Russia's Sberbank sees precious metals sales surge

MOSCOW, Nov 19 (Reuters) - State-controlled Russian banking major Sberbank SBER03.MM said on Wednesday sales of precious metals have surged this year as its clients seek safe investments in the face of turbulent financial markets. Sberbank, Russia's largest lender, said its clients had bought around 6 tonnes of silver ingots in the first 10 months of the year -- three times as much as during the whole of 2007.

Gold purchases for the period totalled 10 tonnes, or 1-1/2 times as much as during the whole of last year. “In the conditions of instability in global financial markets, Sberbank’s clients are more actively buying precious metals with the aim of saving, and also with the expectation of making a profit due to the rise in (metal) prices,” the bank said in a statement.

“The most conservative investors prefer to keep their money in precious metal ingots.”

For many Russians the memories of the 1998 financial crisis -- which featured bank collapses and a plunge in the value of the rouble -- are still very fresh.

Data shows that Russians have started withdrawing money from rouble deposits at banks and September’s outflow was only partly compensated for by an increase in foreign currency deposits. [ID:nL1146221].

Russia's stock markets are down over 70 percent from May peaks .IRTS, and the rouble has weakened by around 15 percent versus the dollar during the period RUB=.

However, those who put money in precious metals will not have necessarily fared too well either -- the dollar price of gold is down around 17 percent since mid-May, and 10 percent since the start of the year XAU=. Silver has also weakened XAG=.

Russia produced 162.8 tonnes of gold last year.

Sberbank accounts for 30 percent of assets in the Russian banking system. (Reporting by Toni Vorobyova; editing by Simon Jessop)