Home > Market change > The Economist: the wacky world of gold

The Economist: the wacky world of gold

June 2, 2011

“Gold is not like other commodities. … Yet gold miners’ shares have failed to keep pace. This is new. Gold and gold-mining shares used to rise and fall in lockstep. Over the past five years, however, the price of gold has trebled while the value of gold miners has merely doubled. Investors in firms that shift, crush and process rocks are more grounded, it seems, than those who invest in bullion.

As mines age, extracting gold gets harder and costlier. Ores give up less of the metal—average grades have fallen by 30% since 1999 according to GFMS, a consultancy. And ore must be hauled up from ever greater depths. Fuel is pricier. So, too, are labour and equipment, since the global minerals boom has driven up demand for miners and drills.

Finding new seams to replace depleted ones is becoming harder. Metals Economics Group, a mining consultancy, estimates that in 2002 gold miners spent $500m on exploration. By 2008 they were spending $3 billion but finding much less. All the easy gold has been mined already.”

Source: The Economist, June 2 2011

Observations:

  • The Economist identifies several reasons for the share price of gold mining companies to stay behind compared to the gold price: hedging limiting many miners benefits; increasing geopolitical risks; commodity diversification of gold miners; and the emergence of other methods to invest in gold.
  • The article mentions investment demand as the most important source of demand for gold. However, although this demand class is increasing in importance, demand for jewelry (mainly in India and China) still is the most important source of demand (see UBS-graphs below).

Implications:

  • The Economist fails to realize the importance of the supply side impact on the gold price. Miners are not the only source of gold in the market. Over 25% of supply is ‘scrap gold’, recycled from either jewelry or devices. Furthermore, historically the sales of gold reserves by central banks has strongly impacted the gold price.
  • Another important aspect of the gold supply dynamics not mentioned in the article is the development time lag: from investing in the search for gold to producing the first gold will easily take 5-10 years. The boom in gold exploration triggered by the high gold prices is now starting to result in supply increases, with production exceeding the previous 2001 peak. If gold prices stay high, the world will certainly see a slow further capacity increase.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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