Germany’s central bank is said to be planning to repatriate thousands of tonnes of gold held at other central banks in a throwback to the Cold War.
The Bundesbank has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday, but there are no details, other than that the meeting with reporters will be about its gold reserves.
But Handelsblatt, a daily German paper, reported that the central bank will bring home some of the 1,500 tons held at the Federal Reserve in New York and more at the Bank of Paris.
The Bundesbank says it holds almost 3,400 tonnes of gold that was valued at €132.8-billion ($176.6-billion U.S.) as of Dec. 31.
Of that, the Bundesbank holds more than 1,000 tonnes in Frankfurt, the Fed more than 1,500 tonnes in New York, The bank of France almost 400 tonnes in Paris, and the Bank of England 450 tonnes in London.
In total, there are more than 270,000 bars.
Most of the reserves have been held in other countries for reasons that date back to the Cold War and fears of a hot war involving then-West Germany.
“This move by the Bundesbank may trigger a chain reaction, prompting other countries to start repatriating the gold stored in London, New York or Paris,” said the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization.
“So far, only countries that have a strained relationship with the U.S. have resorted to gold repatriation. Now, Bundesbank will be seen as walking in Hugo Chavez’s footsteps.”
Repatriating bullion could drive up prices because of the move to physical gold.
“If gold repatriation becomes a worldwide trend, it will be obvious that both the U.S. and U.K. have lost their credibility as gold custodians,” the CRG said.
An independent auditing office, the Federal Court of Auditors, recommended last year that the Bundesbank monitor its gold holdings outside Germany more frequently, sparking a political row, and officials said they would listen to the recommendations where possible. The Bundesbank said, though, that it had "differing views" with the FCA over the scope of an audit sought by the agency, which did not conform to the practices of central banks.
In the wake of that, Bundesbank executive board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele stressed the central bank’s confidence in the system.
“We do not have the slightest doubt that our holdings in New York and Paris are also made up of the purest fine gold,” he said in a press interview still posted on the central bank’s website.
“We have at our disposal fully documented lists of the bars, and our partner central banks send us every year confirmation not only of the bars’ existence but also of their quality,” he added.
“We receive confirmation of our gold reserves, measured in troy ounces. The Bundesbank has been drawing up its accounts on this basis since it came into existence. All external auditors have confirmed our accounting practices outright since then.”
The Bundesbank, he said at the time, “decided to strive” for balanced distribution.
“Gold stored in your home safe is not immediately available as collateral in case you need foreign currency,” he said in the interview.
“Take, for instance, the key role that the U.S. dollar plays as a reserve currency in the global financial system. The gold held with the New York Fed can, in a crisis, be pledged with the Federal Reserve Bank as collateral against U.S. dollar-denominated liquidity. Similar pound sterling liquidity could be obtained by pledging the gold that is held with the Bank of England.”