Switzerland is ranked 8th in the list of countries holding gold in their national banks. Its national gold reserves now stand at 1040 tonnes, after a long period of selling. Switzerland stores the majority of this gold at the Swiss National Bank (SNB), but also has holdings in some other locations worldwide. However, Switzerland’s gold reserves declined considerably between 2000-2008. During this period the SNB sold 1550 tonnes of gold. The possible reasons behind these enormous sales were rapidly increasing gold prices and international market trends. These factors could have contributed to Switzerland’s official change in policy. The details of these sales were never disclosed to the public. Before 2000, Switzerland had the 4th largest gold reserves.
The Swiss Constitution and Gold:
The Swiss Constitution allows the SNB to buy and sell the gold according to the market trends. But a part of the country's reserves must always be kept in the form of physical gold. The Constitution, however, has no requirement for the information regarding SNB gold sales to be disclosed publicly. This point raises some questions at the transparency of the process. Let’s take a look at the public opinion on this.
The Gold Initiative:
In 2011, when the SNB’s gold sales were on the rise, some members of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) announced an initiative called the “Save our Swiss Gold" Initiative. This initiative was created to amend the Swiss Constitution and add these three points to it:
The Swiss government held a referendum on the 30th of November 2014 to decide whether they should amend the Constitution or not according to these criteria. This Initiative failed to get the required majority to be implemented. However, after witnessing this trend in public opinion, the SNB started to disclose information on trades and the locations where their gold is held. 70% of the gold is stored in the SNB, 20% in the Bank of England in London and 10% in Canada. Moreover, the SNB reported that the gold reserves that were once stored the New York have now been sold.
When the SNB was asked about the type of gold is being stored (i.e. coins or bars), it refused to disclose this information.
Swiss gold sales 2000-2008:
Switzerland sold 1550 tonnes of gold in between 2000 to 2008. This dropped its position from 4th to 8th in the list of countries storing the gold. This was indeed not a surprise move by the SNB, as they were preparing for it since the 1990s. The SNB was given the mandate to sell the country's gold through a series of constitutional amendments upon the suggestion of Swiss government and SNB officials. Here are some of the highlights:
Unlike its neighbors (France and Italy), Switzerland holds gold to balance the exchange rates between the Swiss Franc and the Euro. It holds gold as an asset, and after the end of every financial year, the value of the Swiss gold reserves is assessed in Francs per kilogram of gold. In recent years, Switzerland’s gold reserves have considerably decreased, and now make only a small percentage of their total foreign reserves. That is due to policy initiatives and constantly changing international market trends.