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A. Complete the sentences according to the information in the text.

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1) Most gold is purchased as… .

2) Powerful central banks use gold to… .

3) There are several ways of investing in gold… .

4) Instead of buying “spot” gold for immediate delivery investors can also make an ….

B. True or false?


1) Nowadays gold serves as a “liquid” investment that can be exchanged anywhere.

2) Futures contracts are based on periodic delivery dates in the future.

3) Spot and futures prices tend to move in the same directions, rising and falling with other precious metals in the market.

4) The prices of precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum tend to rise and fall together.

Text 7 Checking out


There is much about British life that puzzles foreigners, but little is more perplexing than the discovery that most Britons do not pay fees on their current accounts. “It's uniquely British,” says Philip Middleton, a banking expert at Ernst & Young, an accounting firm.

But now this cherished free banking for customers who keep their current accounts in credit is under threat. First Direct, an internet-and-telephone bank, last week unveiled plans to start charging customers £10 ($19) a month for running their current accounts. The charge will affect only the minority of customers who do not hold a minimum balance of £1,500 or who deposit less than that each month, and it can be avoided by signing up for any of the bank's other products. However, the decision was still greeted with howls of protest and dire warnings that other lenders would follow suit.

Nationwide, the country's biggest mutually-owned mortgage lender, soon obliged, saying First Direct's fee was a “nail in the coffin” for free banking, while opportunistically suggesting that it too might be forced to introduce charges. Consumer groups and politicians, meanwhile, said that banks' poorer customers would be especially hard-hit.

Yet amid the outrage few paused to note two key facts. First, consumer banking is anything but free. Second, the poor already bear a disproportionate share of banking charges.

Banking appears free because, since the early 1980s, banks have cut a deal with their customers to waive transaction fees in exchange for paying paltry rates of interest on balances held in current accounts. But the real price of these accounts is the £40-60 that the typical customer forgoes each year in interest.

Even that is barely enough to make current accounts profitable, says Mark Weil of Mercer Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm. Banks make their money from selling other services and by imposing charges that are less visible to customers and thus subject to less competition. Most of these fees are paid by banks' less well-off customers, industry insiders say, because they are the ones who miss card payments, exceed credit limits or buy loan-payment insurance. The industry has become rife with cross-subsidies, says Mr Weil.

The Office of Fair Trading, a competition regulator, has recently ruled that last year banks wrongly collected more than £300m in credit-card fees levied on customers who missed payments or exceeded credit limits. It has forced banks to cap their charges at £12 a payment, compared with the £25-30 that had been typical in the industry. It is now probing similar charges on current accounts and is also casting a beady eye at the price of loan insurance. It reckons a more competitive market for this cover could cut the cost to consumers by about £1 billion a year.

But capping particular fees may not benefit consumers as a whole since banks can raise prices elsewhere. That is already happening. PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm, reckons 19 credit-card providers raised their lending rates in the months immediately after the OFT capped penalty rates.

Imposing price controls and mandating products is a sure way to reduce the competition that has already delivered clear benefits to consumers in Britain, who enjoy cheaper banking than in other big economies. Customers in America, Italy and Germany pay almost twice as much each year to transact with their banks, according to a 2005 study by Capgemini, a consulting firm. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the biggest winners from the demise of free banking may be the poor.


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