Gold and Procrastination
Written By: Gary North | Posted: Tuesday, May 11th, 2010
Beginning in late 2001, I began recommending that my readers buy gold. I have continued to make this recommendation every year since then. When I first made it, gold was selling for under $300 per ounce. Today, it is approaching $1, 200 per ounce.
I wonder what percentage of my readers have taken my advice and put a minimum of $10, 000 in gold coins. I would like to think 80%. I hope it is at least 4%.
Some people have bought IOU's to gold issued by some firm that promises to pay investors fiat currencies. The payment will be made in digital money, not gold.
The commodity futures market is a system of IOUs. Overall, about 1% of these contracts result in actual delivery of physical commodities. Gold is no different. People who buy IOUs to gold are buying promises to pay fiat money, not gold. Read the contract. See if the company is allowed to substitute fiat money for gold.
There are a few thousand local coin companies in the United States. Most of them deal mainly in stamps and baseball cards, not gold bullion coins. Collectors are their main clients. There are usually people with interests in specific coins, not gold coins as such.
The few American companies that specialize in selling bullion gold coins have a few thousand clients each. This, in a nation of 100 million households.
In a crisis so severe that (say) 10% of these households decide to buy a single one-ounce gold coin, there is no way that they will be able to do this. There will not be enough telephone lines and salesmen to take their orders. There are not enough salesmen to take orders from a million homes.
In other words, there is no way that a gold coin standard could come into existence fast enough to solve the problems created by mass inflation, let alone hyperinflation. When the crisis hits, it will be too late.
There would be no way for the United States Mint to produce enough gold coins to meet demand. Whenever there is a big move in gold's price, the Mint stops delivery of coins to dealers. The Mint says that it does not have enough blanks to produce enough coins to meet demand. This is marginal demand, not a million people trying to buy one coin.
The Mint has no incentive to buy new presses and new blanks -- planchets -- for the coins. The Mint does not pay its employees a commission for coin sales. Most people's jobs there are protected by Civil Service. What if demand is short-term? What happens then to the career of some senior officer who ordered the new presses? In contrast, nothing negative will happen to anyone's career for not buying new equipment.
Think of Europe, Australia, and the Chinese middle class. What if 10% of them wanted to buy just a single one-ounce coin? The same problem exists in every nation. There is no distribution channel large enough to handle what I would call marginal demand. Such demand is marginal in terms of the net worth of buyers. It is marginal in terms of the number of investors in all asset classes. But it is not marginal in terms of the number of new buyers of gold coins. It would short-circuit the distribution system.
I am a believer in owning gold coins. That is to say, I do not trust the IOUs except as speculative vehicles to make fiat money. These IOU's are not IOU's for gold. They are IOU's for digital money. There are vastly more IOU's written for gold than there is gold ready to deliver: probably 100 times more. Here, I am speaking of gold bullion bars. As for bullion gold coins, there might as well be none, as far as the average guy would be concerned in a currency crisis.
If an outfit has a bonded warehouse with segregated gold accounts, fine. But will the firm deliver physical gold? Find out.
This is why procrastination is unwise. The person who procrastinates thinks, "I can always buy some coins." He will not be able to. He thinks, "I can beat the rush." He can't. He will get the urge to buy gold when millions of other people do, too. The panic will hit far more people than there are coins available.
Anyone who knows the gold coin market can tell you this. I have watched it since 1965. I see the same retail sellers today as then . . . and not many more.
Camino Coins in Burlingame, California has been around since about 1960. Investment Rarities in Minneapolis began in the early 1970's, as did Monex. Franklin Sanders (the Moneychanger) began in 1980. Don McAlvany has been selling coins for over 30 years. Then who are the new kids on the block? There aren't many. Of those who sell coins and deliver them, there aren't any. (I am not speaking of companies that say they buy coins and store them for a fee.)
This is a cottage industry. It's not like Wall Street, where hedge funds come and go. This is what we would call a mature industry. "Geriatric" is closer to it.
If there were widespread interest in buying gold coins, there would by now be a developed supply chain. As gold has risen from $257 in 2000 to today's price, companies would have come into existence to meet demand. There has been no increased demand. Gold goes higher and higher. People read about it, but they do not take action.
An American waits to buy gold until his brother-in-law buys gold. Few people are early buyers in any market. But, in the case of gold, almost no one ever becomes an early buyer. To buy gold is to short the dollar. To buy gold is to conclude that Congress will eventually ruin the currency. This means that the promises of Congress are not reliable. Very few Americans can bring themselves to believe this. So, they remain on the sidelines.
NO EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
The amazing fact is that tens of millions of Americans know about gold. They have seen the price rise, and they have sat on the sidelines. They have not connected the rising price of gold with a profit opportunity. They have not thought, "I really ought to get in on this." Higher and higher gold's price goes, but emotionally, this fact does not register.
This is equally true in Great Britain. A decade ago, as Great Britain was selling half of its gold hoard at under $300, gold got a lot of attention. It was the end for gold in the world's monetary system, the experts said. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, issued the order to sell. This was big financial news. Brown's decision has cost the Bank of England something in the range of $10 billion, but nobody in Great Britain has cared. The issue is not on anyone's radar screen, despite the fact that the British electorate goes to the polls this week to decide Brown's political future. His recorded comment about some woman's supposed bigotry has cost him millions of votes. But his liquidation of half of the nation's gold is a non-starter, and has been for a decade.
Here is a unique situation. An investment asset keeps rising, but investors pay no attention.
What is the problem? There is a war on gold, and the government and central banks are behind it. They tell people that gold is a loser's investment, that there is no shortage of gold at yesterday's price, that gold will soon fall. Worst of all, it doesn't pay interest -- rather like excess reserves at the Federal Reserve these days. But that has not kept commercial banks from piling up $1.2 trillion of excess reserves.
People do not mentally connect their lives with gold's price. If they had bought gold in 2000, they would be buying more today. Why? Because they would understand that gold's price is important for their future. But they did not buy gold in 2000, so its price is a kind of curiosity for most people. People do not invest in curiosities.
In India, gold is not a curiosity. It is an integral part of the culture. Gold jewelry serves as a dowry gift. Fathers begin saving money to buy their daughters gold from the time the daughters are born. This makes the price of gold a topic of intense personal interest in India. The price of gold impacts millions of families' net worth. It does so far more than the price of stocks impacts American families' net worth.
An Indian in a village may not be literate, but he knows about gold. He may not have any idea how the futures market works, but he knows how the gold market works. He does not accept an IOU for gold as a substitute for gold. He does not provide his daughter with an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) certificate for gold on her wedding day. He could not be fooled into thinking that an ETF in gold is the same as gold. He would regard such an assumption as ludicrous -- something that Americans might believe in, but not anyone with common sense. What is common sense in India? "He gets my money when I get the gold."
The poor villager did not attend Harvard Business School. He does not work for Goldman Sachs. He imagines that businessmen might write IOU's for gold when they don't own any gold. Then they might take the money obtained from the IOU and use it to buy something else. When presented with the IOU, the debtor might plead poverty. He might declare bankruptcy. He might disappear. He might pull a Lehman Brothers routine. The villager, not being a sophisticated man, is not taken in by Harvard Business School grads, with their computer models.
So, the villager is protected by centuries of tradition. He learned from his father what stupid people do with their money. His wife still has her dowry, unless the family had to sell it in an emergency. There is no FDIC in India. There is no line of fiat money credit to India's non-existent FDIC from Congress. The Indian understands that a dowry in gold, not an IOU from a bank, is reliable in good times and bad.
The Indian has an emotional commitment to gold. So did his father. So did his grandfather. The American does not.
The American trusts the promises of the Federal government. He is emotionally committed to the Federal government. He is convinced that a political promise from Congress is better than gold. He believes in his heart of hearts that the Federal government would never break its word. Social Security will be there in his old age. So will Medicare.
The Indian peasant has no comparable faith in civil government. He has seen it in action for too long. He does not trust the Indian currency. The currency is useful for buying gold.
An Indian father makes his purchases when he can. He pays attention to price. He may think, "I will buy gold when the price falls." Then he does exactly that. The American thinks, "I will buy gold when the price falls." He thinks this again and again. He never buys any gold.
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