I have written extensively in the past about how the bullion banking members of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) trade unbelievable amounts of unallocated gold and silver on a daily basis. See for example “LBMA OTC Market – Alchemists Turn Paper into Gold”. I also managed to introduce spoken testimony on the subject at the CFTC March 25th, 2010 hearing on the Metals Markets “LBMA OTC gold market cited as a Ponzi Scheme in CFTC hearing.”
The latest LBMA clearing statistics (Feb 2011) reveal that the LBMA bullion bank members traded a total average net daily gold volume of 18.1 million ounces with a value of $24.8 billion. Some analysts have in the past estimated that the gross volume is likely to be 3-4 times the net volume giving potentially over 70 million ounces of gross gold trading worth 100 billion dollars. This would be equivalent to trading all the gold that is mined in world each year each and every day! Clearly the majority of this trading is unbacked by physical gold. The bullion banks only make a ledger entry for gold sold or bought and as long as the client never asks for delivery the bank never has to have the gold. I have through my studies indicated that probably 45 ounces of gold have been sold for each one that exists.
The bullion banking business is very opaque but it struck me that if the members of the LBMA are collectively trading a net value of $6.2 trillion annually this should be laid out and explained in the bullion banks annual reports. There are over 60 bullion banks who are members of the LBMA. Based on an 80/20 rule we can estimate that 20% of the banks conduct 80% of the business; that is to say that about 12 banks should collectively trade an annual amount of $5 trillion or $400 billion annually each. If gross volumes were to be reported (which they should be by accounting practices) then each bank would be reporting revenue based on $1.2 trillion of gross annual trading.
I turned to analyzing the bullion banks annual reports. I limited the review to the four of the five hundred pound gorillas on the block namely JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Deutsch Bank, and Scotia Mocatta. The latter three banks are all the only members of the London Silver Fix and three of the five members of the London Gold Fix.
In analyzing the Annual reports of the major bullion banks I made some astonishing discoveries. For most of these banks their bullion banking business is entirely hidden from the accounting. In the text there is almost no mention of gold, silver, bullion, or precious metals. In fact it is impossible to know that these banks are even in the bullion banking business let alone know anything about their trades, assets and liabilities.
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