Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. Stock Markets and the History Chart of the End of the World (With Presidential Cycles) - 28th Aug 20
2.Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook... AI Tech Stocks Buying Levels and Valuations Q3 2020 - 31st Aug 20
3.The Inflation Mega-trend is Going Hyper! - 11th Sep 20
4.Is this the End of Capitalism? - 13th Sep 20
5.What's Driving Gold, Silver and What's Next? - 3rd Sep 20
6.QE4EVER! - 9th Sep 20
7.Gold Price Trend Forecast Analysis - Part1 - 7th Sep 20
8.The Fed May “Cause” The Next Stock Market Crash - 3rd Sep 20
9.Bitcoin Price Crash - You Will be Suprised What Happens Next - 7th Sep 20
10.NVIDIA Stock Price Soars on RTX 3000 Cornering the GPU Market for next 2 years! - 3rd Sep 20
Last 7 days
Ethereum EIP 1559 and Raven Coin - 21st Apr 21
Gold, USDX: The Board is Set, the Pieces are Moving - 21st Apr 21
World Economies Need to Find a Lot More COPPER! - 21st Apr 21
DogeCoin CRASH! Time to Start Mining BOODGIE Coin! Crypto Mania 2021 - 21st Apr 21
Pausing Stocks and Gold Fireworks - 21st Apr 21
Precious Metals and Miners Start of New Longer-Term Bullish Trend - P2 - 21st Apr 21
Looking For A Mortgage Broker? Here Is How To Hire One - 21st Apr 21
Amazon AMZN Stock PRIMEDAY SALE! Trend Analysis - 20th Apr 21
Stock Market Sentiment Speaks: You May Not Believe My 2021 Targets - 20th Apr 21
Stock Market Phase Two Projection - 20th Apr 21
Are Precious Metals & Miners Starting A New Longer-Term Bullish Trend? - 20th Apr 21
Inflation: First the Gain, Then the Pain… - 20th Apr 21
8 Stock Market Indicators in 1: Here's the Message of the Panic/Euphoria Model - 19th Apr 21
Gold - You Can Win a Battle, but Still Lose the War - 19th Apr 21
Will Interest Rates Rally Further Push Gold Price Down? - 19th Apr 21
Gold Fireworks Doubt the Official Inflation Story - 19th Apr 21
YuanPay Team Discuss The Process Of Crypto Diversification - 19th Apr 21
Central Banks May Ramp Up Gold Buying - 18th Apr 21
How to Get Rid of Driveway Weeds With Just WATER! 6 Months later NO Weeds, Ultimate Killer! - 18th Apr 21
State of the European Markets - DAX, FTSE, CAC, AEX, SMI, IBEX 35, S&P/MIB, Euro Stoxx 50, RTS - 18th Apr 21
Einvestment Fund: What You Need To Know About Investments - 18th Apr 21
Google Alphabet (GOOG) AI Deep Mind Stock Trend Analysis - 17th Apr 21
Stocks and Bonds Inflationary Slingshot - 17th Apr 21
Best Smartphone Selfie Stick Tripod Review by ATUMTEK Works with Samsung Galaxy and Iphone - 17th Apr 21
How to Give Budgie's First Bath | Easy Budgie Bathing and Water Training with Lettuce - 17th Apr 21
Record-breaking Decrease in New Passenger Vehicle Sale in Europe - 17th Apr 21
US Stocks Climb A “Wall Of Worry” To New Highs - 16th Apr 21
Gold’s Singular Role - 16th Apr 21
See what Anatomy of a Bursting Market Bubble looks like - 16th Apr 21
Many Stock Market Sectors Are Primed For Another Breakout Rally – Are You? - 16th Apr 21
What Skyrocketing US Home Prices Say About Inflation - 16th Apr 21
Still a Bullish Fever in Stocks? - 16th Apr 21
Trying to Buy Coinbase Stock on IPO Day - Institutional Investors Freeze out Retail Investors - 15th Apr 21
Stocks or Gold – Which Is in the Catbird Seat? - 15th Apr 21
Time For A Stock Market Melt-Up - 15th Apr 21
Stocks Bull Market Progression Now Shows Base Metal Strength - 15th Apr 21
AI Tech Stocks Buy Ratings, Levels and Valuations - 14th Apr 21
Easy 10% to 15% Overclock for 5600x, 5900x, 5950x Using AMD Ryzen Master Precision Boost Overdrive - 14th Apr 21
The Current Cannabis Sector Rally Is Pointing To Another Breakout - 14th Apr 21
U.S. Dollar Junk Bond Market The Easiest Money in History - 14th Apr 21
The SPY Is Nearing Resistance @ $410… What Is Next? - 14th Apr 21
The Curious Stock Market Staircase Rally - 14th Apr 21
Stocks are Heating Up - 14th Apr 21
Two Methods in Calculating For R&D Tax Credits - 14th Apr 21
Stock Market Minor Correction Due - 13th Apr 21
How to Feed Budgies Cucumbers - Best Vegetables Feeding for the First Time, Parakeet Care UK - 13th Apr 21
Biggest Inflation Threat in 40 Years Looms over Markets - 13th Apr 21
How to Get Rich with the Pareto Distribution - Tesco Example - 13th Apr 21
Litecoin and Bitcoin-Which Is Better? - 13th Apr 21
The Major Advantages Of Getting Your PhD Online - 12th Apr 21
Covid-19 Pandemic Current State for UK, US, Europe, Brazil Vaccinations vs Lockdown's Third Wave - 12th Apr 21
Why These Stock Market Indicators Should Grab Your Full Attention - 12th Apr 21
Rising Debt Means a Weaker US Dollar - 12th Apr 21
Another Gold Stocks Upleg - 12th Apr 21
AMD The ZEN Tech Stock - 12th Apr 21
Overclockers UK Build Quality - Why Glue Fan to CPU Heat sink Instead of Using Supplied Clips? - 12th Apr 21 -
What are the Key Capabilities You Should Look for in Fleet Management Software? - 12th Apr 21
What Is Bitcoin Gold? - 12th Apr 21
UK Covd-19 FREE Lateral Flow Self Testing Kits How Use for the First Time at Home - 10th Apr 21
NVIDIA Stock ARMED and Dangeorus! - 10th Apr 21

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

FIRST ACCESS to Nadeem Walayat’s Analysis and Trend Forecasts

Explaining Central Banks' Gold Purchases

Commodities / Gold and Silver 2011 Dec 02, 2011 - 11:08 AM GMT

By: David_Howden


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe last two years marked a significant shift in central banks' attitudes toward gold. Since 1988, central banks have been net sellers of the precious metal. Lacking convertibility of their paper currencies into the commodity, this occurrence makes perfect sense. Why hold a physical asset with costly storage fees when there is no risk that it will ever be needed? Better to hold an interest-bearing (and easily stored) asset like a government security to earn a profit in the interim. So goes the typical explanation for why central banks load their balance sheets with financial assets instead of physical ones.

Yet over the last two years a dramatic shift in gold purchases has occurred. In the third quarter of this year alone, net gold purchases by central banks amounted to 150 tons — more than double the amount of the whole yearly total of 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, central banks of the world are buying more gold than they are divesting themselves of.

Yet if central banks deal exclusively in nonconvertible (and fiat) money, what explains the sudden change of heart?

Convertibility may bring costs for a central bank, but it also has its benefits. In particular, it solved two problems:

  1. How would central banks maintain independence from their governments?
  2. How much money should they supply?

Without convertibility, these two issues get significantly more complicated. In this short essay, we will focus on only the first of these problems.

Independence for a central bank comes from the government that grants it the monopoly rights to money production in its jurisdiction. Congress provides oversight for the Fed, but no government agent specifically determines the day-to-day operations of the central bank. (This is debatable, of course, but that is a separate issue.)

This independence is coveted, and for good reason. A government in charge of its printing press has an incentive to pay for its expenditures not through taxes, or even by debt, but through the relatively painless act of printing the necessary money. The problem with this is the ensuing inflationary bias that a government-controlled printing press has.

An independent central bank issues currency, which is recorded as a liability on its balance sheet. In an offsetting transaction, an asset is purchased that balances the accounting statement. Though this asset can be anything, it has become the norm that it is a relatively safe interest-bearing government bond. Gold still comprises a portion of most central banks' balance sheets, but because it has its own costs and returns no interest, it is a relatively unattractive option.

If a central bank wants to directly increase the money supply, it increases its liabilities (sells cash) and correspondingly increases its assets (buys bonds). If it wants to decrease the money supply, it decreases its assets (sells bonds), which then decreases its liabilities (by decreasing the amount of cash outstanding).

As a thought experiment, imagine what would happen if a central bank didn't sell any assets but instead had them lose value. As an extreme example, imagine that the bonds it holds default due to the insolvency of their issuer. Cash does not automatically have to adjust by decreasing by an equivalent amount. To maintain the accounting equality, the relevant liability that changes is the central bank's equity. Accounting insolvency is defined as being that moment when your equity turns negative.

It is difficult to imagine a central bank turning insolvent. Indeed, by and large this doesn't happen, though as Philipp Bagus and I outline in our book, Deep Freeze: Iceland's Economic Collapse, recent examples do exist (see also here). A central bank that holds bonds as its assets only maintains its solvency as long as the issuer of its bonds maintains its own solvency.

The problem that develops is what to do if equity turns negative. Recapitalization must result, but by whom? In an extreme scenario, the government can directly recapitalize the central bank. This action is not without consequences. Central banks enjoy, at least in some countries, high degrees of independence because they do not rely on their governments for funding. Indeed, as they remit profits back to the government at year's end, they are revenue generators for the government.

But a government supporting a central bank is also increasingly interested in how that bank is run. Increased oversight of the monetary authority might be welcomed by some, but it also opens Pandora's box: perhaps with the increased oversight the government will also start influencing the central bank's operating mandates, or even its daily operations.

Gold purchases by central banks are completely rational responses given this independence dilemma. With the solvency of some large governments being increasingly questioned each day, investors and central banks alike are also questioning the value of their debts. Greece just gave private holders of its debt a 50 percent haircut; could the same for governments and other organizations be far off? The solvency of a growing list of countries gets longer by the week — Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain — not even the United States is immune to this possibility, as its own debt crisis illustrates.

Holding gold does not eliminate the possibility of negative equity for the central bank (indeed, it might even increase the odds). But given the recent past it makes for an attractive option. As countries demonstrate their difficulties in getting their debts and deficits in order and thus improving their solvency outlooks, the value of their debt becomes questionable as well.

While holding any real asset serves no direct use for a central bank, it does act as an insurance policy of sorts. The solvency of a central bank holding government debt is subordinate to the solvency of the countries whose debt it holds. For a central bank worried about the value of its assets, diversification of its assets into gold makes for a rational alternative.

David Howden is a PhD candidate at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Madrid, and winner of the Mises Institute's Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See his article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2011 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

© 2005-2019 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.

Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules