First Finance, Then Debt - What Crisis Next?
If Syria is to blame for this run, then the world's in very big trouble...
So just like that, there were no sellers in the gold or silver markets. It's been buyers only amongst BullionVault users this week.
New account openings were strong this week too, the greatest number since the April price crash in fact. Cash deposits were also sharply higher, the heaviest since end-June - the week gold and silver hit their second big slump, and bargain hunters on BullionVault got just the crash they wanted.
Since then, silver added a staggering 38% to this week's high. It hadn't moved so fast month-on-month since September last year! Gold is a relative laggard, but it's still put on 20% from the end-June low of $1182.
Yet two whole months into this rally, the newswires and pundits today offer one reason for this jump and 1 reason only: Syria. Which if true, would be a very bad sign indeed.
Not that news-writers and pundits need to get this stuff right. Helping you manage your money is mere info-tainment remember, with "gold = blood" offering a peep at more financial porn. No, it's not quite Hannah Montana on crack. But for anyone trying to glimpse the big picture outside their own roomful of black mirrors, it sure beats 10 things your spouse won't tell you.
September for instance will mark the fifth anniversary of Lehman Brothers' collapse. Hard-bitten hacks spotted that early this summer, with a BBC radio trailer claiming it was "five years after the financial crisis began with the collapse of Lehman Brothers." Even the Evening Standard's Anthony Hilton said the same in print. This false memory has long infected otherwise useful analysis, but get ready for plenty more as the fateful echo of 15 September 2008 draws near.
What this hack-handed "fifth anniversary" misses is that, sure - today's permanent emergency began 60 months back, when politicians and central-bank wonks finally awoke to the mess they'd ignored (even as they'd helped to create it), and then set about destroying money in the hope of saving the system. But Northern Rock hit its banking run in the UK a year before. The US home-loan implosion was well underway by Christmas 2006. And the "crisis" - meaning that turning point at which the future path to instability and chaos was decided - started long before that.
Lehmans was an outcome, not a beginning. Cheap money's mischief ran wild for five years and more before your newspaper caught on. It simply took the biggest bank failures in history for them to notice. Those numbskulls buying gold and silver as the trouble built up were just smart alecs. They've never tired of saying it since.
But back to today's political turmoil over the unholy horror in Syria. Yes, saber-rattling can add to gold and silver prices in times of extreme stress. But in times of extreme stress only, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979. Otherwise, Western investors making the running tend to ignore trouble and strife overseas, and precious metals tend to focus instead on monetary matters instead.
Witness the Russian invasion of South Ossetia in summer 2008. It did nothing to buoy gold, which kept falling from a then record-high of $1000 per ounce as the snowballing credit collapse sucked air out of the gold futures markets before destroying Lehman's surrealist balancesheet.
Syria is a different mess altogether, however. Its tangled web of friends, alliances and enemy's enemies is almost as ominous as its borders with Turkey and Israel. The West's push for action also comes as today's statesmen and other boneheads return from the beach, dragging suitcases full of must-read books trying to explain the First World War in time for next year's centenary.
Politically, nothing was inevitable about the disaster of WWI. Financially, it made precious metals too valuable to use as money any more. But plenty of other monetary trends were already in play before Archduke Franz Ferdinand's chauffeur missed his diversion and indicated right onto Sarajevo's Franzjosefstrasse. Cradle-to-grave welfare and the state-run central banking it demanded would make hard money impossible, first in the way that a toddler is, and then as an idea which only history can ever revive.
Roll on almost 100 years, and September 2013 also marks the second anniversary of gold's all-time peak. Was $1920 per ounce really both so long ago and so near? Recording two London Fixes of $1895 and one at $1896 per ounce, gold hit that intraday high on Tues 6 Sept. 2011.
Today we're more than 25% below that peak. Which is better than the near-40% drop at end-June this year. But it still puts this summer's sharp recovery into context.
Why the peak, and why are we so far off it today? In a word, crisis. Or rather the lack of it. Summer 2011 took the Greek debt collapse, and smeared it across Europe, sending Eurozone leaders into panic. Then it added the US debt downgrade, sparked by broken politics and the debt ceiling row. That deleted the words "risk free" from the world's reserve currency, and sent world stock markets into tailspin. To cap it all, summer 2011 then set fire to England's towns and cities in four days of mass lawlessness. Almost unchallenged by the police, its blazing High Streets made the evening news every night everywhere, right next to the financial crisis.
Such social stress is, thankfully, rare. Such a singular point of investment stress is rarer still. But insurance is what you buy before the mob sets fire to your shop. And between the end of June and the start of Sept. 2011, the gold price rose 29%, jumping from $1480 to that brief top at $1920. Oddly, gold has made a near look-a-like move so far this summer too.
Jumping from end-June's low of $1182, the gold price has now added 20% - pretty much what history said it would for UK investors (if not Dollar and Euro buyers) after a drop as severe as spring 2013's gold crash.
Whether there's another 9% to come in the next week, we daren't guess. But after the "financial crisis" of 2007-2009 came the "sovereign debt crisis" of 2010-2012. And trouble comes in threes, of course.
Gold's recent surge gives notice, perhaps, that today's geopolitical crisis may yet catch fire too. Certainly, something awful is afoot in Syria.