Nick Frappell

General Manager, ABC Bullion

Dual National, Australian/ UK citizenship. Born in Yokohama, Japan. Moved to Sydney in 2016 from Hong Kong.

I started in the gold business soon after finishing Uni when I joined Bank of Boston’s London office in 1989. Like a lot of people who joined trading businesses at that time, I started in the ‘Back office’ as graduates were still not universal, and often widely assumed to know an awful lot about nothing of use on a dealing desk, a belief not without its merits.

Bank of Boston ran aground on the reefs of the property bust in Massachusetts/New England shortly afterwards, and soon after I was placed in the uniquely privileged position of joining Sumitomo Corporation in their Tokyo office. I arrived in Japan in September 1991 and I remember being taught my first four characters in Japanese, for ‘Man’, ‘Woman’, ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’, as my new boss explained that he wanted me to not only choose the correct toilet to enter, but also not to embarrass myself by shoving against a door that everyone local could clearly see had ‘Pull’ written on it.

I learned about arbitraging Tokyo gold futures on TOCOM against Loco London gold, in what was then one of the deepest gold markets in the world. Generally Japanese investors were long of gold, and the traders used to ‘short’ sell them gold futures but hedge the price risk by buying Loco London and covering the FX risk. This enabled some of them to build up large ‘borrowed’ positions that they could then offset in their producer hedge books, as producers sold them gold for forward delivery, and in turn the Mitsui’s and Sumitomo’s sold out of their Loco London positions to hedge that risk. For a while, as producer hedging boomed in the 1990s, that was a good edge to have for some of the trading houses.

I returned to London to join their European desk, and took up trading silver spot and forwards, including the brief by memorable period when Phibro took silver interest rates from 1 or 2 per cent to 50 or 60 per cent in a matter of a few days. After some fairly quiet times recently in gold, that was a good introduction to some punchy volatility, and I am pleased to say that despite being five or six million Tozs ‘overlent’ to various smelters when the market began to tighten, I emerged unscathed. Or at least not very scathed!

I have to thank my then boss, (of Japanese character fame above), for saying quite gently:  ‘Nick, do as you feel is right, but remember you have the luxury of knowing that you are only two weeks into running a silver forward book, so you can start this from afresh.’ ie for god’s sake borrow and get out of a hole before the ground opens up beneath you!

I had never seen metal lease rates move 1 per cent in 1 day so instinct also said that something was going very differently this time around.

I then spent a good deal of time lending platinum and palladium to various companies, and got involved in borrowing money for the company via Islamic finance, which took me to Saudi and the middle east quite regularly. That period also included the infamous Hamanaka copper incident, where the company eventually lost around 3 billion USD in the aftermath of some copper positions which had been put in the bottom drawer. Sadly it hit the company pretty hard.

Eventually Sumitomo and I parted company and I joined a wonderful trading business called Sempra Metals, the one-time Metallgesellschaft Ltd, the result of a series of mergers among a host of famous LME traders, including Rudolf Wolff, Brandeis, Henry Bath and others. The crew there were among the best people I have ever worked with - and I have worked with some cracking people – and furthermore if you want to learn about running a book, there are few better places than working shoulder to shoulder with the copper, ally and zinc traders at a Category 1 Ring Dealing Member of the LME. (London Metal Exchange)

Some ungenerous people say that they are pirates who simply swapped their eyepatch for a suit and left the cutlass at home, but that is pushing it…

After Sempra entered a JV with RBS (The Royal Bank of Scotland) it become clear that RBS was unable to make good on their ambitions to partner with us and grow the precious metals business. The bank was pretty close to self-imploding at the height of the GFC, and I was offered another role to grow the precious metals business at another Cat 1 LME trader, Triland Metals, which I took.

I enjoyed Triland immensely and still keep in touch with them, but not long afterwards I was approached by Mitsui and Co Precious Metals, - ‘MPM’-(for the second time, flatteringly) and this time they followed through – I joined their London team in 2011.

The big change now was that I was a Sales guy not a trader and I didn’t run the team, so it was different in a lot of ways, but again, it had some fantastic people on the team. Mitsui was consistently voted in the top 5 precious metals trading desks worldwide for several years running in an annual vote featured in ‘Commodity Risk’ magazine, and I was proud to work for them.

I was then transferred to HK by MPM, (after a few months in Singapore first to see if we should have a representative there still) and had a great two years trying to build up their Australian producer business, which by and large worked very well. I was lucky because I had a predecessor who had done the hard yards with some customers in many ways, and all of the revenue arrived on my watch. I started quoting XAUAUD gold options to one or two producers, and that worked well, although slightly worrisome at 5 am London time as the Aussie gold option market is thin at the best of times.

MPM sadly met its end with the horrific cost of regulating single-silo businesses – it wasn’t worth it anymore, in one of those sad ironies that governments and taxpayers moaned about major banks being ‘too big to fail’ and then creating a regulatory environment that only the biggest banks could easily afford.

Before that happened, I had been running a former client of Mitsui’s, a sparky Australian gold refiner and bullion bar distributor called ABC… with dreams and plans for growth. Hence my move to Sydney!

Specialisations

Since about 2004, I have become known to some degree for an interest in Technical Analysis, and in particular for promoting Point and Figure charting and Japanese Ichimoku Cloud charting. One of my friends at Sempra taught me, and then a colleague and I did the UK diploma of Technical Analysis, both of us gaining distinctions and a place amongst the top 8 people in the UK who sat the exam in 2010.

In pretty much everything else I have done in precious metals I have been the complete generalist, happy to quote spot, forwards, leases, fixed-floating, floating-floating…in gold, silver and platinum group metals, even trading a rhodium spot and loan book.

Customer wise I’ve covered hedge funds, CTAs, oil companies (who use platinum for their reformers) auto companies (who generally like to do fixed-floating swaps) banks, LME houses, and of course mining companies, quoting them hedges in various shapes and forms.