The conclusion is mine, but the support comes from the just released 3Q2010 report of the World Gold Council, a leading authority on the yellow metal.
Identifiable world demand is actually up by 12% year on year, despite a 28% rise in the US dollar gold price over that time. Buying of gold, year to date, breaks down into the following categories by tons:
jewelry 1468.3 t, up 8% year on year, comprising 52% of demand
Industrial/dental 320.5 t, up 13% year on year, 11% of demand
investment 1350.2 t, up 19% year on year, 37% of demand.
Geographically, third quarter consumer demand (i.e., excluding industry and central banks) breaks out as follows:
India 33.2% of demand. Purchases up 28% year on year, mostly jewelry
Greater China 22.2% purchases up 16% year on year, mostly investment
Middle East 9.7% purchases down 10% year on year, mostly lower jewelry
United States 8.9% purchases up 8% year on year; jewelry down, investment up
Western Europe 7.6% purchases down 3% year on year
Turkey 6.8% purchases up 35% year on year, virtually all investment
Vietnam 3.3% purchases up 17% year on year; jewelry down, investment up
Thailand 3.2% purchases up 139% year on year; jewelry down, investment up
Russia 2.6% purchases up 17% year on year, on jewelry demand
everybody else 2.5%.
Industrial demand, which is primarily for technology products, has already rebounded to the pre-crisis levels.
Central bank activity has been, from a private investor’s point of view, really odd. Until 1Q09 and at prices at or below $900 an ounce, central banks were heavy sellers. Since then, they have turned into big net buyers. Russia has added 46.2 t to its stockpiles, Thailand 15.6 t, Sri Lanka 6.9 t and the Philippines 4.2t (through late August).
Investment demand breaks out into three categories:
–hoarding of bars, coins, medals–mostly in developing countries, which accounts for 55% of investment and is up by about a third vs. 2009,
–ETFs and similar products, which accounts for 33% of investment and is down by about 40% year on year, and
–“other” identified retail investment–mostly coins bought in the US and Europe, which accounts for 12% of investment and is also down by more than 40% year over year.
Happily, supply is much more straightforward than demand. It comes from:
mine production 62% of supply, up 3% year on year
recycling 41% of supply, down 1% year on year
central bank sales -3% of supply (since central banks have turned net buyers)
On the supply side first, I don’t think there’s any reason to expect a large increase in the supply of gold from current levels.
Yes, higher prices will make new gold mining projects (which can be developed relatively quickly) economically viable. At the same time, however, prudent mining practice calls for existing mines to process progressively less gold-rich ore as prices rise. That way, they maintain profits in boom times, but save higher grade ore for a rainy day.
Again, higher prices should mean more recycling. But one of the reasons for the sharp increase in recycled gold over the past few years is the recession-induced development of a gold recycling industry in the US. Output here has presumably reached a steady-state level. More important, the World Gold Council thinks the rest of the world has pretty much run out of gold lying around to be recycled.
Central bank sales are harder to figure. Luckily, they’re not that large in the overall scheme of things. On the IMF still has about 50 t. of gold to sell. On the other, Russia is carrying out a program to increase central bank holdings of gold. And some smaller, less stable governments, appear to want to remain net buyers as well.
As to demand, the figures above should make it clear that gold is a developing world phenomenon. The US and Western Europe make up only 16.5% of consumer demand and 12% of non-ETF investment purchases. (By the way, Japan isn’t mentioned on the consumer list. That’s because Japanese individuals have been net sellers of gold this year.)
India alone is a third of the overall market for gold. It and China together make up more than half of global demand. In India, buyers want pure gold, to serve both as adornment and savings. The same is true for China, though 18k jewelry has been making inroads. So demand in both places should be a function of economic growth. If the two were to intend to buy gold next year at only half the current pace–and I think that’s a very conservative estimate–this would mean almost over a 6% increase in total demand.
Absent an increase in recycling, which the WGC says is unlikely, I don’t see where the extra gold will come from. Even ignoring demand from fiscally unstable areas like Turkey or Vietnam, or continuing central bank buying, as positive factors, it think this spells higher gold prices in 2011.