In age of market scrutiny, who wants in on the gold price 'fix'?

Jan 22 2014, 12:58 IST
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The gold price is adjusted up and down until demand and supply is matched, at which point the price is 'fixed'. (Reuters) The gold price is adjusted up and down until demand and supply is matched, at which point the price is 'fixed'. (Reuters)
SummaryGold price setting or 'fixing', determines benchmark for the billions of dollars traded every day.

Deutsche Bank's decision to put its seat at the gold fixing table up for sale has raised questions about the future of the price benchmark.

One stands out: who, after the Libor scandal, will want it?

Gold price setting or 'fixing', determining the benchmark for the billions of dollars traded every day, is nearly a century old. The modern twice-daily system launched in 1968.

Unlike most commodities which are dominated by futures trading, gold is chiefly a cash market.

Involvement in the fix offers little financial benefit to members, but a seat at the table is prestigious. However, that may not be enough.

"It's a tough sale at the moment," one source in the London precious metals market said. "There's nothing really in it for the banks, except the opportunity to say that they're a fixing member, which carries a certain kudos."

Increased scrutiny, with regulators pushing for new rules on commodity benchmarks after the Libor scandal, threatens to outweigh that benefit, the source said.

Regulators including German's Bafin, Britain's Financial Conduct Authority and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission have all increased scrutiny of commodity indices after the London Interbank Offered Rate, Libor, was rigged by British banks.

The International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) issued guidance in July covering all benchmarks that are central cogs in the global economy, from interest rates to equities and gold.

A handful of banks getting together to decide the benchmark gold price twice each business day is seen by detractors as anachronistic and opaque.

"It is a very old-style, archaic system and it is amazing that such a way of doing business has survived the modern day and age, where everything is so fast and electronic," Saxo Bank senior manager Ole Hansen said.

Gold market participants say concerns about opacity reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of how fixing works.

"The fix, unlike LIBOR, is a key pricing mechanism that involves the whole of the interested parts of the market at any one time, from jewellers up to central banks participating in pricing through the fix," Rhona O'Connell, head of research at Thomson Reuters GFMS, said. "Any market participant can change his order at any time, and the market is fully transparent."

"It's not as if it's a majority vote on the price, after all, it's the whole of the interested market that's involved."

Apart from Deutsche, four other banks take part in the fixing - Barclays, HSBC, Societe Generale and ScotiaMocatta.

At the start of each fixing, the

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