Central banks bought the most gold since 1964 last year just before the collapse in prices into a bear market underscored investors’ weakening faith in the world’s traditional store of value.
Nations from Colombia to Greece to South Africa bought gold as prices rose for an 11th year in 2011, highlighting the reversal of a three-decade-long bout of selling that diminished the world’s biggest bullion hoard by 19 percent. The World Gold Council says they added 534.6 metric tons to reserves in 2012, the most in almost a half century, and expects purchases of 450 to 550 tons this year, valued now at as much as $25.3 billion.
Central banks are the biggest losers, with about $560 billion of value erased since gold reached a record $1,921.15 an ounce in September 2011. The metal was already in the eighth year of its longest bull market since the end of World War I when reserves started expanding again in 2008. They were also buying in 1980 when bullion peaked at the equivalent of $2,400 in today’s money, and selling in 1999 as prices slumped to a 20- year low.
“They sell at the wrong time and buy at the wrong time,” said Walter “Bucky” Hellwig, who helps manage $17 billion of assets at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama. “They aren’t traders. They are looking at it as a long-term holding, as an ultimate reserve currency. With the benefit of hindsight, they tend to get it wrong more often than not.”