2ndlook

The Third Currency Option – Junk the Dollar and the Euro

Europe’s Been Onto Something … While the US gently weeps

The EU region calling for a ‘G8 + India & China’ conference to thrash out this global monetary issue – and has been twisting the knife in the reluctant US side. The US has been dragging its feet. While the EU has been going gung-ho on this, the US has been floating many trial balloons.

Warren Buffet, Paul Volcker and Lawrence Summers have been co-opted by the President-elect of the US – Barack Obama. There has been talk of a manipulation in bullion prices – which may be required for re-anchoring currencies. Interesting deals – considered impossible till a few years, are being done in a tearing hurry.

Europe would obviously like to break the dollar hegemony – and muscle into the racket. They know the Third World-Russia-China are not prepared.

And what do Europeans want – some seats at the global regulatory table, to force US moneybags (for now) and others to seek approvals, which will come at a cost … or is it that the approvals will come at a price …

Which will solve no one’s problems … back to square one …

The US Gameplan

US analysts, led by Paul Krugman, have been calling for Barack Obama to emulate Roosevelt – who waded into WW2, with 25,000 tons of nationalized gold. If gold is nationalized, it may depress demand in the short term – giving rise to huge volatility in gold prices. But Warren Buffett has been on the silver bandwagon for a while – and that is making the gold-silver equation hazy. What if Warren Buffet becomes the new US Treasury Chief? There is the real risk of another fraud like the gold standard happening all over again.

The US has been making its moves – differently. Paul Krugman’s Nobel Prize is an indication of this. Will the US use Paul Krugman as the Keynes of the Bretton Woods. The background of Bretton Woods itself, is of course, something that the US and Europe do not want the world at large to know.

The financial stimulus plan hasn’t even a snow flakes chance in hell – as there are no targets left who can be funded. Industrial corporations are lip deep in debt. The housing sector is knackered. The tech sector has over capacity. No go, no show.

What Has Been India upto? Either … or …

India seems to completely lack direction on how to move independently in times like these. After, all why should India even look at IMF and World Bank – which are fig leaf organizations of the West, as transfer mechanisms of wealth from the Third World to the rich.

Interestingly, Manmohan Singh has done some huge work in the last 60 days – the nuclear deal with the USA and NSG, the IBSA Summit, the ASEAN free trade agreement – and now his three Asian nation visits. India’s Trade and Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, has been talking about a multi-lateral set up. The UN was made to issue a statement on this. While the US has been resisting calls for action, busy doing post-mortem, Asia and Europe have been moving.

India is unlikely to get seriously affected by the current crisis – which is possibly creating complacency in India about what needs to be done.Or India is working on a different plan, of which we know nothing. After all, India does believe in moving steadily (even, if slowly).

Are we reading too much into this? At times, India has seemed clueless.

Russia and China – The DragoBear Dance

The big issue is of course, China and Russia. China has 2 trillion of US dollars – and what does China do with this? This crisis seems to have made the Chinese Premier shaky. Russia has come out from a default about a decade ago – with a nearly US$400 billion reserves – flexing its muscles in Georgia and dependent on a high oil prices. What happens to Russia if a new Pacific Republic (Cuba, Haiti, West Indies, etc) were to start drilling for oil? In 5 years, the world would be awash with oil – and Russia’s mineral earnings could evaporate.

So, the world may not trust China and Russia too much. Russia and China can be the party poopers – but they cannot be the life of the party. Russia and China as significant military powers as well as a part of P5, will want their pound of flesh. They will, of course, be afraid of being left out!

Among the P5, US and EU have their own reserve currencies – leaving Russia and China out in the open. Russia and China (as full P5 powers) will want a ‘lion’s share’ of influence in any new architecture. Which any Third World grouping will not give.

The US will not have them and the EU does not want them!

Stalemate.

Russia and China play blame-the-US game

The US has been evading transparency by not revealing M3 figures (on dubious grounds), printing money 24×7×365 and creating toxic assets. Now when the muck has hit the fan, they are acting coy. And this made the Chinese very angry.

China has alleged that the US has plundered the world – and is is now looking after its own. China alleges that the US is not bothered about the problems the US has created for other countries.

Late In the day, Mr.Hu … This is something that the world has been talking about for a long time. China has been a major supporter (and victim) of this scam – by allowing US companies unlimited access and support. Chinese citizens have been duped with low paying jobs at these enterprises.

Is China forgetting history … Mr.Hu – Today it is the US – but yesterday, it was Europe, Mr.Hu. Europe was blockaded by the US for the last 100 years – and hence, European loot is possibly forgotten in China. European loot was accompanied by a lot of bloodshed and killing also, Mr.Hu.

Has the Leopard Changed its spots Possibly, you dont know, Mr.Hu, because China has very little wildlife left. Leopards dont change their spots. Europe behaves today, because it has no options.

China is making common cause with EU over the dollar crisis. While Chinese disappointment is understandable, their actions are beyond comprehension. Just why will Europeans be bothered about Chinese welfare? Just look at their history!!

For that matter why in the world would anyone be interested in Chinese welfare – except the Chinese, of course. The Chinese Government is looking at all options – except Chinese welfare, unfortunately.

The answers A new currency floated by the five major economies who are most affected today – China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa. Maybe Japan will also join in. But, the answer, Mr.Hu is with these 5 – and not Europe.

OK … join the gang

Sometime back, Medvedev joined China in blaming the US. Now that the blame game is over, is it finished. Over. Satisfied with blaming the US, Mr.Medvedev.

Now what

Mr.Medvedev, now that you have blamed the US, are you better off. Apart from some (dubious) satisfaction, what else have you got.

Russia has a lot to feel bad about, I agree. US$400 billion is a lot of money – and to see it being printed out of existence, cannot be good. Sometime back China started the blame game – and now Russia has joined in. However, I am yet to see any constructive action. Especially from China and Russia.

Russia, China should join up with with Brazil, South Africa and India to present an alternative to the world community. With this grouping and backing, at least a 100 countries will sign up within 30 days.

Wakey, wakey, Mr.Medvedev. Let us get to work. Blaming the US gets us no where.

Japan + ASEAN

China-leaning Lee Kuan Yew with an Islamic Malaysia may not be very hot about ‘giving so much influence’ to a ‘new member’ like India for an ASEAN initiative. Any action which hurts the US, their largest market and patron, will be something that will make Japan and ASEAN hesitate. The very economic model of ASEAN + Japan is undervalued currency + exports to the USA. Hence, they will be wary of any initiative that affects the USA – and the West.

Status Quo …

And that is why South Africa and Brazil are essential for India. China and Russia must join in. The benefits are too obvious – and the fallout is non-existent!

The New 5 – Three Horsemen Of Apocalypse

The real action will be 5 countries – Russia and China on one hand – and India, South Africa and Brazil on the other.

The G3 (i.e. India, South Africa and Brazil) have functioning democracies, decent regulatory systems (which can be ramped up), the technology platforms, the trading systems, a vibrant entrepreneurial class – all of which is powering their economies forward. What they don’t have is P5 status – which is useful, though not essential.

This Washington meeting – Contours Of The Deal

During the con-fab, ‘committees will be set up’ which will create mechanisms for this management. The EU-USA-Asia may agree (for the time being) on a broad a global regulatory and oversight body to monitor and maintain oversight over a Dollar-Euro currency regime. Some of Asia may want to cling to this Dollar-Euro skirt.

But what the BRICS must work on is a Third reserve currency for the Third World.

The new currency may an Asian-Developing world currency. The big issue for the developing world will be obtaining assurances against predatory raids by the dollar bloc and the Euro-zone to dismantle any new system – like the alleged plot of 1997 Asian crisis.The lesser issues will also be inter-bank settlements, anchoring currencies (the role of gold or bullion).

Following is a 2ndlook at the how the Third currency option will work.

The Organization for the 3rd currency option

Q: Who will handle this currency?

A: The BRIX Reserve Organization will be a the global body which will manage the operations of the BRIX currency. This organization will have initially shareholding by the BRICS countries – equally.

Q: What will happen when new shareholders come in?

A: The promoter shareholders will (later) offer shareholding to other countries to the extent of minimum 1% of total capital and not exceeding 5%. The promoter countries will gradually reduce their shareholding proportionately and equally by inducting other shareholders or selling existing shareholding to new shareholders.

Q: What will be the capital contribution by member countries?

Member countries will contribute to capital equal to 4000 tons of gold (but not gold). Capital will be increased by addition of new members and/or existing members. In case of exchange rate fluctuations, exchange rate will be based on 90 days average. In case of any significant decline in exchange value, concerned member country to make good the shortfall in capital contribution or face shift in member status.

Q: What will be the role of gold in BRIX-BRO system?

A: All citizens of member countries will be allowed to own and trade in gold – within and outside the country during peacetime. In cases of national emergencies, countries may impose export restrictions for a limited defined period.

Governments will not be required to maintain any gold balances at all.

Q: What will be the role of BRO?

A: Firstly to provide and maintain Realtime Settlement System (RSS) – a on line, real time, trading platform – for all the national currencies of member banks and countries. Additionally, there can be ‘permitted’ currencies’ – like the Dollar and the Euro, for trading in non-member currencies.

The RSS will enable participating members will be allowed to nett off transactions.Th BRO will also approve ‘standard packages’ for over-the-counter (OTC) trading of derivative products.

Q: How will BRO make money?

A: The RSS will earn fees through transaction fees and earnings from float – which currently is used by the US and ECB. Individual countries based on trade and production patterns can expand or contract currency supply. Based on supply and demand for individual currency, the RSS will aid the price discovery and setting. National Central Banks will be able to borrow or lend BRIX through the BRO.

Q: Who will man the BRO?

A: Banking specialists will be deputed from (initially, founder) member countries in equal proportion at each level in the organization. Over a period of time, the BRO will build it own cadre of banking specialists – starting with entry level candidates.

The Currency

Q: What will the currency be called?

A: Initially, the start up name of the currency unit can be BRIX.

Q: How will the BRIX currency look like?

A: The BRIX currency will only exist in bank accounts. It will not be printed, circulated physically or stored in vaults.

Q: What will happen to current US$-Euro reserves?

A: Initially all dollar reserves will be used to facilitate trade between member and non-member countries. The BRO will maintain Dollar /Euro reserves equal to 3 months requirements for member countries. Excess dollar reserves of member countries will drawn down gradually over 12-36 months based on market developments.

Q: How will monetary expansion of the BRIX be handled?

A: All monetary expansion of the BRO will happen through trade volumes and capital infusions. The BRO cannot print, monetize, expand money supply.

The Mechanics and Operations

Q: How will exchange rates be determined?

A: Demand and supply for currencies will determine exchange rates. Output of products, services, will create supply and demand for various currencies.

Q: Who will be allowed to trade on the RSS?

A: National currencies will be traded on electronic platforms with accredited traders, backed by institutional settlement system, trade guarantee – based on demand and supply for various national currencies.

Member Benefits

Q: What changes will countries need to make?

A: Very few. All transactions must be linked to the index currency – the BRIX. No country will be required to change from their current currency system. As trades happen, a BRIX amount will be created. As the payout happens, that many BRIX will be extinguished.

Q: What reserve requirements will be imposed on member countries?

A: All countries will be required to maintain a reserve of 1 month’s BRIX usage with the BRO. This amount will earn interest rate at market determined rates.

Q: What happens when countries go through emergencies, catastrophes or calamities?

A: In case of extreme volatility in any currency due to currency /economic /natural disaster, the BRO Board of Governors may approve loans – which will be guaranteed by the donor central banks. Loans by BRO will at all times will be covered by guarantees.

The benefit of this that any country can raise loans from BRO by finding sponsors. Thus hegemony by a few powerful country will not be possible. Thus a small economy (like say) Iceland can raise a loan by finding a consortium of guarantor (say African) countries.

National central banks may guarantee ‘interest’ payments or ‘interest+principal’ amounts. In case of normal commercial loans, the principal and interest repayments can be a commercial credit decision by the BRO.

Q: How will countries maintain their foreign currency reserves?

A: Countries will need to maintain minimal BRIX reserves. BRIX will be fully convertible into other currencies. However, since all national currencies will be convertible, the need will be minimal.

Q: What will be the disclosures and information requirements?

A: BRO will collate, circulate and publish information given by all member Governments regarding M3, currency, etc.

Safety, Checks & Balances

Q: What will happen when a ‘rogue’ Government prints too much money?

A: Whenever, exchange rate volatility exceeds the prescribed bands, BRO will impose trade restrictions after due inquiry.

Q: What about predatory currency traders?

A: Since, BRIX cannot be bought except by creating business trade, there cannot be large holdings of BRIX which can be used for predatory activities. National currencies of member countries can be at risk if excessive monetization happens. But, since, trading in all currencies will happen continuously, excessive monetization will first come to light in terms of excess supply and deterioration in exchange rates.

Q: What about fake currency?

A: The BRO will have its own mint and currency printing units which will print currencies for member countries. This will ensure that mala fide, fake currency by foreign agencies, criminal elements will be eliminated. The BRO may also insist that weak economies print their currency at the BRO mint to ensure that there is transparency in money supply.

Q: What about trade in Government debt and securities?

A: All member countries will be required to intimate and route transactions of Government debt, securities through the RSS. This will ensure that there will be complete transparency in debt, M3, etc.

End game

With a BRICS grouping behind an initiative outlined above, a 100 countries will join this system within 30 days. Japan will defect – as will some poorer European countries. OPEC countries will dither – and then join. Singapore and Malaysia may also dither for some time – but will finally join. Most of Africa, South America and Asia will sign up.

With US$6 trillion amongst the BRICS, Japan, ASEAN and Africa, the Third currency Bloc can give a huge financial stimulus to the global economy. Poorer countries can jump start industrialization – and massive orders for high tech equipment can be placed with Japan, EU and USA to jump start their economies.

Bretton Woods – What they wont teach or tell you …

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Environment, European History, Gold Reserves, History, Media, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on October 8, 2008

Prequel to Bretton

Keynes’ first book that gained him some following in the world of economics was the ‘Indian Currency And Finance‘. This work examined in significant detail the workings of the Indian currency system. The Indian colonial currency system was anchored to the British pound – and various other local Indian currencies were in use – and even legal tender in large parts of India.

G5 will take on G8

G5 will take on G8

Thus there was always great pressure on Britain to keep the British pound on gold standard – as there was always the option for the common citizen to use coinage from other kingdoms and princely states. In 1900, the British colonial Government tried to enforce circulation of British sovereigns in India – which failed.

Of course, gold importation into India was severely restricted. The gold blockade against India was effective as the major gold production centres were under Anglo Saxon occupation (Australia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Rhodesia, Ghana, etc.).

The Birth Of Bretton Woods

As WW2 was winding down, the Anglo Saxon Bloc went ahead and devised the Bretton Woods system. This system was a copy of the Indian currency system – where instead of the British pound, the American dollar became the Index currency.

Instead of milking only India, the Anglo Saxon Bloc could now milk the whole world. Keynes noted how America when dealing ‘her dependencies, she has herself imitated almost slavishly, India.’ So, when the time came, it took very little time for the US to scale the Indian currency model on the rest of the world.

The success of Bretton Woods-I depended on blockading India from buying gold – which was effectively done by Morarji Desai. (I wonder why the ungrateful Anglo Saxon Bloc has not made a statue of Morarji Desai at Mount Rushmore). He has after all been the single biggest contributor to their prosperity for the last 50 years.

What was Bretton Woods

The world stamped their approval on Bretton Woods.

As per the agreement, all countries of the world would use the dollar as the index currency – for international trade and foreign exchange reserves and for nominal exchange rate fixation. This system allowed the USA to print ‘excess’ dollars. These ‘excess’ initially in limited quantities, but soon at an accelerating pace. Today the USA has flooded the world (and the USA markets with more than US$50 trillion) of excess currency. The housing bubble, the M&A frenzy, the credit crisis are by products of this printing of dollars. With these excess dollars, the US consumers and others bought what they wanted – and US went ahead and printed some more dollars.

Bearing the dollars cross

Bearing the dollar's cross

Behind Bretton Woods – Gold

If the Bretton Woods system was defective, unfair, weighted et al, why was it accepted? Why did the world believe that only the Anglo-Saxon Bloc could deliver.

Why?

In 1944, the Anglo Saxon Bloc (countries, colonies and companies) controlled more than 90% of gold production and reserves. The largest private gold reserve in the world, India was still a British colony. Hence, it was fait accompli.

The Cornering Of Gold Supplies

For the last 150 years, the ABC countries (America, Australia, Britain, Canada) comprising the Anglo Saxon bloc (countries, colonies and companies) have controlled 90% of the world’s gold production. Till (a large part of) India was a British Colony, they also controlled more than 50% of the above-the-ground gold reserves. This gave them absolute liberty to print depreciating currency and flood the world pieces of paper(called dollars and pounds), manipulate the world financial system and keep other populations poor and backward.

Who paid for the dollar hegemony

Who paid for the dollar hegemony

Bretton Woods – Broken Promises

The promise of the Bretton Woods system was stability. USA promised the world that they will redeem the US dollar for gold – at a rate of US$35. Anyone could (except Indians and Americans) buy an ounce of gold from the USA for US$35 – managed by the the London Pool system. Within 20 years, the first promise was broken. Redemptions of dollar for gold to individuals was stopped in 1968 (March15th).

The Bretton Woods system worked for 20 years because Indians were not allowed to buy gold. India’s finance minster during that crucial period, Morarji Desai, (allegedly on CIA payroll during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency 1963-1968), presented a record 10 budgets, between February 1958, up to 1967.

His break with Indira Gandhi began when the Finance portfolio was taken away from him. Morarji Desai’s ban on gold imports allowed the sham of Bretton Woods to continue for 20 years. His adamant attitude on gold cost the government popularity and electoral losses – and the Indian economy and Indians much more. Was it a co-incidence that many of the RBI functionaries later got (and even now) plum postings at LSE (IG Patel) and BN Aadarkar (IMF)?

The Bretton Woods Twins

Bretton Woods also gave rise to the the Bretton Woods twins (the IMF and the World Bank) which are run and managed by the Anglo Saxon countries. The ABC countries, their client states like Japan, OECD, etc. have 65% of the voting rights. With this huge voting majority, less than 5% of the world’s population (of the ABC countries) decide how 95% of the world lives.

The Bretton Woods twins (the IMF and the World Bank) been significant failures. Aid (spelt, ironically, very similarly to AIDS) projects are approved – which are tied to imports from these Anglo Saxon countries.

Bretton Woods Fraud

The Bretton Woods system was technically created by more than 700 delegates from the 44 allied nations. But the match was fixed.

It was designed by the Anglo-Saxon countries (America, Australia, Britain, Canada), for the benefit of the Anglo Saxon countries. Notice how much Britain resisted and finally did not join the European Currency Union. This system has swamped the world with accelerating inflow of dollars (American, Australian, Canadian) and British pounds. Producers and exporters are left with vast reserves of a depreciating currencies.

Nixon Chop And Bush Whack

From the Nixon Chop to the Bush Whack final months of Dubya’s Presidency, the Bush Family has been in the Presidency for 12 years of the 37 years. And in positions of lesser power for the entire period. George Bush Sr. was the US representative to the UN during the Nixon era – when Nixon made his infamous remarks to Kissinger about the ‘sanctimonious Indians’ who had pissed on us (the US) on the Vietnam War’. George Bush Sr. was also the US Vice President during the 8 years of Reagan Presidency.

The bend in the flow

The bend in the flow

During these 37 years – between the Nixon Chop (1971) and the Bush Whack (2008), the world has changed significantly.

The Nixon Chop

On August 15th, 1971, President Nixon after a two day huddle with 15 advisers at Camp David, delivered the Nixon Chop to the world. The Nixon chop (my name for this event), one month after his China breakthrough, cut the convertibility peg of US$35 to gold as US gold reserves were severely depleted.

The French had been regularly redeeming gold for their dollar earnings – and for this ‘perfidy’ the US had not forgiven France. This was much like the pre-WW2 French methodology of devaluation, new peg, old debt for new gold routine which got the US hackles up. Many decades have passed since these redemption by France, and the new French President, Sarkozy believes it is now possible to renew US-French relations again.

On the opposite side of the world, a beleaguered Indian Prime Minister was celebrating 24 years of Independence with a “ship-to-mouth” economy, dependent on PL-480 grain. Private gold reserves in the Indian economy after nearly 25 years of post-colonial rule, were steadily rising. Over the next 10 years, the western world (and most of the rest) blamed OPEC for post-1971 inflation, gold scaled US$800 an ounce; the Hunt Brothers launched their bid to corner the silver market; stagflation made an entry and Soviet power grew. Nixon Chop , itself the result of many years of gold reserves erosion, was one in many steps that brought the US$ to its knees.

Can the dollar be fixed?
Can the dollar be fixed?

On August 15th, 1971, the world got the Nixon Chop – where even Governments could not redeem dollar holdings. The dollar was put on float. In little time, dollar value depreciated from US$35 per ounce of gold to US$800 in 1980. Over the next 20 years, through various clandestine methods (check out the Edmond Safra and the Yamashita stories links), gold prices were managed and brought down to US$225 per ounce – but still 80% reduction in value of dollar value. Foreign reserves of poor countries got eroded. It was a gigantic fraud on the world – especially the poor, developing countries. And the fraud continues.

Every Few Years

Every 10-25 years, the world seems to go from one financial crisis to another. Trucks full of economic analysis follow each crisis – and everyone agrees after each meltdown, that there will not be another catastrophe. What the poor (and not so poor) economists don’t see is that the Anglo Saxon bloc with 80% of the world’s gold production in a choke-hold does what it wants.

On December 31st, 1974, nearly forty years after Roosevelt nationalized private American gold stocks, Americans were allowed to invest in gold again. Again Indian liberalization (1991) of gold imports happened a good 17 years after the US laws (1974) were liberalized. I wonder, how that was tied.

And that is what has happened for the last 60 years. Of course, all good (for the Anglo-Saxon Bloc) things come to an end. And so has Bretton Woods – I & II.

A New Currency Bloc – The Chinese Question

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, European History, Gold Reserves, History, language, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on October 3, 2008
Estimated Chinese Holdings

Estimated Chinese Holdings

Stumbling Block

In any new world financial reform proposal, the Chinese voice will be very important. After all they are the world’s largest creditor nation! They have US$2 trillion worth of IOUs with them. Of course, the composition of these US$2 trillion Chinese reserves is a state secret. And after the Chinese come the Japanese with US$1 trillion of reserves. Russia, India and Brazil total to another US$1 trillion.

Given the Chinese history in the last 100 years, the Chinese will not agree to any ‘hare-brained’ scheme by ‘tin-pot’ dictators, who are sitting on some raw materials – and think that the future belongs to them. The world has so many of this variety, that it does not require me to be specific.

Even a serious attempt by the EU, with the Euro, has not been able to significantly dent the dollar market share! Apart from the Euro, in the the last 10 years, there have been at least 3 half-baked – and unbaked attempts to break the dollar hegemony. So, there you have it – it is out in the open!

What can you do about the Chinese question?

The Way Out

China, in its own short term interest (importantly) and long term interest (definitely) needs to find a way out!

Buying gold in such large quantities is not possible – there will simply be no deliveries. Increasing import ‘trade volumes’ is also difficult – as what more can China import. It cannot send many more Chinese on holidays! They don’t have the single-mindedness of the Indians – when it comes to buying gold.

What it can do is buy Western firms! China has been always been a laggard in terms of growth in software! Maybe they can buy some software firms. The domestic Chinese entrepreneurial spirit has been damped in the last 100 years. What if the Chinese were to spend on some Venture Capital funds! What if China were to kick-start their fast-moving consumer goods industry by buying P&G!

The Chinese need to acquire some big ticket assets – for about US$1.5 trillion and bring down their reserves to US$0.5 trillion. This will reduce US outstanding debt, create demand for US stocks, lift the Dow Jones, and create value for the dollar. As I see it this is the only way that the Chinese can cash in their chips. The House will not let them take it away any other way.

And then the Chinese are free to join any currency bloc – or even initiate one!

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China’s Bullion Reserves – Gold, Silver and Silk

Posted in Gold Reserves, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on November 26, 2007

Modern economic research estimates that through most of last 1000 years, China and India have accounted for about 50% of the world economy. 20th century was different for both. While Indian gold based systems are better known, Chinese gold story is very different.

1. China & Neighbours – Gold Producers

India was always an importer of gold. Domestic gold production in India’s core geography has historically been negligible – or low.

China, on the other is different. Mongolia and China have been significant gold producers in history. Estimated gold reserves from current ore mining in China exceed 600 tons – and exploration efforts are expected to increase this to 3000-3500 tons. China is the world’s 4th largest producer of gold – ahead of USA and behind Australia, and expected to overtake South Africa soon.

Currently, illegal mining in China is big time activity and is indicted for supporting poaching!. Chinese were exporters of gold and silks.

2. Chinese – Great believers in silver

Chinese common coin was a silver coin – the tael (which came from the Malay word tahil; which came from Indian word tol; meaning ‘measure’). There were 2 taels – one was commercially pure silver ingot of one Chinese ounce called a liang. The other was a kuping tael – which was coin. Bulk silver was used as currency and called sycee. There were many other taels like Tsaoping, Peking, Tientsin, Hankow, Canton. Chinese also use silver jewellery – against gold preferred by Indian women

3. Chinese invention of Paper

Jiaozi - circulated in Sichuan in the Chunhua period of Emperor Taizong of Song Dynasty

Jiaozi - circulated in Sichuan in the Chunhua period of Emperor Taizong of Song Dynasty

Chinese rulers circulated paper money for longer (from 6th century onwards) and greater area than any country in the world. The first paper currency jiaozi was issued in 6th century – which collapsed very soon. The Song dynasty re-introduced paper currency in 9th century due to copper shortage. Probably, some Jewish merchants were also involved in the jiaozi manufacture.

Kublai Khan’s (a descendant of Genghis Khan) paper money management meant that all Chinese had to deposit all gold (or be prepared to die) with the Khan’s treasury and they got a currency note which was trade-able. This ‘system’ received wide publicity in Europe (thanks to Marco Polo). 600 years later, Roosevelt did the same with the Americans – and collected 8000 tons of gold.

4. Opium & China

Western consumers bought tea, silks and other Chinese commodities for which they paid in silver. The Chinese did not need much of Western goods – like India. To correct this negative balance of trade, Europeans promoted opium in China. When Chinese resisted the Opium trade, wars followed.

In early 19th century AD, Opium imports into China by British, French, American, Dutch, Spanish traders, sourced from India led to an outflow of silver from China – and a currency crisis. The ruling Qing state went into a downward spiral– culminating in the Chinese Civil War and rise of Communism. The Kuomintang (supported by Chinese underworld, The Green Gang, The Red Gang and The Blue Gang) was pitted against the Mao Ze Dong’s Communist Party – and both were armed and supported by Western powers.

Opium for China was produced by indebted Indian farmers and a few Parsi traders set up their offices in Hong Kong. However, the Parsi role diminished after the advent of steamships, their big losses during the Opium Wars and the rise of the cotton trade. Other Indian traders, possibly restricted by shubh labh’ compunctions played a lesser role (compared to the European traders) in this Opium trade.

Major opium trading companies like Jardine Matheson, David Sasoon & Company and sundry traders set up The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation for facilitating this misery. The Chinese Opium problem was finally solved by several draconian measures during Communist rule.

5. Wars In China

When Chinese resisted the Opium flood, Western traders resorted to war. The Japanese emboldened by new found wealth and military technology, joined Western powers. The Sino Japanese Wars, The Opium Wars with Europeans and The Boxer Uprising before WW1 imposed large war reparations on the Chinese. The Civil War in China between the world wars destroyed Chinese commerce systems. The Cultural Revolution has left the Chinese commercially backward.

6. How did the Chinese preference for silver affect them?

In 1500, the approximate exchange ratio between gold liang and and silver liang was 1:4. Today it is 1:50. Silver mineral deposits, mining and availability is more elastic than gold. Elasticity of gold production is very low. Secondly, above ground supplies of gold are far higher than known below the ground estimates. Hence, manipulation of gold prices over a period of time is difficult.

Touchy ... feely ... selly ... silly ...

Touchy … feely … selly … silly …

7. Current Status

China, as the world’s largest holder of US dollar debt is constrained in its move to increasing gold reserves through market operations. A dollar sell off by China could collapse the world’s currency system – and the biggest loser would be the Chinese! But a negotiated conversion of some dollar reserves to gold is eminently possible.

Between 2000-2007, the Chinese Government increased their monetary gold reserves from more than 300 tons, to more than 600 tons. Official Gold Reserves of Chinese Central Bank Gold reserves are about 600 tons of gold.

China has become the world’s 3rd largest consumer of gold – up from a 100 tons to 350 tons. The Shanghai Gold Exchange has made it easier for individuals to invest in gold. They have reduced the transaction size from 1 kg to 100 gm.

8. Possible Chinese Strategy

China’s investment in US$3 billion in Blackstone Private Equity /hedge fund, was the first by any country. This gives China an inside track to the world’s largest hedge fund and private equity player. The Blackstone Fund on the other, gets access to the world’s largest liquid reserve – more than 1 trillion dollars of the Chinese Government’s monetary reserves.

China is setting up a US$200 billion sovereign fund that will invest in range of markets and instruments. With this institutional framework, for China to increase their monetary reserves by a 1000-2000 tonnes is well within realm of possibility.

9. The 2ndlook alternative (Oct.3, 2008, update)

Chinese assets ...

Chinese assets …

In any new world financial reform proposal, the Chinese voice will be very important. After all they are the world’s largest creditor nation! They have US$2 trillion worth of IOUs with them. Of course, the composition of these US$2 trillion Chinese reserves is a state secret.

The Chinese will not agree to any ‘hare-brained’ scheme by ‘tin-pot’ dictators, who are sitting on some raw materials – and think that the future belongs to them. The world has so many of this variety, that it does not require me to be specific.

The Chinese need to acquire some big ticket assets – maybe, some big US companies, for about US$1.5 trillion and bring down their reserves to US$0.5 trillion. This will reduce US outstanding debt, create demand for US stocks, lift the Dow Jones, and create value for the dollar. As I see it this is the only way that the Chinese can cash in their chips. The House will not let them take it away any other way.

10. What does this mean for others

China, the largest creditor nation in the world, carries a big stick. They are not democratically accountable and transparency is not required from them. Hence, a significant conversion from dollar holdings to gold is feasible, can be done quietly (hence, at an economic price) and with trade power they have, a strong negotiating position is a given.

And that is an opportunity others may not get!

In the last 150 years, strong monetary gold reserves have been a feature of Western monetary systems (acquired mostly, by  dubious means like slavery, genocide). China’s moves, if any, will diversify global monetary reserve systems away from the dollar and the West and spread the weightage in a more equitable manner – giving rise to speculation about a renminbi bloc.

And that is something that is good for global monetary system.

What should India do …

Oil Dollar Tango

Oil Dollar Tango

Two years ago …

This post had estimated that the Chinese could possibly (and they have)  increase their monetary gold reserves. On April 24th, 2009, Bloomberg reported that China had increased

its (gold) reserves by 454 tons to 1,054 tons through domestic purchases and refining scrap metal, Hu Xiaolian, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency today. China, the world’s biggest gold producer, has increased its holdings before, Hu said in the interview carried on the administration Web Site. They rose from 394 tons to 500 tons in 2001 and to 600 tons in 2003. The U.S. has the world’s biggest gold holdings at 8,134 tons, followed by Germany with 3,413 tons, World Gold Council data show. France has 2,487 tons and Italy 2,452 tons, while the IMF has 3,217 tons, according to the council.

Another report, from Market Watch, a WSJ web publication added,

The increase makes China the world’s fifth-largest holder of gold, just ahead of Switzerland, and among the six nations plus the International Monetary Fund that have reserves of more than 1,000 metric tons. Although Hu did not elaborate on where China had sourced the additional bullion, her comments were interpreted as meaning they came from domestic sources and may included refining of scrap metal.  Traders also say the gold was accumulated systematically over a number of years. Last year China ranked as the world’s largest gold producer with 12.2% of world output, equivalent to 288 metric tons. The U.S. ranked second with a 9.9% share, or 234 metric tons.

What are the future plans of the Chinese? A report quotes an analyst

China should increase its gold reserve from 600 tons to about 2,500 tons in a short term and to 3,000 tons in a long term to cope with the versatile exchange rate risks, said Teng Tai, an economist of China Galaxy Securities Company.

Of course, this really does not mean much – except that it may keep gold prices on boil. Whether a currency is backed by a 5% or a 10% gold reserve may not mean much, in this era of rampant use of “a technology, called a printing press” as an economic tool – not just by the US of A. For long term economic stability, gold needs to be in the hands of individuals – and not Governments.

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