Investors still love gold

Investment demand for the precious metal jumped 13% in the first quarter over the same period last year.

By Wall St. Cheat Sheet May 22, 2012 1:23PM

Image: Small Stack of gold ingots (© Anthony Bradshaw/Photographer)By Eric McWhinnie, Wall St. Cheat Sheet Staff Writer

According to the latest gold demand report by the World Gold Council, the world continues to have a strong appetite for the precious metal, despite higher prices in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

First-quarter global gold demand totaled 1,097.6 tonnes, valued at $59.7 billion -- a 5% decrease from 1,150.7 tonnes, valued at $51.3 billion, in the same period last year. Although the demand in tonnes decreased, the decline was not too worrisome considering the average price for an ounce of gold was 22% higher this year.

Furthermore, the dollar amount of gold invested in the first quarter was 16% higher than last year and only 11% below its record of $67.1 billion set in the third quarter of 2011. In dollar value terms, almost all gold demand posted year-over-year increases.

The majority of the decline in gold by tonnes mainly came from the jewelry and technology sectors. Jewelry demand in the first-quarter declined 6% to 519.8 tonnes, compared to 554.7 tonnes last year. However, as the WGC explains, "on a value basis, demand was up 14% to a record high of $28 billion as consumers allocated an increased level of spending to gold jewelry. When considered in a historical context, demand during Q1 2012 proved rather resilient; the 5-year average of first-quarter jewelry demand was 496.2 tonnes, 5% below this quarter’s performance."

Meanwhile, gold demand for technology purposes declined from 115.5 tonnes to 107.7 tonnes in the same period. The report said that much of the weakness "can be attributed to high gold prices, although the uncertainty surrounding European financial markets also contributed. Demand in the electronics sector weakened by 6% year-over-year, with a slowdown in consumer demand, over-stocking and substitution losses accounting for much of the decline." Demand for gold used in dental applications also fell to 10.5 tonnes from 11.3 tonnes.

A bright spot for gold demand continues to be the investment sector. For the first quarter, gold investment demand jumped 13% to 389.3 tonnes, compared to 343.5 tonnes a year earlier. Within the investment sector, demand for ETFs showed a stark contrast from the previous year. WGC reports that "first-quarter demand for ETFs and similar products totaled 51.4 tonnes, equivalent to a value of $2.8 billion. This compares favorably with the first-quarter of 2011, when the sector saw net outflows of 62.1 tonnes." That's a swing of 113.5 tonnes in only one year.

Even though gold prices can experience declines that appear to be unfounded, demand from various categories and parts of the world continue to provide support to prices. Central banks became net buyers of gold in 2009 for the first time in two decades and continue to demand the safe haven.

In the first-quarter, the WGC reports that central banks and official sector institutions bought almost 81 tonnes of gold. While this amount was down from the previous year's record-breaking 137 tonnes, it was more than the 77.3 tonnes purchased in the entire year of 2010. The WGC has now added a new category to its reporting methods to account for the official sector, as this "established trend" is expected to remain strong in the foreseeable future.

Eric McWhinnie is an editor at Wall St. Cheat Sheet. As of this writing, Eric is long EXK, AG, HL and PHYS

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