Why Experts Are Praising Turkey’s Gold Policy

AMID the brouhaha over Germany‘s gold reserves at the Bundesbank, there’s another central bank using gold actively to bolster its currency and financial stability.

The strategy looks the same – sitting on big stockpiles of the stuff. But the aim differs, because gold is much closer to the everyday financial system. The tactics differ too. Because the central bank hasn’t bought and paid for this gold. Private citizens have.

“Gold-based deposit accounts [in Turkey] surged 15% this year through the end of July,” explained BusinessWeek back in October, “three times the increase in standard savings accounts.”

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“Although much criticised for its use of ‘unconventional measures’,” the Financial Times added in December, “few would argue that the decision last year by Turkey‘s central bank to allow the country’s banks to buy gold was anything less than a roaring success.”

Buying gold isn’t quite right. Starting in October 2011, the central bank began allowing commercial banks to hold a portion of their “required reserves” – needed to reassure depositors and other creditors they had plenty of money to hand – in physical gold bullion. Starting at 10%, that proportion was then raised to 30%.

Private citizens were similarly encouraged to hold their gold on deposit with their banks. That gold was thus transferred to the central bank’s balancesheet. Et voila! Privately-owned gold now backed the nation’s finances. A smart idea, which has coincided with Turkey‘s currency rising, interest rates falling, huge current-account shrinking, and government bonds regaining “investment grade” status.

Publicly targeting some of Turkey‘s estimated 2,200 tonnes of “under-the-pillow” gold, currently worth some $119 billion, the CBRT‘s governor Erdem Basci has meantime been awarded The Banker magazine’s prestigious “Central Banker of the Year 2012″ award. But with everything going so swimmingly, might Turkey risk over-heating?
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