Peter Schiff | Feb 07, 2014
Gold is the simplest of financial assets – you either own it or you don’t. Yet, at the same time, gold is also among the most private of assets. Once an individual locks his or her safe, that gold effectively disappears from the market at large. Unlike bank deposits or stocks, there is no way to tally the total amount of gold held by individual investors.
I like to call this concept “dark gold.” This is the real, broader gold market that exists below the surface-level transactions on the major exchanges. It’s impossible to know precisely how much dark gold exists around the world, but we do know that it is enough to render “official” gold holdings insignificant. That’s why I don’t buy and sell gold based on the decisions of John Paulson, or even J.P. Morgan Chase. It is a long-term investment that requires a deep understanding of the nature of money – and how little Wall Street’s media circus really matters.
Observing Dark Gold
Think of dark gold like dark matter. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that scientists hypothesize is an essential building block of our universe. All we know is that the universe is a certain size and that a huge amount of its mass is unobservable – this is what we’ve come to call dark matter.
We haven’t yet looked directly at dark matter. We can only observe phenomena that suggest there is a substance we aren’t seeing and can’t quite measure.
Likewise, dark gold is an essential building block of global financial stability. But the extremely private nature that makes it so valuable also makes it nearly impossible to directly observe.
But every now and then, we get a glimpse into the hidden undercurrents of dark gold. In the past year, the Federal Reserve slipped up in a big way and momentarily poked a hole that we can peek through to see what’s happening with some of the largest stores of dark gold in the world.
Gib Mir Mein Gold!
A year ago, the big news was that the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, would begin the process of repatriating a portion of its foreign gold reserves, including 300 metric tons stored at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
The controversy really started in late 2012, when Germany simply wanted to audit its gold reserves at the Fed. They were denied this access, so the Germans switched their approach. If they weren’t allowed visitation with their holdings, they would instead demand full custody. In response, the Fed said it would oblige – within seven years!
As of the end of 2013, a Bundesbank spokesman reported that only 5 tons had been transported from New York to Germany so far, leaving the repatriation far behind schedule.
“But wait,” some might argue, “the repatriation process might be delayed, but we know the gold is there. Central bank holdings constitute the most visible gold in the world. These institutions report their holdings to the world regularly. The gold at the Fed isn’t dark gold at all!”
If this is a true and certain fact, then why was the Bundesbank denied a third-party audit of its gold in the Fed’s vaults? The closest we’ve seen was an internal audit by the US Treasury last year. Of course, the US government holds the sovereign privilege of answering to no one but itself, but that hardly makes for reassuring statistics on which to base one’s investments.
The truth is that we have no clue of the official gold reserves of any central bank in the world. All the Fed has to do to convince me otherwise is let an outside party into its vaults and count the gold. They’ve shown lots of paper; now show us the money!
It is very simple to count bars of gold where they exist. And it is clearly moral (and generally good business) to return assets that are held in trust when the creditor demands them. The Fed’s reluctance on both counts suggests that there is more to this story than meets the eye.
Fortunately, the veracity of the Fed’s claimed gold holdings has little bearing on the long-term precious metals investor. It’s the same with gold futures contracts and the daily spot price. These have no effect on whether or not you have a chest of real money buried in your backyard.
So why is it important that intelligent investors do keep some gold “buried” in their possession? Germany’s repatriation scandal begins to answer this question. The maneuverings of the New York Fed are like the patter and flourish of a magician – it distracts you from the real trick being played.
Or, in this case, where the most impressive piles of dark gold reside.
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