With a referendum on Britain's future in the European Union just a day away, British investors are turning to a tried-and-true refuge: gold.
Trading in gold and silver on an online service run by the Royal Mint has increased 32 per cent this month from May, and revenue is up 150 per cent. May was also a big month with trading revenue up 94 per cent from April and 50 per cent from a year ago.
"June 2016 has already been one of the best months to date with an unprecedented increase in revenue, transactions and average order value," Mint spokeswoman Jenny Manders said in an e-mail. Fears about Brexit are contributing to the surge, she added.
The Royal Mint, which traces its history back 1,000 years, started the online service two years ago, giving investors an opportunity to buy and sell gold and silver coins directly from the Mint based on prices updated constantly. Investors can take delivery of the coins or store them at the Mint for a fee.
"We recently conducted a survey of users on our website and the results confirmed that 85 per cent of customers feel precious metals offer a good 'safe haven' investment in times of market volatility and uncertainty. The Brexit debate has certainly contributed to this market uncertainty, though we cannot rule out other contributing market factors," Ms. Manders added.
That same survey found that most investors expect the price of gold to rise as much as 10 per cent in the event Britain votes to leave the EU on Thursday.
Fears over Britain's possible exit soared last week when polls showed support for Vote Leave pulling ahead. That sent stock markets across Europe into turmoil and investors fleeing for safe havens such as precious metals and government bonds. Yields on 10-year German bonds went negative for the first time, while British bond yields hit record lows.
Last month, the World Gold Council said demand for gold had spiked by a record 21 per cent in the first three months of 2016, partly because of concerns over Brexit. The council said investors in Europe have been "plagued" by lingering Brexit fears, driving demand across the continent.
Investor worries have eased somewhat this week as polls show the Remain side has won back some support and moved slightly ahead. Gold has fallen as a result and closed down $22.28 (U.S.) at $1,267.72 on Tuesday.
Even still, the referendum is still too close to call, leaving some investment strategists scratching their heads.
"People have become highly sensitive to each poll that comes out," said Alexis Gray, a European economist in the investment strategy group at the Vanguard Group in London. "Obviously, we've had a lot of nervousness from investors … this is a highly unpredictable event."
Vanguard is telling investors not to take a chance by making decisions based on one possible outcome or another. "Having global diversification is important at a time like this," she added.
When asked which way she thinks the vote will go, Ms. Gray said two weeks ago she felt confident Remain would win, but now, "to be honest I wouldn't want to put a huge bet on it."