By The Ister for the Saker Blog
The origin of modern banking can be found in the early days of the gold trade. In the Middle Ages, goldsmiths accepted deposits of gold in return for paper notes, which could be exchanged for the deposits at a later date. Because these paper notes were more convenient for commercial use than physical metal, they were usually not redeemed for gold right away. The goldsmiths noticed their customers’ deposits could be used in the meantime to generate interest and began surreptitiously lending out the savings of their depositors. Over time fractional reserve banking developed from this tendency of lending out money in excess of the actual reserves being held.
Goldsmith became banker, and from this early monetary system, banking families emerged. Prior to the existence of modern financial institutions, these houses were the entities which could be relied upon for large amounts of credit. A reputable surname gave confidence to depositors that their gold was in good hands, and from the intergenerational accumulation of wealth grew large pools of loanable capital. As nobles required weapons and pay for their armies, the conflicts of medieval Europe were fueled by families such as the Medici, Fuggers, and Welsers. Today, it is the Federal Reserve which finances America’s enormous military and conquests abroad.
To truly understand banking, the concept of free markets must be cast aside. Just as oil is a strategic resource for the real economy capitalist, gold and silver are strategic resources for the financial capitalist. Physical bullion is the basis from which all other lines of credit extend; we know this because the same central banks which publicly proclaim gold to be a barbarous relic still feel the need to maintain enormous hordes in their vaults.
As in oil markets, pricing is not influenced primarily by a large number of producers and buyers but by concentrated cartel dynamics. So while we witness yet another energy battle between OPEC and Russia unfold, it should be understood that similar dynamics are at play in the upper echelons of the monetary world as bankers seek to fix prices and control physical bullion flows in a manner which is beneficial to their interests.
A key difference from oil is that while the pump leads to the refinery and the refinery to the end-user, bankers do not generally like to part with their gold. Accordingly, markets have been designed so that prices are determined not by physical delivery but by the trading of unbacked or fractionally backed “claims” on the underlying metal: certificates, ETFs, and futures. We can be certain that there is not enough physical bullion to cover all these paper metal claims, just like the medieval goldsmith did not hold his deposits in full.
These paper markets set the price, although bars rarely leave the vault
Where is the vault? While Fort Knox claims the largest holdings, the price is set by the London Bullion Market Association and CME Group which together account for around 70% and 20% of global trading volume respectively. The London Bullion Market began in 1850, when N. M. Rothschild and Sons and several other banking families created a cartel to oversee the operations of the global gold market, including the establishment of the “London good delivery” list which created trading standards for size, dimensions, shape and fineness of bullion; today trading on London markets requires a high purity and being between 350-450 ounces.
This domination of the world’s gold market was not achieved through peaceful means: look into the forces behind the conquest of Transvaal’s gold mines, for it bears a direct parallel to America’s invasions of oil-rich nations today. Another similarity with oil markets is that military interventions have a habit of “liberating” the target nation of their gold: just ask Muammar Gaddafi.
The price of such a strategic resource could not be determined by an open market, thus alongside good delivery standards the “gold fix” was established in 1919 and was held in the offices of New Court until 2004, when its operations were passed on to a cartel of bullion banks such JP Morgan and HSBC. Ever since, these banks have been investigated and convicted countless times of manipulating and spoofing the prices.
How do we know that there isn’t enough gold to cover physical deliveries? Back in the 1970s the dollar was under a lot of pressure and Western banks maintained secret gentlemen’s agreements not to request delivery of bullion. In 1971 Dutch central bank chief Jelle Zjilstra ignored these formalities and planned to convert $600 million of the Dutch dollar reserves to gold, prompting Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker to fly out to the Netherlands and warn him: “you’re rocking the boat.” Shortly after Zijlstra refused Volcker’s pressure and continued with the purchase, the US decoupled from the gold standard.
Abandonment of the gold standard risked a reduction in dollar demand, so Nixon enlisted Wall Street scion Gerry Parsky to negotiate with oil exporting Arab nations. After discussion, the Saudi state agreed to sell oil priced exclusively in dollars and to invest the proceeds of oil sales in America.
To those who say dismissively that the dollar is now backed by “nothing,” I say it is backed by oil and the threat of the US military.
Look at the somber fates of those that tried to ditch the dollar for gold or the Euro: Libya in a state of permanent civil war; starving Syrians picking through landfills in search of food only miles from occupied wheat fields.
So maintaining confidence in our reserve currency requires the undermining of confidence in gold, as its reemergence would unnecessarily democratize the international monetary order. Confidence is undermined first by price suppression, which is accomplished by the manipulation of precious metals futures markets. While it would be hugely wasteful for a private individual or consortium to manipulate such a market with their own money, that is where the unlimited fiat available at central bank trading desks come in: and we know central banks are secretly trading precious metals futures due to leaked documents from CME Group.
Leo Melamed, chairman of CME Group and the putative father of modern commodity futures markets noted in his book Escape to the Futures that CME’s Globex system was inspired by the original London gold fix:
Sandner, Kilcollin and I were in London with the chairman of the Rothschild Bank seeking his advice on how to bring the “gold fix” to Chicago. From the heated debate that followed one would have concluded that Kilcollin knew more about the subject than the legendary Rothschilds, the people who had founded the concept ages before.
What we can see from this is that strategic commodities such as gold and oil are far from a free market: recall my previous article The Empire is Losing the Energy War which described how the Saudi state functions as a price-suppression weapon against Russia’s oil exports. This global commodity suppression schema allows the importation of the planet’s finite resources at a fraction of the true cost in return for theoretically unlimited currency. Recall Fed governor Kevin Warsh’s comments in December of 2011 when gold hit an all time high that banks were:
“finding it tempting to pursue financial repression- suppressing market prices that they don’t like”
There are signs, however, that the thin pool of physical bullion which exists to maintain confidence in paper markets is drying up. In March of 2020, CME Group had to relax its own requirement of 100oz bars to allow 400oz London good delivery bars to be shipped from overseas and used for trade settlement. Some would say: if price suppression exists then why has the gold price gone up over the last few years?
The middle ground between setting the price to very low or very high levels, say, $100 or $10,000, is that the prices are set high enough to minimize outflows from vaults, while at the same time using futures to hammer down the prices at psychologically important levels and initiating margin calls on those who are long gold using leverage. Those who have watched gold for a long time can attest to the sudden and inexplicable drops which originate in the futures market and which occur every time the gold price appears *just* ready to break out.
It’s a very complicated charade for the bullion bank cartel. Allow the price per ounce to go too low and you risk running out of the gold necessary to facilitate markets. At the same time, if the price rises too high it attracts international attention and risks gold reemerging in monetary policy. Notice how as soon as the supply shortages became apparent in March 2020 the bankers were forced to reset gold from $1230 to over $2000 in order to stem the outflows of physical delivery.
Putin is intentionally exacerbating this drought of physical gold in Western banks by expanding the Russian central bank’s purchases of gold. For the past few years Russia has been the number one global purchaser of bullion, having spent over $40 billion to bring Moscow’s reserves to the highest level in history: a sum close to the annual military budget because it is a strategic asset.
Just last week, Russia’s gold reserves passed its dollar reserves for the first time reaching a sum of $583 billion, highlighted by the central bank as part of Putin’s de-dollarization agenda. Given that purchases have grown at roughly 15% per year we can predict that even if the price does not rise, the value of these holdings will be around $1 trillion in three years. Read the anxious commentary about these purchases in Bloomberg and Forbes, and remember the nervousness in the business press when Germany demanded its gold back in 2013, which would only exist if behind-the-scenes physical gold flows were disjointed and there was internal muttering in the financial world as to whether the demand could be fulfilled.
To any who doubt that this is an overt move, in the pre-WW2 monetary system the mass accumulation of gold was well understood among central bankers as an aggressive act intended to starve competitor states of their ability to create credit. For example, French and American hoarding resulted in hyperinflation for Germany and forced Britain’s pound sterling off the gold standard.
Russia’s acquisition of precious metal is a direct threat to the financial system. How funny that the system is so fraudulent that it is an act of aggression to simply demand in physical form what one has paid for in full on an open market; an act which the designers of the system cannot protest lest they reveal their own bankruptcy. Just as it did in the 1920s, the hoarding of gold in the East will eventually limit the West’s ability to extend credit, it is simply unfolding on a longer time frame.
So why is a tiny stock like GameStop causing billionaire Leon Cooperman to cry on CNBC, and why is the SEC threatening small-time investors?
Simply, the financial markets are being revealed as a highly illiquid house of cards. Retail investors from Reddit began trolling short-sellers by rapidly buying small stocks and causing hedge funds to blow up from expensive margin calls. The losses are now estimated at around $70 billion, and as these small-time investors funnel their unemployment and stimulus checks into their aggressive trades they have fought wealthy investors in a more effective way than Occupy Wall Street ever did. They have now turned their eyes to the small and illiquid silver market…
Look at the fate of the Hunt brothers fortune: they were oil billionaires who tried to exercise their legal right to take physical delivery of a large volume of silver futures contracts and had CME pull the rug out from under them before it could be achieved. CME Group defeated the Hunt brothers by instituting Silver Rule 7 which limited the dollar amount of physical silver that an individual investor could buy. But how will that stop the hordes of young low net worth traders who are now telling one another to purchase physical bullion and intentionally strain the rigged silver market?
This arcane financial system is doomed to fail because it is based on ever-higher and more unstable abstractions of underlying wealth: CDOs squared and cubed, dark pool derivatives markets totaling trillions of dollars, and so on: all of which depends on the financial sector sucking as much money as possible out of a shrinking global economy through securitization. Now that people are demanding the underlying assets themselves, change is beginning.
What an interesting timeline: where Russia and unemployed youths have come to the same conclusion for how to defeat the banks.
The Ister is a researcher of financial markets and geopolitics. Author of The Ister: Escape America