Gold Mint at Europe's Heart Says Sub-Zero Rates Buoy Sales

  • Bullion had best quarterly performance in three decades
  • Negative interest rates double gold returns, council says

Europeans grappling with a refugee crisis and negative interest rates are buying gold as a haven investment, according to the Austrian Mint’s Andrea Lang, who expects demand in the region to stay strong in 2016.

“Interest rates are negative at the moment and people don’t see any benefit of keeping their money anywhere, but at the same time they feel a little bit concerned about the future,” Lang, director of marketing and sales, said in an interview in Singapore. “They want to invest, they want to have a safe haven for their money,” she said Friday.

Gold climbed 16 percent in the first quarter for its best performance in three decades amid financial turmoil and economic uncertainty. Europe has seen a flood of refugees from conflict in the Middle East and some 1 million went to Germany last year, the most since World War II. Brussels and Paris have also been rocked by terror attacks, while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi took more steps last month to spur price growth, including lowering its deposit rate deeper into negative territory.

The refugee crisis has a psychological impact, spurring investment among Europeans, and people fleeing to Europe for safety may carry precious metals with them, according to Lang.

Muenze Oesterreich AG, which makes Philharmonic coins, saw sales of gold bars and coins jump about 45 percent to 1.32 million ounces in 2015 from a year earlier, while silver sales rose to 7.3 million ounces from 4.6 million ounces, Lang said.

“People are concerned about the stability of the economy,” Lang said. “All European countries are struggling. We have a very high rate of unemployment in the southern parts of Europe. Austria is fine on that level, but still we can see what’s happening around us. And interest rates are negative, so it all speaks for gold.”

Investors around the world are adding to gold holdings. Sales of American Eagle coins surged to 83,500 ounces in February from 18,500 ounces a year earlier, the U.S. Mint said on its website on March 1. Investor assets in bullion-backed exchange traded funds jumped about 300 metric tons last quarter, the most since 2009. Sales by the Perth Mint climbed 29 percent to 47,948 ounces in March from a month earlier, it said Friday.

Returns Double

Monetary authorities responsible for about two dozen countries have dropped policy rates below zero to try to revive economies. In a bid to stimulate lending, the Bank of Japan in late January joined the ECB in setting rates below zero, along with Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland.

“History shows that, in periods of low rates, gold returns are typically more than double their long-term average,” the World Gold Council said in a report March 31. “Over the long run, negative interest rate policies may result in structurally higher demand for gold from central banks and investors alike.”

Gold’s surge this year came as market turmoil and growth concerns delayed Federal Reserve plans for further increases in borrowing costs. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said this week that the central bank should “proceed cautiously” in raising rates, pushing a gauge of the dollar to a nine-month low. Gold traded little changed on Friday at $1,233.18 an ounce.

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