International Monetary Fund (IMF) Gold Auctions: Current Proposal, History, and Congressional Role

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is proposing to sell 5 million ounces of gold, equal to a little less than 5% of its total gold holdings and, at current market prices, worth about $1.9 billion. Profits from the gold sale would be used to provide debt relief to poor countries. Although the IMF now has sufficient votes to adopt the proposal, the opposition of Germany, Switzerland, and Italy has resulted in an indefinite delay. Gold sales held by the IMF between 1976 and 1980 provided substantial profits -- $5.7 billion -- which were used to establish the IMF's Trust Fund, which was also used to assist poor countries. Gold sales then, as now, required an 85% voting majority of IMF members. Because legal title to the gold resides with the IMF, IMF gold sales do not have any budgetary implication for the United States, and no appropriation is, therefore, required. Under the Bretton Woods Agreement Act, however, the current proposal to sell 5 million ounces of IMF gold presumably would require congressional authorization.