Precious metals, gems fill storage vaults in Singapore

The stash of gold, silver and gems stored in the vaults and safe deposit boxes of Malca-Amit in Singapore has jumped almost 90 per cent in the past year as wealthy investors seek a refuge in a world of negative interest rates, stagnating economies and political uncertainty.

The company's facilities in Singapore are about 70 per cent full and more than 90 per cent of the hoard comprises precious metals, according to Mr Ariel Kohelet, managing director of Malca-Amit Singapore, a logistics and storage provider, without giving specific figures.

Revenue has grown at least 45 per cent this year from a year earlier, he said in an interview last week.

Gold has rallied 26 per cent this year and silver's up 37 per cent as negative interest rates, Brexit and the US presidential race spur investors to protect their wealth.

Billionaire bond-fund manager Bill Gross has said there is little choice but gold and real estate, given current bond yields, while hedge fund manager Eric Mindich almost tripled his options bet on a bullion-backed, exchange-traded fund in the second quarter.

"We're seeing a trend where high-net-worth individuals are looking to diversify their portfolio into tangible assets like precious metals and precious stones," said Mr Kohelet, 41, who has been with the company for 12 years. "This is mostly to preserve and protect their wealth. They're looking into places like Hong Kong and Singapore as places they deem to be safe."

A raft of investors has underscored the attraction of gold in a world where central banks are trying to revive growth by buying bonds and keeping their economies flush with cash.

While billionaire George Soros cut his holding in Barrick Gold in the second quarter, he bought shares in the SPDR Gold Trust. Hedge fund managers Paul Singer, David Einhorn and Stan Druckenmiller have all expounded reasons this year for owning gold.

Some are not sure prices will keep rising, seeing more increases in United States borrowing costs, which will lift the dollar and tarnish a metal that pays no interest. The probability of three rate hikes through the end of next year means there is little room for rallies, according to Mr Luc Luyet, a currencies strategist at Pictet Wealth Management.

While Goldman Sachs likes gold as a strategic hedge, its base case is US$1,300 an ounce, less than US$1,338.50 traded yesterday.

In Asia, where more than half the world's bullion is consumed, people have always invested in gold, according to Mr Kohelet. "If you take China and India, it's part of the culture and tradition to put some aside," he said.

Malca-Amit has 1,000 sq ft of space at the Singapore Freeport, a free trade zone, capable of storing 700 tonnes, while another warehouse at Changi airport's airfreight centre has a capacity of 200 tonnes, Mr Kohelet said.

 In May, the company started a safe depository service called UltraVault and opened new facilities located in the central business district.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Precious metals, gems fill storage vaults in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe