Monday, May 21, 2012

21/5/2012: Gold Demand: Q1 2012

Q1 2012 global gold demand figures were published last week and, surprise, surprise, there has been some decline in investment components of demand. Predictably. What is surprising, however, are the dynamics. For some time now we've been hearing about the gold bubble and about recent price moderations being the sign of the proverbial 'hard landing'. Sorry to disappoint you, not yet.

Let's chart some data and discuss:

  • Jewellery demand increased from 476 tons in Q4 2011 to 520 tons in Q1 2012 - a rise of 9.24% q/q, but a drop of 6.3% y/y. This contrasts price movements (see below). More significantly, peak Q1 jewellery demand was in Q1 2007 and Q1 2012 demand is only 8.1% below the peak level. Not the fall-off you'd expect were jewellery buyers exercising their option to stay away from higher priced gold.
  • Technology-related demand came in at 108 tons in Q1 2012, up on 104 tons in Q4 2011 (+3.8%), but down 6.1% y/y/ Peak Q1 demand for technology gold was in Q1 2008 and Q1 2012 demand came in 11.5% below that. Again, no serious drama here - some substitution away from higher priced gold, but also much of the effect due to global slowdown in production of white goods and electronics, plus price moderation in substitutes on the back of a global economic slowdown and crises.
  • Bar & Coin Investors' demand (more longer-term physical investment demand) was down from 356 tons in Q4 2011 to 338 tons in Q1 2012, a fall off of 5.06% q/q and 16.75% y/y - virtually in line with price movements, but in the opposite direction. Substitution and other factors (see below) suspected. Incidentally, Q1 2011 was also the peak quarter in total demand for Bar & Coin investors.
  • ETFs - more volatile demand source - reduced their demand for gold to 51 tons in Q1 2012, down from 95 tons in Q4 2011. These funds tend to have exceptionally volatile net demand, including negative readings in some quarters.

Here's a handy table comparing demand levels by investment/use type as follows:
  1. First I compute Q1 average demand for 2006-2011
  2. Second I report by how many tons Q1 2012 demand was different from the above average:
Source: Author calculations based on Gold Council data (same for charts below)

Conclusion out of the table: no drama. As expected - physical demand is still ahead of average, but moderating gradually. Jewellery demand is above average - a massive surprise for those who use this demand component to argue that decline in jewellery demand shows that gold is a bubble driven solely by investment objectives. Within investment gold: ETFs are becoming less relevant (more speculative component) while gold bars and coins (less speculative, more 'long-hold' component, especially on coins side) becoming more important.

To show decline in Jewellery and Technology (non-investment) gold relative role, here's a chart:


In Q1 2012, non-investment gold demand accounted for 61.8% of all demand (excluding Central Banks) - Q1 2006-2011 average share is 67.3%, which is above the current share. However, the current share is the highest since Q1 2011.

Now, end-of-quarter prices in USD: Q1 2012 ended with gold priced at USD1,662.5/oz - the highest quarter-end price on record and up 8.6% on Q4 2011 and 15.53% on Q1 2011.

Next two charts plot relationship between price and volume demanded by specific category:



Notice the following:
  1. There is a strong positive relationship between gold price and demand by gold bar & coin investors. Perverse? Not if you know that gold is an inflation / USD hedge.
  2. Basically zero relationship to ETFs demand. Surprising? Not really - these are actively managed and not exactly risk-hedging entities (see below).
  3. Weak negative relationship for physical non-investment demand (jewellery & technology) - suggesting some substitution effect, but not much of one. Which, in turn, implies that there is some other driver here - perhaps shorter term changes in demand for goods produced using gold and longer term technological change (think dental demand - when was the last time you fitted a gold tooth?)
  4. Weak positive relationship between price and overall demand for gold. Funny thing is - if there's a bubble, you'd expect a much stronger relationship, don't you? After all, there would be hype of rapidly rising demand as prices rise? 
So what is happening on the demand side of gold markets, then? Here are my views:
  1. Dollar strengthening and oil price moderation are both signaling that gold price moderation should be impacting USD price more than other currencies-denominated prices. This is true, when you compare changes in USD price and Euro price;
  2. ETFs are clearly suggesting a signal that some of the gold demand (primarily speculative component) is being drawn down during the 'risk-off' periods, like the one we are currently going through. Speculative demand is moderating significantly, which is good medium-term;
  3. Tax changes on gold bullion in India had significant impact, including on jewellery-related gold demand from there;
  4. Central banks demand pushes price-demand relationship out toward flatter slope and reduces price-elasticity of global demand.


Disclaimer:
1) I am a non-executive member of the GoldCore Investment Committee.
2) I am a Director and Head of Research with St.Columbanus AG, where we do not invest in any individual commodity.
3) I am long gold in fixed amount over at least the last 5 years with my allocation being extremely modest. I hold no assets linked to gold mining or processing companies.
4) I have done and am continuing doing academic work on gold as an asset class, but also on other asset classes. You can see my research on my ssrn page the link to which is provided on this blog's front page.
5) I receive no compensation for research appearing on this blog. Everything your read here is my own personal opinion and not the opinion of any of my employers, current, past or future.
6) None of my research - including that on gold - should be considered as an investment advice or an advise to buy or invest in any asset or asset class.
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