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Robert Lambourne: BIS gold swaps rose substantially in May

Section: Documentation

By Robert Lambourne
Sunday, June 9, 2024

Gold swaps undertaken by the Bank for International Settlements, the central bank of the world's central banks, rose by a substantial 31 tonnes in May over the 78 tonnes reported in April, reaching 109 tonnes, an increase of 40%.

The bank's statement of account of May, from which the gold swaps can be estimated, was published last week:

Table 1 below sets out the historical level of monthly gold swaps estimated since August 2018. There is still a considerable level of gold being traded via these swaps. The swaps are down sharply from the 501 tonnes estimated in January 2022 but they seem to remain quite volatile, suggesting that they are being used to cover short-term trading requirements by central banks and bullion banks.

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While the BIS long has refused to explain what it is doing in the gold market and for whom, it seems that the swaps are undertaken by the BIS for one or more of its central bank members, with the swapped gold being accounted for as being held in a BIS-registered sight account at a central bank. In any case the swaps represent surreptitious central bank intervention in the gold market.

Given what is happening in the gold market generally, it appears reasonable to assume that the U.S. Federal Reserve is the BIS member instigating these transactions. The evidence strongly suggests that the gold involved in the swaps comes from bullion banks and is registered as being held by gold exchange-traded funds.

That is, investors who buy claims on gold through ETFs may actually be assisting central bank efforts to control the monetary metal's price.

GATA published a more detailed report on the use of gold swaps to cover the BIS' December 2023 swap transactions:

The BIS' upcoming 2023-24 annual report, typically published at this time of year, may shine some light on the bank's gold swaps.


Table 1 — Swaps estimated by GATA from BIS monthly statements of account

Month  .... Swaps
& year .... in tonnes

May-24 .... /109
Apr-24 .... /78
Mar-24 .... /71
Feb-24 .... /68
Jan-24 .... /117
Dec-23 .... /121
Nov-23 .... /100
Oct-23 .... /68
Sep-23 .... /96
Aug-23 .... /129
Jul-23 .... /103
Jun-23 .... /87
May-23 .... /188
Apr-23 .... /135
Mar-23 .... /77*
Feb-23 .... /136
Jan-23 .... /103
Dec-22 .... /0
Nov-22 .... /105
Oct-22 .... /7
Sep-22 .... /57
Aug-22 .... /75
Jul-22 .... /56
Jun-22 .... /202
May-22 .... /270
Apr-22 .... /315
Mar-22 .... /358
Feb-22 .... /472
Jan-22 .... /501
Dec-21 .... /414
Nov-21 .... /451
Oct-21 .... /414
Sep-21 .... /438
Aug-21 .... /464
Jul-21 .... /502
Jun-21 .... /471
May-21 .... /517
Apr-21 .... /472
Mar-21 .... /490+
Feb-21 .... /552
Jan-21 .... /523
Dec-20 .... /545
Nov-20 .... /520
Oct-20 .... /519
Sep-20 .... /520
Aug-20 .... /484
Jul-20 .... /474
Jun-20 .... /391
May-20 .... /412
Apr-20 .... /328
Mar-20 .... /326**
Feb-20 .... /326
Jan-20 .... /320
Dec-19 .... /313
Nov-19 .... /250
Oct-19 .... /186
Sep-19 .... /128
Aug-19 .... /162
Jul-19 .... /95
Jun-19 .... /126
May-19 .... /78
Apr-19 .... /88
Mar-19 .... /175
Feb-19 .... /303
Jan-19 .... /247
Dec-18 .... /275
Nov-18 .... /308
Oct-18 .... /372
Sep-18 .... /238
Aug-18 .... /370

* The estimate originally reported by GATA was 78 tonnes, but the BIS annual report states 77 tonnes. It is believed that slightly different gold prices account for the difference.

+ The estimate originally reported by GATA was 487 tonnes, but the BIS annual report states 490 tonnes, It is believed that slightly different gold prices account for the difference.

** The estimate originally reported by GATA was 332 tonnes, but the BIS annual report states 326 tonnes. It is believed that slightly different gold prices account for the difference.

GATA uses gold prices quoted by to estimate the level of gold swaps held by the BIS at month-ends.


Robert Lambourne is a retired business executive in the United Kingdom who consults for GATA about the involvement of the Bank for International Settlements in the gold market and U.S. government debt.

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