barrick-jp morgan and gold

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    Lawsuit alleges Barrick plotted to undermine gold price;
    'Ludicrous,' company says

    Steve Maich
    National Post, Canada
    [email protected]
    Thursday, December 19, 2002


    http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?id={B81521F1-7672-4101-
    8EC2-8EA289F89210}

    A large U.S. metals dealer is suing Canada's biggest gold
    mining company and one of the largest banks in the United
    States, alleging the two conspired to drive down the price
    of gold and manipulate world financial markets for the past
    15 years.


    The lawsuit, filed by New Orleans-based metals dealer
    Blanchard & Co. in Louisiana District Court, says Barrick
    Gold Corp. and J.P. Morgan Chase hatched a scheme to
    sink gold prices through a complex system of derivatives
    trades and off-balance-sheet deals.


    The suit claims that, if not for Barrick and J.P. Morgan's
    intervention in the market, gold would now be worth close
    to US$740 an ounce, more than double the US$343.25 it
    closed at yesterday.


    Barrick calls the suit "ludicrous."


    Barrick, controlled by multi-millionaire chairman Peter
    Munk, promised yesterday to vigorously defend itself.


    In its statement of claim, Blanchard said Barrick's alleged
    actions have "pointedly reduced market interest in
    Blanchard products and resulted in a significant loss of
    business."


    It said the effects on its bottom line "continue to this day,"
    saying in the claim that the alleged price-manipulation
    caused many of its customers to stop buying gold.


    None of Blanchard's allegations have been proven in court.


    Vince Borg, a Barrick spokesman, said the company had not
    received an official copy of the suit, but a press release
    issued by Blanchard contained numerous inaccuracies and
    defamatory statements. A J.P. Morgan spokesman said the
    bank had not yet received copies of the suit and therefore
    had no comment.


    Several investors and analysts said the case may finally air
    out one of the most enduring controversies in the public markets.


    For years, investors and obscure mining newsletters have
    accused Barrick and its partners of using complicated hedging
    strategies to capitalize on, and even actively encourage, a
    decline in the gold price.


    Barrick has steadfastly denied these allegations, claiming
    their derivative trades are intended to mitigate risk of falling
    prices and do not unfairly sway the market.


    Conspiracy theories, often propagated through Internet chat
    rooms, have gone far beyond criticism of Barrick's hedging
    strategy to allege some of the most powerful figures in the
    world financial markets have conspired to depress the price
    of gold to prop up the U.S. dollar and world stock markets.
    Some conspiracy theorists have also cited Alan Greenspan,
    chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, and other leading
    central bankers as key players.


    This lawsuit represents the first attempt by a large and
    well-financed market player to force more disclosure about
    what role major mining companies may have played in the
    49 percent drop in the price of gold since 1987.


    Gold was once an important asset class. But over the past
    two decades, its appeal has waned. Many long-suffering gold
    investors claim heavy selling by mining companies and banks
    has unfairly hastened its fall and has cost investors untold
    millions.


    "There have been rumours for years around J.P. Morgan's
    gold derivatives, and more recently there have been questions
    raised about Barrick's off-balance-sheet items, and the
    extreme complexity of their derivatives," said Jean-Marie
    Eveillard, who owns Barrick stock in the gold mutual fund
    he manages for Société Générale Asset Management Corp.
    in New York. "In a sense, this lawsuit is an attempt to find
    out if there is any truth to the rumours."


    Barrick confirmed yesterday it has made hedging profits of
    about US$2-billion since the program was started in 1987,
    allowing it to become one of the world's biggest gold miners.
    But this year the price of gold has surged, and Barrick has
    promised to reduce its hedging program by the end of 2003.


    The threat of legal action has already hit Barrick's stock.
    Yesterday, when the price of gold surged to a five-year high
    and almost all other mining stocks were rising, Barrick's
    shares fell 20¢ to $24.45.


    -END-

 
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