Basel III and Gold - Gold to Tier I on 1 Jan 2013

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Published : November 19th, 2012
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Category : Market Analysis

 

 

 

 

In the never-ending and important debate over whether gold is money, there is a voice that has recently spoken, and you might want to hear what it said. Many voices worth listening to have said gold has no utility.


For example, Warren Buffett is famous for saying that we dig gold out of the ground, then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility, he says. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.

But there is another voice, much more important than Buffett, that has, in the last 6 months, uttered the opposing view. It's not the voice of a newsletter or any analyst or expert, or any one person, although many agree with this voice, including me. It is actually the voice of a group, a club, that has been described as the most exclusive, secretive and powerful club in the world. The New York Times has called them "the secretive panel that establishes global banking rules" - the central banks' central bank.

They meet four times a year in a little town called Basel in Switzerland. Edward Jay Epstein did an article on them for Harper's Magazine back in 1983 where he describes their shyness about publicity and the sophistication of their clubhouse. They have a nuclear bomb shelter in the basement, an entire hospital, as well as some 20 miles of subterranean archives. They make the Fed look like a lemonade stand.

It's an important voice. When did it speak and what did it say? Well, they have spoken, with comprehensive new rule sets, "frameworks" they call them, only three times since their inception in 1974. In 1988, they issued Basel I and in 2004 it was Basel II. And now in 2012, they are issuing Basel III.

They are men of few words. They issue no binding legislation, but in the banking world, what they say goes. Both Basel I and II took the then fashionable view of what money is - government bonds, mortgage backed securities, cash, etc.

Gold was included in what they allow as capital, but as a "tier 3 asset" (not real money), and thus was only allowed to be reserves for loans at just 50% of its market value, much like, say an art collection would be. Since 2004, a lot has changed with all that. Mortgage-anything has become ultra-toxic, major countries are teetering on bond defaults, and the race to debase cash is raging. These developments have moved the Basel Committee to make some changes, but I'll focus on just two here.

The most significant change is moving gold from its tier 3 status to tier 1 capital as 100% loan-backing reserves, the same as cash and bonds. For the first time in 42 years, gold is being brought back into our financial system as money. All the world's banks are now storing this metal, not as some 3rd rate "asset", but as all the world's working capital - its money. So it's not just any voice, it is the ultimate voice on what is money that has spoken. Gold was removed from our system by Nixon in 1971, when he took us off the gold standard by disallowing foreign governments to exchange their dollar reserves for US-held gold.


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