The landscape for wholesale gold trading is quite complex and constantly evolving. The three most important gold trading centres are the London OTC market, the US futures market and the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE). These markets comprise more than 90% of global trading volumes and are complemented by smaller secondary market centres around the world (both OTC and exchange-traded).
Daily notional gold volumes in US-dollar billions
*Based on 2016 average daily volumes.
†Loco London OTC daily volumes are estimates based on clearing statistics published by the LBMA: http://www.lbma.org.uk/clearing-statistics. These figures are net transactions. To estimate gross volumes we use two multipliers: 5 for a low estimated volume (based on market inight) and 10 for a high estimated volume (based on a turnover survey published by the LBMA in 2011.)
‡Includes physical and futures contracts.
^Includes: Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange, ICE Futures, US Metals, Borsa Istanbul, Bursa Malaysia, Moscow Exchange - RTSX, Tokyo Commodity Exchange.
**Based on combined worlwide daily volumes. A list of all physical gold-backed ETFs (and similar products) included in this calculation is available on: https://www.gold.org/data/gold-etf-holdings
World Gold Council, LBMA, SGE, Bloomberg
Overview of market centres
The London OTC market
The London OTC market has historically been the centre of the gold trade and today comprises approximately 70% of global notional trading volume per our estimates. The London market attracts participants from all around the world and sets the twice daily global reference benchmark for gold, the LBMA Gold Price. Uniquely the market in London trades 400 ounce bars ‘Good Delivery’ bars which are stored in the member vaults of the London Precious Metals Clearing Limited (LPMCL) and the Bank of England. London’s unique vaulting infrastructure with its strictly enforced chain of custody, as well as the sizeable stocks of gold that reside within it, contribute to London often being referred to as the ‘terminal market’. The London market also enjoys a time zone advantage, bridging Asian and US trading hours, and benefits from its status as a leading global financial services hub.
Notwithstanding the London market’s pre-eminence, it has been losing relative share of global trading volumes. In 2015 banks operating in the market stopped submitting forward offered rates (GOFO rates) which were used to establish the market’s forward curve, one of several symptoms of a market that has become increasingly fragmented. The World Gold Council’s initiative to partner with a consortium of leading financial players and the London Metal Exchange to introduce LMEprecious is a direct response to these pressures. This suite of exchange-traded contracts seeks to modernise and introduce efficiencies to the heart of the gold trading market.
The US futures market (COMEX)
Despite London’s leading role in the physical market, the COMEX derivatives exchange operated by CME Group has become an increasingly important venue in driving price discovery. Trading activity on COMEX is primarily concentrated on the ‘active month’ (nearest dated) contract which acts as a proxy for the spot price. Only a small number of contracts physically settle into delivery of bars into COMEX vaults but the market is nonetheless tightly linked to physical markets through a very active Exchange for Physical (EFP) market. Notably, a steadily increasing share of COMEX volume is transacted during Asian market hours reflecting the exchange’s success of tapping into Asian market growth.
The Chinese market (SGE & SHFE)
The largest purely physical spot exchange in the world is the Shanghai Gold Exchange. Established in 2002 under close oversight of the People’s Bank of China, SGE has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence that has mirrored China’s growing importance in the gold market. In 2016 SGE introduced the Shanghai Gold Price benchmark to cement China’s role as a price-setter, to help the internationalisation of the RMB and to broaden international participation in the Chinese market. It should be noted that SGE’s spot and deferred contracts are complemented by very active futures trading on the Shanghai Futures Market (SHFE), although the two exchanges are not directly linked.
Secondary market centres
Other important markets include Dubai, India, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. There are exchanges in all these markets offering a range of spot trading facilities or listed contracts but these have not attracted the liquidity seen on the market’s primary venues. Nonetheless, these markets play an important role to varying degrees in serving local demand or acting as regional trading hubs. For example, Hong Kong has long acted as a gateway to the Chinese market and Singapore is establishing itself as an important focal point for trading in the ASEAN region.