A New Gold Standard: Orderly or Chaotic?
Over the past century, monetary systems change about every 30 to 40 years on average. Before 1914, the global monetary system was based on the classical gold standard.
Then in 1945, a new monetary system emerged at Bretton Woods. I was at Bretton Woods this past summer to commemorate its 75th anniversary.
Under that system, the dollar became the global reserve currency, linked to gold at $35 per ounce. In 1971 Nixon ended the direct convertibility of the dollar to gold. For the first time, the monetary system had no gold backing.
Today, the existing monetary system is nearly 50 years old, so the world is long overdue for a change. Gold should once again play a leading role.
I’ve written and spoken publicly for years about the prospects for a new gold standard. My analysis is straightforward.
International monetary figures have a choice. They can reintroduce gold into the monetary system either on a strict or loose basis (such as a “reference price” in monetary policy decision making).
This can be done as the result of a new monetary conference, a la Bretton Woods. It could be organized by some convening power, probably the U.S. working with China.
Or they can ignore the problem, let a debt crisis materialize (that will play out in interest rates and foreign-exchange markets) and watch gold soar to $14,000 per ounce or higher, not because they wanted it to but because the system is out of control.
I’ve also said that the former course (a conference) is more desirable, but the latter course (chaos) is more likely. A monetary conference would be far preferable. Why not avoid the train wreck rather than clear up the wreckage? But will probably be ignored until it’s too late. Either way, the price of gold soars.
The same force that made the dollar the world’s reserve currency is working to dethrone it. It was at Bretton Woods that the dollar was officially designated the world’s leading reserve currency — a position that it still holds today.
Under the Bretton Woods system, all major currencies were pegged to the dollar at a fixed exchange rate. The dollar itself was pegged to gold at the rate of $35 per ounce. Indirectly, the other currencies had a fixed gold value because of their peg to the dollar.
Other currencies could devalue against the dollar, and therefore against gold, if they received permission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the dollar could not devalue, at least in theory. It was the keystone of the entire system — intended to be permanently anchored to gold.
From 1950–1970 the Bretton Woods system worked fairly well. Trading partners of the U.S. who earned dollars could cash those dollars into the U.S. Treasury and be paid in gold at the fixed rate.
Trading partners of the U.S. who earned dollars could cash those dollars into the U.S. Treasury and be paid in gold at the fixed rate.
In 1950, the U.S. had about 20,000 tons of gold. By 1970, that amount had been reduced to about 9,000 tons. The 11,000-ton decline went to U.S. trading partners, primarily Germany, France and Italy, who earned dollars and cashed them in for gold.
The U.K. pound sterling had previously held the dominant reserve currency role starting in 1816, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the official adoption of the gold standard by the U.K. Many observers assume the 1944 Bretton Woods conference was the moment the U.S. dollar replaced sterling as the world’s leading reserve currency.
In fact, that replacement of sterling by the dollar as the world’s leading reserve currency was a process that took 30 years, from 1914 to 1944.
In fact, the period from 1919–1939 was really one in which the world had two major reserve currencies — dollars and sterling — operating side by side.
Finally, in 1939, England suspended gold shipments in order to fight the Second World War and the role of sterling as a reliable store of value was greatly diminished. The 1944 Bretton Woods conference was merely recognition of a process of dollar reserve dominance that had started in 1914.
The significance of the process by which the dollar replaced sterling over a 30-year period has huge implications for you today. Slippage in the dollar’s role as the leading global reserve currency is not necessarily something that would happen overnight, but is more likely to be a slow, steady process.
Signs of this are already visible. In 2000, dollar assets were about 70% of global reserves. Today, the comparable figure is about 62%. If this trend continues, one could easily see the dollar fall below 50% in the not-too-distant future.
It is equally obvious that a major creditor nation is emerging to challenge the U.S. today just as the U.S. emerged to challenge the U.K. in 1914. That power is China. The U.S. had massive gold inflows from 1914-1944. China has been experiencing massive gold inflows in recent years.
Gold reserves at the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) increased to 1948.31 tonnes in the fourth quarter of 2019. For comparison, it held 1,658 tonnes in June, 2015.
But China has acquired thousands of metric tonnes since without reporting these acquisitions to the IMF or World Gold Council.
Based on available data on imports and the output of Chinese mines, actual Chinese government and private gold holdings are likely much higher. It’s hard to pinpoint because China operates through secret channels and does not officially report its gold holdings except at rare intervals.
China’s gold acquisition is not the result of a formal gold standard, but is happening by stealth acquisitions on the market. They’re using intelligence and military assets, covert operations and market manipulation. But the result is the same. Gold’s been flowing to China in recent years, just as gold flowed to the U.S. before Bretton Woods.
China is not alone in its efforts to achieve creditor status and to acquire gold. Russia has greatly increased its gold reserves over the past several years and has little external debt. The move to accumulate gold in Russia is no secret, and as Putin advisor, Sergey Glazyev told Russian Insider has said, “The ruble is the most gold-backed currency in the world.”
Iran has also imported massive amounts of gold, mostly through Turkey and Dubai, although no one knows the exact amount, because Iranian gold imports are a state secret.
Other countries, including BRICS members Brazil, India and South Africa, have joined Russia and China in their desire to break free of U.S. dollar dominance.
Sterling faced a single rival in 1914, the U.S. dollar. Today, the dollar faces a host of rivals. The decline of the dollar as a reserve currency started in 2000 with the advent of the euro and accelerated in 2010 with the beginning of a new currency war.
The dollar collapse has already begun and the need for a new monetary order will need to emerge. The question is whether it will be an orderly process resulting from a new monetary conference, or a chaotic one.
Unfortunately, it’ll probably be chaotic. Don’t count on the elites to act in time.
for The Daily Reckoning