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Gold industry eyes reform of century-old benchmark amid intense scrutiny

Gold bars are stacked in the safe deposit boxes room of the Pro Aurum gold house in Munich on March 3, 2014.

MICHAEL DALDER/REUTERS

The gold industry is coming together to look at how to reform a century-old benchmark.

Of course, regulators are already looking closely at what is known as the London gold fix and other benchmarks.

Wednesday's decision by the World Gold Council, and the probes by regulators, are important developments in Canada, home to huge gold miners and one of the banks that set the benchmark.

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"The fixing process was established almost a century ago, so it is not surprising that it needs to change to meet today's market expectations for enhanced regulation, transparency and technology," said Natalie Dempster, the World Council's managing director of central banks and public policy.

"Modernization is imperative in order to maintain trust across the industry," she said in a statement.

Ms. Dempster and her colleagues at the industry body announced they are striking a forum to "explore reform" the London gold fix, which is set twice a day by a handful of major banks, including Canada's Bank of Nova Scotia.

The first meeting is set for early July in London. At the forum will be officials of the banks, refiners, industry groups, central banks and miners. Britain's Financial Conduct Authority will be there to observe, the group said.

"Our objective in convening this forum is to ensure that the full range of analysis and market perspectives from all parts of the gold supply chain are debated, understood and brought to bear on any potential changes," said Ms. Dempster.

Which means, of course, that the industry wants its say if others, like regulators, move to reform the system first.

The council cited five areas it said are "highly desirable" for a new process to replace the one that began in 1919:

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  • The benchmark should be based on executed trades, rather than quote submissions.
  • It should be a “tradeable price,” rather than a referency.
  • The data involved should be “highly transparent, published and subject to audit.”
  • The fix should be “calculated from a deep and liquid market,” involving a “significant volume of gold flows.”
  • It should represent a “physically-deliverable price,” given that many want physical delivery.

The group said it has already spoken to many in the industry, and that's how it came up with those five points.

As The Globe and Mail's Rachelle Younglai has reported, the benchmark is used by governments, mining companies and brokers to trade gold and derivatives.

Five banks had set the benchmark – along with Scotiabank, the others included Barclays, HSBC, Société Générale and Deutsche Bank – though the German bank gave up its spot.

The London silver fix, also a century-old benchmark, will end this summer.

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