Gold Traders Divided as Physical Buying Surge Slows: Commodities

Gold traders are divided in their outlook for prices on signs the rush for coins and jewelry that followed the start of the bear market last month is slowing, at a time when hedge funds are the least bullish in five years.

Fifteen analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect gold to rise next week while 13 are bearish and five neutral. Premiums paid by jewelers in India and Hong Kong to secure metal are tumbling and sales of coins by the U.S. Mint in May are about one-third of what they were in April. Investors sold more than 123 metric tons held in exchange-traded products this month, valued at about $5.6 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The surge in physical buying after gold fell to a two-year low on April 16 helped boost prices by almost 13 percent in two weeks. The rebound is now reversing and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg anticipate the first annual retreat since 2000. The longest bull market in nine decades is poised to end as some investors lose faith in bullion as a store of value at a time when equities are gaining.

“We’d have to see another big move down to re-spark a surge in retail buying,” said David Wilson, a London-based commodities analyst at Citigroup Inc. “The relatively big downside moves we had in April definitely spurred retail buying, but once that buying is done at a certain price level, it starts to peter out.”

Trade Federation

Gold tumbled 17 percent to $1,395.27 an ounce this year in London, exceeding the 4.4 percent retreat in the Standard & Poor’s GSCI gauge of 24 commodities. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities rallied 8.7 percent and a Bank of America Corp. index shows Treasuries lost 1.1 percent. More than $40 billion was erased from the value of gold-backed ETPs this year.

The metal is selling at record premiums in Singapore, said Brian Lan, managing director at GoldSilver Central, a bullion dealer in Singapore. Gold demand may not be as weak as thought, UBS AG said in a report today.

Premiums paid by jewelers to banks in India are being quoted at $3 to $3.50 an ounce over the London cash price, from $10 to $12 early this month, said Haresh Soni, chairman of the All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation. In Hong Kong, consumers are paying about $3, compared with $5 to $6 last week, according to Heraeus Metals Hong Kong Ltd.

Record Demand

The surge in physical buying probably will drive Indian demand to a quarterly record as imports reach 300 tons to 400 tons in the three months through June, the World Gold Council estimates. India is the biggest gold consumer. In Australia, buyers were waiting in lines half a kilometer (0.3 mile) long to get minted coins and jewelry shops in India and China ran out of gold in a single day, according to the council.

Gold demand in China, the second largest consumer, may slow in the second half of this year after surging in April, said Zhang Bingnan, secretary-general of the China Gold Association.

The U.S. Mint sold 61,500 ounces of gold coins so far this month, from 209,500 ounces in April, data on its website show. Demand was so great last month that it suspended sales of the smallest coins. The mint resumed taking orders on May 28. The one-ounce American Eagle gold coin is selling for $1,710 an ounce, according to the Mint website. That’s about 20 percent higher than the price of gold.

Hedge Funds

Hedge funds and other speculators cut bets on a rally by 9 percent to 35,686 futures and options by May 21, the least since July 2007, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Holdings of short contracts rose 6.7 percent to a record 79,416.

Assets in ETPs tracked by Bloomberg dropped 18 percent to 2,152.7 tons this year, the lowest since June 2011. Combined assets are valued at $98 billion, from a peak of $147.7 billion in October. Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest, rose on May 29 for the first time in about three weeks.

Demand for gold may weaken further should central banks seek to curb their unprecedented money printing as economies strengthen. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the pace of bond purchases could be reduced if the jobless rate keeps dropping. Bullion rose 70 percent as the Fed bought $2.3 trillion of debt in two rounds of quantitative easing through June 2011. Prices are up 1.8 percent this week on speculation the Fed will maintain stimulus.

Central Banks

A reduction in central bank stimulus would support a rally in the dollar, Citigroup’s Wilson said. Gold and the greenback are inversely correlated, implying lower bullion prices should that happen. Their 30-week correlation coefficient is at -0.54, a level last reached in December, and from as high as 0.26 in April. A figure of -1 means the two move opposite to each other.

Investors’ frayed faith in gold is also extending to silver, ETP holdings of which are contracting for a second consecutive month. Investors own 18,965 tons, valued at $13.9 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The premium charged by wholesale dealers for the Mint’s American Eagle silver coins fell to 13 percent in May, from 25 percent in April, according to Williamsville, New York-based coin dealer Richard Nachbar.

In other commodities, 14 of 28 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect corn to rise next week, while nine were bearish and five were neutral. The proportion of bulls was the highest in four weeks, as wet weather delayed U.S. planting. December futures rose 5.4 percent on May 28 and 29 on the Chicago Board of Trade, paring this year’s drop to 6.2 percent.

Four Neutral

Soybean traders are bearish, with 14 expecting prices to decline, 10 a rally while five are neutral. Wheat traders are divided, with 10 anticipating a rally and 10 a decline and a further four neutral, according to the survey. Soybeans rose 7.6 percent to $15.1625 a bushel as wheat fell 11 percent to $6.9425 a bushel this year.

Ten traders predicted raw sugar prices will decline next week, while four were bullish and one was neutral. Analysts are bearish for a fourth week. Futures dropped 15 percent to 16.55 cents a pound in New York this year.

Copper traders are the most bearish in seven weeks, with 10 expecting a decline. Six are bullish and six neutral. The metal for delivery in three months, the London Metal Exchange’s benchmark contract, fell 8.4 percent to $7,265 a ton this year as stockpiles tracked by the exchange expanded to the highest level in a decade.

Monetary Fund

The S&P GSCI gauge dropped to a two-week low yesterday, poised for a second monthly decline. The International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for China’s economy on May 29, estimating that growth will be about 7.75 percent this year and next. In April, the IMF forecast growth of 8 percent this year and 8.2 percent in 2014. China is the biggest consumer of everything from copper to cotton to coal.

“China’s slowdown could impact industrial metals and oil,” said Ole Hansen, the head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S in Copenhagen. “Commodities are seeing negative momentum across most sectors.”

Gold survey results: Bullish: 15 Bearish: 13 Hold: 5
Copper survey results: Bullish: 6 Bearish: 10 Hold: 6
Corn survey results: Bullish: 14 Bearish: 9 Hold: 5
Soybean survey results: Bullish: 10 Bearish: 14 Hold: 5
Wheat survey results: Bullish: 10 Bearish: 10 Hold: 4
Raw sugar survey results: Bullish: 4 Bearish: 10 Hold: 1
White sugar survey results: Bullish: 5 Bearish: 9 Hold: 1
White sugar premium results: Widen: 7 Narrow: 3 Neutral: 5
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