Saturday, January 15, 2011

Australia's Central Bank Decision To Sell Gold Reserves Cost the Country $5 Billion

Just over ten years ago, Australia’s central bank the RBA sold off most of the countries gold reserves under the belief that the price of gold would continue to remain flat, and that as an asset, it would no longer play any role in the future financial system, or any crises that may result.

Based on the current market price of $1,400 an ounce for gold, the decision to sell 167 tonnes of the precious metal by the central bank has cost Australia approximately $5 billion.

A paper written by the central bank which recommended selling off the gold reserves conceded that that asset whilst the assets served as “insurance against a breakdown in the international financial system”, it was not necessary to hold.

In recommending the decision the paper went on to add that Australia did not need to be overly concerned about selling off its existing gold stock because it has vast reserves of the precious metal, though according to Geoscience Australia, the country has reserves that will last no more than 30 years.

In 1997 the Reserve Bank of Australia sold 167 tonnes of gold over a six month period, reducing the nation’s gold reserves to just 80 tonnes. Over that period the value of its gold holdings declined to $1.1 billion from $3.6 billion.

The sale of gold by the Australian central bank had a significant impact on world gold prices, sending them tumbling to an 11 year low, returning just $2.4bn for the gold that was sold via a single broker engaged without a tender. The same amount of gold would be worth about $7.4bn today.

The central bank’s justification for reducing its gold reserves so drastically was that gold represented a poor investment, and Australia had successfully integrated itself into global financial markets, and that it need not worry about access to those markets during a financial crisis.

Since the sale of the gold reserves the global financial systems has experienced severe stress on a number of different occasions, starting with the implosion of the technology bubble at the start of the millennium followed by the September 11th terrorist attacks, and more recently the global financial crisis in 2008.

The price of the precious metal over that time frame has risen spectacularly and the asset has begun to play an increasingly important role in the global financial system since the financial crisis.

The central bank argued that continuing development of financial system meant that circumstances which would require Australia to call upon our gold holdings for economic reasons looked increasingly remote.

“Central banks traditionally hold gold because of its ability to be used in the event of a crisis in the international financial system; it is the only reserve asset that is not a claim on some other government, international institution or bank. However, over the past two or three decades, the world has experienced a number of economic ‘crises’, but gold played no part in coping with them,” the paper said.

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