It’s becoming harder to buy and sell gold in Hong Kong

[Editor’s note: Tim Staermose, Sovereign Man’s Chief Investment Strategist, is filling in for Simon today from Hong Kong.]

It took me two attempts. But, today I opened an account at the Bank of China.

The reason? They’ll no longer buy gold bullion from you unless you bank with them.

I wasn’t selling personally. But, an overseas friend is having a temporary liquidity crisis, and asked me to liquidate a couple of ounces from his stash.

I went to the Bank of China and Hang Seng Bank to see where I’d get the better deal for his Maple Leaf coins.

It was no contest. Hang Seng quoted me the Hong Kong dollar equivalent of spot gold. But, the Bank of China quoted me 4.5% ABOVE the spot price of gold.

Needless to say, the choice was obvious. As was the opportunity.

Given the price differences, I realized instantly I could buy Maple Leaf coins at Hang Seng at the spot price of gold plus their HK$50 mark-up, and then sell them for almost 4.5% more at Bank of China.

Talk about a perpetual money machine.

But as it turns out, Hang Seng doesn’t actually have any Maple Leafs to sell right now! So, no dice today. I’ll check back soon.

Even without the easy arbitrage, though, I went ahead and opened the Bank of China account to get my friend the best deal.

And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy… even though I’m a Hong Kong resident.

At the first branch I tried, they wanted not only a copy of a current utility bill from my Hong Kong residence, but also a proof of address from my “permanent home.” In their limited worldview, this means an address in the country that issues my passport.

I told them I’ve not lived in that country for over 17 years, certainly don’t have an address there, that Hong Kong is my permanent home, and why was that not good enough?

They refused to budge. So, I walked out.

Fortunately my second attempt at a different branch, worked out better. They were satisfied with my explanation.

The lessons here are four-fold:

1. Physical gold is hard to buy right now in Hong Kong. Hang Seng had only Australian Kangaroo nuggets in stock, and no Maple Leafs.

2. Selling your gold at a fair price if you have an emergency is getting tougher too. The paperwork and rules and regulations are becoming stricter, even in a freewheeling place like Hong Kong.

I cannot be sure, but I suspect The Bank of China’s new requirements are part of the whole anti-money laundering regime.

If you have an account with them, they’ve already had a chance to rake over all your private details, and hopefully satisfied themselves that you’re not a criminal terrorist mastermind.

3. Opening bank accounts in Hong Kong is becoming more and more difficult, too. It would not surprise me if there comes a time when even the likes of HSBC start refusing non Hong Kong residents.

But, for now:

4. If you don’t succeed at one particular branch, persevere. Results tend to vary depending on whom you are dealing with.

Of course, if you deal through the right channels, it’s still very simple.

Singapore has similar bank policies as Hong Kong. But attendees who came to our Offshore Tactics Workshop in Santiago, for example, were able to walk away with a Singapore bank account without even having to go to Singapore.

It’s a perfect illustration of the power of relationships, and especially Simon’s strong network of contacts around the world.

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