by Dave Kranzler, Investment Research Dynamics:
A mysterious “pledged gold” entry has just showed up on the Comex gold warehouse report. The definition of this new warehouse stock classification for gold is provided in Chapter 7 of the New York Mercantile Exchange rulebook.
In brief, “eligible” gold is a gold bar stored in a Comex vault that meets Comex specifications (quality, size, purity, and brand).
A “registered” gold bar is one that has been designated for delivery and for which a warrant has been issued. This warrant is evidence of and specifies ownership title to the bar. Warrants facilitate the transfer of delivery under a Comex contract.
“Pledged gold” is a bar for which a warrant has been issued but for which the warrant has been placed on deposit at the CME Clearing House as part of a required performance bond.
The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) has its own clearing division through which all trades are confirmed, matched (counterparties being verified), and settled (money changes hands). Each contract has a long and short counterparty.
A clearing member of the exchange is typically a bank, hedge fund, or commercial entity that has been admitted as a clearing member. The clearing mechanism is the “lubricant” that enables any securities exchange to function.
Part of a clearing member’s responsibility is to assume “full financial and performance responsibility for all transactions executed through them and cleared by the CME.” If you execute a trade on the Comex and fail to pay, the firm that took the other side of your trade is on the hook if you don’t pay for the trade. Or if you have elected to take delivery of a gold bar but can’t pay for it, the Comex member that has the other side of your contract is on the hook for the money.
Each clearing member is required to post a performance bond, a specified minimum amount of funds or collateral value that functions as a reserve to reinforce a clearing member’s obligation to guarantee the trades the clearing member executes. Think of this as a margin requirement.
A warrant that has been issued, which signifies titled interest in a gold bar, can now be used as collateral for the performance bond requirement. A warrant used this way is the “pledged gold” in the warehouse report. The gold bars connected to a warrant being used as collateral cannot be used to satisfy contract delivery requirements of the entity using the warrant as collateral. But the gold connected to warrants is still counted as part of the Comex gold stock.
Additionally, Comex clearing members can use what is called “London gold” as performance bond collateral. The CME rulebook does not define “London gold.” Presumably these are the standard 400-ounce London Bullion Market Association bars stored in a London vault.
But the term “London gold” remains unexplained and nebulous, and recently the CME tripled the amount of “London gold” that can be used by a clearing member as performance bond collateral, increasing it to $750 million from $250 million.
Why has the exchange tripled the amount of “London gold” that can be submitted as performance bond collateral and included Comex gold bar warrants as assets considered acceptable collateral?
As has been well documented, the open interest in Comex gold contracts has just reached a record high. The current open interest, more than 716,000 contracts, is 85 times greater than the “registered” gold stock on the exchange and almost nine times more than the total amount of gold in Comex vaults, including “pledged gold.”