Welcome to our Friday mailbag edition!
Every week, we receive some great questions from your fellow readers on our recently published essays. And every Friday, I answer as many as I can.
Today, we have questions on the real inflation figure, U.S. gold holdings, central banks’ gold buying, and the official value of gold…
Let’s jump right in, starting with this note from reader Terry, who did the math after reading my recent essay on the correct definition of inflation…
The consumer price index (CPI) has changed over the years. Using the 1980s CPI calculation would give us something more like 13% inflation.
– Terry B.
Thanks for your comments, Terry.
You’re absolutely right. Over the years, the methodology used to calculate the consumer price index (CPI) has undergone numerous revisions.
In the early 1980s, CPI was in double digits. Today, it stands at 8.3%.
Now, since 1980, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has changed the way it calculates the CPI.
It takes into account changes in the quality of goods (e.g., newer versions of the various smartphones). It also accounts for changes in purchases by consumers in response to price changes, called substitution.
These changes mean CPI essentially measures the cost of living as opposed to the cost of goods.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the changes removed biases that caused the CPI to overstate the inflation rate.
But skeptics view these changes as a manipulation of sorts that allows the U.S. government to report a lower CPI.
Remember, as I told you in my recent essay, it’s in the government’s interest to understate inflation.
In a way, the government getting to measure its own inflation is like letting students grade their own papers.
And don’t forget, the original – and correct – meaning of inflation is an increase in the money supply. And the quantity of money in the U.S. economy is up more than 40% since January 2022.
So it’s hardly surprising that the government prefers to use the modern-day CPI to report inflation.
My advice? Take government figures with a grain of salt. This is not to say these figures don’t offer useful information, but that they may be biased away from the entire story.
And that brings us to our next topic. That is, how much gold does the U.S. really have?
How Much Gold Does the U.S. Hold?
My essay on the central banks’ gold-buying spree prompted a couple of readers to question the official figures on the nation’s gold holdings…
The U.S. gold reserve continues to be reported as fact! 8,133 metric tons reported in your previous article. There has never been an audit to confirm or prove ownership. How can we believe the numbers?
– Ben V.
I have read the U.S. gold holdings have not been verified (audited) for many years.
– Fred E.
Thanks for your observations, Ben and Fred.
Roughly half of the U.S. gold holdings are stored in the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox in Kentucky.
It was built in 1937 specially for the purpose of storing the nation’s gold. Today, it has state-of-the-art security systems.
The rest is stored at mints in Philadelphia, Denver, West Point, and San Francisco.
Sources differ on when exactly U.S. gold holdings were last counted. But to my knowledge, the most recent audit of U.S. gold holdings at Fort Knox concluded in 1986. And the vault was then sealed.
So, yes, it hasn’t been properly checked for a long time.
I think the reason the government isn’t rushing to do an audit of its gold holdings right now is because that would lend too much importance to an asset it swears is unimportant. The powers that be don’t want all that attention.
Central bankers have downplayed gold’s role in the international financial system for decades.
One of the most memorable instances of this was former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s unconvincing attempt to explain that central banks still hold massive amounts of gold merely because of “tradition.”
Also, a full audit would be prohibitively expensive… It could cost anywhere from $15 million to $60 million.
That’s because it wouldn’t just involve weighing and counting gold bars. They’d also have to check their composition to make sure they’re the real deal.
That said, I do believe an audit will happen at some point.
Until then, we’re stuck with Treasury representatives insisting they know what’s there.
Why Not Just Buy Gold?
Meanwhile, reader John wonders why the government itself isn’t buying gold, if it’s such a good investment…
Do you know if the U.S. government purchased any gold bars? If so, how much?
If the Federal Reserve starts to cut back on asset purchases, instead of making the funny money disappear, why don’t they buy gold bullion? Wouldn’t the acquisition of gold help the taxpayers in the long run, if the price of gold goes up?
What are your thoughts on the U.S. government buying gold with “printed” funny money supply?
– John K.
Hi John, the Federal Reserve doesn’t provide an official report of how much new gold it buys on a regular basis. But it does report the value of the gold it has in a report called the H4.1 report.
Based on the latest report, dated May 12, 2022, it has not purchased any new gold during the past year.
But even if it did purchase new gold, it wouldn’t make a difference to taxpayers. That’s because receiving and deploying taxpayer money is a function of the Treasury Department, not the Federal Reserve.
What that also means is that the U.S. government may buy gold through the Treasury Department, but that doesn’t have anything to do with using the Fed’s fabricated money.
That said, your question also gets to the heart of why central banks can fabricate so much money these days. When the U.S. got off the gold standard in 1971, it provided them the room to do that.
Before 1971, the gold standard provided an anchor. Central banks had to keep a certain amount of gold in reserve against the dollar. So they couldn’t just create as much currency as they wanted to.
That’s ultimately why Wall Street pushed the Nixon administration to abandon the gold standard.
Without that anchor, the stage was set for the trillions of dollars of quantitative easing (QE) we’ve seen in the past 14 years to take place.
Of course, the fact that the Fed and U.S. government have bought gold since then goes to show… These entities understand the longer-lasting value of gold relative to paper currency.
What’s Gold’s True Value?
And finally, David is concerned about the official value of gold…
Another distortion I see – and would appreciate a comment from you on – has to do with the undervaluing of gold and silver, including manipulation from varied corners of the world.
The black-market price for gold and silver continues to rise, while traditional “legal” markets attempt to hold it down and diminish its true value.
– David U.
Hi David, you bring up a great point.
First, let me say I don’t believe there’s a concerted effort to hold gold and silver down. (“Concerted” is the key word there.) That said, there have been instances of manipulation by “the big boys” in the past.
For example, I remember government probes being launched into JPMorgan Chase & Co’s alleged manipulation of precious-metals and Treasury markets.
In 2020, the investment bank admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay more than $920 million in fines.
And it’s not just JPMorgan.
That same year, Scotiabank was fined $127.5 million for gold price manipulation. In 2014, Barclays was fined nearly $44 million for failing to prevent traders from manipulating the London gold “fix” market.
Those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head – I’m sure there have been more.
But here’s the thing… it’s not just gold.
A good illustration comes from across the Atlantic. Back in 2019, the European Commission fined five big banks for rigging the markets. But it wasn’t the precious metals markets. It was forex, or foreign exchange.
In fact, as many as 11 world currencies – including the euro, British pound, Japanese yen, and U.S. dollar – were manipulated by traders working at Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Japan’s MUFG Bank.
My point is that if it’s a financial asset – gold or not – people will attempt to manipulate it.
But, of course, we’re not talking about people here. We’re talking about deep-pocketed financial institutions moving billions of dollars each day. That’s a problem.
It’s also why we need better (and smarter) regulation of the financial industry’s big players. It needs to stay a step ahead of them, and not play catch-up.
For one thing, it’s important that these institutions don’t use their retail depositors’ money to speculate or manipulate the market.
That’s why, since I left Wall Street, I’ve been a vocal advocate in Washington – and through my books and media appearances – to bring back an act called the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. (If you do a search for Nomi Prins + Glass-Steagall, you’ll see thousands of results.)
It separated banks’ riskier operations from people’s deposits. Sadly, that act was repealed in 1999, during the Clinton administration.
Also, I’ve been working with legislators to reduce the amount of derivatives big banks can own. That is still in progress.
And I consider it part of my life’s mission to ensure that Wall Street is properly regulated to protect the rest of us from their more reckless actions.
That’s it for this week’s mailbag. Thanks again to everyone who wrote in.
If I didn’t get to your question this week, look out for my response in a future Friday mailbag edition.
I do my best to respond to as many of your questions and comments as I can. Just remember, I can’t give personal investment advice.
And if there are any other topics you’d like me to write about, I’d love to hear from you. You can write me at [email protected].
In the meantime, happy investing… and have a fantastic weekend!
Editor, Inside Wall Street with Nomi Prins
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