Top monetary assets worldwide

The above summarizes the top thirteen monetary assets in the world, compiled by Porkopolis Economics. This means gold, silver, the top ten fiat currencies, and Bitcoin. All native units (euros, yen, troy ounces) reflect money stocks reported as of 2024 Q1. US-dollar equivalent values update daily based on latest exchange rates. Bitcoin is the modern exception, which updates all the time.

For more detail on each monetary asset above, follow the breakdown below.

Basic money today

An asset can be defined as “settlement media” or “settlement money” if it is the core of the financial system. A unique attribute here is parties settle outstanding debts with each other not by netting assets and liabilities, but by real-time gross settlement. You either have it, or you don’t. In today’s monetary system, which was fully unleashed on 15 August 1971, this final-level settlement between nation states, central banks, and banks is performed with settlement money that is called the “Monetary base,” or base money.

Central bank base money

Fiat basic money today is broken down into two components:

  1. Physical currency: Notes and coins, or “cash;”
  2. Bank reserves: The “Master account” that each commercial bank holds with its central bank.

Only this settlement media can be called “basic money” in today’s fiat monetary world. Following are the top 10 monetary settlement assets in the modern fiat financial system today:

Basic money of the past

Everyone around the world has some intuitive understanding that gold and silver had some special value in the past. From ancient times, coins of silver and gold were struck for medium of exchange and unit of account purposes.  For tens of thousands of years before ancient times, civilizations made beads, threads, and ornamental pieces of gold and silver for store of value and inheritance purposes.

Gold

This how the current gold market looks today, in billion ounces:

Notice how the largest share of the entire gold market today is not in bullion form (coins and bars), but in jewelry form. As well, though central banks hold a large amount of gold bullion, they do not hold as much bullion as private individuals and institutions. Finally, note how there is a little over 10% of the entire market that is still used for industrial purposes. This is a constant churn, used and then recycled back through industry.

Silver

This is how the current silver market looks today, in billion ounces:

Notice that silver today is most prominently found not in bullion or jewelry form, but in technology and industry. This means that silver is more commonly used in in microchips, wires, conduits, laptops, and phones, than it is in coins or rings. This is quite different than the gold market, and thus we can observe how silver has long since diverged away from its store of value and medium of exchange utility. Also notice that very little silver today is in bullion form (coins and bars). It is almost nonexistent in central banks. If one does observe silver from a “precious metal” perspective, it is most prominently found in jewelry and silverware.

Finally, note that the all-time ratio of silver ounces mined, to gold ounces mined, is about 9:1.

Basic money of the future

Bitcoin is different from fiat money today, and from gold and silver money of the past, though it does share some similarities of each. For example, Bitcoin’s supply is limited to market actors competing in the mining market to acquire new bitcoins, similar to that of the gold and silver mining markets. Unlike gold and silver, the all-time supply of bitcoins is known and prescribed in the protocol, and that is the famous 21 million coin cap.

Bitcoins are also publicly known and verifiable, which is more closely analogous to central bank fiat money. Central banks release weekly or monthly balance sheet statements reporting the outstanding supply of money that they print. Unlike central bank fiat money, however, the supply of bitcoins is known precisely, at any given time, and is not subject to the whim of any particular board meeting or any particular central bank.

Bitcoin

The following is a breakdown of the all-time supply of bitcoins, known even into the future:

A few notes on the above. Sergio Lerner has done extensive research over the years analyzing the patterns of early Bitcoin miners. He referred to a pattern he found from the earliest miner as the Satoshi pattern, or “Patoshi.” He concludes that this pattern did indeed revolve around one miner, presumably Satoshi, and that he owns approximately 1.1 million bitcoins. 99.9% of these mined UTXOs (coins) have never been spent.

Lost or frozen coins are another topic of debate in Bitcoin. Some estimate nearly 30% of all coins have been irretrievably lost. Though it is undoubtedly true that Bitcoin keys have been and will continually be lost, a more interesting fact is that we can simply observe how “old” each bitcoin is at any given time. We can publicly verify when every single piece of digital money last moved on the Bitcoin blockchain. The above chart is broken down into these common cohorts.

How many liquid bitcoins do you think are available?

What about stocks?

Though stocks are very liquid markets, the instruments themselves don’t fulfill two of the three basic characteristics of money:

  • Store of value (yes, they can be);
  • Unit of account (no, beer not priced in AAPL shares);
  • Medium of exchange (no, try sending AAPL shares to your friend overseas).

Through this simple lens, we can see that stocks are not money. Bitcoin, even if many don’t use it as a unit of account today (and many already do), already fulfills the first and third criteria. It clearly is a store of value, and crucially, you can send and receive it anywhere in the world, even without an internet connection. This is far more impressive than gold or silver in our modern world.

Important to remember that the x-factor in money is the third characteristic: Money is anything that is a generally accepted medium of exchange.

Nonetheless, if we want to look at the store of value function of stocks, versus the store of value function of Bitcoin, Bitcoin is a top ten asset in this category:

Top ten stocks & Bitcoin

Base money worldwide

To conclude and summarize, the following chart compiles all settlement money throughout history, based on their current US-dollar equivalent values in the market.

This includes basic money of:

  1. The past: Gold and silver;
  2. The present: Fiat central bank base money;
  3. The future: Bitcoin.*

These are comparable money supplies. Your bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage or money market accounts are simply different things. Another way of saying this, is that all of those financial accounts are derivatives of the money itself:

A reminder, the top ten fiat currency metric is central bank money, or basic money, expressed in US-dollar equivalents. The values of gold and silver reflect their all-time, cumulative ounces mined, multiplied by current spot price, less industrial usage estimates. The value of Bitcoin is the latest market cap; that is, current market price multiplied by the outstanding circulating supply of bitcoins.

*The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson