Reading our title has us convinced that somewhere our college economics professors are hanging their heads in shame with all of those x and y graphs scribbled to no avail. Economists the world over can take comfort that the laws of supply and demand still largely rule the marketplace. However, we believe there is a noted exception for a yellow, largely useless metal. A metal that just happens to have shaped the world’s monetary systems for the last several thousand years. Gold’s “supply” traditionally defined as global mining production is virtually meaningless in determining its’ price. How can this be? Analysts pontificate that global supply dynamics are integral in forecasting future metal prices. We can only attribute this to the fact that these analysts still myopically cling to the view of gold as a commodity.
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Gold, even when viewed as a commodity, is unique in that it is not consumed. As there is little cost effective industrial application for the yellow metal, little to no “natural” industrial demand exists. Virtually every ounce ever mined from the earth is still above ground, either in a vault or a safe or an earring. An estimated 170,000 metric tons sits above ground, hoarded and unambiguously owned. Given that the annual supply of mined gold is approximately 2,500 metric tons, how is it gold not priced close to zero? After all, there is a 65 year overhang in supply! Despite all that we know of supply and demand dynamics and economic ‘law’, gold’s price is within striking distance of its’ all-time-high – in every currency on the planet.
A major contributing factor to gold’s price is that the vast majority of the stock of physical gold is held in very strong hands. It is largely held privately by very wealthy families or by governments and their central banks. This gold lies very still, some of it not changing owners or locations for decades, if not centuries. These giant holders have little need to ever sell, holding gold as a long term store of wealth or as a central banking reserve asset. Gold naturally appeals to these super-savers because of gold’s history as the ultimate store of value and lack of counterparty. Sure you can buy real estate, art, or classic cars- and the extremely wealthy do. But beyond illiquidity and subjective risk, these assets can become cost centers in themselves with maintenance, storage, insurance, etc. Gold is universally recognized as a wealth asset but is also infinitely divisible, portable, and highly liquid. Gold’s value has been established over a millennia and is ultimately the asset that denominates or values all others.
Rather than supply in the traditional sense, what drives the gold price is the percentage of the existing stock (170,000 tons) that is available for sale on any given day. The percentage of available inventory for purchase is the “flow.” Divide the flow into the stock and you get the STF ratio. A low STF ratio indicates a very high percentage of the existing physical stock is available for sale and a very high number means owners prefer to hoard physical metal rather than exchange it for dollars. So for example, if every ounce of gold was put up for sale tomorrow, the STF ratio would go to one and the price would plummet, likely to near zero. But, what if instead of everyone selling their gold tomorrow, all existing physical owners of gold decided to keep it instead? Could this even happen? Doesn’t conventional wisdom and ‘economic law’ tell us that as the price of gold goes up, there are fewer buyers able to purchase and more sellers willing to dishoard?
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In our opinion, conventional wisdom simply doesn’t apply here. Gold, in our opinion is what is often referred to as a Giffen good. A Giffen good is one that actually sees a spike in demand as its price rises. Conversely, demand drops along with price. While the concept of a Giffen good is well known, the number of examples in the real world are slim and usually limited to localized commodity markets in extremis. A golden, glaring exception is the massive example playing out before our very eyes. In typical Giffen behavior, gold was scorned and dishoarded by individuals as well as central banks as the price hovered in the low 100’s. Fast forward to today and gold demand is at to or close to all time highs, even as the price sets new records in currencies around the world.
Read More at zerohedge.com . By Tyler Durden.