Things That Make You Go Hmmm... How Could It Happen?

“How could it happen, Grandad?”

The old man’s eyes misted over as he looked down at his grandson, who sat at his feet, his young eyes alive with questions as he turned the heavy gold bar over in his hands.

”I’ve told you the story too many times to count,” said the man, half-pleading, but knowing full-well he’d soon be deep into the umpteenth retelling of a story he’d lived through once in reality and a thousand times more through the eager questioning of the young man now tugging at his trouser leg. “Why don’t I tell you the story of how I met your Grandma instead?”

“Because that’s boring.” The reply was borne of the honesty only a ten-year-old could possibly still possess.

“OK, OK,” said the old man, a smile creeping into the corners of his mouth, “you win.”

“It began in early November of 2014, when a man called Alasdair Macleod published a report on how the Chinese had been secretly buying gold for 30 years.

“Most people believed what the Chinese Central Bank had been telling the world — that they owned just 1,054 tonnes. That number, first published in 2009, had remained unchanged for over five years; but there was a group of people who refused to accept that the People’s Bank of China were telling the truth, and those people set about diligently doing their own analysis to try to determine what the real number might be.

“In early November of 2014, Macleod’s report — which went largely unnoticed because most people were busy celebrating new highs in the stock market and the fact that a newly strengthening dollar was forcing down the price of gold — laid out the case for there having been an astounding amount of gold bought by the Chinese over the previous three decades.

“According to Macleod, China saw an opportunity at a crucial time and, with a view on the longer term, they took it.”

Grandad dipped his thumb and forefinger into his vPad, which hovered just above the table, and pinched and cast a paragraph into the air before them. At the same time, they heard the voice of Alasdair Macleod himself read the words aloud:

(Alasdair Macleod): China first delegated the management of gold policy to the People’s Bank by regulations in 1983. This development was central to China’s emergence as a free-market economy following the post-Mao reforms in 1979/82. At that time the west was doing its best to suppress gold to enhance confidence in paper currencies, releasing large quantities of bullion for others to buy. This is why the timing is important: it was an opportunity for China, a one-billion population country in the throes of rapid economic modernisation, to diversify growing trade surpluses from the dollar.

“Macleod explained why what he was about to explain to the world was going to come as something of a surprise to most people.” Grandad dipped his fingers and cast again:

To my knowledge this subject has not been properly addressed by any private-sector analysts, which might explain why it is commonly thought that China’s gold policy is a more recent development, and why even industry specialists show so little understanding of the true position. But in the thirty-one years since China’s gold regulations were enacted, global mine production has increased above-ground stocks from an estimated 92,000 tonnes to 163,000 tonnes today, or by 71,000 tonnes; and while the west was also reducing its stocks in a prolonged bear market all that gold was hoarded somewhere.

“But Grandad, why was the West selling its gold? That’s just stupid!” the young boy interjected, right on cue.

Again the old man smiled. Every time he told the story, his grandson would pepper him with the same questions, with a regularity that brought a familiar rhythm to this very private dance the two of them had performed so many times.

He paused, as he always did, to create just the right amount of dramatic tension before answering.

“I know it seems stupid NOW, but don’t forget, you know what you know. Back then, the people in charge in the West weren’t really all that smart; and, besides, when the Golden Domino finally fell, it became obvious that they had been...” — the old man paused, choosing his words carefully, almost theatrically; but when they came, they were the same carefully chosen words he used every time — “... a little less than honest about a few things.

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