Back in June 2013, when Deutsche Bank opened a gold vault in Singapore which could hold up to 200 metric tons, the German bank was euphoric about the prospects for storing physical gold: "Gold has traditionally been stored in London, Zurich and New York, but there is a serious shift in dynamics going on as the global financial crisis continues to evolve," Mark Smallwood, Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management's head of wealth planning in the Asia-Pacific region, told The Wall Street Journal.
This is what the outside, and inside, of the state of the art Singapore vault looked like:
Mark was correct and thanks to the ongoing decline in gold prices, Chinese and Indian demand for the metal, the physical metal that is, not its various paper manifestations, has risen to record levels. Alas, one thing Mark did not know is that in early 2014, a German regulator would reveal that "precious metals manipulation was worse than the Libor scandal" and as a result the largest German bank (and largest bank in the world by notional derivative exposure) - which has been probed and found guilty for rigging virtually every market, including gold - would quietly liquidate its entire physical precious metals trading group.
Which meant that Deutsche Bank's Singapore gold vaul, was about to be sold.
But while the sale of DB's Singapore gold vault was to be expected with China's ravenous apetite for warehousing physical gold around the Pacific Rim, what may have escape popular attention is that Deutsche Bank's even more massive, and even newer, gold vault in London was also "on the block" as of December 2014 when we reported that Deutsche Bank is "open to offers for its London-based gold vault following the closure of its physical precious metals business." As Reuters noted: "If the right offer came along, then the bank would sell the London vault," one source close to the situation said.
Most curiously, the bank's London gold vault only became operational in June of 2014, more than two years after launching the project. It can store some 1,500 tonnes of gold and was built and managed by British security services company G4S.
As Reuters further noted, with other banks withdrawing from the commodities business to cut costs and reduce their regulatory burden, it might be difficult for Deutsche Bank to find buyers amongst its nearest peers. However, one possible buyer is general LBMA-member, Chinese bank ICBC, which we said at the end of 2014, was trying to build a presence in London.
In any case, the list of potential buyers for DB's brand new vault lease remained a mystery, and perhaps our revelation of the exact location of this vault, something potential buyers tend not to appreciate especially when said vault will house up to 1,500 tons of gold, or over $50 billion worth of "inventory", may have dissuaded some. As a reminder, the "secret" location of the Deutsche Bank vault, which as revealed in the G4S building application, is located in the Park Royal complex, and specifically at the 291 Abbey Road, London NW10 7SA location.
As it turns out, one persistent buyer failed to be dissuaded.
According to Reuters, as was rumored one year ago, China's largest bank - and in fact the world's largest bank - by assets, 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, four industry sources close to the companies told Reuters.
China's ICBC, which took a controlling stake in Standard Bank's London-based Global Markets business last year, has also applied to become a clearing member of the London gold and silver over-the-counter business.
The Chinese and South African lender is aiming to fill the gap left by Western banks, which are retreating from commodities to cut costs and reduce regulatory burden. "They (ICBC Standard Bank) have taken on the lease for the vault," the first source said.
Currently, five banks - JP Morgan, HSBC, Bank of Nova Scotia, Barclays and UBS - settle daily bullion transactions between dealers, amounting to more than $5 trillion worth of metal each year in the London over-the-counter market.
These banks are shareholders of the London Precious Metals Clearing (LPMCL) company. They will decide whether to accept or reject ICBC Standard Bank's application within the next few months. The LPMCL declined to comment.
"They are applying for clearing membership at the moment, but that's still subject to a vote, which has not taken place yet," the source said.
Should the vote go in its favor, ICBC will be ready with what may be one of the largest gold vaults in London, if not the world, to park local gold which will then be promptly shipped over to the mainland to be dealt with as seen fit. Unless, of course, the vault is there for the reverse migration: to house quietly escaping Chinese gold as part of the local oligarchy's attempts to circumvent China's capital controls, a task so far accomplished relatively painless with bitcoin.
Only time will tell.
What is perhaps most surprising is how cheaply ICBC acquired the massive gold vault: "The figure that was initially talked about may have been around $4 million, but it's way lower now," a second source said, without disclosing the figure paid for the vault.
So what does "way less" than $4 million buy you nowadays? Here is the answer, courtesy of Google Maps:
Finally, for those curious, here is precisely where the brand new gold vault of the world's biggest bank will be located.