COMMODITIES

Gold has the unique reputation of being the go-to store of value for centuries, and it seems the 21st century is going to be no different, given recent action from major central banks in Europe, observes John Browne of Euro Pacific Capital.

For years I have cautioned that changes in the ownership of gold held in the vaults of key central banks around the globe may not have been accurately reported. A report issued last month in Germany has once again brought these issues to the fore.

In today's environment of rampant money creation and questioning of central bank activities, such uncertainty is bound to spark the curiosity of an increasing number of investors.

Since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, central banks around the world have increased their gold holdings. As of January of this year, the International Monetary Fund estimated that official reserves had hit a six-year high.

Most of this growth has come from emerging and developing nations, who are estimated to have swollen their gold reserves 25% by weight since 2008. Just a few years ago, India purchased 200 tonnes on offer by the IMF.

This increase may surprise those who have been led to believe that central banks do not traditionally accumulate gold during recessions. The fact that they are doing so could carry an important message for private investors.

The United States, which has gold holdings of 8,133.5 tonnes as of 2010 (currently valued at $420 billion), is still by far the largest holder of gold. Perhaps with deep memories of the social scars of its Weimar Republic, Germany is the world's second largest, with some 3,396 tonnes.

Oddly, Germany keeps its horde largely abroad, with an estimated 66% at the New York Federal Reserve and 21% at the Bank of England. The gold was moved out of Germany during the Cold War in the 1950s due to concerns of a potential Russian invasion of West Germany.

In late October, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reported in the UK's Daily Telegraph that the German Court of Auditors told legislators in a redacted report that the German gold held abroad had "never been verified physically," and ordered the Bundesbank to secure access to the storage sites.