5% per annum, in 10 years’ time a pensioner will lose the equivalent of 60% of his purchasing power. That is the reality.

Lastly, let us remember the end is nigh atmosphere at the end of 2011 (that was three months ago). One really wondered whether the euro would have survived by Christmas. What has changed since then?  One simple but basic fact. Over-indebted countries (France and Germany) became even more indebted, to temporarily save a country like Greece from immediate bankruptcy. But it is the entirety of our economic system which is in an irremediably compromised position. Nobody is able to say so. Even less the “people” behind the system. That is self-evident.

The only truth is the following: infinite growth related to mass consumption thanks to abundant and cheap energy in a finite world is a system likely to fail.

  • A gold purchaser does not buy gold to speculate.
  • A gold purchaser does not buy gold to get rich.
  • A gold purchaser does not have a view on the financial results of the next quarter.
  • A gold purchaser buys gold because he or she has a fundamental analysis of the current dead end in which the global economy finds itself.
  • He or she buys gold because each serious crisis ends up by finding a “monetary” resolution that is usually painful.
  • He or she buys gold because gold has been the Vera Valor (true value) for more than 6,000 years whilst the euro barely celebrates its 10th anniversary.
  • He or she buys gold because before 1914 the currency was gold; because in the inter-war years those who had given up gold got to know a period of hyperinflation which led to Nazism coming to power with the disastrous consequences that we all know.
  • He or she buys gold because in 1971, the dollar was no longer convertible and only the banknote plate continued to function unsupervised.
  • Above all, he or she buys gold because he or she knows, and it is a historical certainty, that nothing is immaterial. During the last century we saw five different international currency systems or one every 20 years on average.
  • He or she buys gold because the current system will change. Regardless whether it is in six months or six years.
  • Gold buyers buy gold because they know that whatever the outcome of change, they will have simply kept the value of their assets. And it is that which will make all the difference.

Everyone else is half-witted, rendered moronic through TV and lobotomized by the eternal Welfare State. They will suffer. But this last sentence should of course not be quoted. It is OFF the record as they say. And I will not even give a small coin (out of gold) to a tramp when he goes around begging with his small sign: “May I call upon your kindness, Ladies and Gentlemen, in helping a former paper salesman by giving a bit of change to eat and help me to remain clean.” These people are ruining French people, just as with the Russian loans, or the assignats, and with each devaluation… In short it is necessary to know history and fully understand that they do not support us. The people act as compensation for the rich (banks and the system).

That’s why gold is bought.

Gold is rising I am happy. Gold is falling I am equally happy because I can buy more.
A gold buyer is always happy:-)

GREEKS TRADE THEIR WAY OUT OF GOVERNMENT CHAOS

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

… and the government follows their lead

By Mark Rogers

In recent posts I have looked at what money is, what underlies the knowledge economy and suggested the role of “de-development” lying at the core of the financial crisis.

It is therefore interesting to report on how ordinary Greeks have rapidly over the course of the last few years started building informal economies, part-barter, part-alternative currency.

As reported in The New York Times, October 2011: “‘Ever since the crisis there’s been a boom in such networks all over Greece,’ said George Stathakis, a professor of political economy and vice chancellor of the University of Crete. In spite of the large public sector in Greece, which employs one in five workers, the country’s social services often are not up to the task of helping people in need, he added. ‘There are so many huge gaps that have to be filled by new kinds of networks,’ he said.”

In Volos, a fishing port in Central Greece, an alternative banking system has been established based on something called a Local Alternative Unit: its value is at par with the euro and can be used to exchange local goods and services. Members even receive books of vouchers, proofed against forgery, which can be used like cheques. (This is reminiscent of the way in which in nineteenth century Hong Kong, cheques themselves were simply circulated as currency without ever being cashed!)

“In Patras, in the Peloponnese,” continues the story in The New York Times, “a network called Ovolos, named after an ancient Greek means of currency, was founded in 2009 and includes a local exchange currency, a barter system and a so-called time bank, in which members swap services like medical care and language classes. The group has about 100 transactions a week, and volunteers monitor for illegal services, said Nikos Bogonikolos, the president and a founding member.”

The most significant aspect of the story is how the Greek government has responded: legislation was passed in the last week of September 2011 which recognised these “alternative forms of entrepreneurship and local development”, giving these groups non-profit status. In the light of the severity of the Greek position, it could not very well do anything else, but that is not where its significance lies.

Extra-legal economies are the time-honoured way in which poor and impoverished peoples have banded together to build an economy from scratch; eventually, the pressure on the legal economy, in 18th Century Britain and throughout the developing world today, which largely exists to protect the monopolistic privileges of the guilds of yore and the professional castes and trade unions of today, forces it to give way: monopoly privileges are legally rescinded, and legal protections extended to those in the extra-legal economy so that they can operate beyond the immediate locality (i.e. safely do business with strangers) and realise their assets.

It is this that the Greek government with admirable perspicacity and speed has enabled for its beleaguered citizens. The Greek government over the decades has acted as one enormous vested interest, which coupled with the incredible way in which Greece was permitted to enter the euro, reduced its citizens to these bare economies. But is there the seed of something else?

There is here the potential to wean people off the whole concept of welfarism: “‘The most exciting thing you feel when you start is this sense of contribution,’ [said Maria Houpis, a retired teacher at a technical high school and one of the Volos group’s six co-founders]. ‘You have much more than your bank account says. You have your mind and your hands.’”

THE CORE OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

By Mark Rogers

It is a universal truth that revolutions devour their children: this is ruefully acknowledged in the cases of the French and Bolshevik revolutions – considered “good” revolutions, as if Robespierre or Lenin were somehow accidents.

The revolution that is now unwinding with a vengeance is the Welfare State. It may seem overdoing it to call the Welfare State a revolution, but consider: it is normal to discuss the Welfare State in terms of safety nets, short-term solutions to modest problems like seasonal unemployment and housing for the poorest, or, in a more wide-ranging version of the arguments for it, as a necessary bulwark against economic catastrophes such as the Great Depression.

Yet the Welfare State itself devours so many resources and applies them without the constraints of market discipline, with the accompanying bloating of the civil service to administer it, that this in itself constitutes a revolution in economic and political habits. Add to this that as a result huge numbers of people have come to perceive government as a necessary arbiter of the way they live and the provider of their needs: this is an even bigger revolution.

For example, many people live in council flats and houses and survive on benefits including housing benefit. What the benefits system effectually does, in consequence, is to deprive people of any assets whatsoever, including themselves. That is, those who live entirely at the provision of the state do not exercise the assets they possess in hands and brains to carve out a living for themselves – it is not worthwhile to do so, as they are better off on benefits than working. This is a major reversal of those virtues that Keynes reviled (as we have noted here): industry, thrift, independence, a proper self-respect.

What this means is that the Welfare State is the chief driver of what we may call “de-development” in the western democracies. This takes two forms: the destruction of economic facts (see the discussion here) and the culture of dependence on government. Both have their origins in the misplaced desire to assist the poorest in society. The subprime crisis, for example, has its origins in FDR’s “New Deal” and the creation of the government-backed savings and loans “banks”. The massive growth of these institutions in itself became a problem, compounded by the Clinton administration’s drive to force lenders to lend to the poorest African Americans, under penalty of being convicted and fined for “racism” if they did not do so – ignoring the economic reality that no-one’s interests were served by deliberately creating debt in households that manifestly could not afford to repay it.

The bundling of “toxic debts” into securities that could then be traded was the banks’ and the markets’ ingenious but short-sighted nostrum to deal with one consequence of government intervention that had gone badly wrong. It may have kept western economies afloat a few years longer, this juggling act by the banks – but the policy behind it seems to have been somewhat Micawberish, waiting for something else to turn up…

And what has turned up is the massive bankruptcy of the Welfare State, nowhere more obviously epitomised than in the eurozone. Entirely driven by the manifest fact that the Welfare State is unaffordable, as is bluntly stated by those who know this – those who don’t, harp on about services being “underfunded”, as if unsustainable taxation only needed to become even more unsustainable and the problem would be solved!

As James Bartholomew points out in his crucial book “The Welfare State We’re In” it is only in the Welfare State that the poor are taxed – in ultra-capitalist Hong Kong the poor pay no taxes because the threshold on earnings before taxation kicks in is high, meaning that everyone has a chance to better themselves.

It should be more widely understood that bankruptcies are a sign of a healthy economy – stripping out ill-conceived or unworkable economic projects. This is the core of the eurozone crisis: what are we being told doesn’t work?