Joss Delage

Value of gold?

37 posts in this topic

All,

I was reading a thread on an investment board and someone made the point that gold has little intrinsic value - that the only reason why people ascribe value to it is that, well, we've always done so. Most of the gold produced (or in existence) is hoarded in bullion form. The market for jewelry or electronics would never sustain the current prices by themselves.

So I am curious as to why individuals store value in gold, and whether this is based on some kind of permanent bubble market or if there's a rational mecanism to explain that. I personally own a small quantity of gold, as part of my diversification strategy, but I never really thought through the "why" gold has value.

Thanks,

JD

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The first premise to check is the idea of "intrinsic value". No such thing, it's an invalid concept. Value implies a context, a valuer and his value hierarchy (which can include taking into account competition from other valuers.)

It's been a long time but I suggest reading Alan Greenspan's 1960s articles back when he was associated with Ayn Rand and before he went over the Dark Side. I'm pretty sure he wrote at least one article on why gold is a good standard of value. The chief reasons include real scarcity (the total amount of gold ever discovered by humanity would roughly fit in a cube about one football field length on each side - radically smaller than e.g. iron); permanence (gold doesn't readily oxidize, is extremely malleable, practically down to one atom thickness, etc.); inability to be faked or forged by inflating government printing presses; actual indispensible utility in a number of industrial applications (plating electrical contacts, etc.); a millenia-deep, worldwide appreciation of its value across most cultures; and some other reasons that I forget at the moment. George Reisman is also a huge fan of the gold standard, but I don't recall specific sources.

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Aside from the properties that make gold a useful metal, another reason it has so much value has to do with the demand for it. To support my statement, I will use Platinum as an example: There was a time (not so long ago) when the value of Platinum was significantly less than the value of gold. Platinum has some very attractive qualities that are specific to that element, and as a result, have created a demand higher than that of gold, hence the suddenly increased value.

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The chief reasons include real scarcity (the total amount of gold ever discovered by humanity would roughly fit in a cube about one football field length on each side - radically smaller than e.g. iron);

The number I usually hear is something like 67 feet on a side. I at one point had found figures guesstimating the total tonnage ever mined and computed from there and confirmed it was just about this much. Alas I have lost that reference and can't cite those now. In any case, that leads to a cube about 2/9ths the size (on one edge) that you mentioned and hence a rarity at least 90 times that implied by your statement.

inability to be faked or forged by inflating government printing presses

They have tried though. When platinum was found in South America in the early 1700s, it was regarded as a nuisance of, if anything, negative value since it had to be painstakingly separated, grain by grain, from the gold pannings. (I can imagine the discoverer saying something like "what is this white crud and what is it doing in my gold?!?!?!") However, it was discovered that even though they couldn't make a fire hot enough to melt the stuff, it could be dumped into a vat of molten gold and go into solution. Since platinum is actually denser than gold and just as non-reactive, it paid to slip some in--none of the tests done by the assayers would notice the difference. Spanish colonial mint workers would buy platinum and swap it for gold, pocketing the gold and adulterating the currency. The Spanish government had to ban platinum and buy it up themselves. At some later time the Spanish government used those stocks to adulterate its coinage on its own.

Of course with platinum now worth about twice as much as gold (thanks to the fact that it has plenty of industrial uses and therefore "intrinsic" value in the sense Joss Delage's sources used the term), those counterfeits, either unofficial or official, now have a higher melt value than the genuine coins. Ironically, once platinum became more expensive than gold thanks to its industrial uses, people took an interest in it for jewelry, boosting the price some more.

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The number I usually hear is something like 67 feet on a side. I at one point had found figures guesstimating the total tonnage ever mined and computed from there and confirmed it was just about this much. Alas I have lost that reference and can't cite those now. In any case, that leads to a cube about 2/9ths the size (on one edge) that you mentioned and hence a rarity at least 90 times that implied by your statement.

According to this source (American Museum of Natural History), you're about right - they say 65.5 feet (20 meters) on a side, so indeed it's much smaller than I'd originally heard, further emphasizing the rarity aspect.

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The first premise to check is the idea of "intrinsic value". No such thing, it's an invalid concept. Value implies a context, a valuer and his value hierarchy (which can include taking into account competition from other valuers.)

Thanks. I knew there was something wrong in my way of thinking. I've actually read the Greenspan essay, and obviously I need t re-read it.

JD

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I'm pretty sure he [Alan Greenspan] wrote at least one article on why gold is a good standard of value.

"Gold and Economic Freedom" appeared in the July 1966 issue of The Objectivist, and it is reprinted in the book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. A really excellent article.

I remember that issue of The Objectivist very clearly, as it contained not only Greenspan's article but the first of a series of articles by Miss Rand that she offered as a preview for her "future book on Objectivism." We waited breathlessly during the following months, anxious to devour each of the next installments. That "preview" turned out to be the book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

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According to this source (American Museum of Natural History), you're about right - they say 65.5 feet (20 meters) on a side, so indeed it's much smaller than I'd originally heard, further emphasizing the rarity aspect.

Good source. But now I have to figure out how to get to New York City before August!

One minor error on that page--they claim an ounce of gold is about the size of a quarter--it is in fact a good deal larger than a half dollar. Nonetheless gold is very dense--a cubic meter would weigh 19,300 kilograms, 19.3 metric tonnes or over 20 US tons. A similar amount of water would only weigh one metric tonne, and the same volume of lead would weigh a bit less than 12 tonnes.

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All,

I was reading a thread on an investment board and someone made the point that gold has little intrinsic value - that the only reason why people ascribe value to it is that, well, we've always done so. Most of the gold produced (or in existence) is hoarded in bullion form. The market for jewelry or electronics would never sustain the current prices by themselves.

So I am curious as to why individuals store value in gold, and whether this is based on some kind of permanent bubble market or if there's a rational mecanism to explain that. I personally own a small quantity of gold, as part of my diversification strategy, but I never really thought through the "why" gold has value.

Thanks,

JD

As Phil pointed out, Intrinsic value doesn't exist in a philosophical sense, but that term is used by collectors to express the value given by rarity and demand. For example, the intrinsic value of a book signed by Ayn Rand, is that value it has over an unsigned book.

Gold has been historically valued for it's beauty, and the qualities mentioned by others. It was because of some of these qualities, that it became a means of exchange. When you go to market, you want each piece you trade to be like every other piece (homogeneous), not take much space (high value per gram), be desired by so many that there is no problem trading it (liquidity). Maintain that desirability through the ages (a store of value)

Gold has never lost it's desirability since man first discovered it. One last thing; it's hard to print.

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As Phil pointed out, Intrinsic value doesn't exist in a philosophical sense, but that term is used by collectors to express the value given by rarity and demand.

I agree about intrinsic value in the philosophical sense of the term, but (for me) it is an open question in the economic sense. Speaking loosely, there is a relative value of an ounce of gold to other goods, services and commodities overall that exists regardless of inflation to a fiat currency. For instance, I recall reading in a few places over the years how an ounce of gold 100 years ago would buy a decent suit, and the same is basically true today. It is this sense of value that is independent of the fiat currency price that is, in my view, the heart of the meaning of the term.

That said, I often hear gold taken as a measure of inflation, as it seems to maintain this sense of value. But in what sense can one monitor the price of gold and read it as a sign of price instability? After all, the price of gold dropped from its high in the late 70s/early 80s to a low in the late 90s. If the gold price was a literal measure of inflation, such that a 10% increase in the gold price meant exactly a 10% inflation, then wouldn't such a prolonged and significant drop in price mean there was deflation in the dollar? But in fact that period had a falling inflation rate to a relatively stable period in the late 90s.

I also agree with Arnold's other points about gold.

What I'm not clear on myself is the cause of the recent doubling in the gold price. I suspect what drives up the price of gold is fear of future inflation, rather than immediate inflation itself. I've heard about increasing demand from other nations (such as China) for this reason as well as jewelry and industrial uses. And I've heard of other central banks trying to buy up gold. But I've yet to see clear numbers on these claims, and data to explain the real causal connections.

In any case, I'm happy I bought stock in a small mining outfit; it's up 5% today, probably due to inflation fears.

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I agree about intrinsic value in the philosophical sense of the term, but (for me) it is an open question in the economic sense. Speaking loosely, there is a relative value of an ounce of gold to other goods, services and commodities overall that exists regardless of inflation to a fiat currency. For instance, I recall reading in a few places over the years how an ounce of gold 100 years ago would buy a decent suit, and the same is basically true today. It is this sense of value that is independent of the fiat currency price that is, in my view, the heart of the meaning of the term.

That said, I often hear gold taken as a measure of inflation, as it seems to maintain this sense of value. But in what sense can one monitor the price of gold and read it as a sign of price instability? After all, the price of gold dropped from its high in the late 70s/early 80s to a low in the late 90s. If the gold price was a literal measure of inflation, such that a 10% increase in the gold price meant exactly a 10% inflation, then wouldn't such a prolonged and significant drop in price mean there was deflation in the dollar? But in fact that period had a falling inflation rate to a relatively stable period in the late 90s.

The relative value you speak of would relate to two factors that I can see. The first is that it's appeal for it's beauty and qualities remain throughout the ages. The second has been it's value as a store of value, even thought it has been demonetized. I don't think it makes sense to relate it's value to any particular consumer item, because every item has unique economic factors involved with it.

What I'm not clear on myself is the cause of the recent doubling in the gold price. I suspect what drives up the price of gold is fear of future inflation, rather than immediate inflation itself. I've heard about increasing demand from other nations (such as China) for this reason as well as jewelry and industrial uses. And I've heard of other central banks trying to buy up gold. But I've yet to see clear numbers on these claims, and data to explain the real causal connections.

In any case, I'm happy I bought stock in a small mining outfit; it's up 5% today, probably due to inflation fears.

Since inflation in the West has been relatively subdued for a quarter century, I would discount it's value as a direct measure of inflation in a practical sense, but there is no doubt a link. As you said, inflation has not changed as rapidly as the price of gold, so the link is elastic.

My thoughts are that as China and India become more wealthy, they will accumulate gold. India has a love for the stuff. In those countries it's "store of value" properties will also be desirable.

My advice is to stay away from "Moose Pasture" stocks, unless you like to take risks. I prefer the big companies that are actually producing, and doing it efficiently, eg Goldcorp. You can also hold gold bullion in the form of receipts if you think it will go up.

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...

So I am curious as to why individuals store value in gold...

Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise Human Action, does a good job answering the question of where gold's value comes from. Look up "Regression theorem" in the index. In my copy, the issue is discussed on p408-410, and a few other places. A brief excerpt:

Thus the demand for a medium of exchange is the composite of two partial demands: the demand displayed by the intention to use it in consumption and production and that displayed by the intention to use it as a medium of exchange...

The gist of his argument, as I have understood it, is that the demand for gold starts out as demand for its physical utility, but then, as gold becomes used as a medium of exchange, this demand later comes to be augmented by demand due to this very use as a money.

His argument is worth reading in its entirety, and Human Action is a good book to have if you're interested in sound money.

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Since inflation in the West has been relatively subdued for a quarter century, I would discount it's value as a direct measure of inflation in a practical sense, but there is no doubt a link.
I don't doubt that a link exists; I'm not clear on the specific form of the link.
My advice is to stay away from "Moose Pasture" stocks, unless you like to take risks.
FWIW, I didn't have such in mind when I commented. I meant "small" relative to the biggest ones, like Goldcorp.

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I don't doubt that a link exists; I'm not clear on the specific form of the link.

In general, when paper money is depreciating, any good will hold it's value better than cash. However, because of the unique monetary properties I mentioned above, gold in particular is sought as a store of value.

In inflationary times some would buy a house as a store of value, rather than watch their paper "assets" dissolve away. However, a house cannot have pieces cut off it to go and buy bread. That puts a premium on gold, because it is the best medium of exchange we have found.

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In general, when paper money is depreciating, any good will hold it's value better than cash. However, because of the unique monetary properties I mentioned above, gold in particular is sought as a store of value.

In inflationary times some would buy a house as a store of value, rather than watch their paper "assets" dissolve away. However, a house cannot have pieces cut off it to go and buy bread. That puts a premium on gold, because it is the best medium of exchange we have found.

Ok, I think we're still miscommunicating. I understand why gold functions as an inflation hedge. What I don't see, though, is the mathematical relation between inflation rate changes and gold price changes. That's what I'm sure does exist, but I don't see what it is. It would be nice to know, specifically, how to price in dollar inflation into the gold price movements of the last 5 years, and what portion of the gold price change is due to other factors.

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It would be nice to know, specifically, how to price in dollar inflation into the gold price movements of the last 5 years, and what portion of the gold price change is due to other factors.

OK, I see now. You want to know what, other than inflation, affects the gold price.

My own understanding is that it is simple supply and demand of a commodity, although that leaves unanswered just what drives these variables.

In the seventies, I invested in silver after 'experts' predicted a supply demand curve which would drive the price of silver up. I rode the price from $2 all the way to $50, and back down to $5. Since my intent had been inflation insurance, I resisted temptations to sell, although I was wary of the sudden run-up. No one figured in the Hunt brothers distortion of the market. The high price was not a true market value.

Since then, I have immunized myself from experts who can 'predict' market prices.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts:

Regarding supply, my assumptions would include variations in production from new mining, or selling from central banks. Supply could also be increased by those who feel secure enough to liquidate some of their holdings when a crises, such as the threat of war, passes. Improvements in recycling.

The demand side would also reflect market forces. Any sense of threat, political or economic, would increase the desirability. Ironically, gains in wealth by countries such as India, could make people confident enough to afford gold luxuries.

There are so many variables, that I ignore the details, and keep an overall perspective that this is a desirable commodity, subject to normal market forces, which includes it's safe haven status. For me it has been a motivation of insurance rather than profit which drove my investments.

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All,

I was reading a thread on an investment board and someone made the point that gold has little intrinsic value - that the only reason why people ascribe value to it is that, well, we've always done so. Most of the gold produced (or in existence) is hoarded in bullion form. The market for jewelry or electronics would never sustain the current prices by themselves.

So I am curious as to why individuals store value in gold, and whether this is based on some kind of permanent bubble market or if there's a rational mecanism to explain that. I personally own a small quantity of gold, as part of my diversification strategy, but I never really thought through the "why" gold has value.

Thanks,

JD

Let me hazard some guesses. Why is gold valuable (the same question could be asked of silver or platinum as well).

1. It is scarce. It requires a lot of looking and work to find it.

2. It is durable. Gold properly handled does not wear out, rot, evaporate etc.. It will last tens of thousands of years.

3. It is divisible. One can make gold units in various weights and sizes. Thus a ten dollar gold coin (back in the good old days when a dollar was worth a dollar) was about the size of a dime. It weighed half a troy ounce.

4. It is beautiful. There is something about the sheen and feel of gold that people find appealing. This appeal is aesthetic and non-objective, but there it is.

In addition to being all the above, gold is one of the most useful metals about. It can be used for jewelery, decoration, plating and making medical/dental items such as tooth fillings.

I don't think there is anything magical about gold although magical and mythical tales have been woven about this beautiful metal.

Bob Kolker

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In his Post #96, bborg writes:

It used to be illegal for a U.S. citizen to own and trade in gold. That was changed in 1975. As a result, we are free to counter government inflation by owning gold, so there is, de facto, a gold standard.

Since gold is impractical to carry around aren't we still stuck with using government currency? Until private banks come back, I don't see how we can really escape the value of the dollar.

One escapes by distancing one's production from the current government's currency as much as possible. My friends and I arrange our lives so that even though we are paid for work in the currency of various governments, what we spend is still based on our ownership of gold bullion. I think that's where the confusion of the value of gold lies for a lot of people even after reading AS.

Gold bullion are your property, not your assets. What's the difference? The money balances from selling and buying gold bullion are just assets which can be seized if a banking institution becomes insolvent or due to government or legislative failures. Stock certificates, gold certificates and unallocated gold are just assets. Ownership of gold bullion is not dependent on trust, deeds, contracts and has no hold from creditors. With any of the other things you think you own, like assets in mutual funds, the piece of paper or eCert does not make as unadulterated as possible your property right because it is just representative or abstracted from the thing of value. Here are my suggestions to arrange your life to use the gold standard as much as is currently possible:

-Choose your transacting institutions (for conversion from whatever currency you are paid for work, and profit from trading gold bullion into) carefully. For example, remember Citibank still has the highest possible Moody's rating, but it's now owned by a few foreign governments. Most gold bullion trading institutions will only allow transactions from certain institutions anyway, but still, it may be to your benefit to transact directly with the bullion trading institution rather than one of the banks in your country.

- Check the bullion trading institution carefully. It should transparently store the physical gold in a location where there is a history and laws respecting financial privacy, so nowhere that the Patriot Act or similar laws apply. The storer should be a private company under contract to physically store the gold, with no government ownership. The storer should report daily directly to you. It should be fully owned within one jurisdiction.

- The bullion trading institution's auditor should be a separate entity with a good track record. It should report transparently directly to you and publicly.

- Hold bullion only in vaults where and when government seizure or ignoring the law of bailment will not apply. If you see events shaping up towards legislative collapse, move your gold bullion vault preferences.

- The actual moneys earned in your account of the bullion trading institution should be transferred to a separate institution – not the one that facilitates the gold trading, no government ownership, privacy respecting, etc. Try to protect that as much as possible. Convert to USD assets as necessary.

- Do not use credit generally, but also, a gold bullion trading institution that allows you to use credit to make your trades should not be trusted.

- Own land with gold deposits.

- Own 22k to 24k gold jewelry if you intend to keep a certain amount of your earnings from work as assets rather than property (according to the distinction of the two above). This sounds weird for heterosexual male readers these days I suppose, but I'm a throwback. Physical ownership of gold jewelry in this form is a different sort than bullion ownership. Bullions stored in vaults are considered more physically safe than privately held 24k gold. In private holdings, gold buyers must be able to trust the gold content without assay. Gold jewelry, even 24k, can't just be interchanged with bullions even when the supply is tight. I think there are many ways 24k gold jewelry can be traded for profit within the U.S. today.

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But, if I understand this correctly, all this does is protect your wealth from inflation, right? How can you compete with earnings from investments? Also, you've recommended not using credit, but I don't know how feasible that is. This doesn't really seem like using a gold standard, it seems more like hiding money under the mattress.

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But, if I understand this correctly, all this does is protect your wealth from inflation, right? How can you compete with earnings from investments? Also, you've recommended not using credit, but I don't know how feasible that is. This doesn't really seem like using a gold standard, it seems more like hiding money under the mattress.

No, in my suggestions above, you trade physical gold, you don't stash away a particular amount and hold it. Some of your worth measured in that objective value can be changed to whatever government currency you need to in order to access goods priced on that currency.

I realize most people today use credit, but I don't understand why they start in the first place. My suggestion is to stop if you do not actually have the non-objective tool in your local currency.

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But, if I understand this correctly, all this does is protect your wealth from inflation, right? How can you compete with earnings from investments? Also, you've recommended not using credit, but I don't know how feasible that is. This doesn't really seem like using a gold standard, it seems more like hiding money under the mattress.

No, in my suggestions above, you trade physical gold, you don't stash away a particular amount and hold it. Some of your worth measured in that objective value can be changed to whatever government currency you need to in order to access goods priced on that currency.

I realize most people today use credit, but I don't understand why they start in the first place. My suggestion is to stop if you do not actually have the non-objective tool in your local currency.

I don't understand anything you've stated. With whom would I trade gold bullion? You don't understand why people use credit? It's pretty obvious: I can buy today what I would have to wait 3 years to save for. Why is that a problem?

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I'm having the same difficulty. Owning gold would protect you against runaway inflation, as in Weimar Germany, but short of that I don't see how it's a better alternative. Still, there are details that I don't have yet. Would a bank holding your gold pay you interest on it? Would the interest be in gold or dollars? Is it possible to invest gold, not dollars, in the market? As Paul put it, who are you trading gold with? Even if trade in gold is legal, who does that?

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I'm having the same difficulty. Owning gold would protect you against runaway inflation, as in Weimar Germany, but short of that I don't see how it's a better alternative...Would a bank holding your gold pay you interest on it?

Gold bullion are your property, not your assets. I guess I'm not conveying the legal difference, which is the same difference which allows a bank to charge service fees for holding money you earned. Money you earn either belong to you. You do not pay a bank to hold it for you because the deposited money becomes the bank's property. A bank pays you nominal interest for using your earnings. Based on your earnings, banks collect loan interest, not you. You can pay a bank to hold money, gems or gold for you. This property is your liability, because it is your property simply in the custody of the bank (or whichever company). But as I posted previously, holding gold bullion privately or in the form of jewelry has a different trading possibility in the west compared to the east, including Japan and India, where you literally buy bullion over the counter. That means in the west, you have little reason to hold the bullion privately unless your financial system and government collapse, but the gold is your property in another's custody, not the reverse.

By the way, I did some quick calcuations of earnings from gold bullion investment and sale alone over the years, and it definitely is more than the interest a bank would pay me for lodging a certain amount of my USD earnings with them. The only stock market experience I have is in futures. I've compared my earnings (both gold and land/property) to gains that are projected by different fund managers and bank personnel should I invest with them. I beat their projected short and long-term earnings - so far, anyway.

Is it possible to invest gold, not dollars, in the market?

Yes, but not in the way you mean. The common idea is that gold is a commodity. By the nature of commodities trading, the characteristic of gold as a raw material does not define it as a commodity, and it is incorrectly classified. There is no significant relationship between supply and price of gold in the commodities market. Hedges on mine production and demand are useful to anticipate actions of other gold traders - but not for supply (and therefore commodity trading) reasons. Gold is not listed as a foreign currency, but see below.

As Paul put it, who are you trading gold with?

West: I deal with bullion traders online who will give me profit of a certain percentage or higher.

East: I deal with bullion traders and hawaladars/private foreign exchangers. 24k gold jewelry bidding and trading depends on current and future debts to be settled between the private foreign exchangers. A commission for transporting the gold is charged, as well.

Anywhere: Other than bullion, I also trade 916 and 990 gold based on wholesale demand of gold merchants and jewelry dealers.

Paul, in response to your post regarding credit usage of an individual, I'll keep my response short since I don't want the thread to stray. One cannot secure a loan based on future potential earnings - only based on what one produces today, and what one has produced in recent history. I personally do not claim a future potential ownership of anything which I have not been productive enough to purchase, because I think of that as an unearned claim on someone else's earnings. I have increased my productivity and the total value of my earnings from work relative to my need for money as a tool so that I do not wait the 3 years or 30 years. One either owns something, or one doesn't. What I do not understand about living on credit is the desire to obtain anything on credit when one can instead own it by increasing one's productivity.

I think I made a poor choice in posting my suggestions, based on the assumption that quite a few people awould exchange their strategies in gold trading. I'll disengage now to prevent this from turning out like the skyscraper farming thread.

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I think I made a poor choice in posting my suggestions, based on the assumption that quite a few people awould exchange their strategies in gold trading. I'll disengage now to prevent this from turning out like the skyscraper farming thread.

I don’t think it was a poor choice, but this is probably not a subject many people are knowledgeable about. Speaking only for myself, the idea of owning gold bullion never occurred to me.

My question about bank interest was an indirect one. I was wondering if banks actually use gold. If it’s just a matter of storage, I’m still confused why this would be called “gold trading” when it’s really just buying and selling gold. In other words, you’re not using gold as a form of currency, but as an investment. To use it you have to sell it for currency. It’s not really using a gold standard anymore than holding stock in a company is using a stock standard.

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To use it you have to sell it for currency. It’s not really using a gold standard anymore than holding stock in a company is using a stock standard.

As my last post in this thread: 1) I guess from your posts that you are unaware that gold has its own ISO 4217 code, which makes it a valid currency 2) Gold is being used as a valid currency all around you - digital gold currency/DGC is used every day. The USDs are converted to gold bullion, which profit from gold trades pays into USDs when I find it absolutely necessary, but I and a few thousand people use gold as currency 3) I am paid in gold in the above income streams I mentioned as examples, and 916 and 990 gold refining also is a source of income - in gold. 4) Again, I suggest applying the earnings in whatever currency you use into gold currency.

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