A few days ago, we first reported a rumor that was floating around Wall Street desks, and which, according to some, was the "reason" that gold was being kept lower even as sovereign risk was exploding around the globe. The rumor was that Russia was selling its gold holdings:
Rumor Russia selling gold— zerohedge (@zerohedge) December 15, 2014
This led to Bloomberg speculating, and us rhetorically asking, if "Putin's next step will be to sell gold"
"Russia is at a critical juncture and given the sanctions placed upon them and the rapid decline in oil prices, they may be forced to dip into their gold reserves, if it happens it will push gold lower." That is what, according to some people Bloomberg has quoted, is in the cards.
While some suggest the accumulation was "tradition" it is still nonetheless an impressive aggregation of the barbarous relic:
So given the efforts to build this gold-backing for their nation's currency, do we really expect Putin to now dump his physical: or perhaps more strategically suggest a true gold-backed currency and jawbone the currency that way?
So what is the truth? Well, we won't for sure until the next official report by the Central Bank of Russia hits the IMF database, but in the menatime, SocGen just reported that the selling may have started:
Looking at the correlation between gold and oil prices, the chart above illustrates that both commodities were moving closely in tandem over the July to September period. However, this link was broken in early October when gold embarked upon the new rally on weaker US dollar and some physical support, while oil prices continued to slide. The rally, nonetheless, proved to be short lived, as gold returned to its downtrend after hitting the $1,250 level on 21 October, and continued to move down, along with oil, for the remainder of the month.
Starting from November we have seen gold and oil prices moving in opposite directions again. As we mentioned earlier, oil prices came under significant pressure on concerns about a growing global oil supply glut. On the contrary, gold recovered some of its earlier losses, supported by fresh buying interest in India on the news that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was reviewing gold import restrictions that were introduced last year. Towards the end of November, the RBI surprised the markets by announcing the withdrawal of the 80:20 rule, which saw gold imports surging to 150 tonnes that month, according to the latest statistics from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In addition, worries over the potential impact of stronger US dollar on the global economy spurred some safe-haven buying.
It is not surprising that Russia has been tackling its financial problems by selling the gold they have been accumulating. According to the IMF data this year, one of the world's largest oil exporters acquired 115 tonnes in the January to September period, and added another 18.9 tonnes to their reserves in October. Russia has been purchasing the yellow metal at a faster pace this year, taking advantage of lower gold prices and, perhaps, preparing for the possibility of a long-lasting restrained relationship with the West and economic downturn. It appears possible that the Central Bank of Russia has started to sell off some of its gold reserves in December, with some sources reporting that official gold reserves dropped by $4.3 billion in the first week of the month.
Of course, it should be noted that SocGen and its "sources" have a conflict: in an indirect way, none other than SocGen is suddenly very interested in Russia stabilizing its economy because as we wrote before, "Russia Contagion Spreads To European Banks : French SocGen, Austrian Raiffeisen Plummet" which also sent SocGen's default risk higher in recent days. So if all it will take to stabilize the RUB sell off, reduce fears of Russian contagion, and halt the selloff of SocGen stocks is a "source" reporting what may or may not be the case, so be it.
In any event, keep a close eye on the next update of Russian official gold holdings: it may well be the next big story of where gold is headed and, if true, an even more important question will be who is Russia selling its gold to.