* Singapore to scrap GST on gold, aims to become bullion hub
* Change in tax treatment takes into effect in October
* Singapore wants to be pricing hub for gold
By Lewa Pardomuan and Luke Pachymuthu
SINGAPORE, Feb 20 (Reuters) – Singapore is seeking to lure bullion refiners by scrapping taxes on gold, a move which could also attract trading houses to open storage facilities and transform the country into a key Asian pricing hub, industry sources said on Monday.
Singapore will exempt investment-grade gold and other precious metals from a seven percent goods and services tax to spur the development of gold trading, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Friday.
The change takes effect in October and may lift demand for gold bars and coins in the fourth quarter and into 2012. Singapore’s investment gold demand nearly tripled to 3.5 tonnes in 2011, according to consultancy firm Thomson Reuters GFMS.
“It seems a little unfair to put a sales tax on what is essentially money. The removal of the GST on gold will allow Singapore to better compete with Hong Kong and other bullion trading centres in the region,” said Nick Trevethan, a senior commodity strategist at ANZ in Singapore.
Refiners have been put off by Singapore’s taxes, opting instead to mould and sell gold bars in Hong Kong, which does not impose duties on bullion, and Japan, where the consumption tax on gold is 5 percent.
Industry sources, however, said at least one major refiner has shown interest in opening a factory in Singapore around the talk of the tax change. More gold traders are expected to set up offices here and store more bullion, following JP Morgan Chase & Co which opened a precious metals vault in 2010.
“I think this is really going to change the landscape in Singapore. A lot of companies will find the incentive to start operations in Singapore,” a gold dealer said.
“This news is going to draw attention to Singapore as a safe place to park funds. Asset managers will also very excited. The trend in the last three years is that people are moving to physical hard assets from paper.”
SINGAPORE PRICING CONTRACT
Singapore imports gold bars from Australia, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Japan, which are then sold to buyers in Southeast Asia and India, the world’s largest gold consumer.
Gold scraps from the across the region are also traded in Singapore, and this helps determine the premiums for gold bars against prices in London.
Gold, typically a safe-haven asset, has been tracking the fortunes of the euro and stocks in recent months, with speculators selling the metal for cash to cover losses in other markets as the euro zone debt crisis caused much turbulence in financial markets.
Gold stood firm above $1,730 an ounce on hopes for Greece to seal a bailout deal, on course for its biggest daily rise in two weeks. Bullion struck a lifetime high around $1,920 an ounce last September.
“Singapore is already considered a safe destination for cash from investors in the region… and even as far out as the Middle East,” an industry source said.
“Having the option of becoming a physical safe haven for assets like gold will only boost overall flows here.”
The tax changes could be the first step towards a Singapore gold contract to complement the daily fixing in London, which is widely used as the benchmark spot transaction, analyst Trevethan said.
“There has been a tendency for exchanges to launch more Asia-centric contracts and benchmarks in the past few years, with varying degrees of success,” said Trevethan at ANZ.
“An Asian gold fix would be sensible given the nexus of the physical market is centred on India and China, and the early fix from London comes late in the Asian trading day, providing it can attract enough sufficient participants to make it credible.”