Analysts say gold price could soar or slump, depending on Britain's European Union vote

LONDON (Bloomberg) - Polls show Britons will vote next week to exit the European Union, and that has gold traders betting the precious metal will be a lot more valuable.

Prices will rally to the highest in two years if the so- called Brexit campaign succeeds on June 23, reaching US$1,350 an ounce within a week of the vote - about 5 percent above current levels, according to a Bloomberg survey of 22 traders and analysts. Should a majority choose to remain in the bloc, bullion might slide 2.8 percent to US$1,250, the survey showed.

Gold's gain during the past two weeks already reflects the increased enthusiasm for a breakup, which bulls say will spur demand for a haven asset. The Sun, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper, backed a Brexit on its front page this week. Hedge fund manager Cliff Asness said this week that his US$154 billion firm raised estimates for market risk.

"If Britain votes to leave, there will be continued uncertainty about how and when the exit will happen," said Ross Norman, chief executive officer of bullion dealer Sharps Pixley and a 30-year veteran of the industry. "This will drive prices higher." Dollar-denominated gold rallied 5.7 percent this month and assets in exchange-traded funds backed by the metal are the highest since 2013.

Some gold sellers are already getting ready. CoinInvest.com, a Frankfurt-based retailer of bars and coins, extended working hours and added staff to cope with extra demand. It reported sales are up 35 percent this year. The U.K. Royal Mint is "prepared for possible market turbulence," according to a statement last month.

Gold stocks, such as AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. and Barrick Gold Corp., should be in investor portfolios to offset losses if the U.K. vote sparks a broader equity selloff, Chris Jost, a metals and mining analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a report this week.

The debate over Brexit, plus a U.S. presidential campaign, weaker dollar and negative interest rates in Japan and Europe, have created one of the biggest gold rallies this decade. After falling three straight years, prices are up more than 20 percent in 2016.

Even if Britain chooses to remain in the EU, there are still a lot of other reasons to be bullish on gold, said David Govett, who trades bullion and foreign exchange at Marex Spectron Group Ltd. in London.

"I don't think an 'In' vote will lead to a collapse in the price of gold," he said by e-mail. "There's more to this rally than that." If Brexit causes financial markets to deteriorate globally and spreads panic, gold will jump as high as US$1,600, Jeffrey Rhodes, CEO of Zee Gold DMCC in Dubai who's been trading gold since 1978, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Gold would slide to US$1,100 if the U.K. votes to remain in the EU, he said, adding that "massive physical demand" from India and China would stabilize the market.

"A Brexit vote would truly be a shock to the system," Ken Hoffman, senior metals and mining analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by e-mail from Princeton, New Jersey. "It seems that despite the polls, most investors I speak with still believe in their gut that the U.K. will remain." -With assistance from Ranjeetha Pakiam.