by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:
A “trust-building” measure after an enormous hullabaloo.
“In 2016, we brought back again substantially more gold to Germany than initially planned; by now, nearly half of the gold reserves are in Germany,” Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told the German tabloid Bild in what has become an annual Christmas interview about gold – to soothe the nerves of his compatriots.
Because they’d been frazzled, apparently, by this whole saga.
The German Bundesbank, which is in charge of managing Germany’s gold hoard of 3,381 tons, the second largest in the world behind the US, got into hot water in 2012 when rumors were circulating that some or much of its 2,000 tons of gold stored in New York, London, and Paris might not be there anymore, that it might have been melted down, leased, or sold.
The ensuing hullabaloo left some folks at the Bundesbank red-faced. Then the Rechnungshof (the federal government’s independent office of financial control) told the Bundesbank to rethink its overseas gold hoard. So the Bundesbank got to work. And in January 2013, it promised that by 2020 it would bring back all 374 tons of its gold that it kept at the Banque de France in Paris and 300 tons of its gold at the New York Fed.
Bundesbank Executive Board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele told the German daily Handelsblatt at the time that these moves were a “trust-building” measure, and he tried vigorously to put the rumors about the missing gold to rest.
The idea was to restore confidence. But it’s not easy. Central banks don’t often move tons of physical things around. They’re more into moving things digitally. And maybe they had trouble rounding up enough gold. So at the end of 2013, Weidmann proudly told the Bild in his Christmas interview that 37 tons had been repatriated to Frankfurt from New York and Paris.
It had been a “big logistical challenge” he said at the time, transporting those paltry 37 tons of gold back to Frankfurt.
This caused an even greater hullabaloo. Rumors ran wild that the gold was really gone, and that the Bundesbank had one heck of a time trying to round it up. About 45% of Germany’s gold was held at the New York Fed, and that’s where a lot of fingers were pointing.
So the Bundesbank got with the program. In February 2015, it published a video, explaining “how Germany’s gold reserves came into being and the reasons behind the relocation.” I don’t think it went viral. And the Bundesbank got serious about hauling Germany’s gold back to Germany.
On January 27, 2016, it announced that much progress had been made: “In 2015, 210 tons of gold were transferred to Frankfurt am Main from storage locations abroad: around 110 tons from Paris and just under 100 tons from New York.”
By then 1,403 tons of gold were in the vaults in Frankfurt, making it “our largest storage location, ahead of New York, since the end of last year,” Thiele said. The transfers were going “smoothly,” and “operations are running very much according to schedule.”
So now Weidmann tells the Bild, that there are 1,600 tons of gold in the vaults in Frankfurt at the end of 2016, out of Germany’s total hoard of 3,381 tons. Originally it was planned to have 1,700 tons back in Germany by 2020, he said, but the Bundesbank will “have finished the planned move sooner.”
Perhaps someone else will end up with the missing gold. But Germans breathed a sigh of relief. The message that 1,600 tons of their gold was safely back in Germany came just in time for Christmas.
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