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"The World's Most Seductive Metal": Gold's Top 5 Secrets

Aaron Task
Daily Ticker

After a blockbuster rally that saw gold surge nearly 700% from 2000 to its peak in September 2011, the shine has come off the yellow metal. With gold now down 36% from its 2011 peak, investors are understandably rushing for the exits: Nearly $70 billion in assets have been redeemed from gold-related ETFs this year, Bloomberg reports.

No matter whether you think gold is a "barbarous relic" or the only real currency, there's probably a lot about the precious metal you don't know. Matthew Hart, author of Gold: The Race for the World's Most Seductive Metal, reveals some top secrets about gold in the accompanying video, including:

America Is Still on the Gold Standard: Richard Nixon unilaterally ended the dollar’s convertibility to gold in 1971, a date that lives in infamy for many gold-bugs. But America's 8,000-ton gold reserve is statutorily committed to support the dollar through a system of gold certificates issued by the Treasury and held by the Federal Reserve, Hart notes. Gold is carried on the government’s books at a value of just $42 an ounce, covering only a tiny fraction of the world's supply of dollars. Adjust for current prices of around $1241, the gold would actually cover almost a third of U.S. circulating currency.

A "True" Gold Standard Is No Panacea: Returning to a "real" gold standard would create instability in the financial markets, not stability, Hart argues. In the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, central bankers here and abroad responded by flooding the system with capital. "If we hadn't done that, most people think the crisis would've been way worse," the author says. "You can't do that if you're on the gold standard; you can't issue more money if you don't have more gold."

Of course, supporters of the gold standard think we never would've had the crisis in the first place if we'd been on a "true" gold standard in the years leading up to 2008.

China Is the World's Largest Gold Producer: OK, maybe this isn't news to true gold aficionados but the rest of us probably think of Australia, America or South Africa as top gold-producing countries. China produced 370 tons of gold last year – compared to 250 tons from Australia and 230 from the United States. But what makes China's spot as the top producer even more remarkable is that it doesn’t have a single big mine. Instead, they have tens of thousands of small ones – many of them illegal.

The California "Rush" Wasn't All That: The gold rush of 1848-1857 reshaped California's destiny and was such a huge event that there's an NFL football team (the San Francisco 49ers) named after it. In roughly 10 years, the "49ers" -- aided by black slaves and indentured Chinese laborers -- produced about 850 tons of gold, or roughly what the industry currently produces every four months, Hart notes. "The gold rush we're justing seeing the end of now absolutely dwarfed the California gold rush," he says.

They Weren't Going for Gold: On Nov. 26, 1983, a group of robbers led by "Mad Mickey" McEvoy and Brian "the Colonel" Robinson stole 6800 of gold ingots from the Brink's-Mat Ltd. warehouse at Heathrow Airport. It was the biggest gold robbery of modern times, but the thieves weren’t even looking for gold; McEvoy had gotten a tip there were 4 million pounds of British bank notes at the airport, where his brother-in-law worked as a security guard. Once they figured out how to transport the gold, the thieves "found themselves facing the liquidity challenge of a precious metal," Hart notes. "Gold is easily converted but not if you're hoods who've you've just robbed it."

In their efforts to split and unload the gold, the thieves got mixed up with some really unsavory characters: In 2012, The Mirror listed 18 men who'd been killed in connection to the Brink's-Mat gold, including one enforcer believe to be entombed in the O2 concert arena in Greenwich.

Making the story even more compelling  -- and a screenplay begging to be written: two-thirds of the stolen Brink's-Mat gold, about $500 million worth, remains missing and unaccounted for today.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker and Editor-in-Chief of Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com

 

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