A golden new gift option for air travellers?

A golden new gift option for air travellers?

29th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

A German businessman opens gold vending machines in European airports.

Frankfurt -- Tired of buying perfume, chocolates or wine for your spouse while flying home? Looking for a special and safe investment in these turbulent times?

Passengers who clear security at Frankfurt airport and fear inflation more than flying could soon find an answer with a machine that doles out a bright, shining answer: gold.

"The reaction by Asian people was fantastic," gold dealer Thomas Geissler told AFP after his company, TG Gold-Super-Markt, tested a prototype dubbed "Gold to Go" in the airport's main hall earlier in June.

"A guy was delighted to get a piece of gold to bring back to his wife."

Geissler hopes to have a working model up and running within three months in a shopping area beyond the x-ray machines where check-in stress evaporates and passengers can kick back.
AFP PHOTO / Sebastian Derungs
Switzerland, Mendrisio: 5 gram gold bars engraved with the logo and name of the German bank Commerbank at the plant of gold refiner and bar manufacturer Argor-Heraeus SA in Mendrisio, southern Switzerland

And he is aiming big: Geissler wants to install 500 machines in airports throughout Europe, as well as in train stations, jewelers and upscale stores in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

Germany, one of the countries worst hit by the global recession, is seen as a wise place to launch Geissler's machine because the economic crisis has driven up gold sales in Europe's biggest economy.

According to the World Gold Council, German investors -- and consumers over the border in Switzerland -- are hoarding gold at "levels not previously recorded".

In 2008, there was "a tremendous swing from trivial levels within Europe to very substantial levels" in gold sales, said Niel Neader, research director at GFMS, a London-based precious metals consultancy.

"In the closing months of the year, Germany was the star performer."

While the rest of the world worries about deflation, German economists, bankers and politicians are warning huge government deficits could quickly re-ignite inflation once a sustained economic recovery gets under way.

This worries Germans because hyperinflation and two world wars wiped out many families' savings in the 20th century, Geissler explained.

"Germans are frightened by inflation ... They are afraid to lose everything a third time in one century. Twice was enough."

Neader, meanwhile, said another factor driving consumers to gold was a "distrust of banks" after a credit crisis drove the global financial system to the brink of collapse in 2008.

Real time gold rush

Geissler's vending machine will sell packets containing from one gramme for around EUR 30 (USD 42) at present to five and 10 grammes for about EUR 245, along with Australian "Kangaroo" and Canadian "Maple Leaf" coins.

A gram of the stuff will set customers back by 20 percent less than over the counter at a German bank, but his margin represented just "a nice and reasonable profit" compared with market rates.

Software developed by his firm updated prices every two minutes, he stressed, which meant "we will have nearly a real time price compared with the London gold market."

And in case police are worried about unscrupulous customers using machines to launder ill-gotten gains, the company is installing video cameras and some machines will be credit card only, he said.

"We will pay maximum attention," he vowed.

The first machine is slated for installation in a Hugo Boss clothing store near the company's headquarters south of Stuttgart, once talks have been wrapped up.

He confidently predicts a brisk trade at the machines, which will each contain a maximum value of 50,000 EUR -- less than in most cash distributors.

At sites like Frankfurt's bustling international airport, "I think you will have to fill up the machine every day," he forecasts.

Franchise owners, according to company calculations, need to sell only "five to seven items, the smallest quantity or one gramme, to break even."

One gramme sales were expected to comprise 70-80 percent of the total.

Physical German gold sales jumped from 28 tonnes in 2006 to 115 tonnes in 2008, according to Neader at GFMS, and Geissler thinks this could rise to 150 tonnes per annum.

In Switzerland, Asian gold imports gained 43 percent early in 2008, a development described as an "Asian gold rush" by the Swiss federal customs office, and refiners report a surge in demand for gold bars.

A GFMS survey has forecast demand will "drive the bull market into a ninth consecutive year" and could propel prices to USD 1,100.

In Germany's financial capital, Geissler's machine attracted stares, and "some bankers couldn't believe what they saw," the gold dealer said.

"It will take a little time until everyone is used to the sight of a gold vending machine," he acknowledged.

William Ickes / AFP / Expatica


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