Demand for gold bars, coins and jewelry increased to multiyear highs in the first half of 2013, but was offset by outflows from exchange-traded funds, according to the World Gold Council, which produces a quarterly Gold Demand Trends Report and recently released the first-ever Direct Economic Impact of Gold Report. Sprott Securities founder Eric Sprott questioned those statistics in a call-out on his website. He figures that the demand for gold is actually 3,000 tons more than the annual supply, and therefore the gold price will soon be much higher. What is the true demand for gold? How much is really available in any given year? Does supply and demand really determine the price of gold anymore? The Gold Report called Sprott and John Gravelle, global and Canadian mining leader for PwC, which produced the report for the World Gold Council, to find out.
The Gold Report: Eric, you published an Open Letter to the World Gold Council saying that the massive imbalance between supply and demand is not reflected in prices because available statistics are misleading, and that is the most important obstacle to a healthy gold mining industry. Why has it been so difficult to get accurate statistics and what should be measured to get a better picture of demand, particularly in emerging markets?
Eric Sprott: I have always had a dispute with the data that Thomson Reuters GFMS Gold Survey puts out, which the World Gold Council uses as the basis for its analysis of gold. Since I've been involved in the gold market, the supply always magically equals the demand. Of course, we know that's almost impossible.
The report has two what I call fudge numbers. One is recycling, which is a very big item. The report suggests it could be upward of something like 1,600 tons some years. I don't know how it would possibly come up with that number. I find it very difficult to get numbers on recycling in any country, let alone all countries.
Two, the report always uses what it calls a net investment demand or supply. It's the plug number to make supply equal demand. Many times I think that the investment number is understated.
Furthermore, as I wrote in "Do the Central Banks Have Any Gold Left?," we have seen a net increase in gold demand over the decade of at least 2,000 tons per year (2,000 tpa). China's demand alone is going up 100%; jewelry demand is up 50%. Mine supply has essentially been flat at 2,700 tpa, or 2,100 tpa for Western consumption because China and Russia don't export the gold they produce. As we move into 2013, we start to see significantly higher imports of gold into the Asian countries. That makes the shortages even more extreme. We could see demand of 5,100 tpa. That would result in a 3,000 tpa shortfall, not a balance. How can all these people be buying all this gold per year when the supply hasn't gone up? That is why I question the GFMS data. I think it is flawed.
TGR: You published a chart with your calculations of actual supply and demand (below). What statistics should investors use to understand what is being imported versus what is being mined in China and Russia?
ES: The Chinese announce their monthly gold production, so we know how much gold is produced; we just don't get export and import data. The only data we get is that Hong Kong exports well over 1,000 tons into China. That makes it highly unlikely that China would be exporting at the same time it is importing. It's hard to imagine that somebody isn't supplying that market. In my mind, that someone is central banks.
I think Western central banks lease gold into the market to keep the price down. We can't tell what they lease, because on their own balance sheets they have one line called gold and gold receivables. Of course, gold receivables is the least they put out, so they can pretend they own it. But, in fact, the gold is gone. We get no transparency whatsoever as to what part of that line is real metal and what part of it is leased gold.
Central banks think they should be totally nontransparent. As you may be aware, there has been no audit of the gold held by the U.S. Department of the Treasury since 1954. There are no physical data supplied by any central banks as to what their current positions are.
Earlier this year, Germany requested the 330 tons that it had leased to the U.S. Department of the Treasury be redelivered to Germany. At first the U.S. declined to deliver, and then it agreed to deliver the gold over seven years. There is no logistical problem with delivering gold. So why is it that when a country says it wants its gold back, which would represent approximately 4% of all the gold theoretically the U.S. has, that it takes seven years to deliver it? It begs the question.