Gold Mint Runs Overtime in Race to Meet World Coin Demand
Austria’s mint is running 24 hours a day to meet orders for gold coins, joining counterparts from the U.S. to the U.K. to Australia in reporting accelerating demand boosted by the bear market in bullion.
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.
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 Inc. predicts bullion will “grind lower” over 2014.
“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.”
Gold futures in New York climbed 5.2 percent this month to $1,264.50 an ounce, heading for the first gain since August. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 raw materials slid 1.2 percent, while the MSCI All-Country World index of equities dropped 2.9 percent. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, a gauge against 10 major trading partners, advanced 0.7 percent.
Prices rebounded 7.2 percent since reaching a 34-month low in June as physical buying rose. The Shanghai Gold Exchange, China’s largest bullion bourse, delivered 2,197 metric tons to customers in 2013, compared with 1,139 tons in 2012, it said Jan. 15. The Asian country topped India as the world’s top buyer last year as demand probably reached a record, the World Gold Council estimates.
The U.K.’s Royal Mint, which traces its history back more than 1,000 years, ran out of 2014 Sovereign gold coins because of “exceptional demand,” it said in a statement on Jan. 8. Coins weren’t available to customers until six days later when inventories were replenished. Sales by the Perth Mint, which also has workers producing coins in three shifts a day, will probably beat last year’s record, Ron Currie, the marketing director, said Jan. 20.
Bullion tumbled in 2013 after some investors lost faith in the metal as a store of value, snapping 12 straight years of gains. Holdings through exchange-traded products fell 33 percent in the past 12 months, erasing $69.1 billion from the value of the funds, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Prices also fell as U.S. equities rallied and inflation remained low.
Goldman expects bullion to fall to $1,050 in the next 12 months as the Federal Reserve reduces monetary stimulus, analysts led by Jeffrey Currie, the bank’s head of commodities research, said in a report Jan. 12. Precious metals are Morgan Stanley’s “least preferred” commodities, and physical demand won’t be enough to buoy prices, analysts Adam Longson, Bennett Meier and Peter Richardson said in a Jan. 17 report. The bank cut its 2014 target 12 percent to $1,160 on Jan. 22.
“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.”
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.”
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