In Swiss law, private citizens can put forth any initiative that can gather 100,000 signatures. A campaign by the Swiss People’s Party to “Save our Swiss Gold” gathered 106,052 signatures so a vote will be coming up.

Switzerland is to hold a referendum on a popular measure that would ban the central bank from selling its gold reserves and force it to keep at least 20 per cent of its assets in the metal.

Under the terms of “Save our Swiss Gold”, which is led by members of the ultra-conservative Swiss People’s party, the Swiss National Bank would have to repatriate gold reserves held abroad and keep them at home.

Governments in the eurozone’s beleaguered southern periphery tend to hold a large part of their total foreign reserves in gold – the Italian central bank holds 2,451 tonnes, more than 70 per cent of its total reserves, while Portugal’s holding of 383 tonnes accounts for 90 per cent.

However, proponents of the Swiss measure flatly reject the idea of sales, arguing that disposals of gold reserves at low prices between 2001 and 2006, as well as more recently, have cost Switzerland billions of Swiss francs.

They insist that the SNB’s gold reserves, which stood at SFr49.5bn at the end of February, accounting for about 10 per cent of its balance sheet, are the best store of value available to the central bank.

The Swiss National Bank is of course against the idea and will provide a response in “due course”. I can translate their response in advance: “We reserve the right to trash the Swiss Franc at will, if and when we want to.”

Mike “Mish” Shedlock