Germany Reaffirms the Timeless Relevance of Gold

Those investors who continue to miss out on one of the world's most powerful bull markets have officially just lost one of their most commonly cited rationales for doing so. With the watershed announcement this week that Germany's Bundesbank will repatriate nearly one-fifth of the nation's gold reserves, any last claims to the failed notion that gold somehow lacks relevance in the modern day financial system have just been obliterated.

Germany's central bank will take delivery of 674 metric tons of its gold currently held in Paris and New York over the next seven years, with the stated objective of holding 50% of the nation's 3,400-ton hoard at home (compared to the 31% of its gold reserves already reported held in German vaults). This will include all 374 tons currently held in Paris, and 300 tons from the bank's major deposit at the Federal Reserve's New York vault.

An extraordinary breakdown in trust
A Bundesbank spokesman told Forbes that the bank has no intention to sell the gold, and instead characterized the move as a "pre-emptive" measure "in case of a currency crisis." The bank's official news release explained the move as follows: "With this new storage plan, the Bundesbank is focusing on the two primary functions of the gold reserves: to build trust and confidence domestically, and the ability to exchange gold for foreign currencies at gold trading centers abroad within a short space of time."

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, international business editor for London's The Telegraph, reckons the event "marks an extraordinary breakdown in trust between leading central banks." Forbes echoed that it "raises questions as to their belief in both the strength of the global economy and the European Monetary Union, and their trust of fellow central banks." They may well be correct, but the decision is also clearly linked to a directive from Germany's Court of Auditors late last year that the central bank take measures to more effectively verify the status and purity of Germany's gold reserves. A few months ago, the bank first signaled its intention to repatriate a portion of gold reserves from New York, and then melt that gold down to test its purity. The operation announced this week, however, is on a far grander scale than that initially proposed.

A golden shield for the currency wars
The Bundesbank's timing here is truly uncanny, since it was precisely this week that worldwide rhetoric regarding the gathering pattern of "beggar-thy-neighbor" monetary policies reached an unsettling crescendo. Alexei Ulyukayev, first deputy chairman of Russia's central bank, starkly warned the world that a currency war (defined as global competitive currency devaluation) is perilously near. In the wake of accelerated asset purchases (QE4) by the U.S. Federal Reserve, combined with Japan's clear intention to engage in aggressive devaluation of the yen, several European policymakers could be heard this week championing loose monetary policy to combat strength in their respective national currencies.

The governor of South Korea's central bank, Kim Choong Soo, expressed concern over "adverse effects of monetary easing in the U.S., Europe and Japan," but nonetheless characterized his own bank's likely reaction to dramatic yen devaluation as an "active response to minimize any negative impacts on exports and investor confidence." The game of monetary hot potato that I referred to just last week in my discussion of gold and currency wars has begun to take shape, and I believe central bankers are apt to be pondering some increasingly bleak currency scenarios as they take these developments into account. In my view, the one inevitable outcome that becomes increasingly clear as these events unfold is the certainty of a major repricing event for gold as the sole global currency that cannot be printed at will.

To appreciate just how much harder it is to mint new gold than it is to print new dollars, one need only have a glimpse at the gold mining industry. IAMGOLD (NYSE: IAG  ) CEO Steve Letwin this week declared: "I really think now we are at Peak Gold ... Finding good, high-quality gold mines that can put out a significant amount of product is almost impossible." Former Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) CEO Aaron Regent issued a similar proclamation back in 2009. Two of the industry's lowest-cost producers -- Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) and Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY  ) -- both began reporting an all-in cost metric with their guidance for 2013 that suggests the average all-in cost structure for the industry will likewise be exerting upward pressure upon the prevailing gold price. Nearly a year ago, AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE: AU  ) CEO Mark Cutifani estimated the industry's comprehensive all-in cost structure (including the cost of capital) at $1,650 per ounce. The industry's costs have continued to climb, while recently, at least, the price of gold has not.

I believe that Germany recognizes full well that gold will play a critical role in anchoring currency markets during periods of acute distress, and that its sovereign gold reserves will represent an increasingly strategic asset. That end-game, I maintain, will necessitate a meaningful upward repricing of gold in U.S.-dollar terms; ultimately vindicating gold expert Jim Sinclair's price objective of $3,500 per ounce.

Pulling back gold's lingering veil of secrecy
The German populace exhibited a widespread understanding of gold last year when they focused intense public pressure upon the Bundesbank to answer basic and reasonable questions about the gold reserves reportedly held by the bank. Although Fed chairman Ben Bernanke escaped the efforts of Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to obtain a full and independent audit of the Federal Reserve and reported U.S. gold reserves, I do note with interest that the White House's own website currently features a public petition in support of a full gold audit. Gold certainly looks to me like the most opaque and yet obviously manipulated market in all the world, and I don't think it unreasonable to request an audit of the world's largest reported sovereign stash (with a current market value of $439.3 billion).

Recognizing the notoriously secretive dealings of the official gold sector and the commercial bullion banks -- and given the historical continuum of bizarre revelations like the Belgian central bank's memorable admission that it had loaned out 41% of its sovereign gold reserves at a measly interest rate of just 0.3% -- well-informed gold investors have ample cause to suspect that official gold holdings like those that Germany stores in New York are routinely subjected to leveraged and competing ownership claims. Accordingly, the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee characterized the Bundesbank's seven-year program as "so incomplete and slow as to increase, not diminish, doubt that all the gold is really available."

Because the repatriation will be spread out over a seven-year period, the move is not expected to have a noticeable impact upon the gold price in and of itself. But to the extent that the Bundesbank may have unwittingly prompted (or emboldened) other nations with gold on deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (or elsewhere) to follow suit, an indirect price impact could still be in the cards. The way I see it, the most immediate and irrefutable outcome of the Bundesbank's gold-repatriation program is the final debunking of the failed Keynesian construct of gold as a "barbarous relic."

I called that particular misperception the most common myth about gold back in 2009, and I am pleased that we can finally lay that myth to rest. As I said at the time: "Gold's relevance as a currency cannot be cancelled by a short-lived preference for paper." And as a parting thought, while encouraging readers to share their opinions on the topic in the comments section below, I'll leave you with the following words from former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan: "Fiat money has no place to go but gold ... Gold is the canary in the coal mine. It signals problems with respect to currency markets. Central bankers should pay attention to it."

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 10:42 AM, ath002 wrote:

    Hello Chris,

    Thank you for keeping us updated, this move by Germany certainly does set a cat among the pigeons. Let's see.

    Chris, on a related note, are you still bulish on IAG? The share price has been under a lot of pressure for the last few months.

    As always, many thanks for your valuable input.

    Luis

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 10:49 AM, wolfman225 wrote:

    Great points. What do you think of the speculation that the reason it's taking 7 years to repatriate a relatively small percentage of Germany's gold holdings in the U.S. is because the Fed has used the gold stores of other countries as a funding source for it's own operations and as collateral? That the Fed has repeatedly "sold" the same gold several times over?

    It sounds like a clip from "It's a Wonderful Life" when George tells his townspeople that their money isn't in the bank, it's "in the houses and business" of their neighbors.

    How likely is it that the Fed, a private bank, has broken the trust of the Bretton Woods Accord and treated the gold deposits of other countries as any other asset, as opposed to holding the gold "in trust"?

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 11:32 AM, NickD wrote:

    gold in 1900 and now??? loll

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 12:00 PM, XMFSinchiruna wrote:

    wolfman225,

    from above: ... "well-informed gold investors have ample cause to suspect that official gold holdings like those that Germany stores in New York are routinely subjected to leveraged and competing ownership claims. Accordingly, the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee characterized the Bundesbank's seven-year program as "so incomplete and slow as to increase, not diminish, doubt that all the gold is really available.""

    If the Obama administration and Bernanke's Federal Reserve both truly embrace enhanced transparency as they have each claimed, then a full and independent audit of reported U.S. gold holdings offers a very straightforward means of pairing rhetoric with action.

    See also:

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2010/04/05/is-your-saf...

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/07/24/unlike-big-...

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2011/09/13/is-gold-bei...

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/03/23/currency-in...

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 12:18 PM, XMFSinchiruna wrote:

    ath002,

    I remain long-term bullish on IAG, though substantially less enthusiastically so than I was prior to the company's disappointing November update (discussed at the link below). Near the $10 mark, however, much of the company's growth-execution risk looks to me to be priced in. Recent developments in Mali, meanwhile, warrant careful observation.

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/11/16/a-touch-of-...

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 1:58 PM, TMFPeterV wrote:

    It appears that, at least in part, popular pressure was behind this as noted in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2013/01/germany’s-...

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2013, at 2:22 PM, XMFSinchiruna wrote:

    TMFPeterV,

    That's correct. As noted above:

    "They may well be correct, but the decision is also clearly linked to a directive from Germany's Court of Auditors late last year that the central bank take measures to more effectively verify the status and purity of Germany's gold reserves. A few months ago, the bank first signaled its intention to repatriate a portion of gold reserves from New York, and then melt that gold down to test its purity. The operation announced this week, however, is on a far grander scale than that initially proposed."

    and...

    "The German populace exhibited a widespread understanding of gold last year when they focused intense public pressure upon the Bundesbank to answer basic and reasonable questions about the gold reserves reportedly held by the bank."

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2013, at 7:39 AM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    Like Gold?

    Hmmmm...

    http://www.azx.ca/news/2013/news20130117.html

    1/17/13

    “Alexandria Minerals Corporation (TSX-V: AZX; Frankfurt: A9D; US: ALXDF) is pleased to provide an update on its current drilling and exploration program on its Akasaba and Sleepy projects in Val d’Or, Quebec.

    The Company has stepped-up its drilling activities in order to take advantage of winter conditions, by running two drill rigs on the Akasaba Project and one rig on the Sleepy Project. The step-out programs are designed to enlarge existing gold zones and test new exploration targets in its efforts to increase its resource base.

    Separately, the Company is also in progress with an update of its National Instrument (“NI”) 43-101 Resource Estimate at its Akasaba project. Since its first NI 43-101 Resource Estimate last March, the Company has enlarged the gold-bearing zones on that project considerably. The completion of the update is expected by early March. As a result, drill hole assays from this project are not being received by Alexandria until the completion of this update. Currently, assays are pending from a total of 8 holes.”

    Including:

    “In mid-2012, the Company discovered the West Zone, a wide, near-surface gold-copper zone, by drilling such holes as IAX-12-200, with 1.18 g/t Au and 0.70% Cu over 63.01 m (Press Release, July 11, 2012) and IAX-12-214, with 0.48 g/t Au and 0.36% Cu over 67.81 m (Press Release November 29, 2012). A total of eight holes have helped define the zone, which currently sits at 300 m long by 300 m deep by 60 m wide. Two additional holes have intersected this zone, with similar geological characteristics, at depths of 300-400 m. Assays are pending for those two holes. The zone remains open at depth, and along-strike targets further west will be evaluated.”

    “ The Company intends to complete further drilling before completing a resource update at Sleepy later in 2013.”

    Sky

    Official Web Link Assistant to Sinchi

    Looong Alexandria

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2013, at 9:45 PM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    http://www.impactsilver.com/s/NewsReleases.asp?ReportID=5668...

    January 21, 2013

    A Banner Year for IMPACT Silver Corp.'s Exploration in 2012

    MPACT Silver Corp. ("IMPACT" or "the Company") is pleased to provide its year-end review of exploration activities in 2012 at the Royal Mines of Zacualpan District and adjacent Mamatla District in central Mexico.

    • Two new mines coming on-stream in Q1 2013 as a result of successful exploration programs.

    • Significant silver discoveries at Mirasol and Condesa in 2012 will drive continued drilling in 2013.

    • Advanced use of IMPACT's ArcGIS database resulted in 2012's substantial increase in drilling success.

    • Excerpts::

    “Plans for 2013 are to move both Capire and Cuchara-Oscar into production during the first quarter and continue aggressive field work and drilling on targets in the Valle de Oro area and in the Capire Mine area. Additional drilling is also required for both the Condesa Silver area where the mineralization remains open to expansion at depth and to the southeast, and the Mirasol Central & Northwest areas where the mineralization is currently open in all directions. Additional fieldwork in the form of geological mapping and detailed rock sampling will continue in the Valle de Oro and the San Pablo Norte areas.

    With a track record of successful exploration, rapid mine development and more than 3,000 old mine workings in the GIS database, IMPACT's long term growth strategy is to become a mid tier multimillion ounce silver producer with multiple production centers each fed by multiple mines. The construction of a second production center at Capire is the next important step to fulfilling this vision. IMPACT's strong cash position and positive cash flow allows for accelerated growth through aggressive exploration and potential accretive acquisitions.

    SUMMARY

    2012 was a very successful year of exploration and mine development for IMPACT. The construction of the Capire Mine and pilot plant is nearing completion. The construction and permitting of the new high grade Cuchara-Oscar Mine is also nearing completion and is anticipated to increase silver production at the Guadalupe Processing Plant. Exploration field work and drilling in 2012 was successful in discovering significant zones of silver mineralization at Condesa and Mirasol, both of which will continue to be drilled in 2013 to build mineral inventories for mining.

    New silver targets as well as a number of new gold-copper targets are also being prepared for drilling in 2013. IMPACT's exceptional discovery and mine development rate of four new mines in the last six years is attributed to its highly skilled technical team and a systematic approach to exploration and mine development.”

    Sky

    Long ISVLF

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2013, at 3:41 AM, CheapHessian wrote:

    Good to see another Long ISVLF!

    Very shareholder friendly with no debt and low share count. 2x mines coming online to improve grade and overall production in 2013. Internally financed production and exploration. What's not to like?

    -CheapHessian

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