Poul Host-Madsen*

Abstract

Poul Host-Madsen*

Poul Host-Madsen*

THIS PAPER analyzes the major influences that have determined the role of gold transactions in the financing of the balance of payments deficit of the United States1 during the period 1958-63. Over the short run, the variations in the outflow of gold in relation to the deficit appear to be quite irregular. They depend mainly on such factors as the distribution of balance of payments surpluses and deficits in other countries (the net balance of which represents largely the counterpart of U.S. deficits) and the reserve policies pursued by these countries. Moreover, although the reserve policies of individual countries generally follow a consistent pattern over the long run, they are not inflexible and have been adapted in the short run to changing situations. Nevertheless, as indicated in a study by Oscar L. Altman,2 there has been a rather systematic relationship between the U.S. deficit and the outflow of gold from the United States over the long run. During the period covered by this study, the counterpart of the deficit has accrued for the most part to 12 countries with relatively high reserves (see Table 1); these countries as a group have generally taken a little over 60 per cent of increases in their gold and foreign exchange reserves in the form of gold. Consequently, a deficit in the balance of payments of the United States has tended, on the margin, to give rise to an outflow of gold of a little over 60 per cent of the deficit. However, since other countries can add to their gold holdings not only from existing reserves but also from the new supply in gold markets that becomes available from net production and Soviet sales, the outflow of gold from the United States is also influenced by the size of the increase in world monetary gold holdings. Given the acquisition of gold and dollar reserves by foreign surplus countries in the 60 to 40 proportion, the United States could incur a deficit of two thirds (40/60) of the addition to world monetary gold holdings without losing gold, and the part of the deficit exceeding this amount would give rise to an outflow of gold of about 60 per cent of the excess.3 This general pattern continued throughout the period under observation.

Table 1.

Comparison of U.S. Deficit with Changes in Official Reserves of All Other Countries, 1958-63

(In billions of U.S. dollars)

article image

Excluding credit balances in the European Payments Union.

Nine participants in the IMF’s General Arrangements to Borrow, plus Austria, Spain, and Switzerland.

Conceptually, the differences result from (a) net additions to the world’s official gold holdings, (b) transactions between countries and international institutions, and (c) changes in foreign exchange reserves that take the form of claims on countries other than the United States, e.g., U.K. sterling liabilities and Euro-dollars. The signs used for this group are the same as those that the corresponding transactions have in one of the two preceding groups.

Bank for International Settlements, European Payments Union, European Fund.

Covers only transactions affecting countries’ gold tranche positions and, for 1959 and 1960, the IMF’s gold investment.

Mainly unreported. The data cover liabilities corresponding to foreign exchange assets not included in the preceding line or in the financing of the U.S. deficit.

Including increases in countries’ holdings of U.S. Government nonmarketable medium-term obligations.

In concrete terms, this formula implies that the United States could have incurred a deficit of some $300 million annually during the entire postwar period without a gold loss, since additions to world gold reserves during that period averaged about $460 million a year; during 1958-63, the deficit could have reached $380 million a year without a gold loss. On the basis employed by the U.S. Department of Commerce in measuring the deficit, liquid liabilities to foreign holders other than the monetary authorities are also included as a means of financing the deficit (Table 2). Such holdings have no accompanying gold component. During 1950-63, the recorded increase in these liabilities was almost $530 million annually, and during 1958-63 it averaged $690 million. In the more recent period, the United States would have thus been able to incur an annual deficit, as the Department of Commerce conceives it, of a little more than $1 billion without losing gold.

Table 2.

U.S. Balance of Payments: Reconciliation of Deficit as Measured by U.S. Department of Commerce and in International Monetary Fund Documents, 1958-63

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

article image

The deficit as measured in item 1 excludes the inflow of foreign liquid capital other than reserves (item 2), but includes the conversion of foreign short-term reserve holdings into nonconvertible, nonmarketable medium-term bonds (item 3). In Fund documents, on the other hand, item 2 is included in, but item 3 excluded from, the deficit. Item 2 is therefore entered with the ordinary balance of payments sign (no sign for credit), and item 3 with the balance of payments sign reversed.

The net changes both in reserves and in gold holdings of the countries other than the 12 with high reserves distinguished in Table 1 have been small over the period 1958-63. The influence of these countries’ balance of payments positions on the outflow of gold from the United States has therefore tended to cancel out over the long run. However, since they generally hold only a small part of their reserves in gold, the outflow of gold from the United States has usually been below normal when they have been in surplus and above normal when they have been in deficit. Transactions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also influence the outflow of gold, through their effect on the reserves of the countries conducting them and of the countries whose currencies are used, and through their secondary effects. Other variations in the annual outflow of gold have arisen because the high-reserve countries have taken about 60 per cent of their reserve increases in the form of gold only as a group and over the long run. There have been considerable differences among the countries in the group in the proportion of gold taken, and the reserve policies pursued by its individual members have varied over time, as have their relative shares in the group’s reserve increase.4 In addition, the reserve policies of some of the other countries have changed from time to time. It cannot, therefore, be assumed that the relationship between the U.S. deficit and the outflow of gold that has been observed here will necessarily continue.

Reserve policies of high-reserve countries

The 12 high-reserve countries, as a group, reduced slightly the proportion of their gold holdings to their total gold and foreign exchange reserves between the end of 1957 and the end of 1963. The reduction was from 65 per cent to 64 per cent, if both balances with the European Payments Union (EPU) and gold tranche positions with the IMF are excluded from reserves. The group’s acquisition of gold during this period was about 62 per cent of the increase in its total gold and foreign exchange reserves. The relative stability of the gold proportion was maintained by the group in spite of a number of divergent movements in the proportions of gold held by its individual members. Table 3 shows the total reserves of the group, and the composition of these reserves, at the end of each of the years 1957-63. Table 4 gives the percentage of gold holdings to total gold and foreign exchange reserves, excluding credit balances with the EPU as well as IMF gold tranche positions, of each of the 12 countries at the end of 1957 and 1963, and the change in each country’s gold holdings during the period 1957-63 as a percentage of the change in its total gold and foreign exchange reserves.

Table 3.

High-Reserve Countries: Official Reserves, 1957-631

article image
Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics.

Excluding EPU credit balances: $1,269 million at end of 1957 and $1,374 million at end of 1958.

Table 4.

High-Reserve Countries: Official Reserves, 1957 and 1963

article image
Source: International Monetary Fund, International Financial Statistics.

While the United Kingdom has tended to keep all its reserves in gold except for working balances of $200-300 million in foreign exchange, U.K. foreign exchange reserves were unusually high at the end of 1957, when they had been replenished by foreign credits, and again at the end of 1961, when they included large amounts of currencies drawn from the Fund and repaid in the following year. Over the period 1958-63 as a whole, foreign exchange reserves fell by about $550 million from the high initial level, and the acquisition of gold exceeded by this amount the total increase in gold and foreign exchange reserves (only about $400 million). Since the cumulative increase in the reserves of the United Kingdom was thus quite small during this period, its customary high rate of gold acquisition (close to 100 per cent) did not in itself affect much the group’s average rate; the main effect in raising the group’s average arose from the adjustment of the United Kingdom’s foreign exchange holdings from their high level at the beginning of the period.

The changes in reserves in Canada had an opposite effect on the group’s average rate of acquisition of gold. During the period covered by the analysis, Canadian gold holdings were reduced by the equivalent of US$283 million, while official foreign exchange holdings rose by about US$1,050 million. The main reduction in gold holdings took place during the exchange crisis of 1962, when Canada sold US$300 million worth of gold to the United States. Since then, during a period of rapid increase in total reserves, the Canadian monetary authorities have limited their acquisitions to purchases from gold newly produced in Canada.

While Japan had a cumulative increase in its gold and foreign exchange holdings of more than $1.3 billion during the period 1958-63, its gold holdings rose by only $266 million. Most of the increase in gold holdings took place in 1959; however, of the increase in that year of $190 million, $70 million represented the restitution of gold which had been in the custody of the occupation forces.

The effect of the reduction in Canadian gold holdings and of the much lower-than-average rate of acquisition of gold by Japan more than outweighed the effect of the higher-than-average rate of acquisition of gold by the United Kingdom; for the 3 countries taken together, the rate of acquisition was lower than the average for the high-reserve countries. The combined gold and foreign exchange reserves of the 3 countries rose by about $2.5 billion, but their combined gold reserves rose by a little more than one third of this—or about $900 million.

While the proportion of gold holdings to total gold and foreign exchange reserves was about the same at the end of 1957 and at the end of 1963 for the 9 high-reserve countries in continental Europe as a group, there were considerable variations for individual countries. Switzerland, like the United Kingdom, tends to keep all its reserves, except for necessary working balances, in gold, and over the period 1958-63 its additions to gold holdings have fallen short of its cumulative balance of payments surplus, about $1.2 billion, by only a small amount. Italy increased its proportion of gold holdings to total gold and foreign exchange reserves from 33 per cent at the end of 1957 to about 70 per cent during the last few years. For the period 1958-63, additions to Italian gold reserves exceeded the total increase in gold and foreign exchange reserves of $1.7 billion by about $200 million. The percentage of gold holdings of the Netherlands has been maintained rather steadily at about 80 per cent, with minor variations from year to year. Its acquisitions of gold during 1958-63 amounted to 82 per cent of the total increase in its gold and foreign exchange reserves.

Belgium’s foreign exchange assets have varied with its forward commitments, and the increase in its gold holdings during the period 1958-63 was only 57 per cent of that in its total gold and foreign exchange reserves. Usually, however, about 75-80 per cent of its reserves have been maintained in gold. France has generally maintained about 70 per cent of its gold and foreign exchange reserves in the form of gold; its rate of acquisition of gold during 1958-63 (68 per cent) was close to the average for continental Europe (at the end of 1957 the proportion of gold to total reserves was as high as 90 per cent, but French reserves were then exceptionally low). The Federal Republic of Germany has usually maintained a proportion of gold to total gold and foreign exchange reserves of about 50 per cent. However, its reserves at the beginning of the period included a large credit balance in EPU, and foreign exchange reserves in other forms have increased at a higher rate than gold holdings. Germany has generally refrained from buying gold from the U.S. Treasury during the period covered by this study.5 Therefore, the proportion of gold to total reserves has tended to fall in periods of rapid reserve increases, and to rise in periods of reserve declines or only moderate reserve gains. Changes in the proportion of gold in German reserves also reflect variations in the supply of gold from sources other than the United States, including amounts used by other countries to finance their balance of payments deficits. Germany’s acquisitions of gold were unusually low in 1960 and unusually high in 1961. The percentage of gold in the reserves of Spain was very high at the beginning of the period, when Spanish reserves were nearly exhausted. The percentage of gold held was reduced to about 30 per cent in 1959-60 but has subsequently increased to about 50 per cent. Austria raised the proportion of its gold to total reserves from about 20 per cent to about 50 per cent, thereby acquiring gold equal to slightly more than 60 per cent of the increase in total reserves during 1958-63. Finally, Sweden reduced its gold holdings by $37 million, while increasing its foreign exchange reserves by almost $300 million; by the end of the period its gold holdings were a lower percentage of total reserves than those of any other member of the group, except Japan.

Developments in individual years

The change from year to year in the share of gold settlements in the financing of the U.S. deficit may be broadly explained in terms of the preceding analysis. The main factors are summarized in Table 5, in which the actual outflow of gold from the United States is compared with that derived from the formula suggested at the beginning of this paper.6 The table also shows the calculated effect of the varying amounts added to world monetary gold holdings in reducing the outflow of gold. This effect, entered in column 4, is allowed for in the calculated gold outflow entered in column 3.7 Column 5 relates the change in the combined gold holdings of the 12 high-reserve countries to the change in their combined gold and foreign exchange holdings.

In 1958, the outflow of gold from the United States was particularly large (about $800 million higher than suggested by the formula), mainly because the United Kingdom in that year reduced its foreign exchange holdings from an abnormally high level at the end of 1957 to their customary size, accounting for gold acquisitions of $500 million; other factors were the large increase in U.K. total reserves (the propensity of the United Kingdom to take gold being among the highest), a sharp rise in the proportion of gold in Italy’s reserves, and a balance of payments deficit for countries other than the United States and the group of 12 (see Table 1). Some countries in the group of 12, however, acquired less gold than had been their custom.

In 1959, the outflow of gold from the United States was close to that suggested by the formula even though the distribution of foreign surpluses was rather favorable; as a result of surpluses outside the 12 high-reserve countries, the increase in the reserves of these countries fell short of the U.S. deficit plus the increase in world monetary gold holdings by $1 billion. Therefore, a subnormal outflow of gold might have been expected. It seems likely that gold subscriptions to the Fund by countries other than the United States may have directly or indirectly contributed to maintaining the outflow of gold at the normal rate. The effect of the United States’ own gold subscription of $344 million was for the most part offset by a Fund sale of gold of $300 million for investment in U.S. Government paper (both these transactions are eliminated in Table 5).

Table 5.

United States: Gold Outflow, Actual and Calculated, 1958-63

article image

Estimates of the hypothetical accumulation of gold by the United States that would have taken place if its balance of payments had been neither in surplus nor in deficit (not the deficit which the United States could have incurred without losing gold).

Change in gold holdings divided by change in gold and foreign exchange reserves.

The figures for 1959 and 1960 each exclude additions to gold holdings of $300 million resulting from sales by the Fund for investment; that for 1959 also excludes a decrease of $344 million resulting from an additional gold subscription to the Fund.

In 1960, the outflow of gold ($1.7 billion) would have been $300 million larger but for a further investment by the Fund of this amount from its gold holdings. At $2 billion, the outflow would have been almost equal to that indicated by the formula. In fact, reserve developments during 1960 were such that a much larger outflow of gold could have been expected. In that year, reserve accumulations outside the United States, to a degree unparalleled in postwar history, took the form of acquisition of foreign exchange other than dollars and sterling held in the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. Of the total increase of $2.6 billion in foreign exchange holdings outside the United States, only about $1.1 billion can be identified with claims on the United States, and only $0.1 billion with sterling balances in the United Kingdom. This leaves a residual of $1.4 billion, which is believed to represent, for the most part, a build-up of foreign exchange reserves in the Euro-dollar market or held in currencies of countries in continental Europe. Mainly as a result of this development, the increase in the total gold and foreign exchange reserves of the high-reserve countries ($5.0 billion) was $1.3 billion larger than the deficit of the United States as here measured ($3.5 billion) plus the rather low increase in world monetary gold holdings ($300 million). (A secondary factor was that countries other than those with high reserves were once again in deficit.) In these circumstances, one might have expected an unusually large outflow of gold. The fact that the outflow was nevertheless about normal is largely explained by an unusually small rise in the gold holdings of Germany, which increased its total gold and foreign exchange reserves by a record figure of $2.2 billion but added only $334 million to its gold holdings. As a result, the proportion of gold in the increase in reserves of the 12 high-reserve countries as a group was the lowest recorded during the period under observation.

The outflow of gold in 1961 was rather high compared with the much reduced deficit; it exceeded by about $300 million that which would have been expected on the basis of the formula. A main factor was that Germany, after having acquired gold only on a very modest scale in 1960, added about $700 million to its gold holdings in 1961 while reducing its foreign exchange holdings by about $900 million, thus restoring the proportion of gold holdings to total German reserves to about its customary level. A factor working in the opposite direction was a deficit in the balance of payments of the United Kingdom, financed in part by sales of gold and in part by drawings of currencies from the Fund, of which $500 million was purchased by the Fund against gold, and a substantial portion of which was held by the United Kingdom as reserves at the end of the year. The U.K. drawing helped to reduce the outflow of gold from the United States both directly by adding to the gold holdings of that country and other countries participating in the transaction and indirectly by limiting the increase in conventional reserves in the other participating countries to the extent that the United Kingdom made use of, or converted, amounts drawn in their currencies.8

In both 1962 and 1963 the outflow of gold was much lower than suggested by the formula. A new development in these years was that the United States began to issue medium-term nonmarketable securities, and prima facie one might have expected that this new financing technique could have accounted for the reduction in the gold outflow, relative to the deficit. If so, one would have expected the gold acquisitions by the 12 high-reserve countries to have been below the customary rates. However, except for the special case of Canada (see above), there does not appear to have been any marked change in the proportion of gold to total reserves held by the 12 high-reserve countries, and as a group these countries added gold to their reserves in about the usual proportion in both 1962 and 1963. The most important factors in reducing the outflow of gold relative to the deficit appear to have been, in 1962, the financing of $600 million of the U.S. deficit through repurchases in U.S. dollars of currencies drawn from the Fund by countries other than the United States and, in 1963, a lower concentration than in earlier years of foreign surpluses in the 12 high-reserve countries. It is likely, however, that lacking the possibility of investing reserves in the special nonmarketable U.S. bonds, some of these countries would have added more gold to their reserves.

Sorties d’or des Etats-Unis, 1958-63

Résumé

Il y a, en longue période, une relation assez systématique entre le deficit des Etats-Unis et les sorties d’or. Au cours des années 1958-1963, la contrepartie du déficit des Etats-Unis a été absorbée principalement par douze pays qui ont des réserves relativement élevées et qui ensemble ont pris en or un peu plus de 60 pour-cent de l’augmentation de leurs réserves, bien que la part de l’or dans les réserves totales varie d’un pays à l’autre. (Globalement les surplus et déficits des autres pays, qui en général détiennent en or une beaucoup plus petite partie de leurs surplus, ont eu tendance à s’annuler). Néanmoins, comme les avoirs en or peuvent aussi augmenter du fait de la production courante d’or et des ventes d’or soviétiques, les sorties d’or des Etats-Unis sont également influencées par l’accroissement des avoirs mondiaux en or monétaire. Dans ces conditions, les Etats-Unis peuvent ne pas perdre d’or si leur déficit ne dépasse pas les deux-tiers (40/60) de l’augmentation des avoirs mondiaux en or monétaire; si le déficit dépasse cette limite, les sorties d’or des Etats-Unis correspondant à environ 60 pourcent du montant par lequel cette limite est dépassée.

En pratique, le déficit tel qu’il est calculé dans l’article aurait pu atteindre environ 380 millions de dollars par an au cours de la période 1958-1963 sans causer de pertes d’or. Suivant la méthode quelque peu différente qui est généralement employée par le Département du Commerce des Etats-Unis pour calculer le déficit, le chiffre correspondant aurait été légèrement supérieur à 1 milliard de dollars par an.

En période courte, les sorties d’or des Etats-Unis varient de façon irrégulière; elles traduisent surtout les variations dans les surplus et déficits des divers pays avec des réserves importantes, ainsi que les modifications dans le surplus ou déficit global des pays avec des réserves peu importantes. Les transactions avec le Fonds exercent, elles aussi, une influence sur les sorties d’or.

Puisque les politiques des divers pays en matière de réserves varient dans le temps, on ne peut pas supposer que le rapport observé au cours des dernières années entre le déficit des Etats-Unis et les sorties d’or continuera nécessairement à se maintenir.

Salida de oro de Estados Unidos durante el periodo 1958-63

Resumen

La relación entre el déficit de Estados Unidos y las salidas de oro ha sido, a la larga, bastante sistemática. Durante el periodo 1958-63, la contrapartida de ese déficit fue acumulada mayormente por doce países con reservas relativamente elevadas, los cuales, en conjunto, adquirieron en oro un poco más del 60 por ciento de los aumentos en sus reservas, por más que la proporción de la totalidad de las reservas mantenidas en oro varía en cada país. (Los superávit y los déficit combinados de otros países que generalmente conservan en oro una parte mucho menor de sus superávit, han tenido la tendencia a neutralizarse.) Sin embargo, puesto que las tenencias en oro pueden aumentar asimismo en razón de la nueva producción y de las ventas soviéticas, en la salida de oro de Estados Unidos influye también el aumento de las tenencias mundiales de oro monetario. Dadas estas circunstancias, Estados Unidos puede incurrir en un déficit de las dos terceras partes (40/60) del aumento en las tenencias mundiales de oro monetario sin sufrir una pérdida de oro, ocasionando la parte del déficit en exceso de esta cantidad una salida de oro que equivale aproximadamente al 60 por ciento del exceso.

En términos concretos, según se ha calculado en este estudio, el déficit podría muy bien haber llegado a US$380 millones por año, aproximadamente, durante el periodo 1958-63, sin que se produjera una pérdida de oro. De acuerdo con la base un tanto distinta que el Departamento de Comercio de Estados Unidos convencionalmente emplea para calcular el déficit, la cifra correspondiente habría sido de un poco más de US$1,000 millones por año.

A corto plazo, la salida de oro de Estados Unidos varía de manera irregular, reflejando principalmente tanto los cambios ocurridos en los superávit y los déficit particulares de los países de elevadas reservas como las variaciones en el superávit o el déficit conjuntos de los países de bajas reservas. También las transacciones que se efectúan con el Fondo influyen sobre la salida de oro.

Ya que las politicas de cada país en cuanto a las reservas varían con el transcurso del tiempo, no puede darse por sentado que la relatión entre el déficit estadounidense y la salida de oro observada en los últimos años tenga necesariamente que continuar.

*

Mr. Høst-Madsen, Assistant Director in the Research and Statistics Department, is a graduate of the University of Copenhagen. Before joining the Fund staff in 1946, he was with the National Bank of Denmark.

1

The U.S. deficit is measured for purposes of this paper by changes in U.S. official gold and convertible currency holdings; in the IMF gold tranche position; in liquid liabilities to official holders in foreign countries, to the Bank for International Settlements, the European Payments Union, and the European Fund, and to the International Monetary Fund on account of its gold investment; and in U.S. Government nonmarketable medium-term securities in foreign official holdings, whether or not they are convertible. (For a definition of “IMF Gold Tranche Position” see J. Marcus Fleming, “The Fund and International Liquidity,” Staff Papers, Vol. XI (1964), p. 180.)

2

“Quelques aspects du probleme de l’or,” Cahiers de l’Institut de Science Economique Appliquée (Paris), July 1962. Altman’s study covers the period 1947-61.

3

This hypothesis is expressed by the following formula: U.S. gold outflow = 0.60 X (U.S. deficit—2/3 of the addition to world gold reserves). This formula is similar to that developed through statistical analysis by Altman, op. cit., where he found a good linear correlation between U.S. gold flows and the U.S. surplus or deficit, measured in the same way as in the present paper. For 1949-61, Altman’s formula for the annual flow is (in millions of U.S. dollars): -284 + 0.614 deficit. The constant term is not related to the addition to world monetary gold holdings in Altman’s paper. In fact, Altman’s constant is numerically larger (and the calculated gold outflow thus somewhat smaller) than hypothesized in the present paper. During the 15 years 1947-61, additions to gold reserves totaled $7.0 billion, or $467 million annually. Using this figure, the formula given in the first sentence of this note can be rewritten as—187 + 0.60 deficit.

4

It is not, in general, possible to relate the movements in the gold holdings of individual countries directly to sales of gold by the United States, even though there may in fact be some connection. For example, a country whose holdings of gold have not changed over a year as a whole may, in the course of that year, have purchased gold from the United States during a period of increase in reserves and sold the same amount to third countries during a period of decrease in reserves. In such a case, the accumulation of gold holdings by the third countries is only indirectly related to the outflow of gold from the United States.

5

According to the March 1964 issue of the Federal Reserve Bulletin, U.S. sales of gold to Germany in 1958-63 amounted to $57 million.

6

In deriving the calculated outflow, the actual marginal change in the gold proportion of the high-reserve countries, 0.63, has been substituted for the rounded figure of 0.60 in the formula.

7

In other words, in making the calculation the addition to world monetary gold holdings has been treated as a variable rather than a constant. This makes it possible to disregard this factor in the following discussion.

8

For this year, it is particularly difficult to relate U.S. gold sales to changes in gold holdings in other countries (see footnote 4). Even though U.K. gold holdings fell by $534 million, the United Kingdom was a net purchaser of $306 million of gold from the United States.