VI Gold Production and Prices

International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
September 1960
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Gold Production

Increasing production from South Africa’s new gold mines raised total world production of gold in 1959 to a new postwar high for the sixth consecutive year. Defined as excluding output in the U.S.S.R. and countries associated with it, total output increased by 7 per cent, to 32 million fine ounces, or about 2 million ounces more than in 1958. Valued at US$35 per fine ounce, output in 1959 was $1,123 million, compared with $1,049 million in 1958, $1,019 million in 1957, and $979 million in 1956. Production in 1959 was about 52 per cent more than the 1945 low, but about 11 per cent (or 4 million ounces) less than the all-time peak of about $1,264 million attained in 1940 (Table 25).

Table 25.World Gold Production, Excluding Output of U.S.S.R. and Associated Countries(In millions of U.S. dollars at US$35 per fine ounce)
Union of South Africa492428511556596618702
United States170326665636249
Southern Rhodesia29201819191920
Belgian Congo20121313131212
Total 11,264 27369449791,0191,0491,123
Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics.

These figures include estimates for data not available.

All-time peak production.

Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics.

These figures include estimates for data not available.

All-time peak production.

Output in South Africa expanded in 1959 by 2.4 million ounces ($84 million), to 20.1 million ounces ($702 million), the highest annual figure ever recorded in the Union and equal to about 63 per cent of total world production. It was about 13 per cent greater than the 1958 output of 17.7 million ounces ($618 million), and about 74 per cent greater than the 11.5 million ounces ($403 million) produced in 1951. The new gold mines in the Orange Free State continued to expand, and production from these mines, which was negligible in 1951, totaled 5.6 million ounces ($196 million) in 1959, about 30 per cent more than in 1958. There was also some increase in the production of the Transvaal mines, the total for the year amounting to 14 million fine ounces, 1.2 million fine ounces above the record attained in 1958. The number of tons of ore milled in the Union was about 7 per cent more in 1959 than in 1958, and the yield per ton of ore mined also increased. The average grade of ore milled rose from 5.000 dwt. per ton in 1957 to 5.228 dwt. in 1958 and to 5.566 dwt. in 1959. These increases, together with the steady growth of the native labor force, which rose from 329,000 at the end of 1958 to 354,000 at the end of 1959, contributed to a record level of gold production in the Union of South Africa. Mining officials have predicted that, barring unforeseen difficulties, gold production will continue to rise to new records in the next few years because many of the newer mines will be expanding their milling capacity. The second largest increase of output in 1959 was recorded in Ghana, where production rose by $2.1 million, to $32.0 million.

In the United States, gold output declined in 1959 by $13.0 million, to $48.6 million. This has been attributed principally to the decline in by-product output resulting from shutdowns in the copper mining and smelting industry. Gold production in the United States has not recovered from the effects of the closing of mines during World War II, and in 1959 it was the lowest since the end of the War. In Canada, output declined by $3.1 million, to $156.9 million. Except for 1953, when production fell to $142.4 million as a result of the temporary closing of several mines, Canadian output has ranged between $152.8 million and $160.0 million per annum since 1950, but has failed to regain the peak of $187.6 million attained in 1941. Increases of about $0.9 million in Colombia, $0.7 million in Japan, $0.4 million in Southern Rhodesia, and $1.2 million in Tanganyika during 1959 were about equal to the total of small decreases recorded in Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, and other countries.

The gold mining industry in most major producing countries continues to be concerned about high production costs. In South Africa, however, costs declined during 1959 for the first time since 1948, and 1959 was the most profitable year that the industry has had. Primarily as a result of the rise in the average grade of ore milled, the working cost per ounce of gold recovered declined by 16s. 4d., to 162s. 5d. in 1959. Working costs declined from 46s. lid. per ton of ore milled in 1958 to 45s. 4d. in 1959, the same as the average cost in 1957. The average working profit from gold per ton milled, which had been 14s. 4d. in 1956, rose by 1959 to 24s. 7d. The total working profit from gold increased in 1959 by £24.7 million, to £86.1 million. Although profit from uranium declined by £ 10.5 million, to £27.2 million, the combined working profits from gold and uranium were greater than in 1956 by 57 per cent. The high dividend yields on gold shares in the two previous years, as well as the favorable tax status extended by South Africa to foreign investors, encouraged further investment in the industry. Since World War II, about £470 million ($1.3 billion) has been invested in the gold and uranium industry; of this, some £350 million came from the public, including nearly £ 180 million from outside the Union. Prospecting, exploring, and expansion activities have continued as the mining industry has become more prosperous. However, political unrest in South Africa during the early months of 1960 caused some withdrawal of foreign capital from the industry, and there has been a sharp break in the prices of South African gold mining shares. The productivity of the older marginal mines on the Rand that have no higher grade ore to which to turn during a period of high costs is a matter of great concern to the industry. Of the 55 producers that are members of the Transvaal and Orange Free State Chamber of Mines, the working costs of 34 were higher, and the profits of 21 were smaller, than in 1958. The South African authorities have stated that the tax concession to deep-level mines, provided for in the 1959-60 budget, would in the long run be beneficial in creating additional employment opportunities for workers in the areas affected by the closing down of marginal mines, as well as in helping to offset the decline of output in these areas. The sale of gold bars to private purchasers outside the sterling area, introduced in 1959, resulted in some extra revenue for gold producers.

The gold subsidy programs of the Governments of Australia, Canada, Colombia, and Fiji, discussed in previous Annual Reports, are still in operation. In May 1959, Australia consulted the Fund with regard to modifications of its gold subsidy program and extension of the program for a period of three years from June 30, 1959. The rates of assistance to gold producers were increased, the maximum rate for large producers rising by 10s. per ounce, to £A 3 5s., and the flat subsidy rate for small producers, i.e., those whose production does not exceed 500 ounces per annum, by 8s. per ounce, to £A 2 8s. The amendment involves no change in the basic structure of the subsidy scheme described in the Fund’s Annual Reports for 1955 and 1958. The Fund deemed the modified system and its extension to be consistent with the objectives of the Fund’s statement of December 11, 1947 on gold subsidies.

Governments frequently feel obliged to grant protection of one kind or another to marginal producers in certain sectors of the economy whose operations threaten to become unprofitable as a result of rising costs. Gold subsidies are one such method of protection. Fund members considering the introduction of subsidy schemes to prevent the reduction of gold output, as well as those desiring to amend existing subsidy programs, have an obligation to consult with the Fund on the measures to be introduced.

Gold Reserves

The stock of gold held by the monetary authorities in the world (excluding the U.S.S.R. and the countries associated with it, but including the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements, and the European Fund, established under the European Monetary Agreement) is estimated to have increased during 1959 by about $680 million, compared with increases of about $665 million in 1958, $705 million in 1957, and $200 million, the smallest increase in the postwar period, in 1951.1 Russian gold imported into the United Kingdom, estimated at about $255 million, was equivalent to about 38 per cent of the total increase in 1959. Since the value of last year’s gold output outside the U.S.S.R. was $1,123 million, the total increase in the amount of gold available to the rest of the world may be estimated as being of the order of $1.4 billion. A comparison of these new supplies with the estimated aggregate increase of about $680 million in official gold holdings therefore suggests that the equivalent of about $700 million was absorbed by the arts and industries or by private holders in 1959. At the end of the year, world monetary gold reserves, as defined above, amounted to approximately $40.2 billion, compared with $39.5 billion at the end of 1958 and $38.8 billion at the end of 1957. In 1958 and also in 1959, the increase in total reserves amounted to almost 2 per cent.

The redistribution of the stocks of gold held by the world’s monetary authorities, which had been observed in 1958, was carried further in 1959. The outstanding changes were net increases in the gold holdings of the International Monetary Fund, of most continental European countries, and of Japan, and decreases in the holdings of the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, and the Latin American countries. The economic background of these shifts has been sketched in earlier chapters of this Report. During 1959, the Fund received $1,375 million in gold in respect of the enlargement of its resources through increases in quotas, other subscription payments, repurchases, and charges due in gold, and $300 million in gold was sold by the Fund to the United States. The net increase of $1,075 million raised the Fund’s total holdings to $2.4 billion at the end of 1959, when the Fund’s share of the world’s gold reserves was 6.0 per cent, against 3.4 per cent at the end of 1958. Shifts in the gold holdings of individual countries were also of great importance in 1959. The decrease in U.S. gold holdings amounted to $1.1 billion. Official gold holdings of countries other than the United States (including gold deposits with the Bank for International Settlements) rose by $860 million, to $18.3 billion, compared with an increase of $3 billion in the previous year. The gold reserves of continental European countries rose by an aggregate of $1.3 billion, to $11.3 billion at the end of 1959, against an increase of $1.8 billion in 1958. The increases in the gold stocks of Italy ($663 million), France ($540 million), Austria ($98 million), and Portugal ($55 million) were larger than the increases recorded by those countries during 1958; the increases in the Netherlands ($82 million) and in Switzerland ($9 million) were substantially smaller than those of 1958. Belgium’s gold holdings declined by $136 million, in contrast to an increase of $355 million in 1958; and those of the Federal Republic of Germany, which had increased by $97 million during 1958, declined by $2 million in 1959. There was a decline in the gold holdings of the United Kingdom, estimated at about $350 million, to $2.5 billion in 1959, following an increase of $1,250 million during the previous year. About half of the Western European countries that traditionally maintain the larger part of their official reserves in gold gained less gold in 1959 than in 1958, and a decline in reserves obliged some of them to sell part of their gold holdings. For the second consecutive year, the gold reserves of the Latin American countries and of Canada declined. Stocks of Latin American countries declined by $155 million in 1958 and $95 million in 1959, and those of Canada fell by $22 million in 1958 and $118 million in 1959. An increase of $190 million during 1959 raised Japan’s gold holdings to $244 million.

The decline of $1.1 billion in U.S. gold reserves during 1959 was less than half of the outflow of $2.3 billion in 1958. The largest purchases of gold from the United States were made by the United Kingdom, $350 million, and France, $265 million. The aggregate outflow from the United States between the end of 1957 and the end of 1959 was about $3.4 billion, the average quarterly outflow for the two years together being $419 million. The outflow started to ebb during the third quarter of 1959, and in the last quarter of the year amounted to $72 million. During the first quarter of 1960, U.S. gold reserves fell by $50 million, the smallest outflow registered for any quarter since 1957. Further sales of gold were made during April, mainly to other countries which had to make gold payments to the Fund. On April 30, 1960, U.S. gold holdings amounted to $19.4 billion, or about 48 per cent of the world’s monetary gold stock.

The economic and financial recovery of continental European countries has made it possible for them to regain gold sold to the United States during and after World War II and to acquire a larger share of the increment to world monetary gold reserves. The increase in total world gold reserves between the end of 1938, the year before World War II began, and 1959 (when they amounted to $40.2 billion) was $14.2 billion, or about 54 per cent. Of this increase, about $5 billion went to the United States, $5.2 billion to continental European countries, $2.4 billion to international monetary organizations, $930 million to Latin American countries, $774 million to Canada, and $180 million to the “rest of the world,” while there was a net decline of $171 million in the holdings of the United Kingdom and other sterling area countries.

Of more significance is a comparison between the shifts in the actual holdings of individual countries between 1938 and 1948, the year in which U.S. gold holdings were at a peak, and between 1948 and 1959, and in the proportions of the world’s total gold reserves held by individual countries. The holdings of the United States increased from $14.6 billion (56.1 per cent of the world’s monetary gold) at the end of 1938 to $24.4 billion (70.3 per cent) at the end of 1948, but declined to $19.5 billion (49 per cent) at the end of 1959. The holdings of continental European countries, which had declined by $2.6 billion during and after World War II, rose by $7.8 billion between 1948 and 1959, to about $11.3 billion (28.1 per cent of the world’s monetary gold, compared with 23.5 per cent at the end of 1938). While the holdings of the United Kingdom and other sterling area countries rose by $1.1 billion during the second period, their share of the world’s gold stocks declined from 13.1 per cent at the end of 1938 to 8 per cent at the end of 1959. During the 21-year period, the share of Latin American countries rose from 2.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent and that of Canada from 0.7 per cent to 2.4 per cent, whereas the share of the “rest of the world” declined from 3.8 per cent to 2.9 per cent.

Of the total gold holdings of the monetary authorities of the world (as defined above), 73 per cent, or $29.4 billion, was physically located in the United States at the end of 1959. Gold held under earmark by the Federal Reserve Banks for the account of foreign central banks and governments and international financial institutions rose by $1.3 billion during the year, to about $9.9 billion. Since the United States is prepared to buy and sell gold for official monetary purposes in unlimited amounts at a fixed price, many central banks and governments find it to their advantage to have a substantial portion of their gold reserves in the United States to meet their requirements. Transfers on official account in 1958 between earmarked gold accounts held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York amounted to approximately $5 billion. In addition to purchases from and sales to the United States, there were movements of gold between foreign accounts as a result of gold transactions facilitated by the services of the Bank for International Settlements and of the Fund. The volume of gold movements between official accounts negotiated in the London market is reported to have been much greater in 1959 than in 1958.

Gold Markets and Gold Prices

The adoption of external convertibility for sterling by the United Kingdom at the end of 1958 and the removal of restrictions on forward dealings in gold, described in the Annual Report for 1959, contributed to the expansion of the bullion business of the London market, where the Bank of England, as agent in the sale of South African production, was the main supplier. Gold sales by the U.S.S.R., which have been a prominent feature of international gold trading in recent years, had to some extent bypassed the London market, being negotiated for the most part on the Continent of Europe where more favorable free market rates for transferable sterling could be obtained. However, after unified exchange rates were quoted for sterling in December 1958, most of the gold sold by the U.S.S.R. was consigned directly to the United Kingdom and handled through the London gold market. During 1959, the United Kingdom imported gold worth $967.5 million, of which $255.2 million came from the U.S.S.R., $622.5 million from the Union of South Africa, and most of the remainder from other gold producing countries in the sterling area and from the Belgian Congo. Exports from the United Kingdom amounted to $773.8 million, leaving a net increase of about $194 million in the gold stocks physically located in London. These figures, however, are not an accurate indication of the turnover in the London market during 1959.

Despite this expansion in the supply of gold in the London market, it was not sufficient to meet the increased demands coming primarily from continental European central banks that have been converting some of their dollar balances into gold. As a result, the dollar price of bullion on the London gold market (converted at the sterling-dollar rate of exchange at the time of the daily fixing) during 1959 and early 1960 was usually above the U.S. selling price of $35.0875 per fine ounce (Chart 1). During much of the year, it was therefore cheaper for central banks to buy gold in New York than in London for transactions in which shipping costs (about $0.14 per ounce) were not involved, and substantial purchases were made in New York.

Chart 1.U.S. Dollar Equivalent of Price of Gold in London Market, Monthly Averages, March 1954-April 1960

(In dollars per fine ounce)

During the year under review, methods to encourage and facilitate purchases of gold by private citizens were expanded. In May 1959, a British bullion house in cooperation with a Canadian bank introduced a scheme for the issue of a new type of conditionally transferable gold certificate, which entitled the holder to call for delivery of gold in either London or Toronto. This is accomplished by each bank honoring the certificate of the other. In October 1959, these arrangements were extended to make the London and Canadian certificates interchangeable with certificates issued by a commercial bank in Frankfurt and by another in Johannesburg. The holder of a certificate is now able to take delivery of gold in any one of four countries, with the proviso that payment for any difference in price between the markets is to be made upon delivery. In December 1959, a South African corporation announced the issue of a freely negotiable certificate with a promise to deliver gold anywhere that it is legal to do so. These bearer gold certificates are for sale in countries where the finance regulations permit such sales. However, the Deutsche Bundesbank stated on January 28, 1960 that the issue in Germany of these gold certificates would involve an unauthorized issue of vouchers which might be used to make payments in lieu of the legally authorized means of payment, and that this was forbidden under paragraph 35 of the Bundesbank Act. The Swiss National Bank also drew the attention of all Swiss banks to the fact that the sale in Switzerland of these gold certificates—which are in bearer form and for small amounts—is illegal. According to the Swiss Federal Law of December 23, 1953, these certificates are classed as fiduciary currency and therefore constitute an infringement of the monopoly of the bank of issue.

In June 1959, the Government of the Union of South Africa announced that it would permit mines to sell gold abroad in any form, and in October this program commenced by the sale of 300 kilograms (about £120,000). (The sale of standard 400-ounce bars had been authorized in April 1959.) In June the Union of South Africa also reduced from 25,000 fine ounces ($875,000) to 10,000 fine ounces ($350,000) the minimum quantity of gold that, as announced in last year’s Annual Report, the South African Reserve Bank was permitted to sell to private purchasers. The Finance Minister of the Union of South Africa stated in January 1960 that, since the commencement of bullion sales overseas, the South African Reserve Bank had sold 1,508,000 ounces of gold to buyers outside the sterling area. Residents of the United Kingdom and of the Union of South Africa are not permitted to buy gold or gold certificates, but nonresident buyers are offered facilities through which to acquire gold or gold certificates for any purpose. As pointed out above, statistics indicate that about $700 million in gold was absorbed by the arts and industries or by private holders in 1959, compared with about $594 million in 1958.

Since the issuance of the Fund’s statement of September 28, 1951, which modified the Fund’s gold policy statement of June 1947 on external transactions at premium prices, there has been a gradual easing of restrictions, and many countries have granted more freedom for the sale of gold in free markets and the movement of gold from country to country. This has permitted commercial banks and bullion dealers in several countries to initiate measures that have facilitated the flow of gold into private hoards. But even with the improvements that have taken place in the reserve strength of many countries, it is, in general, still in the best interests of Fund members that, as far as possible, gold should be available in official reserves rather than go into private hoards. As was pointed out in the Fund’s statement, it is only as gold is held in official reserves that it can be used by the monetary authorities to maintain exchange rates and meet balance of payments needs.

On September 3, 1959, controls of the importation and intransit movements of gold in any form became effective in Cuba. Prior authorization from the Cuban Monetary Stabilization Fund is now required for the importation of gold in any form, including in-transit shipments and imports into the free zone. Permits to import gold for industrial purposes are issued only to established firms or individuals engaged in an industry requiring the use of gold. Personal items made of gold brought in by travelers are exempted, provided that the quantity and value are in consonance with the economic and social position of the traveler.

As a result of the increased central bank demand for gold, the U.S. dollar price of gold in London was maintained during the period under review at the highest level since the reopening of the market in March 1954. With the exception of three months, November 1959-January 1960, the average monthly dollar price remained above the U.S. selling price of $35.0875 per fine ounce. On May 14, 1959, the dollar price (converted at the sterling-dollar rate at the time of daily fixing) was $35.14½ per ounce, surpassing the previous high of $35.14 per ounce on October 8, 1958. The low for the period was $35.04½ on December 11, 1959. The price of bar gold in sterling at fixing fluctuated between a low of 249s. 3d. on May 1, 1959 and a high of 250s. 9¾d. in January 1960. At the end of April 1960, it was 249s. 11¾d., equivalent to $35.11¾ at the day’s dollar exchange rate.

The price at which bar gold is traded directly for U.S. dollars in other markets remained within a few cents of the London dollar price during the year under review. In Zurich, for example, it was usually quoted at a few cents per fine ounce above the London price, fluctuating between $35.16¾ in July and $35.06½ in November. At the end of April 1960, the price was $35.13 per fine ounce.

In markets where gold is traded in local currencies, the day-today movements of the U.S. dollar equivalent prices often diverge from the movements of London prices because of exchange rate fluctuations and of the special characteristics of each market. In Beirut and Brussels, however, this price did not deviate from the London price during the past year by more than ⅔ per cent. In Milan, the deviations were wider—about 1 per cent during most of the year—but at no time exceeded 2 per cent. Gold imports and exports are not restricted in Lebanon and Belgium; in Italy, they remain under the control of the Italian Exchange Office. In Beirut, the U.S. dollar equivalent price of bar gold fluctuated between a narrower range and at a lower level than during the previous year; it decreased from a high of $35.32 per fine ounce on May 22, 1959 to $35.07 on November 21, 1959, rose to $35.28 in January 1960, and at the end of April 1960 was $35.20. In Brussels, it decreased from $35.34 per fine ounce on June 12, 1959 to $35.03 in December, increased to $35.20 on January 19, 1960, and at the end of April 1960 was about $35.10. The dollar equivalent price in Milan rose from $35.18 in June 1959 to $35.84 at the end of February 1960; at the end of April 1960, it was $35.48.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, where the import and export of gold and gold coins were made completely free in January 1959, there has been an increased volume of trading in gold coins, but the trade in gold bars has remained relatively insignificant. Purchases and sales of gold, other than by the monetary authorities, are treated on the same basis as purchases and sales of other commodities and are therefore subject to the general 4 per cent turnover tax, which amounts to about DM 200 on a one-kilogram bar.

In the Paris market, the price of bar gold moved within a narrow range, between F 556,000 (on July 7-9, 1959) and NF 5,655 per kilogram (on January 29, 1960), compared with NF 5,550, the equivalent at the par value. The U.S. dollar equivalent price of bar gold in Paris decreased from $35.82 per fine ounce on May 4, 1959 to the year’s low of $35.43 during the last week in December 1959 and the first half of January 1960. At the end of April 1960, the price of bar gold was NF 5,590 per kilogram, equivalent to $35.56 per fine ounce.

In Hong Kong, the U.S. dollar equivalent price of gold fell from a high of $38.69 per fine ounce on May 8, 1959 to a low of $38.44 on February 9, 1960; at the end of April, it was quoted at HK$253.375 per tael, which was equivalent to $38.56 per fine ounce at the day’s T.T. Hong Kong dollar rate for the U.S. dollar.

In India, rigid restrictions are imposed on both imports and exports of gold. The demand for gold reflects local habits and customs, and fluctuations in the price of gold in Bombay should be regarded as largely a response to changes in local conditions. Gold production in India is about 13,500 ounces per month and is taken up largely by the Government. The present supply of gold on the Bombay market is derived either from dehoarded stocks or from contraband. The contraband supply decreased considerably after the introduction of the measures taken by the Government to curb smuggling, which were described in last year’s Annual Report. Despite the increased margin requirements for forward transactions, imposed by the Bombay Bullion Association, with government approval, in order to check speculation, first in November 1959 and again in January 1960, the price of gold continued to rise as supplies diminished further. During the period under review, it rose from a low of Rs 117.06 per tola (equivalent to $65.55 per fine ounce at par value) on July 28, 1959 to a new high of Rs 136.56 per tola ($76.47 per fine ounce) at the end of April 1960.

In most markets for gold coins, the prices of the sovereign and the napoleon continued in 1959 the gradual decline that began in 1957. In London, there was a sharp reduction in turnover of the new Queen Elizabeth II sovereigns. Sales were high in the first quarter of 1959, but a subsequent reduction of the supply by the Bank of England resulted in an increase in the premium on these coins to equal the premium on earlier mintings. At the end of the year, the premium on both old and new sovereigns was approximately 13 per cent; by the end of April 1960, it had declined for all issues of sovereigns to about 10 per cent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in the House of Commons that 2,072,000 sovereigns had been minted in the calendar year 1957, 8,700,000 in 1958, and 1,385,368 in 1959. Sales of sovereigns may now be made against payment in external sterling or any convertible currency. From the end of April 1959 to the end of April 1960, the price of the sovereign in Paris and Beirut fell by about $2 per fine ounce, to around $38.40 and $38.90 per fine ounce, respectively; in Milan by $1.70, to $39.00; and in Brussels by $1, to $38.70. During the year ended April 1960, the price of the napoleon declined by the equivalent of about $0.50 per fine ounce, to around $38.60, in Beirut; and by $1.50, to $38.00, in Milan. In Paris, however, the price rose by $0.20, to $38.90. In the Federal Republic of Germany, there was an increase in the price for the German 20-mark gold coin; in Frankfurt, it rose from about DM 51 in April 1959 to about DM 55 at the end of April 1960.

Gold Transactions Service

Since the inauguration of the Fund’s gold transactions service in March 1952, the central banks of 25 member countries and 3 international organizations have purchased or sold gold through the facilities provided by the Fund. During the year under review, the completion of 12 transactions amounting to a total of about $215 million was facilitated by the Fund. The total number of transactions since March 1952 is 107, amounting to about $946 million.

These estimates differ from those listed in earlier Annual Reports. Hitherto, the world total of gold has been overstated because most of the gold deposited with the Bank for International Settlements has also been included in national official gold holdings. Corrections which take account of this are made in International Financial Statistics, June 1960, page 22 and page 25, footnote a. See also Annual Report, 1959, pages 151-52.

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