Gold in BIS swaps said to have come from looted bank customers' deposits

Section:

8:07p ET Friday, July 30, 2010

Dear Friend of GATA and Gold:

If you want to believe the Financial Times, the 346 tonnes of gold swaps recently undertaken surreptitiously by the Bank for International Settlements were a matter of the BIS' requiring three of the world's biggest banks to pledge gold as collateral against U.S. dollar deposits placed with them by the BIS so the BIS could earn a little interest. According to the FT, the banks also needed to raise cash and so were glad to obtain it by collateralizing the BIS' deposits with gold.

The FT's latest account of the transaction, published Thursday and appended here, is surely the account the BIS would like the world to settle for as curiosity about the swaps is increasing and raising concerns about the grotesque unaccountability of central banks. And as the mouthpiece of the financial establishment, the FT surely was only too happly to convey this unofficial official story. But it's a doubtful story and raises questions of its own.

... Dispatch continues below ...



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For why would the BIS deposit money with banks considered so shaky that they would have to be required to pledge gold to secure the deposits? Wouldn't U.S., British, German, or French government bonds provide sufficient income and security for the BIS' funds? The BIS' annual report suggests that the bank already holds such bonds:

http://www.bis.org/publ/arpdf/ar2010e8.pdf

By depositing money at the three banks -- HSBC, Societe Generale, and BNP Paribas -- according to the FT -- was the BIS really hoping to earn get premium yields from the great business those banks have done lending on condominiums in Florida, Nice, and Madrid?

And remarkably, according to the FT the gold obtained by the BIS as collateral from the three banks didn't really belong to the banks at all. Rather, as the GATA Dispatch suggested sarcastically three weeks ago (http://www.gata.org/node/8799), the gold was essentially looted from the three banks' own gold depositors.

The FT reports: "The gold used in the swaps came mainly from investors' deposit accounts at the European commercial banks. Some investors prefer to deposit their gold in so-called 'allocated accounts,' which restrict the custodian banks' ability to use the gold in their market operations by assigning them specific bullion bars. But other investors prefer cheaper 'unallocated accounts,' which give banks access to their bullion for their day-to-day operations."

At least this part of the FT's story has the ring of truth and confirms what, among others, GATA board member Adrian Douglas and GATA consultant James Turk, founder of GoldMoney, have been warning for some time: that if you own "unallocated gold," you don't really own gold at all but have only a tenuous claim against a counterparty that likely is working against you from the start. In the case of the BIS gold swaps, the tenuous claim is against financial institutions the BIS considers so unreliable that it won't loan them money unless they turn over their customers' gold as security, thereby proving their unreliability.

The FT story doesn't address what is to become of the collateralized gold just transferred to the BIS, but the section of the BIS' annual report cited at the link above shows that the BIS is constantly trading gold and gold futures and options, just as the journalist Edward Jay Epstein reported in his long profile of the BIS published in Harper's magazine in November 1983. (See http://www.gata.org/node/8773.) So odds are that the gold purchased from or supposedly kept at those commercial banks by gold investors is now being used by the international banking system to suppress gold's price against the interest of the investors who think they own it.

The FT's story is headlined "BIS Gold Swaps Mystery Is Unravelled." The BIS can only hope that people will think so, and the FT can only hope that its story will get people to stop pestering it and other financial news organizations to do some serious, documented, on-the-record journalism instead of playing along with this manipulative, confidential source-based disinformation.

CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Commtitee Inc.

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BIS Gold Swaps Mystery Is Unravelled

By Jack Farchy and Javier Blas in London
Financial Times, London
Thursday, July 29, 2010

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3e659ed0-9b39-11df-baaf-00144feab49a.html

Three big banks -- HSBC, Societe Generale, and BNP Paribas -- were among more than 10 based in Europe that swapped gold with the Bank for International Settlements in a series of unusual deals that caused confusion in the gold market and left traders scratching their heads.

The mystery of who was involved in deals with the BIS, the bank for central banks, and what they were doing, has become clearer.

The Financial Times has learnt that the swaps, which were initiated by the BIS, came as the so-called "central banks' bank" sought to obtain a return on its huge US dollar-denominated holdings. The BIS asked the commercial banks to pledge a gold swap as guarantee for the dollar deposits they were taking from the Basel-based institution.

When news of the swaps, which were disclosed in a note to the BIS's latest annual report, circulated among traders this month, it caused a sharp fall in the gold price, sending bullion to what was then six-week lows. Gold has since fallen further: It was trading at $1,164 an ounce on Thursday.

Some analysts speculated that the swap deals were a surreptitious bailout of the European banking system ahead of last week's publication of stress tests. But bankers and officials have described the transactions as "mutually beneficial."

"The client approached us with the idea of buying some gold with the option to sell it back," said one European banker, referring to the BIS.

Another banker said: "From time to time, central banks or the BIS want to optimise the return on their currency holdings."

Nonetheless, two central bank officials said some of the commercial banks also needed the US dollar funding and were keen to act as a counterparty with the BIS. The gold swaps began in December and surged in January, when the Greek debt crisis erupted and European commercial banks were facing funding problems.

Jaime Caruana, head of the BIS, told the FT the swaps were "regular commercial activities" for the bank.

In a short note in its annual report, published at the end of June, the BIS said it had taken 346 tonnes of gold in exchange for foreign currency in "swap operations" in the financial year to March 31.

In the same fiscal year, the BIS took three times the amount of currency deposits it had taken the previous year as central banks around the world became concerned about using commercial banks for their deposits and turned to the Basel institution.

In a gold swap, one counterparty, in this case a bank, sells its gold to the other, in this case the BIS, with an agreement to buy it back at a later date.

The gold swaps were, in effect, a form of collateral against the US dollar deposits placed by the BIS with commercial banks. Gold is widely regarded as one of the safest assets, but has not been widely used as collateral in the past. Mr Caruana described the transactions as "loans with a guarantee."

Investors have bought physical gold in record amounts during the past two years and deposited it in commercial banks. European financial institutions are awash with bullion and some are trying to pledge gold as a guarantee.

George Milling-Stanley, managing director for government affairs at the industry-backed World Gold Council, said: "The gold swaps commercial banks carried out with the BIS demonstrate the effectiveness of gold as an asset class, because even in the depths of the worst liquidity crisis in living memory, institutions with access to gold were able to make use of it to generate dollar liquidity. The issue also feeds right into the current debate among Asian central banks about the lack of assets suitable for use as cross-border collateral."

Last year, CME Group, the world's largest derivatives exchange, allowed investors to use gold futures as collateral for some operations. Other institutions, such as central banks, had begun using and requesting gold as collateral in the past two years as perceptions of counterparty risk have risen, bankers and officials said.

The gold used in the swaps came mainly from investors' deposit accounts at the European commercial banks. Some investors prefer to deposit their gold in so-called "allocated accounts," which restrict the custodian banks' ability to use the gold in their market operations by assigning them specific bullion bars. But other investors prefer cheaper "unallocated accounts," which give banks access to their bullion for their day-to-day operations.

Officials said other commercial banks obtained the gold from the lending market, borrowing bullion from emerging countries' central banks.

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