Archive for April, 2010

The American Gold Buffalo

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Buffalo_Proof_ObverseThe American Gold Buffalo was introduced by the United States Mint in 2006 as a new 24 carat gold bullion coin program and was first offered for sale on 22nd June. Production was authorized under Public Law 109-145 (also known as the Presidential $1 Coin Act) , dated December 22, 2005. The new program was created in addition to the existing American Eagle Bullion Coin Program, which included 22 karat American Gold Eagle bullion coins. The new coins were created in part to compete with 24 karat gold bullion offerings from other world mints, such as the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf and the Chinese Gold Panda and was the first time that the United States Government has minted pure (.9999) 24-carat gold coins for the public. Large scale bullion dealers purchase directly from the United States Mint and then resell the coins to other dealers and the public. They are also responsible for creating a two way market to ensure liquidity. The one ounce bullion coins have been produced each year from 2006 to 2009.

The American Buffalo, also known as a Gold Buffalo Coin follows the greatly admired design of the Indian Head nickel and has gained its nickname from the American Bison on the reverse side of the design The coin has a legal tender (face) value of US$50. On the American Buffalo coin, the mound area of the reverse with the words FIVE CENTS has been changed to read $50 1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD. Also, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, appearing on all U.S. gold coins since 1908, can be seen on the reverse to the left of and beneath the buffalo head.

The design is a modified version of James Earle Fraser’s design for the Indian Head nickel(Type 1), issued in early 1913. After a raised mound of dirt below the animal on the reverse was reduced, the Type 2 variation continued to be minted for the rest of 1913 and every year until 1938, except for 1922, 1932, and 1933 when no nickels were struck. Generally, Fraser’s Indian Head nickel design is regarded as among the best designs of any U.S. coins. The same design also was used on the 2001 Smithsonian commemorative coin.

The obverse of the coin depicts a Native American, whom Fraser said he created as a mixture of the features of three chiefs from different American Indian tribes, Big Tree, Iron Tail, and Two Moons, who posed as models for him to sketch.

Buffalo_Proof_ReverseAtop a mound of dirt on the reverse of the coin stands an American Bison, which commonly are referred to as buffalo. The animal depicted on the reverse is believed by most to be the bison named Black Diamond, who lived in the New York City Central Park Zoo during the 1910s. It is said that Fraser had to have someone distract the buffalo while he snuck to a position beside it to draw. Otherwise, the buffalo would turn to face him and Fraser couldn’t get the profile he wanted.

The 2006 and 2007 coins have only been issued in a one ounce version, but in 2008, $5, $10, and $25 face value coins were minted with 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, and 1/2 oz of gold respectively in proof finishes.

Buff spec

The collectible versions carry the “W” mint mark, while the bullion coins do not have a mint mark.

The  2009 mintage was not issued until October 2009 and production was sold out in March 2010.  The 2010 issue is due to be available on 29th April 2010

Gold Buffalo Bullion Coin Mintage


1 oz.









Gold Buffalo Proof Coin Mintage


1 oz.

1/2 oz.

1/4 oz.

1/10 oz.





















Gold Buffalo Uncirculated (W) Coin Mintage


1 oz.

1/2 oz.

1/4 oz.

1/10 oz.






Is the gold bull finished – 1980 v 2010 ?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

People are questioning whether the bull  run on gold over the last decade reached its climax with the December 2009 high of $1227 and we are on a downward slope. Let’s compare the conditions in 1980 with today and we will find that they are quite different.


In 1971, the United States suspended the free exchange of U.S. gold for foreign-held dollars, then in 1974 lifted its four-decade ban on the private purchase of gold. At that time, gold bullion was being traded in European markets at highs approaching $200 an ounce. In 1975, the U.S. government began to sell some of its holdings on the open market and in 1978, along with most other nations, officially abandoned the gold standard. After being released from government control, the price of gold soared and touched $850 in January 1980.  In the three years before 1980 gold price grew eightfold  as the result of mainly fear but also greed

In Dec 2009 the gold price soared to $1227 per ounce. So was this the zenith and comparable to the 1980 high? Was this the end of the bull market that was running for almost a decade?.

There are many differences between 1980 and today not least of which the world is not the same following the most significant financial crisis since the great depression of the 1930’s, global warming threatening our existence and the economic balance between East and West swinging to the East. In 1980 the cold war still raged, the Berlin wall separated East and West Germany, and Eastern Europe was in soviet control, the Russian bear was feared. We must also remember that gold in real terms is trading at only half of the high reached in 1980 as the $850 to day equates to approximately $2200 when inflation is applied.

Political Fear – The Soviets had  signed a “bilateral treaty of cooperation” with Afghanistan in 1978, but by the next year relations had deteriorated and  the Soviet Invasion of Afganistan, which began around Christmas 1979, was a terrible global shock., Russian forces seized all major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target – the Tajbeg Presidential Palace, where they killed President Hafizullah Amin and announced on Radio that Afghanistan had been liberated

It was a slap in the face to a cold war America.

At the same time the Russians were building up their strength  in southern Yemen close to Saudi Arabia and the oil fields. Also in Bulgaria’s border with Yugoslavia, a liberal communist country, whose 87 year old president Tito solely responsible for binding the  Serbs, Croatians and Muslims together since the end of WWII was very ill.

Iranian fundamentalists took over the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 anther slap for America.  Ayatollah Khomeni became supreme leader in December and relations ships with Sadam Hussein’s Iraq were at an all time low eventually leading to the Iran –Iraq war.

Economic Fear – The 70’s were a period where inflation was spiraling out of control, stagflation unemployment, oil embargoes and subsequent spike in oil prices spread gloom and despair.  In 1979 inflation in the US was at 12% and was in double figures in most western countries  In the UK the winter of 1978-9 was known as the “winter of discontent” and during 1979 nearly 30 million working days were lost due to strikes.  Debt in the USA had risen to almost $1 trillion and the dollar was weak.

silverspikechartAnother catalyst that shook the markets was Bunker Hunt’s run on silver. Hunt, an oil billionaire, his brother and friends by October 1979 had bought up all the silver paper propositions to the tune of 192 million ounces.  In early January 1980 , it became evident that COMEX intended to change the rules to only allow 10 million/oz of contracts per trader and that all contracts over that amount must be liquidated before February 18th. Of course, the CFTC promptly backed up the ruling. The escape hatch for the Hunts and some of the other large longs was simply to convert their futures contracts into physicals, On January 17th silver hit $50/oz, Bunker had continued to buy. At that point in time the Hunt’s silver position was worth $4.5 billion dollars. This caused chaos as there was no silver to be had to supply and the Hunts were driven to ruin.

Oil revenue to Gold – The rapid rise in oil price produced a sudden surge of wealth in  Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States  and enormous sums were diverted into gold. This was further accelerated by the fall of the Shah which exposed vulnerability of people in power in the Middle East and led them to protect their positions. It was common for Saudi dealers to bid for 50-100,000 ounce in a morning and one bank was asked to buy 300,000 ounces for a single client.  Speculators also used the opportunity to dupe the market to increase the price of gold by bidding for huge sums  through a Gulf bank giving the impression that Arabs were pouring money into gold, a story carried by media for some time.

Greed – Of course speculation reached the phase of public awareness which is always the last phase close to the peak just before the decent.

The world was in turmoil and inflation was out of control so everyone was scared. When people are scared fiat currency is not enough. They return to traditions going back to the beginning of civilization to secure wealth in physical gold that gives portability and liquidity. During times of crisis and fear gold rises and individual governments can’t stop it; but in peaceful times governments are able to maintain control. The future of the American economy and American power did not feel at all certain. As a safe haven in times of panic and strife, gold simply reflected that fear. As soon as the emotion subdued and rationality returned  the buying panic quickly subsided and turned to selling phase taking down the price.

gold 1980The Fall – Prices will rise as supply cannot meet demand but in 1980  when the price touched $850 all over the world people began dishoarding their coins and  old jewellery in an unprecedented scale to the extent that dealers were running out of money to pay for the re cycled gold and Refinieries  had more than enough scrap gold. Thus supply quickly out grew demand.

In early 1980, Paul Volcker’s (Fed Chairman) new Fed policy began to bite. U.S. interest rates began to skyrocket. As they rose, the Dollar first slowed its descent, then stopped falling, and then began to rise. Both the public and the investment community which had stampeded into Gold was lured back into paper by this huge rise in interest rates – and by the prospect of a higher U.S. Dollar. The threat of financial meltdown was averted. There was a rush out of Gold and back to Dollars. The Dow was already rising in 1979 and really took off in 1982.

The gold price dropped off dramatically after its January 1980 high in short because people lost their fear as inflation the bane of the 1970s was finally coming under control, interest rates and the stock markets rose making other investments more attractive. Supply was greater than demand and the Middle abruptly exited the gold market.


The financial crisis that rose its ugly head in 2008 and continued through 2009 is comparable to the fear generated in 1979-80 and was one of the reasons for the rise in gold as people sought a safe haven. The dollar has been weak, a norm for a corresponding high gold price and this was catalyzed by India buying 200 tonnes from the IMF to drive the price to the December high.

The Future – The difference between 1980 and today is that in 1980 we were exiting a terrible decade and the future looked bright economically. Today the future is far from bright and whilst we have managed the worst financial crisis since the depression and are even complacent; but the truth is we are not out of the crisis. The economy is recovering slowly and is still very volatile and in the UK we have £1.4 trillion in sovereign debt to face. According to the IMF spiralling sovereign debt in Europe, the US, and Japan has emerged as the top threat to the world economy and risks setting off a fresh financial storm. The eurozone is heading for one per cent growth this year, limping out of recession under the threat of a sovereign debt crisis. The main risk is that, if unchecked, market concerns about sovereign liquidity and solvency in Greece could turn into a full-blown sovereign debt crisis, leading to some contagion. The economies of Ireland, Spain and Portugal will shrink. The US’s ratio of total debt to GDP is likely to exceed 90% this year, making it more indebted even than Spain and Portugal. It is similar to Weimar Germany but for different reasons and has printed trillions of dollars of fiat currency which will eventually lead to debasement. The dollar is weak and is likely to get weaker. The Chinese Yuan is undervalued but it is not in China and the worlds interest to drop the dollar just yet but the time will come and dollar will fall. The Chinese are on the unmistakable path towards challenging the dollar and the ultimate aim is financial supremacy The dollar’s status as the worlds reserve currency is under threat and both Russia and China are pushing or an alternative in which gold must surely take a part.

Today we have a world of low interest rates where it is almost impossible to obtain an interest rate that does not lose on the capital invested each year when taking into account inflation and tax. With the right gold product tax on profit can be eliminated.

In 1980 Central banks were auctioning off gold, today central banks are turning to gold as many countries increase their gold reserves. Last year India bought 200 tonnes from the IMF to meet its international commitments. China has increased its reserves to 1054 tonnes and announced its intent to continue buying.

India is currently the largest consumer, China the largest producer and second largest consumer and Russia were not players in 1980 and it is these countries where the demand is currently driven. China is consuming all it can produce and quietly everything it can buy with out upsetting the price.

Public Awareness – In 1980 public awareness led to speculation and to frantic selling of gold, de hoarding which was contributory to the drop in price as the amount of scrap gold created an over supply. Today you can hardly open a newspaper or watch television without seeing an advert to persuade you to sell your old gold. This is the reverse of 1980 as the refineries need the re cycled gold to ease the demand. Also investment has not yet reached the public awareness stage. From the chart below  you will see that there is no slide just a correction which is normal

2year gold fixIn conclusion gold is still a safe hedge, the world is uncertain with threats of sovereign debt, inflation and the weakening of the dollar. Gold is finite all the gold ever produced would fit into a 20 metre cube. As mining becomes more difficult production costs are rising to almost $800. The demand from the East cannot be met so demand is greater than supply and there will be more pressure on supply as the gold fields dry up. I have seen an analogy where more gold can be extracted per ton by harvesting old mobile phones than the majority of modern mines. Were are currently in a period of correction fed by a certain amount of complacency but trends indicate that we should see a breakthrough of $1300 by Q4 2011.

Maurice Hall

The British half sovereign

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Half sov aucofThe half sovereign is a British gold coin with a face value half that of a sovereign: equivalent to half a pound sterling, ten shillings, or 120 old pence. Since the end of the gold standard until 2000, with the exception of 1982, it has been issued only in limited quantities as a commemorative coin with a sale price and resale value far in excess of its face value.

The half sovereign was first introduced in 1544 under Henry VIII. After 1604, the issue of half sovereigns, along with gold sovereigns, was discontinued until 1817, following a major revision of British coinage. Production continued until 1926 and in Australia’s Perth mint until 1933 and, apart from special issues for coronation years, was not restarted until 1982 and then only as a proof issue

During Victorian times the half sovereign was more widely circulated than the full sovereign. The average life of both a sovereign and the half sovereign was around 15 years before it fell below the lowest legal weight. It is estimated that only 1% of all gold sovereigns that have ever been minted are still in collectable condition In 1891 a proclamation was made that members of the general public could hand in any gold coins that were underweight and have them replaced by full weight coins. Any gold coin struck before 1837 also ceased to be legal tender. This recycled gold was subsequently reminted into 13,680,486 half sovereigns in 1892 and 10,846,741 sovereigns in 1900.

In 1982 2.5 million coins were issued and mostly throughout history the design has followed the full sovereign with the reverse side, featuring the famous and beautiful St. George slaying a dragon designed by Benedetto Pistrucci, whose initials appear to the right of the date. There were variations on the reverse with royal shield and the simplified George and dragon. There were only proof issue until 2000 when bullion production commenced.

Sovereign mintage2000_to_2005

1989 marked the 500 year anniversary of the first gold half sovereign ever issued, for Henry VII in 1489. The entire design, including the lettering, in a style inspired by the original 1489 sovereigns. The obverse design is Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, seated enthroned, facing forwards and the reverse a crowned shield at the centre of a Tudor rose. Again this design, and the lettering, are in a style similar to that on the very first gold sovereign issues. A total of 23,471 coins were produced in individual and coin sets. This proof issue and a single date issue makes it doubly attractive to collectors  thus  it attracts a high premium.

There is good availability of the half sovereign with some rare issues and they are popular as a first entry into gold coins or to purchase as memento. Because they are quite small many half sovereigns have been mounted in jewllery either as rings or pendants. In general you would expect to extra premium on the half sovereign as is the norm with most small coins and on occasions that is true. The average over the last month was 7.5%  but here are also some huge spikes in the premium differential such as in October 2009 where the premium was over 90% so it is a coin that needs to be watched carefully. Of course as the half sovereign is a gold coin of  legal tender it is not subject to VAT or Capital Gains Tax


Half sov spec

Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843, while performing a conjuring trick for the amusement of his children, he accidentally swallowed a half-sovereign coin which became lodged in his windpipe. A special pair of forceps failed to remove it, as did a machine to shake it loose devised by Brunel himself. Eventually, at the suggestion of Sir Marc, IKB was strapped to a board, turned upside-down, and the coin was jerked free.

Maurice Hall

The Trial of the Pyx

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

In an era when Fiat currencies are being printed indiscriminately leading to debasement of the currency itself it is satisfying to note that the worlds longest running consumer protection policy is still in place, to ensure the Great Britain’s physical coinage meets exacting requirements. Since 1282 our coins have been measured against the worlds most exacting standards  in the trial of the Pyx, which has taken place every single year, including in 1940 when a German bomb, just two days before, destroyed a large portion of the Goldsmith’s Hall. For the 728th time the trial was conducted on the second Tuesday in February of this year in the Hall of the Worshipful company of Goldsmiths.

goldsmiths hall

Goldsmiths Hall

The term Pyx is from the ancient Greek and refers to the boxwood chest in which the coins are placed for presentation to the Jury. Unlike many quaint customs in the UK this is legally binding procedure and is a trial in the true sense presided over by a judge with an expert jury of assayers. The Judge is the Queen’s Remembrancer which is oldest judicial position in continuance existence created by King Henry II in 1154. The jury is composed of at least six assayers from the Company of Goldsmiths. They have two months to test the provided coins, and decide whether they have been properly minted. Criteria are given for diameter, chemical composition and weight for each class of coinage. The verdict has to be reported in writing and signed by the Jury.

The benchmark against which the coins are measured is known as the Trial Plate, and these were kept under the personal guard of the Monarch, in the Exchequer. The earliest surviving Trial Plate is stored in the Royal Mint, and dates from 1279.

Trial Plates are still used today – although they are managed by the National Weights and Measures Laboratory – who send a representative to the Trial to deliver them to the Court.

Coins to be tested are drawn from the regular production of the Royal Mint. The Deputy Master of the Mint must, throughout the year, randomly select several thousand sample coins and place them aside for the Trial. These must be in a certain fixed proportion to the number of coins produced

The first phase of the Trial is the counting and weighing of coins brought to the hall in the Pyx boxes. Throughout the year, one coin from every single batch minted by the Royal Mint is set aside and put in sealed bags, each containing 50 coins. These bags are placed in the Pyx boxes for the Trial.  In a normal year of production in excess of 60,000 coins would be counted although the jury would only count about 1/10th of them with the remainder counted by machines in a side room.

The Jury member opens the packet and selects a coin at random and puts it in the copper bowl and the remaining 49 coins in the wooden bowl. This wooden bowl is later weighed to check that the coins are the correct weight. The copper bowl will be taken away once the event is over, and the coins in that will be handed over to the Assay Office who will, over the next couple of months carry out detailed tests to confirm that the metallic content is as it should be.


Queen's Remembrancer

The verdict of the Jury is delivered to the Queen’s Remembrancer in May in the presence of the Master of the Mint, or his Deputy.  For those interested a copy of the verdict from the 2009 trial can be found on this link Our Interest is in Gold coins and you will see in the verdict how they were weighed, melted, assayed and compared with the standard gold plate within the prescribed tolerances.

Maurice Hall

China gold report – Year of the Tiger

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Over the past few years, China has experienced economic prosperity and rapidly increasing wealth.  During the same period, the Western world faced deep recession and is only now beginning to recover.  Today China has an insatiable appetite for gold which looks likely to continue in an environment where domestic mine supply lags behind demand. According to the latest World Gold Council Analysis, Chinese demand for gold is set to double in tonnage terms within just ten years. Over the past 5 years the demand for gold has risen by and average of 13% per annum and there is significant untapped potential in the Chinese gold market.

The rational behind the belief that a doubling of demand comprises of a number of elements:

  1. China’s need to diversify from USD assets without destroying the dollar as it holds 2.4 trillion in reserves
  2. China’s intention to increase it’s gold reserves from its current 1.6%
  3. Sustained GDP and subsequent wealth creating a higher saving rate
  4. China’s gold consumption per capita is very low in comparison with other gold consuming nations
  5. The growth in jewellery ownership is expected to take off in relation to the increase in spending power
  6. Citizens are encourage to put a proportion of their savings into gold and similarly the Central Bank is looking to diversify
  7. Gold demand is increasing as is production but according to WGC research reserves account for only 4% of known global gold mining reserves and could be exhausted in 6 years
  8. Its is likely that demand will outpace domestic supply with subsequent impact on the global gold market

1. Diversification

One factor that the Peoples Bank of China (PBoC) will consider is the future performance of the US dollar. Over the last 12 months, the US dollar has depreciated against major currencies and has not fared well as a preserver of capital. China, along with Japan, are the biggest single holders of US Treasuries and will certainly not benefit in precipitating a US dollar crisis since this will further devalue their trillions of US dollars in reserves and adversely impact the purchasing power of the US consumer – their major export customer. PBoC has been purchasing local gold mine production and local refining of recycled gold in local currency. The PBoC prefers not to be seen switching out of the US dollar at this juncture when such a large proportion of China’s foreign exchange reserves are already in dollar-denominated assets. A withdrawal of such significant volumes out of the gold-hungry domestic market would also further increase the domestic supply-demand gap in the Chinese private sector and escalate the “snowball” effect in China. Hence, we would not be surprised to see the PBoC proceed on a gradual strategy ( see article on China’s strategy and dilemma) , if it decides to increase its allocation. The media has stated that China should allow its currency to appreciate against the US dollar this year. This, in turn, would be bearish for the US dollar and positive for real asset prices, such as gold, that are denominated in dollars.

2. Reserves

The State Council advisor Ji Xiaonan believes China should start investing in at least 1,000 tonnes of gold per annum for its official reserves. Mr Ji has been quoted in the Chinese media as suggesting that the nation’s gold reserves should reach 6,000 tonnes in the next three to five years and perhaps 10,000 tonnes in eight to 10 years. The adjustments could be motivated by the following reasons:

  • Increasing gold as an essential component of PBoC’s book could help the country meet future requirements in terms of safety and diversification of the portfolio;
  • Purchasing gold using reserves would allow PBoC to withdraw billions of Yuan now in circulation, decrease the proportion of its US$2.4tn foreign currency reserves held in US dollar-linked investments and ease pressure on the appreciation of the Yuan. If the PBoC were to rebalance its reserve portfolio back to its recent peak ratio of 2.2%, we estimate that the incremental demand from taking this action would amount to around 400 tonnes at today’s gold price. Even an increase of 10% on its current gold reserve holding would translate to approximately 100 tonnes.


The Chinese economy grew at an unexpectedly high growth rate of 8.7% in 2009, with GDP reaching 10.7% in the last quarter. The country also saw rapid growth in foreign direct investment, fixed asset investment, new loans and rising money supply Continuous improvements in living standards, higher savings rates amongst private individuals and rising income levels are expected to generate robust gold demand in China. The World Bank (WB) recently raised its China GDP growth forecast for 2010 from 9.0% to 9.5%33. WB said that Chinese trade and household consumption should continue to grow strongly as the stimulus is withdrawn. The ongoing structural shift in Chinese gold demand and supply, as well as the structural trends within the world’s second largest gold market potentially creates a brave new world for China’s gold industry.

3. Consumption per capita

Global gold intensity

Chinese consumers are catching up relative to the Western world in terms of gold ownership. This is because market liberalization tends to have a dramatic impact in a local market. In India, for example its gold consumption more than doubled from roughly 300-350 tonnes in the early 1990s to over 700 tonnes at the end of 2008. Chinese gold demand has increased by 106% from 2002 to an estimated 443 tonnes in 2009, or an average of 8% per annum during the same period and 13% pa over the last 5 years. Nevertheless, the country has one of the lowest gold consumption intensity rates compared to Western economies, and to countries with similar gold cultures. In 2009, per capita gold consumption in China was 0.33gm, up from 0.17gm in 2002. WGC estimates that total incremental demand based on 2009 consumption and IMF population forecasts, ranges from 1,000 tonnes at USA and Japanese per capita consumption levels to more, if Chinese consumption per capita were to rise to Taiwanese levels.

4. Jewellery

China’s gold jewellery market is unique; local consumers are well aware of gold’s benefit as a store of value. Gold jewellery (especially 24 carat gold jewellery which accounts for at least 80% of total gold jewellery demand in China) has always been regarded as an investment by the Chinese. However, in recent years, there has been a shift of demand into 18 carat jewellery with Italian inspired design, which has been a success in attracting younger, urban cosmopolitan consumers to gold jewellery. During the last ten years, China’s jewellery off-take has averaged 250 tonnes of gold per annum. In 2009, the country ranked second in the global gold jewellery market, behind India. found per capita consumption of 0.26gm in 2009 to be low. If gold jewellery were consumed in China at the same rate per capita as in India, Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia, annual Chinese demand could increase by at least 100 tonnes to as much as 4,000 tonnes in the jewellery sector alone. There is also a significant potential for growth in Chinese gold jewellery demand,

5. Investment

Net retail gold investment is still developing in China. Investors looking to protect their wealth, and institutional and retail investors looking to manage portfolio risk are increasingly turning to gold. PBoC is also playing an increasingly supportive role on the demand side. We believe the reasons why central banks such as the PBoC would want to own gold are the same as the reasons why investors would want to own gold –namely its diversification properties, insurance against unexpected events and gold’s ability to outperform during crises. If PBoC  decides to rebalance its books back to its recent peak gold holding ratio of 2.2% at Q4 2002, we estimate that the incremental demand would amount to a further 400 tonnes at the current gold price. The ratio is nevertheless a fraction of the other key economies such as the USA (70.4%) and Germany (66.1%).

During China’s Eleventh Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010), gold investment among private individuals in China has been developing rapidly as Chinese investors catch up with their foreign counterparts in terms of gold ownership. There is a growing interest among the Chinese in commodity investment, stimulated by a high savings ratio, but also because there are not enough domestic investment opportunities available to Chinese investors. Chinese consumers are high savers, having accumulated wealth since 1978 when the Chinese government shifted the burden of retirement income to individual households. The Asian currency crisis added additional impetus to this savings culture. One should not forget that less than nine years ago there were regulatory restrictions on gold trading, ownership and investment in China. In 2001, the Chinese central bank announced the abolition of China’s long-term government monopoly of gold. Over the last century, the deregulatory tide in economic governance has helped to reduce the number of barriers to gold ownership around the world. In some cases the results have been spectacular. For example during the 1990s in India, when the liberalisation process was in full swing, Indian gold demand more than doubled from around 300-350 tonnes in 1992-93, to over 700 tonnes at the end of 2008. Chinese net retail investment in gold has increased from 65.9 tonnes in 2008 to 80.5 tonnes in 2009 (up 22% year-on-year). We expect this level to rise further despite recent gold price performance. In the WGC’s Gold Demand Trends Report for the fourth quarter and full year 2009, it was highlighted that Chinese consumers continue to buy gold in a rising gold price environment. Investment in China in the form of gold coins and bar hoarding has shown a strong growth momentum in recent years, although this market still accounted for less than a third of total domestic gold demand in 2009. The amount of Chinese gold coins and bar hoarding holdings in private hands is much less than in countries such as India and Vietnam. Chinese consumers are currently in the process of accumulating them, which may suggest that they are less willing to sell back their holdings as the gold price rises, compared to consumers in other parts of the world.

6. Internal Supply

Chinese mine production has been driven by gold prices. Despite being the largest producer in 2009 at 314 tonnes, the Chinese gold industry is simply not responding fast enough to bring in new supply. During the period from 2006 to 2009, average annual gold mine output grew by 8% per annum in China. This is more than targeted growth rate of 5% set out in its Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) and it is more than three years since China moved three of its larger gold mines into production. On a longer term basis, supply issues such as higher mine development costs, rising input costs and potential threats relating to supply disruption, tougher safety regulations and depleting ore bodies could put a much higher floor under the gold price than was previously the case. During the last decade, Chinese gold miners have boosted output by 84 percent, but the nation’s known reserves account for just 4 percent of the total global gold reserves. China may exhaust its domestic supply within 6 years

China supply & Demand

7. Demand

Demand from China’s two largest sectors (jewellery and investment) reached a combined total of 423 tonnes in 2009 but domestic mine supply contributed only 314 tonnes during the same year. Chinese gold demand has the potential to double from today’s levels within a decade. Assuming that long term gold demand growth is in line with the supply growth target of 5% per annum (as set out in the Eleventh Five Year Plan), China could experience strong demand for decades to come. Demand growth looks set to continue to outpace global and domestic production capacity. The limited range of gold reserves and resources forecasts may restrict new supply, especially if existing domestic production lags behind demand. This shortfall creates a “snowball” effect as China’s gold industry may not be able to catch up with the annual leap in domestic consumption. This would effectively extend the gold cycle in China.


Over the past few years, China has experienced economic prosperity and rapidly increasing wealth. The Chinese economy grew at an unexpectedly high growth rate of 8.7% in 2009, with GDP reaching 10.7% in the last quarter. The country also saw rapid growth in foreign direct investment, fixed asset investment, new loans and rising money supply. During the same period, the Western world faced deep recession and is only now beginning to recover. Continuous improvements in living standards, higher savings rates amongst private individuals and rising income levels are expected to generate robust gold demand in China. The World Bank (WB) recently raised its China GDP growth forecast for 2010 from 9.0% to 9.5%. The ongoing structural shift in Chinese gold demand and supply, as well as the structural trends within the world’s second largest gold market potentially creates a brave new world for China’s gold industry. Today China has an insatiable appetite for gold which looks likely to continue in an environment where domestic mine supply lags behind demand. Looking further ahead, WGC expects Chinese gold demand to double from today’s levels over the next decade. Jewellery and investment growth are expected to be the chief drivers of this demand. The motives that drive demand in those sectors can differ: Jewellery is cyclical, and investment demand has both a cyclical and counter-cyclical element to it. There is a strong growth opportunity in the gold jewellery market given the very low per capita consumption of gold jewellery in China, which has almost doubled since the deregulation of the market. The recent financial crisis has also increased caution in Asia and made Asian investors aware of the need for a hedge against the possibility of further weakening in the US dollar, to which they are heavily exposed. Gold’s dollar hedging properties make it both appropriate and ideal for this purpose.

With ongoing uncertainties surrounding the economic recovery, currency and inflation, the search for alternative international asset choices for both investors and the central bank should clearly involve consideration of gold. The real value of gold for investors lies in the reliable diversification it provides and to consistently  deliver a lower average volatility than most mainstream assets and commodities.

Gold can be seen as an insurance policy, as an effective hedge and gives investors the confidence to manage unknown risk. Its value holds in good times and bad and show resilience during extreme conditions. Gold as an asset class has performed impressively for nearly a decade, both in China and internationally. Today, the combination of a healthy outlook for gold demand and its relatively inelastic supply creates a bright future for gold.

WGC report summarised by Maurice Hall