SEMI-MONTHLY FISCAL/MONETARY UPDATE – BITCOIN DOWN, GOLD ALSO – BUY ONE, AVOID OTHER
BITCOIN – FLIRTING WITH A NEW LOW, A CORRECTION IN A LONG TERM BULL MARKET, OR AN END TO ITS RUN?
We wrote several articles on this subject, last summer and again in December. Our first cautionary notes were written 8/15/17 and 9/5/17 provided here, with Bitcoin trading just south of $5000:
Our last analysis was written 12/19/17, within a day of the high price above $19,000, provided here:
In a nutshell, not today, not tomorrow, but over a few years from now, it’s over. Blockchain technology no doubt has its applications but cryptocurrencies will fade into oblivion, with most of the fundamental flaws previously described in the articles linked above. We are not always right, and sometimes we are right or wrong, but for the wrong reasons. In this case, we’ve got it right for the right reasons. For heaven’s sake, don’t get seduced now, just because Bitcoin is down from $19,000 to $6,000. It is still $6000 too high.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH GOLD?
Gold bullion has hit a new low for the year, with the gold mining stocks following along, leveraged as usual to the price of gold. As we have previously written, there are all kinds of reasons that gold should be spiking higher, rather than lower, and it is only a few months ago that gold was on the verge of an upside breakout. Best we can figure, in addition to a very strong dollar, the downside pressure on the gold price has been from Central Bank selling, a result of turmoil in Turkey in particular. We believe this will run its course shortly, if it hasn’t already.
Turkey’s commitment to gold had already been demonstrated to be less consistent than every other important Central Bank. While most other Central Banks have been steadily buying (or maintaining holdings) in recent years, Turkey’s holdings declined from 504 tons in July 2015 to 377 tons in Jan 2017, then built up steadily to 582 tons in Mid 2018. The most recent report shows they only hold 236 tons in July, so they have apparently liquidated 342 tons in the last couple of months. The good news is that they don’t have much left, perhaps nothing by now.
Recall that the Central Banks in total have been steady buyers over the last nine years, in the range of 300 tons annually, up 36% YTY in ’17 to 366 tons, and running up 42% in Q1’18, the highest first quarter since 2014. Turkey’s disposition in Q2 will obviously skew that quarter’s result.
Let’s go through today’s top ten sovereign gold owners, and their change in reported holdings over the last several years. We say reported because China, in particular, is likely understating their holdings in a major way. The highlights are that the US, with over 8,000 tons is nearly as much as the next three countries combined. For six consecutive years, Russia has been the largest purchaser, increasing its holdings by 224 tons in 2017 and overtaking China to hold the fifth spot. Not every central bank is a buyer. For the second year in a row, Venezuela was the largest seller, 25 tons in 2017 apparently sold to pay off debt. Total sales declined by 55% in 2017, the lowest since 2014, obviously overcome by purchases since the total net increase was 366 tons. This nine year old trend is obviously demonstrating that central banks consider gold to be an increasingly important store of value and safe haven asset.
India is the tenth largest holder, with 560 tons, representing 5.5% of their foreign reserves. This has been virtually constant since 2015. It is well known that the Indian public believes in gold as a long term store of value, with gold jewelry often part of a bride’s dowry.
Netherlands, at #9, owns 612.5 tons, representing 68.2% of their foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that the Dutch Central Bank recently repatriated a large amount of its gold from the U.S.
Japan, at #8, owns 765.2 tons, only 2.5% of its foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that they have been one of the most aggressive money “printers”, with interest rates in January 2016 below zero, helping to fuel worldwide demand for gold.
Switzerland, at #7, owns 1040 tons, 5.3% of its foreign reserves, constant since 2015. Interesting that while Switzerland for many years was a hub of gold trading with European counterparties, much of today’s trading is done with the increasingly important Hong Kong and China bullion markets.
China, at #6, reports 1842.6 tons, representing a mere 2.4% of its $3T of foreign reserves. After not reporting since 2009, the People’s Bank of China reported 1708 tons in mid 2015, up over 60 % in 6 years. Monthly reports were then provided for about a year, with an increase to 1842 tons with no change reported since the end of 2016. Since China is the largest miner of gold in the world, about 400 tons per year, and no gold seems to leave China, most observers believe that various government agencies are absorbing a great deal. It is not hard to conclude that the 1842 tons may be understating the true holdings controlled by the government by thousands of tons. The government has also encouraged public ownership with gold backed bank savings accounts.
Russia, at #5, reports 1909.8 tons, representing 17.6% of foreign reserves. The Russian Central Bank has been the largest buyer of gold for the past six years, just last year overtaking China’s reported holdings. They bought 224 tons in 2017, at the same time selling a large portion of its US Treasuries.
France, at #4, reports 2,436 tons, representing 63.9% of foreign reserves, constant since 2015. There has been political pressure to not only put a formal freeze on selling, but also to repatriate the entire amount from foreign vaults.
Italy, at #3, reports 2,451.8 tons, representing 67.9% of foreign reserves, constant since 2015. European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, was the former Bank of Italy governor. He has described gold as “a reserve of safety”, adding, “it gives you a fairly good protection against fluctuations against the dollar.”
German, at #2, reports 3,371 tons, representing 70.6% of foreign reserves, virtually flat, down 9 tons since 2015. Last year, Germany completed a four year repatriation program to move 674 tons from France and the US back to its own vaults.
United States, at #1, reports 8133.5 tons, the highest percentage, at 75.2% of foreign reserves, holdings constant since 1971 when Richard Nixon closed the hold window. It is interesting, to us at least, that the value of our gold holdings, as a percentage of US monetary aggregates, is almost exactly where it was in 1971 before gold went up over 20x in value.
Taking the above into consideration, there is every indication that Central Banks other than Turkey, along with Chinese agencies in addition to the PBOC, and public buyers, in China, India and elsewhere will absorb Turkish sales (if they haven’t already). Especially in the case of China, India, Japan, and Switzerland, with low single digit percentages of their reserves invested in gold, obviously aware of the worldwide debasement of paper currencies, and the danger in most other asset classes, it makes sense to increase their gold allocation. We continue to believe that gold will again emerge as a store of value and a safe haven. Gold bullion and gold mining stocks will catch up with the ongoing price inflation of virtually every other asset class. Money printing and deficit spending does not create long term prosperity.