The latest announcement from China’s Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) shows that gold withdrawals for April totalled 171.4 tonnes so remain subdued compared with the past couple of years. For the first four months of the year 687.3 tonnes were withdrawn, very sharply below the 820.6 tonnes at this stage a year earlier (admittedly a record year) – representing a fall of over 19% year on year. However, even at the current lower monthly rate taken out over the full year this would suggest SGE withdrawals remaining at over 2,000 tonnes for the full year Thus even at a lower level Chinese gold demand as represented by SGE withdrawals – although there are some arguments from top analysts that these overstate the nation’s true absorption of physical gold – do account for a very significant proportion of the world’s newly mined supply of gold – currently around 3,200 tonnes a year.
Indian gold imports have also been low in the first four months – initially due to demand being held back ahead of the late February budget in the hope of a reduction in import duties – and subsequently due to strike action by the jewellery sector disappointed that the duty cuts were not forthcoming. Thus the recent performance of gold, given what has been a strong downturn in Asian demand, has been all the more remarkable.
To a significant extent growth in Western demand, represented by purchases into the major gold ETFs and strong buying of gold coins and investment bars has been making up a lot of the shortfall from Asia. The biggest of the gold ETFs, SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) for example, has added around 192 tonnes of gold so far this year alone. It is still hugely below its peak, but is currently back at a level last seen in December 2013 with holdings at the end of last week at 834.19 tonnes. It has put on 30 tonnes since the end of April. And according to Bloomberg i inflows into all the gold ETFs it follows totalled around 330 tonnes in Q1 alone. It thus looks as though ETF inflows are taking up any slack represebted by what is very probably a temporary downturn in Asian demand and gold flows.
The other contributor to the strong price performance in terms of logistics rather than just sentiment is that physical gold actually appears to be in relatively short supply with available inventories falling in the USA and the UK, where most is held. The head of one of Switzerland’s largest gold refineries recently told Jim Rickards of problems in securing sufficient supplies to meet demand. With new mined gold supply almost certainly plateauing, and possibly even beginning to turn down, demand shortages could be exacerbated further. A recent analysis by Paul Mylchreest, who many may remember as the author of the sadly missed Thunder Road Report also even suggests that the London Bullion Market may even be in deficit.