…tied inexorably to the direction of Chairman Zero’s transformational agenda.
109 Days to go!
Central banks start to abandon the U.S. dollar
There’s mounting evidence that central bankers have little faith in the greenback these days. Can we blame them?
by Heidi N. Moore, contributor
There are those who would argue that the financial crisis was caused by over-enthusiastic worship of the Almighty Dollar. Call it brutal financial karma, but that church is looking pretty empty these days.
A new report from Morgan Stanley analyst Emma Lawson confirms what many had suspected: the dollar is firmly on its way to losing its status as the reserve currency of the world. We already knew that central banks have preferred gold to dollars, and that they’re even selling their gold for cash; now, according to Lawson’s data, it seems that those central banks prefer almost anything to dollars.
Lawson found that central banks have dropped their allocation to U.S. dollars by nearly a full percentage point to 57.3% from 58.1%, and calls this “unexpected given the global environment.” She adds, “over time we anticipate that reserve managers may reduce their holdings further.”
What is surprising is that the managers of those central banks aren’t buying traditional fall-backs like the euro, the British pound or the Japanese yen. Instead, she suggests they’re putting their faith in other dollars – the kind that come from Australia and Canada. The allocation to those currencies, which fall under “other” in the data, rose by a full percentage point to 8.5%, accounting almost exactly for the drop in the U.S. dollar allocation.
Just last week, America’s debt lept $166 billion in a single day. That one-day run-up is greater than the entire U.S. annual deficit in 2007. And Americans, the world’s consumers, continue much of the behavior that helped the U.S savings rate drop so low.
The other options that reserve managers seem to be taking are also not a surprise. Canada’s rude financial health – and robust banks – were bound to draw more attention. The Australian dollar is near a nine-month high because employment numbers there are strong.
Anybody remember seeing this on July 11th?
Secret gold swap has spooked the market
It takes a lot to spook the solid old gold market. But when it emerged last week that one or more banks had lent 380 tonnes of gold to the Bank of International Settlements in return for foreign currencies, there was widespread surprise and confusion.
The news that a mystery bank has just pawned the family jewels gave traders a jolt – nervous about the sudden transfer of almost 20pc of the world’s annual gold production and the possibility of a sell-off.
In a tiny footnote in its annual report, the bank disclosed its unusually large holding of gold, compared with nothing the year before. The disclosure was a large factor in the correction of the gold price this week, which fell below $1,200 for the first time in more than a month.
Meanwhile, economists and gold market-watchers were determined to hunt down which bank is short of cash – curious about who is using their stash of precious metal for what looks suspiciously like a secret bailout.
At first it looked like the BIS was swapping gold with a troubled central bank. After all, the institution is the central bankers’ bank and its purpose to conduct transactions with national monetary authorities.
Central banks in the troubled southern zone of Europe were considered the most likely perpetrators.
According to the World Gold Council, central banks in Greece, Spain and Portugal held 112.2, 281.6 and 382.5 tons of gold respectively in June – leading analysts to point fingers at Portugal, or a combination of the three.
But Edel Tully, an analyst from UBS, noted that eurozone central banks would be severely limited with what they could do with the influx of extra cash – unable to transfer it straight to governments or make use of the primary bond markets.
She then listed the only other potential monetary authorities with enough gold as the US, China, Switzerland, Japan, Russia, India and Taiwan – and the International Monetary Fund.
This led to musings that the counterparty was the IMF, making sense because the lender of last resort is historically prone to cash shortages and has been quietly selling off gold in the first half of the year.
Renowned gold expert Jim Sinclair adopted this explanation. The panic came when people mistook a lease for a swap, he argues. Far from being a big release of gold into the market, it is simply a commercial arrangement between the IMF and BIS with a favourable rate of interest paid for the foreign currency.
“Gold swaps are usually undertaken by monetary authorities,” he writes on his industry blog, MineSet. “The gold is exchanged for foreign exchange deposits with an agreement that the transaction be unwound at a future time at an agreed price.
“The IMF will pay interest on the foreign exchange received. Historically swaps occur when entities like the IMF have a need for foreign exchange, but do not wish to sell the gold. In this case, gold is a leveraging device for needed currency to meet requirements.
“The many reports that characterise the large IMF gold swap as a sale of gold into the markets do not understand the difference between a swap and a lease.”
However, the day after original reports about the swaps, BIS emailed a statement saying that the swaps had not been conducted with monetary authorities but purely with commercial banks. (emphasis mine)
This did nothing to quell the sense of mystery surrounding the deal or deals. It is almost inconceivable that a single commercial bank could have accumulated so much gold alone. And cynics have suggested that the whole affair still looks like a secretive European bailout that a single country wants to keep quiet.
In this case, one or more of the so-called bullion banks – which act as wholesale market-makers and include Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, HSBC, Barclays, UBS, Societe Generale, Mitsui and the Bank of Nova Scotia – would have agreed to act on behalf of a monetary authority. (Almost all of these banks received US dollars from the AIG bailout)
This would add an extra layer of anonymity. “So the BIS swaps look like a tripartite transaction,” writes Adrian Douglas of the Gold Anti-Trust Association. “The commercial bank or banks made a swap with a central bank or banks and then the commercial bank or banks made a swap with the BIS.”
…or what is more commonly known in the real world as “Covering Your Tracks”.