As those following the saga of the rigged for decades and soon to be history (in its curent incarnation) London gold fix know, today was the date when the World Gold Council held its "Modernising the London Gold Fix: IOSCO and beyond" round table session.
Specifically, as the WGC explained, "The World Gold Council will be holding a round table debate on the reform of the London Gold Fix and the modernisation of the London gold market. Many aspects of the existing price benchmark process are viewed favourably by market participants, however, other elements are in need of reform if IOSCO compliance is to be achieved. The World Gold Council is seeking views from both users and service providers on the optimal characteristics of any reformed system. We will also debate whether IOSCO compliance is enough or should the industry be seeking to modernise more than just the price benchmark?"
Among the various panels that took place were the following:
What do users want to see in a reformed benchmark?
- This session will ask the users of the London Gold Fix what they would like to see in terms of reform. What aspects of the Gold Fix are desirable and what aspects should be changed? What are the optimal characteristics of a reformed system?
Market-led options for achieving IOSCO compliance
- This session will discuss options for a reformed or alternative price setting mechanism. It will discuss existing alternative price-setting mechanisms and the pros and cons of each. Service providers will be asked to share their views on any new benchmarks and supporting platforms under consideration that may have arisen due to developments in the silver industry.
Beyond IOSCO: Should the gold market be modernising more than just the price-benchmark process?
- This session will ask whether gold market participants should be going further in their reform efforts. It will discuss, more generally, some of the perceived shortcomings in the gold market infrastructure. What other reforms are necessary to modernise the London gold market and what impact could this have on the industry?
And so on. Bloomberg was kind enough to provide a post-mortem of all the events that took place.
Discussions today at a meeting included reforming or replacing the London gold fix, the World Gold Council said in an e-mailed statement today.
- 34 “delegates” attended today’s meeting, representing central banks, bullion banks, exchanges, refiners
- A single benchmark price is preferred
- Other points: local London price important, “imperative” for price discovery continuity, locally and physically settled solution needed
- “We are at the start of a process that will lead to a reformed and modernized gold benchmark will attracts a broader range of market participants:” Natalie Dempster, managing director, central banks and public policy
- “There was strong support for the World Gold Council’s key principles for reform”
What all of the above means is that all participants in the rigged gold market, especially the central bankers, are adamant that the rigging continues in some form, preferably once again determined by a handful of market participants (participants which unlike Barclays will hopefully not be caught red-handed with rigging the price of gold), or as the phrase went, "local London price important "imperative" for price discovery continuity." Considering there is zero price discovery in a rigged market by definition, what this double negative statement simply said is that there should be zero visibility into the supply and demand forces (coughBIScough) that really set the price of gold.
In fact, if anything, as we have said previously - somewhat cynically - the only thing that is sure as a result of the "gold fix" reform is an entrenched standard that is even more susceptible for rigging and manipulation.
None of the above should come as a surprise.
And the reason why none of this should be a surprise is precisely what the stunner in today's meeting was. It comes in the form of the person who chaired today's World Gold Council session on London gold-fixing transparency and reform.
Meet John Nugee, World Gold Council chairman, and the man who spent the bulk of his career at the Bank of England where his most recent post was Chief Manager of the bank's Reserves.
From his official bio:
John Nugée is an independent commentator on financial, economic and political issues, with an extensive background in the official sector. The majority of his career has been spent at the Bank of England, where his last post was as chief manager of the Reserves. He also worked at the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, where he was executive director in charge of reserves management, and acted as a UK director at the European Investment Bank and European Investment Fund. From 2000 to 2013 he worked at State Street Global Advisors (SSgA), the asset management division of State Street Corporation, latterly as senior managing director. He founded and ran SSgA’s Official Institutions Group, responsible for overseeing the interaction with the firm’s official sector clients. As well as his associate fellowship of Chatham House, Nugée is a senior adviser to the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum and to the World Gold Council.
Wait, when did he work as Chief Manager of the BOE's reserves? According to his public profile, he worked at the Bank of England for nearly a quarter century from 1977 to 2000, and was Reserve Manager for the last four.
So what happened during that four year time period? Why nothing short of the infamous sale of half, or 400 tons, of England's gold at ridiculously low prices. Why did he do that? Recall as the Telegraph reported previously:
It seemed almost as if the Treasury was trying to achieve the lowest price possible for the public’s gold. It was. One of the most popular trading plays of the late 1990s was the carry trade, particularly the gold carry trade.
In this a bank would borrow gold from another financial institution for a set period, and pay a token sum relative to the overall value of that gold for the privilege. Once control of the gold had been passed over, the bank would then immediately sell it for its full market value. The proceeds would be invested in an alternative product which was predicted to generate a better return over the period than gold which was enduring a spell of relative price stability, even decline. At the end of the allotted period, the bank would sell its investment and use the proceeds to buy back the amount of gold it had originally borrowed. This gold would be returned to the lender. The borrowing bank would trouser the difference between the two prices.
This plan worked brilliantly when gold fell and the other asset – for the bank at the heart of this case, yen-backed securities – rose. When the prices moved the other way, the banks were in trouble.
This is what had happened on an enormous scale by early 1999. One globally significant US bank in particular is understood to have been heavily short on two tonnes of gold, enough to call into question its solvency if redemption occurred at the prevailing price.
Goldman Sachs, which is not understood to have been significantly short on gold itself, is rumoured to have approached the Treasury to explain the situation through its then head of commodities Gavyn Davies, later chairman of the BBC and married to Sue Nye who ran Brown’s private office. Faced with the prospect of a global collapse in the banking system, the Chancellor took the decision to bail out the banks by dumping Britain’s gold, forcing the price down and allowing the banks to buy back gold at a profit, thus meeting their borrowing obligations.
I spoke with Peter Hambro, chairman of Petroplavosk and a leading figure in the London gold market, late last year and asked him about the rumours above.
“I think that Mr Brown found himself in a terrible position,” he said.
“He was facing a problem that was a world scale problem where a number of financial institutions had become voluntarily short of gold to the extent that it was threatening the stability of the financial system and it was obvious that something had to be done.”
While the market manipulation which occurred when the gold reserves were sold was not illegal as the abuse at Barclays may have been, the moral atmosphere in which it took place was identical.
In other words, the man who assisted and "consulted" Gordon Brown (a man so clueless about finance he didn't and still doesn't have any idea what a carry trade is, let alone one in gold) the man who was Chief Manager of the Bank of England's reserves (all reserves) when Britain commenced its gold dumping campaign intended to, as usual, bail the big banks whose gold shorting trades had gone horribly wrong, the man - John Nugee - is the same man tasked with making the London gold fix fair, efficient, transparent and unrigged.
One can't make this up.