What is not often covered in the media or blogosphere are the audits of the US official gold reserves stored at the US Mint, which is the custodian for 95 % (7716 tonnes) of the stash – also referred to as deep storage, and at the Federal Reserve Bank Of New York that safeguards the remaining 5 % (418 tonnes). The lawful owner of the US official gold reserves is the US Treasury. Part one covered the most recent records I could find published by the US government, in this post we’ll examine more historical records and approach this matter from a more critical angle. Because of the amount of information I found this post is split in multiple parts.
Auditing is defined as a systematic and independent examination of data, statements, records, operations and performances (financial or otherwise) of an enterprise for a stated purpose. In any auditing the auditor perceives and recognizes the propositions before him for examination, collects evidence, evaluates the same and on this basis formulates his judgment, which is communicated through his audit report.
Due to constraints, an audit seeks to provide only reasonable assurance that the statements are free from material error. Hence, statistical sampling is often adopted in audits.
To be sure, I’ve asked several bullion dealers about how their audits are being conducted. They all agreed an audit involves three parties: the owner of the gold, the custodian and an external (independent)auditor. The external auditor examines the gold, compares its findings with the statements of the custodian and then reports on the accuracy of the statements of the custodian to the owner of the gold. An example of an audit report by such an external auditor can be found here.
The fact that the auditor is an external party is essential; if the custodian itself would perform the audit it could easily falsify the reports and lend gold that isn’t often transferred in and out of the vaults.
What Is A Gold Assay?
Assaying gold is done to test the purity of the metal; to make sure a bar contains at least the amount of fine gold disclosed on its inscription. For assay tests often samples are taken from random bars (not from all bars of a specific inventory). From Wikipedia:
A metallurgical assay is a compositional analysis of an ore, metal, or alloy. Raw precious metals (bullion) are assayed by an assay office. Silver is assayed by titration, gold by cupellation and platinum by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry.
Allegedly the deep storage gold at the US Mint is stored in 42 vault compartments at three different locations in the US. 4,583 tonnes is stored at Fort Knox, Kentucky, 1,364 tonnes in Denver, Colorado, and 1,682 tonnes at West Point, New York.
The last time the US official gold reserve audits were publicly discussed was in 2011 when Ron Paul, who was a well informed member of the US House of Representatives, proposed new legislation at the time to have a full audit of the US holdings: The Gold Reserve Transparency Act (H.R. 1495, not enacted). Strangely Dr Paul wasn’t up to date of the audit and assay procedures performed since 1974, while he was in politics because of gold since 1971. From Wikipedia:
When President Richard Nixon “closed the gold window” … on August 15, 1971, Paul decided to enter politics and became a Republican candidate for the United States Congress.
Only during the preparation of the congressional hearing Dr Paul became aware of the audit and assay procedures. From Paul’s opening statement at the hearing June 23, 2011:
For far too long, the United States Government has been less than transparent in releasing information relating to its gold holdings. Not surprisingly, this secrecy has given rise to a number of theories about the gold at Fort Knox and other depositories.
Some people speculate that the gold has been involved in gold swaps with foreign governments or bullion banks. Others believe that the gold has been secretly shipped out of Fort Knox and sold. And, still others believe that the bars at Fort Knox are actually gold-plated tungsten. Historically, the Treasury and the Mint have dismissed these theories rather than addressing these concerns with substantive rebuttals.
The difference between custody and ownership, questions about the responsibility for U.S. gold held at the New York Fed, and that issue of which division at Treasury is ultimately responsible for the gold reserves are just some of the questions that have come up during the research for this hearing. In a way, it seems as though someone decided to lock up the gold, put the key in a desk somewhere, and walk off without telling anyone anything. Only during the preparation for this hearing was my office informed that the Mint has in fact conducted assays of statistically representative samples of gold bars, and we were provided with a sample assay report.
While the various agencies concerned have been very accommodating to my staff in attempting to shed some light on this issue, it should not require the introduction of legislation or a congressional hearing to gain access to this information.
Why did Dr Paul not know about this? Why did it take a congressional hearing to get the details of the audit and assay tests? Why wasn’t this information easily accessible to him and the American people?
Gold Audits At Fort Knox
The construction of the notorious gold depository was finished in 1936 at the Fort Knox army base in Kentucky; large quantities of gold were first deposited in 1937. After President Roosevelt had ordered the people of the United States to sell all their gold coins and bullion for $20.67 per fine ounce to the Federal Reserve in 1933 through Executive Order 6102 (the great gold confiscation), a fortress was needed to store the bars that were coming out of the smelters of the seized gold. The bars that were melted from gold coins are approximately 90 % pure, the majority of the bars in Fort Knox are coin bars.
The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 required the Federal Reserve to transfer ownership of the official gold reserves to the Department of the Treasury, in return it received gold certificates (that are mere redeemable for dollars). The US Mint was assigned to safeguard the Treasury Department’s gold, silver and other assets at several depositories across the US, among others at Fort Knox and Denver.
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