Singapore has evolved into one of the world’s most dynamic gold trading and storage hubs. Following sustained growth over the last five years backed by government initiatives to develop the country’s investment precious metals (IPM) sector, Singapore now hosts a vibrant local and regionally focused gold market comprising a wide variety of precious metals participants. These participants range from retail bullion dealers to bullion wholesalers, from precious metals refineries to secure logistics providers, and from bullion banks to trading houses.
One of the early initiatives that transformed Singapore into a precious metals trading and storage hub came in February 2012, when during a budgetary speech to parliament, finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced that the importation and supply of investment-grade gold and other precious metals in Singapore would become exempt from Singapore’s Goods and Services Tax (GST). Previously the GST on precious metals in Singapore was 7%.
As reported by Reuters in February 2012, Shanmugaratnam in his budget speech envisaged that:
“We will facilitate the development of gold trading, which can draw on Singapore’s strengths as a financial and trading hub, to meet strong demand for investment-grade gold in Asia.”
The GST exemption on investment precious metals was first introduced on 01 October 2012, and applies to transactions in investment-grade gold, silver and platinum that are in the form of high purity bars, ingots and coins. This means that investment grade precious metals purchased in Singapore are free of GST.
International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, an office of the Singapore Government, has also been active in supporting Singapore’s precious metal sector, and in promoting the benefits of Singapore’s gold market internationally. Overall, the main aim of IE Singapore and the government in the bullion sphere is to ensure that Singapore becomes and remains the region’s primary bullion trading, storage and transport hub.
Jurisdictional Advantages of Singapore
Apart from the GST exemption on investment precious metals, there are a number of other jurisdictional advantages that have supported the growth of Singapore as a gold trading and storage hub, and that reinforce the logic for buying gold and storing gold in Singapore.
In Singapore, there are no other taxes when buying gold, silver or other precious metals. This means no capital gains tax, no other sales tax, no death tax, in short no taxes. There are no reporting requirements when buying or selling gold or silver or other precious metals in Singapore. This means no reporting requirements to any Singaporean authority and no reporting requirements to any international authority.
There is no GST when importing gold and other precious metals into Singapore, or exporting gold or other precious metals out of the country. Singapore is also famed for its strong rule of law, making the country one of the safest and most secure countries on earth to buy and store gold. If taking delivery or selling precious metals, it is quite safe, apart from the usual precautions, to walk in and out of bullion dealer shops in Singapore carrying your precious metals.
Furthermore, the Singapore legal system is very protective of private property rights, and the nation of Singapore has strong military capabilities, both of which are reassuring when storing gold or silver in the city-state. Finally, because it’s a thriving gold trading hub, with a buoyant wholesale and retail bullion market, Singapore has a very well-developed gold storage and vaulting infrastructure, and is very well serviced by secure transport companies..
Precious Metals Sector Participants
IE Singapore sometimes describes Singapore’s bullion market participants as a precious metals ecosystem, not just because of the breath of entities present, but because of the way they interact as a sector. This ecosystem refers to the bullion wholesalers, precious metals refineries, retail bullion dealers and secure logistics providers mentioned above, as well as to the bullion banks and trading houses in the wholesale segment of the bullion market.
A large number of investment banks have a presence in Singapore, and many of these banks are active in Singapore’s gold market, either in a trading capacity or via their wealth management units, or both. Some of these banks include Standard Bank, ANZ, UBS, and JP Morgan. Colloquially, investment and merchant banks involved in the bullion market are referred to as bullion banks. United Overseas Bank (UOB), the Singaporean large-scale bank can also be added to this list.
Another group of players in Singapore’s wholesale gold market are referred to as the “trading houses”, and include names such as INTL Stone, Sumitomo Global Commodities, Mitsubishi, and MKS (the precious metals trading arm of the MKS PAMP group).
Since June 2014, Swiss based precious metals Metalor has also operated a precious metals refinery and production facility in Singapore. This move by Metalor to open a facility in Singapore was directly driven by the GST exemption on imports of precious metals that was introduced in 2012 at the same time as the GST exemption on transactions within Singapore. Apart from Metalor, the Dubai headquartered refinery group Kaloti metals also has a presence in Singapore with facilities for smelting gold.
In the secure logistics and transport providers segment, Brinks precious metals operates a regional base and secure storage facilities in Singapore serving Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the wider Asian region. Malca Amit also has a storage facility in Singapore, which is located in the Singapore Freeport, near Singapore’s Changi International Airport. This Singapore Freeport, or ‘Le Freeport‘ is a secure valuables warehouse complete with vaults which some of the bullion banks in Singapore also use to store precious metals.
A Vibrant Gold Trading Hub
According to the latest precious metals industry survey of Singapore’s IPM sector, approximately 656 tonnes of gold and 4253 tonnes of silver were traded in Singapore during 2015. See survey table in Metalor presentation here. Much of these quantities would reflect trading activity between the large banks or involving the trading houses, and also gold flowing through the refineries operations of Metalor and Kaloti. For example, the trading house INTL could buy gold mining output from Indonesia and have it shipped to Metalor’s refinery in Singapore for processing. Metalor is said by industry sources to trade over 100 tonnes of gold per annum.
The survey also notes that the figures reflect sales that were mainly to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong but also to China and India, the Philippines and Malaysia. As such, a lot of the physical precious metals trading that goes through Singapore is in the form of supply flows for the wholesale markets in South East Asia and the wider Asian region.
According to IE Singapore data, 291 tonnes of gold was imported into Singapore in 2016, and 397 tonnes was exported. This gives a combined 2 way flow of 618 tonnes.
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