rickackerman.com / By Rick Ackerman / January 31, 2013 12:01 am GMT
My colleague and erstwhile nemesis Gonzalo Lira posed the question above in a recent essay, and it is indeed a most puzzling one. Given that the world’s central banks — joined most recently by a shockingly reckless Switzerland — are waging all-out economic war by inflating their currencies, shouldn’t gold be soaring,? In fact, prices have continued to meander between $1500 and $1700 since September of 2011, when gold topped out at $1945 after a spectacular run-up from $728 in just three years.
What could have caused the bull market to go lifeless since then, even as more and more countries appear hell-bent on devaluing their currencies to keep their exports competitive? The answer that Lira has offered is novel and engaging, but it did not persuade me, perhaps because the underlying conceit seems forced. For he has likened the current gold market to the one for credit default swaps (CDS) prior to the Great Financial Crash of 2008. Because swaps provided insurance against bond defaults, they rose in value as the crisis mounted. But then, suddenly, they ceased to appreciate, Lira says, because “the markets collectively realized that the counterparties to those CDS contracts might not be able to pay up.” This, Lira asserts, is exactly what is occurring in gold, as paper certificates have come to greatly exceed the supply of ingots held in vaults. The result, he says, is that “the global precious metals markets are essentially a game of musical chairs, with far fewer seats than players—far less gold than gold holders. And market participants collectively know this. Which is why they don’t trust their counterparties. Which is why gold isn’t rising like a shot.”
I think there’s a more convincing explanation for why gold isn’t rising, and I will get to it in a moment. But first let me say that my intention is not to assail Lira or his ideas. Even though we had a nasty spat on the Web a couple of years ago over the inflation vs. deflation conundrum, I’ve always found his essays insightful, original and well wrought. Putting aside our differences over whether the inevitable collapse of the financial system will be brought on by hyperinflation or deflation, we probably agree on 90% of the things we write about.