SAN ANTONIO (US Global Investors) – A few weeks ago we held our Case for Investing in Gold webcast with the World Gold Council’s (WGC) Jason Toussaint, who gave some remarkable insight into gold demand in the East. In these countries, gold is not only celebrated, acquired, worn or displayed during holidays or special occasions; it is seen as an everyday symbol of wealth.
Increases in demand from China and India have driven a 7.5 percent increase in demand for gold jewelry during the first half of the year despite a 25 percent increase in the price, according to a report released this week from GFMS. However, much of India’s potential gold demand remains untapped.
Toussaint highlighted an interesting fact: Of the roughly 800 tons of gold imported to India each year, only the top 40 percent of Indian households purchase all of the country’s gold, says Toussaint. The other 60 percent of Indians, who may have the same adoration for gold and celebrate Ramadan and Diwali, historically may not have had access to purchase gold. This large population represents a huge untapped market. To fulfill demand, the WGC has created a program with Indian post offices to distribute coins and small pieces of gold. Toussaint says right now there are 700 post offices in the rural areas servicing 90,000 customers and he expects that number to grow. This market is worth pursuing based on McKinsey’s research that a “huge wealth creation wave” is developing in India. As Toussaint puts it, “if purchase patterns continue, we will see from 2005 to 2025, a four times larger gold market in India.”
This is a fascinating idea because very few entities other than the post office have the network and infrastructure necessary to reach beneath the surface of the world’s largest gold market.
India may be the world’s largest gold market, but in China, gold buying has become so significant that the country has become the fastest-growing market for gold jewelry in the world. Not only are Chinese purchasing increasing amounts of gold, they prefer pure 24-carat gold. This high-quality gold is given to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, and purchased for a bride at her wedding. In 2010, 6.6 million brides will make gold a part of their ritual as the yellow metal signifies the importance of a long-term relationship, says the WGC website.
While jewelry represents a large percentage of gold purchases in the country, Chinese can also purchase gold at their local bank. WGC formed a partnership with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC Bank), the largest bank by deposits in the world. They began offering a “Gold Accumulation Plan” that lets investors buy and accumulate small portions of gold over time. Similar to a bank account, people participating have access to the underlying gold or the cash value at any point. Since it was launched in December 2010 through this summer, the ICBC has an estimated 1.7 million accounts, with an accumulation of more than 12,000 kilograms of gold.
After India and China led the global demand for gold, accounting for 52 percent of 2010 tonnage, the GFMS says the two Asian countries have “continued impressive growth” this year. Gold buying in India jumped 38 percent during the second quarter alone. GFMS reported China’s gold purchases jumped 90 percent on a year-over-year basis through June. This is a follow up to the 75 percent increase in gold demand the country experienced last year.
This share tops all of North America, which accounts for 8 percent, Europe and Russia, which account for 13 percent, and even the Middle East and Turkey, which together account for 12 percent. North American gold demand fell 12 percent during the first half of 2011 due to the slumping U.S. economy and rising prices.
David Lamb, the WGC’s managing director for jewelry, recently told Reuters there is a “significant tidal shift to the Asian markets, to India and China in particular, and gold rising upwards and disappearing from the mass merchandising in the West.”
Central Banks Load Up on Gold
Demand for gold isn’t only coming from the residents of China and India. There’s been a huge sentiment shift among central banks as well. Toussaint noted how, after many years of selling, central banks have become net buyers of gold. He says, “Western Central banks have essentially shut the tap off, and the vast majority of the buying is coming from Eastern central banks.”
In just the first half of this year, official sector purchases are up three-fold over the 2010 total to 216 tons, accord to the GFMS report. GFMS says the rise is largely due to low sales levels from Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) signatories and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) completing its sales program at the end of 2010. In addition, other countries have gobbled up gold in an effort to diversify reserves away from the U.S. dollar. Scotia Capital estimates central banks’ total purchases of gold will reach 248 tons by year-end.
Some of the big buyers have been Mexico (whose central bank purchased roughly 100 tons of gold earlier this year), Korea (purchased 25 tons in June), Thailand (purchased nearly 19 tons in June) and Russia (which has purchased over 50 tons of gold from its domestic market year-to-date).
Toussaint says Eastern central banks are “catching up with the rest of the world” because their current allocation is tiny right now. However, whenever the WGC discusses these buying habits with the central banks of Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries, they consistently say that they are interested in gold, and looking to hold it over the long-term. In other words, he says, this is not a “knee-jerk reaction to the direction of the dollar.”
GFMS also believes that this could be just the beginning. In a release announcing the report, Philip Klapwijk, Global Head of Metals Analytics at GFMS, said, “we are in essence in chapter three of the central bank story-we’ve left behind a period of heavy net sales, then a short period of neutrality and we’re now in a new environment of heavy buying.”
You can listen to the full webcast here
Frank Holmes is CEO and Chief Investment Officer of U.S. Global Investors – www.usfunds.com