x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Gold is being recast for investors

More consumers are looking for a safe haven for their wealth amid economic uncertainties.

The World Gold Council plans to launch gold investment products in the UAE within the next 12 months to cater to the growing demand for the metal as a safe haven, the council's chief executive said. During the economic turmoil, consumers and investors are increasingly looking towards gold, the price of which has steadily risen since last year and has historically held its purchasing power, said Aram Shishmanian.

"We have seen a significant shift to a longer term, more stable view of risk management and portfolio management, both at the institutional level and at the personal level," Mr Shishmanian said. "So what we have seen, as a consequence, is a dramatic increase in the demand for gold in terms of wealth preservation." Research is under way on what products would work for the region, he said. One option would be for consumers to buy gold online and have the metal delivered to their home or kept in a central vault, Mr Shishmanian said.

Another would be gold accumulation programmes, which the council has already launched in Japan. In these, consumers make cash deposits at regular intervals which are then used buy physical gold stored at the bank or financial institution. When the consumer wants to sell out, he or she can get the monetary equivalent at the current gold price or the gold itself, Mr Shishmanian said. While the bulk of the gold demand in the region is as jewellery, he said he believes these new products could double the demand for investment gold in the next five years.

The move comes less than a year after the council in conjunction with NASDAQ Dubai in March launched 12 gold exchange traded funds, or ETFs, the region's first Sharia-compliant tradable security backed by gold. Called Dubai Gold, a total of 27,691 shares have been traded since the launch. However, local consumers have not adopted ETFs as readily as hoped, said Mr Shishmanian. "It is very early days," he said.

"The reason, partly, why it hasn't succeeded is that in this environment investors have resorted to very well-tried investment vehicles like jewellery and bars and coins, which they are very comfortable with. "We are confident it will succeed, particularly because it is Sharia-compliant, but it will take time." However, jewellery demand in the UAE was down by as much as 50 per cent this month, even despite the small sales boost during the Indian festival of Diwali, traders say.

Tushar Patni, a member of the Abu Dhabi Gold and Jewellery Group and the owner of Ajanta Jewellers, said people were buying during the festival last month but sales were down by more than 50 per cent compared with last year. The main culprit was the high gold price, Mr Patni said, which climbed towards the record high spot price of US$1,067.40 an ounce on October 13. The spot price was $1,045.25 on Friday.

"It's the high gold price, other expenses have gone up, the standard of living and rents have gone up," Mr Patni said. "It doesn't leave much behind for people to buy gold." A year ago, the price of the precious metal was at record lows, reaching $695.40 an ounce on October 24. Chetan Karani, the deputy managing director of the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, estimated Diwali sales in the emirate were down roughly 50 per cent as well.

But Chandu Siroya, the vice chairman of the group and the owner of Siroya Jewellers, said business was beginning to recover. "It is looking up now," Mr Siroya said. "There are a lot of tourists coming in from India, the Middle East and some from the Far East." Mr Shishmanian said the jewellery market has been put under pressure in the short term by the high gold price, but he believes it will bounce back.

"Those who say the jewellery market is dead, they are completely wrong. It is still fundamental," he said. "However, what has happened is that in the last decade, from about 2000, the price of gold has been defined by the jewellery sector. Today, the price of gold is driven by the investment sector." @Email:aligaya@thenational.ae