One of the big disconnects over the past year has been the divergence between the price of paper gold and the seemingly inexhaustible demand for physical gold, from China all the way to the US mint. Today we get a hint on how this divergence has been maintained: it now appears the main culprit is the massive boost in supply by gold mints around the world working literally 24/7, desperate to provide enough supply to meet demand at depressed prices in order to avoid a surge in price as bottlenecked supply finally catches up with unprecedented physical demand.
Bloomberg reports that "global mints are manufacturing as fast as they can after a 28 percent drop in gold prices last year, the biggest slump since 1981, attracted buyers of physical metal. The demand gains helped bullion rally for five straight weeks, the longest streak since September 2012. That won’t be enough to stem the metal’s slump according to Morgan Stanley, while Goldman Sachs Group predicts bullion will "grind lower" over 2014." Odd - one could make the precisely opposite conclusion - once mints run out of raw product, the supply will slow dramatically forcing prices much higher and finally letting true demand manifest itself in the clearing price.
More from Bloomberg:
“The long-term physical buyers see these price drops as opportunities to accumulate more assets,” said Michael Haynes, the chief executive officer of American Precious Metals Exchange, an online bullion dealer. “We have witnessed some top selling days in the past few weeks.”
The propaganda is well-known: “Prices are likely to drop further as global economic conditions are stabilizing and tapering worries continue,” said Rob Haworth, a senior investment strategist in Seattle at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which oversees about $110 billion of assets. “There is no doubt that physical demand has improved, but it will not be enough to support prices." Uhm, yeah. That makes no sense: what happens when global mints are hit by capacity bottlenecks from gold miners for whom it is becoming increasingly more economic to just halt production at sub-cost levels.
Meanwhile, here is a case study of how individual mints are working overtime to plug the unprecedented demand comes from Austria:
Austria’s mint is running 24 hours a day as global mints from the U.S. to Australia report climbing demand for gold coins even while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. says this year’s price rebound will end.
Austria’s Muenze Oesterreich AG mint hired extra employees and added a third eight-hour shift to the day in a bid to keep up with demand. Purchases of bullion coins at Australia’s Perth Mint rose 20 percent this year through Jan. 20 from a year earlier. Sales by the U.S. Mint are set for the best month since April, when the metal plunged into a bear market.
It's not just Austria. Presenting the US Mint:
The U.S. Mint, the world’s largest, sold 89,500 ounces so far this month. The Austrian mint that makes Philharmonic coins, saw sales jump 36 percent last year and expects “good business” for the next couple of months, Andrea Lang, the marketing and sales director of Austria’s Muenze Oesterreich AG, said in an e-mail.
“The market is very busy,” Lang said. “We can’t meet the demand, even if we work overtime.”
The price for the Austrian mint’s 1-ounce Philharmonic gold coin slumped 27 percent last year, according to data from the Certified Coin Exchange.
“It’s been a very bad year for gold,” said Frank McGhee, the head dealer at Integrated Brokerage Services LLC in Chicago. “People who bought coins have lost value, but they are not looking at short-term gains, and hope springs eternal.”
Tell that to China.
That said, keep an eye on GLD ETF holdings - for now the biggest marginal setter of gold price remains the paper ETF, whose "physical" gold holdings have cratered in the past year. Once this resumes going higher, buy.