10 years. In the blink of an eye, 10 years flew by since I was first approached by BullionStar to be their affiliate partner. Although a decade has passed quickly, memories of how I started my relationship with BullionStar still etch freshly in my mind. Back in 2013, I had already received a number of requests from start-ups seeking partnerships to advertise their products through my blog. For some unknown reasons, I was convinced that BullionStar would stand out from the rest of the pack.
In March 2013, I vividly recalled receiving an email from their former Regional Operations Manager (Zane Lim) while I was having a holiday trip with my family in Bangkok. In that email, he invited me to visit their former office in Marina Bay Financial Centre and to meet up with their co-founder, Torgny Persson. And I did. The moment I touched down in Singapore, I went straight to their office (much to the chagrin of my spouse). That fateful meeting sparked off a decade of partnership between BullionStar and SG Wealth Builder.
A decade of partnership with BullionStar
My conversation with the co-founder of BullionStar turned out to be nothing short of amazing. First of all, given the relatively small market size, it is very rare (and almost unheard of) for a business owner to relocate from Europe and pivots his business here. Furthermore, Singapore is also the last place on Earth that most bullion dealers would set up shop as we are not known to be a major gold producing country. So what actually enticed Bullionstar’s Torgny to Singapore?
What I found out was that Torgny Persson came from Sweden to be a bullion dealer in Singapore at the invitation of one of Singapore’s trade agencies as Singapore removed GST on investment grade gold and precious metals in 2012. Torgny was attracted to Singapore due to the low crime rates and business-friendly government. During our conversation, I was struck by his immense passion and unwavering conviction in gold – he views gold as money, and not as a form of investment like I do.
The bullion dealing business in Singapore is cut-throat and challenging due to the small market size. The removal of GST for investment grade precious metals ignited interest among bullion dealers to sell gold in Singapore, with new entrants seeking to gain market share.
Some folks may recall that Singapore Exchange launched the ill-fated SGX Gold Kilobar Contract in 2014 but ceased the programme within a few years due to the poor liquidity. Subsequently, Singapore investors’ sentiments on bullion took a hit in 2015 due to the gold buyback scandals, which saw a number of investors losing millions of dollars. Degussa Singapore have closed its Orchard shop on 30 November 2017. Within two years of opening its first Singapore branch, the Europe gold retailer is calling it a day for its Singapore operations. Against this backdrop, it is remarkable that BullionStar could overcome such challenging operating environment and went on to become one of the leading bullion dealers in Singapore.
In its early days, BullionStar specialised in online sales, so the office in Marina Bay Financial Centre was a modest outfit. Despite starting small, it was clear to me that Torgny had big ambitions as BullionStar grew quickly to become one of the largest bullion dealers in Singapore within a few years. A major milestone arrived in 2014 when the company opened its first retail shop at 45 New Bridge Road.BullionStar takes on UOB Bank
The retail shop at 45 New Bridge is clearly a game-changer for BullionStar as it combines a showroom, retail shop and vault all integrated into the same venue, making it a unique one-stop shop for precious metals. More importantly, the retail shop enabled BullionStar to cross $2 billion sales revenue in September 2022, with over 330,000 orders fulfilled.
BullionStar’ rise in prominence as a leading bullion dealer in Singapore is giving UOB Bank a run for its money. UOB Bank remains the only Singapore bank that sells physical gold. As a bank, UOB has significant resources and economy of scale to import the physical bullion and sell the precious metals to retail customers at a relatively lower price as compared to BullionStar. For example, a 100g PAMP Gold Bar is sold by UOB at $8437 (as at 28 June 2023) while Bullionstar is selling the same product at $8513.88 (if you purchased less than 10 pieces).
Whilst BullionStar could not offer the lowest selling prices for its bullion products, it stands out among its peers for its impressive product range which included over 500 different bullion, numismatics and coin supply products across 10 different product categories. Personally, I do not know any other bullion shops that carry so many varieties of bullion products. Another competitive edge of BullionStar is its strong online system which features the Bullion Savings Program, enabling customers to convert their BSP Grams to physical bullion at any time without any charge.
The major bugbear of physical gold bars in Singapore is the liquidity. Most retailers only buy back the bullion products that has been sold by their stores. For example, according to its website, “UOB accepts gold coin or gold bars originally bought from UOB Singapore or OUB Singapore. Customers are required to produce invoices of purchase satisfactory to UOB. The gold coins or bars must be in good condition (to be solely determined by UOB which decision shall be final). For the gold kilobar, the seal must be intact”. BullionStar is one of the rare retailers that buys back bullion that are not sold by them.
Financial performance for FY2022
One of the things that I love about BullionStar is its transparency in sharing its financial performance. Since 2015, the company has been reporting its financial performance in its blog. During this period, revenue has surged from $63.4 million in FY2015 to $391.7 million. While sales revenue in FY2022 was 12.6% lower than in FY 2021, it was still the second highest sales revenue on record.
The explosive revenues of BullionStar in recent years were partly driven by the increase in international gold price, which hit record highs in 2020, 2022 and 2023 due to the pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine.
Based on data from the World Gold Council, global retail demand for gold bars and gold coins was very strong over the H2 2021 and H1 2022 period, with investors accumulating gold as an inflation hedge and as wealth protection.
Gold bullion remains the biggest revenue drivers for BullionStar. n FY2022, gold represented 74.29% of sales, and silver represented 24.04% of sales, with the remaining 1.67% comprising mostly platinum sales. 59.9% of all FY 2022 sales were in gold bars, 9.68% in gold coins, and 5.71% in other gold product segments.
According to BullionStar, within the gold bar category, more than 90% of sales comprised the larger investment gold bars, with 39.73% representing 1kg gold bars, and 50.46% representing 100g gold bars. Within the gold coin category, the leading seller was Canadian Gold Maples (50.18% of gold coin sales), followed by Australian Gold Kangaroos (14.28% of gold coin sales).
BullionStar recorded 29,496 customer buy orders in FY 2022, compared to 34,259 buy orders in FY 2021. In my opinion, the challenging economic condition may have dampened buying interest as buyers may adopt a cautious approach in investing. Nevertheless, while the customer buy orders was lower in FY2022 (as compared to FY2021), it represented the second highest number of buy orders on record for a fiscal year, and mirrored the trend seen in total sales revenue.
Gold price to rocket in 2023?
In 2023, the series of interest rate hikes by US Federal Reserve led to the failures of four large US banks – Silicon Valley Bank, Silvergate, First Republic and Signature Bank ignited global fear of contagion in the financial sector.
In particular, the overnight disappearance of Silicon Valley Bank had not only sparked off a global shockwave, but also sent numerous tech companies in US into a tailspin as many of them had deposited funds in the bank. Amid the turmoil in the banking sector, gold price surged from US$1,809 per troy ounce to almost US$2,000 per troy ounce within two weeks.
Over in Europe, cracks in the banking sector started to appear with the forced marriage between UBS and Credit Suisse, which has been dogged by scandals for several years. Although the merger between the two Swiss banks had managed to avert a financial crisis from imploding in Europe, Credit Suisse’s Additional Tier 1 (AT1) bonds’ value (US$17 billion) were completely wiped out while shareholders of Credit Suisse could still get back some monies.
With the uncertainty in the banking sector, there is a strong possibility that gold price will cross the pivotal US$2,000 per troy ounce resistance level to smash a record US$3,000 per troy ounce. This is not an impossible scenario as the emergence of the pandemic in 2020 led to gold price surging to a high of US$2,040 per troy ounce in August 2020. Gold price was in buoyant form in 2020 because the precious metal is viewed as a safe haven in times of uncertainties.
Given the uncertainties in the banking sector, it may be worthwhile to consider buying gold if you have set aside sufficient emergency funds. If you are buying physical gold, make sure to buy from a reputable bullion dealer.
In Singapore, two of the most bullion dealers are BullionStar and UOB. The main advantage of BullionStar’s (BSP) is the opportunity to convert your gold savings to physical bullion bars, produced by LBMA refineries, at any time without any extra cost whatsoever. On the other hand, UOB gold savings account cannot be converted to physical gold or gold certificates. The UOB gold savings account is also not backed by physical gold.
Over the years, I am heartened to note that BullionStar has gone from strength to strength to become one of the leading bullion dealers in Singapore. Obviously, I hope that I have contributed in some small ways in their development. Earlier this year, the company had expanded their operations to United States. On this note, I am of the belief that BullionStar will continue to be a success story in the international bullion dealing community. Till then, enjoy the ride.