Gold: Security, Liquidity and Diversification

By: Adrian Ash | Fri, May 8, 2009
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"I know the Government are intent on decimating the country's gold reserves...to replace them with a whole series of overseas currencies. [Yet] they are not only selling gold but devaluing our remaining gold supplies by announcing their intention to sell in advance, which leads to a lower price on sale..."

Nick Gibb MP, debating the UK Finance Bill, 13 May 1999

IT WAS TEN YEARS ago to the day this Thursday that Gordon Brown shocked the gold market (not to mention the newspaper sub's) by pre-announcing a huge 400-tonne sale from the UK's reserves.

Gold Prices fell on the news...losing 2% for the day and dropping one-eighth to fresh 20-year lows by the time the Treasury's auctions actually started that autumn.

And this week, to mark the occasion - and mark it almost alone - the Financial Times said that "Europe's central banks are $40bn poorer than they might have been after they followed the British move."

No, not quite. Because the gold that they sold - a total of 3,811 tonnes by all accounts - could only become money on sale. Until then, it was just gold to them, and holding it didn't make Europe's central banks any richer. It would simply mean they had 3,811 extra tonnes of gold in the vault.

Which is a very different thing from holding an extra $40 billion.

"What is the rationale for holding gold, a non-interest bearing asset, given that there is no more official role for gold since the collapse of the gold exchange standard?"

So asked Hervé Hannoun of the Banque de France during the FT's Gold Conference in mid-2000. As you can guess, it was a rhetorical flourish. Because nine months after signing the "Washington Agreement" to cap central-bank gold sales at 400 tonnes per year - a pact sparked by Gordon Brown's indiscreet selling and which in turn sparked a sharp rise as the threat of indiscriminate selling fell back - the Frenchman in fact had answers aplenty.

"First, security: the absence of any credit risk is an intrinsic quality of gold. Gold offers full security as long as it is properly stowed in central banks' vaults.

"Second, liquidity: in situations of political turmoil or high global inflation, gold's liquidity is unchallenged...Its liquid quality becomes apparent and increases as uncertainty grows. In this regard, the absence of a return on gold can be viewed as the price of its 'option component': contrary to most other assets, Gold Prices go up when things go wrong."

So far, so yellow and shiny. And during that after-dinner speech - tellingly arranged by investment-bank Goldman Sachs, a key advisor to Gordon Brown's Gold Sales in 1999 - Hannoun would go on to deny the French central bank had any plans whatsoever to sell gold from its vaults.

Why? Because "Gold is an asset of last resort par excellence and recent market developments [i.e. the 'Brown Bottom' in prices and ensuing central-bank agreement to limit sales in future] have in no way altered its intrinsic qualities. There is still a rationale for central banks to hold gold."

Roll on 10 years, however, and those two wonderful attributes of central-bank gold - first security, then liquidity amid crisis - have so far paled compared to Hannoun's third rationale: diversification.

"Gold is also a very good diversification instrument. Indeed in the long run, the price of gold has shown a very low and even a negative correlation with the Dollar (the first-ranking reserve currency) and with US Treasuries. So gold is very useful to build a diversified portfolio as it enables you to improve your risk/return profile."

Odd, but with Gold Prices rising - and rising three-fold and more against both the Dollar and Euro since the start of 2000 - the Banque de France has since sold 520 tonnes of Gold Bullion over the last half-decade, all announced within "Washington II", the renewed (and expanded) central-bank gold agreement signed in Sept. 2004.

France still has another 60 tonnes slated for sale between now and September, when CBGA II will expire. Whether or not the signatory banks all sign up again remains unclear for now. (Renewal in 2004 was completed by March.) But private investors trying to judge their own exposure to gold might want to consider the three rationale laid out by M.Hannoun back in 2000.

Security, liquidity and diversification.

 


 

Adrian Ash

Author: Adrian Ash

Adrian Ash
BullionVault.com

Formerly City correspondent for The Daily Reckoning in London and head of editorial at the UK's leading financial advisory for private investors, Adrian Ash is the head of research at BullionVault, where you can buy gold today vaulted in Zurich on $3 spreads and 0.8% dealing fees.

About BullionVault

BullionVault is the secure, low-cost gold and silver exchange for private investors. It enables you to buy and sell professional-grade bullion at live prices online, storing your physical property in market-accredited, non-bank vaults in London, New York and Zurich.

By February 2011, less than six years after launch, more than 21,000 people from 97 countries used BullionVault, owning well over 21 tonnes of physical gold (US$940m) and 140 tonnes of physical silver (US$129m) as their outright property. There is no minimum investment and users can deal as little as one gram at a time. Each user's unique holding is proven, each day, by the public reconciliation of client property with formal bullion-market bar lists.

BullionVault is a full member of professional trade body the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA). Its innovative online platform was recognized in 2009 by the UK's prestigious Queen's Awards for Enterprise. In June 2010, the gold industry's key market-development body the World Gold Council (www.gold.org) joined with the internet and technology fund Augmentum Capital, which is backed by the London listed Rothschild Investment Trust (RIT Capital Partners), in making an $18.8 million (£12.5m) investment in the business.

For more information, visit http://www.bullionvault.com

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Please Note: This article is to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events - and must be verified elsewhere - should you choose to act on it.

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