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

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.