Erste Group’s Ronald Stoeferle has released another must read report on gold, recapping all the recent developments in the space, and more importantly putting the recent price moves in context. While there are numerous key observations which we leave to readers to uncover on their own, arguably the key fact is the following: “The possession of gold is tantamount to pure ownership without liabilities. This also explains why it does not pay any ongoing interest: it does not contain any counterpart risk. Along with the International Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, JPMorgan now also accepts gold as collateral. The European Commission for Economic and Monetary Affairs has also decided to accept the gold reserves of its member states as additionally lodged collateral. We also regard the most recent initiatives in Utah and in numerous other States as well as in Malaysia, and the planned remonaterisation of silver in Mexico as a clear sign of the times. The foundation of a return to “sound money” seems to have been laid.” And as the currency basket vs gold since 1999 chart below demonstrates, the key feature of fiat money is that is most certainly has liabilities, paradoxically in the form of central bank assets which collateralize it. The more worthless “assets” that are taken up by central banks to match the balance sheet expansion, the more worthless the actual currency in the form of actual circulating paper and reserves. As such it is not so much the actual dilution of fiat paper that devalues it: it is the increasingly less valuable available collateral that supports it. As for the future: one of Erste’s scarier hypotheticals is that should the US lose control of its monetary base, leading to a 1000% jump in said monetary metric, the shadow price of gold assuming 40% backing of gold, would be $99,419. Frankly we have yet to hear even some of the most undaunted gold bulls throw this number around.
Probably the most important chart which each and every report on modern monetary analysis should include is the following: the one showing the relative value of gold versus a basket of currencies. While it is true that within the closed system of fiat currencies, where the devaluation of one leads explicitly to the revaluation of another (or others), the ceaseless dilution of all ultimately leads to an absolute loss in credibility and value relative to hard assets. Per Erste:
The following chart also shows the clearly intact downward trend of most currencies vis-à-vis gold. The equally weighted currency basket consists of US dollar, euro, Swiss franc, yuan, Indian rupee, British pound, and Australian dollar. The downward trend is intact and is at the moment only marginally above the trend line. We have little reason to believe that the downward trend should subside in the foreseeable future, which is why we stick to our positive assessment of the future gold price development.
And some more observations on the central bank-FX-gold interplay:
We underestimated the supply of “digital printing ink” by the Fed and the relentless deficit spending. In June 2010 we had not expected the US central bank to attach as little importance to monetary stability as it ended up doing. We believe that the “Bernanke put” is the main reason for the rising prices in the commodity segment. The Fed has repeatedly referred to the positive effects of higher share prices. Gold also benefits from the decrease in risk aversion, as the following chart clearly illustrates. The higher correlation between the equity market and many commodities can hardly be explained by traditional supply/demand structures; in fact, the monetary policy seems to have turned into the most important determinant of the financial markets.
Other key highlights in the report focus on why excessive structural debt suggest much more future appreciation in the price of gold, why negative real eates have been a boon to gold price increase, the dead end of debt saturation which means that soon baseless currency destruction will be the only outcome of further monetary and fiscal easing, on gold and silver as official means of payment versus Gresham’s law, on why money is now gold according to the regression theorem, and much more.
Probably one of the most curious observations in the report goes to the gold stock-to-flow ratio.
The most important feature of gold is definitely its extremely high stock-to-flow ratio. The aggregate volume of all the gold ever produced comes to about 170,000 tonnes. This is the stock. Annual production was 2,586 tonnes in 2010 according to the World Gold Council. That is the flow. Dividing the former by the latter, we receive the stock-to-flow ratio of 65 years.
Stock-to-flow as most important reason for the monetary relevance of gold and silver Paradoxically, gold is not scarce – the opposite is the case: it is one of the most widely dispersed goods in the world. Given that its industrial use is limited, the majority of all gold ever produced is still available. The recycling of existing gold accounts for a much larger share of supply than for other commodities. This is also why any significant production expansions or disruptions can be absorbed more easily. We therefore believe that gold is not that precious because it is extremely scarce, but because the opposite is true: gold is considered that precious because the annual production is so low relative to the stock. This feature has been acquired in the course of centuries and cannot be undone anymore.
Global gold reserves grow by an annual 1.5% and thus at a much slower rate than all the other money supply aggregates around the globe. The growth rate is vaguely in line with population growth. The trust in the current and future purchase power of money or any means of payment not only depends on how much is available now, but also on how the quantity will change over time. If mining production were to increase by 50% (which is highly unlikely), this would only translate into an annual increase of 3%. This fact creates a sense of security as far as the availability is concerned and prevents natural inflation. If production were down for a year, this would also have little effect on the overall situation. On the other hand, if the copper production were to be disrupted for an extended period of time, the stocks would be exhausted after about 30 days. For example, if a huge new mine were to come online and supply doubled, this would come with huge repercussions for the copper price, but with hardly any for gold. This stability and safety is a crucial prerequisite for the creation of trust. And it is what differentiates gold and silver as monetary metals clearly from commodities and the other precious metals. Commodities are consumed, whereas gold is hoarded. This also explains why traditional supply/demand models are only of limited use for the gold market.
Due to the high stock-to-flow ratio gold tends to be traded in contango. This means that the futures price is above the spot price. The last backwardation in gold dates back to2008, while silver was traded in backwardation in January 2011. In the case of backwardation, the market sends a signal as a result of which demand all of a sudden increases, and it makes no sense anymore from an economic point of view to bet on a later delivery date, given that the costs of storage, financing, and insurance would be higher. Backwardation is a clear sign of supply shortages.
What are the implications – enter the Shadow Gold Price:
In 2008 we set our long-term price target of USD 2,300 for the first time. We continue to expect the gold price to rise at least to the inflation-adjusted all-time-high of USD 2,300/ounce (dating from 1980) at the end of the bull market. Some historical comparisons suggest even higher spheres. When we compare the pinnacle of the previous gold bull market with the closing prices of 2010, we find that gold had increased only marginally in relation to the S&P index, the money supply, debt, or even the US dollar reserves.
QB Asset Management calculates the so-called “Shadow Gold Price” (“SGP”). It divides the US Monetary Base by U.S. official gold holdings, the same formula actually used during the Bretton Woods regime to fix the exchange value of the dollar at USD 35.00/ounce. It would be the theoretical price of gold today were the Fed to depreciate the USD to a level that would cover systemic bank liabilities (transform a debt-based into a asset backed currency). The current Shadow Gold Price would be just under USD 10,000. This figure illustrates the magnitude of monetary inflation already embedded into the system, sitting latent and threatening to increase the general price level.
The following table shows the theoretical Shadow Gold Price in different base-money supply scenarios. If the money supply were to fall by 25%, then the SGP would still be USD 7,456, if the monetary base were to rise by another 50%, then it would be at USD 16,634.
This calculation is by no means a pure mind game but rather the way the exchange rate between paper and money was calculated during the Bretton Woods Agreement. After the Federal Reserve Act of 1914 coverage was set to at least 40%. Therefore we have also based our calculations on a 40% coverage ratio.
At the moment less than 2.6% of US government debt is covered by gold, which is clearly below the long-term median of 5%. Should the gold price therefore double, the coverage would only rise to the long-term median. But this would also require stable government debt, which is less than likely. The highs of the ratio dating from the 1980s would only be reached at a price of about USD 15,000.
If one were to fully cover the current debt with gold, the price would have to increase to USD 57,000/ounce. That said, a full coverage is extremely unlikely; at its highs the ratio was at 55% in 1915 and at slightly less than 25% in 1980.
All this and much more in the full report below.