Despite Bernanke's previous protestations that "gold is not money... it is tradition," it appears the Indian government - having come to the rapid realization that any attempts to thwart the use of gold as a monetary equivalent merely forced the people to hoard the precious metal in ever larger amounts and ever more shadow, un-regulated, ways - now has a very different opinion.
In an effort to mobilise 20,000 tonnes of unproductive gold owned by Indian households into cash, Reuters reports that - after unveiling the gold monetisation scheme on Feb 28th, India's FinMin Arun Jaitley released bank guidelines overnight on interest rates, reserve and liquidity ratios. The scheme "allows gold to become a dynamic, fungible asset in the hands of gold savers."
Now, as Reuter’s reports, India could allow individuals deposit a minimum of 30 grams of gold with banks in return for interest payments to help monetise large quantities of the metal lying with households, a step that is aimed at cutting expensive imports.
Banks could treat gold deposits as part of their cash reserve ratio (CRR) or statutory liquidity ratio (SLR), the finance ministry said in its guidelines released on Tuesday to seek opinions about its gold monetisation scheme. It said the stakeholders could respond to its suggestions by June 2.
The SLR is the minimum amount of bonds that banks must have, while the CRR is the share of deposits they have to compulsory keep with the central bank.
"Both directionally and in terms of content, this draft reflects a practical approach," said Somasundaram PR, managing director of World Gold Council's India operations.
"Once the incentive framework falls into place to the satisfaction of the banks, customers and others, we will own a uniquely Indian scheme that allows gold to become a dynamic, fungible asset in the hands of gold savers."
Indians' penchant for gold spans centuries and is rooted in the Hindu religion, with the Diwali festival being one of the biggest annual buying seasons. Gold also forms part of dowries and it is an instrument of financial security for 70 percent of India's rural population.
The government is trying to convince households, who sometimes have little faith in financial institutions, to break the tradition and hand over gold passed down the generations.
Under the scheme, customers' will have to deposit gold for at least a year and banks may pay the interest after 30 or 60 days of the opening of the gold savings account, the proposal said.
Both the interest and the principal payable to depositors are likely to be valued in gold and the gains will be tax-free, it said.
"Lower threshold for deposits and tax exemptions will make the scheme attractive for households," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion-importing bank.
However, the biggest challenge would be to set up collection centres that can accept gold, the dealer said.
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We are reminded of the RBI's 2012 report on Gold loans and imports... whose purpose is to isolate the attractiveness of gold to the general population, and most importantly, prevent it, is that gold demand must be limited as the only control a collapsing central-bank based statist system has is in controlling "money" that is infinitely dilutable and can inflate away debt, not the type that actually has value, and that a central bank can't create out of thin binary air. Hence the report's conclusion:
There is a need to moderate the demand for gold imports, as ensuring external sector’s stability is critical. However, it is necessary to recognise that demand for gold is not strictly amenable to policy changes and is price inelastic due to varied reasons. What is critical is to ensure provision of real returns to investors through various financial savings products. What is also relevant is the need for banks to introduce new gold-backed financial products that may reduce or postpone the demand for gold imports. The Working Group believes that providing real rate of return to investors through alternative instruments holds the key to reducing the excessive demand for gold. Meanwhile, there is also a need to increase monetisation of idle gold stocks in the economy for productive purposes.
As of now, there appears to be no close substitute to wean away investors’ attention from gold. Investors’ awareness and education is important, in this context, to channel the investment to gold-backed financial products. Banks and NBFCs may continue to deliver gold jewellery loans, which monetises the idle gold in the country. The gold loan market has grown well in recent years. It is time for consolidation of the operations of the gold loan NBFCs. The gold loans NBFCs need to transform themselves into institutions free of complaints, have proper documentation and auction procedures, with rationalised interest rate structure and have a branch network that is fully safe and secure. Gold loans NBFCs’ linkage with formal financial institutions may be reduced gradually. Such transformation ensures the gold loans NBFCs’ future growth more robust, besides making them a contributing segment to the financial inclusion process.
One can almost feel the panic.
In short it proves that in India, gold is the only real money, and is the only fall-back option in a country where inflation is still rampant, and where even simple peasants prefer to keep their wealth not in the local paper currency, which has been losing its value aggressively in recent years, but in the shiny metal. Must be "tradition."