It is clear now that central banks are buying gold for their reserves. Here is a brief history leading to today and the present position of central banks as they turn to buying gold.
Massive Gold Sales!
From the early 1980’s and for the next 20 years gold was under the threat of massive sales from the world’s central banks. Many commentators reported that the overhang of gold above the ‘open’ market was so great that such sales would eventually lead to central bank reserves in the developed world having no gold at all. Central Banks had further worsened the situation by loaning gold to mining companies, through the bullion banks, allowing them to finance gold production to a far greater extent than warranted by the price of gold during that time. This acceleration in the production of gold allowed the gold price to be pressed down $850 to $275, the point at which Britain, at the instruction of the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown instructed that Britain sell the bulk of its gold reserves. From the turn of the millennium this perspective changed dramatically.
Limitation of Gold Sales by Central Banks!
In 1999, through the establishment of the Washington Agreement, the signatories announced to the world that it need not fear uncontrolled sales of gold reserves for the next 5 years. While the U.S. and Japan were not signatories, they gave tacit agreement to such a limitation. Since then neither of them have sold gold on the open market. Following the end of the ‘Washington Agreement’, a second agreement, called the Central Bank Gold Agreement, extended the situation for another five years. This agreement ends on the 26th September this year. Sales were limited to the sales previously announced by the signatories, with the exception of Belgium and Spain who made no prior announcement to their sales. Under the Washington Agreement these were limited to 400 tonnes a year. Under the second Agreement the sales were limited to 500 tonnes a year. These limitations have not been met under the second agreement as sales are below this limit so far.
The Halting of Central Bank Gold Sales!
Of great significance has been the actual slowing of gold sales from European banks, which appear to have lost all appetite for gold sales.
Indeed France was an unwilling seller, but under Presidential instruction has done so. Italy has had no plans to sell any of its gold. Germany had the option to sell 600 tonnes but has not taken this option up. Switzerland took some of this but has ceased selling now. It would be surprising if the signatories sold more than 150 tonnes of gold let alone the ceiling amount of 500 tonnes by the 26th of September this year. And next year, we expect no such sales [the I.M.F. sales are potential sales that are not part of a central bank gold selling policy] from central banks.
Central Bank Buying of Gold for Reserves!
Just as the tide turned from damming gold in the monetary system in 1999 it appears we are rapidly approaching another watershed in the history of gold in the monetary system.
Countries not seen as an important part of the global monetary system have, in the last few months, turned buyers of gold. Ecuador [28 tonnes - 920,000 ounces - doubled its reserves from 26.3 tonnes], Venezuela bought gold [ 240,000 ounces - 7.5 tonnes - taking it up from 356.4 tonnes] , but this is not deemed of great significance.
Russia at last, after talking about it for over one year has begun to buy gold. It was reported that Russia has bought as much as 90 tonnes of gold for its reserves, lately [Previously it held 495.9 tonnes]. This is much more significant as it is a large figure in the small gold ‘open market’. Prime Minister Putin is reported to have said that Russia wants to see gold forming 10% of Russia’s reserve. The slow process of getting them up to that level could have begun. Even so Russia has little influence on global central bank thinking, so such increase are not thought to directly influence the principles behind gold as a reserve asset. So as not to minimize such purchases, if Russia were to keep up this pace of acquisition, it would be able to buy 360 tonnes a year and have a very significant impact on the gold price.
But the principles behind gold, as a reserve asset, are affected far more by the following news. Last week the European Central Bank reported that one signatory to the Agreement purchased gold [which for the first time we have seen them do it], because the purchase was not simply of gold coin [which has happened before – seemingly for good housekeeping reasons] but simply “of gold”. In other words the ranks of central bank selling in Europe have been broken and one has turned buyer!
We feel more positive now in our belief that European Central Banks are unhappy sellers and are inclined to change their views to the buy side. The very fact that one central bank in Europe has turned buyer confirms this. There is little doubt in our minds that there are conflicting views now amongst the heads of the leading European central banks on gold now.
Major Changes Taking Place in Central Bank Policies on Gold!
According to the World Gold Council’s new chief Executive Aram Shishmanian, in the Middle East the new monetary union there intend to have “gold play a prominent role in Gulf CC economies.” He said, “It may play a role in that basket of currencies on which the GCC common currency will be pegged”. Of course, please bear in mind that the inclusion of gold in a basket of currencies, would simply be for valuation purposes and does not, of itself, imply that these central banks will buy gold for their reserves.
He continued, “Gulf central banks, along with the central banks of Brazil, Russia, India and China are expected to increase their gold reserves. Central banks with low reserves of gold are looking to increasing their reserves. They are trying to analyze what the right balance should be. They are becoming aggressive. Currently the belief is that if more than 20% of a central bank’s reserves are in gold, it is overweight, but this perception is changing! The metal is becoming an assert class in the region and Gulf investors are looking at long-term investments in gold as a hedge against inflation.” We are certainly not in a position to contradict what he says. After all he has the resources and contacts to be authoritative on the matter.
However after nearly 30 years of opposition to gold by central banks ands occasionally governments, it is a remarkable turnaround that tells us that gold is returning to the monetary arena again! [The gold world has expected this for so long it feels a bit like seeing an oasis in the desert.]
If right, expect to see both Russian and Chinese gold production go straight into those countries reserves and not even reach the open market. That will account for nearly 600 tonnes of supply disappearing. Now add to that the halting of sales from European central banks, a perceived 500 tonnes a year. If this trend continues gold, as an investment, will be fully rehabilitated.
Institutional Demand Will Follow!
But this is by no means the largest effect that this change of heart will bring about. The recognition by central banks that gold has a role in the monetary system will influence investors, both institutional and individual. Should that happen and say 5% of funds placed in gold by funds such as Pension funds, then an amount of $920 billion, in the States alone, could head gold’s way. Only a five figure gold price could accommodate that volume of money in the gold market. Now add to that the same inclination in the rest of the world. Any such rise in price will stunt the demand for sure, but be certain that gold is not simply in a bull market.
If the World Gold Council’s CEO is correct, then he will have confirmed that 2009 and 2010 will be the year that heralds the return of gold to the global monetary system!
“Gold is always accepted and is the ultimate means of payment and is perceived to be an element of stability in the currency and in the ultimate value of the currency and that historically has always been the reason why governments hold gold.”
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