LBMA Precious Metals Conference 2006 - Montreux
Programme of sessions and speakers
LBMA CEO (September 1999 - December 2013)
Former LBMA Chairman
Good Morning ladies and gentlemen
I should like to offer you all a very warm welcome to Montreux and the 7th Annual Conference of the London Bullion Market Association.
I am especially pleased that the Association has chosen to hold this year’s event in Switzerland, given this country's long-standing historical association with precious metals and its particular relationship with the London bullion market.
Most of us are too young to remember that the Swiss Banks were amongst the first commercial institutions to purchase gold on the London Fixings immediately after its establishment in 1919.
Today, the country remains one of the most important international precious metals centres.
The thriving Private Banking sector here has had a major influence on global investment demand over the last 2 or 3 years. When this is coupled with the high tech precious metals refineries - all of whom manufacture high quality products for the global physical markets - it is obvious why this country plays such a central role in the industry.
My good friends at the Swiss National Bank have of course ensured that the gold market's spotlight has been trained on this country during the past several years.
It is testament to the cooperation between the London and Swiss markets that the recently concluded sale by the Swiss government of some 1,300 tons of gold was conducted in a manner which caused no disruption to the International market.
So, for these reasons and more, it is truly a great pleasure to be here today.
This year, the markets have continued to see volatility on a scale which most younger traders had never previously experienced or perhaps even dreamed of.
Prices for all 4 of the metals that many of us trade in have recently reached multi-year highs .
However, it is recognised that headline news does not always reflect a welcome scenario for everyone involved in our industry.
Mining companies, as well as those investors who foresaw the dramatic rise in prices, have been the most obvious beneficiaries. At the same time - for industrial consumers - higher prices, and in many cases higher borrowing costs - have had a detrimental impact on their businesses.
However, there is no doubt that since our last conference, it remains the Investment sector that is firmly in the driving seat and I am particularly looking forward to hearing from our experts on this topic later today.
Growth in the global markets continues unabated.
New exploration is being driven by higher prices while new technological applications are helping to sustain physical consumption.
New Exchanges are being developed in many domestic markets to facilitate the increase in producer, consumer and investment demand.
This year we have seen the start of trading in Dubai and Taiwan, and it is likely that other exchanges will soon be offering platforms for both physical and futures trades.
Global Stock Markets are once again providing a platform for commodity related business via the latest hot topic - commodity Exchange Traded Funds.
Gold led the way to what is now an easy route into a broad based range of commodities that are tradable on many Stock exchanges around the World - Australia, the UK , South Africa , The US and Europe all offer ETF products. There is no doubt that many other stock exchanges are now urgently looking to join this particular club.
All in all, the outlook is extremely positive for our industry. After two decades in the doldrums I firmly believe that we are still only in the early stages of what will be the most productive, dynamic and interesting period of time during my 30 years in this industry.
People have questioned me about the threat to the London market from the increased competition posed by these new markets
In my opinion no such threat exists.
London remains the location for the central pool of metal liquidity. So long as this pool resides in London then the financing centre for the global industry will also remain in London.
The gold and silver supporting the majority of the new investment products is stored in London vaults. The world’s central banks still see London as both the prime entry point for transactions and the safe haven choice for custody of this prized asset.
It is London where the majority of precious metal trades are handled.
This may sound somewhat complacent. But London has a reputation for embracing change and for working in an International arena and the LBMA very much welcomes these developments in the global industry.
Our programme this year takes place over the traditional day and half.
We have chosen a broad suite of topics and speakers to ensure that you all take something positive away with you from our conference.
As you would expect gold remains our main focus. However the other three precious metals that are on our programme are now playing an increasingly important role in our future well being in terms of our health, our environment and our economic development and it is therefore appropriate to give some additional coverage to these metals.
This reflects a general desire by both our membership and the broader market to gain a better understanding of the role in our society that these metals now play
At last year's conference in Johannesburg, I attended a workshop on the latest uses of PGMs and other metals in the industrial sector. It was not only extremely interesting but it was standing room only!
In line with this global expansion of interest in precious metals, I am very pleased to inform you that the LBMA itself has continued to expand.
In November 2005, we welcomed 3 new Members to the Association and we are currently looking at enquiries from a further 5 potential Members or Associates.
I am also delighted that this year we welcomed an additional Clearing Member of the market.
We have also added 4 new names to the London Good Delivery List.
Perhaps at this point I should mention the ongoing pro active monitoring of good delivery refineries.
This monitoring ensures that the refiners of gold and silver bars on the List continue to demonstrate the same high technical standards that they did when they were first accepted onto it.
For those that no longer reach the highest standards expected of our market then de listing is the likely outcome. The integrity of the market is paramount and as part of my chairmanship I will press this particular message home with vigour.
Second best will not be accepted by the LBMA.
As I mentioned earlier, liquidity remains key. The start-up of new precious metals exchanges represents a widening of choice for market clients, London traditionally has enjoyed a high concentration of liquidity passing through the market.
However where there was once a single concentration of trading liquidity there are now multiple platforms spread across the globe.
Today we not only have the OTC Loco London market , we have futures markets, physical markets, ETFs trading on Stock exchanges , commodity indexes … and we even have ETFs on commodity indexes!
The effect of this has been to fragment liquidity and this, in my opinion, has helped to create a much greater degree of volatility than we have seen at any time in the past …
Therefore the LBMA deemed it appropriate to reaffirm the strength of the London Market in the strongest possible way.
At a meeting earlier this year the 9 Full Members who guarantee to provide the core liquidity to the market, renewed what I call their vows of commitment.
This obligates those Members to make prices upon request to each other for a minimum quantity of gold and silver in spot, forwards and options --- thus preserving a highly liquid market-place during regular London working hours and in most cases well beyond.
The LBMA also recognised the need not just to reaffirm the commitment of those current market makers but also to examine the possibility of encouraging even broader participation from its Members in the Interbank market.
We have achieved this by offering a new classification for Market Making membership.
This new category enables LBMA Members to quote as a market maker for any combination of Spot, Forwards or Options which Full Market Making members are still obliged to quote in all these products.
We believe that, once additional market makers have been accepted on this basis, there will be a significant benefit to the London market as a whole.
This in turn will benefit clients and so I would encourage those members who could do so to apply for reclassification as a market maker in one or more of these three products.
I am confident that, because of the commitment by our members, the London market will continue to thrive and, I should like to take this opportunity to thank all the members and my colleagues in the LBMA executive who, together, have been at the forefront of this initiative.
I should also like to thank my colleagues on the various committees, particularly the Public Affairs Committee who have been instrumental in arranging this conference.
Now it only remains for me to say that I hope that you all have a very enjoyable conference; that you have sufficient opportunity to make new friends and develop new business and, of course, that you enjoy your time in this wonderful country.
Now I have great pleasure in introducing to you Mr Philip Hildebrand, the Member of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank. He has responsibility for financial market operations including monetary policy, banking operations and information technology but, most importantly from our point of view, also for the management of foreign exchange reserves and bullion.
After qualifying from the University of Toronto in 1988, Dr Hildebrand undertook post-graduate studies in some of the most prestigious universities around the world culminating in his receipt of a PhD in International Relations from the University of Oxford in 1994. His professional career prior to joining the Swiss National Bank was largely focused on investment and asset management in a number of private banks and other leading financial companies.
In addition to his other responsibilities, he continues to be a visiting professor at the graduate institute of international studies in Geneva and is Chairman of the deputies of the Group of Ten countries.
Like you, I now look forward to hearing Dr Hildebrand’s views
Thank you Dr Hildebrand
Our second speaker this morning is Professor Niall Fergusson (pronounced Neil) who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and possibly best known to many of us as the author of the book Empire - a fascinating account of the rise and fall of not the Roman but the British Empire and which was a best seller in both Britain and the United States. Those of you from across the pond may be more familiar with the sequel to that book - Colossus - which does the same for the somewhat shorter lived American empire.
However, these two books are just two highlights in a remarkable career of research and publishing success. Much of his work has focused on the relationships between organisations, power and money, including the history of the house of Rothschild though unfortunately this is perhaps no longer quite so relevant to the bullion market as it used to be. As well as winning a string of prizes for his publications, Professor Ferguson has been a regular contributor to television and radio on both sides of the Atlantic and has probably done more than anyone to explain modern history to us. He is a weekly columnist for the Los Angles Times and two years ago Time Magazine named him as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
We are delighted that Professor Ferguson has been able to join us today and I am sure we will all be fascinated to hear about whether Gold is a Store of Value or a “Barbarous Relic”.
Thank you Professor Ferguson ….
Member of the Governing Board, Swiss National Bank
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you this morning. The last time a member of the Governing Board of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) had the opportunity to address this audience was in June 1999, when our present Governor Jean-Pierre Roth had the difficult task to explain why the SNB intended to sell 1300 tonnes of its gold reserves. Back then, the gold market environment was quite different: the price of gold had steadily declined to USD 250/oz and there were widespread concerns in the market place that central banks were intending to liquidate a substantial part of their gold reserves.
In seven years, the market has, in many ways, come full circle: the price of gold climbed to above USD 700/oz before receding below USD 600/oz, levels that were last seen in 1981. Central bank activity in the gold market is not considered as a threat anymore. The agreements of 1999 and 2004 between 15 European central banks – the so-called Washington agreements – have removed much of the uncertainty regarding central bank sales. Indeed, market rumours today are arguably more concerned about central banks buying gold than they are about central banks selling gold.
As many of you know, the SNB completed its gold sales program fifteen months ago . In total, 1300 tons were sold. The decision to reduce our gold holdings by half was taken for two reasons that were highlighted by experts as early as 1997: First the SNB arguably had more gold than it needed. Switzerland's official gold holdings per capita were five times higher than those of the next G10 country. Second, the SNB had – on a mark-to-market basis - excess capital reserves that were no longer required for monetary purposes. As a result, the decision was taken to sell 1300 tons of gold. In May 2000, as soon as the legal framework had been amended to allow market sales, the SNB started it gold sales operations. We adopted a very transparent strategy and tried, within the constraints of the Washington Agreement, to maximize the proceeds of the gold sales in Swiss francs. The average selling price of USD 350/oz was 17 dollars higher than the average London fixing of the selling period. Of course, with today's prices around 600 USD/oz, you might think that we revisit our sales program with mixed feelings. As a matter of fact, price forecasts, which are inevitably subject to great uncertainty, did not feature prominently in the SNB’s decision to sell gold. The timing of the gold sales was largely influenced by factors that the SNB did not fully control. Once we were allowed to sell, we started our program within the window of opportunity that had been negotiated with other central banks under the first Washington agreement.
Today, the SNB is no longer in the spotlight with regard to its gold policy. This makes my task today easier than President Roth's seven years ago. I have no newsworthy information to present to you regarding our gold policy. Instead, I will briefly reflect on six commonly held arguments related to commodities and, more specifically, to gold. The point of considering these arguments is not to either reject or confirm them definitely but rather to illustrate the likely speculative nature of long-term gold price forecasts. Since it was freed from central bank intervention, the gold market has been quite volatile. Historical evidence as well as analytical considerations suggest that price volatility will likely remain an important feature of the gold market.
First argument: Gold is a commodity like any other
Since the collapse of the Bretton Woods System, gold has lost its role as an anchor for the international monetary system. Does that mean that it has become a commodity like any other? Before trying to analyse fundamental differences or similarities between gold and other commodities, lets look at what prices tell us: At first sight, gold and other commodity price cycles indeed look similar: the boom in the gold market since 1999 clearly has parallels in other commodities as well. Oil prices have increased sevenfold since 1999; industrial metals have increased threefold since 2001. Similarly, the extraordinary gold bull market at the end of the seventies occurred in the context of rising oil and commodity prices. This parallelism, however, is not perfect. The average correlation between weekly price changes of gold and oil throughout the last 20 years is a mere 0.1. For metals, the correlation with gold is slightly higher but remains below 0.2. Both correlations have varied heavily within the period; currently, they are clearly on the high side (Graph 1).
Despite similarities in price movements, the gold market has a number of distinct features relative to other commodity markets. Arguably, the most important distinction is the fact that the ratio of available supply to annual production is much higher for gold than for other commodities. A significant proportion of the estimated 160,000 tonnes of all gold worldwide available in the form of jewellery, bars, coins, etc. (sixty times the annual mine production) could be brought to market at relatively low cost. Thus, in contrast to other commodities, gold prices are not only dependent on the current mine production and processing demand but are also influenced to a great extent by the supply and demand behaviour of existing and potential owners of gold. In other words, the investment motive is a much more important driver in the gold market than in the market for other commodities. Of course, mining and processing demand have an important role in the long term, but the medium term price equilibrium depends heavily on the investment or disinvestment decisions of the private and public sectors.
Second argument: Commodity supply cannot catch up with demand
A common argument in commodity markets relies on a kind of Malthusian logic: due to limited supply, prices must rise in the long run in order to match increasing demand. This argument has been invoked for centuries. However, secular trends show the contrary: in almost all commodity markets, prices have decreased relative to other goods and services. This secular relative price decline does in no way imply that bottlenecks in production or increased demand cannot trigger a commodity price cycle. These cycles are often caused by the delayed reaction of supply to an increase in demand, which tends to push up prices temporarily. But in due time, higher prices tend to trigger new mining investments and foster technological progress.
This raises the question of whether we are currently witnessing a commoditity cycle like any other or whether things might be different this time? On the demand side, there can be little doubt that the increased demand caused by the integration of China and India in the world economy is a once in a century historical event. On the supply side, there has been a significant increase in exploration investment since 2002. It remains to be seen whether the increased supply will be sufficient to bring prices down significantly. The depletion of easy-to-mine resources has contributed to a significant rise in extraction costs. Other factors might also push in the same direction: for instance, it is possible that the internalisation of external mining costs, previously born by society as a whole (i.e. through the degradation of the natural environment), might contribute to commodity prices remaining at elevated levels.
With regard to gold, on the other hand, I am doubtful that the main source of uncertainty is related to surprises in future mining supply or fabrication demand. As I mentioned before, absent new vast discoveries, investment demand will arguably continue to dominate future gold prices.
Third argument: Today's commodity investment boom is structural and will be long-lasting
Let's turn our focus to investment demand. In recent years, institutional and private investors appear to have rediscovered commodities as an asset class. According to some market estimates, investment in commodities has surged tenfold since 2003 and amounted to USD 120bn in May 2006. Many market analysts see this increase as the beginning of a new trend: their argument goes roughly as follows: if all pension funds had only 3% of their assets invested in commodities, this would represent a total investment of more than USD 500bn.
The gold market has also benefited from a surge in investment demand. According to market specialists, net investment exceeded 700 tonnes in 2005. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become particularly popular because they give investors the opportunity to make flexible and liquid investments in gold, even for small volumes. At the end of 2003, gold ETF investments accounted for less than 20 tonnes. Today, they likely exceed 500 tonnes.
Does the risk/return payoff of commodities justify this new interest? Empirical studies have shown that the inclusion of commodities as an asset class improves the efficient frontier of a portfolio. Nonetheless, we all know that returns and correlations can change. With respect to correlations, there is arguably no compelling reason why low correlations between commodities and bonds or equities should change significantly going forward. The case for diversification with regard to investing in commodities may therefore well remain intact. With regard to returns, however, things appear more complicated, particularly if we base our analysis on the return of commodity futures indices. In the past, most commodity markets have been in backwardation: futures prices were lower than the spot price. This was beneficial to investors buying commodity futures, because they could profit from a so-called roll-yield. This yield can be interpreted as a risk premium priced into the futures contract to compensate the holder for bearing the commodity price risk. However, if the number of investors ready to bear this risk increases significantly, the risk premium could disappear or even turn negative. In fact, for some time now, the near-term structure of many commodity prices has experienced a change from backwardation to contango. It seems to me, there may well be a connection between this change from backwardation to contango and the growing trend to invest in commodity futures.
Contrary to other commodities, gold has typically been in contango. The reason is that there is plenty of gold around and plenty of market participant – including central banks - willing to lend it. As a consequence, gold lease rates are usually lower than USD interest rates and gold futures prices higher than spot prices. The roll yield is thus negative, which is one of the reasons why investment in gold futures did not generate the same returns as investments in broad commodity future price indices. So what return should we expect from investing in gold? History shows that gold has been able to keep its value in real terms, but compared to bonds or equities, no real return has been realized (Graph 2).
Fourth argument: Gold mine hedging is "passé"
As you know, in the second half of the 1990s, gold mines increasingly sold their future production on a forward basis. In doing so, they pushed up gold supplies by more than 10% per year, thus reinforcing the already negative price trend. As from 2001, mining companies increasingly abandoned this type of price hedging, which amounted to a de facto reduction in the supply of gold and thus contributed to rising prices.
This raises the question of what constitutes an optimal hedging policy to maximize shareholder value? One of the reasons gold mine companies typically give for reducing their hedge book is that shareholders want to incur a gold price risk when investing in mines. While there is arguably some logic to this argument, investors clearly have other alternatives if they seek exposure to the price of gold. There is no doubt that no hedging at all would have been better from a shareholder’s perspective than the kind of pro-cyclical policy that was followed in the past. Nonetheless, it seems to me, we cannot rule out that the gold mining industry will start increasing its hedging activities again at some point in the future.
Fifth argument: Central Banks will adopt a homogenous attitude towards gold.
At the end of 2005, central banks had officially declared reserves of around USD 3,500bn. Of this amount, around 15% was invested in gold (Graph 3). The proportion of gold varies considerably from one country to another. For instance, it amounted to more than 70% for the United States, 50% for the Eurozone, 40% for Switzerland, 4% for India, 2% for Japan but less than one percent for Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Korea or Malaysia. These variations have always been a source of market rumours. At the end of the nineties, the prevailing question was: what if European central banks would reduce their gold holdings to 10% of their reserves? Now, the question is: what if Asian central banks would increase their holdings to 10% of their reserves? I doubt that in the foreseeable future, these national discrepancies related to gold reserves will diminish significantly, let alone disappear. Countries have different geopolitical situations, different historical backgrounds, different levels of development and different functions for their official reserves. These differences give rise to different priorities with regard to the role of gold reserves.
Sixth argument: Increasing living standards will boost private gold demand in emerging Asia
My comments on this last argument will be brief. As often when looking at economic issues, there are substitution and income effects at work. On the one hand, prosperous Asian workers will be able to save and consume more, which should be reflected by an increased demand for gold. On the other hand, as financial markets and banking systems become more developed and more secure in today’s emerging economies, the palette of alternative saving vehicles will increase and we should expect the relative proportion of wealth invested in gold to decrease. In other words, we might expect the income effect to be strong at the beginning before receding and giving way to the substitution effect.
Despite the demonetisation of gold, the yellow metal continues to have a special significance for central banks. Unlike currencies, the value of gold does not depend on a national sovereign. Moreover, payment transactions with gold are fully under a central bank's control. These are two important reasons why gold, more than any other type of investment, serves to ensure the capacity to act in extreme crisis situations. From an investment viewpoint, the price of gold often moves in the opposite direction to other financial assets, in particular to the US dollar. The price for this 'insurance function' is reflected in the fact that gold is less profitable in the long term than other financial assets.
It is not surprising that Switzerland, a small open developed country with a highly integrated financial sector and an ageing but relatively wealthy population, continues to invest a significant proportion of its reserves in gold. At present, the SNB holds 1,290 tonnes of gold or roughly 30% of its assets. Price fluctuations in both directions are to be expected and may be strong and sustained. As was the case in the past, such price fluctuations will modify the proportion of gold on our balance sheet from year to year. These short-term fluctuations should not give rise to great concern. Experience has shown that extreme movements in markets tend to level out in the long run.
Chairman – Katherine Pulvermacher, Managing Director, World Gold Council
Head of Fund Research & Multi-Management, Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie
Chairman: Stewart Murray
The motion: This house believes that jewellery demand is more important than investment to the prosperity of the gold market.
Proposers: Paul Walker, Chief Executive Officer, GFMS Ltd and Kelvin Williams, Executive Director, Anglogold Ashanti Limited
Opposers: Chris Thompson, ex-Chairman, World Gold Council and Andy Smith, Partner, Bractea (The Ridgefield Capital Group)
LBMA CEO (September 1999 - December 2013)
Chief Executive Officer, GFMS Ltd
Executive Director, Anglogold Ashanti Limited
ex-Chairman, World Gold Council
Partner, Bractea (The Ridgefield Capital Group)
Chairman: Kevin Crisp, Marketing Manager, Precious Metals Department, Mitsubishi Corporation UK plc
Chairman/Head of Sales and Marketing, Heraeus Metallhandelsgesellschaft mbH
Session 6 - Closing Session
LBMA Chairman: Jeremy Charles