Russia Outbuys World In Gold
Putin Turns Black Gold to Bullion as Russia Outbuys World
By Scott Rose & Olga Tanas – Feb 11, 2013 7:42 AM ET
When Vladimir Putin says the U.S. is endangering the global economy by abusing its dollar monopoly, he’s not just talking. He’s betting on it.
Not only has Putin made Russia the world’s largest oil producer, he’s also made it the biggest gold buyer. His central bank has added 570 metric tons of the metal in the past decade, a quarter more than runner-up China, according to IMF data compiled by Bloomberg. The added gold is also almost triple the weight of the Statue of Liberty.
“The more gold a country has, the more sovereignty it will have if there’s a cataclysm with the dollar, the euro, the pound or any other reserve currency,” Evgeny Fedorov, a lawmaker for Putin’s United Russia party in the lower house of parliament, said in a telephone interview in Moscow.
Gold, coveted by Russian rulers including Tsar Nicholas II and the Bolshevik leader whose forces assassinated him, Vladimir Lenin, has soared almost 400 percent in the period of Putin’s purchases. Central banks around the world have printed money to escape the global financial crisis, sapping investor appetite for dollars and euros and setting off a scramble for safety.
In 1998, the year Russia defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt, it took as many as 28 barrels of crude to buy an ounce of gold, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That ratio tumbled to 11.5 by the time Putin first came to power a year later and in 2005, after it touched 6.5 — less than half what it is now — the president told the central bank to buy.
During a tour that November of the Magadan region in the Far East, where Polyus Gold International Ltd. and Polymetal International Plc have operations, Putin told Bank Rossii not to “shy away” from the metal. “After all, they’re called gold and currency reserves for a reason,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
At the time, gold was at an 18-year high of $495 an ounce and the Moscow-based central bank held 387 tons, or 2.2 percent of its $165 billion total reserves. The share reached 3.5 percent within a month, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Gold for immediate delivery fell a third day today, dropping 0.6 percent to $1,657.80 an ounce as of 4:35 p.m. in Moscow. It rose 7 percent last year, the 12th straight year of gains. Analysts expect the metal to advance again in 2013, to $1,825 by the end of the year, according to the median of 26 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, declined to comment today on Putin’s interest in gold.
“Putin’s gold strategy fits in with his resource nationalism, statist agenda,” said Tim Ash, head of emerging- market research at Standard Bank Plc in London. “It’s kind of a defensive play, but it worked, right?” Ash said in an interview in Moscow. “You need luck in politics and business, and clearly the guy has it.”
Other world leaders haven’t been as lucky. Gordon Brown, as U.K. finance minister, sold almost 400 tons of gold in the 30 months to March 2002, when prices were at two-decade lows. London tabloids have referred to the period as Brown’s Bottom.
Quantitative easing by major economies to support financial asset prices is driving demand for gold in the emerging world, said Marcus Grubb, head of investment research at the World Gold Council. Before the crisis, central banks were net sellers of 400 to 500 tons a year. Now, led by Russia and China, they’re net buyers by about 450 tons, Grubb said by phone from London, where his industry group is based.
“That’s a very significant switch, and obviously a very positive one for the gold market,” Grubb said.
While Putin is leading the gold rush in emerging markets, developed nations are liquidating.
Switzerland unloaded the most in the past decade, 877 tons, an amount now worth about $48 billion, according to International Monetary Fund data through November. France was second with 589 tons, while Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal each sold more than 200 tons.
Even after Putin’s binge, though, Russia’s total cache of about 958 tons is only the eighth largest, the World Gold Council said in a Feb. 8 report. The U.S. is No. 1 with about 8,134 tons, followed by Germany with 3,391 tons and the Washington-based IMF with 2,814 tons. Italy, France, China and Switzerland are fourth through seventh. While gold accounts for 9.5 percent of Russia’s total reserves, it accounts for more than 70 percent in the U.S., Germany, Italy and France.