Why Billionaires Are Buying Gold
In the last few days, gold has been on a losing streak. Last Tuesday, gold prices fell by $42 per ounce – 3.3% – the biggest single-day drop in value in nearly three years.
Does that mean gold has resumed its long-term downtrend since it reached its all-time high of $1,923.70 per ounce in 2011? Some analysts predict gold prices will fall another 20% or more before stabilizing.
That’s certainly what central banks and governments would like you to believe. But it’s not how the world’s richest investors and central banks themselves are investing.
Billionaire George Soros, for instance, recently sold stocks and instead bought gold and shares of gold mining companies. The world’s central banks are buying gold at the fastest pace in decades, adding nearly 500 tons of gold to their vaults in 2015. The pace increased in 2016; central bank demand in the first three months climbed 28% versus the previous year.
A big reason people are piling into gold is the lack of other good options.
Take bank accounts, for instance. When you deposit money into your bank account, from a legal point of view, it’s no longer your money. You become an unsecured creditor holding an IOU.
Not that long ago, you could earn 5% or more in accounts at US banks, which offset some of this risk. But no more. Today, you’re lucky to earn one-tenth that much. In some countries, money on deposit in a bank earns a negative interest rate.
That’s right. You turn over your money to a bank for safekeeping, lose legal ownership of it, and pay the bank for the right to keep it there.
But how safe is the money you have on deposit in a bank? Not very safe at all. In the US, the five largest banks have a capital ratio of only 6%. In effect, if depositors in these banks demand their money back, these banks could repay only six cents on the dollar before they ran out of money.
Sure, there’s always deposit insurance. In the US, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) guarantees bank deposits up to $250,000 from losses due to bank insolvency. But for every $100 on deposit, the FDIC has only $1.15 with which to back it.
Doesn’t that make you feel warm and fuzzy about the safety of your bank deposits?
Then there’s the “bail-in” phenomenon, which first emerged during the 2013 banking collapse in Cyprus. Some uninsured depositors got half of their money back, although at one bank, customers received nothing over the “insured” amount.
Billionaires and central banks, of course, also purchase bonds. These securities at least can’t be bailed in. But there’s a reason my colleague Doug Casey calls bonds “instruments of guaranteed confiscation.”
First, interest rates are the lowest they’ve ever been in at least 5,000 years. Indeed, more than $13 trillion in bonds with negative interest rates are now sloshing through the global financial system. Just a 0.1% increase in interest rates could lead to losses of $1 trillion in bond portfolios.
Second, the credit quality of bond issuers has declined sharply in recent years. That’s particularly true of government bonds. For instance, credit ratings firm Fitch has downgraded 15 nations in the first half of 2016. That compares with a previous high of 20 downgrades for all of 2011.
How about the stock market? While US stocks are trading at close to record levels, the biggest investors are fleeing stocks at the fastest pace in years. Investors have dumped more than $150 billion in mutual funds so far in 2016. That’s more than two times the amount in all of 2015 and the most in any year since 2008. As I mentioned above, billionaire Soros recently placed a huge bet on plummeting US stock prices.
That leaves physical assets – things like real estate, collectibles, and of course gold. All of these items have a place in your portfolio, if only because they have intrinsic value and can’t be bailed in.
Only gold has a 5,000-year track record of preserving wealth. Indeed, the very first Egyptian dynasty in 3100 BC referred to gold in its legal code. The Bible mentions gold more than 400 times and repeatedly refers to gold as money.
Today, there’s another important reason billionaires are turning to gold: privacy. Unlike most other financial assets, it’s possible to store gold privately – in some cases, even anonymously. And unlike foreign bank or securities accounts, US taxpayers can still store certain forms of gold offshore without needing to report it to Uncle Sam. That may be one reason that in the first six months of 2016, nearly 1,400 tons of gold, with a value of $40 billion, were imported into Switzerland.
In Austria, next door to Switzerland, you can actually store gold anonymously at two private vaults. By anonymous, I mean just that; you can begin a relationship at one of these vaults by identifying yourself as Wonder Woman, Jason Bourne, Morpheus, or any other name you choose. There’s no need to show a passport or provide any identification at all. You simply pay for your safe deposit box, choose a code word, and go. If you don’t want a paper trail of bills from the vault, you can pay up to five years in advance.
Even a small box at one of these vaults will hold well over $1 million in gold coins. If you’re a US citizen, you need not make an annual filing to report its existence – or the value it represents – to your friendly Big Brother, the IRS.
The fact that gold retains this key privacy advantage doesn’t please the powers that be. Last year, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which bills itself as developing and promoting policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, warned that gold was being used by criminals and terrorists to launder money.
Sadly, it’s probably just a matter of time before governments crack down on anonymous gold storage. But even if that occurs, gold will retain its intrinsic value and serve as an incredibly useful alternative to more mainstream investments. Best of all, you don’t need to be a billionaire to own it – even anonymously.
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