Readers of this column probably already realize that there are many tactics that the US government and its trading partners and allies can use to suppress precious metals prices.
You can make it appear that supplies are larger than they really are by mobilizing physical reserves without explaining the true source of the supply. You can sell naked short contracts on the commodity exchanges while trying to maintain the illusion that there really is physical metal to cover the contract. You can put fear into the minds of the management of mining companies so that they decide to pre-sell future production to avoid price drops.
On the inventory side, you can do as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did and require that central bank leased gold had to be reported as physically being in the vaults and part of the reserves of both the lessor and the lessee. Only in the past few years has the IMF given central banks the “option” to accurately report the gold reserves in their vaults that is not under contract to be returned at the end of a lease. You also have exchange traded funds state right in the fine print of their prospectuses that they may own some forms of physical that do not meet the purity or weight requirements of commodity exchanges.
As for the demand part of the equation, you can delay reporting additions to central bank gold reserves, as China did for six years. You can also underreport gold reserves. It’s hard to blame China for purchasing gold on the sly—it kept other parties from realizing how strong demand was and held down prices while that central bank continued to buy more gold.
In addition, there are a variety of tactics that can influence prices without affecting supply, demand, or inventories. Rules and regulations can be changed. Commodity exchanges can increase their margin requirements, even when prices are declining.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has proposed regulations (now in their public comment period) that appear to crack down on the manipulation of the COMEX gold and silver markets. However, the reality of the proposed regulations shows that they will have almost the opposite effect. For instance, naked short positions acquired before these new regulations take effect will never be subject to regulation. The regulations are also skewed to limit the purchase of commodity contracts, but have virtually no limitations on the short selling of gold or silver on the COMEX.
One major tactic is for the US government to report statistics that may be accurate as reported, but which are heavily massaged to report data that lulls the public into thinking that the economy is in better condition than it really is. Let’s consider some recent examples.
Last week, the US Commerce Department reported that January durable good orders had increased by 2.7% over December figures. In this instance, the government elected to report the entire statistic. If you exclude orders in the transportation sector, which was skewed by Boeing’s report of a huge 4,900% increase in aircraft sales, however, durable good orders in January declined by 3.6%. As it happens, a high percentage of Boeing’s sales were to the US government for military purposes. Buried later in the report was information that durable goods orders excluding all military purchases, fell by 6.9% in January. This was the largest such decline in more than two years. Durable good orders excluding military purchase is often taken as a proxy to reflect private sector demand.
The headlines picked up the 2.7% increase to report to the public and either ignored or buried the huge 6.9% decline in non-defense orders. Thus, the general public would have the impression that the economy is stronger than it really is.
Last week, the Commerce Department also reported that the sales of new homes in January were at a “seasonally adjusted” rate of 284,000 units. While that statistic was a 12.6% drop from the previous month and down 18% from January 2010, it hid a more worrisome fact. The actual number of new homes sold in January was 19,000. This was the lowest sales of new homes since the Census Bureau started to track this statistic.
When the US Labor Department issued its weekly report on new unemployment claims last week, the focus of the media reports was how it was about 40% lower than the data for two years ago. However, buried in the fine print of the report was a statement that 9.2 million people are still receiving federal or state jobless benefits. Generally, the US government considers people to be unemployed only so long as they continue to receive government benefits. Once the unemployment benefits run out, whether the person has a job or not, people are no longer considered unemployed. By using a statistical trick to drop hundreds of thousands of unemployed people from the ranks of the unemployed, the US government has been able to claim that the unemployment rate is dropping. Little attention is paid to the statistic that the number of employed people as a percentage of the population has been declining.
The government isn’t alone in lying with statistics. The National Association of Realtors recently announced that they had been overstating the number of home sales every month for the past three years or so, perhaps on the order of 15-20%. By misreporting the relative activity in the real estate market, it is just about guaranteed that many who have purchased homes over the past three years have overpaid. If the public had been aware of accurate statistics, home prices would have come down more sharply than has happened.
In sum, when the general public looks at the headlines, they will invariably think that the US economy is in better shape that the fine details in the report reveal. This is exactly what the US government wants to occur. A complacent public will not scramble to get out of the US dollar, pushing up demand and prices for gold and silver as safe havens.
For your own protection, take a skeptical attitude to any reported statistical headlines. Dig down to read the entire report. Further, do a long-term comparison to place the latest report into proper perspective. Don’t expect the US government or the mainstream media to do this job for you. I am confident that when you do your own homework, you will be even more convinced to own gold and silver for insurance against further calamities that may befall the US government, the US dollar, and the US economy.
Patrick A. Heller owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter covering rare coins and precious metals. Past issues can be found online at http://www.libertycoinservice.com/ Pat Heller is also the gold market commentator for Numismatic News. Past columns online at http://numismaster.com/ under “News & Articles”. His bimonthly columns on collectibles can also be read at http://www.lansingbusinessmonthly.com under “Articles” and “Department Columns.”His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com.