U.K.’s not feeling so golden

Stephen Beard May 7, 2009
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U.K.’s not feeling so golden

Stephen Beard May 7, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: It’s the 10th anniversary of the Bank of England’s decision to sell a boatload of its gold reserves, but not much to celebrate. Other European countries did the same, and in all, billions of dollars in losses according to The Financial Times.

Our European correspondent Stephen Beard joins us now from London. Stephen, why the decision to do this in the first place?

Stephen Beard: Well you could describe this as a kind of “antsy” gold fever. The Bank of England and the other central banks that followed its example here in Europe felt they’d done a pretty good job curbing inflation. They’d maintained the value of their paper currencies, they felt they didn’t need gold anymore. And there’s always been this idea, you know, the British economist John Maynard Kaynes called gold a “barbarous relic,” a no t very sophisticated store of value — it costs money to keep and insure, unlike bonds and other securities. These central banks decided they’d be better off putting more of their reserves into interest-bearing assets.

Chiotakis: So they’re not better off, Stephen, 10 years later. The scale of the loss is pretty big, right?

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s reckoned that they sold between them about 4,000 tons of gold at an average price of $280 an ounce. It’s now around $900 an ounce. It’s reckoned that between them they lost roughtly $40 billion.

Chiotakis: Wow. So the European countries selling the gold, who’s been buying all this gold?

Beard: Private investors in recent years. The recent doubts about the stability of the whole financial system have been very good for gold. Doubts about the dollar have been good for gold, too. Some central banks, too, especially in emerging economies, have been buying. China has almost doubled its gold reserves, and Russia’s been buying, too.

Chiotakis: Yep, and the United States?

Beard: You’ll be relieved to learn that the U.S. Federal Reserve did not follow the European example — they hung on to their horde of the yellow metal. A very fortunate decision as it turns out, over the past couple of years at least — just about the only asset to glitter has been gold.

Chiotakis: All right. Our man in London, Stephen Beard, joining us. Stephen, thank you so much.

Beard: OK, Steve.

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