Australia's ANZ bank closes Singapore gold vault

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ), whose gold bullion business is one of Asia's largest, said on Thursday it was closing its precious metals vault in Singapore.

The move follows the bank's sale last year of its stake in an exchange-traded fund backed by physical gold and sources say it is part of a scaling back of ANZ's precious metals business.

While ANZ is trimming, increasing regulation and lower profits have seen banks including Scotiabank Barclays , Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank cut back or exit precious metals in recent years.

The bank opened the vault — which could hold 50 tonnes of gold worth around $2 billion at current prices — in 2013. That year, ANZ said it distributed close to 15 percent of the world's primary gold production.

"ANZ has suspended its physical precious metals custody service as it does not align to our business strategy at this time," a spokesman for the bank told Reuters.

"This is a very small change in our precious metals and commodities business, which remains more broadly an important part of the ANZ Markets business," the spokesman said.

Industry sources say precious metals account for the bulk of revenues at ANZ's commodities division estimated at $50-80 million a year.

The custody business closure is part of a broader restructuring and consolidation of ANZ's precious metals and commodities business, sources familiar with the matter said.

ANZ did not comment further on the restructuring.

ANZ is Australia's third largest lender and grew its precious metals arm rapidly in the 2000s and 2010s, specialising in exporting gold mined in Australia into India and China, the world's biggest gold consumers.

That growth was helped by an agreement with the Perth Mint, a major gold refinery, which allowed ANZ to sell the mint's bullion overseas. That deal ended in 2016 after it was not renewed, sources said.

ANZ found itself at the centre of one of Australia's biggest cases of alleged white-collar crime following a cartel conduct investigation by the country's competition watchdog over a $2.3 billion stock issue.

(By Peter Hobson; Editing by Veronica Brown and Alexandra Hudson)