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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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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