Last week, a rubicon was crossed in the precious metals market as one of the largest banks in Europe defaulted on their gold contracts, and informed their customers there was no physical gold available for delivery.
ABN AMRO, the largest Dutch bank in the Eurozone, issued a letter to their gold contract customers of failure of delivery, and instead will pay account holders in a paper currency equivalent to the current spot value of the metal.
ABN AMRO, the biggest Dutch bank, has sent a letter to its clients stating that they will no longer be able to take physical deliveries of the gold they have bought through ABN. Instead they are offered money at the current market rate for gold. Basically, instead of owning a risk free, physical asset (a gold bar or a gold coin), the bank’s clients now own a monetary claim on ABN AMRO, being exposed to the bank's credit risk. - Voice of Russia
Over the past two months, there has been a concerted effort by the major Western banks to bring down the price of gold and silver, even as countries like Russia, Iran, and China continue to accumulate the physical metal in large quantities. Like the folly of betting against the stock markets when the Fed is pumping up equities with $85 billion per month, going against the J.P. Morgan silver short machine in the futures market has been a losing proposition for silver bulls.
Interestingly for Europe however, since the Eurozone crisis spread from Greece to Spain, Italy, and Cyprus, the fastest growing currency being purchased by retail investors is Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a digital currency that is out of the control of sovereign central banks, and to this point, has not been manipulated by inflationary monetary policy.
In investing circles there is an adage which says, if you don't hold it, you don't own it. Whether it is land, metals, or other hard assets, if it is held in a bank, in a paper instrument, or in a paper currency, the documented owner has management control, but not physical control. And as the world saw last month in Cyprus, the government, or even a major bank like ABN AMRO, can change the terms of a contract at any time, and return to investors asset values set by the bank, and not the customer's intention.