The world’s oldest gold trader is for sale after a massive money laundering scandal may have terminally crippled one of the most iconic names in the business.
Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia is exploring options for its gold business ScotiaMocatta, the Financial Times reported, which include a possible sale of Canada’s most popular precious metals trader. Scotiabank made a decision to sell ScotiaMocatta following a massive money laundering scandal centered on a U.S. refinery that involved smuggled gold from South America. The ScotiaMocatta business, a mainstay in PM trading, is one of London’s main gold trading banks and is being sold by JPMorgan.
According to the FT sources, ScotiaMocatta’s future had been underway for several months, with ScotiaBank allegedly seeking a buyer for up to a year and was likely to shrink the business if a sale is not completed, although according to the article Chinese buyers – the world’s dumbest money these days – are rumoured to be the key targets of the sale.
While gold trading has been in a cyclical decline in recent years, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in prompting the sale was Scotiabank’s lending to Elemetal, a precious metals refinery in Dallas. Scotiabank was one of its biggest lenders, they said. The problem emerged in March, when US prosecutors accused workers at a subsidiary of Elemetal, NTR Metals in Florida, of a money laundering scheme using “billions of dollars of criminally derived gold” mostly from Peru.
Here the story take a turn into a slightly surreal detour:
NTR imported more than $3.6bn of gold from Latin America between 2012 and 2015, the court documents allege. Two of the accused, Samer Barrage and Juan Granda, pleaded guilty last month to a charge of money laundering in plea deals.
After the story came to light in March, Elemetal was kicked off the London Bullion Market Association’s “Good Delivery List” of gold refiners;
This was an almost instant death sentence for the company as buyers will usually only buy gold from a refiner on the list. Indeed, in the same month, New York’s Comex futures exchange said it was no longer taking gold from Elemetal for delivery against futures contracts in the world’s biggest gold futures market.
And this is where the scourge of gold rehypothecation emerged, as in the scandal surrounding Elemetal, it became impossible for holders of Elemetal gold to sell the gold bars on, leaving them sitting in bank vaults, according to traders quoted by the FT. Buyers are reluctant to take the gold, given the investigations.
This means that hundreds of millions in loans made to Elemetal by ScotiaMocatta are suddenly stuck in limbo. It also means that one of five bullion banks that settle gold trades in the London market, the world’s largest, has effectively been blackballed. It was built on the 1997 purchase by Scotiabank of Mocatta Bullion, which traces its roots back to 1671. And with Mocatta crippled, Scotiabank, which has the biggest foreign presence of any Canadian bank, is focusing its international strategy on the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American trade bloc comprising Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia. It will also hope to find a willing Chinese buyer for the gold trading operation.
Mocatta’s exit will be good news for HSBC and JPMorgan, which dominate the London market; their large balance sheets enable them to provide credit to clients and refiners around the world. Additionally, and unlike Scotiabank, they also have vaults in London. Gold trading in London is estimated to be worth more than $5tn a year, although as the FT notes, there are no precise figures on how much gold is traded there every day.