There's a villain to the gold crash story

The reason gold fell so far.

The sudden and completely unexpected collapse of gold – down 13.7 per cent in the blink of an eye – was a huge market intrusion or manipulation, or major fiddle, into an overall rising bullion market - but by whom?

The spin was already craftily fed into the ether, along with the price: the fingered culprit was little lowly Cyprus, everyone’s favourite kicking-boy at the moment, as it was forced by the so-called rescuing Troika – the IMF, the EU and its ECB - to sell off its minimal gold hoard of just a piffling €400 million, and in effect send it to Germany.

The Troika isn’t interested in saving the Cypriot economy and its banks’ depositors, you see, but is only out to save the euro and its over-grandiose ambitions for the now over-stretched eurozone. The truth about gold, however, was completely different, and contained menacing overtones for the future of the world economy.

The real villain

So, stand up the real villain: it’s Ben Bernanke, of course! Yes, Helicopter Ben, you have been unmasked as the central banker at the Fed who’s slowly losing his clothes, and now Spear’s will rapidly remove your fig-leaf of a great deception – to reveal a major market manipulation.

And we will attempt to formulate the thinking behind you actions, which isn’t difficult, as we have seen through your QE failing game. Spear’s can see the consequences that so frightened you, that led to your breaking yet another sacred central banking rule: never to manipulate markets with public money.

Even your predecessor Sir Alan Greenspan - unwisely knighted in the UK for his services to (irony of ironies) financial stability - wisely disavowed any Fed interference with the booming dotcom markets of his day, which eventually crashed: but Greenspan didn’t see it as within the Fed’s charter to interfere with stock or bullion markets, or for that matter, to have a QE policy driven by unemployment.

Fake money

Now Bernanke is upholding his own failing and unproven strategy of flooding the economy with printed – or rather fake – money. He may have avoided a wholesale banking collapse, and supported the ongoing bonuses of those who broke the bank back in 2009.

His further attempts to avoid Global Depression II, however, are just stepping-stones to the ultimate disaster, the very result he so earnestly wished to avoid. His concern is that he will fail to prove his monetarist theory that the 1930s Great Depression was caused only by a serious lack of liquidity... for which his simplistic solution is just to print more of the bloody stuff, and throw some of it out of his helicopter over Iowa or wherever else isn’t on the map.

This is Bernanke’s answer to the unanswerable question, but QE doesn’t add one iota to aggregate demand. His QE3+ printing programme, which currently spews out $85.0 billion into the US economy every month, does nothing whatsoever, unfortunately, to increase consumer demand; and demand is what the world economy actually needs to get back to anything recognisable as Growth, as we once knew it.

Why gold tanked

What Bernanke did, on Friday, 12 April, was hit the market with 500 tonnes of naked shorts, knocking $73 off an ounce of gold. That adds up to 16 million ounces, worth $24,800,000,000, producing a loss for the seller(s) of $1,168,000,000: this begs the question of who has $25 trn of walking-around money in his hip pocket, and can afford to drop $1.2 bn on the street?

Answer: only the Fed, which can print money until the cows come home.

But what if it goes wrong? It’s an enormous and uncharted risk that Bernanke is taking, so why did he take it? Obviously, he wants to keep gold at around $1,400 per ounce, but why? Because the fall in value of the dollar against gold is caused by his QE3+ programme, which is designed to reduce unemployment by over one per cent, to seven per cent, but not to weaken the dollar and send import costs up, and lose control of interest rates. Hmm. It all sounds pretty rum.

Bernanke’s actions are the flipside of other central bank actions: Venezuela has repatriated its gold; Germany is doing the same, but the US only agreed to hand it over a seven-year period. So Bernanke now wants the price down, as he is committed to QE3+ until the US economy achieves lift-off.

The economy, however, is still patchy and not yet anywhere near take-off speed, so he daren’t let interest rates rise while he is printing money like a maniac, or he thinks his recovery will falter and fail.

It’s not difficult to see all this nonsense ending up as a nasty mess in the field at the end of the runway... with inflation and slump, slumpflation in a word, and banking and derivative collapses also found at the scene. What price gold then?

Stephen Hill is a businessman who has been published on classical economics and on European philology and philosophy. Read more by Stephen Hill

This article first appeared on Spear's.

Gold! Photograph: Getty Images

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle