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Gold demand soars amid SVB fallout: Should investors worry about tech, banks or start-ups?

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Gold prices and demand are surging in the aftermath of the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) fallout. But should investors worry about backing tech, banks or start-ups?

The precious metal is often seen as a safe haven, with investors flocking to it during times of volatility and financial stress.

Given the events which have unfolded over the weekend and into this week amid the Silicon Valley Bank collapse and the subsequent rescue of the UK business by HSBC, the markets and investors are still spooked.

BullionVault reports that new account openings have tripled since Sunday, hitting the highest since it peaked on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine just over a year ago.

Prices have also leaped in all currencies as it flirts near record highs in sterling. The precious metals marketplace recorded gold dipping to £1,528 per ounce on Friday 10 March. Today, the peak recorded £1,573 per ounce, just shy of the all-time high of £1,585 recorded last month.

Adrian Ash, director of research at BullionVault, said: “The shock from SVB’s crash is driving gold higher as banking shares lead global stock markets lower amid sudden fears over credit quality and counterparty risk.”

However, is there a case for investors to be nervous around owning tech and banking stocks, as well as investing in start-up businesses?

Tech and banks’ outlook

James Yardley, senior research analyst at Chelsea Financial Services, said “tech is fine” since all the deposits have been guaranteed so there is no need to worry there.

“It’s the same for the start-ups. The fall out to the tech sector will now be very limited. The decrease in inflation and interest rate expectations is actually very good news for tech. So, I would see this as an opportunity,” he said.

Yardley added that the quick intervention by the Fed and US Government means the US banking system “should be fine as well as they have de-facto guaranteed all deposits”.

But he said it does raise a lot of difficult questions about “moral hazard”.

Yardley said: “If the Government can’t even let a mid-sized regional bank go bust then what is the point of having deposit insurance or a private banking system at all? Banks may essentially be reduced to utilities with low returns. To some extent this has already happened in Europe and the UK, where banks generally have strong capital bases and a lot more regulation. However, this has also made them less profitable.”

He added that “he finds it very hard to get that excited about most banks”.

He said: “They are opaque, cyclical, highly leveraged and difficult to analyse businesses which always tend to have a nasty surprise waiting.”

This is echoed by Ben Yearsley, director of Shore Financial Planning, who said: “It feels like authorities acted quickly to ensure contagion didn’t happen. In the UK, HSBC have bought the UK arm meaning depositors and borrowers have no uncertainty.

“There shouldn’t be any fall out to investors. Obviously bank shares have fallen in sympathy amidst worries about bad loans and defaults. In addition, there is now a thought process that central banks will cut rates sooner than thought, hurting banks’ profits.”

Rising interest rate effect

Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor said: “It will be interesting to see whether the start-up friendly style of lending offered by SVB and not the larger more traditional banking behemoths, will continue to be possible under the HSBC umbrella.”

And Myron Jobson, senior personal finance analyst at Interactive Investor, added that the scenes from the other side of the pond “of snaking queues forming outside SVB branches as customers frantically trying to withdraw their deposits is reminiscent of those etched in the minds of many following the collapse of Northern Rock during the financial crisis over 15 years ago”.

He acknowledged that the global banking industry has been rocked by SVB’s failures because it has stoked concerns that the financial system still has a “soft underbelly”, which is particularly exposed when central banks rapidly lift borrowing costs.

He said: “The fear is there are other banks that are in a similar predicament due to the rise in interest rates.”

However, he added: “This is far from financial crisis mark two as SVB’s business was concentrated in one sector and had relatively little dealings with other banks. Also, the Fed was quick to intervene, promising to protect even uninsured deposits. Here in the UK, HSBC has stepped in to take over the UK arm of the SVB, facilitated by the BoE and the Government.

“Crucially, financial regulation has come a long way since the financial crash. Banks have much more capital than pre financial crisis, meaning they are better guarded against financial stress – even if it is of their own making.”