Central Bank Gold Leasing

The salespeople of the gold investment industry publish a lot of bold claims about central bank activities in the gold market (for example, here) along the lines of “All central banks want to suppress the gold price.“, “The central banks have secretly leased and sold most of their gold.” The present article is an attempt to summarize the facts that we know and to offer a rather different interpretation.
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GLD – The Central Bank Of The Bullion Banks

The black curve (left scale) of the following chart shows the London pm gold fixing in U.S. dollars from 1 January 2006 to 30 April 2012. During the light-blue intervals which span about 35% of the entire period, the gold price increased at an annualized rate of 41.1%. During the remaining intervals, the price increased only at an annualized rate of 7.9%. The light-blue intervals are the result of a trading algorithm whose buy signals are indicated by the green dots and whose sell signals by the red dots.

GLD Inventory Strategy from 1 January 2006 to 30 April 2012

In this article, we explain how the signals can be computed from the variations of the inventory of the SPDR Gold Shares exchange traded trust (NYSEArca:GLD). We explain why the inventory adjustments can hardly be caused by price arbitrage between the GLD share price and the loco London spot price alone. We rather claim that bullion banks finance their inventory by lending it or selling it to GLD investors and that bullion banks manage their physical reserves by accessing the physical gold inside GLD.

The fact that a certain type of inventory adjustments has predictive power, supports the idea that large inventory changes are the result of active reserve management. This provides us with a unique window into the flow of physical gold that is usually obscured by the dominance of paper gold trading. A similar, but somewhat less robust result is shown for the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEArca:SLV).

WARNING (April 2013): This article uses the term buy signal in a technical sense. It does not mean that you ought to buy anything without understanding what you are doing. Notably, the rapid price increases after the buy signals have been absent since the fourth quarter 2012. Now you might dismiss the trading algorithm as a statistical fluctuation. Alternatively, you can wonder whether something might have changed.
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Currency Wars: Why The United States Cannot Return To A Gold Standard

The book Currency Wars by James G. Rickards (Penguin, 2011) quickly became a bestseller not only in goldbug circles. One of the main theses presented by Rickards is that the United States ought to return to a Gold Standard.

Have you ever wondered whether this would be possible? The answer is No. But why not? The reason we give might strike you as rather unexpected, but it leads you right into the question of what will be the future international monetary system. The answer is that it is the existence of the Euro that prevents the United States from returning to a gold standard.

The Euro zone is set up in such a way that it values gold at its free market price. Since the Euro zone is a major global trade hub, they are in fact in a strong position to block any attempt by the United States at returning to a gold standard. They can rather force the US to value gold at its free market price, too. Any attempt at linking the US dollar to a fixed weight of gold is futile in the long run because this would eventually lead to an under-valuation of gold in US$ and thereby irreversibly drain gold reserves from the United States. In the present article, we explain these ideas in greater detail.
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The Many Values Of Gold

The present article gives an overview of various ideas on how much an ounce of gold might be worth.

We know the price of an ounce of gold. Last week, on 3 February 2012, the price of gold was US$ 1734.00 per ounce (London pm fixing). So much about the price. But what is its value?
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Backwardation and Declining COMEX Inventory

Silver inventory at the New York Commodity Exchange (COMEX) is declining. Since the beginning of 2011, in addition to the overall decline, a lot of inventory has been shifted from the registered to the eligible category.

For much of 2011, the COMEX silver futures market has been in backwardation. Similarly, the London OTC silver forward market is in backwardation as reported by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). Figure 1 shows the Silver Forward Offered Rate (SIFO) from November 22, 2010, to May 19, 2011.

The LBMA Silver Forward Offered Rate (SIFO)

Figure 1: The LBMA Silver Forward Offered Rate (SIFO) 2010-2011

 
We see from Figure 1 that the contango of the LBMA silver forward market collapsed on January 19, 2011, and silver has been in backwardation ever since – with the exception of about 4-5 weeks in March and April. For more background, please take a look at Backwardation in The Case of a Monetary Metal.

In this article, I briefly explain why it is perfectly natural if

  • COMEX inventories are declining,
  • Silver is being moved from the registered to the eligible category,
  • Silver deliveries occur as late in the delivery period as possible,
  • Silver deliveries suddenly appear out of nowhere and are checked into the registered category only at the last minute before delivery,

as long as silver is in backwardation. None of these indicates that there is a shortage of physical silver or that there is a short speculator about to default.

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Synthetic supply of gold?

In the comment section at FOFOA’s blog (see the messages by DP and Jeff), we had a discussion about whether you can create synthetic supply, i.e. a form of paper gold, using the futures markets such as the New York Commodities Exchange (COMEX).

In the following, I explain why I think the answer is no.
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The Gold Forward Offered Rate (GOFO) – Fever Chart of the LBMA

Figure 1 shows the Gold Forward Offered Rate (GOFO) between January 1991 and December 2010 as published by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA).

GOFO 1991-2010

Figure 1: LBMA Gold Forward Offered Rate 1991 - 2001

 
GOFO is the interest we need to pay if we swap gold for US$, i.e. if we lend our gold and borrow currency, in this case US$, for the same fixed period. The LBMA publishes daily GOFO quotes for each of the periods of 1,2,3,6 and 12 months. These data are shown in Figure 1 above.

Whenever GOFO turns sharply lower or even negative, this indicates stress in the London gold market, i.e. that some of the participants are desperate to get their hands on gold on short notice and are prepared to pay a premium for borrowing gold against US$ collateral. GOFO is the (upside down) fever chart of the London gold market. As Figure 1 shows, the London gold market came down with a serious flu on several occasions: January 1993, November 1995, September 1999, May 2001, and November 2008. It caught a milder form of cold in September 1997, November 1997, March 1998 and September 1998.

In this article, we compile various pieces of information, including historical facts, articles in newspapers and market rumours in order to put the evolution of GOFO shown in Figure 1 into a broader context. We focus on November 1997, March 1998, September 1998, September 1999, May 2001, and October 2008. The article will appear in several parts. This is Part I.
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Negative Lease Rates Revisited

The Gold Lease Rate (GLR) as reported by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) turned negative after the peak of the credit crisis in 2008. The GLR over 1,2 and 3 months stayed negative for most of 2009 and 2010.

LBMA Gold Lease Rate 2008-2010

LBMA Gold Lease Rate 2008-2010

 
Since nobody leases their gold without charging a fee, a negative GLR seems to be nonsense. So how come the LBMA reports consistently negative GLRs?

We show that in an efficient market, the GLR as reported by the LBMA is equal to the risk premium for the case that the leased gold is not returned minus the storage fees for the gold, and so it can indeed come out negative.

Another possible answer is that LIBOR may have been rigged. As of a week ago, US, UK and Japanese authorities were investigating several banks for allegedly having manipulated LIBOR, the London Inter Bank Offered Rate.

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Bullion Banking with Alice and Bob

We are not long. We are not short. We just borrow and lend.

This is a sketch of how a bank might lend against a reserve of physical bullion. We look at a number of simplified balance sheets that illustrate the changes in the reserve ratio, and we point out the two main risks: bad loans and a run on the bank. This article contains nothing new. There are just a number of examples to illustrate the common transactions.

In future articles, we will ask what an owner of physical bullion can do in order to earn interest using his or her bullion, and how a bullion bank might try to defend against a run on their physical reserve.
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Backwardation in the Case of a Monetary Metal

Silver has been in backwardation at the LBMA according to the published SIFO (Silver Forward Offered Rates) since January 19, 2011. It has also been in backwardation at the COMEX (New York Commodity Exchange) since around February 7, 2011. Figure 1 shows the LBMA Silver Forward Offered Rate from November 22, 2010, to May 19, 2011.

LBMA Silver Forward Offered Rate (SIFO) 2010-2011

Figure 1: LBMA Silver Forward Offered Rate (SIFO) 2010-2011

 
I was dissatisfied with much of what has been written on this topic. This is an attempt of a better explanation.

Summary

I explain that silver should not be viewed as an industrial commodity that is consumed, but that one should rather view US$ and silver as a currency pair. If one takes this point of view, backwardation is not a market inefficiency due to a supply shortage, but rather indicates counterparty risk.

Update (27 February 2012): Backwardation is also possible if US$ deposits are subject to carrying charges or if nominal interest rates are negative, see Red Alert Update.

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