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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - More of the world's rich are moving their gold and other valuables away from the economic turmoil in the West to Asia, prompting precious asset shipping specialist Malca-Amit to rapidly expand its storage capacity in the prosperous region.
Hong Kong-based Malca-Amit is one of four leading logistics companies in the world that specialise in transporting and storing precious metals. It is also the biggest diamond shipper.
Last month, the company opened Asia's largest private vault in Hong Kong and is currently adding to its facilities in Singapore. Next year, it plans to open a vault in Shanghai, which would be its biggest in the world, and is also considering establishing storage in other locations in China.
"We have a lot of enquiries from European banks, not because they want to move the assets necessarily to Asia, but because their clients are asking them to," said Joshua Rotbart, general manager of Malca-Amit Precious Metals Ltd.
"The clients don't want gold held in the U.S. or Switzerland. They want to move it here."
These clients include rich Asians who want their valuables closer to home as well as Westerners.
Singapore, the well-governed city-state known for its stable economy, is so far their favoured destination. Malca-Amit imported five times more gold to Singapore in the first half of 2012 compared to the previous six months, said Rotbart.
Malca-Amit's Singapore vaults are located in the Singapore Freeport, a privately owned secured storage facility near the airport. In one vault, silver bars each weighing 32 kgs were stacked in a locked cage, next to a cage containing gold bars sealed in anti-tampering bags. Bags of bullion coins and emeralds were lined up along the walls.
"We will expand as long as the capacity of Freeport allows," Rotbart said, as workers reinforced the walls of a newly constructed vault.
Malca-Amit rents out safety deposit boxes, which hold up to 80 kgs of goods, mostly to individual clients; stores clients' larger holdings in the common vault, and provides designated vaults for big financial institutions.
The Shanghai vault, which is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2013, is designed to store jewels, luxury goods and fine art and will exceed the storage capacity of the company's facilities in both Hong Kong and Singapore.
"China is growing very fast in all the three main industries we cater to," said Rotbart, referring to precious metals, jewellery and diamonds and luxury goods.
"We've seen a lot of precious metals movement into China, and domestic consumption is rocket high."
China is on its way to overtake India as the world's biggest gold consumer this year, as India's gold demand has taken a blow from the country's weak currency and higher import tax while Chinese consumers' appetite for gold remains resilient. (Editing by Miral Fahmy)