Gold Returns

Bringing Home the Bling

Gold bars Bundesbank dpa
Gold bars in the Bundesbank, just where Germans like them to be.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The safety of German gold stored abroad has been much debated in the last few years, with critics saying the bullion would be safer at home.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The Bundesbank has published a 2,300-page list identifying each individual gold bar in its reserves.
    • Almost two-thirds of German gold bullion is currently stored in vaults in New York, London and Paris.
    • Between now and 2020, the Bundesbank plans to bring home 300 tons of its gold from New York and the 374 tons being stored in Paris.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

The “Bring Our Gold Home!” citizen initiative reveals just how emotionally many Germans react to the subject of gold. The initiative, led by Peter Boehringer, who has also written a book on the topic of Germany’s gold, not only calls for the speedy repatriation of the Bundesbank’s gold reserves from abroad, but it also proposes a return to the gold standard monetary system.

The initiative has over 16,000 supporters, including euro critics like former Federation of German Industries President Hans-Olaf Henkel.

The debate has been going on since 2012, when the Federal Audit Office called for a precise inventory of the Bundesbank’s gold reserves and regular inspections.

Most of the German central bank’s gold reserves, worth about €107 billion ($120 billion), are currently deposited abroad.

In late 2014, 35 percent of German bullion was in vaults in Frankfurt, 43 percent in New York, 13 percent in London and 9 percent in Paris. Critics question the completeness and quality of the gold being stored abroad.

Last year, about 120 tons of German gold were moved from foreign vaults to Frankfurt.

In early 2012, the Bundesbank reacted to the criticism with a new gold storage concept. By 2020, it intends to store more than half of the reserves in vaults in Germany.

This week it went a step further by publishing a comprehensive list of its bullion holdings on Wednesday. The more than 2,300-page list identifies each individual gold bar and where it is stored. In the future, the Bundesbank aims to update the inventory once a year, and record the gross weight and purity of each bar.

There are historic reasons for the fact that German gold is being stored in the vaults of the Fed, the Banque de France and the Bank of England. In the 1950s and ’60s, when there were still fixed exchange rates under the Bretton Woods system, the Bundesbank acquired the precious metal primarily as payment for high German trade surpluses.

During the Cold War, when there was widespread fear of a Soviet attack in Europe, there were also security reasons for storing the gold abroad. This fear disappeared with the fall of the Iron Curtain. An argument put forth today for storage in London and New York is that a significant portion of the global gold trade is handled in those two cities.

The Bundesbank is not the only central bank repatriating gold reserves. The Dutch central bank, for example, repatriated 122.5 tons of gold from New York in 2014, and Austria’s central bank also wants to store more gold at home.

The Bundesbank has a lot on its plate between now and 2020, when it plans to have transferred 300 tons of the precious metal from New York and all 374 tons of the gold currently being stored in Paris. Last year, about 120 tons of German gold were moved from foreign vaults to Frankfurt.

When the gold arrives in Frankfurt from abroad, it is weighed and analyzed with ultrasound and X-rays. Older gold bars can present a problem. Some are reportedly from the early 20th century, when today’s uniform bullion standards did not exist.

Peter Boehringer, from the”Bring Our Gold Home!” initiative, views the publication of the Bundesbank’s list of gold bars as only a first step. The inventory alone is insufficient, he argues. “The gold reserves must be physically examined by independent experts.”

 

Jan Mallien reports mainly on monetary policy for Handelsblatt Online from the Frankfurt bureau. To contact: mallien@handelsblatt.com

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