Europe’s central banks have all but halted sales of their gold reserves, ending a run of large disposals each year for more than a decade.
The central banks of the euro zone plus Sweden and Switzerland are bound by the Central Bank Gold Agreement, which caps their collective sales.
In the CBGA’s year to September, which expired on Sunday, the signatories sold 6.2 tons, down 96 per cent, according to provisional data.
The sales are the lowest since the agreement was signed in 1999 and well below the peak of 497 tons in 2004-05.
The shift away from gold selling comes as European central banks reassess gold amid the financial crisis and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
In the 1990s and 2000s, central banks swapped their non- yielding bullion for sovereign debt, which gives a steady annual return. But now, central banks and investors are seeking the security of gold.
The lack of heavy selling is important for gold prices both because a significant source of supply has been withdrawn from the market, and because it has given psychological support to the gold price. On Friday, bullion hit a record of $1,300 an ounce.
“Clearly now it’s a different world; the mentality is completely different,” said Jonathan Spall, director of precious metals sales at Barclays Capital.
European central banks are unlikely to sell much more gold in the new CBGA year, according to a survey by the Financial Times.
Although many central banks declined to detail their sales plans, the responses of some, along with numerous interviews with bankers and consultants, suggest it is unlikely there will be a return to the trend of the past decade, when CBGA signatories sold on average 388 tons a year.
The central banks of Sweden, Slovakia, Ireland and Slovenia said they had no plans to sell, while Switzerland reiterated a previous statement to the same effect.
The CBGA was first signed after gold miners protested that central banks’ rush to sell was depressing prices.
In previous years signatories haggled for individual allowances to sell under the CBGA, but the most recent renewal of the agreement in 2009 contained no such quotas, according to Darko Bohnec, vice governor of Slovenia’s central bank.