About the Author
Dimitri Speck is an expert on commodities markets who may actually be familiar to many of our readers as the creator of seasonal charts (which incidentally are the statistically most accurate seasonal charts available). Readers may also recall that we referred to Mr. Speck's work in the past, when speculators were accused in the media of causing hunger in the third world, as their activities were alleged to artificially inflate the prices of agricultural commodities. When we wrote about the topic, the voices of reason were few and far between. Mr. Speck's unique and highly original contributions to the debate certainly took some of the wind out of the sails of the economically illiterate scaremongers in the media and politics.
The Gold Cartel
The English language edition of Mr. Speck's book “Geheime Goldpolitik”, has been published early this year under the title “The Gold Cartel”, in parallel with an updated second German edition. The book has received great praise from many quarters, and it is well-deserved (ironically, even from a central banker, in spite of the fact that central bankers come in for a lot of criticism in the book).
The first few pages of the book right away prove to the discerning reader that the author actually understands gold. Surprisingly, this can often not be taken for granted. A great many analysts continue to regard gold as akin to an industrial commodity, including many working for 'expert' organizations, whose main job it is to publish data and forecasts on the gold and silver markets.
Essentially one could ay that the Gold Cartel consists of three major parts, namely statistical studies, a historical disquisition and a theoretical part that deals with the consequences the adoption of a full-fledged fiat money system has wrought.
Note: This is an abridged and edited version of the review that appeared in issue 92, January/February 2014 of the Hedge Fund Journal.
When Frank Veneroso published a study on gold lending in 1998, many people probably heard the term 'gold carry trade' for the first time. However, it became a staple of deliberations about the gold market in subsequent years. A superficially legitimate (if ultimately slightly dubious) business activity, namely the hedging of future gold output by mining companies, had apparently been turned into a major and potentially explosive financial engineering scheme. However, research was hampered by the fact that the carry trade involved gold held by central banks. It was shrouded in secrecy and its size could only be estimated. While Veneroso's work was path breaking, it was marred by its lack of precision, which partly resulted from the difficulty of obtaining good data.
Central bank accounting for gold was (and in most cases remains) rather peculiar: gold receivables and bullion still in their vaults are treated as a single line item in their balance sheets. This makes it nigh impossible for outsiders to ascertain how much of their gold is actually on loan. Central banks used inter alia the alleged need to protect the trade secrets of their business partners as an excuse to avoid publishing the data. This flimsy pretext naturally fanned speculation about the amounts involved as well as the planners' motives. It was no secret that central banks once upon a time intervened in the gold market quite openly. Given gold's nature as the 'political metal', it didn't seem a big stretch to suspect them of still doing so clandestinely.
Estimates of the size of the carry trade published by researchers varied enormously (the more establishment-friendly they were, the smaller their estimates would be). Enter Dimitri Speck, who has delivered what is to date probably the best such estimate ever produced by an independent gold market analyst, not least because he actually employed sound statistical analysis. His estimate of the amount of gold lent out by Germany's Bundesbank over time, calculated from the meager tidbits of information that could be gleaned from the BuBa's balance sheet, confirmed the soundness of his methods. The BuBa recently relented in the face of public pressure and finally lifted the veil of secrecy from the data, so we know how close the estimate came (the BuBa is no longer lending out gold by the way).
'The Gold Cartel' presents the results of painstaking statistical analysis of the gold market from every conceivable angle. It never gets so technical as to bore the reader – the analysis reads rather like a detective story. It focuses specifically on whether anomalies that point to possible interventions are detectable in the gold market and whether the beginning of these anomalous activities can be dated. Gold's behavior during financial crises, as well as the carry trade and the determination of its overall size are other focal points. There is a refreshing difference in Mr. Speck's approach to the subject compared to that often encountered elsewhere, which we believe makes the book an enjoyable and highly informative read even for people who are skeptical about the intervention thesis. There is very little speculation, instead the focus is strictly on known or knowable facts. Speck lays out a logically consistent and coherent history of the gold market. Some of his conclusions naturally remain open to debate; history is a thymological discipline and as such always leaves room for interpretation. It should be mentioned that although central banks nowadays increasingly strive to provide greater transparency, Speck thoroughly disabuses the reader of the naïve notion that they 'would never intervene clandestinely in markets' by providing hard evidence of past transgressions (which include even the deliberate falsification of data in one instance).
The book's statistical analysis is buttressed and supplemented by a gripping account of the history of the modern monetary system, beginning with the step-by-step disintegration of the Bretton Woods system in the late 1960s (which culminated in Nixon's gold default in 1971) and encompassing everything that has happened since then, including the creation and first major crisis of the euro. All these events are brought into context with what happened concurrently in the gold market. There is a detailed look at the FOMC meetings of the early 1990s, which show that although gold had been thoroughly 'demonetized' from an official standpoint, it still was very much on the minds of many FOMC members at the time, including then chairman Greenspan. The conversations at these meetings clearly show that there was major concern at the time both over gold's potential as a competitor of the US dollar as a store of value as well as its function as an indicator of inflation expectations.
As Speck explains with respect to the gold carry trade, once gold lending by central banks had grown well beyond the hedging needs of mining firms, the interests of private parties involved in the trade and those of central banks at first increasingly converged, only to diverge again at a later stage. He demonstrates convincingly that once the carry trade exceeded a certain size, the role played by private profit motives must have grown ever larger. In order to keep being able to play the game and avoid losses, bullion banks started putting pressure on central banks to motivate them to continue to sell and lend out ever increasing amounts of gold. For a time, an odd role reversal between bullion banks and central banks took hold with respect to their gold market-related interests.
Speck looks closely at what happened during this phase in the late 1990s. A great many politicians, whose credentials as experts on gold or monetary policy were rather dubious, attempted to influence the climate and official attitudes toward gold. Unwilling central banks such as e.g. the Swiss National Bank were put under great political pressure to agree to gold sales. Many of the events surrounding official gold policy in the late 1990s are largely forgotten today, and Speck does us a great service by rescuing them from the memory hole.
Gordon Brown's famously ill-timed sale of the bulk of the UK gold reserves is of course discussed as well. To this day it remains a bit of a mystery why Brown deliberately chose to perform the sales in a manner that ensured that the UK would get the lowest possible price. Clearly though, there was more to it than just the fact that he was evidently one of the worst market timers of all time. The discussion of the Washington agreement, which effectively froze the carry trade and limited official sales, was especially interesting to us. Few people will remember all the details and announcements that were made just prior and after the agreement was struck, or may never have been aware of them at all. The information Speck provides in this context serves to greatly enhance one's understanding of these events.
In this context, Speck also provides a logical explanation as to why the carry trade never 'blew up' as so many forecasters had expected it to do – in spite of the considerable size it had attained at its peak and in spite of the fact that a bull market in gold began in 1999/2000.
The Giant Credit Bubble
The statistical and historical analysis of the gold market is followed by a theoretical part that deals in great detail and in a highly original manner with the problems the abandonment of gold as an anchor of the monetary system has ultimately brought about. The conceptual approach to the topic will be recognizable to readers familiar with the Austrian School of Economics, even though Speck employs at times a slightly different, somewhat idiosyncratic terminology. The most notable effect of demonetizing gold has been and continues to be the recurrence of numerous sizable booms and busts, although Speck rightly acknowledges that the emergence of credit expansions could not necessarily be completely averted in a gold-based system, although gold would definitely 'serve as a brake', as he puts it.
A detailed description of how credit-financed bubbles begin and are then continuing to grow, driven by their inherent dynamics, is provided. The most important feature of such bubbles is that speculation for some time appears to 'pay for itself', as artificial accounting profits emerge. Wealth is seemingly created ex nihilo, and profits are booked even though no-one has actually produced anything tangible. This explains the enduring popularity of credit-driven bubbles, as it is simply human nature to embrace the 'something for nothing' mirage that is their major characteristic.
Since financial bubbles have real economic effects, and since their recurrence can seemingly not be averted, the focus of the authorities soon shifted to the question of how the effects of their bursting could be mitigated – a momentous decision, as Speck proceeds to show. The mitigation policy involves governments intervention in the form of a further expansion in debt and credit claims, the very policies that lead to the emergence of bubbles in the first place. Illogical as this is, it almost always seems to 'work' in the short term. As credit claims accumulated in the past are never extinguished, but merely added to, a kind of 'mega-bubble' evolves over time. Private and public sector indebtedness both continue to expand, effectively egging each other on. An ever greater pile of credit claims towers over the real economy. Speck also points out that the vast expansion in public sector liabilities is deeply undemocratic, as it lulls the population into believing that it can get 'something for nothing'. As a result, there are only superficial deliberations over the wisdom of public spending. Ultimately, no-one is taking responsibility while the political class pursues its own narrow interests. Indeed, as official remarks preceding the abandonment of gold in 1971 show, it was precisely the ability to run deficits in quasi-perpetuity that attracted governments to the new monetary system. The ability to increase spending without having to increase taxation is deemed a highly desirable method of achieving short term political goals.
Establishment economists have done us a great disservice by ignoring and/or whitewashing the long term implications of the ever-growing level of financial claims. Ever since the 1987 crash, central bankers have begun to consistently err on the side of easier monetary policy and their focus has increasingly turned toward he chimera of price stability, while the growth in credit claims has been ignored. 'Mitigation of busts' has become the official mantra to this day.
Speck also discusses the question of the long term consequences of this spiral of ever-growing debt. As he points out, the classical denouement of a credit-financed bubble used to be a major deflation, egged on by debt defaults and the associated destruction of deposit liabilities held by banks falling into insolvency. There can however be no guarantee that this outcome will be repeated in modern times. Today, the authorities can and do intervene to avert deflationary reductions in outstanding financial claims. Their countermeasures could eventually result in the exact opposite outcome (i.e., a major inflation). However, other possibilities are just as thinkable (such as e.g. a prolonged period of stagnation as has happened in Japan).
Summary and Conclusion
We highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the gold market. In fact, anyone with an interest in financial markets and/or the economy will undoubtedly benefit from reading it. It provides a solid statistical analysis of every aspect of the gold market, a thoroughly researched and well-presented account of the history of the modern monetary system and a highly original perspective of the growing bubble in debt and credit claims we have experienced since adopting today's system of credit-based money.
Dimitri Speck, The Gold Cartel (link to Amazon)
It is that time of the year again – our semi-annual funding drive begins today. Give us a little hand in offsetting the costs of running this blog, as advertising revenue alone is insufficient. You can help us reach our modest funding goal by donating either via paypal or bitcoin. Those of you who have made a ton of money based on some of the things we have said in these pages (we actually made a few good calls lately!), please feel free to up your donations accordingly (we are sorry if you have followed one of our bad calls. This is of course your own fault). Other than that, we can only repeat that donations to this site are apt to secure many benefits. These range from sound sleep, to children including you in their songs, to the potential of obtaining privileges in the afterlife (the latter cannot be guaranteed, but it seems highly likely). As always, we are greatly honored by your readership and hope that our special mixture of entertainment and education is adding a little value to your life!
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
One Response to “Book Review: The Gold Cartel by Dimitri Speck”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part III
When Money Dies In part-I of the dispatch we talked about what happened during the first two days after Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi banned Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes, comprising of 88% of the monetary value of cash in circulation. In part-II, we talked about the scenes, chaos, desperation, and massive loss of productive capacity that this ban had led to over the next few days. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi – another finger-wagger, as can be seen in this...
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part II
Chaos in the Wake of the Ban Here is a link to Part 1, about what happened in the first two days after India's government made Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes illegal. They can now only be converted to Rs 100 (~$1.50) or lower denomination notes, at bank branches or post offices. Banks were closed the first day after the decision. What follows is the crux of what has happened over the subsequent four days. India's prime minister Nahendra Modi, author of the...
- Gold Price Skyrockets in India after Currency Ban – Part IV
A Market Gripped by Fear The Indian Prime Minister announced on 8th November 2016 that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes would no longer be legal tender. Linked are Part-I, Part-II and Part-III updates on the rapidly encroaching police state. The economic and social mess that Modi has created is unprecedented. It will go down in history as an epitome of naivety and arrogance due to Modi’s self-centered desire to increase tax-collection at any cost. Indian jewelry...
- A Note on Gold and India – What is Driving the Gold Price?
Hidden Motives It is well-known that India's government wants to coerce its population into “modernizing” its financial behavior and abandoning its traditions. The recent ban on large-denomination banknotes was not only meant to fight corruption. Obviously, this very bad Indian has way too much cash. Just look at him, he looks suspicious! Photo via thenewsminute.com In fact, as our friend Jayant Bhandari has pointed out, fresh avenues for corruption ...
- Will Trump Do What Reagan Couldn’t?
Depravity and Degeneration BALTIMORE – Finally, it’s over. We were both delighted and appalled by the news. A smile spread over our face... and our steps lightened... as we looked ahead to four years without Hillary Clinton’s know-it-all mug in the news. Praise be! This mug will be largely missing from the airwaves and the intertubes in coming years. And your caption scribbler PT won't have to look for a fall-out shelter! We thank the Lord and the American public for...
- India's Currency Debacle – An Interview with Jayant Bhandari
A Major Crisis Last week Jayant Bhandari related the story of the overnight ban of certain banknotes in India under cover of “stamping out corruption” (see Gold Price Skyrockets In India after Currency Ban Part 1 and Part 2 for the details). Banned 500 rupee banknotes The problem is inter alia that the sudden ban of these banknotes has hit the Indian economy quite hard, given that 97% of all transactions in the country are cash-based. Not only that, it has...
- Inflation Expectations Rise Sharply
Mini-Panic Over Inflation After Trump's Election Victory We have witnessed truly astonishing short term market conniptions following the Donald Trump's election victory. In this post we want to focus on one aspect that seems to be exercising people quite a bit at present, namely the recent surge in inflation expectations reflected in the markets. Will we have to get those WIN buttons out again? A 1970s “whip inflation now” button. The only thing that was actually needed...
- There Are Two Types of Credit — One of Them Leads to Booms and Busts
Stumped by the Bust In the slump of a cycle, businesses that were thriving begin to experience difficulties or go under. They do so not because of firm-specific entrepreneurial errors but rather in tandem with whole sectors of the economy. People who were wealthy yesterday have become poor today. Factories that were busy yesterday are shut down today, and workers are out of jobs. What has caused the bust? The modern-day economic orthodoxy continues to be unable to provide...
- Will the Swamp Swallow Trump?
Permanently Skewed TRUMP HOTEL, New York – Trump’s rambling army – professionals, amateurs, camp followers, and profiteers – is marching south, down the I-95 corridor. There, on the banks of the Potomac, it will fight its next big battle. Lieutenants in Trump's army: Bannon, Flynn & Sessions Photo credit: Drew Angerer / AFP Here at the Diary, we do not like to get involved in politics. But this is a special time in the history of our planet – a...
- Gold Bull Market Remains Intact – Long Term Fundamentals Outweigh Short Term Market Gyrations
A Strong First Half of the Year, Followed by Another Retreat In early 2016 gold had a big bull run. The precious metal rose close to 25% this year, pushed higher in a summer rally that peaked on July 10th. Gold experienced a bumpy ride over the remainder of the summer though, as investors became increasingly concerned about a potential rate hike by the Federal Reserve. Uncertainty returned to gold market and has intensified further since then. Initially, gold rallied sharply...
- Too Early for “Inflation Bets”?
The Trump Trade After 35 years of waiting... so many false signals... so often deceived... so often disappointed... bond bears gathered on rooftops as though awaiting the Second Coming. Many times, investors have said to themselves, “This is it! This is the end of the Great Bull Market in Bonds!” The long bond's long cycle – red rectangles indicate when the post 1980 bull market was held to be “over” or “over for sure” or “100% over”, etc. We have...
- All Aboard! Trump’s Express Train to the Future
Free Money! BALTIMORE – Last week, the Dow punched up above 19,000 – a new all-time record. And on Monday, the Dow, the S&P 500, the Nasdaq, and the small-cap Russell 2000 each hit new all-time highs. The last time that happened was on the last day of December 1999. Ironically, two events that were almost universally expected to trigger large stock market declines were followed by quite rapid and strong gains. Would the market have fallen if Hillary Clinton had won...