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Willem Middelkoop: Central banks and the revival of gold

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Willem Middelkoop
Official Monetary and Financial Issues Forum, London
Monday, December 11, 2023

One of the most significant changes in the world of money has been happening by stealth rather than through any policy announcement. Gold has regained a solid yet unofficial role in the world's monetary system in a barely noticed, gradual process that cannot now be overlooked.

This is the result of several interlinked reasons. The last few years have seen central banks run into gold, accelerated by declining trust in the dollar following Western countries' freezing of $300 billion of Russian foreign exchange reserves after the Ukrainian invasion.

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The sharp rise in interest rates since the end of 2021 has led to significant losses for worldwide bondholders. This applies not just to commercial banks and asset managers but also, crucially, to many internationally operating central banks that acquired large stocks of government bonds in successive rounds of quantitative easing. This has damaged the validity of government bonds as a core element of central banks’ reserves.

This has had a significant side-effect. Gold-holding central banks in Europe seem likely to resort (either formally or informally) to using their gold revaluation accounts to plug balance sheet losses to be unveiled in coming years. They find this a more palatable option than the alternative -- asking their governments to recapitalize them during a budget squeeze. ...

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