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Turkish banks capture $10.4 billion of 'under the pillow' gold: WGC

London — Turkish banks have added 250 mt of gold to their banking system through innovative products aimed at Turkish households that traditionally store the precious metal "under the pillow," the World Gold Council said Thursday in a telephone conversation with Platts.

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The country's commercial banks introduced gold-related banking products in 2012 in an attempt to draw gold stored in Turkish consumer's hands into the banking system.

For the Turkish authorities it is a way to put gold -- traditionally and culturally used as an inflation hedge and storage of wealth outside the financial system -- to work in the economy.

WGC data stated that around $10.4 billion was pulled into the banking system since mid-2012.


The majority came from savers converting Turkish lira or foreign currency into gold, held in their own bank accounts, that would otherwise become part of the "under the pillow" stock.

Turkey is the world's fourth largest consumer of gold accounting for around 6% of global consumer demand.

Indian and China both vie for the top spot accounting for around 50% of annual global consumption.

The WGC estimates Turkish households have accumulated at least 3,500 mt of gold, or about $160 billion at current conversions.

Looking at the 250 mt so far moved into the official sector, 40 mt is believed to have been clawed back from personal caches since 2012.

The remaining 210 mt is demand that may otherwise have been met through physical bars and coins purchases.

INNOVATION IN BANKING PRODUCTS

"Innovative gold banking products sucked it [210 mt of gold] into the financial system rather than letting it become part of the 'under-the-pillow' stock," said Alistair Hewitt, author of the WGC report, Turkey: World in Action.

The WGC believes this has significant potential not just in Turkey, but in other countries where gold is held outside the financial system.

India, the world's second largest consumer of gold after China, is thought to hold 22,000 mt personal gold stocks, just under a trillion dollars at the 2014 average price.

"It is still early days for these products, but the Turkish banks have illustrated the huge potential in monetizing what would be an enormous asset for any financial system," said Hewitt in the call.

Since approval by Turkish authorities in 2012, banks have launched a range of products such as gold current accounts, gold accumulation plans and gold structured products. Many of which are compliant with Islamic finance rules.

There are even gold-dispensing ATMs on the streets of Istanbul.

For the consumer, interest bearing fixed-term gold savings accounts means a yield on gold that would ordinarily offer no return, except its intrinsic value.

For the Turkish central bank, it is a way of promoting financial stability.

GOLD BEING 'PUT TO WORK'

In 2011, the central bank implemented its Reserve Option Mechanism policy, which allowed commercial banks to hold part of their required domestic currency reserves in either foreign currency or gold.

"By including gold in this framework the TCMB [central bank] aimed to boost gold reserves, mobilize Turkey's stock of gold, and make banks healthier by reducing costs and improving liquidity in the banking system," Hewitt added.

Banks in turn are able improve their earnings -- by replacing higher-yielding Turkish lira with gold in their reserves -- whilst also benefiting from diversification.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Hewitt.

He concluded by stating that, "banks have made steady progress mobilizing Turkey's gold stock and we expect this to continue: gold will carry on being put to work."

--George King Cassell, george.king.cassell@platts.com
--Edited by Jonathan Dart, jonathan.dart@platts.com