Saturday, June 20, 2020

Keynesian Macroeconomics Out of Control

Macroeconomics has become so far removed from reality that its practitioners cannot understand what is happening in the real economy. Never has this been more obvious than today. While they claim to be economically literate, macroeconomists are in thrall to their paymasters; a combination of government, quasi-government and financial institutions with a vested interest in not looking too closely at the full consequences of government economic and monetary policies. 

From this neo-Keynesian macro world, the latest spinoff is modern monetary theory, which is little more than a logical extension of Keynesianism —justifying intervention by the state and the use of fiat currency being expanded limitlessly. MMT is the end of the line for arguments based on macroeconomic fallacies that have their origin in Keynes.

Stephanie Kelton’s book, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy was released on Tuesday (9 June):

“Stephanie Kelton’s brilliant exploration of MMT dramatically changes our understanding of how we can deal with crucial issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs, expanding health care coverage, climate change, and building resilient infrastructure.”

That is the first sentence of Amazon’s sales pitch. If these claims are true, the world’s economic problems are easily solved. But we must put aside the marketing hyperbole and look at MMT seriously...

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Brief History of Monetary Silver

Silver has a similar history to gold of being money. Following the ending of barter, communities worldwide adopted durable metals – gold, silver or copper, depending on local availability — as the principal medium of exchange. And until the 1960s this heritage, with respect to copper and silver, was still reflected in the coinage used in most nations. The British currency is still known as sterling because since the reign of Henry II (1154–1189) money was silver coinage of sterling alloy, comprised of 92.5% silver, the balance being mainly copper.

Silver was the sole monetary standard, sometimes with gold on a bimetallic standard, for most regions from medieval times until the nineteenth century. Sir Isaac Newton reset the silver standard against gold in 1717, and it was because the British government overpriced gold and failed to adjust to the consequences of changing mine supplies, principally the subsequent expansion of gold supply from Brazil, that British commerce moved towards a gold standard during the eighteenth century.

We look in greater detail at these events later in this article.

As international trade developed, gold for trading nations assumed greater significance, leading eventually to the adoption of the British sovereign coin as the gold standard in the early nineteenth century.

In colonial America, silver was the principal circulating currency in common with that of Britain at the time, but following Newton’s introduction of a silver standard for the pricing of gold, similar practical relationships between the two metals existed for trade in nearly all Britain’s colonies; in America’s case at least until independence was formally gained by the Treaty of Paris in 1783.[i]

When Alexander Hamilton was Treasury Secretary, the US introduced a bimetallic standard with the first coinage act in 1792 when the dollar was fixed at 371.25 grains of pure silver, minted with alloy into coins of 416 grains. Gold coins were also authorised in denominations of $10 (eagles) and $2.50 (quarter eagles). The ratio of silver to gold was set at fifteen to one. All these coins were declared legal tender, along with some foreign coins, notably the Spanish milled silver dollar, which had 373 grains of pure silver making them a reasonable approximation for the US silver dollar.

However, not long after Hamilton’s coinage act was passed, the international market rate for the gold/silver ratio rose to 15.5:1, which led to gold being drained from domestic circulation, leaving silver as the common coinage. Effectively, the dollar was on a silver standard until 1834, when Congress approved a change in the ratio to 16:1 by reducing the gold in the eagle from 246.5 to 232 grains, or 258 grains at about nine-tenths fine. An additional adjustment to 232.2 grains was made in 1834. After a few years, gold coins then dominated in circulation over silver, the circulation of which declined as it became more valuable relative to gold. Gold discoveries in California and Australia then increased the quantity of gold mined relative to silver, making silver even more valuable relative to gold coinage thereby driving it almost totally out of circulation. This was remedied by an act of 1853 authorising subsidiary silver coins of less than $1 to be debased with less silver than called for by the official mint ratio and less than indicated by the world market price.

Under financial pressure from the civil war, in 1862 the government issued notes that were not convertible either on demand or at a specific future date. These greenbacks were legal tender for everything but customs duties, which still had to be paid in gold or silver. The government had abandoned the metallic standards. Greenbacks were issued in large quantities and the United States experienced a substantial inflation.

After the war was over Congress determined to return to the metallic standard at the same parity that existed before the war. It was accomplished by slowly removing greenbacks from circulation. The bimetallic standard, measuring the dollar primarily in silver, was finally replaced with a gold standard in 1879, reaffirmed in 1900 when silver was officially relegated to small denomination money.

In Europe, most countries on a silver standard moved to gold after the Franco-Prussian war (1870–1), when Germany imposed substantial reparations from France which were paid in gold, and Germany was then able to migrate from a silver to a gold standard. Other European nations followed suit.

More recently, silver circulated as money in Arab lands in the form of Maria Theresa dollars, which had circulated widely in the Middle East and East Africa from the mid-nineteenth century and were still being used in Muscat and Oman in the 1970s.

These are just some examples of silver’s use as money in the past. It lives on in base metal coins today, made to look like silver. Now imagine a world where fiat currencies are discredited: gold or gold substitutes will almost certainly return as the money for larger transactions, and silver will equally certainly return as money for everyday transactions. Bimetallism might not return as official policy due to the frequent adjustments required, but history has shown that a relatively stable market rate between gold and silver is likely to ensue, and silver more than gold will ensure widespread distribution of circulating metallic money.

Supply and demand factors

Analysts are currently grappling with the effects of the coronavirus on supply and demand in their forecasts for the rest of this year. Silver mines have been affected by changes in grades and production shutdowns. According to the Silver Institute, in 2019 less than 30% of mine supply was from mines classified as primarily silver, the rest coming from lead/zinc, copper, gold mines and “others” in that order of importance. Miners of lead/zinc, copper and others made up about 56% of global silver mine supply, so that a decline in global economic activity automatically leads to a decline in silver output from base metal miners.

At the same time, falling industrial demand for silver throws a greater emphasis on investment to sustain demand overall. Last year, non-investment demand was 806 million ounces, while investment was estimated at 186 million, a relationship which in a deep recession will require a significant increase in investment demand to absorb the combination of mine, scrap and available above-ground stocks. Identifiable above-ground stocks are estimated at 1,651 million, a multiple of 1.67 times 2019 demand, and 8.9 times 2019 investment demand.

For 2020 and beyond, I am very bearish for the global economy for reasons stated elsewhere. If I am right, current estimates for mine supply, of which over half is dependent on base metal mines, will prove optimistic. But silver demand for non-investment usage is likely to decline even more, in which case investment demand will probably need to at least double if silver prices are to rise in real terms.

An interesting point is found in the comparison with gold, where above-ground stocks are many multiples of mine and scrap supply. Stock-to-flow comparisons have been popularised recently by the cryptocurrency community as a measure of future monetary stability, compared with that of infinitely expandable fiat currencies. A high stock-to-flow signals a low rate of inflationary supply. Silver has a very low stock to flow ratio due to the low level of above-ground stocks. But it is a mistake is to rely on this measure of monetary stability for a metallic money when the lack of physical liquidity should be the main consideration.

At current prices, silver’s above-ground stock is worth only $31bn, compared with gold’s at over $10 trillion. With this relationship of 323 times of gold to silver’s above-ground stock values and an annual mine supply ratio of only 8 times as many silver ounces to that of gold, it appears that if gold returns to its traditional monetary role, silver will turn out to be substantially undervalued. “If” is a little word for a very big assumption; but given the unprecedented and coordinated acceleration of monetary expansion currently proposed, an ending of the current fiat currency regime and a return to gold and silver as monies is becoming increasingly likely.

The relationship with gold in the numbers above suggest that a bimetallic standard today on mine supply considerations alone would be at almost half Isaac Newton’s 1717 exchange rate. Obviously, the issue is not so simple and will be settled by markets. But looking at some other facts suggest the gold/silver relationship is due for a radical rethink. Table 1 below lists some of the relevant ones.

The clear outlier is the gold/silver ratio.

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Friday, June 12, 2020

Orphaned Silver is Finding its Parent

So far this year, the story in precious metals markets has been all about gold. Speculators have this idea that gold is a hedge against inflation. They don’t question it, don’t theorise; they just assume. And when every central bank issuing a respectable currency says they will print like billy-ho, the punters buy gold derivatives.

These normally tameable punters are now breaking the establishment’s control system. On Comex, the bullion establishment does not regard gold and silver as money, just an idea to suck in the punters. The punters are no longer the suckers. With their newly promised infinite monetary expansion, central banks are confirming their inflationary fears.

What makes it worse for bullion bank trading desks is that the banking system is now teetering on the edge of the greatest contraction of bank credit experienced at least since the 1930s, and banks are determined to rein in their balance sheets. We normally think of bank credit contraction crashing the real economy: this time, banks are reining in market making activities as well, and that includes out-of-control gold and silver trading desks, foreign exchange trading, fx swaps and other derivatives —anything that is not a matched arbitrage or an agency deal on behalf of a genuine customer.

Initially, the focus on gold left silver vulnerable. Figure 1 shows how the two metals have performed in dollar terms so far this year, indexed to 31 December 2019. When the bullion banking establishment tried one of its periodic smashes in mid-February, it reduced Comex gold futures’ open interest from just under 800,000 contracts to about 480,000. The price of gold bounced back strongly to be up 14% on the year and the bullion banks are still horribly net short. But silver crashed, losing 34% and has only just recovered to be level on the year so far.

For the punters, in a proper gold bull market silver is seen as just a leveraged bet on gold. They are less interested in the dynamics that cause a relationship to exist than they are on the momentum behind the price. For now, active traders are looking for entry points in both metals to build or add to their positions in a bullish but overbought market.

This is just short-term stuff, and much has been written on it about gold. We are generally unaware today that silver has been money for ordinary people more so than gold and in that sense still has the greater claim as a circulating medium. It is therefore time to devote our attention to silver.

- Source, Gold Money

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Alasdair Macleod: Negative Rates to Overturn Us?

As we’re being pelted by currency expansion at multiple times what was done during the Lehman crisis, and the futures market is predicting negative nominal interest rates ahead, what will the impact be on our real economy, on gold & silver, and on the lives of ordinary people? 

Alasdair Macleod, head of Research at, returns to Liberty and Finance / Reluctant Preppers to answer viewers’ questions on navigating the upside-down world we are entering, and which no one has faced before.

- Source, Reluctant Preppers

Friday, May 22, 2020

Gold is the Ultimate Fiscal and Monetary Discipline on Governments

The inflationists deny that gold should play any monetary role, for the simple reason that it hampers inflationist policies. Being the most likely way of securing a currency, for a gold exchange standard to work will require strict rules-based monetary discipline.

A gold exchange standard is comprised of the following elements. The new issues of state denominated currency must be covered pro rata by additional physical gold, and it must be fully interchangeable at the public’s option. The state is not required at the outset to cover every existing banknote in circulation, but depending on the situation, perhaps a minimum of one-third of the issue should be covered by physical gold at the outset when setting a fixed conversion ratio. The point is that further note issues must be covered by the issuer acquiring physical gold.

Banknotes which are “as good as gold” are a practical means of using gold as the medium of exchange. Electronic money, being fully convertible into bank notes must also be convertible into gold.

A gold exchange standard also requires the state to radically alter course from its customary inflationary financing. The economy, which has similarly become accustomed to future flows of apparently free money, will have to adjust to their future absence. Consequently, the state has to reduce its burden on the economy, such that its activities become a minimal part of the whole; the smaller the better. It must privatise industries in its possession, because it cannot afford to absorb any losses and inefficient state businesses detract from overall economic performance. At the same time, the state must not hamper wealth creation and accumulation by producers and savers as the means to provide investment in production. Government policy must be to stop all socialism, allowing charities to fulfil the role of welfare provision, and let free markets have full rein.

Broadly, this was how British government policy developed following the Napoleonic wars until the First World War, and the proof of its success was Britain’s commercial and technological development, entirely due to free markets. But the British made one important mistake, and that was in the Bank Charter Act of 1844, which in England and Wales permitted the expansion of unbacked bank credit. For this reason, a cycle of credit expansion developed, punctuated by sharp contractions, the boom and bust that led to a series of banking crises. A future gold exchange standard must address this issue, by separating deposit-taking into a custodial role and the financing of investment into an agency function.

It is a common error of neo-Keynesian economists to believe gold is an unsuitable medium for financing modern trade and investment, because, it is often alleged, it lacks an interest rate. Since interest rates existed throughout gold standards, the confusion arises from assuming an interest rate attaches to paper currency. But if a paper currency is fully convertible into gold, then interest rates are effectively for borrowing and lending gold, and do not apply to the currency. The best measure of what savers may gain by lending their gold savings risk-free is the yield on government debt, repayable in gold and realisable in the market at any time. This is illustrated in Figure 1.

Shortly after the introduction of the gold sovereign in 1817, the yield on undated government debt gradually fell to 2.3% in 1898. This reflected a natural decline in time preference as free markets delivered increasing benefits and accumulating wealth for the British population. Following the gold discoveries in South Africa, between the early-1880s and the First World War global above-ground stocks of gold doubled, and the inflationary effects led to a rise in government Consols yields to 3.4%.

The encouragement to investors to provide financial capital for investment in industry and technology was two-fold. A family’s investment in 1824 rose in value due to the long-term fall in Consols yields. By 1898, invested in Consols it would have appreciated by 65%. At the same time, the rise in the purchasing power of gold-backed sterling increased approximately 20%. Saving and family inheritance were rewarded.

Importantly, above ground gold stocks have grown at approximately the rate of that of the global population, imparting a long-term stability to prices in gold. For this reason, it is often said that measured in gold the cost of a Roman toga is not much different from that of a modern lounge suit. Other money-related benefits of gold and gold exchange standards compared with those of pure fiat also follow from this stability.

Between countries that use gold and gold substitutes as money, except for short-term settlement differences covered by trade finance, balance of payments imbalances only existed to adjust price levels between different nations. If a country exports more goods and services than it imports, it imports gold or gold substitutes on a net basis. The increased quantity of gold in that country tends to adjust the general level of prices upwards to the general level of prices in countries that are net importers of goods and services, which find the outflow of gold has moved their prices correspondingly lower. The ability to issue unbacked currency has been removed, so net balance of payment flows become a pure price arbitrage. This is in accordance with classical economic theory and has its remnants today in concepts such as purchasing power parity.

In summary, gold retains the qualities that ensure it will always be the commodity selected by people to act as their medium of exchange. It offers long term price stability and is the ultimate fiscal and monetary discipline on governments, forcing them to reduce socialist ambitions, to accept the primacy of free markets, and to permit acting individuals to earn and accumulate wealth. Being fully fungible, gold is suitable backing for substitute coins and banknotes. It is an efficient medium for providing savings for the purpose of capital investment. And the tendency for prices measured in gold to fall over time driven by natural competition and technology ensures a low and stable originary rate of interest.

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Dichotomy Between Equities and Gold: A Tale of Two Alternate Inflation Universes

The past few months have been a period of extremes in financial markets across the globe. Crude oil future prices went negative, the Fed launched “unlimited QE” and equities have had the fastest crash in history, followed by the steepest recovery.

This latter part seems at odds with the economic environment we are currently in. We are witnessing the most pronounced global economic contraction in history. The US economy contracted 4.8% in 1Q2020 and the second quarter will be substantially worse. Unemployment is rising at a speed we have never seen before. In the US, continuous unemployment claims climbed to 18 million in just 4 weeks, nearly 3 times as much as during the entire financial crisis 2008-2009 (see exhibit 1). We expect this number to rise over the coming months as we will not just see temporary lay-offs from restaurants and coffee shops, but permanent job losses as companies will go out of business.

And the US is hardly alone. PMIs across the globe show unprecedented destruction in business activities. In our view, it is extremely unlikely for business activity to just go back to normal in a few weeks as global lockdowns are lifted. At the absolute best, we are coming out of the lockdown and will be entering a “normal” global recession for the next few quarters.

As a result, earnings expectations have come off substantially. While we think that companies and analysts are still much too optimistic when it comes to forward earnings estimates, they did fall by about 20% for the S&P500 companies. On the other hand, stock prices have sharply recovered from their March lows (see Exhibit 2). The S&P500 index is only down 9.8% year-to-date. The Nasdaq 100 is UP 3% by the time of writing.

So, what are stocks pricing in? In our view, it is clearly the devaluation of the denominator in which stocks are measured: the USD[1]. A few weeks ago, the Fed has launched what is now dubbed as “unlimited QE”. Effectively, the Fed has returned to its post-financial crisis playbook of buying assets and putting them on its balance sheets. Just this time, in a lot more aggressive fashion than ever before. The past 2 months have seen the fastest and largest ever increase in assets held by the Fed, growing by over USD2 trillion since late February (see Exhibit 3). The Fed is hardly alone, central banks around the world are doing the same. The ECB, for example, expanded its balance sheet by EUR650bn since late February. On top of that, we see unprecedented stimulus by governments as multi-trillion-dollar stimulus bills are being passed around the globe.

What the market is currently pricing into equity markets, is that all this money injected into the system will eventually lead to much higher price inflation. Inflation – so the idea – will lead to higher earnings again as prices of goods and services go up. Stock prices should reflect this multiplier in revenues and costs. In other words, investors seem to be buying equities as a protection against future fiat currency devaluations rather than because they are convinced that stocks are cheap, and companies are fundamentally in good shape.

What is at odds though, is that there seems that equities are pricing in vastly different inflation expectations than other asset classes. Breakeven inflation implied from TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) yields for example, suggest that the market is still pricing in modest inflation over the next 10 years. 10-year breakeven inflation is just at 1%, much lower than what it was before the Fed’s buying frenzy started. Breakeven inflation declined sharply at the beginning of this crisis (similar to 2008). It has since somewhat recovered, but TIPS do not price in that the Feds monetary expansion will lead to high consumer price inflation going forward just yet. Arguably, the inflation for which TIPS investors are compensated is the CPI inflation, which may not accurately reflect true inflation over the next 10 years. This was certainly true for the past 10 years. Moreover, the past 10 years have also shown that central bank interventions have mostly led to asset price inflation, hence, the market’s reaction to buying back into equities, even as breakeven inflation remains depressed, is partially understandable.

However, the most obvious dichotomy is the one between equities and gold. If expected inflation is the main driver for this massive rebound in equity prices, gold should in our view certainly have outperformed stocks. In a future with weak economic activity but high inflation (stagflation), equities would fare better than cash or bonds, but in real terms, they should still suffer. Gold, on the other hand, will keep pace with inflation, as it has done for centuries, both in world with a gold standard and in a world without.

When we look at the stocks priced in gold, it becomes obvious that either stock prices are too high, or gold prices are too low. Equites and gold seem to be living in two alternate inflation universes.

- Source, James Turk's Goldmoney

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Geopolitics Post COVID-19

One thing is for sure: the world will be different when it emerges from the coronavirus crisis. Doubtless, on pain of likely death those over seventy years of age must remain prisoners in their own homes while the younger generations are tasked with the return to normality. All this is meant to be under government guidance of course. Over the coming months governments intend to save swathes of business sectors, such as banking, energy production, utilities and the rest, first by lending the money to pay the bills, and then by rescuing the failures, taking them into public ownership in many cases.

That is what the post-coronavirus environment can be expected to look like, if, as governments hope, the recovery is V-shaped. If not, then greater interventions will be visited on the population to protect it from itself.

While not necessarily intentioned, there has been and will continue to be a dramatic transfer of freedom from individuals to the state, which the state is always reluctant to let go when the crisis passes. The evocation of a war against the virus is to facilitate the transfer of peoples’ freedom to the state, because that is what is required to fight a war. But when it’s over, the bureaucrats’ instincts are never to return freedoms.

In the vast majority of cases, win or lose, following a war it is usual for a nation to retain the measures adopted, dropping none of them. It might be called a transitional economy, kept in place with all the war-time restrictions until an exit path, inevitably to greater socialism, can be devised. And for America there is a war still to be fought against China for global domination, justifying yet more control.

Nanny meets fascist socialism

Welcome to the new post-coronavirus intensified socialism. As individuals we have given the state enormous power over our lives, which will almost certainly be consolidated. The direction of travel is clear. Not only can big brother censor us, but it can now track our movements more effectively than the old KGB. If you leave your home, leave your smartphone behind. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and change your gait, avoiding the cameras. Your money in the bank, or more correctly in your about-to-be-nationalised bank’s money credited to your account, can only be disposed of for state-regulated products by means of traceable transactions instead of old-fashioned cash.

Instead of the soviet, we have the nanny state. Nanny knows best. This is the real world of the 2020s. It is unnatural and will therefore eventually fail. In previous articles I have written about one aspect of its failure, and that is the impending collapse of unbacked state currencies. I have pointed out that central banks, and especially the Fed responsible for the world’s reserve currency, are embarking on an exercise in inflation designed, above all, to uphold the state by maintaining the values of its debt and therefore all other financial assets. If they fail, and they will because the task is too great, the currencies will fail as well, and remarkably quickly. Until then, free markets are a primal threat to the system and must not prevail.

Doubtless, deep state operatives everywhere believe that the threats from their own people can be contained. Taking that for granted, they are now moving on to contain threats from other states that don’t conform to the West’s democratic model. There is now much more propaganda coming out of America and the UK about the evil Chinese than the evil Chinese are disseminating about America and Britain.

The story being managed is of a devious state, somehow stealing our souls by selling us their technology. Mobile 5G puts China into our homes and controls our internet of everything. It will allow the Chinese to control us. What is not explained is why it is in China’s interest to abuse its customers in this way. What is not explained is why we, as individuals, will be better off not having Chinese goods and technology. And when Britain’s GCHQ intelligence and security division took Hua Wei’s equipment apart, they couldn’t find any evidence of Chinese state spyware anyway.

The irony in all this is that our democratic model, the nanny state, is cover for the same internal policies as those deployed by the Chinese, admittedly less vicious; but that is changing. Rather than communist-socialist, both Chinese communism and Western democracies are, properly defined, fascist-socialist. With communism, the state owns your cow and tells you what to do with it. With fascism, you own the cow and the state tells you what to do with it. In these simplistic, but not inaccurate terms, our governments increasingly follow the fascist creed adopted by the Chinese Communist Party after Mao’s death. Give it time and the intense Chinese-style suppression of free speech could become the defining feature of nanny’s management style as well.

Here we must note a fundamental truth. Socialists of either extreme do not see free markets as a rival, because they believe they are useful for progressing socialism towards desired ends. The true rival to your socialism is someone else’s socialism. Newly energized Western state socialism is to be pitted against Chinese state socialism. The World is about to get more dangerous.

- Source, Alasdair Macleod via James Turk's Goldmoney

Friday, May 1, 2020

How the ending of the gold derivative scam started

In the past, bullion banks always managed to put a lid on open interest, returning it from an overbought 600,000 contracts to under 400,000 contracts, in the process getting an even book or exceptionally going long, ready for the next pump-and-dump cycle. But then something changed. Last year, the pump-and-dump schemes of the bullion banks’ trading desks went awry, with open interest rocketing to nearly 800,000 contracts by January this year. After several failed attempts, in June 2019 gold had broken above $1350, which encouraged the speculators to chase the price up even further. The interest rate outlook then softened along with the global economy, and by early September, with open interest threatening to rise above the historically high 650,000 level, the Fed was forced to inject inflationary liquidity into the US banking system through repos. At its peak on 23 January 2020, the sum of all short positions on Comex was the equivalent of 2,488 tonnes of gold, worth $125bn. The suckers were finally breaking the banks, who held the bulk of the shorts. This can be seen in the chart below of Comex open interest

It was imperative that the position be brought under control, and accordingly, it appears that central banks, presumably at the behest of the Bank of England, arranged for gold to be leased to the bullion banks to ease liquidity pressures. And then trading desks were hit by a perfect storm.

The coronavirus put large swathes of the global economy into lockdown, disrupting payment chains in industrial production. This meant that formerly solvent businesses now face collapse and are turning en masse to their banks for liquidity. The bankers’ natural instinct is no longer the pursuit of profit, but fear of losses, and they now have an overwhelming desire to contract outstanding bank credit. In a panic, the Fed cut the Fed funds rate to the zero bound and promised unlimited liquidity support in a desperate attempt to avoid a deflationary spiral. Meanwhile, our swaps traders in gold futures were caught record short, the worst possible position for them given the evolving situation.

The coup de grĂ¢ce has now come from their banking superiors. Despite the efforts of the Fed to persuade them otherwise, bankers in their lending have become strongly risk-averse and know they will be forced to commit bank credit to failing corporations against their instincts. For this reason, they are taking every opportunity to reduce their balance sheet exposure to other activities. One of the first divisions to suffer is bound to be bullion bank desks running short positions, synthetic in London and actual on Comex, which are wholly inappropriate at a time of massive monetary inflation.

It is this last pressure that has led to an unusual combination of collapsed open interest, shown in the chart above, and rising gold prices, accompanied by a persistent premium of $40 or more over the spot price in London. Clearly, there is good reason for the LBMA and the CME to panic. If the gold price rises much further, there will be bullion desks, managing shorts on Comex and fractionally reserved positions in London, at risk of bankrupting their employers.

The Comex contract, which anchors itself to physical gold through the option of physical delivery at expiry, will face enormous challenges when the active June contract expires at the end of next month. At expiry, the speculators have a chance to obtain delivery. Normally, when the spot price is lower than the future, only the insane would insist on delivery at the higher price. But with very low availability of bullion and price premiums for delayed delivery common, London is being rapidly drained of physical liquidity as well. It is like a good old-fashioned one-two boxing combination: first the Comex market is delivered a body-blow, and then the LBMA gets an uppercut.

Many central banks who have stored their earmarked gold at the Bank of England will be unhappy as well, having leased their gold in the expectation it would stabilise the bullion market. They will not do it again for an interesting reason: gold leasing rates have turned strongly negative, with the two-month rate currently minus 3.7%.[ii] No sensible entity is going to pay a lessor to lease its gold and will want leased gold returned instead. Therefore, the availability of gold for leasing is now cut off and gold already leased will need to be returned if delivered to the lessors, or unencumbered if it remained in the Bank of England’s vaults as is the normal leasing practice.

Gold liquidity in London will then disappear entirely, at which point those with a claim to custodial gold will hope that their property rights remain protected.

- Source, Goldmoney

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Looming Gold Derivative Crisis

One of the scares at the time of the Lehman crisis was that insolvent counterparties risked collapsing the whole over-the-counter derivative complex. It was for this reason that AIG, a non-bank originator of many derivative contracts, had to be bailed out by the Fed. By a mixture of good judgement and fortune a derivative crisis was averted, and by consolidating some of the outstanding positions, the gross value of OTC derivatives was subsequently reduced.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, in mid-June last year all global OTC contracts outstanding were still unimaginably large at $640 trillion, a massive sum in anyone’s book. It is unlikely to have changed much by today. But in bank balance sheets only a net figure is usually shown, and you have to search the notes to financial statements to find evidence of gross exposure. It is the gross that matters, because each contract bears counterparty risk, sometimes involving several parties, and derivative payment failures could make the payment failures now evident in disrupted industrial supply chains look like small beer.

Deutsche Bank’s 2019 balance sheet gives us an excellent example of how they are accounted for in commercial banks. It conceals derivative exposure under the headings “Trading assets” and “Trading liabilities” on the balance sheet. You have to go into the notes to discover that under Trading assets, derivative financial instruments total €80.848bn, and under Trading liabilities, derivative financial instruments total €81.910bn, a difference of €1.062bn This is relatively trivial for a bank with a balance sheet of €777bn.

But wait, there is another table that breaks derivative exposure down even further into categories, and it turns out the earlier figures are consolidated totals. The true total of OTC derivatives and exchange traded derivatives to which the bank is exposed is €37.121 trillion. That is nearly thirty-five thousand times the €1.062bn netted difference in the balance sheet. And when you bear in mind that valuing OTC derivatives is somewhat subjective, or as the cynics say, mark to myth, it invalidates the valuation exercise.

Clearly, by taking the mildest of a positive approach to derivatives held as assets, and a slightly more conservative approach to valuing derivatives on the liabilities side, that 35,000:1 leverage at the balance sheet level can make an enormous difference.

Now let us take our imagination a little further. A large number of these derivatives will have commercial entities as counterparties, businesses that have been shut down by the coronavirus since the balance sheet date. With the German economy already heading into recession before the coronavirus closed down much of the global economy, Deutsche Bank’s risk of losses arising from its derivative position could turn out to be in the trillions, not the one billion netted difference shown on the balance sheet.

Not only is there the emergence of counterparty failures to deal with, but there are ever-changing fair values, which will particularly reflect interest rate spreads increasing for Deutsche Bank’s €30.25 trillion interest rate-linked derivatives. We cannot know whether it is net positive or negative for shareholders. And with balance sheet gearing of assets 22 times larger than share capital very little change could wipe them out.

Deutsche Bank is not alone in presenting derivative risk in this manner: it is the elephant in many bank boardrooms. As a weak link, Deutsche is a relevant illustration of risks in the banking system. Since the Lehman crisis, its senior management has been on the back foot, retreating from businesses they could neither control nor understand. They have also made very public mistakes in precious metals, which is our next topic.
Gold derivatives in crisis

While a struggling bank like Deutsche provides us with a laboratory experiment for how a derivative virus can kill a bank, we are now seeing it kill off bullion banks in real time. A rising gold price, out of the control normally imposed by expandable derivatives, has effectively gone bid only in any size. We are told this is due to COVID-19 shutting mines and refineries and disrupting logistics, and so is purely temporary. The LBMA and CME which runs Comex have been issuing calming statements and even announced the introduction of a new 400-ounce gold futures contract alleged to ease the supply shortage.

In short, the gold derivative establishment is panicking. The swaps position on Comex shows why.

With their net short position in very dangerous territory, Comex swaps are badly wrongfooted at a time when the Fed and other central banks have announced unlimited monetary inflation, signalling a paradigm shift in the relationship between sound and unsound money. For ease of reference and to understand their relevance, a swap dealer is defined by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which collates the figures, as follows:

An entity that deals primarily in swaps for a commodity and uses the futures markets to manage or hedge risks associated with those swap transactions. The swap dealer’s counterparties may be speculative traders, like hedge funds, or traditional commercial clients that are managing risk arising from their dealings in the physical commodity.

Therefore, a swap dealer is one that operates across derivative markets, and typically will trade in London forwards as well as on Comex. In a nutshell, it describes a bullion bank’s trading desk.

In a further piece of disinformation this week, Jeff Christian, head of CPM Group, in an obviously staged interview for MacroVoices claimed that traders in London were forced by their banks to cover trading risk in the futures market as a condition of their funding. The implication was shorts on Comex are matched to longs in London’s forward market and therefore not a problem. This may be true of an independent trader looking for arbitrage opportunities between markets but is not how it works in a bank.

- Source, Goldmoney

Friday, April 24, 2020

Enter the Coronavirus Crisis, Banks to Be Overwhelmed With Debt Defaults

We have made the important point that before the coronavirus lockdown, the credit cycle was already turning down. Liquidity strains had surfaced last September, with the Fed routinely supplying tens of billions of dollars of liquidity through the repo market.

The monetary base, which represents the quantity of money in public circulation created by the Fed, is now growing at the fastest pace on record. But since January, a new problem arose: the disruption to production supply chains from the virtual shutdown of Chinese production due to the coronavirus.

The manufacture of anything requires multiple inputs, commonly referred to as supply chains. The concept of a supply chain suggests they are one dimensional: a series of production steps that go towards a single product. This is not the case. Supply chains are multidimensional and involve supplies from many sources in many jurisdictions at every production stage. The sequential shutdown of China, South Korea and much of South East Asia was followed by Europe, Britain and America. During these shutdowns almost all production and sales of non-food goods and non-essentials ceased.

While the assembly of a product progresses in one direction, payments flow backwards down the chain as each production step is delivered. The sum of the payments involved is far greater than the value of the final product. The global payment disruption is therefore significantly greater than the GDP number, which only consists of the sum total of final products bought by consumers. In the case of the US, an approximation of domestic payment disruption is contained in the gross output statistic, which is $38 trillion compared with a GDP of $21 trillion.

The US economy is significantly services-driven, with shorter supply chains on average than an equivalent manufacturing-based economy, such as China or Germany. If you add together supply chain payments abroad that feed into final goods sold in America, total payments for intermediate production stages in dollar-driven production probably add up to more than $50 trillion, the majority of which are now frozen.

To understand the impact of this new factor on bank credit, we must divide business customers into two classes; those with cash and those that depend on bank loans for working capital.

Both categories have establishment and other costs that continue despite the collapse in production. Those with cash liquidity draw it down to make payments, reducing bank deposits, which are recycled into other deposits which may or may not be with the same bank. When those deposits reduce existing overdrafts, bank credit contracts reflecting a loan repayment. When they amount to a simple transfer of deposit ownership, they do not.

The greater problem is with businesses that need loan cover for missed payments. There are so many of them with payment failures, bankers are being overwhelmed. Whether they realise it or not, they cannot afford to say no to demands for credit because Irving Fisher’s debt deflation problem is so urgent that to deny loan requests would likely end up wiping out the banks’ own shareholders’ capital and then some.

Supply chain payment failures are becoming a banking problem many times larger than the banking cohort shareholders’ capital. The ratio of US gross output to total equity capital for commercial banks in the US is nineteen times. In other words, unless the Fed can increase base money by at least that and somewhat more to compensate for a degree of bank credit contraction, the economy and the banking system will almost certainly crash.

In Germany, where the two major private banks shown in Figure 3 have balance sheet to equity ratios of 15.1 and 22.6, supply chain disruptions seem certain to lumber them with a fatal combination of dramatically widening commercial bond spreads and payment failures from the mittelstand.

Everywhere else, the problem is the same. The Fed has responded by reducing the cost of drawing down established central bank liquidity swaps lines, but they were only available to the ECB, the Bank of Japan, The Bank of England, Bank of Canada and the Swiss National Bank. Recognising the wider problem, on 19 March the Fed extended swap lines temporarily to the central banks of Korea, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and Sweden for six months. A notable absentee from the list is China, which one would have thought is the most important user of dollar liquidity based on trade. Politics trumps the delivery of monetary policy in defiance of the scale and urgency of the crisis.

The problems facing the whole banking system have never been greater. Individually, commercial banks are bound to take every opportunity to reduce their risk exposure before the market values of collateral, particularly equities, corporate debt and both residential and commercial property categories fall further in value. Banks will attempt to reduce their interbank exposure, particularly to European banks. Eurozone banks are likely to be the first to fail, needing state bail outs. Counterparty risk in over-the-counter derivatives becomes a major concern for all. And central banks are on a wing and a prayer if they think commercial banks will simply ensure liquidity gets to the right places in time to prevent a financial crisis.

- Source, James Turks Goldmoney

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Destructive Force of Bank Credit

Never has it been more important to understand the psychology and motivation behind changes in the level of bank credit at a time when governments and central banks are relying on commercial banks to transmit Keynesian stimuli to distressed borrowers. And never has it been more important for analysts to differentiate between deflationary forces that come entirely from the contraction of bank credit and inflationary forces that arise from central banks’ monetary policy.

Whether policies to rescue economies from the financial and economic effects of the coronavirus will actually get to the intended businesses depends largely on the transmission mechanisms for base money. While special powers for direct funding of large corporations may be implemented and the extension of public ownership to prevent bankruptcies of large players is very likely, commercial banks will be expected to play a central role in distributing monetary stimuli to businesses of all sizes. But since they regard small and medium size businesses as either too risky or not worth bothering with, it will be a struggle to get them to deliver the financial support intended.[i]

In any advanced economy, a Pareto 80% of GDP is provided by small and medium-size enterprises. In a highly centralised banking system, for the banks that have access to the Fed through prime broker subsidiaries, SMEs are simply not worth bothering with. It leaves the majority of enterprises providing goods and services to the public out in the cold. Bankers looking through the dip will want to preserve more profitable relationships with large corporations and reduce their exposure to risky, expensive-to-administer smaller loans.

Despite the central banks’ generous intentions, the majority of businesses that rely on bank lending for working capital will therefore find finance frozen by bankers now driven by fear of risk instead of grasping lending opportunities underwritten by government support. Businesses with cash will learn that they are taxed by the debauchment of their money to subsidise failing competitors.

Investors who are used to getting positive returns solely on the back of expansionary monetary policies are now egging on the authorities to spend, spend and spend one more time. Penson funds and insurance companies in particular will now discover they are being lumbered with the cost of monetary expansion by an increasing depreciation of the currency, which escalates future liabilities. Ever since the investment industry pandered to the inflationary policies of central banks this outcome was inevitable, because both logic and sound economic theory tell us you cannot continually inflate your way out of trouble.

That end point is where we have now arrived. The state has come to rely completely on inflationary stimulation. The helicopters have warmed up and are ready to distribute monetary largess created by the magic of central banking, not just to individuals, but to their employers as well.

Mission impossible is to restore economic activity to where it was before the coronavirus shutdown. Politicians assume is can be achieved by deploying military precision. They have taken for themselves a mandate to sweep aside all bureaucracy and all objections to the role of the state. All it requires is for the banks as well as other critical actors to submit to their authority.
The credit cycle was turning down before the virus hit

It ignores the impact of the credit cycle, which was already turning down in the second half of last year. In response, the Fed first stalled its attempt to restore its balance sheet to normality and from September onwards was forced to publicly intervene to inject massive amounts of liquidity into the banking system through the repo market.

All was not well in wholesale dollar markets at least five months before the virus hit, so the problem is more complex than a simple return to normality when the virus passes. Furthermore, the authorities trying to keep the economy from imploding are out of their depth, so much so that individuals in the private sector are gradually realising it as well. Financial risk has escalated considerably, which has one effect: bankers will use every opportunity to reduce the size of their balance sheets. The authorities will struggle to get banks to hold fast, let alone distribute subsidies to producers and consumers alike.

Attempts at rescuing the global economy and supporting financial asset values upon which bank collateral is based will require massive inflation of base money, as outlined later in this article. But these attempts will have to fight bankers trying to control their lending risk in order to protect their shareholders’ capital from being wiped out. Their motivation to deflate bank credit will be greater than ever before.

An appreciation of the deflationary implications of the current phase of the credit cycle requires an understanding of how bank credit fluctuates and the predominantly psychological factors that drive it.
The origins of bank credit

The general public is not aware that there are two separate sources of money. The central banks are empowered to issue money, but commercial banks do so as well. One way they do this is by taking in deposits and then lending them to borrowers for an interest rate turn. When the borrower draws down the loan to make payments, more deposits are created as the payments are made.

A second course of money creation is simply by lending money into existence. In this case, the loan is created first, and as it is drawn down, deposits are created. This is regarded as the more usual practice, hence the description of the process being the expansion of bank credit. Any imbalances that arise between banks are resolved through the interbank market.

By these means a bank’s own capital becomes a fraction of the bank’s expanded liabilities, hence the term fractional reserve banking. Figure 1 shows the barebones of fractional reserve banking, with a bank’s balance sheet measured in monetary units (mu), early in a phase of credit expansion.

This balance sheet reflects a cautious approach to bank lending. Shareholders’ equity is valued at one third of customers’ deposits and is covered twice by government bonds, which will all be less than five years to maturity and is regarded in the banking system as the risk-free investment standard. At this stage of the credit cycle and with the banking community generally risk-averse, lending margins are profitable. The ratio of total assets to shareholders’ equity is five times. Put another way, profits and losses from changes in asset values are multiplied five times at the shareholder level.

Figure 2 shows the same bank’s balance sheet towards the end of the expansion phase of the credit cycle.

The economy has responded to both monetary stimulation from the government’s deficit spending and interest rate suppression by the central bank. The cohort of bankers has seen a lessening of lending risk and has responded by actively seeking lending opportunities among large corporations. Bankers are now lending increasingly to medium size corporations as well as investment grade rated borrowers where the margins are better. Falling unemployment and growing economic confidence decreases lending risk for credit card and other consumer debt, and the bank has extended additional credit for creditworthy customers. Liquidity from government bonds and bills has been drawn down in order to increase allocation to higher-yielding corporate debt. The balance sheet has expanded to give an overall gearing on shareholders’ equity of 12.5 to 1.

This means a two per cent margin averaged across total assets yields a 25% profit on share capital. But by the time this snapshot is taken, competition from other banks will have likely reduced lending margins generally, and the bank has responded by taking an even more aggressive lending stance, so lending margins overall are likely to be less generous than at the start of the credit cycle and loan quality will have deteriorated.

While shareholders are enjoying excellent returns, it has become a highly risky situation for the bank. The slightest pause in the economic outlook, whether it be from interest rates being raised by the central bank attempting to control the boom, or perhaps an exogenous factor, such as trade tariffs being raised between the bank’s jurisdiction and a major trading partner, will cause the directors of our bank to switch from greed to fear in a heartbeat. In our example, all it takes is losses of 12.5% of the bank’s assets to wipe out shareholders’ equity.

If one bank suspects there may be a deterioration in trade conditions, it is certain that others will as well, because they have similar business information. Due to the dangers of balance sheet gearing, bankers are exceedingly prone to groupthink.

When it happens, the switch from greed to fear travels like wildfire. But some banks are likely to be caught out, having been aggressive lenders trying to increase the size of their bank, often with a chief executive on an ego trip. Fred Goodwin at Royal Bank of Scotland was a recent example. Ignoring all signs of the ending of a cycle of credit expansion, Goodwin pushed through a consortium takeover of ABN-AMRO in October 2007, with RBS’s portion funded by debt. The bank’s balance sheet gearing became twenty-four to one.

With gearing of that sort very little needs to go wrong to wipe out shareholders equity, which is what happened. Failures of this type are an acute risk when the banking cohort has been lulled into a false sense of lending risk by a prolonged period of business stability combining with the siren’s beckoning of a financial bubble.

Reducing bank balance sheets without creating economic instability is virtually impossible. Driven by their groupthink, frightened bankers will seek to reverse credit expansion all at the same time. They sell corporate bonds in a market with no buyers. Spreads, the difference in yield between government bonds and riskier corporate debt, blow out, catastrophic for book values. Business and personal loan facilities are capped and withdrawn, driving many companies into the hands of insolvency practitioners. It can become a race between bankers to reduce the size of their balance sheets before their competitors, as the rapid withdrawal of bank credit triggers bankruptcies and unemployment. It has happened repeatedly for the last two hundred years.

The economic effect was summed up by economist Irving Fisher in the 1930s, who is forever associated with the theory of debt deflation. As the oxygen of credit is withdrawn, businesses get into trouble and banks begin to liquidate collateral. Liquidation of collateral drives their values even lower, exposing additional formally secured lending as no longer secured. Further collateral sales follow, driving collateral values down even further. And so on.

That was in the depression years, and Fisher’s point was to link the collapse of businesses, asset values and also the failure of banks themselves with the contraction of bank credit. Subsequently, central bank policy has focused on trying to anticipate and stop the deflation of bank credit in the first place, always ready to turn on the money spigot. The government then subsidises the economy by increasing its spending without raising taxes. By using the stimulus of unfunded government spending and central bank money creation, the government and its central bank are following the Keynesian economic playbook, which now sets the relationship between the state and private sectors.

Despite everything attempted by statist intervention, we still have periodic bouts of bank credit deflation. But matters have evolved from the simple model illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 above. Banking has become highly regulated, and banks now lend on a formulaic basis, set globally by the Basel Committee (we are on rules version 3) and by local regulators.

Earlier versions of these controls permitted Fred Goodwin to take the RBS balance sheet gearing to credit hyperspace. They say lessons were learned, but the only lessons learned by the regulators were new ways to keep their eyes shut and ears plugged. Stress testing of bank balance sheets assumes little more than a moderate recession and denies the likely consequences of anything worse. The economic crisis starts with a change in banking cohort groupthink, and not, as regulators with their useless stress tests assume, a decline in GDP, a rise in unemployment, a rise in price inflation, or Heaven forfend, an unexpected financial crisis. And if you think extreme bank leverage would have been controlled following the Fred Goodwin episode, think again. Figure 3 shows current balance sheet to equity ratios for a selection of major banks. Through the magic of modern accounting practice, they are almost certainly higher than reported.

From the few examples in Figure 3 we can anticipate bank failures to originate in Europe in the event of a general contraction of bank credit. Despite reducing its balance sheet significantly in recent years, Deutsche Bank is in Fred Goodwin territory, closely followed by BNP and Barclays. And the credit cycle has very obviously turned down again. The regulators persist in behaving like the three wise monkeys, wholly unaware there is a credit cycle and what these ratios indicate.

The large American banks are not so heavily geared, but that will not protect them from the global credit contraction that will now intensify...

- Source, James Turks Goldmoney

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gold Starting A Historic Rise, Huge Gains to Come

"Looking again at the chart pattern, at the moment the right shoulder is being formed. Again the price movement captured in this chart reflects what’s happening with investor psychology. 

As I mentioned earlier, the forced margin selling has ended. Gold has not made a new low and is starting to rise.

Now that investors once again have liquidity in the form of US dollars and other fiat currency, they are asking themselves what is safer: Physical gold with its 5000-year track record? 

Or fiat currency that is likely to see an accelerated rate of debasement in the months immediately ahead? Owning physical gold and silver in my view is the safer alternative.”

- Source, King World News