EDITOR'S NOTE: India is opening up Russian ruble accounts in its domestic banks, and Russia is opening rupee accounts in its banks as well. The exchange rate going to be based not on the US dollar but on “BRICS Bucks,” the new reserve currency based on a basket of BRICS. This may not fly with certain countries resisting the growing trend toward de-dollarization. But this shouldn’t pose much of a problem, as BRICS may be willing to settle everything in gold, which it sees as the ultimate form of money. So, with the dollar aside, along with Bitcoin and other fledgling cryptocurrencies, it turns out, as history has shown us time and again, that “Gold is the new gold,” as the author below writes. It’s the only form of money that can settle just about every dispute with regard to real monetary value. It’s the one asset that renders every other asset of monetary value a liability. It’s also the one asset that the Fed is intentionally ignoring as it plans to develop and launch its own digital fiat currency (digital dollar). It plans to do this on the assumption that the dollar will retain its global dominance; another instance where the Fed’s long-term outlook remains highly flawed and harmful to America’s economic well-being.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is creating a new set of arrangements to allow companies to settle foreign trade in rupees. This means that, to use an obvious example, Russian and Indian organizations can trade goods and services without using dollars. Under such arrangements Russian banks will be required to open rupee accounts with Indian banks and Indian banks will need rouble accounts in Russia. Both countries would have to agree to hold a sum, say $1 billion, in local currencies in their respective accounts. So, Russian banks will have rupees worth $1 billion in their Indian accounts and Indian banks will have roubles worth $1 billion in their Russian accounts. Indian exporters can then be paid in rupees for their Russian exports (from the rupees held by Russian banks in their Indian accounts) while Russians get paid in roubles for their Indian exports (from the roubles held by Indian banks in their Russian accounts). Once a mutually acceptable exchange rate determined by the market is decided upon, trade between India and Russia can proceed with no dollar legs.
But what is this exchange rate? Should it be determined with reference to the US dollar? Or would it be better to have some other reserve currency that is not dependent on the value of the dollar at all?
In June, President Putin (presumably stimulated by the international community’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) said that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the BRICS) are developing a new basket-based reserve currency. The presumption is that it will comprise real, roubles, rupees, renminbi and rand to present an alternative to the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR). Much as Facebook’s doomed Libra project wanted to, the goal is to create a stable reserve currency that can be used of international commerce. In this case, the Brics Bucks (as I call them) reserve will be independent of the dollar completely.
Since India is importing large quantities of oil from Russia, for example, a mechanism to work out payments that are completely independent of the dollar is of great interest to both nations. Russia could price oil in Brics Bucks and obtain payment in roubles while India could price price pharmaceuticals in Brics Bucks and obtain payments in rupees (although I note that Russian is not even in the top 10 of Indian export markets).
Will this have much of an impact? Not in the short term. ING analysts say that while it could be a "high-profile political statement" they doubt whether the trading nations in the BRICS sphere of influence would want to transfer valuable foreign exchange reserves, particularly dollars, into Brics Bucks and that if those nations are indeed responding to the weaponisation of the dollar, then they (like Russia) might prefer to move into gold.
It may be disappointing for the crypto fans out there, but I didn’t see any mention of BitcoinBTC -4% or any other cryptocurrency in the BRICS announcement, so the idea of Bitcoin as digital gold may have to bide its time.
In any case, Bitcoin is nowhere near being capable of replacing gold as a reserve. For one thing, the price can be manipulated too easily: Analysis of price movements in recent times shows that whenever Bitcoin’s price began to fall, TetherUSDT 0.0% was issued by Bitfinex and sent to two other exchanges, where it was used to buy Bitcoin – which would then rise in price.
(Although as the recent conviction of JP Morgan traders shows, the price of gold can be subject to similar attacks. A federal jury in Chicago convicted Michael Nowak, the former head of JPMorgan’s global metals trading desk, and Gregg Smith, who worked as a trader and executive director in New York, of spoofing, wire fraud, commodities fraud and attempted price manipulation. The prosecutors had accused them of flooding the market with buy and sell orders — that represented half to three-quarters of the visible gold and silver markets at the time — that they never intended to execute, while trying to gain an edge over algorithmic traders.)
It does make you wonder, though, whether the world does need a new reserve currency. Do we need a new digital gold standard? And if so, should it be fiat or commodity-based? And if it’s to be commodity-based, then what commodity? Should there be a digital gold standard?
Gold Is The New Gold
Digital gold and Brics Bucks to one side, physical gold tokens are in the news too. The U.S. mint sold 426,500 ounces of gold in the first quarter of this year (up 3.5% year on year), their best gold sales for almost a quarter of a century, and Zimbabwe has just launched new gold coins to be sold to the public in a bid to tackle chronic hyperinflation. The coins can be converted to cash, traded and used for transactions according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe but people can only trade the coins for cash after holding them for at least 180 days.)
(If you bought Canadian “Maple Leaf” gold coins instead of U.S. or Zimbabwean ones, you may be in for a shock as the German police busted a gang of scammers who have been selling fake ones with the face of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on them.)
People out there are buying gold, for sure. According to my good friend (and gold bug) Dominic Frisby, in the past month the London market has seen a 44% increase in gold bought by doctors and 59% increase in gold bought by investment bankers. Quite what this means, I don’t know, but I do take it as evidence of a potential market for gold-backed stablecoins, which is where I thought the ING observation was rather interesting.
Gold isn’t the only the only commodity suitable for asset-backed stablecoins, of course. In fact, as the Tokenized Commodities Council (founded by Diamond Standard, Atomise, Paxos and Lode) say, the options do not stop with the physical assets that are commonly thought of as inflation hedges. Santander recently announced loans backed by tokenized soy and corn, with each token corresponding to a ton of grain. They say that points to a “vast array of unexplored possibilities for tokenized goods.”
I agree with them but it must be noted that there already a number of gold-pegged tokens on the market. They are designed in a similar way to stablecoins, but rather than being backed by fiat they are backed by the value of physical gold held somewhere auditable. Those doctors, investment bankers and others might find it rather convenient to buy and trade gold tokens in wallets on their mobile phones.
Following on from the recent interesting developments relating to the sanctioning of Tornado Cash (a “mixer”) addresses, it occurs to me that this exciting digital tokenized gold may have an interesting trading advantage over the boring heavy metal, which relates to provenance. Gold used to be fungible, but now it isn’t, because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Immediately following Russia’s invasion, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), a trade body that sets market standards, removed all Russian refineries from its accredited list, meaning their newly minted bars could no longer trade in London or on the COMEX exchange in New York, the biggest gold futures trading venue. Britain's Royal Mint had Russian bars worth around $40 million in its ETF and got rid of them almost immediately this.
The Bank of England, which has Britain's largest gold vault, said it considered Russian gold bars made before the invasion eligible to trade but gold produced after 8th March is not "London Good Delivery”. One might easily imagine gold tokens that represent metal mined and refined outside Russia beginning to trade at a premium over tokens that represent Russian gold.
(If investors remove Russian gold from their portfolios, the price could fall by anything from a dollar to $40 per ounce compared to non-Russian gold according to the industry sources quoted in that report.)
In Their Time
Would real digital gold (ie, tokens backed by actual gold reserves rather than cryptocurrencies) be attractive in the longer term? I have absolutely no idea, but I was thinking about this again when I listened to an episode of BBC Radio’s long-running series “In Our Time” on the topic of the Gold Standard. The host Melvyn Bragg and guests (Catherine Schenk, Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford; Helen Paul, Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton; Matthias Morys Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the University of York) discussed the system that flourished from mid-Victorian times when gold became dominant and more widely available, following the gold rushes in America and Australia.
Interestingly, in the introduction to the radio discussion, Mr. Bragg said that the "golden century" was from 1870 to 1970. Mr. Frisby tells me it was from 1816 following the great recoinage and the Britain returning to convertibility after the Napoleonic Wars up until to 1914 when Britain, France and Germany abandoned the Gold Standard to print money to pay for the Great War.
I disagree with both of them, not that it matters, but in my book on the history and future of money Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin, I took a more technological view and dated the golden age from the invention of electronic money in 1871 (when money became bits about atoms) to Richard Nixon ending the convertibility of gold in 1971 (when money became just bits.)
Anyway, whatever the exact dates, under the Gold Standard, national currencies around the world were tied to gold and so to each other, meaning stable exchange rates. The idea began in Britain, where sterling was seen "as good as gold", and as other countries came on to the Gold Standard the confidence in their currencies grew, and the combination of stability and confidence led to a boom in trade and prosperity. There’s no need for a detailed history lesson, but the point is that that Gold Standard lasted for a while then it finished. Without getting into the whole Wall Street vs. Main Street thing, it is not coming back whether based on physical gold or the digital kind.
Monetary commentator, Charlie Crowson, recently said that what is perhaps surprising is not that the classical gold standard ended but that it lasted as long as it did and from my limited knowledge of economics I have to agree. When it comes to digital gold, I think tokens are great but that does not mean there will be a digital gold standard whether based on actual gold, Brics Bucks or Meta Money. The world has moved on.