Monday, September 28, 2009

Gold and Systemic Crisis

"To all; are you ready? Never in the history of financial markets have there been so many landmines in place, each one wired directly to a nuclear bomb that sits atop the ENTIRE global financial system. The 'masters of the financial universe' have postponed the coming day of reckoning for so long and in so many different ways that they have backed themselves into a corner where almost any movement at all will trip one of these numerous landmines."

Bread is not for sale in Zimbabwe dollars.

Presently many otherwise intelligent and capable individuals in America do not seem to understand the origins of the present financial crisis -- and the multiple aspects (or shall we say 'tentacles'?) of its origination. These tentacles stretch far back in history: from the present demoralization and fragmentation of American society, to the demonetization of gold in 1971, stretching to the forces behind World War I and World War II, and ultimately, in terms of the 20th century, to the creation the Federal Reserve in 1913.

Our topic here is gold , and unfortunately we will have to save the analysis of totalitarianism's final forms for another paper. But what must be understood is that ultimately we are witnessing a 'failure of imagination' on the part of the general public -- a similar failure to what always permits radical evil to spread. This moral failure was characterized by both Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem , and Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Because in our society people do not understand history nor human nature, and are saturated with lies and propaganda 24/7 via the CNBS broadcast media, they cannot imagine the moral consequences of their actions or inactions -- let alone the consequences of systemic failure. So to remedy this situation, let us take a quick glance at history, but try to avoid the pitfalls of the gold bug crowd. As someone mentioned, here at ZeroHedge, we are 'truth bugs'.

"If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

History is a great teacher. One thing it shows us is that all systems of paper money fail. And they usually fail very quickly, not outlasting a man's lifetime. Gold and silver have been used as money for over 6000 years, including for extended periods of time, such as during the 1000 years of the Eastern Roman Empire. There are mathematical reasons why humans historically use precious metals as money, but we will not go into them here. Our present system is curious and almost astonishing that it has managed to last so long, given the lessons of history. Dr. Antal Fekete wrote in his latest paper that the mean time to failure of a non-gold backed system is approximately 18 years. Our present system has lasted over twice as long -- 38 years at last count, measured since the U.S.'s surreptitious default on it's foreign gold obligations under the Nixon administration in 1971 and currencies began to 'float'.

Most money has no tangible existence.

We have a fractional-reserve credit (read: debt) based system, where our money is mostly hallucinated computer pixels. The system is highly leveraged, but is almost entirely electronic. We now have multiple generations which have grown up without using money in its historic forms. For example, even the new Monopoly game uses electronic cards rather than paper money. Let me summarize these changes -- for simplicity sake, here we use gold to mean gold and/or silver. The global monetary system has changed three times: first, from gold to gold IOUs, then from gold IOUs to debt IOUs, and finally from debt IOUs to electronic-debt IOUs. But are these IOU's really 'unbacked', as claimed by the gold bugs? Actually , they *are* backed. They are backed as long as the IOUs can be exchanged for oil and gold at some realistic price metric.

According to Dr. Fekete, the reason our unmoored system has continued so long, past the usual 18 year lifespan of fiat currency experiments, is that we have invented a system of gold futures clearing and gold derivatives trading -- an innovation that did not exist in the past. In other words, we have created a gold 'price horizon' in electronic-debt IOUs, with the tendency to converge to the gold spot price. (Is the tail wagging the dog?) Additionally we have gold leasing, forward hedging, and all sorts of other trickery that has been going on for quite some time now. The electronic debt-IOU remains linked to gold via various Ponzi-like paper innovations.

The author FOFOA adds that additionally, what has characterized our system since 1971 is gold/oil flows between the various Petro States of the Middle East and the New York and London banking centers. These implicit deals allowed the United States to continue to purchase oil directly in dollars -- despite having defaulted on its international obligations. This 'innovation' somewhat resembles a US military-led protection racket. Remember that the second oil crisis of 1979-1980 coincided with price explosions in both gold and oil, yet catastrophe was avoided. This will not be the case the second time around.

There are also of course the lesser but nonetheless important details such as hedging which was done via large gold producers, the gold price suppression by the central banks, the geometric growth of OTC interest rate swaps, and so on. For those interested in these technical details, we highly recommend reading all the posts at FOFOA and the work of Rob Kirby. But here, the goal is a summary 'big picture' overview regarding the main points. What we can surmise though, is that our present system is a historical anomaly despite its technological innovations. And that should make us cautious of issuing blanket proclamations about the U.S. dollar's future stability over the next 8 weeks -- let alone the next 80 years. Have the pure dollar deflationistas skipped the Taleb? Sometimes we wonder.

The U.S. has a unique and deep relationship with Saudi Arabia, historically the world's largest oil producer. This relationship that goes back almost a century, to the foundation of Saudi Aramco by Rockefeller oil interests (specifically Standard Oil of California) in 1933. From 1933 to 1971 the payment system was somewhat stable, characterized by gold clearing on the international level at a fixed price of dollars for gold. This continued until the French under de Gaulle began draining the US Treasury of its gold, due to the expense of America's involvment in the Vietnam war. The French gold redemptions ultimately lead to the unilateral default of the United States on its gold obligations and the death of Bretton Woods I , which had been created post World War II with the dollar as gold-backed world reserve currency.

What has characterized our international system since 1971, or "Bretton Woods II" as it is sometimes called, is this: 1) the gold futures clearing system, and related paper markets and 2) the ability to swap oil for gold via these markets using exclusively US Dollars. This has given implicit support to the U.S. dollar far beyond what could be reasonably imagined considering the U.S. fiscal situation -- in the sense that the dollar is supported as long as 1) oil is for sale in dollars and 2) gold is for sale in dollars. This does not always have to be the case, and this is the core of the issue. If gold goes into permanent backwardation it will no longer be for sale in dollars on COMEX. Period. This will implicitly cut off oil flows to a trickle until payment is re-linked to gold via the IMF SDR or another mechanism.

The Western Roman Empire collapsed because it debased its currency.

To many of us, it is obvious the US equity markets will soon crash, but the real crisis will come with the failure of our currency -- a currency which is IMPLICITLY and historically linked with trading of both dollars for oil, and dollars for gold. Thus, these spot markets are the ones to watch. Some may be aware Russia recently surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's number 1 oil producer -- and last week , number 2 oil producer Saudi Arabia has signed a$2bn weapons deal with Moscow. The final strategic alignment of Saudia Arabia and the rest of the Middle East remains up for debate, but we have certainly witnessed the tentative steps of the BRIC nations and their affiliated satellites to build their own international clearing system, based in Hong Kong and Moscow, rather than New York and London. Ultimately this will probably involve some form of the IMF SDR -- rebalanced with new currencies and possibly a gold component. Remember Medvedev at the G8?

Medvedev pimps the New World Currency at G8. No , it's not petrorouble

Minus the political shifts towards a 'multipolar' world (prior to the onset of the final bloody form of the Hegelian dielectic), the weakest point in the present system is certainly the U.S. Dollar. Indeed there are many angles for speculative currency attack. And there are many weak points at which this may simply happen by accident. Assuming we see such an external speculative attack, what can we expect?

1) A currency failure will happen rapidly (likely overnight to 8-12weeks). The dollar will devalue against gold and oil. We are talking 50% decline or more.
2) Gold will go into backwardation (aka Spot Price above Near-Futures Price). This is the single most important indicator.
3) The Gold price will vault upwards -- and ultimately trading will halt in USD.
4) Oil will likely vault upwards as well, but this analysis is difficult. The gold:oil ratio is a useful indicator.

Where will capital flow during a time of a systemic crisis? Since 1971, capital has moved up this chart. Now it is reversing. Capital will flow into government bonds , treasury bills, physical cash, and ultimately its final home , gold.

There are all sorts of other things that may occur under conditions of currency failure, but you can find these sorts of analysis elsewhere. Use your imagination, as Hannah Arendt might suggest. Or google teotwawki and crack open a beer. The point here is that our present system is very fragile and cannot last much longer in its present form. It is far too unstable. There will be a collapse , and out of this a new system will emerge. The only guarantee of your purchasing power is in physical gold coins which you have in your possession. This is why the Zerohedge Dog, Scooby, keeps 20% or more of his assets in physical gold coins, and at least another 10-20% in physical cash with which to pay his bills.

The world is changing ,and to cope with the new reality requires both discernment and imagination.

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