29 August 2016

Central Bank Non-Transparency

Just a quick post on Jan Nieuwenhuijs/Koos Jansen's article on the refusal of the Dutch Central Bank to publish a bar list. The reason given was that "the conversion of internal lists to documents for publication would create too many administrative burdens."

I find this excuse weak when gold ETFs can produce bar list in the thousands of pages, and do so without creating any security issue. Even if the custodians where they have the gold have given them a pdf bar list that for some reason contains information that could be a security risk, it should not be a problem to ask that custodian to modify the report/query on their inventory database to exclude such information, or output only the relevant fields of data as a csv file or spreadsheet. If the problem with doing that is that the custodian does not operate an electronic inventory system then we have some serious questions about the control and safety of that custodian's operations.

I think the real reason for not wanting to disclose the bar list is as some have noted in the comments to the article - when a central bank leases gold out, they get different bars back (see here on why this is case) and thus the changing bar numbers on the list would reveal what percentage of the central bank's gold was lent to bullion banks during the year.

For a central bank who follows correct accounting rules and show leases separately to physical gold (see here regarding Reserve Bank of Australia) a bar list should not be an issue (although see here for blogger Bullion Baron's problems getting a bar list out of the RBA, which it seems was more of a case of interference from the BoE and a lack of courage by the RBA to stand up to them) but for a central bank who reports physical gold and leased gold as "gold" the bar list would raise questions like "why didn't you disclose the difference, how can you pretend that leased and physical are the same" or questions about the risk the central bank is taking and whether the return they got was worth the risk. Whilst I haven't met central bankers personally, I'm guessing they don't take too kindly to having their actions or judgements questioned. Hence the stonewalling.


  1. FYI Jan sent me an email saying that "according to the Dutch minister of finance, this guy officially stated in 2011 in the Dutch senate/congress DNB had ceased all gold leasing activities in 2008! https://www.bullionstar.com/blogs/koos-jansen/why-did-european-central-banks-sell-gold/"

    However, I would argue that the DNB would still not want the bar list to be published as it would show up an future leasing by them. My comments on bar list and leasing would also apply generically to other central banks looking to hide their leasing activity.

  2. "...they get different bars back."

    You mean like the Bundesbank got back from the (not really) Federal (with no) Reserve? Ahahahahah!