The best indicator of a chess player’s form is his ability to sense the climax of the game.
–Boris Spassky, World Chess Champion, 1969-1972
You’ve likely heard that the German central bank announced it will begin withdrawing part of its massive gold holdings from the United States as well as all its holdings from France. By 2020, Bundesbank says it wants half its gold reserves stored in its own vault in Germany.
Why would it want to physically move the metal from New York? It’s not as if US vaults are not secure, and since Germany already owns the gold, does it really matter where it sits?
You may recall that Hugo Chávez did the same thing in late 2011, repatriating much of his country’s gold reserves from London. However, this isn’t a third-world dictatorship; Germany is a major ally of the US. So what’s going on?
Pawn to A3
On the surface, it may seem innocuous for Germany to move some pallets of gold closer to home. Some observers note that since Russia isn’t likely to be invading Germany anytime soon – one of the original reasons Germany had for storing its gold outside the country – the move is only natural and no big deal. But Germany’s gold stash represents roughly 10% of the world’s gold reserves, and the cost of moving it is not trivial, so we see greater import in the move.
The Bundesbank said the purpose of the move was to “build trust and confidence domestically, and the ability to exchange gold for foreign currencies at gold-trading centers abroad within a short space of time.” It’s just satisfying the worries of the commoners, in the mainstream view, as well as giving themselves the ability to complete transactions faster. As evidence that it’s nothing more than this, Bundesbank points out that half of Germany’s gold will remain in New York and London (the US portion of reserves will only be reduced from 45% to 37%).
Sounds reasonable. But these economists remind me of the analysts who every year claim the price of gold will fall – they can’t see the bigger implications and frequently miss the forest for the trees.