Why is the price of gold not soaring?

Here’s why it should be.

Yesterday the Bank of Japan, (BOJ), announced unprecedented steps, (for them), aimed explicitly at the creation of inflation, with a stated target of 2 per cent in two years. The new boys at the BOJ helm, (who were carefully hand-picked to ensure they would do this), used their first meeting to push through a raft of measures which more than sated even the market’s craving for action. This was heady stuff for central bankers, (especially Japanese ones, who for years have been notorious for under-delivery); they will aim to double the money supply to Yen 270 trn, (roughly USD 3 trn), in two years, almost doubling the amount of monthly bond purchases and lengthening the maximum permissible maturity to include 40-year bonds, increased the pace at which they will buy Exchange Traded Funds and Real Estate Investment Trusts, and even decided to ditch, (temporarily at first), its so-called ‘banknote’ rule, under which its total bond purchases were hitherto limited to the amount of Yen in circulation.

Not surprisingly these measures caused the yen to dive on the foreign exchange markets and Japanese 10-year government bond yields fell below 0.5 per cent. Only in Japan would investors be happy to buy these bonds, with that yield, 0.5 per cent per annum, when the government and the central bank is intent upon creating inflation of at least 2 per cent per annum-only in Japan because over 90 per cent of Japanese bond issuance is snapped up by domestic investors-individuals, pension funds, life insurance companies, government entities.

Will this continue happily forever? That depends on the degree of "success" which the BOJ’s policies enjoy. Japan Inc. had certainly better hope so, with interest rate payments already accounting for more than a quarter of government spending-even with interest rates at 0.5 per cent and lower for shorter maturities!

This is where gold should come into the picture - how can the world’s third largest economy embark on such an explicit inflationary policy without investors rushing to secure an inflation hedge by acquiring the age-old comfort of gold? One explanation is simply inertia; the market has endured nearly two decades of deflation in Japan and will take time to get worried about inflation there, secondly it will take time for Japanese liquidity to find its way into the global economy, but most importantly, the Cypriot and the North Korean crises loom large in investors’ minds and the only challenger to gold as a safe-haven is the US Dollar-hence an unstable equilibrium has formed with regard to the price of gold expressed in US Dollars.

If you believe that the Cypriot crisis will ultimately fade from memory and, pray God, North Korea is playing its old game of sabre-rattling to extort more aid, then someday soon gold will have its day and now is it great time to buy.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation