Tag Archives: BoE

Did The Dutch Central Bank Lie About Its Gold Bar List?

Head of the Financial Markets Division of the Dutch central bank, Aerdt Houben, stated in an interview for newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad published in October 2016 that releasing a bar list of the Dutch official gold reserves “would cost hundreds of thousands of euros”. In this post we’ll expose this is virtually impossible – the costs to publish the bar list should be close to zero – and speculate about the far reaching implications of this falsehood. 

Recap

This story started a couple of years ago. As I am Dutch and concerned not only about my own financial wellbeing but of my country as well, I commenced inquiring my national central bank about the whereabouts and safety of our gold reserves in late 2013. One of my first actions was submitting the local equivalent of a Freedom Of Information Act – in Dutch WOB – to De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) in order to obtain all written communication of the past decades between DNB and the Federal Reserve Bank Of New York (FRBNY). In 2013 I knew a large share of the Dutch gold was stored at the FRBNY, which I deemed to be an unnecessary risk. In a crisis situation, for example, the US government would be able to confiscate Dutch gold stored on American soil. Unfortunately, DNB responded it’s exempt from certain WOB requests under the banking law from 1998, article 3. (I thought the WOB hit a dead end, though recent developments have changed my mind regarding the legitimacy of the rejection. In a forthcoming post more on my WOB from 2013.)

Subsequently, on 21 November 2014 DNB shocked the financial world by announcing it had covertly repatriated 123 tonnes of gold from the FRBNY vaults. Did DNB question the trustworthiness of the FRBNY like myself? Most likely, as I see few other reasons for repatriating, next to losing trust in the international monetary system itself. The gold wasn’t sold in the Netherlands, as our gold reserves have remained unchanged at 612 tonnes since 2008. Apparently DNB felt safer having less gold stored at the FRBNY. Note, the FRBNY offers institutional clients to store gold free of charge, yet DNB favored to ship it home. From the FRBNY website:

The New York Fed charges account holders a handling fee for gold transactions, including when gold enters or leaves the vault or ownership transfers (moves between compartments), but otherwise does not charge fees for gold storage.

In the press release DNB stated repatriating gold “may have a positive effect on public confidence”. Suggesting the Dutch public – or central bank or government – does not have full faith in the FRBNY as a custodian.

The-Netherlands-Official-Gold-Reserves-Locations2
Exhibit 1. Locations Dutch gold before and after 21 November 2014.

My focus on the Dutch gold, in a way partially mine as our official gold reserves are not owned but merely managed by DNB, was sharpened in 2015. On 26 September of that year I visited the Reinvent Money conference in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. One of the speakers was Jacob De Haan from DNB’s Economics and Research Division. In his presentation, De Haan repeatedly emphasized the importance of transparency in central banking.

De Haan DNB 2015
Exhibit 2. Slide by Jacob De Haan DNB, Reinvent Money conference 26 September 2015. Red frame added by Koos Jansen.

Through my WOB experience, however, DNB appeared to be not transparent at all. Thereby, if DNB wants to be transparent and boost public confidence, why doesn’t it publish a gold bar list? The publication of this list would provide one of the most important checks on the existence of the Dutch official gold reserves, as the list can then be cross checked with the inventory lists of gold ETFs and alike, possibly exposing multiple titles of ownership on single gold bars. And this act of transparency could be accomplished within minutes by uploading an excel sheet to the DNB website. When I approached De Haan after the conference and asked why DNB doesn’t put out a gold bar list, he offered me he would look into it. He gave me his email address and we agreed to stay in touch.

Jan de Haan dnb
Exhibit 3. 26 September 2015 at the Reinvent Money conference. On the left Jacob De Haan, on the right in the orange sweater Koos Jansen.

Many months pasted, but after countless emails and phone calls DNB finally notified me it would not publish any gold bar list. So much for transparency! The following is what DNB wrote me on 11 August 2016 as the reason not to publish:

…we do not intend to publish a gold bar list. This serves no additional monetary purpose to our aforementioned transparency policy, however it would incur administrative costs.

Administrative costs? There hardly could be administrative costs as this list should be readily available in one or more spreadsheets, I reckoned. When confronting DNB with my logic they replied on 15 August 2016:

DNB has internal gold bar lists, however the conversion of internal lists to documents for publication would create too many administrative burdens.

DNB claims to have “internal lists”, but creating “documents for publication” would create too many administrative burdens. I couldn’t believe it. The only way this excuse would hold was if DNB’s internal lists are non-digital, which then need to be either physically copied or manually inserted in spreadsheet software. However, it’s highly unlikely DNB doesn’t have a digital gold bar list in this day and age. Computers have been widely used since the eighties; that’s more than thirty years ago. One the first applications that computers supported were spreadsheet programs designed for accounting.

Roughly 65 % of the international reserves of the Netherlands are held in gold. Would DNB still keep their precious gold records on pieces of paper?

In my professional opinion the Dutch gold must be meticulously recorded in digital documents and thus publishing a bar list should cost nothing. But showing proof will strengthen my perspective. Up till now this post has been more or less a summary of my previous writings. Down below we’ll zoom in on this material, and reveal why it’s virtually impossible for DNB to gain any administrative burdens for publishing a gold bar list.

The Dutch Gold Is Fully Allocated

Let us establish the Dutch gold is fully allocated. According to the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), which sets the global gold wholesale standards, gold held in allocated accounts is [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

Allocated Accounts: These are accounts held by dealers [/custodians] in clients’ names on which are maintained balances of uniquely identifiable bars of metal ‘allocated’ to a specific customer and segregated from other metal held in the vault. The client has full title to this metal with the dealer holding it on the client’s behalf as custodian.

Clients’ holdings will be identified in a weight list of bars showing the unique bar number, gross weight, the assay or fineness of each bar and its fine weight. 

Clearly, allocated accounts contain uniquely identifiable gold bars owned by one specific client.

DNB discloses the Dutch official gold reserves position according to the International Monetary Fund’s Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual version 6 (BPM6). From DNB [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

De Nederlandsche Bank [DNB] publishes the balance of payments statistics according to the sixth edition of the Balance of Payments and International Investment Position Manual (BPM6) since October 2014.

More from DNB:

The figures for the Netherlands have been adjusted for the period since 2008.

BPM6 forces national authorities to distinguish between gold bullion and unallocated accounts, of which gold bullion can be held in allocated accounts. The German central bank wrote in June 2014 on adopting BPM6  [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

The new rules are binding for the EU member states [which includes the Netherlands] by virtue of a Council regulation amended by the European Commission.

With regard to reserve assets, gold transactions and positions will in future be subdivided into [1] gold bullion, which includes gold bars and allocated gold accounts, and [2] gold receivables, to which no specific gold holdings are assigned [unallocated accounts].

In the next chart we can see the ratio between gold bullion and unallocated accounts of all the Eurosystem’s national central banks. The data has been sourced from the German central bank, as the BundesBank’s website has the most user friendly interface. The Netherlands is said to hold 100 % in gold bullion.

Official Gold Reserves Eurosystem May 2017
Exhibit 4. The Eurosystem’s official gold reserves. The exact accounting structure of BPM6 on unallocated accounts is beyond the scope of this post.

When asked directly, DNB replied all the Dutch official gold is indeed fully allocated. Accordingly, there should be lists from all custodians that show the uniquely identifiable gold bars owned by the Dutch state, as stipulated by LBMA guidelines.

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Exhibit 5. In red it sates, “I can inform you the Dutch gold is in physical form, ‘gold bullion’ and thus allocated. In the data you can clearly see the Dutch have no gold swaps or receivables, as this would be unallocated.” Jan Nieuwenhuijs and Koos Jansen are one and the same.

Displayed above in exhibit 1, the Dutch gold is mainly stored abroad. Since November 2014 the breakdown by location is as follows: 31 % in Amsterdam at DNB headquarters, 31 % in New York at the FRBNY, 20 % in Ottawa at the Bank Of Canada (BOC) and 18 % in London at the Bank Of England (BOE).

The BOE And FRBNY Provide Clients A Gold Bar List In Digital Format

I’ve inquired at the BOE if they furnish clients digital gold bar lists that comply with LBMA standards (more specific, with Annex H of the LBMA’s Specifications for Good Delivery Bars and Application Procedures for Listing), and if clients are allowed to physically audit their precious metals at the BOE vaults. Brendan Manning of the Public Enquiries Group responded:

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Exhibit 6.
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Exhibit 7.

We can read the BOE claims to provide clients a digital gold bar list that complies with Annex H of the LBMA’s Specifications for Good Delivery Bars and Application Procedures for Listing, and clients are permitted to inspect their gold at the BOE.

When approached with the same questions, the custodian bank in New York replied it couldn’t comment on this subject. However, there is a bar list of gold stored at the FRBNY in the public domain. For the Gold Reserve Transparency Act (2011, not enacted) the US Treasury published two gold bar lists. The first list in excel sheet format covers the US official gold stored at Fort Knox, Denver and West-Point, which aggregates to 7,715 tonnes (click to download the list). The second list in PDF format covers the US gold stored at the FRBNY, which accounts for 418 tonnes (click to download the list starting on page 128). Below is a screenshot of the FRBNY list:

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Exhibit 8. Screenshot of the US gold bar list from the FRBNY.

As shown the FRBNY list fully complies with LBMA standards: included is refinery brand, unique serial/melt number, gross weight, fineness, fine weight and year of manufacturing.

At the bottom of exhibit 8 we read the original document name is “FRBNY Schedule of Inventory of Gold Held.xlsx“. The extension of the document name “.xlsx” means the file was created by Microsoft Excel software, which is the most commonly used spreadsheet application. So, either, the FRBNY keeps its bar lists in excel sheets, or is capable of converting their data to excel format.

Kindly remember the US official gold reserves are owned by the US Treasury, not by the FRBNY. We may conclude the FRBNY is able to provides its clients, such as the US Treasury, gold bar lists in electronic format. There should be no problem whatsoever if DNB would ask the FRBNY for the Dutch gold bar list in excel format.

The Bank of Canada didn’t reply to my inquiries, but it doesn’t matter at this point. It should be clear gold custodians keep their books electronically and fully comply with LBMA standards.

I did find a hint of how the BOC operates. In 1997 Professor Duncan McDowall and his team investigated all gold dealings by the BOC from 1935 until 1956 to evaluate if some of the gold stored in Ottawa had ever been intertwined with Nazi gold. McDowall’s investigation is titled “Due Diligence: A report on the Bank of Canada’s handling of foreign gold during World War II“. One of the professor’s observations with respect to the BOC’s historical documents reads [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

Fiduciary obligation is similarly represented in the Bank’s [BOC] written dealings with its clients: the entitlement of any client to have a written confirmation of the disposition of the assets they have placed in the care of a bank. A good example of such an obligation in the context of this report would be the regular production of account statements that provided foreign central banks [i.e. DNB] with precise month-end and year-end reckonings of their earmarked gold holdings [allocated accounts] in Ottawa. … Currency Division’s reports on the arrival and departure of gold to and from these accounts therefore provided a meticulous record of foreign clients’ dealings with the Bank.

Even the BOC’s gold books from before the war appeared to be impeccable. I assume the BOC’s current custodial gold bookkeeping is as precise and meticulous now as it was then

DNB Is Likely To Maintain A Gold Bar List in Digital Format

Which leaves us to speculate if DNB itself, as the fourth custodian, holds a digital bar list of the 190 tonnes stored in Amsterdam. Allow me to share why I think they do.

The fact DNB repatriated 123 tonnes in November 2014 from New York, shows they’ve revived their affinity with gold. Few central banks have brought their gold home in recent years, which clearly makes DNB a physical gold advocate. No matter how you look at it, this can’t be denied.

While repatriating DNB took the opportunity to upgrade its vault room at the Frederiksplein in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Have a look at the DNB gold vault shelving system prior to November 2014 in the picture below:

DNB gold 2013
Exhibit 11. DNB gold vault prior to November 2014.

Now have a look at the new shelving system at the Frederiksplein. This next picture was taken after November 2014:

DNB gold vault
Exhibit 12. DNB gold vault after November 2014.

Obviously, DNB made the structures more robust by switching from wooden shelves to what looks to be iron. DNB consulted the BOE for a new shelving system as the BOE has an identical system since many years prior to 2014. Have a look at a photo from the BOE’s gold vault below:

BOE gold vault
Exhibit 13. BOE gold vault prior to November 2014.

Compressed:

  • DNB repatriated 123 tonnes, worth roughly 22 billion euros, from the FRBNY somewhere in the months prior to November 2014, exposing a deep and renewed affinity with gold.
  • DNB must have received a digital list from New York with the bars transported, as we know the FRBNY keeps its records in an electronic configuration.
  • While repatriating DNB consulted with the BOE for a robust shelving system in order to upgrade the vault room in Amsterdam, which reaffirms DNB’s careful attention for the gold they store.

Judging from the actions above I dare to say DNB had meticulously, and thus electronically, inventoried the 67 tonnes already stored in Amsterdam before November 2014, or registered this metal when the batch from New York arrived. So very likely all gold stored in Amsterdam is properly recorded in digital format.

A summary of the previous three chapters before we continue:

  1. All the Dutch official gold reserves are held in allocated accounts and thus there are bar lists available, which comply with LBMA standards, from all custodians.
  2. We may conclude all custodians save and distribute their bar lists electronically.

Het Financieele Dagblad

Meanwhile, I was interviewed by Het Fiancieele Dagblad, the Dutch version of the Financial Times, on 27 September 2016 for a weekend special on gold. In the interview I told two FD journalists about my views on gold and my curious encounters with DNB. The next day one of the journalists wrote me he would interview Aerdt Houben, Head of DNB’s Financial Markets Division, for the same gold special and invited me to share what I would ask Houben in his seat. I wrote back I would inquire about the gold bar list and if DNB had ever physically audited all the Dutch gold, among other topics.

In Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) from 28 October 2016 the interview with Houben reads:

FD: Some people are worried the Dutch gold might be gone.

Houben: To a certain degree the people should have trust in us. We are transparent about how much gold we hold and the locations.

FD: Are there any reports and bar lists on this, if so: why aren’t those public?

Houben: The content of the reports is also being checked by our accountants for our annual report. But the gold bar lists that would costs hundreds of thousands of euros. Because many people would have to check the contents and the many updates that are required.

In part Houben said the same as DNB mailed me months before, while specifying the administrative burdens would be several hundreds of thousands of euros. By now we know this is a fallacy.

Regarding the “reports” as mentioned in the FD: according to Houben these “reports” (whatever they are) are checked by DNB’s accountants for the annual report and presumably should proof the existence of the Dutch gold. However, in DNB’s annual report 2016 there is no mentioning of such gold related “reports”, or any gold auditing for that matter. What are these “reports”? And in case these are audit reports, why aren’t those public?

Let’s address the arguments for DNB’s excuse in the FD: “because many people would have to check the contents and the many updates that are required” . This is nonsense. For a proper audit, indeed, the bar lists would have to be checked against the physical inventory at the BOE, FRBNY, BOC and DNB. But, if the Dutch gold is audited by now, what additional checks would have to be done for publishing the bar list? Neither are any “updates” required as everything has been allocated since 2008. All DNB’s justifications have fallen apart.

I asked DNB in November 2016 by email, what exactly are the “reports” mentioned in the FD special, and why can’t DNB publish the gold bar list as provided by the BOE (the one custodian openly stating to provide clients a bar list)? DNB replied [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

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Exhibit 14.

In the red frame it reads:

In response to your messages I can inform you DNB has internal overviews of her gold possessions. These are being checked by external accountants [presumably this means the Dutch gold is audited]. As stated previously, DNB considers publishing a gold bar list to serve no monetary purpose. Thereby, creating a bar list for publication would be costly regarding the different formats delivered by our custodians. This means we will not respect your request for obtaining the gold bar list.

I presume DNB tries to communicate the gold has been audited, but how does one audit gold without a gold bar list that complies with LBMA standards? Only when cross checking bars with an inventory list that discloses all physical characteristics of the bars can audits be performed competently. Bar lists that comply with LBMA standards are indispensable for a physical audit.

Relying on audit documents (“reports“?) drafted by custodians is forgery. A physical audit has to be executed by a third party (not the owner and not the custodian). Common practise in the gold industry is to count 100 % and weigh 2 % of all bars at least once a year for an audit (source Bureau Veritas).

I don’t believe it would take DNB any effort to convert the different list formats by its custodians. It’s all digital and can be converted into one file within seconds. (Though publishing the bar list in different formats is fine too.)

By and by, publishing a gold bar list does serve a monetary purpose as it confirms how much monetary gold as nation truly holds. Without public bar lists countries can more easily create false data.

Sadly, in the email dated 5 January 2017 (exhibit 14) DNB told me it won’t reply to me anymore with respect to their bar list.

In the Tweet above it reads in Dutch:

Secrets. In the past a central bank was proud of it. Nobody was allowed to know how much gold we had and where it was stored. But the age of central banks cherishing their image of a closed fortress is long gone. Openness is our new policy.

Conclusion

The question is, who’s not telling the truth here? That would be DNB, for sure, and possibly also the BOE and FRBNY.

Just to be clear, the amount of gold leased out by DNB is nil. In 2012 the Dutch Minister Of Finance, De Jager, declared in congress DNB had ceased all gold leasing activities by 2008.

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Exhibit 15. Kamervragen 2012. In red, De Jager states, “No. DNB has notified me it ceased lending gold in 2008.”
Gold Bullion vs Unallocated Accounts The Netherlands
Exhibit 16. Gold bullion vs unallocated accounts for the Netherlands. Since January 2013 the Dutch state holds solely gold bullion.

Again, all the Dutch gold is allocated, and yet DNB declared in a newspaper the bar list can’t be published because it would cost “hundreds of thousands of euros - this has appeared to be an embarrassing statement and truly blows DNB’s credibility. If DNB doesn’t wish to disclose its bar list, for whatever reason, it would have done wise not to comment at all on this issue.

But why all the nonsense? Time to speculate. We’ll run through a few scenarios:

Scenario 1) Publishing a bar list might limit DNB’s future flexibility to intervene in financial markets. Currently, DNB hasn’t got any gold leased out. But if the bar list would be published, my central bank would be obstructed in future covert leasing activities.

Suppose, the gold price spikes in five months from now. DNB, or multiple central banks in concert, decide to lease out monetary gold in order to calm the physical market. When the leases would be undone several years later, surely the bars returned will not be the ones lend out. Following this scenario, when a bar list is published now it would be inaccurate in a few years time; showing bars that are long gone, and can show up on private gold ETF inventory lists.

If readers question wether central bankers are capable of ‘not telling the truth’, consider what DNB’s Governor said in an interview early 2012 when asked if he would repatriate any gold from the FRBNY. His answer was firm: “No”. However, shortly after, DNB started to prepare repatriating by reinforcing its headquarters. A new security barrier was constructed around the compound. DNB confirmed to me this was done to prevent any trucks from crashing the building. Likely, the Governor ‘did not tell the truth’ in the interview for strategic reasons.

Scenario 2) It’s possible the BOE claims to provide its clients gold bar lists and auditing rights, but in reality it doesn’t. Meaning, DNB doesn’t have a bar list from the BOE that complies with LBMA standards, which forces them to come up with excuses whenever confronted. This scenario could mean custodial gold at the BOE (and FRBNY) has been embezzled.

In 2016 economist Guillermo Barba pressured the Banco de México to publish a gold bar list of the Mexican gold stored at the BOE. In February 2017 Banco de México delivered Barba a list, but it didn’t satisfy LBMA standards by far. Surely this was done on purpose, because how the list was distributed can never have been how the BOE keeps it. So prior to distribution parts of the list were edited. Barba pressured Banxico once more and received a new list in March 2017 (click here to download the list). But neither did the new list satisfy LBMA standards! The column in the list that reads “serial number“, doesn’t disclose the serial numbers physically inscribed on the bars, which makes them uniquely identifiable, but shows the BOE’s internal numbering. In my opinion Barba was fooled twice by Banxico. Or Banxico was fooled twice by the BOE.

In July 2014 the Australian central bank (RBA) published its bar list of gold stored at the BOE due to intense efforts by gold blogger Bullion Baron. But alas, the RBA gold bar list does not disclose unique serial numbers (click here to download).

My colleague Ronan Manly tried to obtain a gold bar list from the Irish central bank (CBI); gold stored at the BOE. The CBI’s first response was:

The record concerned does not exist or cannot be found after all reasonable steps to ascertain its whereabouts have been taken, …

Your request was referred to two divisions within the Central Bank of Ireland, … Both divisions have confirmed that they do not hold any such records which fall within the scope of this part of your request. Accordingly, this part of your request is refused.

Eventually, after the BOE tried to block the request from CBI, Manly was duped with this file. All it really contains is a bar total and the total in fine ounces:

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Exhibit 17. Central bank of Ireland’s gold account at the BOE.

As far as I know, there has never been a serial number of a gold bar stored at the BOE released in the public domain. It can be the BOE is routinely deceiving its clients by distributing incomplete bar lists.

In the past, the central bank of Austria (OeNB) has failed to audit its gold at the BOE. The Austrian Court of Audit (Der Rechnungshof) wrote in a report in 2015 [brackets added by Koos Jansen]:

… the gold depository contract with the depository in England [BOE] contained deficiencies. With respect to the gold reserves stored abroad, internal auditing measures were lacking.

The OeNB had no appropriate concept to perform audits of its gold reserves. …

Was the OeNB blocked entrance from BOE vaults in 2015?

There is proof FRBNY clients have not been able to audit their gold in New York, at least not in 2007. The German Bundes Rechnungshof released a report in 2012 on the safety of the German gold abroad. Although the report is heavily redacted, on page 10 we read German auditors were not allowed entrance in the FRBNY gold vault to inspect their precious metals, nor were any other clients:

A possibility for the owners to physically record the holdings of their gold is not provided in the terms and conditions. According to the FRBNY, it’s a long-term practice not to allow the owners to inspect their assets in the interest of a safe working and control process. It has confirmed to the Bundesbank that these conditions for gold custody also apply to all other clients that store gold at the FRBNY.

In response to repeated requests from the internal auditors of the Bundesbank, their representatives were given the opportunity to enter the vault system in June 2007 to get an impression of the safety precautions. However, the employees were not given access to the vault compartments, but only to an entrance hall. An examination of gold was therefore not possible.

[Four redacted paragraphs follow]

Clearly the Germans were blocked from auditing their metal, and for decades all FRBNY clients had suffered the same fate.

Not surprisingly, after the developments between the OeNB, BOE, Bundesbank and FRBNY both European central banks decided to repatriate significant shares of their gold stored overseas. And both repatriate over the course of multiple years, which accentuates the friction between the custodians and their clients.

gold-storage-overview-oenb-2015-2020
Exhibit 18. Why OeNB hasn’t repatriated 140 tonnes of gold from the UK within a few months is a mystery.

Maybe DNB has experienced the same obstructions in New York as the Germans and hence decided to repatriate.

Scenario 3) DNB just doesn’t feel like publishing a gold bar list.

Who’s to say what the truth is? If readers can think of an additional scenario please comment below.

My final conclusion is that DNB is lying about its gold bar list, which is worrisome as it shouldn’t be necessary, or things behind the scenes are more convoluted and DNB is being lied to by its custodians, which is even more worrisome.

In short, producing a bar list that complies with LBMA standards should be child’s play. And only proper lists can grant us the safety of all the official gold reserves stored at the BOE and FRBNY. As of March 2017 the BOE and FRBNY stored an aggregated 10,821 tonnes of gold, of which the majority is monetary gold.

The Bundesbank, OeNB and DNB all claim their gold is audited by now, but none of them has ever released an audit report. The German central bank wrote me it doesn’t publish its audit reports “since Deutsche Bundesbank and its partners have agreed to maintain confidentiality with regard to the audits”. More secrecy and central bank collusion, no surprises there.

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Exhibit 19. Email by BuBa’s press division.

Until central bankers are fully transparent about their gold dealings we can have but mere distrust in them.

Gold Is Going To Play A Role In A New Monetary System. Interview Koos Jansen by ‘Dutch Financial Times’

In the Netherlands we have a financial newspaper that prints on pink paper and is named “Het Financieel Dagblad”. Basically it’s the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times. A few weeks ago I was interviewed by two of their reporters, Joost van Kuppeveld and Lenneke Arts. Today the interview was published as part of a series of interviews with gold experts, among others, with myself and Aerdt Houben, Director Financial Markets at the Dutch central bank (DNB). Perhaps not surprisingly I disagree with several statements of Houben in his interview, to which I would like to respond in a forthcoming post. For now, you can read my interview below. In case readers didn’t know my real name is Jan Nieuwenhuijs, and Koos Jansen is my Internet alias. Het Financieel Dagblad preferred to disclose my real name.

Original source at Financieel Dagblad, published 29 October 2016. Translated by Koos Jansen.

Gold Is Going To Play A Role In A New Monetary System

Jan Nieuwenhuijs

Profession: Precious metals analyst at BullionStar.com

Owns gold since 2010

“The whole world is now in the same boat. Everywhere there are low interest rates and on all continents money is printed. Only the United States has paused printing for the moment.

There are many flaws in fiat money. You can print it without limitations, which is politically too tempting. Fiat money printing was used to save the financial system in 2008, but since then nothing has changed. Banks are not split. In a next crisis it’s going to end badly with paper money. There will be significant inflation.

Gold is a hard currency. It can’t be printed – like fiat money. It is divisible and it does not perish. It retains its purchasing power in the long term. If it’s in the center of the monetary system, it will also be more stable in terms of purchasing power in the short and medium term. That has to do with economic principles; it is a commodity.koos-jansen-fd-2016-smaller In that respect I feel safe by keeping a portion of my savings in physical gold. I am protected from economic shocks. If the euro falls gold rises, and so my purchasing power is maintained.

Something has to happen in the international monetary system. It cannot stay centred around the dollar. Since 1971 – when the dollar was detached from gold – the United States has an exorbitant privilege. Most trade in the world is settled in dollars. Therefore, there is a huge demand for dollars in the world, and the US can simply print these dollars.

In the new system gold is going  play a role. Look at the developments in Europe. The Netherlands and Germany get their gold back from America. Austria and Belgium are also repatriating. Russia and China buy a lot of gold. The Chinese have too many dollars in foreign exchange reserves and are therefore at the mercy of the whims of US policy. The transition to a new system will be gradual. No one wants a new shock.

With my blog I try to fill the gap between mainstream media, who do not understand gold, and conspiracy theorists. I always try to seek the truth. Because if we get a new financial crisis, we must know the truth. The Dutch central bank shouldn’t state it holds 600 tonnes if it can’t show us the audit reports and gold bar list. That’s why I’m pushing for the audit reports and gold bars list to be publicly released, but those requests find a lot of resistance at my national bank. While you would think they can be fully transparent. What’s there to hide?”

Dutch Central Bank Refuses To Publish Gold Bar List For Dubious Reasons

My hunt for the gold bar list of the Dutch official gold reserves started in 2015. On September 26 of that year I visited a conference in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, called Reinvent Money. One of the speakers was Jacob De Haan from the Dutch central bank (DNB) Economics and Research Division – you can watch his presentation by clicking here.

In his presentation De Haan repeatedly talked about the importance of transparency in central banking. These statements raised my eyebrows, as I submitted a FOIA request at DNB in 2013 to ask for all correspondence between DNB and other central banks in the past 45 years with respect to its monetary gold, which was not honored. From my experience DNB was anything but transparent.

De Haan DNB 2015
Slide  is from Jacob De Haan (DNB) at the Reinvent Money conference September 26, 2015. Red frame added by me.

After the presentation I approached De Haan and asked him, if transparency is so important to DNB, why has it never published its gold bar list? An act of transparency that could be accomplished within minutes. De Haan offered me he would look into that. He gave me his email address and we agreed to stay in touch. 

Jan de Haan dnb
September 26, 2015, at the Reinvent Money conference. On the left is Jacob De Haan, on the right in the orange sweater is me.

The next day I send De Haan an extensive email explicating my request at DNB to publish the gold bar list of the Dutch gold in excel sheet format. I wrote him it wouldn’t take DNB any effort, as I assumed the bar list was readily available.

De Haan never replied to my email, so I called his office in December 2015 to ask what the status was of my request. De Haan’s secretary answered my inquiry was not rejected but still being processed.

Weeks passed but I didn’t get any reply from De Haan.

On February 24, 2016, I decided to call DNB’s press department to ask about my inquiry. DNB’s spokesman, Martijn Pols, told me over the phone the subject was still being discussed internally, he even confirmed De Haan was involved in the decision making. DNB was considering releasing the document while carefully weighing al pros and cons, he said.

In the conversation Pols stated DNB was aware the German central bank (the Deutsche Bundesbank) released a bar list in October 2015 and there was a wish in Amsterdam to mutually harmonize this policy. I added that if DNB would go ahead with the publication their action would only be credible if the Dutch bar list would be complete (disclosing refinery brands, refinery bar numbers and year of manufacturing), in contrast to the incomplete list the Germans had published. Pols was aware of the format the Germans had chosen and took note of my comment. An ensuing question from my side what was holding back DNB in releasing the list could not be clearly answered.

Months passed without any news from DNB. On August 8, 2016 I decided to call Pols again for a status update. He said he would reply over email. A few days later I received an email from DNB Head of Commutations J.W. Stal.

His email to me, translated from Dutch to English, reads:

Dear Mr Jansen,

…. We can share the following information with respect to our gold reserves.

DNB is transparent about the amount (weight) and the value of our gold assets. This information can be found in our annual reports. Thereby, several media have visited the gold vault and video recordings have also been made. However, we do not intend to publish a gold bar list. This serves no additional monetary purpose to our aforementioned transparency policy, however it would incur administrative costs

If you have any further question please contacts us.

Kind regards,

J.W. Stal

Of course, in this day and age any gold bar list from a central banks should be readily available in excel sheet format, and releasing a sheet would not incur any administrative costs.

My response to Stal translated:

Dear Mr Stal,

If the sole reason not to publish the gold bar list is that such an action would incur administrative costs I must conclude DNB doesn’t have the list readily available. Or is my conclusion erroneous? Does DNB have a complete gold bar list readily available or not?

If not, this is worrying because the gold bar list forms one of the most important checks on the existence of the Dutch official gold reserves, which provide essential stability to our economy.

Is the list in your possession or not?

Kind regards,

Koos Jansen

Stal replied:

Dear Mr Jansen,

In response to your email of August 11, 2016, to De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB), we can inform you as follows on our gold reserves and the related gold bar list. DNB has internal gold bar lists, however the conversion of internal lists to documents for publication would create too many administrative burdens.

We maintain our previous email, in which we stated publishing a gold bar list serves no monetary purpose other than transparency. And as previously noted, there are other ways for DNB to transparently communicate about our gold stocks.

We trust to have informed you sufficiently.

Kind regards,

J.W. Stal 

If DNB has its gold bar list properly (digitally) archived there should be no administrative cost whatsoever for publication. The argument presented by Stal makes absolutely no sense to me. If one owns over 600 tonnes of gold, why not have the physical assets accurately inventoried? 

What could possibly be the problem to release the bar list of the Dutch gold located in Amsterdam, New York, Ottawa and London?

The-Netherlands-Official-Gold-Reserves-Allocation

I would like to remind you that DNB is the only Western central bank that in recent years has successfully repatriated a significant amount of gold (122.5 tonnes) from the Federal Reserve Bank Of New York through a covertly executed operation. This underlines DNB is fully aware of the importance of its gold reserves in our current fragile financial climate. I think DNB does have the bar list readily available, but it chooses not to publish it for political reasons – think, tensions between its custodians in New York and London.

DNB claims to be transparent but in reality it’s not.

If you click this link you can see the most recent video recording made inside the DNB vault at the Frederiksplein in Amsterdam on April 26, 2016. The gold you see in the video aggregates to 189.9 tonnes and includes the 122.5 tonnes repatriated from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in November 2014. Note, the gold at the Frederiksplein has been relocated to a different compartment inside the vault room after November 2014, due to the increased volume by the repatriation.

elianne DNB gold
Courtesy RTLZ. DNB vault room, Frederiksplein in Amsterdam on April 26, 2016.

A few noteworthy comments from the DNB employee in the video:

Gold is the ultimate insurance and anchor in monetary systems.

If there will ever be any financial instability we can use the gold to build a new monetary system and offer trust to the public.

Bank Of England Custodian Gold Drops 351t

The Bank Of England (BOE) has recently released its annual report in which it’s disclosed the gold held in custody for a range of customers was 5,134 metric tonnes on February 28, 2015, down 351 tonnes (6 %) form the previous year. 

The data on gold in custody at the BOE is disclosed in billions of Great British Pounds. The annual report states the BOE’s custodian gold was worth £130 billion on February 28, 2015. Because the data is disclosed in round numbers the derived tonnage is an estimate.

BOE custodian gold
Exhibit 1.

The BOE isn’t a member of the LBMA, but members of the LBMA hold gold in custody accounts with the BOE – next to foreign central banks and international financial institutions.

Let’s throw in some more numbers that are publicly available to get a bette handle on gold stored in London and to see if we can figure out how much gold is left in London:

Since January 2015 the LBMA website claims the total gold stored in London is 7,500 tonnes of which three quarters is stored at the BOE vaults. We’ll use 5,625 tonnes as an estimate for gold held in custody at the BOE on February 28, 2015.

From the Internet Archive it can be seen the same website claimed in April 2014 there was 9,000 tonnes in London of which two thirds was stored at the BOE. We’ll use 6,000 tonnes as an estimate for gold held in custody at the BOE in custody on February 28, 2014.

Gold from the GLD ETF is also stored in the LBMA system, at an HSBC vault located within the M25 London Orbital Ringway (typically LBMA vaults are within M25 to limit transportation and security costs), but this is all outside the BOE vaults.

The BOE could be a subcustodian for HSBC, as can be read in the GLD prospectus:

Gold bars may be held by one or more subcustodians appointed by the Custodian [HSBC], or employed by the subcustodians appointed by the Custodian, until it is transported to the Custodian’s London vault premises [the HSBC vault].

However, it’s likely in February there was nil GLD gold held by a subcustodian. From the prospectus:

As at March 31, 2015, the Custodian [HSBC] held 23,702,920 ounces of gold on behalf of the Trust [GLD] in its vault, 100% of which is allocated gold in the form of London Good Delivery gold bars with a market value of $28,135,365,641 (cost — $29,341,051,196) based on the LBMA Gold Price PM on March 31, 2015. Subcustodians held nil ounces of gold in their vaults on behalf of the Trust. 

GLD was holding 771 tonnes on February 28, 2015, and 804 tonnes on February, 28, 2014.

Next is an overview of the estimates we just talked about:

LBMA system estimates Feb 2015
Exhibit 2.
  • ‘tonnes at BOE’ is the data from the BOE annual reports
  • ‘LBMA’ is the data from the LBMA website
  • ‘LBMA gold at BOE’ is derived from the data from the LBMA website
  • ‘LBMA gold outside BOE’ is ‘LBMA’ minus ‘LBMA gold at BOE’
  • ‘LBMA gold outside BOE minus GLD’ is exactly what is says it is

What can be seen is that ‘tonnes at the BOE’ and ‘LBMA gold at BOE’ roughly corresponds. It can be that, ‘LBMA gold at the BOE’ includes foreign central bank gold, or put differently; foreign central bank gold at the BOE is maybe counted as gold in the LBMA system. I will further investigate this possibility.

It’s hard to say how much gold foreign central banks store at the BOE, but according to my estimates it is at least 2,000 tonnes – based on data from the central bank of the Netherlands (123t), Austria (230t), Germany (441t), Australia (80t), Switzerland (208t), Sweden (61t), Finland (25t), Belgium (±200t) and India (±250t) in addition to the IMF (±450t).

Let us assume foreign central banks store 3,000 tonnes at the BOE. This means the floating supply of London Good Delivery bars at the BOE is:

5,134 (annual report) – 3,000 (foreign central banks) = 2,134 tonnes

‘LBMA gold outside BOE minus GLD’ (exhibit 2) = 1,104 tonnes

Summed up, there is an estimated 3,238 tonnes of floating supply in London. This excludes GLD and gold stored by foreign central banks at the BOE.

LBMA estimates Feb 2015
Exhibit 3.

This post will be continued.

Belgium Denies To Repatriate Gold From The UK

Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad was reporting on Wednesday Belgium will repatriate 200 tonnes of gold from the Bank Of England (BOE). De Tijd is now stating the opposite, quoting the governor of the Belgian Central Bank (NBB) Luc Coene:

The repatriation from the UK is not true…. There are other and more effective ways to verify if the gold in London is really ours. We have an audit committee that inspects the Belgian gold in the UK regularly…. Repatriating would be more expansive with transport, storage and security costs.

One thing is for sure, the Belgians are nervous about their gold (227 tonnes) held abroad. In December 2014 the Luc Coene admitted he was investigating to repatriate all Belgian gold reserves, on TV-network VTM Nieuws:

Luc Coene: If one feels that in surrounding countries these decisions are taken, one knows that this question will be asked to us as well. We’re pro-active investigating all the elements, so when the question will be asked, we can answer it.

The practical problem is the transport of the gold, with all the risk that come with it. Second, if we repatriate we need to setup a large security system in Belgium. Though currently this is done by certain central banks that are specialized in this.

Did the investigation point out the transport and storage costs would be too high? Currently the storage fee NBB pays to its custodians (BOE, BIS, Bank of Canada) is €250,000 a year. Is Belgium not repatriating because of the costs or because it got obstructed by other authorities?

Last week I reported about the mystery regarding the fine gold tonnage claimed to have been repatriated by the Netherlands and Germany in 2014 from New York (208 tonnes), and the drop in total foreign gold deposits disclosed by the Federal Reserve Bank Of New York (FRBNY) in 2014 (177 tonnes). The mystery – that adds to a long list of oddities – couldn’t be clarified to me by the central bank of the Netherlands, Germany or US. Additionally, I called and emailed to the central bank of the Ukraine to ask whether they had deposited any gold in New York in 2014 that could help explain the mysterious 31 tonnes gap. Until now, all four central banks were reluctant to say anything that could restore their common credibility, but perhaps one will in the future – still waiting on email reply from the central bank of the Ukraine.

There is enough evidence European countries, among others, are nervous about the security of their official gold reserves stored abroad – who wouldn’t be if unprecedented amounts of physical gold were moving to Asia while Western consultancy firms are clearly underreporting this trend. Accidentally there are more and more stories popping up that might be a backwash from the tension between the big custodians (FRBNY, BOE) and the gold owners.

This story about Belgium repatriating 200 tonnes from the UK, which was officially denied after a few hours by the NBB, makes the story of the Netherlands that bought 10 tonnes last December, which was also officially denied after a few hours, more suspicious. I hate to speculate, though our central banks and the impossibility of the numbers they put out force me to speculate – apparently there is no other option.  

The fact the 31 tonnes gap is not being elucidated by the central banks in concert might signal these central banks have something to hide. If the custodians have something to hide, we can ask ourselves; did Belgium apply for withdrawing 200 tonnes of gold from the UK, but shortly after got a telephone call this request was not part of the range of possibilities? Or will the Belgians repatriate, but for security reasons don’t like the global press to know?

UPDATE 5 PM GMT+1: Press release from the NBB:

In accordance with the Organic Law and the Statute of the National Bank the official foreign reserves of the Belgian State, including the gold reserves, are held and managed by the NBB.

The official gold reserves account for 227 tonnes, most of which is stored at the Bank of England, and the remainder at the Bank of Canada and the Bank for International Settlements.

The National Bank does not intend to repatriate these reserves, which are regularly audited.

The National Bank will report any movement regarding these gold reserves as appropriate.

Guest Post: Australia Audits Gold Reserves At BOE

Written by Bullion Baron:

Two years ago the news was publicly broken on the BullionBaron.com website that 99.9% of Australia’s Gold reserves are stored at the Bank of England in the United Kingdom. Attempts by another blogger, interested in the whereabouts of Australia’s Gold, had been rejected by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) only several months earlier, “The Bank does not publish the location of its gold reserves.”

Bank of England Vault
Bank of England gold vault

Decisions like this don’t happen in a black hole. Something changed the RBA’s mind, between August 2012 and December 2012, on making the location of Australia’s Gold reserves public.

From my observation, the RBA tends to follow the lead of other Central Banks, so the decision to release information on the location of Australia’s Gold may have been a result of Germany’s Central Bank (Deutsche Bundesbank) deciding to do so in October 2012 (interview containing the information originally released is no longer published on the site, but available via Web Archive). Only a month later, in November 2012, the Austrian Central Bank released the location of their Gold reserves, revealing that 80% resided in the UK, 3% in Switzerland and 17% in Austria. Cue the RBA feeling comfortable to release the location details of Australia’s Gold around 1 month later.

A recent experience of mine with the RBA further highlighted their desire to follow in the footsteps of other Central Banks rather than to think for themselves. A Freedom Of Information (FOI) request I made for the Gold bar list was initially rejected, but after lodging an appeal with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OIAC), highlighting that the United States published a list of their Gold bars details (sans the serial number), the RBA decided to follow suit (RBA Gold Bar Details).

Earlier this year I spotted a line in the RBA’s 2014 Annual Report indicating an audit had been performed (not something I have seen mentioned in previous years):

Gold holdings at the end of June 2014 were around 80 tonnes, unchanged from the previous year. Gold prices rose by 9 per cent in Australian dollar terms in 2013/14, increasing the value of the Reserve Bank’s holdings of gold by around $0.3 billion to $3.6 billion. Activity in the gold lending market remained subdued, with the Bank having only 1 tonne of gold on loan during the year. Income earned on that loan amounted to $0.2 million. During the year in review, the Bank audited its gold holdings, including that portion held in safe custody at the Bank of England.

A question posed by email to the RBA earlier in the year suggested that RBA officials had performed the audit themselves. I decided to lodge another FOI request.

“I request that a copy of the following documents be provided to me: All documents pertaining to the audit of the RBA’s gold holdings performed during the 2013/14 financial year, as was specified in the ‘Operations in Financial Markets’ section of the Reserve Bank of Australia Annual Report 2014 (“During the year in review, the Bank audited its gold holdings”).”

Two months later (decision on the documents was delayed due to consultation with the Bank of England) I received the following list of documents that would be provided (on payment of fees, which were reduced from an original quote due to the small number of documents that could be released):

RBA Gold Audit Documents

And today the documents arrived. Here’s what we know…

In February 2013, the Assistant Governor (Financial Markets) requested the Audit Department to include in its audit program a review of the Bank’s gold holdings at the Bank of England (BoE). The Chief Representative in EU approached the BoE to facilitate this review and in late May 2013 initial planning discussions were held with BoE staff with tentative agreement that the review would take place in September 2013.

The audit included:

  • An on-site physical verification on September 23, 2013, which will take 4-5 days to complete, assuming two RBA auditors are involved given the proposed scope.
  • Inspecting a sample of RBA Gold bars (list to be provided in advance), including checking the details of these bars against the Bank’s inventory list and weighing of the bars by BoE staff using their equipment.
  • Randomly selecting additional Gold bars from the inventory list and observing these bars being located and retrieved from their vault (plus verifying the details and weighing them).
  • Obtain a high level understanding of the BoE gold safe custody service.
  • Continuing discussions for a comprehensive safe custody agreement between the RBA and BoE.

As the above document list shows, those relating to final audit results were not provided. I would assume the audit was successful, but no doubt that would be a highly contested opinion in the Gold blogosphere. The following reason was provided for denying access to the report:

Documents 10, 11 and 12 are drafts of the report prepared by the RBA’s Audit Department detailing the findings of the audit and document 13 is the final of that report.

Denial of access to these four documents in terms of s33(a)(iii) is appropriate because release of the information (which relates to procedures for the conduct of the audit with the BoE and the subsequent results) ‘would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to’ the relationship between the RBA and the BoE. This belief is soundly held by us on the basis that we are aware that the BoE provides safe custody services not only to the RBA, but also to other central banks around the world.  Disclosure of the information in these documents could damage the relationship between the BoE and its other central bank clients, and by extension (as the source of the information), the relationship between the BoE and RBA. As foreshadowed to you in earlier correspondence, we consulted with the BoE in relation to these documents and they affirmed the views we held regarding the damage that would be done to the relationship between the BoE and RBA if the redacted information were disclosed.

Denial of access to these four documents is also appropriate in terms of s47E(a) (‘disclosure would, or could be reasonably expected to, prejudice the effectiveness of procedures or methods for the conduct of tests, examinations or audits’ by the Bank) and (b) (‘disclosure would, or could be reasonably expected to, prejudice the attainment of the objects of particular tests, examinations or audits conducted, or to be conducted’, by the Bank). The documents in question concern the ‘procedures and methods’ within both the RBA and the BoE regarding the conduct of the physical check of a sample of gold bars (for the purpose of conducting the audit). Disclosure of this information would, of course, reveal those procedures and methods, and by logical extension render them less effective. Also, the ability of the Bank to attain the objects of the audit (which is to reveal whether the Bank’s arrangements are robust and secure) would be prejudiced. These considerations apply to both the audit currently the subject of your FOI request and also any other audits undertaken by the RBA. A key requirement for undertaking a successful audit (of any aspect of the RBA’s work) is that there is as little opportunity as possible for individuals to take steps to predict what an auditor may choose to focus on, and/or how they will conduct the audit. It is self-evident that if such procedures and methods are revealed, then the opportunity to circumvent them is greatly increased.  As s47E is a public interest conditional exemption, I must take into account whether the giving of access is in the general public interest (in terms of s11A(5)). When deciding whether access is in the public interest, I must take into account the following from s11B(3) and have noted my views in each case:

Section 11B(3) factors favouring access to the document in the public interest include whether access to the document would do any of the following:

(a) promote the objects of this Act (including all the matters set out in sections 3 and 3A); release would be contrary to some sections, particularly sections 2(a) and 3(3)

(b) inform debate on a matter of public importance; the Bank’s gold holdings, while important and of interest to some, are not a matter of public importance generating any level of debate.

(c) promote effective oversight of public expenditure; release of the information would not do this.

(d) allow a person to access his or her own personal information; the request is not seeking personal information.

Taking into account these factors, and the implications release of the information would have on the Bank’s audit processes, I have decided that it is clearly not in the public interest to disclose the information in these four documents (10, 11, 12 and 13).  Disclosure of these documents would manifestly harm the public interest by way of reducing the ability of the RBA to successfully conduct audits and tests of its operations going forward.

The released documents (mostly a chain of various emails) also suggested the RBA has been invited back for another review in 12 months.

One interesting point from the documents; the Bank of England was emailing clients in June 2013 (those for whom they’re providing custodial services) inviting them to audit samples of their Gold:

Bank of EnglandGold Inspection Letter

Given that the RBA has followed the lead of other countries to release reserve location details, perform audits and release (some) bar list details, it will be interesting to see whether they go further and follow the lead of the many countries now deciding to repatriate some or all of their Gold reserves…However discussions on the RBA audit were already well advanced at that time.

I’m sharing links and opinions daily on Twitter (@BullionBaron).

The Bank Of England Lost 755 Tonnes Of Gold In 2013

The Bank Of England (BoE) just came out with their annual report 2014. In the report it’s stated the BoE is the custodian of 5485 metric tonnes of gold (£140 billion pounds measured February 28, 2014). From the BoE annual report 2014:

The Bank provides custodial services for a range of customers. As at 28 February 2014, total assets held by the Bank as custodian were £594bn, of which £140bn were holdings of gold.

In the BoE’s annual report 2013 it was stated they held 6240 tonnes of gold (£210 billion pounds measured February 28, 2013). From the BoE annual report 2013:

As part of this strategy the Bank also provides custodial services for a range of customers. As of 28 February 2013, total assets held by the Bank as custodian were £699 billion, of which £210 billion were holdings of gold.

(To calculate the tonnage I used a gold price of £1046.719 for February 2013 and £793.931 for February 2014)

According to the BoE they had 755 tonnes less gold in their vaults in February 2014 relative to February 2103 (in contrast to reports the BoE lost 1300 tonnes in 2013). The BoE is a custodian for central banks and the LBMA, the removed gold from the vaults was most likely from LBMA customers. GLD’s gold inventory is vaulted in London, but I’m not positive how much, if any, of their gold is stored at the BoE. GLD’s stock lost 451 tonnes over this period. If everything GLD lost came from their own HSBC vault, and nothing from their sub-custodian the BoE, the gold removed from both GLD and the BoE in total is 1206 tonnes.

However, when we look at UK’s net gold trade over this period (March 2013 – February 2014), we can see 1593 tonnes were exported.

UK Gold Trade 2009 - march 2014

This leaves a gap of 392 tonnes (1593 minus 1201), which had to be supplied by additional LBMA or private vaults in London.