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The Screaming Fundamentals for Owning Gold and Silver

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Gold and silver are not (yet) in bubble territory and large gains remain, especially if monetary, fiscal, and fundamental supply-and-demand trends remain in play.

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Literally everything else financial, including your paper US money, is simultaneously somebody else's liability, but gold and silver are not. They are simply, boringly, just assets. This is a highly desirable characteristic that is not easily replicated.

Should the banking system suffer a systemic breakdown, to which I ascribe a reasonably high probability of greater than 1-in-4 over the next 5 years, I expect banks to close for some period of time. Whether it's two weeks or six months is unimportant; no matter the length of time, I'd prefer to be holding gold than bank deposits.

During a banking holiday, your money will be frozen and left just sitting there, even as everything priced in money (especially imported items) rocket up in price. By the time your money is again available to you, you may find that a large portion of it has been looted by the effects of a collapsing currency. How do you avoid this? Easy -- keep some 'money' out of the system to spend during an emergency. I always advocate three months of living expenses in cash, but you owe it to yourself to have gold and silver in your possession as well.

The final reason for holding gold, because it may be remonetized, is actually a very big draw for me. While the probability of this coming to pass may be low, the rewards would be very high.

Here are some numbers: The total amount of 'official gold,' or that held by central banks around the world, is 30,684 tonnes, or 987 million troy ounces (MOz). In 2008 the total amount of money stock in the world was roughly $60 trillion.

If the world wanted 100% gold backing of all existing money, then the implied price for an ounce of gold is ($60T/987MOz) = $60,790 per troy ounce.

Clearly that's a silly number (or is it?), but even a 10% partial backing of money yields $6,000 per ounce. The point here is not to bandy about outlandish numbers, but merely to point out that unless a great deal of the world's money stock is destroyed somehow, or a lot more official gold is bought from the market and placed into official hands, backing even a fraction of the world's money supply by gold will result in a far higher number than today's ~$1,500/Oz.

The Difference Between Silver and Gold

Often people ask me if I hold goldandsilver as if it were one word. I do own both, but for almost entirely different reasons. Gold, to me, is a monetary substance. It has money-like qualities and it has been used as money by diverse cultures throughout history. I expect that to continue.

There is a chance, growing by the week, that gold will be remonetized on the international stage due to a failure of the current all-fiat regime. If or when the fiat regime fails, there will have to be some form of replacement, and the only one that we know works for sure is a gold standard. Therefore, a renewed gold standard has the best chance of being the 'new' system selected during the next bout of difficulties.

Silver is an industrial metal with a host of enviable and irreplaceable attributes. It is the most conductive metal known, and therefore it is widely used in the electronics industry. It is used to plate critical bearings in jet engines and as an antimicrobial additive to everything from wall paints to clothing fibers. In nearly all of these purposes, plus a thousand others, it is used in such vanishingly small quantities that it is hardly worth recovering at the end of the product life cycle -- and often isn't.

Because of this dispersion effect, above-ground silver is actually at something of a historical low point. When silver was used primarily for monetary and ornamentation purposes, the amount of above-ground, refined silver grew with every passing year. After industrial uses cropped up, that trend reversed, and today there are perhaps 1 billion ounces above ground, when in 1980 there were roughly 4 billion ounces.

Because of this consumption dynamic, it's entirely possible that over the next twenty years not one single net new ounce of above ground silver will be added to inventories. In contrast, a few billion ounces of gold will be added.

I hold gold as a monetary metal. I own silver because of its residual monetary qualities, but more importantly because I believe it will continue to be in demand for industrial uses for a very long time, and it will become a scarce and rare item.

Scarcity

If we cast our minds forward ten years and think about a world with oil costing 2x to maybe 8x more than today, we have to ask how many of our currently-operating gold and silver mines, or the base metal mines from which gold and silver are by-products, will still be in operation, and how many will close because their energy costs will have exceeded their marginal economic benefits.

After just 100 years of modern, machine-powered mining, nearly all of the good ores are gone. By the time you are reading stories like the one below, you should be thinking, 'Why are they going to all that trouble unless that's the best option left?'

South African Miners Dig Deeper to Extend Gold Veins' Life Spans

Feb 17, 2011, JOHANNESBURG -- With few new gold strikes around the world that can be turned into profitable mines, South Africa's gold miners are planning to dig deeper than ever before to get access to rich veins.

The plans raise questions about how to safely and profitably mine several miles below the surface. Success would mean overcoming problems such as possible rock falls, flooding and ventilation challenges and designing technology to overcome the threats.

Mark Cutifani, chief executive officer of AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., has a picture in his office of himself at one of the deepest points in Africa, roughly 4,000 meters, or 13,200 feet, down in the company's Mponeng mine south of Johannesburg. Mr. Cutifani sees no reason why Mponeng, already the deepest mining complex in the world, shouldn't in time operate an additional 3,000-plus feet deeper.

"The most critical challenges for all of us in South Africa are depths and depletion of reserves," Mr. Cutifani said in an interview.

The above article is just a different version of the story that led to the Deepwater Horizon incident. By the time exceptional engineering challenges are being pondered to scrape a little deeper, it tells the alert observer everything they need to know about where we are in the depletion cycle. We are closer to the end than the beginning.

We are at a point in history where we can easily look forward and make the case for declining per-capita production of numerous important elements just on the basis of constantly falling ore purities, and gold and silver fit into that category rather handily. Depletion of reserves is a very real dynamic. It is not one that future generations will have to worry about; it is one with which people alive today will have to come to terms.

The issue of Peak Oil only exacerbates the reserve depletion dynamic by adding steadily rising energy input costs to mix. Should oil get to the point of actual scarcity, where we have to ration by something other than price, then we must ask where operating marginal mines fits into the priority list. Not very high, would be my guess.

Positions in gold, silver

The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

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