QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong; You had said you retired from market-making in the precious metals when in the early ’80s people were claiming to sell Krugerrands for spot with delayed delivery. I think they went bust and went to jail if I recall you said back in 1985. Is this the same thing happening in online brokerage with this no commission scheme? How are they making money?
ANSWER: No, it’s not the same. If I remember correctly, it was a firm delaying the delivery of the gold coins by 90 days. They were playing the bear market, assuming gold prices would always be lower based on the fact that the Fed raised interest rates to 14% in 1981. Back then, I was making more money on the float in my account than I was on the gold. The cost on the Krugerrands was spot +4%, so they were making +15% using the money in overnight markets, plus delaying delivery, and they would not buy the coins until the price declined from where they sold them to you. That was pure speculation and I decided I would retire rather than play that game. If I had to speculate to pay salaries it made no sense. They went bust in 1985 and ended up in jail, if I recall, when gold rallied out of the 1985 low and they could not cover all the promises they had made on the coins.
Here we have a similar issue with making money indirectly. Stockbrokers get kickbacks or rebates from the market-makers for steering the business and they make money on the spread between bid and ask. So the retail brokers are still making money that way. But then they also get to use your funds to earn interest. In place of commissions, they make money from charging traders who buy stocks on margin.
Therefore, you have:
- Interest they earn on your money
- Rebates from market-makers
- Interest they charge on margin
This is more legitimate than the gold brokers who were speculating with other people’s money back in the ’80s.