Tag Archives: gold refining

The World’s largest Precious Metals Refineries

There are many precious metals refineries throughout the world, some local to their domestic markets, and some international, even global in scale. Many, but by no means all, of these refineries are on the Good Delivery Lists of gold and/or silver. These lists are maintained by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and they identify accredited refineries of large (wholesale) gold and silver bars that continue to meet rigorous proficient standards of refining and assaying, and that are, at the same time, financial viable and stable companies. Currently, there are 71 refiners on the LBMA’s gold Good Delivery List and 81 refiners on its silver Good Delivery List, or which just over 50 of these refineries are accredited to both the LBMA’s gold and silver lists.

But within the top echelons of the world’s precious metals refineries, a number of names stand out due to their sheer scale and pedigree, as well as their global brand recognition in the production of a wide range of investment grade gold and silver bullion bars. These names include PAMP, Argor-Heraeus, Metalor Technologies, Heraeus, Valcambi, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, and Rand Refinery.

5000 Tonnes of Gold

Together these seven refinery groups have a combined gold refining capacity approaching a mammoth 5000 tonnes per year. And that’s not even taking into account their refining capacity for other precious metals such as silver and platinum. Valcambi has a gold refining capacity of 1600 tonnes per annum, Metalor 800 tonnes, Heraeus 400 to 500 tonnes, PAMP over 450 tonnes, Argor-Heraeus over 400 tonnes, Tanaka 500 tonnes, and Rand Refinery 600 tonnes.

Notably four of these refineries are based in the gold refining powerhouse of Switzerland, of which three, PAMP, Valcambi and Argor-Heraeus, are clustered literally within a few kilometres from each other in the golden triangle of Swiss refineries centred within the very south of the Swiss canton of Ticino near the Swiss-Italian border. Metalor Technologies is the exception, as its Swiss headquarters facility is based in Neuchâtel, in the north-west of Switzerland. Of the non-Swiss refineries, Heraeus, Tanaka and Rand Refinery, these are headquartered in Germany, Japan and South Africa, respectively.

Gold Refineries, Heraeus, PAMP, Valcambi, Metalor, Argor-Heraeus, Tanaka, Rand Refinery

International in Scale and Ownership

Although three of the four giant Swiss refineries have historically each been owned by a Swiss bank, and although groups such as Heraeus and Tanaka are still privately owned and controlled by founding shareholders, its important to note that none of these giant refineries are purely local concerns, so their headquarters locations are to some extent a secondary concern. From operating facilities, to metal supplier networks, to customer bases, all of these refineries are now absolutely global in nature.

For example, Metalor operates four precious metals refineries globally, in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Massachusetts (US). Heraeus runs gold refining and gold bar production facilities in Hanau (Germany), Hong Kong, and Newark (US). In addition to its Swiss refinery, PAMP, part of the Geneva-based MKS PAMP group, runs a joint venture refinery in New Delhi, in conjunction with MMTC, a large state-owned Indian trading company.

In many cases, the ownership of these refineries is international and cross-border in nature, and increasingly so over the last few years. Agor-Heraeus is owned by the Austrian Mint and two German entities Commerzbank and Hereaus. In 2015, Valcambi was acquired by Indian jewellery producer Rajesh Exports, with one of the selling shareholders being US-based gold mining giant Newmont. Indeed, just last month, Tanaka announced the acquisition of Metalor Technologies, a development which has initiated an upcoming major Japanese - Swiss precious metals refinery combination. Metalor was already international in ownership, as its controlling shareholders are French and Belgian private equity companies. While Rand Refinery of South Africa is  exclusively owned by five of the largest South African gold mining companies, some of these owners, such as Anglogold Ashanti and Goldfields, are vast international concerns. Rand Refinery has also increasingly had to cast its new wider for sourcing gold to process in its refinery as South African gold mining output has declined. Rand Refinery now refines over 75% of the gold mined on the African continent (excluding South Africa), and is also increasingly tapping into gold mining output from the US and Asia.

The World's Refinery Referees

Another indicator of the esteem within which these select refineries are held is their membership of the exclusively small panels of good delivery list referees which have been appointed to run the LBMA’s good delivery lists, and similar good delivery lists maintained by the London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM) for platinum and palladium bars.

The LBMA’s good delivery referee panel is a five refinery member panel made up of Argor-Heraeus, Metalor Technologies, PAMP, Rand Refinery and Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo. The LPPM’s referee panel also comprises five refiner members, namely Metalor Technologies, PAMP, Valcambi, Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo and platinum specialist Johnson Matthey. So not only are these refineries listed on these LBMA and LPPM good delivery lists, they actually help run the entire set of good delivery standards and processes. With the upcoming acquisition of Metalor by Tanaka, these LBMA and LPPM referee lists may need some adjustment, since Tanaka and Metalor are members of both referee panels.

Overwhelmingly, the gold and silver bars of these refiners are all also accepted as good delivery for the COMEX gold 100 oz and gold kilo futures contracts, the gold contracts of the Tokyo Commodity Exchange (TOCOM), the Dubai Good Delivery gold list maintained by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), and the good delivery standards of the Shanghai Gold Exchange.

Investment bullion bars

Although all of these precious metals refineries, to various extents, supply semi-fabricated precious metals, alloys and industrial precious metals suppliers to a diverse set of industrial and jewellery sector clients, it is perhaps the investment grade bullion products of these giant refiners that they are best known to a global audience.

PAMP fabricates a vast range of cast and minted gold and silver bars which are extremely popular across Asia and the Middle East, in fact, the premier brand in those regions. Valcambi manufactures a wide range of gold, silver and platinum / palladium investment bars, as well as precious metal coins and medals, and has become well-known as the international supplier of Combibars. Heraeus, Metalor and Argor-Heraeus produce a wide selection of gold and silver bars ranging from large wholesale (good delivery) bars through to smaller cast and minted gold and silver bars. Tanaka’s gold bars dominate the Japanese market and notably, Tanaka is also the sole distributor in Japan of gold and silver bullion Maple Leafs coins from the Royal Canadian Mint and gold and platinum Philharmonic coins from the Austrian Mint. Tanaka's acquisition of Metalor will be interesting in terms of how the combined group markets and distributes its investment bullion products going forward.

It's also not widely appreciated that Rand Refinery has refined over 50,000 tonnes of gold since it first opened in 1921, which is a staggering nearly one-third of all the gold ever mined. Rand Refinery large gold bars are held widely by central banks across the world. Rand Refinery’s flagship gold bullion Krugerrand coin is also held very widely, with over 60 million Krugerrands minted since 1967.

This article has not touched on the Perth Mint, Royal Canadian Mint or Royal Mint, which its important to remember, each operates its own precious metals refinery facilities in addition to being a sovereign national mint.

In summary, the seven refineries featured above are truly giants of the industry, and their longevity and customer trust attest to the authenticity and quality of their investment bullion products.

To learn more about the world's top precious metals refineries featured in this article, please see the full refinery profiles which have now been published on BullionStar's Gold University pages:

Heraeus: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/heraeus-refinery

PAMP: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/pamp-refinery

Valcambi: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/valcambi-refinery

Metalor: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/metalor-refinery

Argor-Heraeus: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/argor-heraeus-refinery

Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/tanaka-refinery

Rand Refinery: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/rand-refinery

In addition, the refining activities of the Royal Mint, Royal Canadian Mint and Perth Mint can be consulted in their respective profiles, also on BullionStar's Gold University pages:

Royal Mint: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/the-royal-mint

Perth Mint: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/perth-mint

Royal Canadian Mint: https://www.bullionstar.com/gold-university/royal-canadian-mint


Golden Stockpiles – The Key to Gold as a Store of Value and Safe Haven

Much is written in the precious metals world about gold’s characteristics, as well as how the behaviour of the gold price allows gold to play the role of a unique financial asset that retains purchasing power over time, acts as a safe haven asset, diversifies risk, and provides hedging benefits.

However, much of the material written in this area skips over an explanation of how the simple, yet powerful, relationships and interactions of the gold price actually work. The appreciation of these simple characteristics and relationships facilitates a far more intuitive understanding of why holding gold - in the form of physical gold - can be so beneficial.


One of the commonly overlooked yet critical attributes of gold that allows it to play the role of a monetary asset par excellence is that physical gold has a vast above ground supply, thereby making the global gold market highly liquid.
Gold is mined to be accumulated and nearly all of the gold ever mined is still in existence in various forms, such as in the form of above ground central bank gold holdings, private investment gold hoards, gold jewellery, or within industrial, medical and scientific applications. With gold recycling services now highly advanced and widespread, this also allows gold holdings to be easily transformed between uses by refineries in a cost-effective manner.

Since nearly all the gold ever mined is still in existence, the world’s accumulated stock of gold is multiple times the annual addition to the stock, i.e. the flow of gold. For ease of illustration, assume that 186,000 tonnes of gold have been mined throughout history and that annual mine production is 3,100 tonnes of gold. This gives a total gold stock-to-flow ratio of 60 times. Depending on the gold price, global holders of gold (in all its forms) are able, and sometimes willing, to step up and participate in gold transactions.

Global gold supply is therefore affected, not just by annual gold mining output, but by the existence of this vast above-ground stock of gold. And it is this stock of gold, over the long-term, that has an influence on the gold price, and that can explain gold’s role as a store of value and as a safe haven asset, as well as explaining gold’s price correlations with other asset prices.


Store of Value and Long-Term Inflation Hedge

Over long periods of time, gold has been proven to retain its real purchasing power. Therefore, gold acts as a long-term inflation hedge and as the ultimate store of value. This may appear to be a complex magical process but the theory is quite simple.

A fiat currency whose supply expands recklessly (which is really all fiat currencies throughout history and at present) will become debased. This leads to price inflation, i.e. an increase in the price levels of goods and services expressed in that fiat currency. As goods and services prices rise, the price of gold also adjusts upwards to compensate for these price rises.

The gold price rises, because on a global basis, there always exists an exchange ratio between physical gold and all fiat currencies, and the vast worldwide above-ground stock of physical gold can always be valued in terms of fiat currencies. But unlike fiat currencies, physical gold cannot be debased. Therefore, the gold price, and the valuation of gold, simply captures and reflects the purchasing power of all fiat currencies, and acts as an inflation hedge and a stable store of value. In practice, in a free market, the gold price is actually a signal of future inflationary expectations, and so gold is known as an inflation barometer.

Is his 1977 book of the same title, a UC Berkeley professor, Roy Jastram coined this phenomenon “The Golden Constant”. Jastram analyzed price level data from 1560 to 1976 for England/UK and from 1800 to 1976 for the United States. He then measured gold’s purchasing power over these periods and found it to be constant over time. Jastram’s study was updated in 2008 by Jill Leyland and also extended to the French and German economies. Leyland’s analysis arrived at similar findings, and was especially illustrative of gold’s critical role during the hyper-inflationary period in early 1920s Germany during which paper currencies rapidly became worthless. The ‘Golden Constant’ was interpreted by both studies as being due to gold’s large but slowly growing supply, resistance to debasement, as well as the gold price's unique behaviour in times of currency depreciation and market and political stress.

The gold as a currency hedge phenomenon can also explained by the above relationships. As fiat currencies become debased or suffer confidence shocks, they depreciate in value relative to gold, because gold has a large, slowly growing and finite above ground stock and cannot be debased. This brings us to the next point.


Gold as a Safe Haven and Hedge against Extreme Risk

Physical gold is a proven and accepted safe-haven. But why is this so? The answer is because gold acts as an inflation hedge and a currency hedge and so preserves wealth. In periods of market or economic stress, gold’s price rises because there is a flight to gold since, due to historical experience, the counterparty and default risk potential of most other assets gold comes to the fore, while gold has a highly liquid market, and gold is universally perceived as having no counterparty risk and no default risk. Therefore, gold takes on the role of financial insurance against monetary crises, geopolitical risks, and systemic financial system risks. Because of its high liquidity and lack of counterparty risk, gold also becomes the high-quality collateral during periods of extreme risk.

Gold’s Price Correlation vs Other Asset Prices

Fans of modern portfolio theory will be familiar with the fact that the gold price is not highly correlated with the prices of most other financial assets. Therefore, adding gold into an investment portfolio can lower portfolio risk. Again, the question is why? The answer is quite simple.

The low, and sometimes negative, correlation between the gold price and other asset prices is due to the gold price not being as dependent on economic and business cycles as most other financial asset or commodity prices. Therefore, the gold price doesn’t react to economic cycles in the same way as most other asset prices. This differing price reaction is… you guessed it… due to the large above-ground stocks of gold which can, due to gold’s liquidity and transformability, be mobilized (by price inducement) to enter the market place irrespective of the economic cycle.

Mobilizing physical Gold

As a practical example, this ability of existing above ground stockpiles of gold to be mobilized into the market is well illustrated by the large number of 400 oz gold bars that flowed out of central bank vaults and ETFs in London during 2013-2015, were transformed by Swiss gold refineries into smaller bars, and then flowed east to Asia. The west to east movement reversed in 2016, with large amounts of gold being imported into Switzerland from locations such as Dubai, Thailand, Turkey and Hong Kong for processing back into large gold bars and then sent back to the London market. Another example is gold recycling, which has an ongoing inverse relationship with the gold price. As the price rises, supplies of gold from recycling sources rise, since the price motivates potential sellers to enter the market. It's therefore worth remembering that gold mining supply is not the full story. Some of these huge above ground stocks of physical gold can and do enter the market in various ways and at various times. In this article, we have not even touched on the controversial subject of central bank gold leasing, a potentially large and hidden supply overhang, but a subject left for future analysis.