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Gold grand prix – The Chinese challenge

Total Gold demand - Top world markets (Image courtesy 0 ft.com). Click for a larger copy.

Total Gold demand - Top world markets (Image courtesy - ft.com). Click for a larger copy.

Golden ambitions

Western media has breathlessly announced that India’s leadership of many centuries as the largest buyer of gold has been broken by the Chinese. What does this mean for India and China? Not to forget the rest of the world. In the last few months,

India and China combined to contribute 63 percent of the total gold jewelry demand in the world in the first quarter.

Investment demand has grown (in China) by an average 14 percent a year since deregulation of the market in 2001, “a trend that has continued with the strong growth momentum witnessed in the first quarter,” it said. China’s investment demand jumped 123 percent to 90.9 tons in the first three months, compared with an 8 percent rise to 85.6 tons for India.

The country’s total (investment + jewelry)  gold demand in the first quarter jumped 47 percent from a year ago to 233.8 tons, the council said. That still lags behind Indian consumption of 291.8 tons, according to the council. (emphasised text in brackets supplied.)

Gold-to-silver ratios in the past few decades. Image courtesy - wsj.com. Click for larger image.

Gold-to-silver ratios in the past few decades. Image courtesy - wsj.com. Click for larger image.

Law abiding citizens

International regulatory damping of gold demand – especially in USA, India and China eased from 1975 onwards – from December 31st, 1974, with Executive Order 11825 by Gerald Ford.

Unlike India, which was well serviced and supplied with gold by the Indian underworld, China and the USA were deprived of gold supplies during this regulatory blackout of nearly 50 years. Current growth in demand for gold in China is building on a

low base which means that the investment demand and demand for an inflation hedge from 1.3 billion increasingly wealthy Chinese people is more than sustainable.

The not realized important fact that the people of China were banned from owning gold bullion from 1950 to 2003, means that the per capita consumption of over 1.3 billion people is rising from a tiny base. Gold ownership by the Chinese public remains minuscule. Especially when compared to other Asian countries such as Vietnam and India.

Should the Chinese economy crash as some predict, demand could fall. However, sharp declines in Chinese equity and property markets and a depreciation of the yuan would likely lead to significant safe haven demand for gold. Chinese demand alone likely puts a floor under the gold market at $1,450/oz.

It is worth noting that the People’s Bank of China’s gold reserves are very small when compared to those of the U.S. and indebted European nations. China appears to be quietly accumulating gold bullion reserves. As was the case previously, they will not announce their gold purchases in order to ensure they accumulate sizeable reserves at more competitive prices.

China – Biggest gold producer and consumer

China is already the world’s largest producer of gold from 2007, for four years now. China has captured the top position from

South Africa, which was producing as much as 1,000 tons of gold in 1970, (but) has seen its mining production decline for five straight years.

Accelerating a drop in output last year, the country’s mining authorities started a crackdown on unsafe mines after 3,200 workers were trapped at Harmony Gold Mining Ltd.’s Eldestrand mine in October.

Following an order by President Thabo Mbeki, the mining commission in the last three months started to requiring gold mines that suffer a fatal accident to suspend operations while a safety audit takes place. (emphasised text in brackets supplied.)

In 2010 Chinese gold production was

340.88 tonnes of gold in 2010, retaining the position of the world’s largest producer of the precious metal, the China Gold Association said. The number of domestic gold producers shrank to around 700 at the end of 2010, from 1,200 in 2002, through mergers and acquisitions

Further recently, the Chinese Government, through public sector companies, bought South African gold mines from the Australian owner.

Citic Group, China’s biggest state- owned investment company, and partners agreed to buy Gold One International Ltd. (GDO) for about A$444 million ($469 million), gaining gold assets in South Africa.  China Development Bank Corp. and Long March Capital Group are the other members of the bidding group, which is seeking as much as a 75 percent stake and plans to keep the company trading in Australia and South Africa, with a potential listing in Hong Kong. Citic is bidding through its Baiyin Non-Ferrous Group Co. unit and China Development Bank through its China-Africa Development Fund.

Gold One operates the Modder East mine in South Africa and also has projects in Mozambique and Namibia.

A frothing-at-the-mouth FT.com found many reasons to critique the deal.

China and silver

The other big story is silver. Why this sudden spurt in prices? How sustainable is price increase in silver?

Silver is down nearly 30% this month in volatile trading. Such a move in the Dow Jones Industrial Average would equate to an eye-popping drop of more than 3,700 points. Tony Crescenzi of Pacific Investment Management Co. called silver’s parabolic rise and subsequent skid a “tulip mania-style move.”

Silver backers counter that even with its recent drop, the lesser precious metal has retained a nearly 80% gain over the past year.

While gold supply is well understood, silver bulls and bears argue about just how much silver is out there. Some analysts make the case that silver in batteries and photographic film is “recycled” back into the market, reducing scarcity. Silver bulls, of course, think that’s a bunch of poppycock.

More important, the gold-silver price ratio has gotten out of whack. During most of the past 10 years, the ratio hovered around 60, meaning gold was 60 times more expensive than silver. Silver’s incredible surge over the past year has pushed the ratio down to 43, a level not seen since silver’s last crazed phase in the early 1980s. At its peak, back on April 29, the ratio narrowed to 31, a level not seen in three decades.

Silver bulls will argue that the gold-silver price ratio should reflect the 15.5 level authorized by France in 1803, or the 15 level outlined in the U.S. Coinage Act of 1792. It’s more likely that the ratio will revert to modern-era norms rather than race back to the Napoleonic era. And that means that gold, more than silver, looks like the solid store of value today.

Behind this huge spike in silver prices

The Chinese.

As 2ndlook has pointed out earlier, Chinese love silver – and Indians love gold. Most of Chinese consumption of gold is by a few well-heeled elites with guanxi.

But only look at the Chinese trading frenzy in silver.

Chinese speculators have emerged as a big driver of silver’s spectacular rally and subsequent crash with trading in the metal in Shanghai soaring nearly 30-fold since the start of the year.

The commodity, nicknamed “the devil’s metal” for its wild price swings, surged 175 per cent from August to a peak of almost $50 a troy ounce two weeks ago. Since then, it has plummeted 35 per cent, hitting a low of $32.33 on Thursday.

At the same time, silver turnover on the Shanghai Gold Exchange, China’s main precious metals trading hub spiked, rising 2,837 per cent from the start of this year to a peak of 70m ounces on April 26, according to exchange data.

The number of contracts outstanding, an indicator of investor exposure, doubled over the same period.

Silver trading in Shanghai remains below the levels in London and New York, the two main global hubs, but its rapid growth means its has become increasingly significant in driving prices.  “I’m pretty certain it’s the Chinese retail [investment] that is driving this move,” one senior precious metals banker said. “There’s an enormous amount of speculation going on out there, they’ve got the bit between their teeth.”

The Chinese gorilla

Looking at the reports of the market and commodities, it is plain that the Chinese Government is an interested player in gold acquisition – something that 2ndlook projected nearly 4 years ago. And the Chinese consumer is behind the rise in silver prices.

Since China is anyway the world’s largest producer of gold, disruption in gold supplies has not highly marked. If other Governments follow the Chinese example, gold prices could explode. If Chinese buying gets very aggressive, again, prices could spike.

The only cloud on the horizon could be some kind of consensus to bring some undeclared quantities of gold into the market – like the Central Banks Gold Agreement (CBGA). Is that likely? The only such seller could be EU members? With the Euro-zone and the Euro-currency itself in such trouble,  would ECB members dare to sell gold?

Especially, if the Chinese Government is ready to buy?

Top national central bank gold holdings. (Image courtesy - FT.com.). Click for larger copy.

Top national central bank gold holdings. (Image courtesy - FT.com.). Click for larger copy.

The G20 lacks legitimacy

Obama's media management 

The spirit of the Congress of Vienna, where great powers assembled to effectively govern the world, has no place in the contemporary international community. The G20 is sorely lacking in legitimacy and must change. 

A number of countries that have been central to international cooperation in the past, including Norway and the Nordic countries, are excluded from direct membership. Low-income countries and the continent of Africa are almost entirely without the needed representation. 

As the response to the financial crisis showed, there is value in having an effective, smaller forum of nations, equipped to act quickly when necessary. But, within that framework, there are simple ways to make the G20 more representative of the world it influences. (via The G20 lacks legitimacy). 

It is every man for himself

Caught in a vicious downward spiral, Europe is at a loss. Britain is moaning about the demise of its special relationship with the USA. Sarkozy is off to the US, to mend fences with the Americans. At Copenhagen, while the BASIC countries were negotiating a ‘deal’ with the USA, European countries were sitting out. Waiting for the Big Boys to finish their talks. Japan, China, Korea – along with the USA and India are meeting at Seoul in June to create a strategic oil reserve, against possible supply shocks. To be shuttered out like this, is an unfamiliar experience to Europe. 

The Norwegian appeal for inclusion in G20 is to be seen in light of the above reality. 

That man with a tan – Obama

Obama has been stressing that EU needs to get its act together and speak in a common voice. The days when 6-12 European countries walked onto centre-stage, are over, seemingly. And Norway is one such victim of the changed circumstances. 

The Greek crisis is stressing the weak links between European States. A ‘suspected’ withdrawal by Germany from the EMU would devastate Europe – and EU. Should the EU collapse, the Nordic countries would be shut out from many global forum. 

And it is this fear that fuels Norway’s plea for G20 membership!. 

In the doghouse

After a Nobel .. a grateful Obama was the least that Europe expected ...

After a Nobel .. a grateful Obama was the least that Europe expected ...

 

But it was not Obama who put European principalities (Norway, ruled by a king, is too small to be called country) in the doghouse. It started when George Bush railroaded Europe into Iraq and Afghanistan. And excluded the habitual European attendees from G20 – like Norway. 

On Dec 10th, 2009, President Barack Obama landed in Oslo, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – an annual ‘price’ that is 

“decided by a secretive five-strong committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. All current members are former politicians drawn from Norway’s four biggest parties. It is chaired by Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister.” 

It was noted that

“Worldwide astonishment greeted the decision yesterday to give Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. The U.S. President has been in office for less than nine months, has yet to score a major foreign policy success. He had not even known he was among the record 205 nominations. The deadline for submitting candidates had come just 12 days after he entered the White House.” 

At the airport, he was welcomed by the “Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Kaci Kullmann Five, deputy chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.” In his acceptance speech, Obama admitted that maybe there were “more deserving” candidates. Was the Nobel price in anticipation of a Nordic inclusion in G20? For turning a more benign American eye towards Europe? 

Norway raised its claim for G20 membership, the Financial Times wrote 

a month before Barack Obama, the US president, visits Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  Jonas Gahr Store proposed that members of the Nordic Council – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland – could share a rotating seat together with the Baltic states and possibly Poland. 

Spain and the Netherlands have managed to secure invitations to all three summits since the financial crisis without being official members. But others such as Poland, Belgium and the Nordic countries have been excluded. 

So much for Norway’s Nobel price. 

The legitimacy of G20

Jonas Gahr Støre is stressing about the ‘legitimacy’ of the G20 group. If the G20 is indeed illegitimate, then in that case, Shri Støre, you should ask for disbanding the G20! Not make a desperate plea for inclusion into the G20. Will an illegitimate forum become legitimate by Nordic Norway’s inclusion? 

That reminds me. Norway was one of the ‘moving’ spirits’ behind the Copenhagen Circus on climate change. This Copenhagen Circus sought to impose a rule of Western NGOs on poor countries of the world.  Faceless NGOs, without accountability to anyone, were able to bring global political leadership, to the very brink of an agreement. How legitimate was that Shri Støre? 

Støre’s logic somehow escapes me. 

Norway- One Great Power

Media is falling over themselves - courting Obama

Media is falling over themselves - courting Obama

 

Shri Støre invokes the hoary spirit of the “Congress of Vienna, where great powers assembled to effectively govern the world” . Now, by what logic do ‘Great Powers’ derive legitimacy to govern the world? By Norway’s inclusion? 

Shri Jonas Gahr Støre has sent out copies of the same PR material, to Malaysia (published in the New Straits Times), in Canada (published in the Ottawa Citizen), and in the (as per the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway) in The Straits Times (Manila, the Philippines), 6 April 2010 – Al Hayat, 7 April 2010. 

Norway’s economy

God has been kind to Norway! Instead of thanking God for His kindness, for underground  wealth – and for natural beauty above the ground. Instead, Norway wants to be ‘recognized’ as a ‘Great Power’! 

Norway’s claim to fame is oil. Some 12%-15% of Norway’s  GDP is oil. A significant part of Norway’s wealth is “raw products mined and processed in Norway include iron ore, lead concentrates, titanium, iron pyrites, coal, zinc, and copper.” Is Norway’s claim to be a ‘Great Power” based on something buried underground! 

15% of Norway’s GDP is Tourism! With more than 1,1oo hotels and nearly 1,000 registered campsites, with picturesque coastline and fjords plus a number of well-known ski resorts. By the way, Norway’s population is about 45 lakhs – 4.5 million. 

Manufacturing accounts for an awesome, jaw-dropping 1 percent of Norway’s annual GDP. 

The world must listen to

Norway’s population is lesser than Haiti! If there is one country that the world needs to hear clearly and audibly, it is Haiti. Compared to Norway, Haiti has a far superior claim to be a Great Power. Single-handedly responsible for forcing the West to abandon slavery, Haiti has been a victim of Western vindictiveness. It is time that the world listened to Haiti. And for Norway to keep quiet! 

And be grateful to God!

Ode to a Grecian Urn

So broke ... and so little glue?

So broke ... and so little glue?

Leaders of the 16-nation euro region endorsed a Franco- German proposal for a mix of IMF and bilateral loans at market interest rates, while voicing confidence that Greece won’t need outside help to cut Europe’s biggest budget deficit.“It’s an extremely clear political message,” European Union President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters after the leaders met in Brussels late yesterday. “It’s a mixed mechanism but with Europe playing the dominant role. It will be triggered as a last resort.”

After objecting to a possible IMF intrusion on the $12 trillion euro-region economy, the ECB endorsed the package, with President Jean-Claude Trichet saying that European governments will remain in control of the process.Trichet, who told France’s Public Senat television earlier that surrendering control to the IMF would be “very, very bad,” held his own press conference after the summit to revise the comments. (via EU Steers Greece to IMF, Pledges Loans in Last-Resort Update1 – BusinessWeek).

The genesis

On January 9, Standard & Poor’s announced that Greece, Spain and Ireland were on review for a possible downgrade, indicating that a Euro-zone country could default. The Greek situation acquired some urgency, as redemptions are due soon. Greece cannot be left to fend for itself, without reducing the credibility of the EU among its own member states – and may turn out to be the acid test for the EU and the Euro. But EU-Zone economy is contracting now for the last 18 months.

Enter IMF

Britain and Sweden are suggesting that IMF is better suited to handle the Greek situation – rather than the ECB. Germany and France, being the economic and political leaders of the Euro-pride brigade, are worried about IMF entry into Europe.

The gross debt (government, private, corporate) of the Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, UK, US are all above 200% – going upto more than 1000% in case of Ireland.

Can’t Rescue States With Deficits – EIB

February 11, 2010 1 comment
This may hurt European pride

This may hurt European pride

Can EU ignore Greece …

If Greece is left to fend for itself, it may reduce the credibility of the EU among its own member states.

European Investment Bank President Philippe Maystadt said the bank can’t rescue member states struggling with budget deficits.

“The EIB’s mission and statute do not allow for bailouts in terms of budget deficits or balance-of-payments support to individual member states,” he said in a statement posted on the Luxembourg-based lender’s Web site today. (via EIB Says It Can’t Rescue States With Deficits (Update1) – BusinessWeek).

The problem with EU

Race to the bottom ...?

Race to the bottom ...?

Greece may turn out to be the acid test for the EU and the Euro. Britain and Sweden are suggesting that IMF is better suited to handle the Greek situation – rather than the ECB. Germany and France, being the economic and political leaders of the Euro-pride brigade, are worried about IMF entry into Europe.

The crisis has exposed the EU’s Achilles’ heel — states remain independent to spend as they wish, but their decisions can affect all 16 eurozone nations. Countries that help Greece risk having their own borrowing costs rise as a result, and could see other struggling eurozone economies get in line for aid. (from Star Tribune)

Meanwhile, the Greek Prime Minister winged his way to India – and announced that Greece will solve its own problem – and does not need either the EIB, ECB or the IMF.

Touche.

RBI to buy 200 tonnes of IMF gold

November 3, 2009 1 comment

RBI to buy 200 tonnes of IMF gold

RBI’s decision to shore up its gold reserves needs to be seen in the context of other central banks across the globe increasing their gold reserves. Among them are the central banks of China, Russia and a few countries in the European Union.

In the last one year, China has increased its gold holdings, by weight, by 75.69%, Russia by 18.78%, the Philippines by 18.50% and Mexico by 108.91%.

Compared with this, India’s central bank did not add anything to its gold reserves in the last one year, according to Bloomberg data. (via RBI to buy 200 tonnes of IMF gold – Home – livemint.com).

Two years ago …

2ndlook had estimated that the Chinese could possibly (and they have)  increase their monetary gold reserves. On April 24th, 2009, Bloomberg reported that China had increased

its (gold) reserves by 454 tons to 1,054 tons through domestic purchases and refining scrap metal, Hu Xiaolian, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency today. China, the world’s biggest gold producer, has increased its holdings before, Hu said in the interview carried on the administration Web Site. They rose from 394 tons to 500 tons in 2001 and to 600 tons in 2003. The U.S. has the world’s biggest gold holdings at 8,134 tons, followed by Germany with 3,413 tons, World Gold Council data show. France has 2,487 tons and Italy 2,452 tons, while the IMF has 3,217 tons, according to the council.

Another report, from Market Watch, a WSJ web publication added,

The increase makes China the world’s fifth-largest holder of gold, just ahead of Switzerland, and among the six nations plus the International Monetary Fund that have reserves of more than 1,000 metric tons. Although Hu did not elaborate on where China had sourced the additional bullion, her comments were interpreted as meaning they came from domestic sources and may included refining of scrap metal.  Traders also say the gold was accumulated systematically over a number of years. Last year China ranked as the world’s largest gold producer with 12.2% of world output, equivalent to 288 metric tons. The U.S. ranked second with a 9.9% share, or 234 metric tons.2008 - Sensex VS Gold

What are the future plans of the Chinese? A report quotes an analyst

China should increase its gold reserve from 600 tons to about 2,500 tons in a short term and to 3,000 tons in a long term to cope with the versatile exchange rate risks, said Teng Tai, an economist of China Galaxy Securities Company.

Exactly …

This really does not mean much – except that it may keep gold prices on boil. Whether a currency is backed by 5% or a 10% gold reserve makes no material difference, especially in this era of rampant use of (not just by the US of A) “a technology, called a printing press” as an economic tool. For long term economic stability, gold needs to be in the hands of individuals – and not Governments.

Why India

Since China is a significant gold producer by itself, it may not get a shot at buying IMF gold. India has negligible domestic gold production -and was possibly therefore given preference by the IMF. Of course, preference may have been given to RBI’s purchase, given its ‘responsible’ and ‘mature’ behaviour during the current Great Recession.

What does RBI’s gold purchase mean

RBI’s gold purchase means two things.

The Indian Government which has had a rather low percentage of gold holdings as their currency reserves will now bolster these reserves. Even after this purchase, Indian official reserves, will only be the ninth largest in the world in absolute terms.

On average, countries hold about 12.6% of their reserves in gold, up from 9.9% a year ago. Some of this represents an increase in gold holdings, but another driver of the increased proportion is the rise in the value of gold. (from India propels gold to new high.)

The overhanging threat of open market sales by the IMF, speculated by many and discounted by 2ndlook, now stands neutralized. This will be a kicker to gold prices in the short term.

The ideal thing …

Sell gold to individuals. Governments should not have such large holdings of gold. Gold in the hands of Governments is the prime cause of war. Gold holding should be widely dispersed, as widely as possible, amongst individuals – like the Indian gold possession model. No national government, in the new financial architecture should be allowed to have more than 250 tons of gold – to progressively reduce to 50 tons.

U.S. Leads World In Foreign Weapons Sales – Report – NYTimes.com

September 8, 2009 Leave a comment

Citing a congressional study released on Friday, the Times said the United States was involved in 68.4 percent of the global sales of arms.

U.S. weapons sales jumped nearly 50 percent in 2008 despite the global economic recession to $37.8 billion from $25.4 billion the year before.

The jump defied worldwide trends as global arms sales fell 7.6 percent to $55.2 billion in 2008, the report said. Global weapons agreements were at their lowest level since 2005. (via U.S. Leads World In Foreign Weapons Sales – Report – NYTimes.com).

Can you stop me ...

Can you stop me ...

US in the Post WW2 world

In South East Asia from 1950-1975, Israel from the 1960 onwards and now in Iraq, Afghanistan, the US has been the in the middle of most expensive conflicts (measured in terms of lives lost) in post WW2 world.

This model of international relations is something that needs to change. The poor in this world has not become much safer, seen more democratic or significantly more richer. What justification does this policy have – apart from “I have muscles and can you stop me from flexing them” logic?

Gold – a non-military solution

As I see it, there are two simple solutions. One – everyone who disagrees with (or even if  you are worried about the economic consequences of) the US foreign policy should go out and buy gold. This will surely trigger a collapse of the US dollar. Just a 100,000 people buying a 100gm of of gold in the next 1 year will trigger the dollar collapse.

Drill for oil

The second solution will need more time and will need co-operation foron the BRIC Governments. The BRIC Governments must go out and drill oil wells all over the developing world. The collapse in oil prices will remove the petro-dollar funding of the US and simultaneously eliminate /reduce the trade deficit of the developing world.

Ben Bernanke’s version of history blames the victims

But for Bernanke...

For Bernanke, central bankers were the heroes. In the face of irrational hordes, they offered liquidity and a host of innovative policies, ensuring that financial panic did not lead to a new Great Depression. In Bernanke’s word, “the outcome could have been decidedly worse”.

His assessment isn’t exactly wrong. But as a historical record it is incomplete and far too generous to central bankers. (via Ben Bernanke’s version of history is incomplete – Telegraph).

Blame the Chinese!

Blame the Chinese!

It ain’t the first time

Helicopter Ben has a way with history. Earlier he created the concept of ‘savings glut’ – thinly blaming China ( and others) for saving money! He explained how,

“a significant increase in the global supply of saving–a global saving glut–which helps to explain both the increase in the U.S. current account deficit and the relatively low level of long-term real interest rates in the world today.”

This time around he was congratulating Central Bankers and policymakers

“in the United States and around the globe responded with speed and force to arrest a rapidly deteriorating and dangerous situation.”

Awesome! The man is so brazen! He has no shame!!

Of course, he makes no mention how the current Great Recession first came about by printing too much money – and then keeping interests low. Edward Hadas is right in one thing at least! He says, “Those who spread kerosene should not take too much credit for putting out fires.”

Benny Boy – That is good advice. Take it.

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