Tag Archives: Standard Chartered

Bullion Banks pass the parcel on El Salvador’s gold reserves

Eighteen months ago I wrote a short synopsis of a gold sales transaction by the central bank of El Salvador wherein it had sold 80% (about 5.5 tonnes) of its official gold reserves. The title of the post was “El Salvador’s gold reserves, the BIS, and the bullion banks“. If you thought, why the focus on the Banco Central de Reserva de El Salvador (BCR), it’s not a major player on the world gold market, you’d be correct, it’s not in its own right that important.

However, the point of the article was not to profile the gold transactions of a relatively obscure central bank in Central America, but to introduce the topic of central bank gold lending to LBMA bullion banks, and the use of short-term ‘gold deposits‘ offered by these bullion banks. The reason being is this is a very under-analysed topic and one which I will be devoting more time to in the future.  Gold loans by central banks to bullion banks are one of the most opaque areas of the global gold market. The fact that I’m using the central bank of El Salvador as the example is immaterial, it’s just convenient since the BCR happens to report the details of its gold lending operations, unlike most central banks.

A Quick Recap

At the end of September 2014, the BCR claimed to hold 223,113 ozs of gold (6.94 tonnes), of which 189,646 ozs (5.9 tonnes) was held in the form of “deposits of physical gold” with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and 33,467 ozs (1.04 tonnes) which was held as “time deposits” of gold (up to 31 days) with 2 commercial bullion banks, namely Barclays Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia.

The following table and all similar tables below are taken from the BCR’s ‘Statement of Assets backing the Liquidity Reserve’, or ‘Estado de Los Activos Que Respaldan la Reserva de Liquidez’, which it publishes every 3 months.

bcr-sept-2014
BCR gold position as of 30 September 2014

In November 2014, the BCR executed a small sale of 5007 ozs of its gold from its quantity held with the BIS, leaving a holding of 218,106 ozs (6.784 tonnes) as of 31 December 2014, comprising 184,639 ozs held in “deposits of physical gold” with the BIS, and 33,467 ozs of “time deposits” (of between 2 and 14 days duration) with 2 bullion banks, namely BNP Paribas and the Bank of Nova Scotia. Notice that as of the end of 2014, BNP Paribas was now holding one of the time deposits of gold, and that Barclays was not listed.

bcr-dec-2014
BCR gold position as of 31 December 2014

Notice also in the above table the tiny residual time deposit gold holding attributed to Standard Chartered Bank Plc. Rewind for a moment to 30 June 2014. At the end of June 2014, the BCR’s gold deposits were placed with 3 LBMA bullion banks, namely, Barclays, Bank of Nova Scotia, and Standard Chartered.

This is the way short-term gold deposit transactions work. A central bank places the short-term gold deposit with one of a small number of bullion banks, most likely at the Bank of England, and when the deposit expires after e.g. 1 month, the central bank places the deposit again, but not necessarily with the same bullion bank. The deposit rates on offer (by the bullion banks) and the placements by the central banks are communicated over a combination of Bloomberg terminals, or by phone and then the transactions are settled by Swift messages. More about the actual mechanics of this process in a future article.

bcr-june-2014
BCR gold position as of 30 June 2014

bullion-banks

BCR sold its gold at the BIS, put the rest on deposit

In March 2015, the BCR sold 174,000 ozs (5.412 tonnes ) of gold, which left El Salvador with 44,000 ozs. When I wrote about this transaction 18 months ago I had speculated that:

“Since the Salvadoreans had 189,646 ozs on deposit with the BIS and needed to sell 179,000 ozs, the gold sold was most definitely sold to the BIS or to another party with the BIS acting as agent.

It would not make sense to sell some or all of the time deposits that are out with the bullion banks such as Barclays and Scotia, since a large chunk of the BCR gold at the BIS would have to be sold also. It would be far easier to just deal with one set of transactions at the BIS

The above would leave the time deposits of 33,467 ozs (and accrued interest) out with the bullion banks, rolling over each month as usual. The other roughly 11,000 ozs that the BCR held with the BIS could be left with the BIS, or else this too could be put out on deposit with the bullion banks.”

This speculation turns out to have been correct. By 31 March 2015, the BCR held 10,639 ozs of gold “deposits of physical gold” with the BIS, and the same 33,467 ozs of “time deposits“, but this time split evenly between BNP Paribas and Barclays. The entire 174,000 ozs of gold sold came from the “deposits of physical gold” that El Salvador held with the BIS.

bcr-mar-2015
BCR gold position as of 30 March 2015

By 30 June 2015, the central bank of El Salvador had moved its remaining 10,639 ozs of “deposits of physical gold” from the BIS, and placed it into “time deposits” with bullion banks, with the entire 44,106 ozs being evenly split across Bank of Nova Scotia, BNP Parias and Standard Chartered, each holding 14,702 ozs.

bcr-june-2015
BCR gold position as of 30 June 2015

Over the 12 months from end of June 2014 to 30 June 2015, a combination of at least 4 LBMA bullion banks, namely, Barclays, Bank of Nova Scotia, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas were holding short-term gold deposits on behalf of the central bank of El Salvador. I say at least 4 banks, because there could have been more. The snapshots every 3 months only reveal which banks held gold deposits on those dates, not the full list of deposits that could have been placed and matured over each 3 month period.

These time deposits are essentially obligations by the bullion bank in question to repay the central bank that amount of gold. The original gold which was first deposited into the LBMA system could have been sold, lent or otherwise encumbered. It has become a credit in the LBMA unallocated gold system. Ultimately it needs to be paid back to the central bank by whichever bullion bank holds the deposit when the central bank decides that it no longer wants to roll its short-term deposits. This is why the anology of pass the parcel is a suitable one.

Looking at the more recent 3 monthly snapshots from September 2015 to June 2016, the same 4 LBMA bullion bank names were still holding the BCR’s gold deposits, namely Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays, Standard Chartered and BNP Paribas.

As of 30 September 2015 – Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays and BNP Paribas, evenly split between the 3 of them.

bcr-sept-2015
BCR gold position as of 30 September 2015

On 31 December 2015 – Bank of Nova Scotia, BNP Paribas, and Standard Chartered, evenly split between the 3 of them.

bcr-dec-2015
BCR gold position as of 30 December 2015

On 30 March 2016 – Bank of Nova Scotia and BNP Paribas, evenly split between the 2 of them.

bcr-mar-2016
BCR gold position as of 30 March 2016

On 30 June 2016, the BCR gold deposits were held by Bank of Nova Scotia and BNP Paribas, evenly spilt between the 2. The 30 June 2016 file on the BCR website doesn’t open correctly so this data was taken from the Google cache of the file.

IMF Reporting standards

Finally, let’s take a quick look at what monetary gold and gold deposits actually are, as defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Monetary gold is gold owned by the authorities and held as a reserve asset.  Monetary Gold is a reserve asset for which there is no outstanding financial liability”, IMF Balance of Payments Manual (BPM)

In April 2006, Hidetoshi Takeda, of the IMF Statistics Department published a short opinion paper on the ‘Treatment of Gold Swaps and Gold Deposits (loans)‘ on behalf of the Reserve Assets Technical Expert Group (RESTEG) of the IMF Committee on Balance of Payments (BoP) Statistics. The paper was called “Issues Paper (RESTEG) #11“. In the Issues paper, Takeda states:

“monetary authority make  gold deposits ‘to have their bullion physically deposited with a bullion bank, which may use the gold for trading purpose in world gold markets‘”

“‘The ownership of the gold effectively remains with the monetary authorities, which earn interest on the deposits, and the gold is returned to the monetary authorities on maturity of the deposits'”

 ” Balance of Payments Manual, fifth Edition (BPM5) is silent on the treatment of gold deposits/loans. However, the Guidelines states that, “To qualify as reserve assets, gold deposits must be available upon demand to the monetary authorities” 

You can see from the above that once the gold balance that is represented by the gold deposit is under the control of a bullion bank as a unallocated balance, then it becomes an asset of the bullion bank and can be used in subsequent bullion bank transactions, such as being lent again,  or used to support its trading book, etc.

The big question is whether the gold as represented by the gold deposit is available on demand by the central bank which lent it. For ‘available on demand’ think using an ATM or walking into your local bank and withdrawing some cash from your account. It’s as simple as that.

Takeda said:

“Regarding the statistical treatment of gold deposits/loans, keeping the status quo is suggested. That is, if the deposited/loaned gold is available upon demand to the monetary authorities, it can be included in reserve assets as monetary gold. However, if the gold is not available upon demand, it should be removed from reserve assets

Takeda’s paper also covers the topic of “Double counting of gold from outright sales of gold acquired through gold swaps or gold deposits/loans” where he says logically:

“double counting of gold can occur when a bullion bank sells outright gold acquired through gold deposits/loans from… monetary authorities”

If the gold sold is not removed from the central bank’s balance sheet, it could:

“pose a problem when international statistical standards allow swapped/deposited gold to remain in the reserve assets of the gold provider.”

Given that nothing has changed in the IMF’s reporting standards since 2006, i.e. the IMF did not take on board Takeda’s recommendations on gold loan accounting treatment, and given that all central banks still report gold as one line item of “gold and gold receivables”, then you can see how these gold deposits that are being continually rolled over by central banks using a small number of LBMA bullion banks based in London a) are being double counted if the gold involved has been sold, b) only represent claims by a central bank on a bullion bank, and c) allow bullion banks to increase their unallocated balances which can then be used in myriad leveraged and hypothecated ‘gold’ trading transactions

If you think 4 LBMA bullion banks passing a parcel of central bank gold claims around between them is excessive, wait until you see 28 bullion banks doing the same thing! Coming soon in a future article.

Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price – New Kid on the Block

Exactly 19 months to the day after the International Board of the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) held its first full trading session on 19 September 2014, the Shanghai Gold Exchange launched the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price auction on 19 April 2016. In China, the number 19 is very auspicious since it consists of lucky number 1, which means origin or beginning, and lucky number 9 meaning everlasting, eternity, or longevity.

In another example of calculated Chinese planning, the SGE first announced plans to launch its own gold fixing auction on 11 March 2015. This was the week immediately prior to the launch of the LBMA Gold Price auction on 20 March 2015, an event which occurred without any Chinese banks being present in the initial participant list. This lack of Chinese banks as initial participants in the LBMA Gold Price auctions was despite the Chinese banks having made it clear in October 2014 that they wanted to be present in the London auction on launch day:

“It’s been very welcome to see that quite a few banks in China are very interested in taking part. They said they definitely wanted to be there on day one for gold” [Ruth Crowell, LBMA CEO, October 2014 interview with MetalBulletin quoted here]

Two Chinese banks eventually joined the LBMA Gold Price auction, Bank of China on 22 June 2015, and China Construction Bank on 30 October 2015, with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China(ICBC) tee’d up to join the LBMA Gold Price auction next month on 16 May 2016. However, sources in the gold market have indicated that the Chinese banks, and others, had difficulty establishing the necessary credit lines with the incumbent bullion banks that are a LBMA perquisite for being a direct participant in the LBMA auction. This need for bilateral credit lines between auction participants is not something that the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price suffers from, since it is using a central clearing model, something that the LBMA have paid lip-service to but that has never materialised (nor will it if the LBMA has its way).

SGE bar

The Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price – Details

The Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price, which I’ll abbreviate to SGE Gold Fix, is a twice daily auction held on SGE business days at 10:15 am and 2:15 pm (Beijing Time). All time zones in China are officially the same time zone (and run on Beijing Time), with Shanghai Time equivalent to Beijing Time.

The SGE Gold Fix auctions use the exchange code SHAU, and run on the electronic SGE trading platform using a ‘centralised pricing trading’ auction model. The auction is for physically-delivered 1 kg lots of 99.99% purity gold or higher, quoted in RMB per gram, with a tick size of RMB 0.01. Delivery is in the form of 1kg standard gold ingots of fineness 999.9 or higher at SGE certified vaults. For the SGE Gold Fix, standard gold is either gold from an SGE approved refinery, or gold from a LBMA approved refinery. Settlement / Delivery is two days after trade date i.e. T + 2.

At this juncture it is important to emphasise that the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price is a centrally cleared auction on the largest physical gold exchange in the world, that delivers real physical gold bars at any of the SGE’s 55 certified vaults. Shanghai Gold Exchange uses 55 certified vaults across 36 Chinese cities for gold storage. Unlike the LBMA Gold Price auction which just settles and clears its trades as unallocated gold that merely exists as a book-keeping entry in the database tables of the LPMCL’s AURUM system.

The objective of the SGE Gold Fix auction is to arrive at a ‘Benchmark Price’, which is a price at which supply and demand reach a balance, while allowing a certain imbalance (less than 400 kgs) to remain. The overall auction concept is therefore similar to the LBMA Gold Price auctions in London. However, there are many features unique to the Shanghai auction. The SGE Gold Fix involves a ‘Reference Price’ which is used as the auction’s initial opening price. This reference price is derived from prices entered into the trading system by two specific groups of auction members during a 5 minute pre-auction window period called the ‘Reference Price Submission Window’ which runs from 10:09 am – 10:14 am for the morning auction and from 2:09 pm – 2:14 pm for the afternoon auction.

These two sets of members are ‘Fixing Members’ and ‘Reference Price Members’. All of the Fixing members are financial institutions. The Reference Price members include gold mining companies and gold jewellery companies. The logic of obtaining opening reference prices from both fixing members and reference price members is that the SGE feels it will minimise price manipulation and price collusion since the reference prices submitted include a broader set of entities (i.e. include non-financial entities). This is a clever ‘checks and balances’ approach that is lacking in the LBMA Gold Price auction.

The Members

At launch, there are 12 Fixing Members and 6 Reference Price Members. The 12 Fixing Members are all banks, 10 of which are pure Chinese banks. These 10 Chinese banks are the Big 4 state-controlled banks in the Chinese Gold Market, namely Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Agricultural Bank of China, followed by Bank of Communications, and also Industrial Bank, Ping An Bank, Bank of Shanghai, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, and China Minsheng Bank.

The final Fixing members are local entities of 2 foreign banks, namely Standard Chartered Bank (China) and Australia and New Zealand Bank (China) (ANZ). Both Standard Chartered and ANZ hold gold import licenses into China, as does HSBC, however, there is no indication as of yet of HSBC becoming a Fixing Member. This is despite a report in January that China would penalise in some way a foreign bank with a gold import license if it did not join the SGE Gold Fix. Two of the 12 domestic bank holding gold import licenses, Everbright and China Merchants Bank, are also absent from the SGE Gold Fix member list. Perhaps in time, they, along with HSBC will sign up.

The 6 Reference Price members are Chow Tai Fook, one of Hong Kong’s largest jewellery companies and which also has a huge Chinese retail presence, China National Gold Group Corporation (China Gold), the largest of the Chinese gold mining companies, Shangdong Gold Group, another large Chinese gold miner, Shanghai Lao Feng Xiang, a large and well-known Chinese jewellery company, Bank of China (Hong Kong) Ltd, the RMB clearing bank in Hong Kong, and the SGE’s appointed settlement bank for the CGSE-SGE Gold Connect betwen the SGE and CGSE in the Hong Kong Gold Market, and MKS (Switzerland), the Swiss gold trading group that owns the PAMP gold refinery and also owns New York based MTB.

The above is just an initial list of participants that have joined so far. The SGE maintains that any qualified entity can join up in either the Fixing of Reference Price member categories. SGE stipulates that Fixing Member applicants are required to be financially-viable financial institutions that are either active on the SGE or active in the global gold market, while Reference Price applicants can meet one of a number of criteria such as “be a leading producer or consumer in the gold industry” or “be involved in the production, processing, trading, or investment of physical gold“.

SGE Benchmark

The Auction Mechanism

The Fixing members and Reference Price members submit initial reference prices. As to whether all members must submit a reference price is a moot point. Article 12.2 and 12.3 of the Rules for the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price Trading state that the Fixing and Reference Price members “must provide market reference price at the designated time before the start of centralized pricing-trading“, however, the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price White Paper (April 2016) describes a hierarchy of contingencies in deriving the reference price, two of which cover situations where less than 50% of members make a reference price submission.

The White Paper calculation methodology (algorithm) is as follows:

If > 50% of members submit a reference price, SGE calculates an arithmetic mean after disregarding the highest and lowest submitted price.

If < 50% of members submit a reference price, the SGE calculates an average (arithmetic mean) of all trades in the Au9999 spot gold contract that have been executed on the SGE during the timeframe for submitting reference prices.

If no trades were executed in the AU9999 during that time, the SGE takes the Shanghai Gold Reference Price from the previous trading session as the initial price. [this would be the previous afternoon benchmark price if applied to the morning pre-auction etc]

The Au9999 is the SGE busiest spot gold contractBased on this three-pronged approach, it would seem that the members are not all obliged to submit a reference price, otherwise the 50% threshold would never arise unless due to communication outages or similar. The only logical interpretation of the two documents is that if a member turns up to the auction (or logs in to the trading platform), then they are obliged to submit a reference price. If they don’t turn up, then there is no obligation. Notwithstanding this grey area, after the reference price is calculated the SGE then publishes the opening price.

Some readers will recall that ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA) uses a ‘human’ chairperson to come up with the opening price in the LBMA Gold Price auction using a number of price sources that ICE Benchmark Administration will not divulge. Nor will ICE Benchmark Administration divulge the identities of the panel of chairpersons that it employs to chair the daily LBMA Gold Price auctions. Frankly, this is a disgrace and a scandal, and shows that the Chinese auction methodology is far more transparent that its London counterpart. My hunch is that there are names involved as chairpersons in the current LBMA Gold Price auction that were also involved in the former London Gold Market Fixing Limited company which operated the London Gold Fixing auctions. Otherwise, why keep the identities a secret. No mainstream financial journalists in London will touch this particular story, although they are all aware of it. See BullionStar blog “Six months on ICE – The LBMA Gold Price” for further details about the lack of transparency in the administration of the LBMA Gold Price auction.

Once the opening price of the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price is established using the calculated reference price, the auction begins, and participants and their clients submit their buy or sell orders and transaction volumes etc. The auction consists of a first round and possible subsequent rounds if supply and demand don’t reach a balance. There are two distinct time periods in each round, a ‘market tendering‘ session and a ‘supplementary tendering‘ session. The market tendering part is just the normal part of the round where all participants and their clients submit orders. The supplementary tendering session in each round only applies to the Fixing members, and allows them to submit supplementary orders against the remaining imbalanced quantity so as to try to reduce the imbalance to less than 400 kgs and so speed up the auction, because if the imbalance is shrunk to under 400 kgs, there is no need for an additional round(s).

The first round  consists of  a 1 minute market tendering session + a supplementary tendering session of 10 seconds. If the price is not balanced after the first round, the SGE trading system will adjust the price upwards or downwards depending on buy and sell orders, and then a new round begins. Any and all subsequent rounds consist of 30 seconds duration of a market tendering session + 10 seconds of a supplementary tendering session.

Once the imbalance is less than 400 kgs, it is shared out among the Fixing members. The price is then said to be balanced and the SGE then publishes the benchmark price. The ‘Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price’ now has its own web page on the SGE website here, with daily price lookup, daily, monthly and annual charting (which will make sense when the auction has been running for a while), and Trading Rules, Contract Spec and Q & A (to be uploaded, but some of which are already detailed in the Rules and White Paper linked above).

SGE Surveillance Committee

The SGE has also created an Oversight Committee to monitor and oversee the auction’s functioning. This Committee currently comprises 11 representatives from 9 organisations. Although the names of the representatives have not yet been published, the names of their organisations have. The SGE will have 3 representatives, and the 8 other entities will each have 1 representative. The list is as follows

  1. SGE  3
  2. ICBC  1
  3. Bank of China  1
  4. Standard Chartered Bank (China)  1
  5. ANZ Bank (China)  1
  6. China Gold Coin Corporation  1
  7. Baird Mint  1
  8. China Gold Association  1
  9. World Gold Council  1

Of the list of 11, seven reps come from pure Chinese entities, with the remaining four from two foreign banks, the World Gold Council and ‘Baird Mint’. All represented entities have connections with the SGE except it seems Baird.

The Oversight Committee’s remit is to monitor trading, clearing, delivery, in terms with SGE rules, analyse trading behaviour, examine conflicts of interest etc.

Central Clearing

The SGE uses central clearing of the trades executed in the SGE Gold Fix auctions and so there is no credit risk between participants. Under central clearing, the exchange becomes the counterparty to all buyers and sellers. This also avoids the need for participants to maintain bilateral credit arrangements with each other, and so easily allows the number of auction participants to grow, even exponentially. The lack of central clearing in the LBMA Gold Price auction is a huge barrier to entry for non-bullion bank participants and has been kept as such by the LBMA, even though ICE offers central clearing and has been well able to implement a centrally cleared model from Day 1 in March 2015. See ICE Executive Summary which summarises the winning ICE bid for the LBMA Gold Price wherein ICE discusses “moving to a centrally cleared model“.

The Purpose of the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price

The Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price is but one more step in the growth and deregulation of the Chinese gold industry, and the internationalisation and extended use of the RMB. Much of this scene was set back in 2000 at the China Gold Economic Forum. It’s also a natural step for a country that is the largest gold producer, gold consumer and gold importer on earth. The SGE Gold Fix also provides China with a real role in global gold price discovery and creates the first proper transparent RMB denominated gold price benchmark, calculated within a centralised trading auction setting on an exchange.

An RMB gold price benchmark aids risk management and hedging in the domestic gold sector, and can also now be used within Chinese gold-backed derivative products, a function which the SGE has explicitly mentioned. So expect financial products to appear that use the Shanghai Gold Benchmark Price as a reference or valuation price. In China, where gold is correctly recognised as the ultimate money, there is also the prestige of having an internationally known global gold price benchmark, that will, in SGE’s words “enhance China’s voice in the global gold pricing market”.

In its White Paper, the SGE states that “the relationship between Shanghai Gold and Loco London Gold is non-competitive”, and it lists a number of reasons why this, on paper, is so, such as the London auction is for the OTC trading of 400 oz bars of 99.5 purity quoted in USD, while the Shanghai auction is Exchange-based trading for 1 kg bars of 99.99 purity quoted in RMB. While this is true, these are only ‘contract spec’ differences, and having a PBoC controlled gold benchmark that is not in London and not under the control of LPMCL clearing banks and the Bank of England is a much bigger change than purely differing contract specs.

The Chinese play a long patient game and more often than not just go ahead and do things / make things instead of just talking about doing things. The SGE and the PBoC have now set up another part of the infrastructure that can in time play a critical role in the global gold market as the Renminbi begins to internationalise. Whenever the Chinese Government and PBoC move to allow gold to be officially exported, this will really boost the new kid on the block benchmark.

I would not think that the Chinese will want to make waves with this Shanghai benchmark in the near future that would explicitly jeopardise their relationships with the London Gold Market. The fact that the luminaries of the global gold world were at the SGE Gold Fix launch ceremony and the China Gold Market Summit Forum on 19 April, much like they were at the launch of the SGE International Board in September 2014, attests to the fact that large players such as the World Gold Council, LBMA, MKS, ANZ and Standard Chartered are very much in a cooperative relationship with the SGE, the China Gold Association and the large Chinese banks. As the Chinese Gold Market continues to evolve, my view is that the Shanghai Gold Price Benchmark will naturally move into the ascendancy, and that its physical gold price discovery influence will subtly begin to show up the London Gold Market’s trading weaknesses (i.e. small % of physical traded), or alternatively, the Chinese will at some stage call time-out when ready, and allow the Shanghai Gold Price Benchmark to really shift up a gear to generate physical gold prices that will disconnect from the COMEX and LBMA pass the parcel shenanigans.

G4S London Gold Vault 2.0 – ICBC Standard Bank in, Deutsche Bank out

On 8 January 2016, Reuters broke the news that ICBC Standard Bank has purchased the lease on Deutsche Bank’s gold vault in London, and that ICBC Standard intends to become a member of the clearing syndicate, London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL):

“ICBC Standard Bank is buying the lease on Deutsche Bank’s London gold and silver vault, enlarging its footprint in the city’s bullion market..”

ICBC.. has also applied to become a clearing member of the London gold and silver over-the-counter business.

The vault became operational in June 2014 and has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes. It was built and is managed by British security services company G4S.

These moves by ICBC Standard Bank have now put both the G4S vault and LPMCL, (a private company), back in the spotlight.

The Background to the G4S Vault

On 20 March 2012, Deutsche Bank issued a press release announcing that it had contracted security company G4S to construct and manage a precious metals vault on Deutsche’s behalf in London. Critically, this was a substantial long-term partnership between Deutsche Bank and G4S, with G4S doing the actual work of building and then operating the precious metals vault. Deutsche stated at the time in March 2012 that the new vault would be for the exclusive use of Deutsche Bank clients, and that it would available for use by these clients during 2013:

“Deutsche Bank and G4S are pleased to announce that they are to join forces in establishing a new vault for the storage of precious metals in the UK.”

The new vault will be built and managed by G4S, the world’s leading international security solutions group, for the exclusive use of Deutsche Bank and its clients and will be an enhancement to Deutsche Bank’s already extensive metal trading and clearing capabilities. 

“‘It will position us well to quickly become a leading metals clearing and custody house,’ commented Raymond Key, Global Head of Metals Trading at Deutsche Bank. The vault, which will be constructed and run to industry-leading standards of security, will be available for clients in 2013.

Likewise, on 20 March 2012, G4S released its own press release in which it revealed that the contract with Deutsche Bank was a 10 year commercial deal and that discussions about building the vault had commenced in 2009:

“Working in partnership with Deutsche Bank, the business has secured a ten year commercial arrangement to establish a state of the art precious metals vault that will be built and managed by G4S, and will enable Deutsche Bank to extend and enhance their metal trading and clearing capabilities.

Discussions started with Deutsche Bank back in 2009 when increased economic volatility started to cause a rise in interest levels among investors for precious metals.”

“James Dinsdale, Managing Director, G4S Cash Solutions, said: ‘We’re delighted to have secured this partnership with Deutsche Bank….. This agreement represents a strategic move in the UK market place for G4S.”

Law firm Clyde & Co acted as advisor to G4S for the Deutsche vault project, and it too issued its own press release on 19 March 2012:

“Clyde & Co has advised global security and logistics company G4S in relation to a project for Deutsche Bank.

G4S will build and manage a gold bullion secure storage vault in the UK for Deutsche Bank.”

What none of the press releases mentioned was that the precious metal vault was being integrated into the basement of a new G4S operating centre in Park Royal, London.

Deutsche

As it turns out, Deutsche did not deliver on its self-publicised deadline for the new vault becoming available to its clients in 2013. However, on 9 June 2014, over 2 years after announcing the London vault project, a much reduced Deutsche Bank London precious metals business that had substantially stepped back from the London Gold Market, confirmed to Reuters that it had finally opened its new London precious metals vault. Note that Reuters is usually the first distribution channel that the London Gold Market PR machine contacts to get its stories out on to the newswires.

According to Reuters’ coverage of the June 2014 Deutsche opening announcement:

“Deutsche’s new vault has been built in partnership with logistics company G4S and is open to institutional investors, and commercial and central banks.”

The vault has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes, making it significantly bigger than a 200-tonne storage facility that the bank owns at the Singapore Freeport.

The period from late 2013 to early 2014 turned out to be a turbulent period for Deutsche Bank’s precious metals operations in London, during which time:

- German financial regulator BaFin began an investigation into the London Gold and Silver Fixings, of which Deutsche Bank was a fixing member (November 2013)

- Deutsche Bank announced that it would withdraw its participation in the London Gold and Silver Fixings and sell the Fixing seats (January 2014)

- Deutsche Bank ceased contributing to the GOFO benchmark and ceased being a LBMA market maker for precious metals forwards (February 2014)

- Deutsche Bank ‘failed to sell’ its gold and silver fixing seats (despite ICBC Standard Bank being interested), and Deutsche then merely resorted to withdrawing from the fixings (April/May 2014)

- Deutsche Bank’s Matthew Keen, who was a director of London Gold Market Fixing Limited (LGMFL), London Silver Market Fixing Limited (LSMFL), and  London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) resigned from Deutsche Bank, prompting the appointment of other Deutsche representatives to those company directorships (January 2014)

- Deutsche Bank’s representative on the London Bullion Market Association’s (LBMA) management committee, Ronan Donohoe, resigned from the LBMA management committee on 5 March 2014, only 7 months into a 2 year appointment (March 2014)

Given all the above retrenchments affecting its precious metals activities in London, it is slightly odd that Deutsche Bank still went ahead in June 2014 and announced the opening, at least in name, of its London precious metals vault collaboration with G4S. Perhaps it had a contractual obligation with G4S to do so.

But odder still is that less that 5 months after announcing the opening of the new vault, Deutsche Bank then stepped back even further by closing its physical precious metals trading operation in London in November 2014, and then announced in December 2014 that it would actually be interested in selling its London gold vault. This decision is beyond bizarre given the huge level of commitment that Deutsche Bank had made to the development of the vault for at least 4-5 years beginning in 2009.

As Reuters reported on 24 December 2014:

“Deutsche Bank is open to offers for its London-based gold vault following the closure of its physical precious metals business, three sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. ‘If the right offer came along, then the bank would sell the London vault,’ one source close to the situation said.

The German bank shut its physical precious metals trading arm last month as it further reduced its exposure to commodity markets.”

Deutsche declined to comment on the status of its vaulting operation.

 “…it could be difficult for Deutsche Bank to find buyers among its nearest peers. But sources familiar with the matter said a Chinese entity could come forward. ICBC is trying to build a presence in London and the sources said it was a likely candidate. ICBC declined to comment.”

The key question is did this Deutsche Bank vault in London, operated by G4S, ever do any precious metals business in the time between June 2014 and November 2014? If it did, then this activity could not have been substantial.

Deutsche Bank clients holding allocated gold and other precious metals with Deutsche in London would not have been impressed if they were told their holdings were being moved to the new vault in the summer of 2014, only to find out a few months later that Deutsche was looking to exit its involvement with the vault.

While the G4S / Deutsche vault sales process seemed to remain on hold for the entire year of 2015 with no announced activity from either Deutsche bank or ICBC, and no media scrutiny, Deutsche continued to exit the physical gold business in London amid a number of other significant developments. In August 2015, Deutsche departed from the London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) company, leaving HSBC, JP Morgan, Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays, and UBS as the remaining 5 members of the London gold and silver clearing consortium.

On 20 August 2015, Reuters reported that:

“Deutsche Bank is to sever its last link with commodity trading by resigning as a clearing member of the London gold and silver over-the-counter business..” [LPMCL]

It’s a little known fact that London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) (company number 04195299) is a UK private limited company with the same registered address as the London Gold Market Fixing Limited and the London Silver Market Fixing Company Limited. This registered address is C/O Hackwood Secretaries Limited, One Silk Street, London EC2Y 8HQ.  Indeed, Hackwood Secretaries Limited is the Company Secretary for LPMCL. Hackwood Secretaries Limited is one of the companies Linklaters uses to offer its company sectretariat services. And Linklaters is one of the better known ‘magic circle’ global law firms that is headquartered in London.

While LPMCL has so far managed to steer clear of US class actions suits concerning precious metals manipulation accusations, its fellow Linklater registered gold and silver fixing companies, London Gold Market Fixing Limited and the London Silver Market Fixing Company Limited, both of which have had a lot of the same directors as LPMCL, have not been so lucky on the class action front, and both companies are now facing live consolidated class action suits in New York courts.

Each member bank of LPMCL usually appoints two directors who are senior staff members of that investment bank. So with 6 investment banks within LPMCL, there are usually 11-12 LPMCL directors, give or take a few people who would invariably be moving bank at any given time.

Deutsche Bank’s two last-serving directors of LPMCL, Raj Kumar and David Mitchell-Innes, actually resigned from LPMCL on 9th February and 1st September 2015, respectively. The February 2015 LPMCL resignation by Kumar seems to have been precipitated by his internal move within Deutsche Bank for a short while to the role of Global COO for Commodities, but then significantly, Kumar left Deutsche Bank in July 2015 to take up a role in ICBC Standard Bank in September 2015 as a managing director in ICBC Standard’s  precious metals business, as Reuters reported on 17 September:

“London-based ICBC Standard Bank Plc named Raj Kumar head of its precious metals business development, effective immediately.

Kumar, who will be based in London, joins from Deutsche Bank AG, where he was managing director of precious metals business.”

 This Deutsche Bank – ICBC Standard Bank – LPMCL link in the form of Raj Kumar was undoubtedly useful to ICBC Standard in its move to take on Park Royal vault lease from Deutsche Bank, and could help facilitate ICBC Standard’s stance in an application to become a member of LPMCL.

However, the 20 August Reuters report also interestingly stated that Standard Chartered might be interested in becoming a LPMCL member:

“…there is one other bank, Standard Chartered, that could become a gold and silver clearing member in the next few months.”

Could this be a typo by Reuters when it meant to say Standard Bank? Possibly, but most likely not. Standard Chartered is an important bank in the London Gold Market in its role as a LBMA market maker in spot and options for gold and silver which it secured in February 2015. But Standard Bank is not to be confused with Standard Chartered bank. They are two entirely separate banking institutions, albeit with historical connections.

Standard Chartered is headquartered in London, and is well-known for its emerging markets focus, particularly in Asia and Africa. The ‘Standard’ in Standard Chartered in some ways does refer to the South African ‘Standard Bank’, since Standard Chartered was created in 1969 through the merger of Standard Bank of British South Africa and Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. However in 1987, Standard Chartered sold its shareholding in Standard Bank.

In another LPMCL related link that could involve Standard Chartered, Martyn Whitehead, former director of LPMCL for Barclays, left Barclays in May 2015, and joined Standard Chartered in August 2015, as MD and head of Commodity Sales.

In April 2015, Reuters said of Whitehead’s pending departure from Barclays:

“Barclays’ global head of metals and mining sales Martyn Whitehead will leave the bank as part of its restructuring and exit from some parts of its commodities business, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday.

Whitehead was Barclays’ only representative listed with London Precious Metals Clearing Ltd. Barclays is one of the six banks that organise and co-ordinate bullion clearing and vaulting in London.”

Therefore, could two former directors of LPMCL, namely Raj Kumar and Martyn Whitehead, now be spearheading applications on the part of their respective new employers, ICBC Standard Bank and Standard Chartered, to both join the private club that is London Precious Metals Clearing Limited, and have access to the exorbitant privilege of being part of the London Gold Market’s private gold clearing consortium, and preferential treatment form the Bank of England gold and foreign exchange desk?

Standard ICBC

ICBC

China’s largest bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), has been eager to become a premier player in the London Gold Market for some time now. Although it became an Ordinary Member of the LBMA in 2012, ICBC had stated in 2012 its desire to become a LBMA Market Making Member. ICBC was also interested in buying Deutsche Bank’s seat in the old Gold Fixing in 2014, but strangely this sale never happened. See my BullionStar blog “Chinese Banks as direct participants in the new LBMA Gold and Silver Price auctions? Not so fast!” from March 2015 under section “ICBC and Standard Bank” for more details on this.

One key development for ICBC was crystalised in February 2015,  when ICBC finalised its acquisition of 60% of Standard Bank Plc (the UK arm of Standard Bank) from Standard Bank of South Africa, to create the entity now known as ICBC Standard Bank. See also the press release ICBC completes acquisition of 60% of Standard Bank Plc 20150129. The LBMA website nows list ICBC Standard Bank as an Ordinary Member of the LBMA in lieu of listings for both ICBC and Standard Bank.

ICBC also stated in June 2015 that it wanted to become a direct participant in the LBMA Gold Price auction, but again strangely this has not yet happened despite 2 other Chinese banks, namely Bank of China and China Construction Bank (CCB), eventually being authorised by the LBMA to join up to the LBMA Gold Price auction on 22 June 2015 and 30 October 2015, respectively.

Prior to the controlling interest purchase by ICBC, Standard Bank was no stranger to London Gold Market gold vaulting, and a 2009 report from Abu Dahbi’s “The National” on United Arab Emirates related bullion stated that gold had:

“moved to the vaults of Standard Bank of South Africa, located in the London offices of JPMorgan Chase at 60 Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars, London.”

The ‘vaults of Standard Bank‘ reference just refers to allocated or sub-leased space in the JP Morgan vault in London in the name of Standard Bank of South Africa.

Finally, ICBC also has a strategic interest in the London platinum group metals market through Standard Bank Plc’s existing participation in the London Platinum and Palladium Market especially through the daily platinum and palladium fix auctions, which are now administered by the LME on behalf of the LBMA.

 

The Park Royal VAULT

As first revealed by Zerohedge in December 2014, the London precious metal vault that was built by G4S on behalf of Deutsche Bank is located at in the Park Royal area of London at 291 Abbey Road, London NW10 7SA.

This Park Royal location was actually telegraphed by G4S itself as early as July 2013 when ‘G4S Cash Solutions’ advertised for “Precious Metals Vault Officers” for the new vault in a job advert on the careers section of its own website, which listed the job location as ‘Park Royal, West London‘. Not really a very security conscious approach for whats purports to be one of the world’s foremost security companies. The job adverts included the following:

Precious Metals Vault Officers

Location: Park Royal, West London

Number of Positions: 16

Closing Date: November 2, 2013

G4S Cash Solutions, in partnership with one of the world’s leading financial institutions, is launching a Precious Metal Vault in West London.  The vault which has been created with innovative, state of the art design and technology is at the leading edge of the global bullion storage industry.

We are now recruiting an exceptional team of Precious Metal Vault Officers who will operate and secure our vault in this exciting, new venture.”

  • “responsible for processing all inbound, outbound and stock management transactions and movements of Precious Metals”
  • “The operation and use of a Vault Management System together with specialist Precious Metals equipment”
  • “The conduct of receipting, weighing and stowing of Precious Metals including their physical movement in and around the Vault “

Other roles at the new vault were also advertised on the G4S website, such as  “Vault Manager – Precious Metals” which included information such as:

Vault Manager – Precious Metals

Location: Park Royal

Number of Positions: 1

Closing Date: November 2, 2013               

G4S is the largest secure solutions company in the world…Our Cash Management Solutions business has expertise in cash and valuables transportation, cash processing, ATM and cash centre outsourcing, secure storage and retrieval.”

“Responsible for the management, security and operations of the precious metals vault including security and traceability of all assets entering and leaving the vault.”

  • “To work closely with internal management on the strategic global growth of our bullion projects; offering product, operational knowledge and LBMA expertise.”
  • “To train vault officers to ensure they are working within the LBMA / LPPM /  LPMCL guidelines…”  
  • A strong working knowledge of LBMA, LPPM and LPMCL codes of practice and proven experience of implementation of these codes
  •  ** Proven experience of working within a Precious Metal vault **
  • Proven experience of working within LBMA, LPPM and LPMCL codes of practice  (including weighing of bullion)”

 

…and a Weighmaster job role which included:

“Weighmaster

Location: Park Royal

Number of Positions: 1

Closing Date: December 31, 2015

 

  • Planning and implementing the conduct of receipting, weighing and stowing of precious metals including their physical movement in and around the vault
  • Planning for and implementing the conduct of picking, packing and shipping of precious metals including their physical movement in and around the vault

 

There were also similar job adverts on the G4S website for other positions at Park Royal including  “Precious Metals Shift Manager” (Positions: 4, closing date 31 October 2013), and “Secure Driver” (Positions:15, closing date 23 June 2014, “Deliver cash and valuables to various customers in a physically active role“).

Note that the closing date for the Secure Driver applicants was a few weeks after Deutsche Bank had announced on 6 June 2014 that it had opened the gold vault. So if the drivers hadn’t even been hired in June 2014 and probably not in July 2014 either, then there was nothing being moved in or out of the vault at that time, and there was most likely never any Deutsche Bank precious metals moved in or out of the G4S vault, which would also explain why, in December 2014, “Deutsche declined to comment on the status of its vaulting operation”, and would therefore make the vault an extremely bad and money losing investment decision for Deutsche Bank, as well as a bizarre business decision to commit substantially investment to the vault and then walk away from it 2 years later. 

From July to August 2013, G4S even tweeted about these Park Royal roles on its Twitter account and stated the locations of the jobs roles and locations, for example, for “Vault Manager – Precious Metals in Park Royal“.

Not only that, but G4S even advertised these precious metals vault positions to the world on Facebook, complete with the specification of the Park Royal location.

Park Royal

Where is Park Royal? Most people in London, if they know Park Royal at all, would recognise the name as a tube station (train station) and as an area of North West London. Park Royal is just off the North Circular Road, in an industrial area, frequently congested with traffic, just down the road from Hanger Lane roundabout, another often traffic gridlocked area. But as the crow flies, Park Royal is not too far from Heathrow Airport, or the M25 ring-road, or Central London.

As well as telegraphing the general Park Royal area where the new vault was to be built, G4S also went further and specified the exact address of the new operating centre in a planning application document available on the web, conveniently pinpointing the vault building location in this large industrial sprawl, chock full of industrial parks and warehouses:

OFFICE OF THE TRAFFIC COMMISSIONER (LONDON AND THE SOUTH EAST OF ENGLAND) APPLICATIONS AND DECISIONS       PUBLICATION DATE: 06 March 2014

Page 13 of document: Reference Number OK0229598 SI

G4S CASH SOLUTIONS (UK) LIMITED

Director(s): KEVIN O’CONNOR, Margaret Ann Ryan, Declan Hunt.

SUTTON PARK HOUSE, 15 CARSHALTON ROAD , SUTTON SM1 4LD

New operating centre: PARK ROYAL, 291 ABBEY ROAD LONDON NW10 7SA

New authorisation at this operating centre will be: 45 vehicle(s), 0 trailer(s)

In this case, the planning reference was referencing an increase in the number of vehicles allowed on the site. However, the more interesting planning applications are to be found not in the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, but in the website of Brent Council. These plans give a good overview of some of the details of the basement and vault that ICBC Standard Bank has just taken on the long-term lease for.

Park Royal tube

Planning applications for 291 Abbey Road NW10 7SA

The Park Royal area, including 291 Abbey Road NW10 7SA, is under the remit of Brent Council Borough of London. Brent Council planning applications are available on the Brent Council Planning web site. On the Brent Council web site, there are 5 planning application ‘Case Numbers’ for 219 Abbey Road NW10 7SA submitted since 2012. The sequential nature of there being 5 case numbers just means that after the initial application was made, various details of the application were amended, which necessitated the applicant making subsequent submissions to the Council requesting the changes. This allows the amended plans of the G4S development to be compared to the initial plans. Each of the 5 applications have multiple scanned documents uploaded and attached to the applications.

Case Number 12/2112:  This is the original planning application

Erection of new 2-storey storage facility (Use Class B8)”. Use Class B8 means Distribution or Storage. B8 building use is for storage or as a distribution centre. This application was submitted on 9 August 2012, and the application was granted on 9 November 2012.

Applicant: S Williams, G4S, Sutton House, 15 Carshalton Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 4LD

Architects: Pick Everard, Leicester

Pick Everard architectural practice describes itself on its website as “a leading independent, multi-professional consultancy practice working within the property, infrastructure and construction industry.

There are a number documents in the Case Number 12/2112 planning application, the most interesting of which is the initial floor plan diagram of the construction project: Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 105 B Typical floor plans and sections.

Notice that on the diagram, there is a square-shaped basement specified on the floor plans, listed as ‘Basement Storage’, and this basement is specified as 1178 square metres. This 1178 sq mt space is approximately 34 metres * 34 metres. Furthermore, the ground floor level is listed as “Industrial Warehouse”, 1132 sq metres, with “Vehicle Loading Bays” at the rear, and the 2nd Floor level is listed as “Offices”.

On 20 September 2012,  the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) published the following guidelines on the location of new precious metals vaults in London: Best Practice Guidelines Used by ‘Loco London’ Vaults – Opening a new vault for the storage of precious metals, in which it stated:

If you wish to store the higher value precious metals then you may find that insurers insist that your vaults are subterranean.

It appears that these guidelines were specifically written for Deutsche Bank and G4S to follow since they were the only parties submitting a planning application for a new precious metals vault in London at that time, and the dates fit exactly. Case Number 12/2112 also includes an initial site location plan Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 001 J Site Location Plan showing an overview of the site, with car park at front, building in the middle with truck loading bays at the back of the buildings, and truck parking at the rear of the site.

Case number 12/3371: Some small extra details

Case 12/3371 is just an application containing extra details about construction materials etc and security gates, barriers etc. This application was submitted on 18 December 2012, and granted on 12 February 2013.

Case Number 12/3344: Some small extra details

Case 12/3344 just covers some extra details such as car park spaces at the front of the site, for 32 cars, 30 staff/visitor spaces, and 2 disabled spaces. That application was submitted on December 2012, and granted on 13 February 2013.

Case Number 13/0722: Some important revisions to the Project, including a reduction in the size of the Basement

Case Number 13/0722 is interesting in that it included a reduction in the size of the basement from 1178 sq metres in the original application, to 750 sq metres. This application was submitted on 25 March 2013, and granted on 22 April 2013.

The accompanying Delegated Report specified a “Non-material amendment application to: (a) reduce basement area, and other changes such as (e) alterations to fencing, (f) reduction in number of vehicle loading bay shutters from 6 to 5.

“It is proposed to reduce the size of the basement from 1178sqm (as approved) to 750sqm. This is below ground level and will not have a material impact.”

Applicant: Stacy Williams, G4S, Sutton House, 15 Carshalton Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 4LD

In the revised floor plan Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 105 C Typical floor plans and sections, the basement, still listed as ‘Basement Storage’, has been remodelled as a rectangular space and reduced in size to 750 square metres from 1178 sq metres, i.e. a reduction of 428 square metres compared to the original submission. This new 750 sq metre size, as a rectangular area, is roughly 19 metres * 38 metres. See revised floor plans.  While a smaller basement does not necessarily mean a smaller vault, the basement size was more than likely reduced specifically because the vault size had been reduced.

If this was the case, then its possible that Deutsche Bank communicated to G4S that the vault size was to be reduced due to gold bullion exiting London for Asia (via Switzerland) in 2012 and especially during early 2013, and a fear that the previous planned size for the vault would be too big for the intended London bullion activity requirements.

The floor plan diagram specifying the reduced basement was actually created on 26 April 2013, which is coincidentally the week following the historic two-day gold price smash that occurred over Friday 13th and Monday 16th April 2013.  Said another way, the amended planning application which specified the basement size reduction was submitted 2 weeks before the historic gold price smash of 13-16 April 2013, and the application amendment to the floor plans was granted the week after the historic gold price smash of 13-16 April 2013.

When the Deutsche/G4S vault opened in June 2014, Reuters reported that the vault’s capacity was 1,500 tonnes of gold. It’s not clear if this capacity statistic was the capacity from a larger vault that would have been in the larger basement area, i.e. 1178 sq mtrs, which a source may have supplied to Reuters at an earlier time, or whether it referred to a smaller vault within the smaller and revised 750 sq mtr basement area. For if the vault can now hold 1,500 tonnes of gold within a smaller basement, the original basement, being 57% larger, may have been designed to hold in excess of 2,300 tonnes of gold.

It’s either a fortunate or unfortunate set of timings that Deutsche/G4S applied to reduce the size of one of the largest ever precious metals vaults in London within a few weeks of the gold price being critically injured by huge gold futures contract short trading over the 13-16 April 2013 period. It would be interesting to know who made the decision to reduce the area of the basement, and on what rationale this decision was based.

Again, as to how much precious metal, if any, Deutsche Bank ever processed or held in the Park Royal vault is debatable, since a) the vault was not operational until June 2014 and b) Deutsche Bank  was rapidly exiting the London Gold Market at that time. It therefore makes this LinkedIn profile of the person who actually performed the job of Precious Metals Manager at the vault all the more interesting,  a role which is stated to have lasted from December 2013 to May 2015, but a profile in which the references to physically related precious metal activities just refer to the job spec bullet points, and the achievements listed predominantly concern the vault and not the contents of the vault.

G4S spec

Likewise, the ‘Bullion Operations Manager‘ at the G4S vault, a vault which was exclusively for Deutsche’s clients, must have seen fallow periods in which no metal passed over the vault’s threshold with the LinkedIn profile predominantly listing job spec bullet points. However, interestingly, the profile refers to ‘Leasing with [a] major financial corporation to ensure compliance to contractual agreements‘, so there were, as would be the case, contractual agreements between Deutsche and G4S. On the Deutsche side, these contractual agreements  would raise the question of what penalties, if any, Deutsche Bank incurred in exiting contractual obligations with G4S, and whether Deutsche would have received a get-out exemption by delivering ICBC Standard Bank as the willing recipient of the vault lease.

G4S bullion

 

 Galliford Try

The planning applications submitted to Brent Council also include a “Method Statement & Logistics Plan” report written by the construction contractor Galliford Try for the project. On its website, Gallilford Try describes its Construction division as “a leading construction company, carrying out building and infrastructure works across the UK.

Galliford Try’s Method Statement & Logistics Plan report, which is useful as a comparison benchmark to the actual construction that was completed, reckoned that the construction would take 50 weeks to complete, which probably explains why the vault and building was only complete in mid-2014, given that the amended planning application was only granted by Brent Council on 22 April 2013. It still however does not help in explaining why Deutsche Bank initially thought in 2012 that the vault would be ready for its clients to use in 2013.

Crucially, page 4 of the Galliford Try report, in a section titled “Internal Finishes (weeks 27-50)“, sub-section “Basement (weeks 26 -40)“, confirms that “Once the ceiling grid works have been completed the steel / vault doors will be installed“, which proves beyond doubt that the vault is located in the basement of the G4S operating centre. There are also kitchen and toilet areas in the basement as per other London subterranean precious metals vaults.

On page 3, when discussing the basement excavation and basement concrete slab floor, it also states that  “Pockets will be formed in the floor for the fitting of the security doors etc“, and that “the lift pits…will be installed.”

GT1

From page 2:

GT2

From page 3:

GT3

From page 4:

GT4

The Park Royal site on which G4S built the operating centre and vault was first put on the market in November 2011 by Clay Street Property Consultants. The site occupies 1.89 acres and was sold (presumably to a G4S related company) in April 2012 for £4.5 million:

  • 291 Abbey Road & 2-4 Penny Road, Park Royal , London
  • Marketed in November 2011 the 1.89 acre site attracted a broad range of interest including institutional investors, property companies, developers and owner occupiers.
  • Securing 15 bids all at in excess of the asking price the site was sold in April 2012 to an owner occupier for £4,500,000 reflecting a price of £2.38m per acre.

A Google Earth image from July 2013  shows the site with the new development in full flight, and the construction of the basement in progress, and so allows a determination of whether the construction was following the last set of plans approved by Brent Council:

July 2013
Google Earth July 2013

 

Zooming in on the construction of the basement area from July 2013, the image shows the rectangular darker area where the vault was being positioned, and the lift-pits to the right of the image, one lift shaft at the front, and two towards the rear, which would be adjacent to the truck loading bays. This shape is very much in keeping with the basement size reduction to 750 square metres in the ultimate set of plans approved by Brent Council.

Basement Excavation - July 2013
Basement Excavation – July 2013

 

Finally, a Google Earth image from June 2015 shows an aerial view of the completed G4S development.

June 2015
Google Earth June 2015

 

Conclusion

The hasty exit of Deutsche Bank from the London Gold Market has never been adequately explained by the media. It remains an elephant in the room that the mainstream media does not seem to want to touch. The composition and operating mechanisms of the private LPMCL club is also another elephant in the room that mainstream media journalists have never adequately analysed and are unlikely to do so.

Now that ICBC Standard Bank has taken on the remaining term of the 10 year G4S lease that was vacated by Deutsche Bank, the key questions for ICBC are to what use will the state-controlled Chinese bank put this precious metals vault to, and whether the 5 incumbent LPMCL members will formally (along with the Bank of England informally) give the go-ahead to allow ICBC become a member of the private syndicate that is London Precious Metals Clearing Limited. The other outstanding question is whether Standard Chartered will also be involved in any extension of membership of LPMCL.

Another little appreciated fact is that during the pitches for the replacements to the Gold Fixing and Silver Fixing auctions, most of the exchanges and companies making the pitches, such as, CME, LME, ICE, all offered working solutions that included centralised on-exchange clearing of precious metals for the London Gold and Silver Markets. These solutions were even included in the various presentation materials of CME, ICE and LME, and made it into market presentations and press releases etc, however, the LBMA and its various associated accomplishes such as the LPMCL, pushed back completely on any part of solution that would have encroached on the existing LMPCL clearing mechanism.

The question of why LMPCL was so ‘precious’ that it needed protection from a transparent on-exchange clearing platform is also a question that mainstream financial journalists seem to have entirely missed. I will write a future blog post on LPMCL so as to shed some light on this thoroughly protected private syndicate of bullion bank clearers.

 

Venezuela’s Gold Reserves – Part 2: From Repatriation to Reactivation

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Part 1, titled “Venezuela’s Gold Reserves – Part 1: El Oro, El BCV, y Los Bancos de Lingotes“, provided a historical overview of Venezuela’s gold and looked at where the gold, and the claims on gold, were located just prior to repatriation in 2011, especially the gold held abroad.

Part 1 was necessary so as to set the scene for the, in some ways, theatrical gold flights and convoys of Part 2, and to also illustrate that a percentage of Venezuela’s gold (50 tonnes) was retained in the vaults of the Bank of England so as to be available for activation into international gold transactions.

And so, the analysis below covers Venezuela’s actual gold repatriation operations in late 2011 and early 2012, especially the first and last flight. You will see that the first batch of gold bars came in on an Air France cargo flight, which opens up key questions about France and the Banque de France as a source for some of the repatriated gold. You will also see the arrival and unloading of the last flight, a World Airways cargo freighter.

The analysis wraps up with a look at the gold swap discussions between Venezuela and a set of investment banks which culminated in a gold swap being agreed with Citibank. The question then arises as to whether further similar gold swaps are in store for Venezuela’s domestically held monetary gold.

convoy

The Repatriation – Flights and Convoys

The Venezuelan gold repatriation transport operation took just over two months to complete, beginning on 25 November 2011, and winding up on 30 January 2012. During this time, 23 shipments (by air) are said to have arrived in Caracas, with 160 tonnes of gold flown in.

As Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) governor Nelson Merentes stated in an end of year 2012 report (page 16):

“In 2012, the central bank completed the repatriation of monetary gold , which began in late 2011. This unprecedented process, which reaffirms the sovereignty of the nation, constitutes the largest movement of physical gold in the world market in recent years . A total of 23 gold shipments were moved, totalling 160 tonnes of metal that had been custodied abroad.”

Notwithstanding the fact that the German Bundesbank claims to have quietly and secretively moved 940 tonnes of its gold from the Bank of England in London to its Bundesbank headquarters in Frankfurt between 2000 and 2001, the Venezuelan gold repatriation is still probably the “largest movement of physical gold in the world market” since that time.

merentes car

The first and last shipments of Venezuela’s gold repatriation arrived into Maiquetía Airport (aka Simón Bolívar International Airport) in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, so the presumption is that the other shipments did also. Both the first and last shipments received huge media coverage in Venezuela and extensive coverage internationally. Given that the Venezuelan State facilitated and encouraged this domestic media coverage, as well as street scenes thronged with Chavez supporters, this is not surprising. The majority of the other shipments after the first and before the last ones got little or no coverage, probably due to security procedures.

Reuters quoted Nelson Merentes on the day of the first shipment arrived as saying that:

“We cannot give exact dates (for when the rest of the bars will arrive) due to questions of security. When we bring the last shipment, the people will learn about it.

The Reuters report also quoted a Venezuelan government source as saying that there would be ‘several’ cargo flights.

“A senior government source involved in transporting the bars, which amount to 90 percent of Venezuela’s gold held abroad, has told Reuters they will be shipped in several cargo flights that will be completed before the end of the year.

The total cost of the operation will be no more than $9 million, the source said, without elaborating.”

The First Shipment (by air) came from France

The gold from the first shipment, which consisted of 5 tonnes of gold, was moved from Maiquetía airport to the central bank vaults in Caracas on Friday 25 November 2011 amid much fanfare and coverage. Although the airport to bank journey happened on 25 November, an article here claims that the “the repatriation of gold reserves began on 23 November”.

In various news footage videos below, which cover the transport of the gold from the airport on 25 November 2011, there are no shots of any aircraft being unloaded, which may suggest that the first shipment did indeed arrive prior to 25 November, possibly on 23 November. The first shipment was flown in using Air France (see below).

In contrast, during the last operation on 30 January 2012, the arrival of the aircraft into the airport played a starring role in proceedings, possibly because the shipments were then being wrapped up and there was little harm in broadcasting the identify of aircraft, which you will see below was a chartered World Airways MD-11 cargo freighter.

The first video below from 25 November 2011 shows black plastic crates (presumably with the gold in them) on pallets which in turn are on trailers, positioned beside a line of armoured cars ready for loading.

Very interestingly, central bank governor Merentes (at 0:22) states that this first shipment of gold came from European countries “via Francia” (by way of France).

This is very odd that the first shipment came from France. Given that the gold was stored at the Bank of England and with the BIS, none of the Venezuelan gold should ever have been in France. And with air charters from Europe, there would be no need to fly into and out of a French airport en route from London to Caracas.

A November 2013 article from Venezuelan newspaper ‘El Nacional’ stated that the first batch of gold had come directly from France:

Los primeros lingotes vinieron de Francia en medio de un operativo denominado Oro Patrio y en el que participaron más de 500 funcionarios.”

The first ingots came from France in the middle of an operation called Golden Homeland and in which over 500 staff participated.”

The most compelling piece of evidence, however, that the first shipment came from France is the fact that the gold was flown into Caracas on Air France, and there were labels on the side of the crates stating this. See screenshot below taken from one of the videos:

Air France - air waybill

This label above shows the ‘Air Waybill No’ of ‘057-53208470′, the ‘Destination’ of CCS (Caracas), and the ‘Total No of Pieces’ – 10, i.e. 10 crates.

See also the below photo of one of the crates, with the same Air Waybill number 057-53208470, after it was loaded into the back of one of the armoured security cars:

Air France labelled crate on pallet

Air France Cargo fleet consists of 2 long-range Boeing 777- 200LRF cargo freighters, registration numbers F-GUOB and F-GUOC. You can see a video of F-GUOC taking off (from another airport) here.

These 777F aircraft have “a maximum payload of 102 tonnes, a total capacity of 37 pallets and a maindeck that can take 3-metre pallets“. The videos below of the first gold shipment, and the video of the last unloading on 30 January 2012, shows these huge 3-metre pallets on the ground and, in the case of the last shipment, being unloaded.

Since the gold in the first shipment was flown from France, this gold may have come from the Banque de France in Paris, which would suggest that the bullion banks and/or the BIS had to resort to sourcing gold from the Banque de France. BNP Paribas was one of the five bullion banks that had a borrowed gold liability to the BCV, so this fact may be relevant. (See a section below about the French connection).

The second Venezuelan video from 25 November 2011 states that gold which was located in US, Canadian, and English banks was being repatriated to Venezuela. This does not mean, however, that the gold flights originated in all or any of these locations. The US, Canada and England just refer to the headquarters of the bullion banks involved in the repatriation.

The third video from 25 November 2011 refers to “foreign banks,” “principally in Europe,” and mainly English banks.

Reuters quoted Merentes as having said that “The gold comes from several European countries.

 

1. Length: 2:26 – Nelson Merentes interview, and gold ready for loading. 25 November 2011

 

2. Length: 2:06 – Armoured cars and convoy getting ready to leave the airport, and then departing the airport. 25 November 2011

 

3. Length 1:53 – Convoy leaves airport and drives to the central bank. 25 November 2011

 

4. Length 11:03 – Air France label is shown beginning at 9:42. This longer video has extended footage of the unloading and loading operation. 25 November 2011

 

The BCV’s 2011 Economic Report (see link above, page 92) states that the first shipment on 25 November 2011 consisted of 5 tonnes of gold. In the media coverage of the first shipment, the exact tonnage of gold involved was not stated beyond the fact that  “Nelson Merentes said a little over 300 million dollars was brought in the first batch of gold that came to the country on Friday.”

At a price of $1,688 per ounce on 25 November 2011, that would be roughly 5.5 tonnes. Whether it was 5 tonnes of 5.5 tonnes is not that important. With each of the crates holding 500 kgs or 0.5 tonnes, that would be 10 – 11 crates in the first shipment. There appear to have been 10 crates given that’s what it said on the crate labels and that’s what the BCV maintain their were.

Once the gold was loaded up into the fleet of security vans, a huge convoy of military vehicles and personnel (said to be between 400 – 500 personnel) accompanied the vans out from the airport (by the ocean) and around the mountain to the central bank building in downtown Caracas, on a route, some of which was lined with Chavez’ supporters, especially where they had congregated near the bank’s entrance.

 As mentioned, there was little coverage after the first shipment, although a local media article referred to a second shipment arriving from Europe on Tuesday 6 December 2011. After this, the media didn’t really cover the repatriation until the last shipment arrived by air on Monday 30 January 2012.

repatriation gold caracas

The Last Shipment – The Final Flight of MD-11, N275WA

The final shipment arrived into Maiquetía – Simón Bolívar airport on Monday 30 January 2012 consisting of 14 tonnes of gold in 28 boxes. The novel significance of the media coverage on this day was that news crews were allowed to film the airplane taxiing into the landing area and unloading its cargo.

The arriving aircraft was a three-engine long-range McDonnell Douglas MD-11 CF (convertible freighter), registration number N275WA, serial number MSN 48631, registered to World Airways. You can see the fleet number (nose code) of ‘275’ above the front (nose) wheel in the photo below.

flight N275WA

Six of these MD-11 CFs were built and World Airways were flying two of them at this time. Ironically, the parent company of World Airways, called Global Aviation Holdings Inc, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 5 February 2012, six days after N275WA had delivered the last shipment of Venezuela’s gold to Caracas. Interestingly, Global Aviation Holdings was also “the largest commercial provider of charter air transportation for the US military”.

Other photos of World Airways’ N275WA from around the world can be seen here and here. N275WA, which had been converted into a freighter in 2002, went out of service and into storage in July 2012. Global Aviation Holdings again entered bankruptcy in November 2013, after which time World Airways was shut down. This explains why one of the MD-11 captain for World Airways (possibly captaining some of the gold flights) left World Airways in March 2014.

See video below of aircraft N275WA arriving into Caracas on 30 November 2012

 

5. Length 1:53 – N275WA arriving and unloading its cargo on 30 November 2012

 

6. Length 3:27 – This is a well produced promotional video from “Servicio Pan Americano de Protección”, the company that transported the gold from the airport to the bank. The video shows the entire unloading and loading operation from 30 January 2012 and is well worth watching.

 

An MD-11 CF freighter can transport 26 large pallets and has a maximum payload of 89,000 kgs (or 89 metric tonnes). Technically, Venezuela could have had all of its repatriated gold flown in on a lot less than 23 flights. Insurance and other risk management considerations probably dictated the diversification requirement, as well as the gold possibly only becoming available in piecemeal fashion from November 2011 to January 2012.

BCV address and lot 20

If there were indeed 23 flights over 2 months totalling 160/161 tonnes, each flight could have flown in 7 tonnes of gold, since this adds up to 161 tonnes (23 * 7). Given that the last batch was said to be 14 tonnes and the first batch 5 tonnes, each of the other 21 flights could have carried a batch of about 6.70 tonnes.

However, a number of batches could have arrived on the same flight, such as the last flight which is said to have flown 14 tonnes. Video footage from the last shipment day, 30 January 2012, shows a crate with lot number ’20’ displayed on it – See above screen shot. So there were at least 20 ‘lots’. Overall, there would have been about 360 crates.

Given that Venezuela was able to repatriate 160 tonnes of gold in cargo flights over the Atlantic Ocean from Europe within 2 months, this proves that the German Bundesbank could have easily repatriated its intended target of 300 tonnes of gold from New York in 2013, by flying the entire 300 tonnes over to Frankfurt within 4 months. Venezuela’s successful operation proves that the Bundesbank’s seven-year repatriation plan is laughable, and that the excuses coming out of Frankfurt are hiding something far more critical to the Bundesbank and the Federal Reserve and US Treasury than logistical flight details.

 

The French Connection – Banque de France

It’s not clear where the last gold shipment on World Airways N275WA aircraft originated from, although Nelson Merentes made the general statement for the overall operation that “the gold comes from several European countries.

However, in the case of the first shipment on Air France from France, there are not that many places where the flight could have come from, the main suspect being from Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) in Paris, where Air France has one of its two main cargo hubs (the other hub being Amsterdam – i.e. these are Air France-KLM’s two cargo hubs). This then also makes a good case for the first shipment of gold having come from the Banque de France. If this was the case, then it meant that bullion banks and/or the BIS needed to source gold from the Banque de France. Would this have been feasible? Yes.

A May 2012 article from CentralBanking.com (subscription only) quoted George Milling-Stanley, independent gold consultant, and formerly of the World Gold Council, who had some interesting insights into the role of the Banque de France in being able to mobilise gold:

‘”Gold stored at the Bank of England vaults … can easily be mobilised into the market via trading strategies, or posted as collateral for a currency loan. The London vaults of JPMorgan, HSBC, and other bullion dealing investment banks have a similar status,” says Milling-Stanley.’

‘Of the Banque de France, Milling-Stanley says it has “recently become more active in this space [mobilising gold into the market], acting primarily as an interface between the Bank for International Settlements in Basel [BIS] and commercial banks requiring dollar liquidity. These commercial banks are primarily located in Europe, especially in France”.’

Milling-Stanley’s reference to the Banque de France acting as an interface to the BIS and commercial banks in Europe may be implying that the Banque de France was a party to the 2010 BIS gold swaps which involved 10 commercial banks including BNP Paribas, Societe Generale and HSBC.

In July 2010 the FT said that “three big banks – HSBC, Société Générale and BNP Paribas – were among more than 10 based in Europe that swapped gold with the Bank for International Settlements in a series of unusual deals.” Note that BNP Paribas and HSBC are two of the five bullion banks with which the BCV had outstanding gold loans to in August 2011.

Despite the BIS’ cryptic, short, and obscure explanation that in these swaps, the commercial banks provided gold to the BIS in return for US dollar liquidity, it could be the case that commercial bullion banks borrowed central bank gold held at the Banque de France via financing from the BIS as part of a tripartite transaction.

Under this type of tripartite transaction, which was first proposed by Adrian Douglas, a Venezuelan – Banque de France version would have involved the Banque de France arranging gold lending to the bullion banks who then transfer the title of this gold to the BIS. The BIS transfers US dollars to the bullion banks who then either transfer this currency to the Banque de France, or owe a cash obligation to the Banque de France. The gold is recorded in the name of the BIS but is actually kept in the Banque de France until required by the bullion banks who borrowed it, then, when needed, gold is withdrawn by the bullion banks and used to pay back central bank gold lenders such as Venezuela’s BCV. Either French gold or Banque de France customer gold (such as IMF gold in Paris) could have been used in such a transaction. This would explain why Venezuela received crates of gold flown in to Caracas by Air France cargo.

The FT also noted in its 2010 BIS gold swap article that “In a short note in its annual report, published at the end of June, the BIS said it had taken 346 tonnes of gold in exchange for foreign currency in “swap operations” in the financial year to March 31.” (2010)

This 346 tonne BIS gold swap figure was said to have continued to grow after March 2010 and was estimated to be as high as 380 tonnes by July 2010.

Venezuela’s 50 tonnes of gold at the Bank of England

At the time of the arrival of the last gold shipment to Caracas in January 2012, Nelson Merentes was reported to have noted that “gold stored in BCV will reach 86% of the total while the rest, about 50 tonnes, will stay in the banks in which the Republic needs to maintain open accounts for international financial operations.” In August 2011, Chavez had referred to wanting to reach a target of 90% of the gold being stored in Caracas, but 86% is quite close.

The 50 ton amount remaining at the Bank of England was possibly chosen as a ’round number’ tonnage by the BCV and its international advisors. From the above bar/ingot total calculations, it seems that there were 4,089 good delivery bars left in London. This 50 tonnes, left in situ in London in January 2012, was to play a far greater role in Venezuela’s international financing arrangements than many envisaged at the time.

 

 

Maduro

The Reactivation of Venezuela’s Gold Reserves

The death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in March 2013, and the election of Nicolás Maduro as his successor marked a re-establishment of the relationship between the international investment banks and the Venezuelan central bank.

Recall that in August 2011 when Chavez called for the repatriation of Venezuela’s gold reserves, he also called for the transfer of the BCV’s operating reserves away from US and European banks. These operating reserves, such as cash deposits and short-term fixed interest investments, had been invested with the BIS (BPI in Spanish), Barclays, JP Morgan, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, the FRB (repos), the World Bank and Bladex (the Panamanian based LatAm trade bank). Sight deposits were with JP Morgan, time deposits with the other commercial banks and the BIS, and it negotiable (fixed rate) instruments with the BIS (FIXBIS). See “Proposed Relocation of the International Reserves“.

Operating Reserves August 2011

Prior to the Chavez about-turn, Venezuela had cultivated close working relationships with some of the biggest global investment banks (or vice-versa), and seemed to be especially fond of Wall Street banks. This is illustrated, obviously, by the manner in which it used the investment banks to invest both the operating and gold components of its international reserves, where the names involved read like a who’s who of investment banking giants. But as important as the deposit taking banks appear to be to Venezuela, the advisory and corporate finance relationships look to be as equally important.

According to the Venezuelan media, in the early 2000s, JP Morgan was said to be very close to the Venezuelan finance ministry and finance minister Alejandro Dopazo, and Credit Suisse New York was also said to have had a close relationship with the government.

The use of Venezuelan gold as loan collateral was also not something new to the Maduro years. A Venezuelan media report from August 2011 claims that a few years prior to 2011, Venezuela was involved in financing discussions with New York based investment banks where the banks raised the issue of gold collateral as a means of lowering the required coupon in the financing strategies and products being discussed. These meetings were said to have taken place in the New York offices of Francisco Illaramendi, former manager of the PDVSA pension funds. According to the media report, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Barclays separately proposed that in order to  “avoid the penalty of high coupons, Venezuela could place ‘equivalent in gold in the banks’ to support the issue”, with Credit Suisse proposing that Venezuelan gold be deposited with it in London and Barclays proposing likewise.

Since the Maduro presidency, the investment banks, and especially the Wall Street based banks, have been actively involved again in Venezuela’s financial affairs. Late last year, in December 2014, Venezuela sold Goldman Sachs a $4 billion credit owed to Venezuela by the Dominican Republic which was outstanding under the Petrocaribe arrangement. Petrocaribe is a regional oil programme by which Venezuela supplies oil to other countries in the region.

Lazard, the French investment bank, is a financial advisor to the state of Venezuela, and last year Lazard was chosen by Venezuela to handle the sale of Citgo Petroleum on behalf of the Venezuelan state owned oil company PDVSA (Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.). Citgo is a US subsidiary of PVDSA. This sale didn’t go ahead but then Deutsche Bank’s New York office was chosen in January 2014 to handle a bond and loan capital raising exercise for Citgo and advisory services for PDVSA. Deutsche had previously worked with PDVSA.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch also now has a close relationship with the Venezuelan central bank and the Venezuelan government in the form of its chief economist for the Andean region, Francisco Rodríguez. Rodríguez, was chief economist to the National Assembly of Venezuela from 2000-2004, and joined Bank of America in 2011. More about Rodríguez below.

outriders

Goldman Gold Swap Plan

The first sign that Venezuela’s gold was back in the sights of the investment banks came in November 2013, when it was reported that the BCV (and the Venezuelan government) were in negotiations with Goldman Sachs about the arrangement of a gold exchange, in other words, a gold – US dollar swap with gold as collateral. A lot of the reporting at the time did not provide very much detail about this swap, so here are some summary details of the Goldman gold swap.

The gold swap was to be between the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and Goldman Sachs International in London. Eudomar Tovar was BCV president at that time. The swap would involve Venezuela swapping gold from it’s reserves with Goldman Sachs international in exchange for a US dollar loan, with the gold serving as collateral for the loan.

The swap was to be for a four-year duration between 2016 and 2020 (although another media source said it was to be for a seven-year duration from late 2013 until late 2020). The swap was to be for 1.45 million ounces of gold (or nearly 1.45 million ounces according to one media source) which was expected to be deposited at the Bank of England and transferred to Goldman Sachs International at an agreed time. At the time, 1.45m ozs of gold was valued at over $1.85 billion at the then market price of $1,282 per ounce. Venezuela would also pay an annual interest rate of 8% on the loan.

BCV Goldman Adar gold swap

The above screenshot is from a document here.

If the price of gold fell over the life of the swap, the BCV would need to deposit more gold into a margin account. If the price of gold rose, Goldman Sachs International would be required to deposit more currency into a margin account.  At the swap’s maturity, the contributions made by each party into the margin accounts would be returned to the respective parties.

The swap was said to contain a built-in hedge that would benefit Goldman, which reflected a 10% adjustment of the value of the swap if the gold price fell. The gold swap was said to be tradable on the market. The terms of the swap allowed the BCV to repay the loan and keep the gold, but if the BCV didnt repay the loan, the gold would go Goldman. One report said that the gold would continue to appear on the BCV’s balance sheet throughout the term of the swap.

The BCV had contracted Adar Capital Partners (of which Diego Marynberg is a director), as a consultant to design the swap with Goldman Sachs International. Adar Capital Partners would received 0.25% per annum of the value of the gold in the contract at beginning of each year over the life of the contract.

Any dispute between the parties would  be resolved in English courts. Some media articles on the BCV-Goldman gold swap can be viewed in Spanish here and here and here.

Given that there were said to be 16,908 of Venezuela’s gold bars held abroad, of which 12,819 bars were repatriated, this left 4,089 of Venezuela’s bars in the vaults of the Bank of England from early 2012. These 4,089 bars are roughly equal to 51 tonnes, or 1.635 million ounces. It looks like the Goldman swap factored in a 10% adjustment on 50 tonnes of gold (roughly 1,607,500 ozs) at the Bank of England,  to arrive at 1.45 million ounces (i.e. 1,607,500 * 0.9 = 1,446,750 ozs). This is the 10% adjustment referred to above. So Goldman would have had an extra buffer built-in as protection against a downward gold price movement.

The discussion of the swap at the time in November 2013 did not reveal what US dollar amount the BCV was to receive from Goldman in exchange for transferring 1.45 million ozs of gold to Goldman. i.e. it did not reveal the intended discount that the BCV was expected to take on gold with a US dollar value of $1.85 billion.

The BCV maintains that this gold swap with Goldman Sachs International did not go ahead, despite what look like detailed terms and negotiations. But the framework of the gold swap discussed with Goldman Sachs looks very similar to the swap structure that was ultimately chosen in April 2015, so it appears that the BCV re-used in some way the plan that they had drawn up with Adar Capital Partners and Goldman Sachs.

Goldman and Ecuador

Where Goldman did get a Latin American gold swap out the door was Ecuador, approximately six months after its negotiations with Venezuela hit a wall.

In early June 2014, it was announced that Ecuador had agreed to swap 1,165 bars of gold as collateral with Goldman, and in return Goldman agreed to provide Ecuador with “instruments of high security and liquidity” i.e. a loan. This gold swap was for 3 years, from 2014 to 2017 after which it will be reversed and Ecuador will get its gold back and pay the 2017 gold price to Goldman.

Rodríguez, Bank of America and the BCV vault visit

In September 2014, there was a rather unusual story from Bloomberg in which Francisco Rodríguez, the Bank of America economist (see above), related the fact that he had been allowed a rare visit into the Venezuelan central bank gold vault to view the gold bars. Rodríguez maintains that he was at a routine meeting in the BCV headquarters when his request to see the gold was granted, and that he and four other people who had attended the meeting were brought down to the underground vault in which all of the gold was stacked in “five small cells that were not even full to the top”, and that the bars were of “different types”.

While Rodríguez is said to be close to the BCV and the Venezuelan government, it still seems odd that at a routine meeting, a Bank of America representative (and some unnamed others) would pop down to see the gold in the vault, while external attendees at countless other meetings at the BCV’s headquarters would not do this tour. Could it he that the Bank of America was running the slide ruler over the Venezuelan gold in preparation for a loan of their own to the Venezuelan State?

Role Call Recall

At this point its worth recalling some of the banks that were interacting with the Venezuelan state and finance ministry, and/or interacting with the BCV (not including the gold deposits and gold lending).

In 2011, Venezuela’s operating reserves were invested with Barclays, JP Morgan, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank. Earlier in the 2000s, JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Deutsche were said to be close to or working with Venezuela on various financing matters.

It was also said that a few years prior to 2011, Barclays, Credit Suisse and Deutsche, at meetings in New York held in the PDVSA offices, had proposed that Venezuela could put up gold as collateral so as to lower coupons on unspecified products.

Then there was Goldman Sachs purchasing outstanding debt that the Dominican Republic owed to Venezuela. Then there were Lazard and Deutsche advising the PDVSA and/or Citgo in the US. Finally there was Goldman Sachs negotiating a gold swap with Venezuela in 2013, and Bank of America taking a look at the gold in the BCV vaults in 2014.

 

Investment Bank beauty parade – March 2015

The topic of Venezuelan gold swaps was again raised on 10 March 2015 when Reuters reported that the BCV was said to be in advanced discussions with a group of Wall Street banks about conducting a 4 year gold swap for 1.4 milion ozs of gold, and that the swap operation would be agreed by the end of April. Reuters reported that the discussions involved at least two institutions, namely “Bank of America and Credit Suisse”.

At the time, the swap was said to involve an exchange of 1.4 million ozs (43.5 tonnes) of Venezuelan gold for cash, on which interest would be paid, and that Venezuela had the option of re-purchasing the gold after the expiry of the 4 year term. Interestingly, it was also said that Venezuela “would most likely be able to maintain the gold as part of its foreign currency reserves” during the swap, i.e. double-counting of gold reserves.

Amid the publicity about these March 2015 swap discussions, confusion arose as to whether the Goldman Sachs gold swap had happened or not, but the BCV stated generally that although it had “received proposals to carry out a similar operation” in late 2013, it “denied any agreements had been completed.“

Local media went further, and named additional investment bank names said to be involved in the pitch to secure the gold swap deal. On 5 March 2015, Nelson Bocaranda Sardi claimed in Venezuelan newspaper El Univeral that there was a pitch competition (implied to be for effect) by Credit Suisse, Goldman, BTGP Brazilian, Deutsche, Bank of America and Citibank, and that it was really a three horse race in which Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and Citibank would be chosen for the gold swap, but for $500 million each. Furthermore, Sardi said that Venezuela was paying $70 million to each bank as a risk premium. El Universal was previously said to be critical of Chavez, but may now not be so critical of Maduro.

On 12 March, on a web site of an organisation called Aporrea, Fresia Ipinza retorted (possibly with more up-to-date information) that rumours were saying that the gold swap would be over 4 years for 1.4 million ozs, and that allegedly Bank of America and Credit Suisse were involved. Aporrea were known to be Chavez supporters.

So, its very possible that the list of investment banks pitching to Venezuela for the gold swap were as follows: Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and BTGP. BTGP refers to BTG Pactual, a Brazilian investment bank.

Citigroup Rescue

 

The Citibank Gold Swap

In the last week of April 2015, it emerged that Citibank had exclusively won the mandate for the gold swap with Venezuela. It was reported that Citi was chosen from a group of ‘five’ banks that had pitched.

A combination of sources (see links) yield the following details about the gold swap with Citi. The details are said to be derived from newspaper ‘El Nacional’ and also a former director of the BCV, and also from Reuters.

Venezuela (via the BCV) will put up 1.4 million ozs of gold as collateral in exchange for a $1 billion loan of foreign currency from Citibank. Since 1.4 million ozs of gold, valued at the late April 2015 price of $1,200, is roughly $1.68 billion, then Venezuela is having to accept a near 40% discount on the specified gold collateral. Venezuela also pays interest on the loan at between 6% and 7% per annum.

The swap is for a 4 year duration, and Venezuela will have the “right of first refusal” to re-purchase the gold after 4 years. The 1.4 million ozs of gold (43.5 tonnes and just less than 3,500 Good Delivery bars equivalent) will be held at the vaults of the Bank of England. If Venezuela does not pay the interest payments on time, Citibank can gain control of the gold. The loan was expected to be for $1.5 billion but its unclear why this changed, but probably would have something to do with a bigger haircut being imposed.

According to ‘Venezuela Analysis‘ the “current value [of the gold] will continue to appear on the Central Bank’s balance sheet – an advantage that Goldman Sachs denied the country in earlier talks.” ‘Venezuela Analysis’ also said that some sources think Citibank holds title to the gold, while other say Venezuela holds title. Another relevant newspaper link is here.

None of the media commentary mentioned Adar Capital Partners Ltd in conjunction with the Citibank swap but its possible that this company could have been involved in the more recent swap negotiations, given that it was involved in the late 2013 gold swap negotiations involving Goldman Sachs and a lot of the swap terms are similar. On the other hand, the BCV could have just taken its gold swap file on the Goldman proposal out of the top drawer and reused the Goldman – Adar plan.

Why might Venezuela need a loan now?

Does Venezuela really need extra foreign currency now? In some ways, yes. Venezuela’s international reserves keep falling and as Nathan Crooks of Bloomberg said recently, reserves are now under $18.8 billion and at the lowest level since October 2003.

Venezuela’s international reserves fell by about US$2 billion during April from a level of $20.8 billion at the beginning of April. Lower oil prices have impacted the country’s ability to comfortably meet principal and interest payments on foreign bond borrowings and  for financing imports. Inflation in Venezuela is running high, and there are reports of a shortage of essential goods and an impact on some public services. In short, the economy is contracting.

Rodriguez, the Bank of America economist, said that the gold swap was the ‘logical’ course of action for Venezuela to take. As to why Venezuela can’t negotiate oil swap deals in the current environment or get more financing from the BRICS or China, that is probably more of an international political issue and a reputational issue with the international capital markets.

 

Maria Corina Machado

On 12 March 2015, Maria Corina Machado, a deputy in the Venezuelan National Assembly and political leader of the opposition party, sent an offical letter to Nelson Merentes, president of the BCV, asking the following 5 questions about the gold swap, which at the time, in early March, was being rumoured.

Questions 1 and 2 are quite standard and to be expected in light of the general rumours about the swap, but questions 3, 4, and 5 seem to suggest that Machado had heard something about the negotiations that made her think that the size of the swap was going to be far larger ($2.6 billion), and that there would be a ‘second operation’ with an even larger swap, and that this would require moving gold out of Venezuela again. See the 5 questions below:

  1. ¿Está todo el oro de las reservas venezolanas en las bóvedas del BCV de Venezuela tal como afirmó el ex presidente el Hugo Chavéz 17 de agusto 2011, cuando ordenó “repatriacion de nuestro oro”?

Are all of Venezuela’s gold reserves in the vaults of the Central Bank of Venezuela as stated by the former president Hugo Chavéz on 17 agusto 2011, when he ordered “repatriation of our gold”?

2. ¿Está el BCV en negociación con la banca extranjera para la venta o empeño del oro monetario?

Is the BCV in negotiations with foreign banks for the sale or pawning of monetary gold?

3. ¿Es cierto que en la operacion de empeño del oro actualmente en discusión se pretende disponer de oro por un valor de mercado de 2,6 mil millones US$?
¿Esto representaría comprometer casi el 20% del total de reservas en oro de la Républica en esta primera operación?

Is it true that in the operation to pawn gold currently under discussion, it is intended to dispose of gold with a market value of US$ 2.6 billion?
Does this represent / involve almost the 20% of the total gold reserves of the Republic, in this first operation?

4. ¿Es cierto que estarían negociando una segunda operacion de empeño similar a la anterior por un monto aun mayor?

Is it true that they would be negotiating a second operation similar to the previous one for an even greater amount?

5. ¿Estas operaciones implican sacar el oro de las bóvedas del BCV y regresarlas al exterior?

Do these operations involve removing the gold from the vaults of the BCV and returning it abroad?

In the letter, Machado claimed that “the [gold swap] exchange would jeopardize the achievement of economic stability” and “would compromise the future of the Republic and the welfare of millions of Venezuelans“.

She also called for the monetary gold bullion held by the BCV and the exact amount held abroad  to be “certified by an independent and trusted international body”.

There does not seem to be any publicly available response from the central bank to Machado’s letter, so its unclear as to which answers, if any, Machado received from the BCV. However, given the deteriorating state of Venezuela’s international finances and international reserves at the present time, it may be sooner rather than later before Venezuelan gold could be on the move again out of the country.

One thing is for sure. Gold leaving Venezuela on a flight back to London, New York, or elsewhere, will not get the fanfare and celebration that was accompanied by the same gold’s arrival into Caracas a few short years ago.

 

El Salvador’s gold reserves, the BIS, and the bullion banks

According to a Reuters report from 24 April, the central bank of El Salvador, Banco Central de Reserva de El Salvador (BCR), sold approximately 80% of its gold reserves during March 2015. This sale comprised 5.412 tons of gold and raised $206 million for the Bank.

Reuters initiated its story based on updates to the International Monetary Fund’s gold reserve data, which this month was updated on 24 April. Each month, the IMF updates its International Financial Statistics dataset with economic data (on a one to two month lag) including country gold reserve data reported to it by member countries.

However, the Reuters story was very brief and failed to explain any of the details about El Salvador’s gold or the March gold sales. Therefore, to correct this situation, the full story is explained below.

BCR

IMF gold reserve data by country

The IMF elibrary web site is the entry point for retrieving monthly country gold reserve data (by volume in fine troy ounces) for any IMF member country. Note that on the IMF’s site, gold reserve data is part of the International Financial Statistics (IFS) dataset and not part of the International Reserves dataset. The IFS dataset was subscription-based until January 2015, after which the IMF made a number of datasets, including IFS, free to access.

The IMF’s elibrary platform is located at http://elibrary-data.imf.org/DataExplorer.aspx, but this platform is being phased out soon since the IMF has launched a replacement platform called data.imf.org which will contain the same data including free IFS data.

IFS gold reserve data for El Salvador shows that starting with a total of 223,000 ounces of gold in November 2014, the central bank’s gold reserves fell by 5,000 ozs to 218,000 ozs in December 2014, before dropping by another 174,000 ozs to 44,000 ozs in March 2015, making an overall fall of 179,000 ozs between November and March. See table below:

IMF gold reserve data for El Salvador excel

Looking at El Salvador’s quarterly gold reserve data since Q2 2014, as well as its annual gold reserve data since 2011, shows that the only movements in the country’s gold holdings over the last 4 years were the December 2014 and March 2015 gold sales. See table below:

IMF gold reserve data for El Salvador excel 2

However, the best source of information on the Banco Central de Reserva de El Salvador’s (BCR) gold holdings, is of course, the bank’s own publications. The BCR, like a number of other central banks in the region, divulges relatively more information about its gold holdings than most other central banks in other parts of the world.

The Bank for International Settlements, Barclays and Scotia

The most recent BCR publication (in Spanish) that lists the central bank’s gold reserves is the 30th September 2014 edition of the ‘Statement of Assets backing the Liquidity Reserve’, or ‘Estado de los Activos que respaldan la Reserva de Liquidez’ Sept 2014. This ‘statement’ was audited by the local San Salvador office of KPMG .

Section 7 of this statement addresses the BCR’s gold deposits (Depósitos en Oro) and is quite detailed in the information that it provides. See screenshot below:

As of 30th September 2014, the BCR claimed a gold holding of 223,113.213 troy ounces. Exactly 85% of this gold holding (189,646 ozs) was said to be held as deposits of physical gold (Depósitos de oro físico) with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). The BIS offers gold “safekeeping and settlements facilities” that are “available loco London, Berne or New York“, i.e. the BIS maintains gold accounts in three locations, so El Salvador’s gold could have been held with the BIS in any of these three locations.

The remainder of the gold holdings comprised 31 day time deposits in gold (Depósitos a plazo en oro) placed with two bullion banks, and derivative coverage (Derivado de Cobertura) with the BIS in the form of two put options entered into in March 2014.

The time deposits in gold were placed in equal sizes with Barclays Bank and the Bank of Nova Scotia. Each of these time deposits represented 7.5% of El Salvador’s gold holdings, specifically 16,733 ozs with Barclays and  16,734 ozs with Scotia, and 15% in total. The combined deposits also totalled 33,467 ozs, just over 1 ton. Interest on gold deposits is usually paid in gold that accrues and is added to the outstanding deposit total, so this amount in excess of 1 ton may represent interest payable to the BCR by the bullion banks.

Note that both Barclays and Scotia were two of the member banks of the recently defunct London Gold Market Fixing Company which managed the daily London gold fixings, and the two banks are also now two of the seven participants in the new LBMA Gold Price auction which recently replaced the gold fixings. Barclays and Scotia are also two of the six member bullion clearing banks which constitute London Precious Metals Clearing Ltd (LPMCL).

There was also a residual line item under the BCR’s time deposits in gold attributed to a third bullion bank, Standard Chartered. Finally, the BIS derivatives coverage line item accounted for 2,180 ozs.

At the stated valuation price of $1,216.50 per ounce, the above totals add up to 225,293 ozs of gold, but subtracting the derivatives line item of 2,180 ozs yields 223,113 ozs, which is the total gold holding that the BCR claims to hold. The gold representing the derivatives (put options explained below) line item seems to represent a loss on the puts expressed in gold that the BCR makes an adjustment for by subtracting it from its ‘total’ gold holding, hence it reported a gold holding of 223,113 ozs.

BCR sept 2014

The last notes to the above section 7 state that:

“On March 12, 2014, two put options with a maturity of one year were entered into, with a notional value of 11,200 and 211,913.213 troy ounces respectively, at an exercise price of US $ 1,100.00 per troy ounce.

The gold deposits are free of charge and / or pledge.”

Enter Standard Chartered

Going back another three months to June 2014, the 30 June 2014 edition of the BCR’s ‘Statement of Assets backing the Liquidity Reserve’, or ‘Estado de los Activos que respaldan la Reserva de Liquidez’ June 2014, shows very similar information to September 2014, with an identical amount of gold placed with the BIS at 189,646 ozs.

However, on 30 June the BCR had an active time deposit in gold placed with Standard Chartered as well as with Barclays and Scotia, and so was using three bullion banks for placing its gold deposits.

Using a valuation price of $1,315 per troy ounce, the June report shows that Barclays held a time deposit in gold for the BCR of 16,733 ozs, Scotia held a deposit of 8,467 ozs and Standard Chartered held a deposit of 8,267 ozs. These deposits also rolled over with a one month maturity.

The gold deposit with Barclays in June 2014 is identical to that of September 2014, so it was just being renewed by the BCR every month and rolling over with Barclays. Note that the Scotia and StanChar deposits of 8,267 ozs and 8,467 ozs respectively, add up to 16,734 ozs, so between June and September, these two deposits were combined at some point when they matured and were then placed together with Scotia.

In the June accounts, the amount of gold attributed to the ‘derivatives’ (put options) is only 711 ozs, or US$935,761 and so the total amount of gold listed below adds up to 223,825 ozs. Subtracting the  711 ozs (loss) again gives 223,113 ozs, the BCR’s published gold holding. Gold was trading at about $1,300 in June 2014 but there was still about 9 months left until the expiration date of the options.

BCR june 2014

Gold Deposits = Gold Lending

It’s important to grasp what these gold deposits with bullion banks are. This is merely gold lending by a central bank which has lent this gold out to LBMA bullion banks at very low deposit rates of maybe 0.5% – 1.00%. The LBMA bullion banks, at the time the lending first occurred, obtained the physical gold and immediately sold it.

Bullion-Banks

These are short-term gold deposits, which keep maturing every month or so, therefore a central bank has to keep renewing them, either with the same LBMA bullion bank or another LBMA bullion bank which is in the market quoting to take these deposits. The central banks do this by sending MT60* series SWIFT messages to the bullion banks. These gold deposits that a central bank puts out can stay out for years and years after they were first entered into. For example, Bolivia has had gold deposits out with LBMA bullion banks since 1997, or over 17 years. I will write about Bolivia’s gold lending in detail at some point.

None of the LBMA bullion banks actually has this gold on deposit, since its been sold. The banks just take over the obligation to pay the gold back to the central bank. So the claims that the central bank has to the bullion banks just keep switching around. One month the claims could be on Barclays, Scotia and Standard Chartered. A few months later the claims could be to Natixis, BNP Paribas and HSBC etc etc.

Lots of central banks engage in this activity, they just don’t report it in as much detail as, for example, El Salvador or Bolivia. The Austrian federal auditors recently published a report which showed that Austria’s central bank, the OeNB, was actively engaging in gold lending with multiple bullion banks, with up to 10 counter-parties in 2009. See here.

Selling its Gold did not make sense for El Salvador

In its 24 April story, Reuters reported from San Salvador that a central bank of El Salvador  official had said that the gold sales were to “diversify risk and take advantage of the metal’s appreciation”, as well as to protect the Bank’s reserve portfolio “against market volatility”. This explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense especially since the put options were out of the money in March 2015.

Firstly, the gold price has not appreciated very much recently, and in US dollar terms it has fallen notably since September 2011. El Salvador’s gold holdings did not change at all over 2011-2014 and their value went down, not up. So, at this time, the reference to the “metal’s appreciation” is bogus, since even if the cost price was substantially lower, a far better time to sell would have been in 2011-2012.

Secondly, gold as a reserve asset in a central bank reserve portfolio is held precisely because it provides diversification and can act as an inflation hedge, currency hedge and also represents a reserve asset or war chest of last resort. In the World Gold Council’s latest ‘World_Official_Gold_Holdings_as_of_April2015_IFS’ report from early April, when El Salvador was listed as holding 6.8 tons of gold, this represented 9.9% of the BCR’s total reserves.

Emerging market central banks have been actively increasing their gold reserves in recent years, so as to increase the gold percentage in their reserves to something approaching 10%. Since El Salvador had an enviable ratio of nearly 10% of gold to total reserves that many emerging central banks are striving to reach, it does not make any sense as to why the BCR suddenly turned around and ruined this ratio, by selling nearly four-fifths of its gold. The BCR’s gold to total reserves ratio is now a miniscule 2% of its total reserve portfolio. There may therefore have been other considerations at play between El Salvador and the BIS such as the BIS suggesting the sale.

BIS dark

So, which gold did El Salvador sell?

Recall that the BCR’s two put options with the BIS were entered into on 12 March 2014 and had a maturity of one year and a strike price of US$ 1,100 per troy ounce. One put was for a notional value of 11,200 troy ounces and the other was for a notional value of 211,913.213 troy ounces. But with the strike price at $1,100 there was no value in exercising them.

For the month of March, the US dollar gold price traded in a range from about $1,220 down to $1,150. From 2nd to 12th March, gold also traded roughly in a range from near $1,220 at the start of the month, down to near $1,150 on 12th March, but still above $1,100.

Recall that as of 30 September 2014, the central bank of El Salvador had 223,113 ozs of gold, of which 189,646 ozs was held in “deposits of physical gold” with the BIS, and 33,467 ozs was held as time deposits of gold with commercial bullion banks.

In November 2014, as stated, the Salvadoreans sold 5,000 oz, leaving 218,113 ozs, and then the major sale occurred in March 2015 of 174,000 oz (or 5.412 tons). In total that’s 179,000 ozs of sales, leaving El Salvador with 44,000 ozs.

Since the Salvadoreans had 189,646 ozs on deposit with the BIS and needed to sell 179,000 ozs, the gold sold was most definitely sold to the BIS or to another party with the BIS acting as agent. On its website, under ‘foreign exchange and gold services”, the BIS states that it offers “purchases and sales of gold: spot, outright, swap or options“.

It would not make sense to sell some or all of the time deposits that are out with the bullion banks such as Barclays and Scotia, since a large chunk of the BCR gold at the BIS would have to be sold also. It would be far easier to just deal with one set of transactions at the BIS. And additionally, the bullion banks do not have El Salvador’s gold, they would need to use their own stocks or go out into the market to buy gold in order to repay the BCR.

The above would leave the time deposits of 33,467 ozs (and accrued interest) out with the bullion banks, rolling over each month as usual. The other roughly 11,000 ozs that the BCR held with the BIS could be left with the BIS, or else this too could be put out on deposit with the bullion banks.

Conclusion

The case of the El Salvador gold sales demonstrates that central banks can and do use the gold depositing facilities of the Bank for International Settlements, and also the gold lending services of LBMA commercial bullion banks such as Barclays, the Bank of Scotia and Standard Chartered amongst many others. The case of El Salvador also shows that central banks actively use derivatives such as put options within the management of the gold component of their reserve portfolios.

It would be naive to think that the bullion banks and the BIS are just providing these services to small emerging market central banks in Central America. It would be more realistic to suggest that the bullion banks and the BIS are providing these gold reserve portfolio services (with scale) to many central banks.

It’s also a shame that neither Reuters nor any other financial news organisation sees fit to write anything of substance about El Salvador or other central banks and the real workings of the interbank and BIS gold market given that it’s not that difficult to produce an article such as the above within a few hours of research and writing.