Gold, gemstones pile up in Singapore vault in quest for haven

By Ranjeetha Pakiam

Wealthy investors seek refuge in a world of negative interest rates, stagnating economies. Photo / Getty Images
Wealthy investors seek refuge in a world of negative interest rates, stagnating economies. Photo / Getty Images

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 the city-state are about 70 per cent full and more than 90 per cent of the hoard comprises precious metals, according to Ariel Kohelet, managing director of Malca-Amit Singapore Pte, a logistics and storage provider, without giving specific figures. Revenue has grown at least 45 per cent in 2016 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, the UK vote to leave the European Union and the US presidential race spur investors to protect their wealth.

Billionaire bond-fund manager Bill Gross has said there's 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, precious stones," said 41-year-old Kohelet, who's 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 have 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. Paul Singer, David Einhorn and Stan Druckenmiller have all expounded reasons this year for owning gold.

Assets in exchange-traded funds have climbed. The amount in gold-backed ETFs has soared almost 40 per cent this year and is near the largest in three years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Holdings in silver-backed funds have climbed almost 10 per cent to a record.

Some are not sure prices will keep rising, seeing more increases in US borrowing costs, which will lift the dollar and tarnish a metal that pays no interest. The probability of three rate hikes through end-2017 means there's little room for rallies, according to Luc Luyet, a currencies strategist at Pictet Wealth Management.

While Goldman Sachs likes gold as a strategic hedge, its base case is $1,300 an ounce, less than the $1,340 traded Tuesday.

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.

In Asia, where more than half the world's bullion is consumed, people have always invested in gold, according to 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 square feet of space at the Singapore FreePort, a free trade zone, capable of storing 700 metric tons, while another warehouse at Changi airport's airfreight center has a capacity of 200 tons, Kohelet said. In May, the company started a safe depository service called UltraVault and opened new facilities located in the central business district, he said.

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