Don't Confuse Gold Futures with Gold
The gold price manipulation conspiracy received validation in August when Reuters reported:
Scotiabank to pay over $127 million for precious metals price manipulation.
One of Canada’s largest banks earned itself a proverbial black eye for “spoofing” the gold price, something precious metal traders have cried foul on for years.
Spoofing involves placing trade orders with an intent to cancel them before they are executed, typically in connection with an effort to manipulate prices.
And just how long has this manipulation persisted?
Authorities said that over more than eight years, four Scotiabank traders placed thousands of unlawful orders for gold, silver and other metals futures contracts to deceive other traders and benefit their employer.
Almost a decade of practice, and it was only four rogue traders who managed to manipulate the price of precious metals? Doubtful.
But wait, there’s more! Reuters reported on September 23:
JP Morgan set to pay nearly $1 billion in spoofing penalty.
Three JP Morgan employees as well as eight unnamed coconspirators were involved. CNBC noted that this is a record fine for spoofing, which was made illegal in 2008. “Gold price manipulation” can no longer be relegated to conspiracy theory. But were these just instances of traders behaving badly, or is there a global effort to distort gold’s price? Perhaps it’s best to share several key facets of the gold industry and allow readers to decide:
A 1974 cable published by WikiLeaks reveals a message from London gold dealers to the US secretary of state explaining how the futures market controls supply and demand:
TO THE DEALERS' EXPECTATIONS, WILL BE THE FORMATION OF A SIZABLE GOLD FUTURES MARKET. EACH OF THE DEALERS EXPRESSED THE BELIEF THAT THE FUTURES MARKET WOULD BE OF SIGNIFICANT PROPORTION AND PHYSICAL TRADING WOULD BE MINISCULE BY COMPARISON. ALSO EXPRESSED WAS THE EXPECTATION THAT LARGE VOLUME FUTURES DEALING WOULD CREATE A HIGHLY VOLATILE MARKET. IN TURN, THE VOLATILE PRICE MOVEMENTS WOULD DIMINISH THE INITIAL DEMAND FOR PHYSICAL HOLDING AND MOST LIKELY NEGATE LONG-TERM HOARDING BY U.S. CITIZENS.
The gold futures market remains one of the most volatile markets due to the use of leveraged “contracts,” as explained by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). For example, if you have $10,000 and you want exposure, you can buy one
Gold futures contract, which represents 100 oz. If initial margins are $4,400 you can buy two Gold futures contracts. You will have exposure to the equivalent of 200 oz. of gold.
With gold at $1,900 per ounce, one could have trading exposure of $380,000! And that is no secret, per the CME:
It is clear that the amount of precious metal traded on the world’s markets is many times the amount produced from mining and recycling activities.
On August 11 the exchange reported a record trading day of 1.55 million contracts for all precious metals. This supports the leaked report, because “physical trading would be miniscule” in comparison to what can be traded on the futures market. Now imagine price discovery when the world’s bullion banks use highly leveraged contracts to spoof gold’s price!
Beyond futures, there are exchange-traded funds (ETFs) like SPDR Gold Shares (ticker GLD, approximately $180 per share), which claims to hold 1,275 tons of gold, more than most central banks in the world. If a trader wanted to redeem shares for physical gold, the prospectus states that they need a minimum requirement of 100,000 shares or nearly $20 million! Needless to say, most people redeem with dollars instead of gold.
As for Fort Knox, CNN released grainy black and white photos of Secretary Mnuchin in what appears to be a small room, surrounded by a pile of bars in the background. After the visit he declared: “Glad the gold is safe!”
Other than Mnuchin, few, if any, have ever claimed to even have seen the gold at Fort Knox.
To add one last wrinkle, where there appears to be tons of gold located in a safe, how can we know it’s not “fake”?
Reuters recently reported that China’s largest 24-karat gold jewelry company, Kingold Jewelry, secured $2.83 billion dollars on 83 tons of gold, some of which was actually tungsten-filled bars. For every ton of gold held in a large vault, how much could be tungsten?
Between the futures market, ETFs, and mammoth-sized vaults, we see peculiar traits to this market. Through the futures, we’ve seen bullion banks manipulate prices in the very market that sets the spot price. The world’s largest vaults can hardly be accessed, and the gold in them is not exactly being audited by reliable third parties.
At best, the paper market could seem unfair, at worst, highly fraudulent. On the other hand, if people demand paper gold instead of physical, then paper demand will continually be met with paper supply.