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LBMA/LPPM Conference: Gràcies Barcelona

By Shelly Ford, Digital Content Manager & Editor of the Alchemist, LBMA

Delegates from around the world convened in Barcelona for the LBMA/LPPM Global Precious Metals Conference, which ran from 15–17 October 2023.

After Sunday’s heavy morning rain, the Spanish skies cleared in time for a welcome reception at the W Barcelona, sponsored by CME Group, at which guests enjoyed networking with friends and colleagues, old and new.

Unwinding at W Barcelona’s welcome reception, courtesy of CME Group.

The main conference kicked off in earnest the following morning. After welcome remarks from Paul Fisher (chairman, LBMA), John Cullen (chairman, LPPM and director, Johnson Matthey) and Ruth Crowell (CEO, LBMA), a special address by Yu Wenjian (chairman, Shanghai Gold Exchange) focused on the importance of collaboration.

Listen to the Poets

In Monday’s first keynote speech, economist David McWilliams offered delegates an unconventional view of the world through the medium of poetry. He posited that WB Yeats’ much-lauded poem “The Second Coming”, written in 1919, predicted the state of world affairs after the First World War much more accurately than so-called expert economists, journalists and policymakers at the time. “Listen to the poets”, he urged.

Economist David McWilliams takes the stage for an inspiring keynote.

The Financial Times’ James Kynge tackled the macro-economic outlook, focusing on China, in the second keynote of the day. Against the backdrop of rising national security, protectionism, and geopolitical uncertainty, Kynge was very optimistic that China would win the technological race against the US.

Investment Panel on the Key Issues

The investment panel, moderated by the World Gold Council’s John Reade, covered the outlook on the markets, the economy, de-dollarisation, and the Chinese economy. Panellists also discussed price drivers, modelling, and trading – and how gold has held out so well in the face of a strong US dollar and rising interest rates.

“Liquidity is the biggest issue for central banks right now”, claimed Peter Zollner (Bank for International Settlements), who added that central banks will do what they can to keep reserves in line with the needs of the financial system. “It’s a relief to have gold in your portfolio when bad things happen”, asserted John Reade. James Strawson (Citadel) agreed with Zollner’s outlook of the strength of the US dollar, explaining that the US economy will likely continue to outperform the rest of the world, apart from China.

Mind the Gap

The next session, moderated by Nicky Shiels (MKS PAMP), explored the outlook for platinum group metals, with Dr Bernhard Fuchs (Umicore), Emma Townshend (Implats) and Margery Ryan (Johnson Matthey). The panel’s presentations and discussions covered the risks associated with recycling catalysts, how the future energy economy will be constrained by availability, closing the gap between supply and demand – and how the energy transition has unique implications for the PGMs, but the PGMs have unique implications for the energy transition. “Palladium is the thinking person’s nickel – there’s a huge market here still to be explored”, said Ryan, referring to the potentially huge increase in use thanks to its closed loop processing and potential pharma applications.

Delegates then moved on to the champagne roundtables, where hot topics included artificial intelligence (AI), climate change, silver and PGMs, investment, and the Asia market.

A deep dive into platinum group metals’ future with experts Nicky Shiels, Dr Bernhard Fuchs, Emma Townshend, and Margery Ryan.

That evening, coaches chauffeured guests to a dinner sponsored by Metalor and TANAKA at the spectacular Poble Espanyol. Traditional Spanish dancing and street performers led guests to their tables for food and further networking opportunities, which was continued at the after-dinner drinks, sponsored by LPPM.

The elegant dinner sponsored by Metalor and TANAKA at Poble Espanyol

Machines Taking Over?

Day 2 began at 9 am sharp with the third and final keynote, this time from AI and business strategist Elin Hauge. As exhibited by the recent actors’ strike in Hollywood, people are afraid of machines taking over humanity. But it all boils down to mathematics, explained Hauge in her keynote about AI. She explored how large language models are only the foundations for context-specific applications. “AI is the natural next step – we have the data and the processes, now it makes sense to apply maths to make the data useful”, said Hague. “But we need to become better versions of humans before we can trust the machines to become better machines”.

The Green Economy

The next session of the day focused on the role of silver in the green economy. Michael DiRienzo (Silver Institute) moderated the panel featuring Phillip S. Baker, Jr. (Hecla Mining Company) and Dr Trevor Keel (Material Value Ltd), in which one of the key challenges discussed was limited supply. The panel agreed there’s yet more growth on the horizon with new technologies and innovations, compounding investor and industrial demand alongside the green transition. “Silver is still heavily researched as a solution to many issues. It’s a multifaceted metal”, noted Keel.

THE NEXT SESSION OF THE DAY FOCUSED ON THE ROLE OF SILVER IN THE GREEN ECONOMY.

The next session on sustainability explored what this means for the precious metals industry, and how LBMA is, among other measures, introducing shadow audits – about which Hannah Koep-Andrieu (OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct) said “we welcome very much” – as well as the increasingly in-depth reporting to increase transparency. Input from Antoine de Montmollin (Metalor) on the challenges of ASM was welcomed. Sakhila Mirza (LBMA) called for collective engagement, NGO feedback, and support from policymakers to facilitate the ecosystem and technology to enable responsible supply chains.

The final session invited the audience to consider and explore precious metal trends without discussing price. David Gornall (LBMA) led a deep dive on gold as a high-quality liquid asset (HQLA), in which Matthew Slater (UBS) said: “Gold as an HQLA is probably the biggest issue the industry faces”.

Price Forecast

At the beginning of Day 1 in Barcelona, delegates forecasted that the LBMA gold price at the time of next year’s conference in Miami will be $1,989.3. By the end of Day 2, forecasts adjusted only minimally to $1,990.3.

Wrap-up Webinar

If you would like a wrap-up of the highlights and key takeaways from the conference, you can find a webinar hosted by Rhona O‘Connell, featuring discussion from James Steel and Suki Cooper on the LBMA website. The latest issue of the Alchemist, LBMA’s flagship publication, was published for the Conference. A digital version of the magazine can be found on the LBMA website.

Register for 2024

Interested in joining the discussion next year? Registration is now open for next year’s Global Precious Metals Conference, taking place on 13–15 October 2024 in sunny and vibrant Miami, Florida, USA. Hope to see you there!

Delegate Feedback From Barcelona:

“Best and most valuable conference I’ve been to.”

“Very well-done event. Bravo and see you in Miami!”

“The conference is critical for the industry and the work and effort put in by LBMA is very much appreciated.”

SHELLY FORD is the digital content manager and editor of LBMA’s Alchemist magazine. She supports the head of communications to create and develop content across digital channels that engages the LBMA’s key stakeholders and supports the organisation’s vision and objectives. Shelly brings a wealth of content creation, strategy, and campaign experience from previous roles in the professional and financial service industries, as well as Lloyd’s of London insurance market and publishing houses.