Analysis: If Cyprus can sell gold to help bailout, why not others?

Thu Apr 11, 2013 1:49pm EDT
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By Jan Harvey and Clara Denina

LONDON (Reuters) - Heavily indebted euro zone nations such as Italy and Portugal could come under pressure to put their bullion reserves to work as a result of plans for Cyprus to sell gold to meet its financing needs.

A European Commission assessment of what Cyprus needs to do as part of its European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout showed Cyprus is expected to sell in excess gold reserves to raise around 400 million euros ($523 million).

Other struggling euro area countries may be pushed to take note. Between them, for example, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, hold more than 3,230 metric tons (3561 tons) of gold between them, worth nearly 125 billion euros at today's prices.

The lion's share of that - 2,451.8 metric tons - belongs to Italy. But Portugal and Spain also hold hundreds of metric tons and gold is currently trading around $1,558.95 per ounce in spot terms, or 1,189 euros.

The metal makes up more than 90 percent of Portugal's foreign exchange holdings, and 72.2 percent of Italy's. India, by contrast, holds less than 10 percent of its reserves in gold.

Gold sales on their own would be far from a magic bullet to solve euro zone financing problems: Italy's entire gold reserves, for example, are worth less than 95 billion euros, against outstanding debt of around 1.685 trillion euros.

But the Cyprus situation shows that even a relatively small gold sale may help address severe debt problems. Cyprus' gold sale would allow it to easily come up with around 3 percent of what it must contribute to the bailout.

It is something that has the market somewhat concerned given that a big sale would push down the price. Central bank gold buying was one of the few areas of demand to increase last year at a time jewelry, coin and gold-bar buying was on the wane.   Continued...

Newly-appointed Cyprus Finance Minister Harris Georgiades speaks during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Andreas Manolis