Gold is the simplest of financial assets - you either own it or you don't. Yet, at the same time, gold is also among the most private of assets. Once an individual locks his or her safe, that gold effectively disappears from the market at large. Unlike bank deposits or stocks, there is no way to tally the total amount of gold held by individual investors.
I like to call this concept "dark gold." This is the real, broader gold market that exists below the surface-level transactions on the major exchanges. It's impossible to know precisely how much dark gold exists around the world, but we do know that it is enough to render "official" gold holdings insignificant. That's why I don't buy and sell gold based on the decisions of John Paulson, or even J.P. Morgan Chase. It is a long-term investment that requires a deep understanding of the nature of money - and how little Wall Street's media circus really matters.
Observing Dark Gold
Think of dark gold like dark matter. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that scientists hypothesize is an essential building block of our universe. All we know is that the universe is a certain size and that a huge amount of its mass is unobservable - this is what we've come to call dark matter.
We haven't yet looked directly at dark matter. We can only observe phenomena that suggest there is a substance we aren't seeing and can't quite measure.
Likewise, dark gold is an essential building block of global financial stability. But the extremely private nature that makes it so valuable also makes it nearly impossible to directly observe.
But every now and then, we get a glimpse into the hidden undercurrents of dark gold. In the past year, the Federal Reserve slipped up in a big way and momentarily poked a hole that we can peek through to see what's happening with some of the largest stores of dark gold in the world.
Gib Mir Mein Gold!
A year ago, the big news was that the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, would begin the process of repatriating a portion of its foreign gold reserves, including 300 metric tons stored at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
The controversy really started in late 2012, when Germany simply wanted to audit its gold reserves at the Fed. They were denied this access, so the Germans switched their approach. If they weren't allowed visitation with their holdings, they would instead demand full custody. In response, the Fed said it would oblige - within seven years!
As of the end of 2013, a Bundesbank spokesman reported that only 5 tons had been transported from New York to Germany so far, leaving the repatriation far behind schedule.