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by John Rubino on February 28, 2014 · 14 comments
Only in a world totally corrupted by easy money could the following two things be announced on the same day. First:
Yields on the euro area’s government bonds have never been lower as the potential for extended European Central Bank stimulus helps exorcise memories of the region’s sovereign debt crisis.
The bond-market rally is broad based, encompassing both core economies such asFrance and also peripheral markets including Greece, which was pushed to the brink of exiting the currency bloc during the region’s financial woes. Another of those nations, Portugal, took a step toward exiting an international bailout program today as it bought back bonds, while Italy, supported in the turmoil by ECB bond purchases, sold five-year notes at a record-low rate.
“Investors are starting to look at the non-core European bond markets as a viable investment alternative again,” said Jussi Hiljanen, head of fixed-income research at SEB AB inStockholm. “Further ECB actions have the potential to maintain the tightening bias on those spreads,” he said, referring to the yield gap between core nations and the periphery.
The average yield to maturity on euro-area bonds fell to a record 1.6343 percent yesterday, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes. It peaked at more than 6 percent in 2011, the data show.
Italy’s 10-year yield fell seven basis points to 3.47 percent after touching 3.46 percent, a level not seen since January 2006. Portugal’s 10-year yield dropped four basis points to 4.81 percent and touched 4.78 percent, the least since June 2010, while Ireland’s two-year note yield and Spain’s five-year rates dropped to records.
Then, at about the same time:
Eternal city warns it will go bust for the first time since it was destroyed by Nero
Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, came under pressure on Thursday as the city of Rome was on the brink of bankruptcy after parliament threw out a bill that would have injected fresh funding.
Ignazio Marino, Rome mayor, said city services like public transport would come to a halt and that he would not be a “Nero” – the Roman emperor who, legend has it, strummed his lyre as the city burnt to the ground.
Marino said that Renzi, a centre-left leader and former mayor of Florence who was only confirmed by parliament this week, had promised to adopt urgent measures to help the Italian capital at a cabinet meeting on Friday.
The newly-elected mayor faces a budget deficit of 816 million euros ($1.1 billion) and the city could be placed under administration if he does not manage to close the gap with measures such as cutting public services.
“Rome has wasted money for decades. I don’t want to spend another euro that is not budgeted,” Marino said, following criticism from the Northern League opposition party which helped shoot down the bill for Rome in parliament.
The draft law would have included funding for Rome from the central government budget as a compensation for the extra costs it faces because of its role as the capital including tourism traffic and national demonstrations.
Other cash-strapped cities complained it was unfair. But Marino warned there could be dire consequences. “We’re not going to block the city but the city will come to a standstill. It will block itself if I do not have the tools for making budget decisions and right now I cannot allocate any money,” he told the SkyTG24 news channel.
Marino said that buses may have to stop running as soon as Sunday because he only had 10 percent of the money required to pay for fuel in March.
He added: “With the money that we have in the budget right now, I can do repairs on each road in Rome every 52 years. That’s not really maintenance.”
How is it that Italy is able to borrow money at low and falling rates – which indicates that borrowers are confident of its ability to pay its bills – while its major city, far more important to that country than New York or Los Angeles is to the US, slides into bankruptcy?
The answer is that Rome is irrelevant in comparison with two other facts. First, Europe is slipping into deflation, which generally leads to lower bond yields. Second, the European Central Bank is virtually guaranteed to respond to fact number one with quantitative easing on a vast scale.
So the bond markets, far from rallying on the expectation of a eurozone recovery, are rising in anticipation of the opposite: a new round of recession/deflation/instability that forces the abandonment of even the pretense of austerity and the adoption of aggressively easy money.
In this scenario, a Roman bankruptcy is actually a good thing because it pushes the ECB, Bundesbank, Bank of Italy and the other relevant monetary entities to stop dithering and start monetizing debt in earnest. Once it gets going, the goal of the program will be to refinance everyone’s debt at extremely low rates, push down the euro’s exchange rate versus the dollar, yen and yuan, and shift the currency war front from Europe to the rest of the world. The race to the bottom continues.
The rest of this series is available here.
The FT Goes There: “Demand Physical Gold” As One Day Paper Price Manipulation Will End “Catastrophically” | Zero Hedge
What have we done: after a series of reports in late 2012 in which we showed, with no ambiguity, that not only might the Bundesbank’s offshore held gold be severely “diluted” (follow our 2012 exposes on German gold here, here, here, and here), but that on at least one occassion, the Fed and the Bank of England conspired against the Buba in returning subpar quality gold, the Bundesbank shocked everyone in early January 2013 when it announced it would repatriate 300 tons of gold helt in New York and all of its 374 tons of gold held in Paris. But convincing the Bundebsbank to demand delivery was peanuts compared to changing the tune of the Financial Times – that bastion of fiat “money”, and where the word gold is mocked and ridiculed, and those who see the daily improprieties in the gold market as nothing but “conspiracy theorists” – to say the magic words: “Learn from Buba and demand delivery for true price of gold”, adding that “one day the ties that bind this pixelated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results.”
In other words, precisely what we have been saying since the beginning.
Welcome to the ‘conspiracy theorist’ club, boys.
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 just become apparent.
Last month Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank president, 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?
In the “armchair farmer” fraud you are told: “Look, this is your pig, in the sty.” It works until everyone wants physical delivery of their pig, which is why Buba’s move last year caused such a stir. After all nobody knows whether there are really 260m ounces of gold in Fort Knox, because the US government won’t let 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. High-flying traders find such backroom work tedious, and prefer to let some drone do it, just as they did with those money-market instruments that fuelled the banking crisis. Thedrones 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 forecast an average $1700 for 2013. It is currently $1,260.
As has been remarked here before, forecasting the price is for mugs and bugs. But one day the ties that bind this pixelated gold may break, with potentially catastrophic results. So if you fancy gold at today’s depressed price, learn from Buba and demand delivery.
foreward by JS Kim, Managing Director of SmartKnowledgeU
Below is a recent correspondence from our friend Lars Schall, an independent financial journalist, and the German Central Bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank, regarding the exact whereabouts and specifications of Germany’s national gold reserve. From the correspondence below, it appears that the US Central Bank had already leased out Germany’s gold reserves in prior years and no longer has it, as the gold bars the US Central Bankers returned to Germany last year were clearly not the same ones that Germany originally deposited with them. The questions Mr. Schall’s revelations now beg is (1) if the Banque de France and the Bank of England have Germany’s original gold as well; and (2) if the various Central Bankers are deliberately returning Germany’s gold on a painfully slow timeline because they have already leased out Germany’s gold into the open market in prior years, no longer hold it, and must therefore scrape together Germany’s gold from the open market now.
Below is Mr. Schall’s inquiry to the Deutsche Bundesbank:
December 26, 2013
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am an independent financial journalist.
In connection with the transfer of 37 tons of Bundesbank gold from New York to Germany, I came across the news that the bars were a melted before the transfer. May I kindly ask you for the following information:
Why were the bars melted at all? And why couldn’t that wait until the bars arrived in Frankfurt?
Below is the Bundesbank’s curious reply that is riddled with a lack of transparency:
January 3, 2014
Dear Mr. Schall:
Thank you for your enquiry.
At a press conference on the topic of Germany’s gold reserves on 16 January 2013, Executive Board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele presented the Deutsche Bundesbank’s new storage concept. In addition to the relocation of gold bars, this concept includes, amongst other things, measures to ensure that the specifications of the London Good Delivery (LGD) standard are met. You can find these specifications on Page 17 of the following presentation:
Storage plan (new)
Frankfurt 31% ………… 50%
New York 45% ………… 37%
London 13% ………… 13%
Paris 11% ………… 0%
– Phased relocation of 300 tonnes of gold from New York to Frankfurt.
– Phased relocation of 374 tonnes of gold from Paris to Frankfurt.
– Achieve LGD standard, where this is not already the case.
You can find the specifications for the London Good Delivery (LGD) standard at the following address:
In cases where these specifications were not already met, the Bundesbank had these original gold bars melted down and recast in order to meet this standard. This was achieved without any difficulties. Please understand that in order to ensure the security of the gold transports and our employees, the Bundesbank is unable to provide you with any further information.
60431 Frankfurt am Main
Tel.: +49 69 9566×3511 or 3512
And below are questions raised by Peter Boehringer, president of German Precious Metal Society and co-initiator of the Repatriate our Gold campaign, to the opacity and oddities of the Bundesbank’s response:
Why does the Bundesbank continue to avoid transparency regarding Germany’s gold holdings?
Why not just come up with easy-to-deliver facts instead of repeated rhetoric about an alleged remelting of gold bars in the United States that even people with some knowledge of the gold industry and some common sense fail to understand?
There is no reason why the original gold bars acquired in the 1950s and 1960s (if they ever existed at all, which has never been proven, as by publication of bar lists or photos) had to be melted down and recast into LGD-compliant bars in New York as opposed to Frankfurt. Nor is there reason why all this had to be done in obscurity without any published report of the recasting.
The public is still waiting for answers to crucial questions like these:
– What kind of gold bars were melted? Original material from the 1950s and ’60s?
– How can the Bundesbank hint in its press release that some of the old bars already met the LGD specifications when those specifications were not defined and made a standard for central bank bars until 1979?
– Why has the Bundesbank not published a bar number list of the old bars? How can there be security concerns about bars that no longer exist? Why has the Bundesbank not published a bar number list of the newly cast bars?
– Who exactly melted the bars? Where exactly was this melting performed? Is there a smelter at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York?
– Who witnessed the melting and recasting of the bars?
– Are there any reports on this in writing with a valid signature? By whom?
– And especially: Why was it deemed necessary to perform this action in the United States as opposed to Frankfurt or nearby Hanau, where there are some of the best facilities in the world for metal probing, melting, and recasting? Had these actions been performed in Germany in a fully transparent manner, it would have been so easy for the Bundesbank to dismiss all questions from “paranoid gold conspiracy theorists.”
The Bundesbank is just the custodian of Germany’s national gold, which is worth more than $125 billion. The Bundesbank owes the public full transparency in all these gold matters. That is, physical audits, independently verified storage reports, and a publication of the full bar lists of all its gold in all national or international vaults. Despite having now had the excellent opportunity of this partial repatriation, the Bundesbank has again failed to produce any proof or indication that at least 37 tonnes (out of 1,500 tonnes of German gold at the New York Fed) still existed through 2013 in their original 1950s-’60s bar form. Instead, Germany is now owner of almost 3,000 LGD-compliant standard bars, which proves nothing and dismisses no allegations of decade-long manipulation of the gold price.
It is still possible and even probable that the old German bars were lent into the market long ago or that they have multiple owners or are backing multiple gold exchange-traded fund derivatives. Of course the same holds for our remaining 120,000 bars at the New York Fed. The “repatriation” of a mere 1.5 percent of Germany’s foreign gold holdings and the supposed melting and recasting of the original gold bars do not prove the continued existence of Germany’s remaining gold holdings supposedly vaulted at the New York Fed. The Bundesbank has missed a great opportunity to bring transparency to Germany’s gold reserves. What a pity. And at its current speed the Bundesbank will require 60 years to accomplish the repatriation mission forced upon it by an impatient public. What a shame.
The initiators of the Repatriate Our Gold campaign are considering legal action based on freedom-of-information law against the Bundesbank and possibly also against its auditors, who have certified the Bundesbank’s balance sheet without having adequately considered the risks associated with a non-transparent gold hoard, which is the only asset of substance on the Bundesbank’s books. (Ninety percent of those assets are mere paper claims, many of dubious quality, like “Target 2? claims.)
Our objective remains to achieve the publication of all gold bar lists and full transparency involving Germany’s gold. The German people are entitled to have all information about their golden property. And the American people have a right to know as well. After all, it is the U.S. Federal Reserve System and the U.S. Treasury Department that have been obscuring their gold holdings and foreign gold holdings since the last proper audit in 1953.
2013 was a year in which lots of imbalances built up but none blew up. The US and Japan continued to monetize their debt, in the process cheapening the dollar and sending the yen to five-year lows versus the euro. China allowed its debt to soar with only the hint of a (quickly-addressed) credit crunch at year-end. The big banks got even bigger, while reporting record profits and paying record fines for the crimes that produced those profits. And asset markets ranging from equities to high-end real estate to rare art took off into the stratosphere.
Virtually all of this felt great for the participants and led many to conclude that the world’s problems were being solved. Instead, 2014 is likely to be a year in which at least some – and maybe all – of the above trends hit a wall. It’s hard to know which will hit first, but a pretty good bet is that the strong euro (the flip side of a weakening dollar and yen) sends mismanaged countries like France and Italy back into crisis. So let’s start there.
The basic premise of the currency war theme is that when a country takes on too much debt it eventually realizes that the only way out of its dilemma is to cheapen its currency to gain a trade advantage and make its debts less burdensome. This works for a while but since the cheap-currency benefits come at the expense of trading partners, the latter eventually retaliate with inflation of their own, putting the first country back in its original box.
In 2013 the US and especially Japan cheapened their currencies versus the euro, which was supported by the European Central Bank’s relative reluctance to monetize the eurozone’s debt. The following chart shows the euro over the past six months:
For more details:
Euro rises to more than 2-year high vs. dollar; yen falls
The euro jumped to its strongest level against the dollar in more than two years on Friday as banks adjusted positions for the year end, while the yen hit five-year lows for a second straight session.
The dollar was broadly weaker against European currencies, including sterling and the Swiss franc. Thin liquidity likely helped exaggerate market moves.
The European Central Bank will take a snapshot of the capital positions of the region’s banks at the end of 2013 for an asset-quality review (AQR) next year to work out which of them will need fresh funds. The upcoming review has created some demand for euros to help shore up banks’ balance sheets, traders said.
“There’s a lot of attention on the AQR, and there’s some positioning ahead of the end of the calendar year,” said John Hardy, FX strategist at Danske Bank in Copenhagen.
Comments from Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank chief and a member of the European Central Bank Governing Council, also helped the euro. He warned that although the euro zone’s current low interest rate is justified, weak inflation does not give a license for “arbitrary monetary easing.
The euro rose as high as $1.3892, according to Reuters data, the highest since October 2011. It was last up 0.3 percent at $1.3738.
The currency has risen more than 10 cents from a low hit in July below $1.28, as the euro zone economy came out of a recession triggered by its debt crisis.
Unlike the U.S. and Japanese central banks, the European Central Bank has not been actively expanding its balance sheet, giving an additional boost to the euro.
Here’s what a stronger euro means for France, the second-largest and arguably worst-managed eurozone country:
French Economy Contracts 0.1% In Third Quarter
The final estimate of France’s gross domestic product, or GDP, in the third quarter remained unchanged at the previous estimation of a contraction of 0.1 percent, indicating that the euro zone’s second-largest economy is struggling to sustain the rebound it witnessed in the second quarter with a growth of 0.6 percent.
The third-quarter GDP growth was in line with analysts’ estimates. According to data released on Tuesday by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the deficit in foreign-trade balance contributed (-0.6 points) to the contraction in the third quarter, compared to the positive (0.1 percent) contribution made in the preceding quarter.
At the beginning of 2013, most of the eurozone was either still in recession or just barely climbing out. Then the euro started rising, making European products more expensive and therefore harder to sell, which depressed those countries’ export sectors and made debts more burdensome. So now, under the forced austerity of an appreciating currency, countries like France that were barely growing are back in contraction. And countries likeGreece that were flat on their back are now flirting with dissolution.
Recessions – especially never-ending recessions – are fatal for incumbent politicians, so pressure is building for a European version of Japan’s “Abenomics,” in which the European Central Bank is bullied into setting explicit inflation targets and monetizing as much debt as necessary to get there. The question is, will it happen before the downward momentum spawns political chaos that spreads to the rest of the world. See Italian President Warns of Violent Unrest in 2014.