GENEVA (AP) — In Switzerland, a campaign is on to protect the country's wealth by investing in gold — a lot of gold.
In a test of their sense of financial security, the Swiss are being asked to vote on a proposal to make the central bank hold a fifth of its reserves in gold within five years. That would mean buying about 1,500 metric tons, or 1,650 short tons, of gold worth more than $60 billion.
If the initiative wins the backing of a majority of voters this Sunday, the Swiss National Bank would also be prohibited from spending any of the treasure, which would have to be locked away in vaults entirely on Swiss soil. The prospect risks causing a spike in gold prices globally.
The nationalist Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, has brought the "Save our Swiss Gold" initiative, arguing it will restore trust in the central bank and its paper money. The proposal is opposed by the government and financial leaders but aims to capitalize on a growing sense of caution among the Swiss about the perceived dangers and increasing volatility of financial markets.
Though the country is among the world's most prosperous, the initiative argues that owning physical gold in vaults would protect the country's wealth from trouble in markets beyond the control of this small Alpine nation. The experience of the 2008 global financial crisis, triggered in part by complex investments that brought down multiple banks and bankrupted states, is fresh in people's memories.
Jacques Mayor, a Geneva accountant, said he was wary of the idea of Switzerland buying or selling gold in large amounts in international markets.
"The last time they sold gold, we had an enormous loss," Mayor said, referring to the central bank going $10 billion in the red in 2013, when the value of its gold holdings slumped.
Despite the perception that gold's value is protected by the fact it is a physical good, its market price can in fact be quite volatile. The metal is used often by speculators as a safe haven.
Recently, gold has lost much of its sheen. Its price has fallen 11 percent since the summer to around $1200 an ounce.
Swiss polling firm gfs.bern has found the initiative is likely to fail, with just 38 percent supporting it, short of the required majority. About 47 percent were opposed as of early November.