Gold – crossing the Rubicon

by Alasdair Macleod, GoldMoney:

Gold is challenging the $1300 level for the third time this year. If it breaks upwards out of this consolidation phase convincingly, it could be an important event, signalling a dollar that will continue to weaken.

The factors driving the dollar lower are several and disparate. The US economy is sluggish relative to the rest of the world, the rise of Asia from which America is excluded is unstoppable, geopolitics are shifting away from US global dominance, and the end is in sight for monopolistic payment for oil in US dollars.

These subjects have been covered in some detail in my recent articles, which will be referred to for further clarification where appropriate. This article summarises these trends, and explains why the consequence appear certain to drive gold, priced in dollars, much higher.


The importance of gold and reasons for its suppression

The post-war Bretton Woods Agreement confirmed the US dollar to be fixed to gold at $35 per ounce. All other national currencies were linked to gold through the dollar at the central bank level. Ordinary civilians, businesses and commercial banks were not permitted to exchange their currencies for gold through central banks, so this was simply a high-level arrangement designed to maintain control of gold priced in dollars.

A few years after Bretton Woods, in 1949 and when the newly-fledged IMF began to collate statistics on national gold reserves, the US Treasury was recorded owning 21,828.25 tonnes of gold, 74.5% of all central bank reserves, and 43.6% of estimated above-ground gold stocks. However, over the years the proportions changed, and by 1960, US gold reserves had declined to 15,821.9 tonnes, 47% of central bank reserves, and 24.9% of above ground stocks.

Clearly, American control of gold had weakened considerably in the two decades following Bretton Woods. This weakening continued until the failure of the London gold pool, the arrangement dating from 1961 whereby the major American and European central banks collaborated to defend the $35 peg. The Americans had abused the gold discipline by financing foreign ventures, notably the Korean and Vietnam wars, not out of taxation, but by printing dollars for export, and it began to put pressure on the dollar. The London gold pool effectively spread the cost of maintaining the dollar peg among the Europeans. Unsurprisingly, France withdrew from the gold pool in June 1967, and the pool collapsed. By the end of that year, the US Treasury was down to 10,721.6 tonnes, 30% of total central bank gold reserves, and 15% of above-ground stocks.

Inevitably the decline continued, and by the time of the Nixon shock (August 1971 – the abandonment of the gold exchange commitment) it was clear the US Government had lost control of the market. She had only 9,069.7 tonnes left, representing 28.3% of central bank gold, and 11.9% of above ground stocks. Monetary policy switched from the fixed parity arrangements centred on gold through the medium of the dollar, to a propaganda effort aimed at removing gold from the monetary system altogether, replacing it with an unbacked dollar as the international reserve standard.

The result was the purchasing power of the dollar and the other major currencies measured in gold has all but collapsed, as shown in the chart below.

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Between 1969 and today, the dollar’s purchasing power relative to gold declined by 97.3% (the blue line). By banning gold from having any monetary role, the US removed price stability from the dollar. More recently, since the great financial crisis the quantity of fiat money in the global currency system has expanded dramatically relative to the long-term average growth rate of money and bank credit. This is illustrated in our second chart, which records the growth in the total amount of fiat dollars in the US banking system.

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