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With the gold standard long gone, ever wondered why so many countries (and a couple multinational institutions) still own so much gold? Some foreign leaders have wondered the same thing themselves.

Ex-UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown didn't see much point in guarding British gold. While he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he sold almost 400 tons (or nearly half) of England's (hundreds of years old) gold reserves.

Brown's market timing won't aid any dreams of a lucrative hedge fund consulting career: His sales between 1999 and 2002 at $256 to $296 an ounce were at the 30+ year low. Since Brown's golden folly the value of Au has nearly quintupled in value. Ouch.

More recently the IMF has been selling its gold in a series of "off-market" auctions "directly to central banks and other official sector holders". Translation: the IMF is keeping the gold in the family, so to speak, selling its gold only to other countries like India. So far the IMF has sold approximately 220 metric tons of gold.

But Brown and the IMF are more the exception than the rule. With prices at an all-time high and growing talk of a gold bubble, no major country (to my knowledge) has made any material sales. Why not?

Any gold sold could be put to productive use (e.g., pay down debt and decrease interest expense). There are plenty of cash strapped nations right now that could use a few extra bucks. Greece occupies the world's 30th largest gold reserve position, with over 100 tons. Selling some gold could help Greece try to avoid default.

And with the world's reserve currency, what possible purpose does holding all that gold at Fort Knox serve the U.S. (the world's #1 owner of gold)?

Attempts to answer these questions definitively would be speculative, but gold investors would do well to keep an eye on any moves (both sales and purchases) by the big gold owners -- countries and multinationals.

Disclosure: No positions

Source: Why Do Governments Still Own So Much Gold?