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In a speech I recently gave at The Empire Club of Toronto1, I referred to gold as the “anti-currency.” Gold is not and never has been a currency. Gold is something entirely different and far more valuable. It is money.
“If you’re holding paper currency, you have to have some kind of trust that the country that issued it is not just going to print its way out of its problems. That’s a real concern right now. Gold, on the other hand, has real intrinsic value, unlike a paper currency which can be debased by its government.”
Currency versus money
Most investors confuse money and currency, but they are not the same thing. Money is defined as a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. For centuries, money referred to coins made of rare metals (gold and silver) with intrinsic value, and to notes backed by precious metals.
Currency, while it is a medium of exchange, is not a store of value. It only derives its value by arbitrary fiat government decree and hence the term “fiat currency”. Paper banknotes represent money but they are not money. They are simply promissory notes whose long-term “value” or purchasing power depends entirely on the fiscal and monetary discipline of the government that issued them.
And therein lies the problem. In an era of massive fiat currency expansion by profligate governments across the globe, today’s currencies are depreciating in value faster than yesterday’s news. Fortunately for precious metals investors, gold and precious metals have risen in value, and will continue to rise in value against all currencies because they have once again resumed their historical role as stores of value: money.
“When the price of gold moves, gold’s price isn’t moving; rather it is the value of the currencies in which it’s priced that is changing.”
The decline of the world’s currencies
The media are using the wrong measuring stick
The rate of currency decline is accelerating
In the past ten years alone, the US dollar, the Canadian dollar, the UK pound and the euro have collectively fallen 70 percent in value if measured in real (currency-debased) terms. In other words, when they are priced in terms of gold (Figure 2).
It’s all about the (fiat currency) money supply
Countries are increasingly at risk of sovereign debt default
The risk of massive and widespread sovereign debt default has never been higher. “Official” US government debt has soared to 90 percent of GDP, while multi-trillion-dollar budget deficits for the next several years will send that number soaring. Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, was recently put on credit watch. Its debt is twice total GDP, yet its newly elected government has announced much higher spending for 2010. The UK’s 2009 budget deficit will be over 14 percent of GDP, adding to a net debt that will reach 56 percent of GDP this year, 65 percent in 2010 and 78 percent by 2015.
Spain, Italy and Portugal are facing major fiscal deficits, as is Eastern Europe. Dubai is billions in debt and its prize jewel, Dubai World, is bankrupt. Greece’s credit rating has been slashed, and its debt is forecast to reach 130 percent of GDP. And then there is Iceland, whose debt had exploded to seven times GDP before the global meltdown. The country’s banking system has now collapsed, its currency is deeply devalued, its real estate market has imploded and the country is in a full-blown economic depression.
The incredible shrinking dollar
In their attempt to reflate the bubble-driven economy, President Barack Obama, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner have decided to add to this financial house of cards. Instead of raising taxes or cutting expenditures, they have decided to borrow their way out of the problem and have the Fed create money out of thin air, which will almost certainly create another bubble. This bubble will make the others pale by comparison and will help destroy the US dollar. The dollar may be the world’s reserve currency, but China and other countries are not only questioning its status, but also actively campaigning for greater use of alternative currencies.
Investors are demanding real money
Global creditors who currently hold trillions of dollars’ worth of dollar-denominated financial assets are dumping them to preserve their wealth. That is why gold bullion, along with its precious metals cousins, silver and platinum bullion, have been consistently keeping their value against financial assets (Figure 5).
Central banks are buying gold bullion
India recently bought 200 metric tonnes of gold bullion from the International Monetary Fund for $6.7 billion. Russia has recently added 120 tonnes of bullion to its reserves, while China has steadily (and surreptitiously) increased its gold bullion reserves from 600 tonnes in 2003 to 1,054 tonnes today. China is even urging its people to put five percent of their savings into gold and silver because it is so worried about the dollar. And because trillions of dollars of its reserves remain in US dollar-denominated assets, China’s central bank will be diversifying into gold for many years to come.
The world’s central banks know that gold is primarily a monetary asset, not a commodity. That’s why a growing number of them are quietly diversifying out of US dollars and adding to their 29,000 tonnes of gold reserves.
In its 2010 Precious Metals Outlook, Scotiabank noted that “seeing the value of the dollar steadily erode must be a nightmare for large US creditors such as China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the oil producing countries and Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF)…
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