By Patrick A. Heller - Liberty Coin Service
Mysterious Withdrawal Of Gold From GLD Exchange Traded Fund
Record Level Of Backwardation In Silver Commodity Markets
10-Year Treasury Debt Interest Rate Up 12% So Far This Year
JPMorgan Chase Will Accept Physical Gold For Loan Collateral, But . . .
There are too many news developments in the past month to try to squeeze into a newsletter, let alone the meager pages of this article.
That doesn’t even count all the juicy rumors floating around which I won’t discuss because there just is no way to double-check their truthfulness. The bare facts are that gold and silver prices declined from their January 3 peaks, touching bottom in the week of January 24-28. This was a longer decline than has been experienced in over a year, and was a percentage drop typically seen only one or two times a year.
Still, the fall in prices was not a total surprise. Gold hit an all-time high price on January 3 (ignoring inflation, of course), the same day that silver reached a nearly 31-year high. The price increases were accelerating. “Something” had to be done to defend the value of the US dollar, and fast.
Several “somethings” were done.
· The January 6 edition of the weekly “Federal Reserve H.4.1 Factors Affecting Reserve Balances of Depository Institutions and Condition Statement of Federal Reserve Banks” began with an announcement of an accounting change that took effect January 1. Now amounts owed by the Federal Reserve to the US Treasury will be recorded as liabilities rather than reductions of Federal Reserve Capital. Potentially, daily losses sustained by the Fed could end up being booked as assets! With this new accounting standard, it will no longer be possible for the Fed to ever report that it is insolvent!
· In mid-January, CME Group, which owns the COMEX and NYMEX exchanges, raised various margin requirements, even though gold and silver prices were falling at the time. It would be highly unusual for margin requirements to be raised when prices are declining—unless the reason was to try to further suppress gold and silver prices.
· In mid-January, the London Bullion Market Association reported that its silver contracts were in backwardation as far out as 12 months. In backwardation, where spot month contract prices are higher than future month prices, there is a supply squeeze of the physical commodity. The previous time that the London silver market went this far into the future with prices in backwardation was in January 2009. Then, silver prices rose 40% within the next few weeks.
· To top that off, at the end of last week, the COMEX silver market was in backwardation almost every month out to December 2015! No one I checked with ever recalled eeing the COMEX silver market in backwardation to that extent.
· From December 21, 2010 through the end of January 2011, the GLD gold exchange traded fund (ETF) disposed of 2.2 million ounces of its physical gold holdings. On January 25 alone, about 1 million ounces were withdrawn, which represented about 2.5% of the fund’s entire gold position!
The only two reasons for the fund to reduce its gold holdings would be to raise funds to cover operating expenses or to meet a redemption demand from an Authorized Participant to cash in a minimum of 100,000 shares (representing approximately 10,000 ounces). My suspicion is that this physical gold was acquired by trading partners of the US government so cepting gold as representing liquid money!
However, there is an interesting side note to this development. JPMorgan Chase is a major custodian for gold exchange traded funds. Therefore, it should know whether the ETFs really possess all the gold it supposedly owns to cover 100% of its outstanding shares. Well, JPMorgan Chase specifically will not accept gold ETF shares as collateral against loans made by the bank. Does someone at the bank know something they are not telling the public?
· The judge in the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee, Inc. (GATA) seeking information about gold swaps by the Federal Reserve has issued an order to the Fed to turn over one document by February 18 that the Fed had attempted to exempt from disclosure. The judge had reviewed ten documents to evaluate whether there were valid grounds to exempt them from disclosure. Though the judge did exempt nine documents from disclosure, the nature of the subject of the documents did go on the record. Some of them involved the US government discussing gold swap arrangements with other central banks. This information proved that the Federal Reserve had lied when it constantly claimed that no such gold swap discussions ever occurred.
· It is possible that Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) may use his subcommittee chairmanship to pressure the Fed to disclose more information about it gold holdings and trading practices, which efforts were blocked by Congressional leadership in the previous Congress. · The COMEX is continuing to lose physical silver inventories. Total inventories are now down more than 10% since mid-June 2010. Registered (dealer) inventories now only cover about 6.6% of open contracts, well below the normal 10-15% coverage.
· The growing backwardation in both the London and COMEX silver markets indicate a huge supply squeeze is developing.
· Demand for US Silver Eagle Dollars was so strong in January that the US Mint had to begin rationing the coins part way through the month. Still, total sales of 6.4 million coins in January far exceeded the previous monthly sales record. Who knows how many the Mint could have sold if it had not rationed them for multiple weeks.
· The retail premium on US 90% Silver Coin has risen enough that dealers who sell them wholesale can get a better price from other dealers than they can from the refiners. Consequently, refineries are experiencing a shortage of silver to process. There are reports in the past week of refiners turning away new orders for silver as they cannot obtain enough silver to fill the orders.
· With the refiners suffering a shortage of physical silver to process, delays are starting to develop in deliveries of various sizes of ingots. that it could be dumped onto the markets to try to help suppress gold prices. Almost every time that GLD holdings have declined 1% or more, it has market a market bottom, followed sometimes by sharp price increases.
· The Federal Reserve helped in other ways to try to prop up the value of the US dollar. One way was to aggressively purchase US Treasury debt to keep the effective interest rate on 10-year securities below 3.5%. That tactic worked up until a week ago. Today, for instance, 10- year notes sold at a yield of 3.665%, meaning the interest rate is up about 12% from the beginning of the year. In the past ten Treasury debt auctions, the average bought by “indirect participants” was 46.35%.
Today, the indirect participants claimed 71.3% of all debt sold. In the past, the indirect participants were though to include only foreign investors. However, starting a year or so ago, analysts started to suspect that the Fed was the real buyer behind some of these indirect bids to try to make it appear that there was genuine demand for US Treasury debt.
· Almost every day since the start of the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed higher than the day before, no matter how poor the daily financial and political news. These are not all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes, but it gives you a pretty good idea that the US government went all out to try to prop up the dollar by making gold and silver look unattractive and risky.
All this political maneuvering depleted the resources of the US government and its trading partners. A week ago it looked evident that the manipulation tactics were slowing down. That typically indicates a retreat to higher prices before again making a major effort to suppress prices.
Patrick A Heller is the owner and General Manager of Liberty Coin Service, Michigan's largest rare coin and precious metals dealer since 1971. Mr Heller is the editor of the Liberty's Outlook Newsletter, and gold market commentator for Numismaster. In addition he is a columnist for The Greater Lansing Business Monthly, and has a radio show on WILS-AM 1320.