This story was updated at 2:45pm on January 6, 2014.
Gold held by Switzerland’s central bank fell in value by 15 billion Swiss francs ($16.5 billion) in 2013, leading to a net loss of almost $10 billion for the year, the bank said on Monday.
That outweighed profits from foreign currency positioning and the sale of its bailout fund for Swiss banking giant UBS AG (VTX:UBSN), sold back to UBS in November. The 6 billion Swiss francs gained paled in comparison to the 15 billion francs lost from gold.
Gold plunged 28 percent in 2013, in its second-worst percentage decline since 1900 and its worst showing since 1981. It was the first time since 2000 that the precious metal failed to rise in value by the end of the year.
That caused the Swiss National Bank to write down the value of its 1,040 metric tons in gold holdings. The central bank held 37.8 billion Swiss francs worth of gold at the end of November 2013, according to the bank’s website.
That’s still just a fraction of the $435.8 billion in foreign currency reserves it holds.
The massive write-down could bolster the conservative “Save Our Swiss Gold” initiative, which seeks tight restrictions on central bank gold policy. The Swiss government has opposed that movement, which is seen as unlikely to gain traction among policymakers and politicians.
Switzerland’s central bank gold holdings are below the global average. North American and European central banks sometimes hold more than 50 percent of their reserves in gold. According to International Monetary Fund data, advanced economies still hold about 500 million more troy ounces of gold collectively, compared to emerging markets. The U.S. held by far the most in gold tonnage, at about 8000 tons or 70 percent of its reserves, according to World Gold Council statistics.
Venezuela reportedly holds about 70 percent of its total reserves in gold. Russia has been a consistent buyer of gold in recent years. Analysts widely expect China has added to its gold reserves, though the government reveals little about its central bank gold buying. Emerging markets have tended to add to their gold reserves, while developed economies have refrained from selling gold in recent years.
Switzerland also benefited from gold this year, as gold travelled from Western markets, where investors shunned the metal, to Asia via Switzerland. Swiss gold refineries saw significant business as gold left specialist funds to be melted down into a form acceptable to Asian consumers. The Swiss gold refining industry is among the world’s best.
Switzerland’s gold holdings grew steadily in value from 2003, almost doubling to 50.7 billion francs by 2012. About 20 percent of the Swiss National Bank’s gold is held at the Bank of England, while another 10 percent is held by the Bank of Canada, according to Bloomberg.
Central bank gold buying has slowed, down one-third relative to last year from January 2013 to October 2013, wrote Barclays PLC (LON:BARC) analysts in a note on Monday. A key European central bank gold agreement, which limits gold sales, expires in September 2014.
Gold opened in New York on Monday at $1,237 per ounce.