A year ago, the Bundesbank announced that it intended to repatriate 700 tons of Germany’s gold from Paris and New York. Although a couple of jumbo jets could have managed the transatlantic removal, it made security sense to ship the load in smaller consignments. Just how small, and over how long, has only now become apparent.

Last month Buba’s Jens Weidmann admitted that just 37 tons had arrived in Frankfurt. The original timescale, to complete the transfer by 2020, was leisurely enough, but at this rate it would take 20 years for a simple operation. Well, perhaps not so simple. While he awaits delivery, Herr Weidmann is welcome to come and look through the bars in the Federal Reserve’s vaults, but the question is: whose bars are they?

The armchair farmer fraud is where you’re told: “Look, this is your pig, in the sty.” It works until everyone wants physical delivery of their pig, which is why the Bundesbank’s move last year caused such a stir. After all, nobody knows whether there are really 260m ounces of gold in Fort Knox, since the US government won’t let the auditors inside.

The delivery problem for the Fed is a different breed of pig. The gold market is far more than exchanging paper money for precious metal; indeed, the metal seems something of a sideshow. In June last year, the average volume of gold cleared in London hit 29m ounces per day. The world’s mines are producing 90m ounces per year. The traded volume was many times the cleared volume.

The paper gold in the London Bullion Market takes the familiar forms that bankers have turned into profit machines: futures, options, leveraged trades, collateralised obligations, ETFs…a storm of exotic instruments, each of which is carefully logged, cross-checked and audited.

Or perhaps not. Highly-paid bankers find such back-room work terribly tedious, and prefer to let some drone do it, just as they did with those money-market instruments that fuelled the banking crisis. The drones will have full control of the paper trail, won’t they? There’s surely no chance that the Fed’s little delivery difficulty has anything to do with the cat’s-cradle of pledges based on the gold in its vaults?

John Hathaway suspects there is. He worries about all the paper (and pixels) linked to gold. He runs the Tocqueville gold fund (the clue is in the name) and doesn’t share the near-universal gloom of London’s gold analysts, who a year ago expected an average of $1700. It’s $1270 today. As has been remarked here before, forecasting the price is for mugs and bugs. But the moral is that one day the ties that bind this pixellated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results. So if you fancy gold at today’s depressed price, learn from Buba and demand delivery.

Where’s that memo, Peter?

The most entertaining spat outside the LibDem’s self-immolation this week has (again) been in Andrew Tyrie’s Treasury committee, as it unravels the fiasco that was the Co-op Bank’s bid for Lloyds Bank branches. Here was Peter Levene crying “we wus robbed”, and claiming that the whole match had been fixed to ensure that the instant bank he headed couldn’t win.

Not quite, said a submission from the Lloyds chairman, Win Bischoff, reporting that he couldn’t find the memo spelling out the Co-op’s precarious position.that Lord Levene says he had sent him. Sir Win added that the paper (too sensitive to email, we’re told) had not been mentioned by the Levene team in subsequent discussions.

It’s all very mysterious, but Lord Levene has a simple remedy. Rather than suggest that his former good friend was being economical with the actualite, he could produce the memo and resolve the spat.

Not today, thank you

Here’s one thing Tesco doesn’t need: Mothercare. The takeover business may be waking from its long, post-crisis slumber, but this piece of fantasy M&A is ridiculous. Tesco is struggling to fill its sheds; and buying the Giraffe restaurant group, a specialist baker and a real coffee chain may help. But they were all thriving growth businesses, while Moth is ragged. It needs management attention, and management attention is one thing Tesco does not have to spare right now.

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