Crisis Brewing in the Gold Market Germany claims to hold 3,390.6 tonnes of gold, about half of which is held by foreign central banks. Over a year ago, they announced a plan to repatriate 674 tonnes of gold from France and the United States. The US said it would comply, but told the German government that it would have to wait seven years for all the gold to be delivered. The news out last week was that after a year, Germany had only obtained 37 tonnes of its gold—and only five of them were from the US. That is a trivial amount (only 160,000 ounces). So why can’t Germany get its gold? Explanations of having to melt down existing gold and recast it just don’t make sense. The most logical conclusion, and the one I’ve come to, is that the United States simply doesn’t have the gold it says it has—neither Germany’s nor its own. Of course, the US government isn’t going to admit that there’s a problem, but I say there is. More evidence: JPMorgan’s COMEX warehouse contained 3.0 million ounces of gold in 2012, but that had dropped to 0.5 million ounces by mid-2013. Its registered inventories are a razor-thin 87,000 ounces. These kinds of swings are indicative of shortages and instability. Further, JPMorgan sold its gold vault in New York City—located next to the Federal Reserve’s vault—to the Chinese. The banking giant also just announced the sale of its commodities trading business (although it may not have sold the precious metals part of that business). Perhaps they were concerned about new regulations of banks with deposit insurance from the government. In another relevant development, Deutsche Bank recently surprised the gold community by quitting its position on the committee that sets the London a.m. and p.m. fixings. This came a few weeks after a German regulatory body called BaFin started investigating how these prices were set. BaFin also gave an indication that the process appeared worse than the LIBOR fixing scandal, which resulted in billions in fines. Putting Inventories and Traders Together The futures market looks fragile to me. The basic problem is that there are many more transactions that could put a claim on gold than there is gold registered for delivery in the COMEX warehouses. The chart below gives a dramatic picture by simply dividing the open interest of all futures contracts by the registered inventories. The black line at the bottom shows the big jump in the ratio as the registered inventories declined. There are 107 times more open-interest positions than there is registered gold. What jumps out from the chart above is the fact that while JPM had been selling gold into the futures market for most of the year, it made a major shift in December, absorbing 96% of all gold delivered. That is a radical shift and, I believe, an indicator that JPM’s policy has shifted. In my opinion, their deliveries of gold were suppressing the price during 2013, but now their policy has shifted in a way that will support gold going forward. This leaves a vital question unanswered: Why? Has the motivation to suppress the price of gold gone away? Not likely, and we may never know the full truth of what is happening, but I suspect the main reason for the shift is that they have done their damage. The $740 drop from top to bottom, a 39% decline, has shaken confidence in gold as a financial “safe haven” among many investors, especially those new to precious metals. At the same time, continuing to lean on gold at this point could become very costly. JPM delivered $3 billion (about 2 million ounces of gold) into the market up to December in 2013, and may not have ready sources of gold to keep that up. It is dangerous to put on big short positions unless you have gold or some future gold deliveries as a hedge. By now, everyone knows of the shortages in the gold market; JPM has to be as aware of that as the rest of us. It just isn’t safe for them to continue to lean on the market. Being aware, it looks like they are taking the bet that gold will rebound, so they could do well on the other side of the trade. Another confirmation of the shift by big banks comes from data provided by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that shows the net positions of the four biggest US banks in the futures market. There has been a dramatic change from being short the market to now being long.