Tag Archives: Chinese banks

G4S London Gold Vault 2.0 – ICBC Standard Bank in, Deutsche Bank out

On 8 January 2016, Reuters broke the news that ICBC Standard Bank has purchased the lease on Deutsche Bank’s gold vault in London, and that ICBC Standard intends to become a member of the clearing syndicate, London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL):

“ICBC Standard Bank is buying the lease on Deutsche Bank’s London gold and silver vault, enlarging its footprint in the city’s bullion market..”

ICBC.. has also applied to become a clearing member of the London gold and silver over-the-counter business.

The vault became operational in June 2014 and has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes. It was built and is managed by British security services company G4S.

These moves by ICBC Standard Bank have now put both the G4S vault and LPMCL, (a private company), back in the spotlight.

The Background to the G4S Vault

On 20 March 2012, Deutsche Bank issued a press release announcing that it had contracted security company G4S to construct and manage a precious metals vault on Deutsche’s behalf in London. Critically, this was a substantial long-term partnership between Deutsche Bank and G4S, with G4S doing the actual work of building and then operating the precious metals vault. Deutsche stated at the time in March 2012 that the new vault would be for the exclusive use of Deutsche Bank clients, and that it would available for use by these clients during 2013:

“Deutsche Bank and G4S are pleased to announce that they are to join forces in establishing a new vault for the storage of precious metals in the UK.”

The new vault will be built and managed by G4S, the world’s leading international security solutions group, for the exclusive use of Deutsche Bank and its clients and will be an enhancement to Deutsche Bank’s already extensive metal trading and clearing capabilities. 

“‘It will position us well to quickly become a leading metals clearing and custody house,’ commented Raymond Key, Global Head of Metals Trading at Deutsche Bank. The vault, which will be constructed and run to industry-leading standards of security, will be available for clients in 2013.

Likewise, on 20 March 2012, G4S released its own press release in which it revealed that the contract with Deutsche Bank was a 10 year commercial deal and that discussions about building the vault had commenced in 2009:

“Working in partnership with Deutsche Bank, the business has secured a ten year commercial arrangement to establish a state of the art precious metals vault that will be built and managed by G4S, and will enable Deutsche Bank to extend and enhance their metal trading and clearing capabilities.

Discussions started with Deutsche Bank back in 2009 when increased economic volatility started to cause a rise in interest levels among investors for precious metals.”

“James Dinsdale, Managing Director, G4S Cash Solutions, said: ‘We’re delighted to have secured this partnership with Deutsche Bank….. This agreement represents a strategic move in the UK market place for G4S.”

Law firm Clyde & Co acted as advisor to G4S for the Deutsche vault project, and it too issued its own press release on 19 March 2012:

“Clyde & Co has advised global security and logistics company G4S in relation to a project for Deutsche Bank.

G4S will build and manage a gold bullion secure storage vault in the UK for Deutsche Bank.”

What none of the press releases mentioned was that the precious metal vault was being integrated into the basement of a new G4S operating centre in Park Royal, London.

Deutsche

As it turns out, Deutsche did not deliver on its self-publicised deadline for the new vault becoming available to its clients in 2013. However, on 9 June 2014, over 2 years after announcing the London vault project, a much reduced Deutsche Bank London precious metals business that had substantially stepped back from the London Gold Market, confirmed to Reuters that it had finally opened its new London precious metals vault. Note that Reuters is usually the first distribution channel that the London Gold Market PR machine contacts to get its stories out on to the newswires.

According to Reuters’ coverage of the June 2014 Deutsche opening announcement:

“Deutsche’s new vault has been built in partnership with logistics company G4S and is open to institutional investors, and commercial and central banks.”

The vault has a capacity of 1,500 tonnes, making it significantly bigger than a 200-tonne storage facility that the bank owns at the Singapore Freeport.

The period from late 2013 to early 2014 turned out to be a turbulent period for Deutsche Bank’s precious metals operations in London, during which time:

- German financial regulator BaFin began an investigation into the London Gold and Silver Fixings, of which Deutsche Bank was a fixing member (November 2013)

- Deutsche Bank announced that it would withdraw its participation in the London Gold and Silver Fixings and sell the Fixing seats (January 2014)

- Deutsche Bank ceased contributing to the GOFO benchmark and ceased being a LBMA market maker for precious metals forwards (February 2014)

- Deutsche Bank ‘failed to sell’ its gold and silver fixing seats (despite ICBC Standard Bank being interested), and Deutsche then merely resorted to withdrawing from the fixings (April/May 2014)

- Deutsche Bank’s Matthew Keen, who was a director of London Gold Market Fixing Limited (LGMFL), London Silver Market Fixing Limited (LSMFL), and  London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) resigned from Deutsche Bank, prompting the appointment of other Deutsche representatives to those company directorships (January 2014)

- Deutsche Bank’s representative on the London Bullion Market Association’s (LBMA) management committee, Ronan Donohoe, resigned from the LBMA management committee on 5 March 2014, only 7 months into a 2 year appointment (March 2014)

Given all the above retrenchments affecting its precious metals activities in London, it is slightly odd that Deutsche Bank still went ahead in June 2014 and announced the opening, at least in name, of its London precious metals vault collaboration with G4S. Perhaps it had a contractual obligation with G4S to do so.

But odder still is that less that 5 months after announcing the opening of the new vault, Deutsche Bank then stepped back even further by closing its physical precious metals trading operation in London in November 2014, and then announced in December 2014 that it would actually be interested in selling its London gold vault. This decision is beyond bizarre given the huge level of commitment that Deutsche Bank had made to the development of the vault for at least 4-5 years beginning in 2009.

As Reuters reported on 24 December 2014:

“Deutsche Bank is open to offers for its London-based gold vault following the closure of its physical precious metals business, three sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. ‘If the right offer came along, then the bank would sell the London vault,’ one source close to the situation said.

The German bank shut its physical precious metals trading arm last month as it further reduced its exposure to commodity markets.”

Deutsche declined to comment on the status of its vaulting operation.

 “…it could be difficult for Deutsche Bank to find buyers among its nearest peers. But sources familiar with the matter said a Chinese entity could come forward. ICBC is trying to build a presence in London and the sources said it was a likely candidate. ICBC declined to comment.”

The key question is did this Deutsche Bank vault in London, operated by G4S, ever do any precious metals business in the time between June 2014 and November 2014? If it did, then this activity could not have been substantial.

Deutsche Bank clients holding allocated gold and other precious metals with Deutsche in London would not have been impressed if they were told their holdings were being moved to the new vault in the summer of 2014, only to find out a few months later that Deutsche was looking to exit its involvement with the vault.

While the G4S / Deutsche vault sales process seemed to remain on hold for the entire year of 2015 with no announced activity from either Deutsche bank or ICBC, and no media scrutiny, Deutsche continued to exit the physical gold business in London amid a number of other significant developments. In August 2015, Deutsche departed from the London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) company, leaving HSBC, JP Morgan, Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays, and UBS as the remaining 5 members of the London gold and silver clearing consortium.

On 20 August 2015, Reuters reported that:

“Deutsche Bank is to sever its last link with commodity trading by resigning as a clearing member of the London gold and silver over-the-counter business..” [LPMCL]

It’s a little known fact that London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) (company number 04195299) is a UK private limited company with the same registered address as the London Gold Market Fixing Limited and the London Silver Market Fixing Company Limited. This registered address is C/O Hackwood Secretaries Limited, One Silk Street, London EC2Y 8HQ.  Indeed, Hackwood Secretaries Limited is the Company Secretary for LPMCL. Hackwood Secretaries Limited is one of the companies Linklaters uses to offer its company sectretariat services. And Linklaters is one of the better known ‘magic circle’ global law firms that is headquartered in London.

While LPMCL has so far managed to steer clear of US class actions suits concerning precious metals manipulation accusations, its fellow Linklater registered gold and silver fixing companies, London Gold Market Fixing Limited and the London Silver Market Fixing Company Limited, both of which have had a lot of the same directors as LPMCL, have not been so lucky on the class action front, and both companies are now facing live consolidated class action suits in New York courts.

Each member bank of LPMCL usually appoints two directors who are senior staff members of that investment bank. So with 6 investment banks within LPMCL, there are usually 11-12 LPMCL directors, give or take a few people who would invariably be moving bank at any given time.

Deutsche Bank’s two last-serving directors of LPMCL, Raj Kumar and David Mitchell-Innes, actually resigned from LPMCL on 9th February and 1st September 2015, respectively. The February 2015 LPMCL resignation by Kumar seems to have been precipitated by his internal move within Deutsche Bank for a short while to the role of Global COO for Commodities, but then significantly, Kumar left Deutsche Bank in July 2015 to take up a role in ICBC Standard Bank in September 2015 as a managing director in ICBC Standard’s  precious metals business, as Reuters reported on 17 September:

“London-based ICBC Standard Bank Plc named Raj Kumar head of its precious metals business development, effective immediately.

Kumar, who will be based in London, joins from Deutsche Bank AG, where he was managing director of precious metals business.”

 This Deutsche Bank – ICBC Standard Bank – LPMCL link in the form of Raj Kumar was undoubtedly useful to ICBC Standard in its move to take on Park Royal vault lease from Deutsche Bank, and could help facilitate ICBC Standard’s stance in an application to become a member of LPMCL.

However, the 20 August Reuters report also interestingly stated that Standard Chartered might be interested in becoming a LPMCL member:

“…there is one other bank, Standard Chartered, that could become a gold and silver clearing member in the next few months.”

Could this be a typo by Reuters when it meant to say Standard Bank? Possibly, but most likely not. Standard Chartered is an important bank in the London Gold Market in its role as a LBMA market maker in spot and options for gold and silver which it secured in February 2015. But Standard Bank is not to be confused with Standard Chartered bank. They are two entirely separate banking institutions, albeit with historical connections.

Standard Chartered is headquartered in London, and is well-known for its emerging markets focus, particularly in Asia and Africa. The ‘Standard’ in Standard Chartered in some ways does refer to the South African ‘Standard Bank’, since Standard Chartered was created in 1969 through the merger of Standard Bank of British South Africa and Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. However in 1987, Standard Chartered sold its shareholding in Standard Bank.

In another LPMCL related link that could involve Standard Chartered, Martyn Whitehead, former director of LPMCL for Barclays, left Barclays in May 2015, and joined Standard Chartered in August 2015, as MD and head of Commodity Sales.

In April 2015, Reuters said of Whitehead’s pending departure from Barclays:

“Barclays’ global head of metals and mining sales Martyn Whitehead will leave the bank as part of its restructuring and exit from some parts of its commodities business, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters on Monday.

Whitehead was Barclays’ only representative listed with London Precious Metals Clearing Ltd. Barclays is one of the six banks that organise and co-ordinate bullion clearing and vaulting in London.”

Therefore, could two former directors of LPMCL, namely Raj Kumar and Martyn Whitehead, now be spearheading applications on the part of their respective new employers, ICBC Standard Bank and Standard Chartered, to both join the private club that is London Precious Metals Clearing Limited, and have access to the exorbitant privilege of being part of the London Gold Market’s private gold clearing consortium, and preferential treatment form the Bank of England gold and foreign exchange desk?

Standard ICBC

ICBC

China’s largest bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), has been eager to become a premier player in the London Gold Market for some time now. Although it became an Ordinary Member of the LBMA in 2012, ICBC had stated in 2012 its desire to become a LBMA Market Making Member. ICBC was also interested in buying Deutsche Bank’s seat in the old Gold Fixing in 2014, but strangely this sale never happened. See my BullionStar blog “Chinese Banks as direct participants in the new LBMA Gold and Silver Price auctions? Not so fast!” from March 2015 under section “ICBC and Standard Bank” for more details on this.

One key development for ICBC was crystalised in February 2015,  when ICBC finalised its acquisition of 60% of Standard Bank Plc (the UK arm of Standard Bank) from Standard Bank of South Africa, to create the entity now known as ICBC Standard Bank. See also the press release ICBC completes acquisition of 60% of Standard Bank Plc 20150129. The LBMA website nows list ICBC Standard Bank as an Ordinary Member of the LBMA in lieu of listings for both ICBC and Standard Bank.

ICBC also stated in June 2015 that it wanted to become a direct participant in the LBMA Gold Price auction, but again strangely this has not yet happened despite 2 other Chinese banks, namely Bank of China and China Construction Bank (CCB), eventually being authorised by the LBMA to join up to the LBMA Gold Price auction on 22 June 2015 and 30 October 2015, respectively.

Prior to the controlling interest purchase by ICBC, Standard Bank was no stranger to London Gold Market gold vaulting, and a 2009 report from Abu Dahbi’s “The National” on United Arab Emirates related bullion stated that gold had:

“moved to the vaults of Standard Bank of South Africa, located in the London offices of JPMorgan Chase at 60 Victoria Embankment, Blackfriars, London.”

The ‘vaults of Standard Bank‘ reference just refers to allocated or sub-leased space in the JP Morgan vault in London in the name of Standard Bank of South Africa.

Finally, ICBC also has a strategic interest in the London platinum group metals market through Standard Bank Plc’s existing participation in the London Platinum and Palladium Market especially through the daily platinum and palladium fix auctions, which are now administered by the LME on behalf of the LBMA.

 

The Park Royal VAULT

As first revealed by Zerohedge in December 2014, the London precious metal vault that was built by G4S on behalf of Deutsche Bank is located at in the Park Royal area of London at 291 Abbey Road, London NW10 7SA.

This Park Royal location was actually telegraphed by G4S itself as early as July 2013 when ‘G4S Cash Solutions’ advertised for “Precious Metals Vault Officers” for the new vault in a job advert on the careers section of its own website, which listed the job location as ‘Park Royal, West London‘. Not really a very security conscious approach for whats purports to be one of the world’s foremost security companies. The job adverts included the following:

Precious Metals Vault Officers

Location: Park Royal, West London

Number of Positions: 16

Closing Date: November 2, 2013

G4S Cash Solutions, in partnership with one of the world’s leading financial institutions, is launching a Precious Metal Vault in West London.  The vault which has been created with innovative, state of the art design and technology is at the leading edge of the global bullion storage industry.

We are now recruiting an exceptional team of Precious Metal Vault Officers who will operate and secure our vault in this exciting, new venture.”

  • “responsible for processing all inbound, outbound and stock management transactions and movements of Precious Metals”
  • “The operation and use of a Vault Management System together with specialist Precious Metals equipment”
  • “The conduct of receipting, weighing and stowing of Precious Metals including their physical movement in and around the Vault “

Other roles at the new vault were also advertised on the G4S website, such as  “Vault Manager – Precious Metals” which included information such as:

Vault Manager – Precious Metals

Location: Park Royal

Number of Positions: 1

Closing Date: November 2, 2013               

G4S is the largest secure solutions company in the world…Our Cash Management Solutions business has expertise in cash and valuables transportation, cash processing, ATM and cash centre outsourcing, secure storage and retrieval.”

“Responsible for the management, security and operations of the precious metals vault including security and traceability of all assets entering and leaving the vault.”

  • “To work closely with internal management on the strategic global growth of our bullion projects; offering product, operational knowledge and LBMA expertise.”
  • “To train vault officers to ensure they are working within the LBMA / LPPM /  LPMCL guidelines…”  
  • A strong working knowledge of LBMA, LPPM and LPMCL codes of practice and proven experience of implementation of these codes
  •  ** Proven experience of working within a Precious Metal vault **
  • Proven experience of working within LBMA, LPPM and LPMCL codes of practice  (including weighing of bullion)”

 

…and a Weighmaster job role which included:

“Weighmaster

Location: Park Royal

Number of Positions: 1

Closing Date: December 31, 2015

 

  • Planning and implementing the conduct of receipting, weighing and stowing of precious metals including their physical movement in and around the vault
  • Planning for and implementing the conduct of picking, packing and shipping of precious metals including their physical movement in and around the vault

 

There were also similar job adverts on the G4S website for other positions at Park Royal including  “Precious Metals Shift Manager” (Positions: 4, closing date 31 October 2013), and “Secure Driver” (Positions:15, closing date 23 June 2014, “Deliver cash and valuables to various customers in a physically active role“).

Note that the closing date for the Secure Driver applicants was a few weeks after Deutsche Bank had announced on 6 June 2014 that it had opened the gold vault. So if the drivers hadn’t even been hired in June 2014 and probably not in July 2014 either, then there was nothing being moved in or out of the vault at that time, and there was most likely never any Deutsche Bank precious metals moved in or out of the G4S vault, which would also explain why, in December 2014, “Deutsche declined to comment on the status of its vaulting operation”, and would therefore make the vault an extremely bad and money losing investment decision for Deutsche Bank, as well as a bizarre business decision to commit substantially investment to the vault and then walk away from it 2 years later. 

From July to August 2013, G4S even tweeted about these Park Royal roles on its Twitter account and stated the locations of the jobs roles and locations, for example, for “Vault Manager – Precious Metals in Park Royal“.

Not only that, but G4S even advertised these precious metals vault positions to the world on Facebook, complete with the specification of the Park Royal location.

Park Royal

Where is Park Royal? Most people in London, if they know Park Royal at all, would recognise the name as a tube station (train station) and as an area of North West London. Park Royal is just off the North Circular Road, in an industrial area, frequently congested with traffic, just down the road from Hanger Lane roundabout, another often traffic gridlocked area. But as the crow flies, Park Royal is not too far from Heathrow Airport, or the M25 ring-road, or Central London.

As well as telegraphing the general Park Royal area where the new vault was to be built, G4S also went further and specified the exact address of the new operating centre in a planning application document available on the web, conveniently pinpointing the vault building location in this large industrial sprawl, chock full of industrial parks and warehouses:

OFFICE OF THE TRAFFIC COMMISSIONER (LONDON AND THE SOUTH EAST OF ENGLAND) APPLICATIONS AND DECISIONS       PUBLICATION DATE: 06 March 2014

Page 13 of document: Reference Number OK0229598 SI

G4S CASH SOLUTIONS (UK) LIMITED

Director(s): KEVIN O’CONNOR, Margaret Ann Ryan, Declan Hunt.

SUTTON PARK HOUSE, 15 CARSHALTON ROAD , SUTTON SM1 4LD

New operating centre: PARK ROYAL, 291 ABBEY ROAD LONDON NW10 7SA

New authorisation at this operating centre will be: 45 vehicle(s), 0 trailer(s)

In this case, the planning reference was referencing an increase in the number of vehicles allowed on the site. However, the more interesting planning applications are to be found not in the Office of the Traffic Commissioner, but in the website of Brent Council. These plans give a good overview of some of the details of the basement and vault that ICBC Standard Bank has just taken on the long-term lease for.

Park Royal tube

Planning applications for 291 Abbey Road NW10 7SA

The Park Royal area, including 291 Abbey Road NW10 7SA, is under the remit of Brent Council Borough of London. Brent Council planning applications are available on the Brent Council Planning web site. On the Brent Council web site, there are 5 planning application ‘Case Numbers’ for 219 Abbey Road NW10 7SA submitted since 2012. The sequential nature of there being 5 case numbers just means that after the initial application was made, various details of the application were amended, which necessitated the applicant making subsequent submissions to the Council requesting the changes. This allows the amended plans of the G4S development to be compared to the initial plans. Each of the 5 applications have multiple scanned documents uploaded and attached to the applications.

Case Number 12/2112:  This is the original planning application

Erection of new 2-storey storage facility (Use Class B8)”. Use Class B8 means Distribution or Storage. B8 building use is for storage or as a distribution centre. This application was submitted on 9 August 2012, and the application was granted on 9 November 2012.

Applicant: S Williams, G4S, Sutton House, 15 Carshalton Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 4LD

Architects: Pick Everard, Leicester

Pick Everard architectural practice describes itself on its website as “a leading independent, multi-professional consultancy practice working within the property, infrastructure and construction industry.

There are a number documents in the Case Number 12/2112 planning application, the most interesting of which is the initial floor plan diagram of the construction project: Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 105 B Typical floor plans and sections.

Notice that on the diagram, there is a square-shaped basement specified on the floor plans, listed as ‘Basement Storage’, and this basement is specified as 1178 square metres. This 1178 sq mt space is approximately 34 metres * 34 metres. Furthermore, the ground floor level is listed as “Industrial Warehouse”, 1132 sq metres, with “Vehicle Loading Bays” at the rear, and the 2nd Floor level is listed as “Offices”.

On 20 September 2012,  the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) published the following guidelines on the location of new precious metals vaults in London: Best Practice Guidelines Used by ‘Loco London’ Vaults – Opening a new vault for the storage of precious metals, in which it stated:

If you wish to store the higher value precious metals then you may find that insurers insist that your vaults are subterranean.

It appears that these guidelines were specifically written for Deutsche Bank and G4S to follow since they were the only parties submitting a planning application for a new precious metals vault in London at that time, and the dates fit exactly. Case Number 12/2112 also includes an initial site location plan Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 001 J Site Location Plan showing an overview of the site, with car park at front, building in the middle with truck loading bays at the back of the buildings, and truck parking at the rear of the site.

Case number 12/3371: Some small extra details

Case 12/3371 is just an application containing extra details about construction materials etc and security gates, barriers etc. This application was submitted on 18 December 2012, and granted on 12 February 2013.

Case Number 12/3344: Some small extra details

Case 12/3344 just covers some extra details such as car park spaces at the front of the site, for 32 cars, 30 staff/visitor spaces, and 2 disabled spaces. That application was submitted on December 2012, and granted on 13 February 2013.

Case Number 13/0722: Some important revisions to the Project, including a reduction in the size of the Basement

Case Number 13/0722 is interesting in that it included a reduction in the size of the basement from 1178 sq metres in the original application, to 750 sq metres. This application was submitted on 25 March 2013, and granted on 22 April 2013.

The accompanying Delegated Report specified a “Non-material amendment application to: (a) reduce basement area, and other changes such as (e) alterations to fencing, (f) reduction in number of vehicle loading bay shutters from 6 to 5.

“It is proposed to reduce the size of the basement from 1178sqm (as approved) to 750sqm. This is below ground level and will not have a material impact.”

Applicant: Stacy Williams, G4S, Sutton House, 15 Carshalton Road, Sutton, Surrey, SM1 4LD

In the revised floor plan Project Park Royal – Document 120437 A 105 C Typical floor plans and sections, the basement, still listed as ‘Basement Storage’, has been remodelled as a rectangular space and reduced in size to 750 square metres from 1178 sq metres, i.e. a reduction of 428 square metres compared to the original submission. This new 750 sq metre size, as a rectangular area, is roughly 19 metres * 38 metres. See revised floor plans.  While a smaller basement does not necessarily mean a smaller vault, the basement size was more than likely reduced specifically because the vault size had been reduced.

If this was the case, then its possible that Deutsche Bank communicated to G4S that the vault size was to be reduced due to gold bullion exiting London for Asia (via Switzerland) in 2012 and especially during early 2013, and a fear that the previous planned size for the vault would be too big for the intended London bullion activity requirements.

The floor plan diagram specifying the reduced basement was actually created on 26 April 2013, which is coincidentally the week following the historic two-day gold price smash that occurred over Friday 13th and Monday 16th April 2013.  Said another way, the amended planning application which specified the basement size reduction was submitted 2 weeks before the historic gold price smash of 13-16 April 2013, and the application amendment to the floor plans was granted the week after the historic gold price smash of 13-16 April 2013.

When the Deutsche/G4S vault opened in June 2014, Reuters reported that the vault’s capacity was 1,500 tonnes of gold. It’s not clear if this capacity statistic was the capacity from a larger vault that would have been in the larger basement area, i.e. 1178 sq mtrs, which a source may have supplied to Reuters at an earlier time, or whether it referred to a smaller vault within the smaller and revised 750 sq mtr basement area. For if the vault can now hold 1,500 tonnes of gold within a smaller basement, the original basement, being 57% larger, may have been designed to hold in excess of 2,300 tonnes of gold.

It’s either a fortunate or unfortunate set of timings that Deutsche/G4S applied to reduce the size of one of the largest ever precious metals vaults in London within a few weeks of the gold price being critically injured by huge gold futures contract short trading over the 13-16 April 2013 period. It would be interesting to know who made the decision to reduce the area of the basement, and on what rationale this decision was based.

Again, as to how much precious metal, if any, Deutsche Bank ever processed or held in the Park Royal vault is debatable, since a) the vault was not operational until June 2014 and b) Deutsche Bank  was rapidly exiting the London Gold Market at that time. It therefore makes this LinkedIn profile of the person who actually performed the job of Precious Metals Manager at the vault all the more interesting,  a role which is stated to have lasted from December 2013 to May 2015, but a profile in which the references to physically related precious metal activities just refer to the job spec bullet points, and the achievements listed predominantly concern the vault and not the contents of the vault.

G4S spec

Likewise, the ‘Bullion Operations Manager‘ at the G4S vault, a vault which was exclusively for Deutsche’s clients, must have seen fallow periods in which no metal passed over the vault’s threshold with the LinkedIn profile predominantly listing job spec bullet points. However, interestingly, the profile refers to ‘Leasing with [a] major financial corporation to ensure compliance to contractual agreements‘, so there were, as would be the case, contractual agreements between Deutsche and G4S. On the Deutsche side, these contractual agreements  would raise the question of what penalties, if any, Deutsche Bank incurred in exiting contractual obligations with G4S, and whether Deutsche would have received a get-out exemption by delivering ICBC Standard Bank as the willing recipient of the vault lease.

G4S bullion

 

 Galliford Try

The planning applications submitted to Brent Council also include a “Method Statement & Logistics Plan” report written by the construction contractor Galliford Try for the project. On its website, Gallilford Try describes its Construction division as “a leading construction company, carrying out building and infrastructure works across the UK.

Galliford Try’s Method Statement & Logistics Plan report, which is useful as a comparison benchmark to the actual construction that was completed, reckoned that the construction would take 50 weeks to complete, which probably explains why the vault and building was only complete in mid-2014, given that the amended planning application was only granted by Brent Council on 22 April 2013. It still however does not help in explaining why Deutsche Bank initially thought in 2012 that the vault would be ready for its clients to use in 2013.

Crucially, page 4 of the Galliford Try report, in a section titled “Internal Finishes (weeks 27-50)“, sub-section “Basement (weeks 26 -40)“, confirms that “Once the ceiling grid works have been completed the steel / vault doors will be installed“, which proves beyond doubt that the vault is located in the basement of the G4S operating centre. There are also kitchen and toilet areas in the basement as per other London subterranean precious metals vaults.

On page 3, when discussing the basement excavation and basement concrete slab floor, it also states that  “Pockets will be formed in the floor for the fitting of the security doors etc“, and that “the lift pits…will be installed.”

GT1

From page 2:

GT2

From page 3:

GT3

From page 4:

GT4

The Park Royal site on which G4S built the operating centre and vault was first put on the market in November 2011 by Clay Street Property Consultants. The site occupies 1.89 acres and was sold (presumably to a G4S related company) in April 2012 for £4.5 million:

  • 291 Abbey Road & 2-4 Penny Road, Park Royal , London
  • Marketed in November 2011 the 1.89 acre site attracted a broad range of interest including institutional investors, property companies, developers and owner occupiers.
  • Securing 15 bids all at in excess of the asking price the site was sold in April 2012 to an owner occupier for £4,500,000 reflecting a price of £2.38m per acre.

A Google Earth image from July 2013  shows the site with the new development in full flight, and the construction of the basement in progress, and so allows a determination of whether the construction was following the last set of plans approved by Brent Council:

July 2013
Google Earth July 2013

 

Zooming in on the construction of the basement area from July 2013, the image shows the rectangular darker area where the vault was being positioned, and the lift-pits to the right of the image, one lift shaft at the front, and two towards the rear, which would be adjacent to the truck loading bays. This shape is very much in keeping with the basement size reduction to 750 square metres in the ultimate set of plans approved by Brent Council.

Basement Excavation - July 2013
Basement Excavation – July 2013

 

Finally, a Google Earth image from June 2015 shows an aerial view of the completed G4S development.

June 2015
Google Earth June 2015

 

Conclusion

The hasty exit of Deutsche Bank from the London Gold Market has never been adequately explained by the media. It remains an elephant in the room that the mainstream media does not seem to want to touch. The composition and operating mechanisms of the private LPMCL club is also another elephant in the room that mainstream media journalists have never adequately analysed and are unlikely to do so.

Now that ICBC Standard Bank has taken on the remaining term of the 10 year G4S lease that was vacated by Deutsche Bank, the key questions for ICBC are to what use will the state-controlled Chinese bank put this precious metals vault to, and whether the 5 incumbent LPMCL members will formally (along with the Bank of England informally) give the go-ahead to allow ICBC become a member of the private syndicate that is London Precious Metals Clearing Limited. The other outstanding question is whether Standard Chartered will also be involved in any extension of membership of LPMCL.

Another little appreciated fact is that during the pitches for the replacements to the Gold Fixing and Silver Fixing auctions, most of the exchanges and companies making the pitches, such as, CME, LME, ICE, all offered working solutions that included centralised on-exchange clearing of precious metals for the London Gold and Silver Markets. These solutions were even included in the various presentation materials of CME, ICE and LME, and made it into market presentations and press releases etc, however, the LBMA and its various associated accomplishes such as the LPMCL, pushed back completely on any part of solution that would have encroached on the existing LMPCL clearing mechanism.

The question of why LMPCL was so ‘precious’ that it needed protection from a transparent on-exchange clearing platform is also a question that mainstream financial journalists seem to have entirely missed. I will write a future blog post on LPMCL so as to shed some light on this thoroughly protected private syndicate of bullion bank clearers.

 

Chinese Banks as direct participants in the new LBMA Gold and Silver Price auctions? Not so fast!

There is a growing assumption in the financial media that a number of Chinese banks will be joining the new LBMA Gold Price auction as direct participants when the auction launches in London on Friday 20th March. This assumption is based on various sources, but primarily on a number of general comments made by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) in February, and also some comments made by the LBMA last October.

ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA), the administrator for the LBMA Gold Price, issued a press release on 2nd February in which the Chief Executive of the LBMA, Ruth Crowell said:

“I’m delighted to see a high level of interested participants for the March launch. The intention and the interest has been very positive and creates a more diverse pool of participants which includes Chinese banks. We look forward to having enhanced numbers of participants for day one for the LBMA Gold Price.”

ringin the bell

There are, however, a number of dangers in assuming that some of the Chinese banks will be direct participants in the new gold auction at launch date, not least of which is that the identities of the direct participants will only be revealed on 20th March, but also the fact that the LBMA’s comments above didn’t specifically say that Chinese banks will be direct participants on launch date. The LBMA’s comments merely said that Chinese banks were interested in participating in the auction.

ICE Benchmark has just published an FAQ document on its website, and in answer to “Who are the direct participants in the auction?”, it states “direct participants will be announced on the day of launch.” Note that the LBMA refers to the entities that will participate at launch date as ‘phase one participants’.

Indeed, the vague nature of the reference to Chinese banks in the 2nd February press release forced the major financial media outlets to be non-committal about the Chinese banks as direct participants on launch date.

For example, on 2nd February 2015, Bloomberg published an article titled “Chinese Banks in Talks to Take Part in Gold Fix Replacement”, in which it stated that:

‘There’s a “more diverse pool” of participants, including from China, interested in being part of the LBMA Gold Price, Ruth Crowell, chief executive of the London Bullion Market Association, said in a statement Monday. The LBMA declined to comment on the number and names of those in talks for the new mechanism that will start in March.’

The Financial Times was slightly more definitive with its guesstimate in an article, also published on 2nd February (subscription), titled “Chinese banks to join new gold fix from March”, in which it said:

“The replacement for the near-century-old London gold fix will start in March, with the hope of attracting at least 11 members, including Chinese banks for the first time.”

“The presence of Chinese banks would give the world’s second-largest consumer of the precious metal a greater say in the global gold price.”

Direct Participants

There is also a danger in assuming that the LBMA’s use of the word ‘participant‘ refers to ‘direct participant in the auction‘, although it’s totally understandable that most people would make this assumption. As is often the case, the LBMA’s communications and press release language leaves a lot to be desired when addressing anything to do with the gold and silver fixings, and needs to be read and interpreted carefully. Furthermore, in my view, neither the LBMA nor ICE have publicised and explained the concept of direct participant properly.

Therefore, many commentators on the new Gold Price auction don’t seem to realise that there is a difference between being a direct participant in the auction and another type of participant in the auction. At the end of the day, this other type of ‘participant’ is basically just a client of a direct participant.

Although ICE says in its FAQ document that “the auction is designed to allow as broad participation as possible”, it does not elaborate.

Where it does elaborate is in the executive summary of its proposal that it used in October to secure the administration of the new Gold Price auction. Here, ICE states that one of the key advantages of its offering is:

“A fair and sustainable fee structure, designed to encourage direct participation from a diverse cross-section of market participants and broad use of the price as a benchmark.”

We have designed our commercial model to promote direct participation in the fixing process and broad usage of the benchmark. And, in designing the commercial model, we have considered the particular nature of the London Gold Fix and its usage in the financial markets.”

It goes on to say:

Traditional clients such as miners, refiners, jewelers and central banks can choose to become a direct participant and deal anonymously in the gold auction. Alternatively, if sponsored by a direct participant, they can be given their own screens and manage their own positions by trading through their sponsor.”

“One of the key benefits of WebICE is its ability to allow clients to participate in the auction process with the same information and order management capabilities as the direct participants. This reduces both operational and regulatory risk for direct participants, even before increasing the number of direct participants or moving to a centrally cleared model.

Interestingly, ICE reveals its view that even though the Gold price auction will not at this time use a centrally cleared model, this should not require the use of credit lines because until a centrally cleared model is introduced, “weaker credit names can be accommodated via pre-collateralisation.” The concept of credit lines is explained below and is another example of where the LBMA has avoided explaining the concept to the global gold public.

On its web site, ICE Benchmark Administration touches on the concept of sponsored clients:

Clients managing their own orders, sponsored by a direct participant – direct participants can choose to provide WebICE screens to their clients, allowing them to enter orders directly into the auction (orders still route through their sponsor/direct participant)….When client orders trade, their counterparty will always be their sponsoring direct participant.”

ICBC London
ICBC London
Bank of China, ICBC and China Construction Bank

At this point it’s worth highlighting that there are only three Chinese banks that could realistically become direct participants in the new LBMA Gold Price auction right now, namely, Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and China Construction Bank (CCB). Bank of China is a commercial bank and should not to be confused with the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) which is the Chinese central bank.

The reason why only Bank of China, ICBC and China Construction Bank can join the Gold Price auction as direct participants is that these are the only three Chinese banks that are ‘Full’ members of the LBMA, and the LBMA, at a minimum, will not allow any non LBMA members to participate in the auctions as direct participants.

These three Chinese banks have full membership due to being ‘Ordinary’ members of the LBMA. The other category of full membership of the LBMA is of course the LBMA market makers, or which there are currently fourteen of these.

As explained below, these three Chinese banks qualify for directly participating in the recently launched LBMA Silver Price auction, so the Silver Price participant criteria are a good proxy by which to measure the eligibility of the Chinese banks to be direct participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction.

There are of course other giant Chinese banks that are major players in the gold market, such as Bank of Communications and Agricultural Bank of China, however, as they are not LBMA members or even LBMA associates, they would not be able to qualify to be direct participants under the LBMA’s strict and exclusionary auction participant rules.

LBMA Silver Price bait and switch operation

As a quick recap, the current scandal ridden London Gold Fixing which is being discontinued from 19th March is still, at the time of writing, being run twice daily by Barclays (who was fined by the FCA for manipulating the gold price in 2012 during the Gold Fixing),  HSBC, The Bank of Nova Scotia, and Société Générale. In April 2014, Deutsche Bank, which also held a seat in the Gold Fixing, resigned from the Fixing and renounced its fixing seat as of mid May 2014.

Deutsche bank then gave up its seat in the Silver Fixing on 14th August. When the new LBMA Silver Price auction was launched on 15th August last year (administered by Thomson Reuters with CME Group as the auction calculation agent), there were only three initial participants, namely, the HSBC Bank USA NA, Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotia Mocatta) and Mitsui & Co Precious Metals Inc.

Two of these participants, HSBC and Scotia, had been the incumbent members of the triumvirate London Silver Market Fixing Limited company, along with Deutsche Bank. Mitsui, the Japanese bank, in some ways just took the place of Deutsche Bank, or at least, that is how it was viewed in the media.

Despite misleading claims from the LBMA on August 15th that it “fully expects the list of price participants will grow over the coming weeksand that “these participants include banks, trading houses, refiners and producers”, this wider cross-sectional direct participation in the Silver auction never happened.

In a very low-key on-boarding process, only three additional entities joined the new Silver auction following the launch on 15th August, and all three of these entities were bullion banks that joined without the fanfare of press releases from the LBMA or press releases from the banks in question.

UBS joined the Silver auction on 26th SeptemberJP Morgan Chase Bank joined the Silver auction on 14th October, and The Toronto Dominion Bank joined the auction on 6th November.

What’s very interesting about these six banks is that they are all represented on the LBMA’s 10 person Management Committee.

The current Management Committee of the LBMA consist of Grant Agwin of Johnson Matthey (Chairman), Steven Lowe of Bank of Nova Scotia-ScotiaMocatta (Vice-Chairman), Peter Drabwell of HSBC Bank USA NA, Kevin Roberts of JP Morgan Chase Bank, Philip Aubertin of UBS AG, Robert Davis of Toronto Dominion Bank, Jeremy East of Standard Chartered Bank, Simon Churchill of Brinks Ltd, and Ruth Crowell (Chief Executive).

Note: Anne Dennison of Mitsui was appointed as a director of the LBMA on 25th September 2014, but then this appointment was terminated on 20th December 2014.

Readers may wonder if some or all of these six bullion banks were pre-selected or encouraged to participate by the LBMA even before the LBMA Silver Price auction was launched in August. The answer to that would be a definitive ‘Yes’, since, from as early as July 2014, the LBMA and the CME Group had already identified a group of 6 to 7 bullion bank ‘first tier participants’ that they had agreed would be the initial pipeline of benchmark participants to receive LBMA accreditation to take part in the new Silver auction.

This information was conveyed by CME to the London silver market during the CME’s pre-launch information and training sessions. As for wider silver market participation in the auction, this was never part of the phase 1 plan for the silver auction. Phase 2 of the Silver auction using a central counterparty clearing system was also quietly dropped by the LBMA and CME Group despite initial lip-service claiming such as a development was on the immediate horizon.

On 14th August 2014, a day before the Silver Price auction go-live, Reuters ran an article stating that while UBS was looking at the possibility of joining the Silver auction, the other giant Swiss Bank, Credit Suisse, would definitely be joining the auction:

Credit Suisse said on Thursday (August 13) that it would be taking part in the new process, while UBS said in an email that “it is currently evaluating the feasibility of becoming an auction member in the near future.”

In the end, UBS joined but Credit Suisse seems to have had a change of mind.

What are the chances that all six participants that did join the LBMA Silver Price auction would all be bullion banks that are represented on the LBMA Management Committee? Or said another way, what are the chances that six of the seven banks represented on the LBMA Management Committee (apart from Standard Chartered) would end up as the only participants in the new LBMA Silver Price auction? In a random world, the chances of that would be remarkably small.

China Construction CCB

“From a Controls Perspective”

Keeping in mind the above silver auction participant list of banks and this statistically improbable overlap with the make-up of the LBMA Management Committee, the Financial Times (subscription) published an interview with LBMA CEO Ruth Crowell on Monday 13th October 2014,  in which she said that:

several Chinese banks were also interested in joining the Silver Price alongside JP Morgan, HSBC, UBS, Mitsui & Co Precious Metals, and the Bank of Nova Scotia.”

Crowell told the FT that:

It will take some time from a controls perspective for them [Chinese banks] to get where they need to be. But I would imagine they will look to do both gold and silver simultaneously,” said Mrs Crowell. “It will make the London market that much more international.”

As to how much time equals ‘some time’, or what ‘controls perspective’ referred to, Crowell did not elaborate. As discussed below, there are no criteria from a ‘control perspective’ that the large Chinese bank members of the LBMA would not qualify under to participate directly in the gold and silver auctions.

However, it’s notable above that there was an LBMA view that the Chinese participants would join both the Gold and Silver Price auctions at the same time.

On Tuesday 14th October, the day after the above FT interview was published, the Bullion Desk also published an article about the interest by the Chinese banks in the new London daily fixings, in which it stated:

Several Chinese banks are set to join the London Bullion Market Association’s (LBMA) gold and silver pricing benchmarks, with a spokesman indicating that they are simply waiting for the administration to be decided.

A handful of Chinese banks indicated to LBMA chief executive Ruth Crowell during a recent visit to China that they would like to take part in the daily silver pricing benchmarks, the spokesman said.

The interested parties are, however, waiting to discover who will be awarded the administration of the gold pricing benchmark before also taking part in the twice-daily gold pricing sessions, he added.”

The Bullion Desk article again refers to the Chinese wanting to participate in both the Silver and Gold daily auctions, but even more interestingly, it appears that the Chinese banks placed a high value on knowing which administrator was going to run the Gold Price auction.

Its unclear why the Chinese would be so concerned about the identity of the auction administrator. It’s possible they did not approve of one administrator i.e. CME Group, running both auctions. It may also have been a red-herring on the part of the LBMA to raise this as an issue, however now that this information is known, i.e. ICE Benchmark Administration, it would be interesting to know how the Chinese view this outcome.

Finally, in the same week, on Friday 17th October 2014, in an interview with Metal Bulletin (subscription) titled ‘LBMA chief on the new era of precious benchmarking’, LBMA CEO Ruth Crowell said:

“Among those that are interested in participating in the discovery processes are several Chinese banks that the LBMA recently met in China.

These were initially interested in contributing to gold price discovery, but then said they would like to get involved in the silver process, Crowell said.

“It’s been very welcome to see that quite a few banks in China are very interested in taking part. They said they definitely wanted to be there on day one for gold and that they’d look to get involved in silver as well,” she added.

“We spoke about what we did with regard to silver and how we had started the process for gold, so the natural question was, well, will it be more open? There will be more participation. There will be levels of transparency [in gold] that you are seeing with the silver auction,” she said.”

So, the LBMA has gone on record as stating that the Chinese ‘definitely’ want to be participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction on Day one (which is 20th March 2015).

mao

Chairperson Who?

If the Chinese had indeed been curious as to which administrator would be chosen to run the Gold Price auction, perhaps they will be curious about the fact that ICE Benchmark Administration has just announced that over the short-term, it is planning to employ a human (as opposed to an automated) chairperson in the daily Gold Price auctions. However, ICE will not reveal at this time who they have selected as this chairperson. The identity of the chairperson will only be revealed on launch day, 20th March.

The chairperson’s role in the auctions is to “set the starting price and the price for each round based on a set of rules that will be pre-determined and publicly available.”

ICE Benchmark Administration (IBA) state that:

IBA has appointed a chairperson for Day 1. In due course, IBA will evaluate developing an algorithm, in consultation with the market. The chairperson has extensive experience in the gold market, and is appointed by IBA and therefore independent of the auction process.”

Again, to reiterate, ICE will not reveal publicly until launch day as to who this chairperson is. With “extensive experience in the gold market”, it would be unfortunate and probably unacceptable to many entities in the wider global gold market (including the Chinese banks) if this chairperson (for example former Barclays director of the London Gold Market Fixing Limited Jonathan Spall), was closely connected to the LBMA or closely connected to one of the LBMA bullion banks or the soon to be discontinued Gold Fixing, since that would not demonstrate the degree of  independence that IBA is claiming.

Spall
Jonathan Spall, ex Barclays
The Participant Criteria

The main requirement for Bank of China, ICBC and China Construction Bank in becoming participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction at launch on Day 1 would be for them to meet the LBMA’s Participant criteria as well as ICE Benchmark Administration’s Participation criteria.

Given that the LBMA and IBA have not yet published these Gold Price auction criteria in the form of a methodology guide, the best approach right now is to look at how the Chinese banks would fulfill the participant and participation criteria that were formulated in July/August 2014 for the LBMA Silver Price auction. Since, as explained above, the Chinese banks actively want to participate in the daily Silver Price auction, they will have to go through this application process anyway.

Additionally, the Silver Price accreditation criteria can be assumed to be very similar to the criteria of the Gold Price auction since the two auction processes are basically identical.

In August 2014  a document titled Commodities Benchmark Methodologies: LBMA Silver Price was published under the name of Thomson Reuters, the administrator of the LBMA Silver Price benchmark. This methodology guide was jointly written by the LBMA, Thomson Reuters, and the CME Group and discusses the methodology that the three partners have established for the silver price benchmark, including the criteria that qualifies an applicant to be authorised as a silver auction participant.

This LBMA Silver Price Methodology document states that:

Participation in the auction is open to all silver market participants who meet the following conditions:

- meet the Benchmark Participant criteria set out by the LBMA

- meet the Participation criteria set out by Thomson Reuters as the Administrator

- meet the requirements set by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd to use the technology platform and participate in the auction market place.

The market participants are accredited by the LBMA; access to the auction platform is approved by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd.

It’s critical to note that these three sets of criteria/requirements are the official basis under which the LBMA plays the role of gatekeeper in deciding which applicants to allow to join the Silver Price auction process, and which to keep out. It’s also important to note the distinction between participant criteria and participation criteria:

And now the most important part. The LBMA’s Benchmark Participant criteria for the Silver auction are as follows:

  • A participant has to be a Full Member (Ordinary or Market Making) of the LBMA.
  • The participant also needs to have a Loco London Clearing account
  • Applications are subject to review and ultimate approval by LBMA
  • The participant has to accept and implement the Thomson Reuters LBMA Silver Price Participant Code of Conduct
  • Participation is additionally subject to the requirements set by CME Benchmark Europe Ltd for use of the technology platform and for participation in the auction (e.g., in respect of credit arrangements)
Meeting the Criteria

All three Chinese banks, i.e. Bank of China, ICBC, and China Construction Bank are already Ordinary members of the LBMA. Bank of China has been an ordinary member of the LBMA since at least 1999. See LBMA member list here from August 1999. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) became an ordinary member of the LBMA in late 2011. On 7th October 2014, China Construction Bank was admitted as an Ordinary member of the LBMA.

So, all three Chinese banks, as Ordinary members of the LBMA, are also Full members of the LBMA, and therefore fulfill the first criterion to be direct participants in the auction.

By definition, to become an Ordinary member of the LBMA  “members must be companies or organisations which are actively involved in the London bullion market. For entities which trade, this means trading gold or silver bullion or related derivatives such as forwards and options in the loco London market.” Additionally an Ordinary member, when trading bullion and derivatives has to trade “in the loco London market with at least three existing members.”

So, given that the three Chinese banks are Ordinary members of the LBMA, by definition they trade, settle and clear gold and silver in the loco London market and by definition they maintain loco London clearing accounts. This fulfills the second criterion for direct participation in the auctions.

All Full members of the LBMA (Ordinary and Market Making members) have to pass ‘know your customer’ (KYC) procedures and ‘declare conformance with the Non-Investment Products Code’ before being accepted as members. Again, by definition, the three Chinese banks fulfill these requirements also since they are already Ordinary members.

Therefore, to become direct participants in the auction, the three Chinese banks would just need to receive LBMA approval and sign up to the ICE auction platform and its participation criteria, which would essentially refer to adopting something that could be called the Gold Price Participant ‘Code of Conduct’, which is just a subset of IOSCO benchmark principles that specifically address ‘code of conduct’.

In the IOSCO Principles, there is a “Submitter Code of Conduct”, which states:

“The Administrator should develop guidelines for Submitters (“Submitter Code of Conduct”), which should be available to any relevant Regulatory Authorities, if any and Published or Made Available to Stakeholders.”

And given that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has decided very recently that the participants in the Silver and Gold Price auctions are not even defined as submitters, then the codes of conduct are even less severe than, for example, in the new LIBOR process. Adhering to the Code of Conduct just allows the administrator (IBA) to maintain a set of internal controls in the auction platform that allows for the collection of the price inputs in an IOSCO compliant way.

In summary, there is nothing in the LBMA participant criteria or administrator participation criteria to exclude Bank of China, ICBC and China Construction bank from being direct participants in the LBMA Gold Price and Silver Price auctions.

One final point on this matter is that the new gold and silver auctions, like the old gold and silver fixing auctions, make use of bilateral credit lines between all of the auction participants. What this means is that to participate in the auctions, an entity has to have large credit lines set up with all other participating entities, which essentially creates a mutual pool of credit, and all the participants share this pool of credit.

The LBMA could easily have introduced a central clearing platform for the trades in the new auctions so as to have prevented the need for large credit lines (both the ICE and the CME systems allowed this, as did the LME solution), but the bullion banks chose to ignore this solution, and are conveniently using the need for credit lines as an excuse to keep out smaller participants who might want to participate directly, such as refiners, miners etc but who do not have credit lines established.

It also conveniently protects  and ring-fences the London Precious Metal Clearing Company’s AURUM unallocated metal clearing platform which is another critical point, but beyond the scope of this current discussion.

Again however, the large Chinese banks would have no problem running large credit lines with the other bullion bank participants, since Bank of China, ICBC and China Construction are some of the largest banks in the world with very high investment grade credit ratings and strong tier 1 capital ratios.

SGE ceremony

 The Big 3 in London

Let’s look at the three Chinese banks that are Full Members of the LBMA, i.e. Bank of China, ICBC, and China Construction.

All three of these Chinese banks have their UK headquarters in the City of London, near the Bank of England and incidentally very near the LBMA’s offices also. Bank of China is at 1 Lothbury, China Construction is at 111 Old Broad Street, and ICBC is at 81 King William Street. These three locations form a triangle, and are literally 5 minutes walk from each other, and coincidentally, the LBMA offices at Royal Exchange Buildings are right at the heart of this triangle.

China Construction Bank

China Construction Bank became an ordinary member of the LBMA on 7th October 2014, and is classified by the LBMA as a bank entity (as opposed to a broker) and is categorised under country classification of China. China Construction’s headquarters is in Beijing.

China Construction Bank (London) Ltd had been based at Heron Quays in Canary Wharf (east of the City) but in June 2014, the Bank purchased a building at 111 Old Broad Street, in the City (of London) to use as its new European headquarters.

On its London website, China Construction Bank (CCB) states that:

“We are also active in money market business and provide a Euro time zone platform for CCB’s foreign exchange and precious metal trading.

CCB is active in the offshore RMB market and in 2012 received the designation as the “first clearing bank outside Asia for the Chinese currency”. In June 2014, CCB was also designated by the Chinese central bank as the London RMB clearing bank. CCB London is the 2nd largest Chinese bank in the UK.

In 2013, CCB was ranked 5th in the “Top 1000 World Banks” by the Banker Magazine, and ranked as 2nd by the Banker in 2014.

There are two CCB entities in the UK, China Construction Bank (London) Limited, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority effective from 09/03/2009, and China Construction Bank Corporation London Branch regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority effective from 22/12/2014

Both CCB entities are permitted to arrange, deal and transact in investments in the UK including commodities.

Although China Construction Bank Corporation was authorised by the FCA and PRA on Monday 22nd December, it only announced this authorisation in a press release on 2nd February 2015,

“On 22 December 2014, the UK’s Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) officially approved the establishment of China Construction Bank Corporation, London Branch…..  Concurrently, the application for a Whole-firm Liquidity Modification waiver for the branch has been approved.”

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)

ICBC is an Ordinary Member of the LBMA and was admitted as an ordinary (Full) member of the LBMA in late 2012. See press release 23rd December 2012. ICBC is classified by the LBMA as a bank, and is categorised under country China, with its headquarters in Beijing.

On its London website, in a December 2012 press release titled “ICBC Is the First Chinese Bank to Quote Precious Metal Prices and Match Deals in Global Market“, the Bank states that:

ICBC provides real-time prices to worldwide buyers and sellers of precious metals including gold or silver in Beijing, London and New York round the clock.

ICBC also runs two main UK entities  ICBC (London) plc, regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority effective 01/04/2013, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited, regulated by the FCA and PRA effective 08/09/2014. Both entities are permitted to arrange, deal and transact in investments in the UK including commodities.

Lothbury

Bank of China

Bank of China is a Full ordinary member of the LBMA, is classified as a bank by the LBMA, and interestingly, in the LBMA schema is categorised by the LBMA under country UK, and not China. Its Headquarters is 1 Lothbury, which is the street behind the Bank of England. Bank of China issued RMB bonds though its London branch in January 2014. This followed similar RMB issuance from ICBC and CCB.

Bank of China has been an ordinary member of the LBMA since the 1990s. On its London website it states:

“The major currencies that we can provide for FX spot are: Australian Dollar (AUD), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Swiss Franc (CHF), Chinese Renminbi (RMB)….etc…etc… Swedish Krona (SEK), U.S. Dollar (USD), Singapore Dollar (SGD), Silver (XAG), Gold (XAU), South African Rand (ZAR), etc.

There are similar statements for Swaps and Forwards.

There are three Bank of China entities in the UK. Bank of China (UK) Ltd Bank of China Limited, and Bank of China International (UK) Ltd, which are, to various extents, regulated by the FSA and the PRA.

All three Bank of China entities are permitted to arrange, deal and transact in investments in the UK including commodities.

The 11 to 13 Entities

On 7th November 2014, upon announcement of ICE (IBA) being ‘selected’ as administrator of the LBMA Gold Price, Ruth Crowell saidwe are pleased to have eleven entities intending to be Phase One Participants.” These entities (bullion banks) had signalled their interest to the LBMA before, during and after the period from October 24th (an LBMA closed-door seminar about the new gold auction and the various proposals) up to 4th November (LBMA committee meetings to discuss the vote and agree on the winning entry). The “Phase One Price Participants” as the LBMA refers to them, were also involved in these discussions in and around 4th November.

Since this announcement about the “eleven entities intending to be Phase One Participants” was only three weeks after Crowell’s statement that “it will take some time from a controls perspective for them [Chinese banks] to get where they need to be”, this would suggest that the Chinese banks were not part of this group of 11 phase one participants.

While covering the LBMA’s conference in Lima, Peru which was held over the two day period 11th – 12th November, Bullion Desk, who were at the conference, quoted Finbarr Hutcheson, ICE Benchmark Administration president, as saying:

During the consultation process, 11 companies came forward as prospective direct participants. And over the past two days we’ve heard from two more, bringing the total up to 13.”

The same article quoted Ruth Crowell as saying:

“The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) has already received interest from 13 banks or other firms looking to become direct participants in the new gold price benchmark auction.

We’re now actively recruiting because the last thing we want is for everyone to be staring at a blank screen on that first day. Bringing participants on-board is our number one priority,” Ruth Crowell, LBMA chief executive, said on Monday at the association’s conference here.”

However, and this is an important point, there were no representatives from Bank of China, ICBC, or China Construction in attendance at the LBMA’s Lima conference in November, so the 2 additional interested parties that expressed an interest during the conference were by definition not Chinese, unless they had contacted IBA remotely while the IBA and LBMA executives were in Lima, which seems highly unlikely. See 2014 conference delegate List pdf, and also another version here.

It would be unusual for Chinese banks to be planning to imminently join the Gold Price and Silver Price auctions but not attend the LBMA conference, since this conference was attended by senior executives of the winning administrator, ICE Benchmark Administration, as well as senior representatives from the CME Group and Thomson Reuters.

Small delegations from some Chinese banks did chose to go to the LBMA’s Singapore Bullion Market Forum in June 2014. Here, ICBC’s Zhou Ming, General Manager, Precious Metals Department actually made a presentation, and other ICBC precious metals staff, as well as China Construction staff, attended, but no one from Bank of China.

There was one Bank of China senior executive, Steven Haydon, at the 2013 LBMA annual event in Rome. The LBMA’s 2012 Conference, which was held in Hong Kong, was attended by Yan Wang of Bank of China, London, as well as Xiaoyang Liu and Zheng Zhiguang of ICBC China. But overall the attendance of Chinese Bank delegates at these LBMA conferences over recent years has been patchy at best.

Who approves the Direct Participants? The LBMA!

In its FAQ document, ICE also explains that there is an LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee, and reveals that “the first meeting of the LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee was held on February 27, 2015″.

According to the FAQ, one of the roles of this Oversight Committee is to approve the criteria for new direct participants:

“The LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee’s responsibilities include conducting regular reviews of all aspects of the determination of the LBMA Gold Price, overseeing any changes, setting and overseeing the rules and practice standards, approving the criteria for new direct participants and overseeing IBA’s adherence to its published methodologies”.

The ICE executive summary of its proposal for the Gold auction goes even further and says that:

“It is through the Oversight Committee that the LBMA will continue to have significant involvement in the auction process, including, among many other things, changes to the methodology, approval of direct participants, and the decision on whether to move to a centrally cleared model (until that time, weaker credit names can be accommodated via pre-collateralisation).”

So although the Oversight Committee is responsible for “approving the criteria for new direct participants”, the LBMA is responsible for the specific “approval of direct participants”. There is a difference.

Why is there an Oversight Committee and what type of entities are on the committee? Again, the ICE proposal explains:

“Under the UK benchmark regulation, the governance structure for a regulated benchmark must include an Oversight Committee, made up of market participants, industry bodies, direct participant representatives, infrastructure providers and the administrator.

At the time of writing, neither ICE nor the LBMA have published any details of the identities of the members of the Oversight Committee or who they represent, nor have they published any agenda or minutes of the first meeting that took place on 27th February. And this is the new world of transparency for the LBMA Gold Price?

Robustness
Who will the 11 – 13 entities be in the Gold Price auction?

It should be noted that in the new Silver and Gold auctions, the participants take part for their own bullion trades and those of their clients, and they are not obliged to represent other non-participant entities. So, for example, if bullion bank A is a participant in the new gold auction, it does not have to take gold fixing orders from bullion bank B for the fixing. Bullion bank B is expected to apply to become a participate itself (unless the LBMA don’t let them participate). The wider and more extended the participation, the more robust the data.

It is quite obvious that the vast majority of the 11-13 entities on Day 1 in the new Gold Price auction (if there are even that many taking part), will be the existing LBMA Market Makers.

In coverage by the Financial Times on 11 July, the day on which the LBMA awarded the CME Group and Thomson Reuters the contract to run the new Silver Price auction, the Financial Times said the following:

Since there is no centralised clearing for precious metals markets, initial users of the new silver benchmark are likely to be the 11 LBMA spot market making members, including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and UBS. They can currently only trade through the fixing members.”

On 12 August, just before the launch of the LBMA Silver Price auction, the Financial Times again highlighted this key point about the lack of central clearing in the CME Group’s Silver Price platform, when it stated in nearly the same language, but adding in JP Morgan:

Since there is no centralised clearing for precious metals markets, the initial users of the new benchmark are expected to be the 11 market making members of the LBMA, which include Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and UBS”.

Therefore, using a list of the LBMA Market Makers is a very good starting point for estimating the identities of the inner core of LBMA bullion banks that in all likelihood will make up the bulk of the 11 – 13 ‘Day 1′ ‘direct participant’ entities in the Gold Price auction.

This is notwithstanding the fact that, again, there was no need for the LBMA not to introduce a centrally cleared model on Day 1 so as to broaden participation, and also since as ICE said, until a “move to a centrally cleared model”, was introduced “weaker credit names can be accommodated via pre-collateralisation”.

Starting with the four existing banks in the current gold fixing, who are sure to re-enter the new auction, the first names on the 11-13 list are Barclays, HSBC, Scotia Mocatta, and SocGen. Since Deutsche Bank left the table, it would be surprising if Deutsche came back to the new gold auction so soon. Therefore I am leaving Deutsche off of my list.

Next to add to this list would be JP Morgan. JP Morgan is one of the six precious metals clearers in London in LPMCL, it runs an LBMA precious metals vault in central London, and it is a participant in the Silver auction.

Next add UBS and Credit Suisse, two huge players in the gold market, especially in Switzerland. Next up would be Goldman Sachs (J. Aron) which is a large player in the gold market and Mitsui, an existing participant in the Silver auction.

All of these banks trade spot market make in the London gold market. I would leave out Bank of America Merrill Lynch for the moment, for no particular reason except it only market makes options in the London gold and silver market.

Fast-Tracking Market Makers into the Gold auction?

To become an LBMA market maker, an Ordinary member LBMA bank has to undergo a three-month probationary period, during which it has to quote bids and offers in silver and gold to all other LBMA market makers. More importantly, all of the other market makers must approve the appointment of a new LBMA market making member.

In a very under covered story, three additional bullion banks very recently became LBMA market making members, namely Citibank, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered.

‘Officially’, this 3 month probation is the process that Citibank NA, Morgan Stanley & Co International and Standard Chartered would have gone through recently before they were all successfully reclassified as LBMA market making members in late 2014 and early 2015, which increased the number of LBMA market makers from 11 to 14.

On 25th September 2014, Citibank N.A. was reclassified as a spot LBMA Market Maker for spot and options. On 16th October 2014, Morgan Stanley was reclassified as a LBMA Market Maker for spot and options. On 9th February 2015, Standard Chartered was appointed as a LBMA market maker for spot and options.

This flurry of activity of Ordinary member bullion banks being reclassified as LBMA market making members is unprecedented and suggests that these three banks may have been preparing in some way to be participants in the LBMA Gold Price auction. That’s a 27% jump in the number of market makers from 11 to 14 in five months, with all 3 occurring in the run-up to the launch of the new Gold Price auction.

Before these three reclassifications, the previous transitions by an Ordinary member to become a market maker were Merrill Lynch in 2011, Credit Suisse in 2010, and Mitsui in 2007. That was three new market makers over four years as opposed to three over five months.

Of the 14 current market makers, 13 are spot market makers but only five of these banks make markets in the three products: spot, forwards and options. These banks are HSBC, UBS, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Barclays.

In 2006, the LBMA rules on market makers were altered so that a market maker didn’t have to make markets in all three products.

The other nine banks make markets in one or two of the three products. Credit Suisse, Scotia, SocGen, Standard Chartered, Deutsche, Mitsui, Citi and Morgan Stanley are market makers in spot markets. Scotia also market make in forwards, while Credit Suisse, Deutsche, Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley also trade options as market makers. Mitsui, SocGen and Citi just do spot market making. Merrill Lynch is only a market maker in options, and notably, does not do spot.

I would add the three newcomer market makers of Citi, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered to the ‘direct participant’ list for the Gold auction, since their transitions to market maker status could well be related to some LBMA criteria whereby the LBMA have decided to fast track market makers into the Gold auction.

The running total at this stage is 12 bullion bank entities, and no ‘Ordinary’ bank members have yet been considered.

A few of the above may not be on the list. Likewise, other bullion banks such as Commerzbank, Natixis, ANZ, Standard Bank or BNP Paribas may well be on the list. Until LBMA and ICE actually publish the list, the only alternative is to speculate.

What you can take away from this guessing game list however is that the numbers of 11 and 13 entities being thrown around in November of 2014 by the LBMA and ICE probably did not include the Chinese banks. That is not to say that things might not have moved on since last November and Chinese banks may now be on the direct participant list. A series of delays in launching the Gold Price auction may indicate that participant negotiations were still going on behind the scenes.

Multiple Delays in Launch

The expected launch date for the Gold Price auction was pushed back a number of times between November 2014 and February 2015. One possibility for the delays, in my view, was due to ongoing or reignited negotiations with the Chinese banks. Following the LBMA’s closed-door ‘Market Seminar’ on 24th October, the LBMA said that the new gold solution would be implemented in December/January (see page 4 of presentation). Then in the LBMA’s Lima Conference slides from 11th November it said that the implementation time-frame would be January/February (see timeline in presentation page 2 – Implementation expected for January/February).

An article in Metal Bulletin (subscription) on 4th December titled “February launch likely for new gold price mechanism” quoted Ruth Crowell, as saying:

“‘Mid-February is estimated for the [launch]. We’ve said that is a comfortable deadline, but if it can happen sooner, then great,’ Ruth Crowell, ceo of the LBMA, told delegates at the Mines and Money conference.”

However, there was no other LBMA or ICE public reference to the Gold Price auction again for nearly two months when, on 2nd February, ICE issued a press release in which it said that “the new LBMA Gold Price…is expected to be launched in March 2015“, without providing a definite date or an explanation for the delays.

The actual launch date was only confirmed on 19th February when the LBMA announced that the auction would be launched on 20th March. Then the first LBMA Gold Price Oversight Committee meeting took place on 27th February.

Some people might point to a letter that the LBMA sent to the FCA, dated 30th January, in which it highlighted some regulatory confusion from an FCA paper called CP14/32 about whether the participants in the Gold Price auction would be treated as benchmark submitters or not, and about which the LBMA claimed that lack of clarification on this issue would cause delays in potential participants signing up for the auction.

ICE confirmed to me however that participant sign-off was an internal matter for the participants and they did not appear to think that this submitter matter was an issue.

Anyway, the FCA confirmed in policy statement PS15/6 that this submitter definition was not applicable to the Gold Price auction, so it did turn out to be a non-issue, and does not explain why the launch date has been delayed so long. The gold and silver market knew from August 2014 when the “Fair and Efficient Markets Review” recommendations were published, that the gold and silver price benchmarks were in scope for FCA regulation from 2015.

In the FCA’s policy statement PS15/6, the FCA added “additional perimeter guidance to clarify further who in our view is, or is not, a submitter, and in particular, in respect of auction participants”. Specifically, the FCA said:

“a person who, in the context of an auction or otherwise, submits bids or offers solely for the purpose of transacting in a commodity or financial instrument or any other asset for their own, or their client’s, behalf will not normally be providing information in relation to a specified benchmark” (2.7.20E (A) G) (Annex E – Amendments to the Perimeter Guidance manual: specified benchmark activities)

Therefore, participants in the LBMA Silver Price and Gold Price auctions are not classified as benchmark submitters, and do not have to be regulated as such, so there is no reason why this should now hold up or delay approval of any direct participants for the Gold Price auction.

As the LBMA said itself on 2nd February:

“The systems and controls that the Administrator puts in place for non-submitters, namely, the criteria that must be met to participate, the contractual framework, for example the rulebook, participants agreement and code of conduct, should provide appropriate controls to maintain the integrity of these non-submission based benchmarks.” (i.e. the LBMA Gold and Silver Price auctions)

Despite all the above regulatory questions being answered and having had at least 4-5 months of advance preparation to join the new auction, the LBMA is now making more soundings that “Not all participants in ICE gold benchmark will be in place ‘on day one’.

This latest update come from Bullion Desk, who state:

“Some of the parties intending to participate in the new ICE gold benchmarking process may not be able to do so in the first auction on March 20, the LBMA has confirmed.

Internal sign-offs, regulatory procedures and credit lines with other participants may not be completed in time, it said.

New participants unfortunately don’t have the framework in place like the current members of the London Gold Fix do,” an LBMA spokesman said. “The current members were ahead of the game on that front.”

‘It’s fair to say that we will likely have more participants involved after the initial launch. We can’t guarantee that all interested parties will be there on day one,’ he added.”

I think it is fair to say there a lot of hoops for new participants to jump through,” the spokesman added.

This is another astounding part of the entire Gold auction participant drama, that the LBMA is now saying that regulatory procedures and credit lines, and “a lot of hoops” are delaying participants from completing what should really have been a very simple open and transparent process to allow any credible gold market participant worldwide to sign up and participate in an open and transparent new gold price discovery process.

New participants unfortunately don’t have the framework in place like the current members of the London Gold Fix do” according to the LBMA. Isn’t that the whole point, that participants should not need any existing framework to take part? The old London gold fix has been proven to have been corrupted and manipulated. There should be no legacy connection to it in the new system and no excusing from the LBMA or anyone else that potential participants are in some way dis-advantaged because they were not part of the old five fixers club. This is truly unbelievable.

And why should there be “a lot of hoops for new participants to jump through”? The entire fiasco is starting to look like it was designed by the LBMA to be as complex as possible so as to deter new participants from joining the auctions as direct participants.
Standard ICBC
ICBC and Standard Bank

Which brings us back to the Chinese banks. Bullion Desk said on 12th March 2015 in the same update as above that:

“Among others, several Chinese banks are said to be interested in joining some of the traditional members of the current fix in the new system.

Rumours have circulated that one of those banks is Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of the biggest banks in the world and a major participant in the gold market.”

When Deutsche Bank was attempting to sell its Gold and Silver Fixing seats early in 2014, ICBC was eager to secure Deutsche’s Gold Fix seat through its interest in Standard Bank of South Africa. ICBC was also at that time rumoured to be interested in becoming a market making member of the LBMA. Neither of these events ever materialised however.

On 18th February 2014, Reuters reported that:

South Africa’s Standard Bank, now selling a controlling stake in its markets unit to China’s ICBC, is emerging as a frontrunner to buy Deutsche Bank’s place in the global gold price-setting process, sources familiar with the matter said.”

“Market sources said Standard Bank, in conjunction with ICBC, is in prime position to buy the Deutsche seat. ‘Standard Bank is a shoo-in for the fixing seat – they want it, and it would be acceptable to the other members,’ a senior gold market source told Reuters. ‘It’s just whether they can agree a fee.'”

“‘ICBC have wanted to be a market-making member of the LBMA for a while,’ said another senior gold market source, who saw the bank as having potential interest in the fixing seat.

The same article also pointed out that the previous time a Gold Fixing seat was sold was in 2004 when Rothschild sold its seat to Barclays for the princely sum of $1 million; small change for a giant Chinese bank such as ICBC.

However, on 28th April 2014, Reuters reported that Deutsche Bank had resigned its gold seat since, according to one of their sources:

“It was a case of not being able to agree on terms”.

It seems hard to believe that there was an inability to agree on the price of Deutsche’s Gold Fix seat, given the deep pockets of all the parties concerned. Some other factors must have been at play. Could it have been that the London Fixing banks did not want ICBC (through Standard) to purchase the seat?

It’s very unusual that given ICBC’s desire to become an LBMA market maker, that it has not yet done so, especially considering the rush by Citi, Morgan Stanley and Standard Chartered to become market makers in the last few months.

Even as early as May 2012, ICBC said that it wanted to become an LBMA market maker:

“‘We hope to play a bigger role in the global precious metals market and become a major market maker, like Barclays,’ Shen Shisheng, ICBC vice-general manager of financial markets, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Shanghai.”

Standard Bank Plc, classified under the UK, is also an Ordinary member of the LBMA. On 2nd February 2015, ICBC announced that it acquired 60% of Standard Bank Plc:

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) announced on Monday the acquisition of a 60-percent stake in Standard Bank Plc.

Based in London, Standard Bank Plc is the international commodities and foreign exchange arm of Standard Bank Group (SBG), the largest African banking group by assets.”

ICBC already owns 20% of the Standard Bank Group. With this new 60% acquisition of a commodities and fx business through Standard Bank Plc, ICBC could well be planning to join the Gold Price auction via the Standard Bank route.

ICBC were also rumoured to be interested in purchasing Deutsche’s empty precious metal vault in Park Royal, London, which is operated by G4S, which could be another interesting development for the Chinese bank as a route into becoming a member of London Precious Metals Clearing Company (LPMCL).

ICBC seems to be clearly indicating that it is ready and willing to be a direct participant at day 1 launch on 20th March. Chinese newspaper, China Daily, in a 3rd March article titled “More Chinese banks to take part in setting the global gold price” stated that:

“ICBC confirmed it had already laid the foundations for its participation in a press release on Monday.”

Monday here refers to Monday 2nd March. There will undoubtedly be a sense of shock and injustice if the LBMA and ICE do not include at least one or two Chinese banks, such as ICBC, on the list of day 1 participants, which, don’t forget, is only being published on launch day, and not before.

The LBMA Gold Price auction should comprise a broad participation auction of banks, trading houses, refiners, miners, jewelers and other gold market participants trading as direct participants if they so choose. It should not be a narrow auction made up solely of incumbent London-based bullion banks which is a system that has proven to have been manipulated and was successfully prosecuted by the FCA.

With prolific LBMA bullion bank representation on the Shanghai Gold Exchange including UBS, Goldman Sachs, Scotia Mocatta, Standard Chartered, HSBC, ANZ, Natixis, and the opening up of the Chinese gold market and Shanghai Gold Exchange to foreign banks, it would be unfortunate if a series of LBMA Gold Price structural barriers such as credit lines, FCA regulatory issues, and ‘a lot of hoops to jump through’ provided the LBMA Management Committee with an excuse not to approve the large Chinese banks to directly participate in the LBMA Gold Price auction on Day 1 on Friday March 20th.