Back in August 2015, I noted that Goldman Sachs and HSBC had taken delivery of a huge tonnage of physical gold, probably purchased near the lows. Physical bars of gold are, by definition, a very long term investment in the yellow metal. At the time, the two banks were telling clients and others not to buy gold, even as they were loading up on it, themselves.
Let’s fast forward…
Starting in December 2015, JP Morgan began buying tremendous quantities of physical gold, as opposed to paper/electronic gold futures, forwards, ETF certificates etc. From December 1, 2015 to December 29, 2016, the big bank purchased and took physical delivery of over 31 metric tonnes worth of bars of the yellow metal for its house account at COMEX alone.
In other words, it now has a physical gold pile which, at minimum, is worth over $1.1 billion at $1,140 per troy ounce, and it is an asset of the corporate bank. By May, 2016, unlike the actions of GS and HSBC in buying while advising clients to sell, analysts at JP Morgan were beginning to encourage customers to buy gold also.
Let me repeat that the enormous purchase of 31+ tonnes of traceable physical gold occurred at New York’s COMEX exchange. The so-called “OTC” gold market in London is five times larger than the gold market in New York City, and if they were buying at COMEX, they were probably buying in London also. The problem with London is that the “LBMA” is not a formal exchange with disclosure rules and regulatory oversight. It is simply an informal collection of banks who operate by agreeing to a common set of rules of engagement. Transactions are secret.
We will never know how much physical gold has been purchased in London by JP Morgan, HSBC, Goldman Sachs or anyone else. However, if JPM’s purchases happen to be synchronized to market size, with New York’s COMEX, they will have purchased another 155 metric tons, for a total of 186 tonnes of gold. Either way, JPM is now in the realm of a sovereign sized gold holding. Most countries hold less than 31 tonnes of gold. Only a handful own more than 186 tonnes.
Why would a commercial bank, like JPM, make such a huge investment in physical gold bars? Is it just opportunism? Is it because they know that gold prices are going to rise dramatically? Do they know this because, as many have alleged, the company houses the most important or some of the most important people who run the gold price manipulation scheme? That’s fun to say but it makes no sense as a explanation for the purchase of so much physical gold. JPM may or may not be a gold manipulator, but that fact is irrelevant with respect to this question.
Generally speaking, the idea behind gold price manipulation is to mint a quick paper profit. If you can convince a foolish and incompetent American President to subsidize your front-running operation, by claiming that it is a way of “stabilizing the value of the US dollar”… all the better. Getting a government subsidy increases profits and reduces risk. But, there is no good reason to choose physical gold as your avenue of manipulation and every reason not to. For one thing, it is a non-leveraged investment. For another, it is more difficult to trade than shares of GLD, other ETFs, gold futures contracts, and mining company shares. All of the latter are far more efficient investments so long as the question of being able to get the real thing doesn’t come up.
In fact, all the big banks, including JPM have bought significant stakes in various gold mining companies over the last 2 years. Why spend money to store and insure physical bars of gold when it is more efficient to mint your profits by simply buying more mining company shares? That’s why the purchase of so much physical gold is puzzling. It seems to me that something bigger must be going on behind the scenes.
JP Morgan is the US Treasury and Federal Reserve’s most important proxy in financial markets. For example, it manages the Fed’s entire mortgage bond portfolio. Physical gold is not normally something that is on the top of the trading floor’s list of preferred products. These purchases are now tying up a significant percentage of the bank’s capital. In order to put so many resources into physical gold bars, JPM’s top management would have had to approve the action. That means the purchases must be supported by some very good underlying reason.
Top JPM management knows a lot more about the inside story about what is going on, behind the scenes, than we know. Is something big about to happen that will dramatically raise the value of real physical gold bars, above more convenient forms of gold ownership? I can think of only two scenarios that would make a large pile of physical gold bars the best corporate investment for a big bank (as opposed to its customers).
One scenario is that JP Morgan knows we have reached the end game and are on the cusp of the long anticipated collapse of the synthetic gold market (ie: gold futures, forwards, “unallocated” storage, maybe GLD etc.). If the gold derivatives market collapses, people will accept only physical gold for a very long time afterward. That would make a physical gold hoard far more profitable than even shares of a mining company. Remember, it takes time to mine more gold. But, the holder of a huge pile of existing bars can sell them, right away, when the level of panic is extreme, at the very top of the market, when demand (and prices) are at their highest.
Another scenario involves being at the cusp of a massive change in the world’s monetary system. If JP Morgan’s top management knows that physical gold is going to be a key part of what replaces the fiat US dollar as the international standard of exchange, and if that change is not very far in the future, it would make perfect sense to buy physical gold. Again, the holder would be in an excellent position to sell the gold bars to third parties (mainly, I suppose, to other banks and even nations) at the very top of the market.
The scenarios I’ve listed, above, are the only ones that come into my mind at the moment. That is not to say that the list is complete. Are there any more possible scenarios that provide a logical answer as to why JP Morgan is investing so much of its capital in such a huge number of physical gold bars?
“It moves fast, kind of like Robert Ludlum’s “Jason Bourne” trilogy…”
– Josh Pullman –
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