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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Rothschild to leave gold market
Gold bar
It may look shiny, but the profit growth for Rothschild has been dull
NM Rothschild, one of the City's oldest merchant banks, has decided that profit takes precedence over history and is to withdraw from London's gold market.

The move is part of Rothschild's plans to halt all commodities trading out of London as it becomes less profitable.

Last year, the business generated just 2.2% of the bank's income, down from more than 8% five years earlier.

Rothschild's departure will leave a big gap, not least because it hosts the twice-daily gold price fixing.

Old school

Started in 1919, it is a prized and bizarre tradition.

Every day at 1030 and 1500 local time, five representatives of investment banks meet in a small room at Rothschild's London headquarters on St Swithin's Lane.

NM ROTHSCHILD HISTORY
1798 Nathan Mayer Rothschild leaves Frankfurt for England
1815 The Rothschilds supply gold to the Duke of Wellington
1875 NM Rothschild raises financing for the UK to buy stake in the Suez canal
1919 First gold fix takes place in London
1926 NM Rothschild helps to refinance London underground company
Source: NM Rothschild
They are charged by the London Gold Market to agree a price for the bullion on offer.

Each sits behind a desk and gets a phone and small Union Jack.

In the centre is the chairperson, who for the past 85 years has come from Rothschild.

A price is given and relayed via phone lines to customers.

Then the haggling begins.

When the price is right and buyers are matched with sellers, the flags are lowered and the price is fixed.

Harsh reality

While the whole process harks to a bygone age, the economics of the modern gold market are far less quaint.

Many producers are no longer hedging their exposure to both currency and commodity price movements and that has taken a large chunk of business off the table.

According to bank chairman David de Rothschild, "our income from commodities trading in London has fallen as a percentage of our total income in each of the past five years".

"We have concluded that this is no longer a core area of activity and have, therefore, decided to withdraw from the market."




SEE ALSO:
Exchange rates hit Anglo profits
25 Feb 04  |  Business
Letwin quits his Rothschild role
04 Dec 03  |  Politics


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