Gold is seen as a safe haven in times of turmoil, and there was plenty of that last year. Alistair Hewitt, head of market intelligence at the World Gold Council, pointed to the shock Brexit vote and the election of Trump as US president, along with the upcoming Dutch, French and German elections. The weaker yuan and low or negative interest rates also made gold more attractive, helping push up investment demand by 70%.
Hewitt said that “2016 saw an unprecedented degree of political upheaval, which underpinned huge institutional investor flows into gold. ETFs are easy ways for people to access gold.”
However, jewellery demand hit a seven-year low of 2,041.6 tonnes in 2016 due to rising gold prices for much of the year, while central bank purchases were the lowest since 2010, due in part to increased pressure on foreign exchange reserves.
Consumers in China and India, the world’s two biggest gold markets, bought less jewellery as the price of gold rose 25% between January and September. Prices then fell between October and December, which meant they were 8% higher over the year as a whole, ending 2016 at $1,145.90 an ounce.
In India, the nationwide jewellers’ strike in effect shut down the gold industry at the beginning of the year, and in November rural communities were hit hard by the cash crunch caused by the withdrawal of high-denomination banknotes. But the effect is likely to to be temporary, the report said – the good monsoon has boosted farmer’s incomes, making it likely they will return to buying gold in coming months (Indians tend to save in gold when they have spare cash).
The price dip in November, when Trump’s “positive growth rhetoric” led to the dollar and equity markets strengthening, contributed to a strong recovery in the bar and coin market in the final quarter, Hewitt said. China’s retail investors in particular snapped up gold bars and coins (until 2004 they were banned from doing so). Europe remains the second largest bar and coin market in the world.
Hewitt highlighted changing tastes, with younger people in China preferring lower grade, branded jewellery to the top grade gold favoured by their parents’ generation – design over quality. Younger Chinese also prefer to spend their money on travel rather than material things. In the US, yellow and rose gold have gained in popularity. Gold teeth continue to go out of fashion.
For the first time in years, miners started exploring for gold again, spurred on by the rise in prices, and are looking to strike gold on the periphery of existing mines. But any discoveries would take several years to feed through into increased gold production.