A number of market analysts and gold-industry
insiders are warning about a possible shortage of gold supply. Barrick CEO Jamie Sokalsky
recently stated that since gold production is inelastic (i.e.,
insensitive to price changes) there will be a very limited
increase in supply from gold producers, even during sharp increases in the gold price.
Rick Rule, a billionaire and avid gold investor, pointed out that while we're
seeing spectacular demand, a number of issues will make
supply very tight in the future, especially among retailers.
The issues facing gold miners are well known:
depletion of existing mines, lower grades, and fewer new discoveries –
especially big and rich ones. Further, miners face increased calls for
nationalization, demands from workers for higher pay or from local
communities for better infrastructure, and – of course –
environmental concerns. Many mining company representatives say it's getting
harder to not only find large deposits but to get those deposits into
production. Some estimate it now takes twice as long as to go from discovery
to production vs. a decade ago.
These warnings aren't always taken seriously,
especially by those who see that mine production has been growing. At first
glance, they're correct – but only if you look at the short-term
picture. The following chart shows that global mine production has indeed
been rising since 2008. From 2009 through 2011, output rose
an average of 3.9% per year. However, we know that a good chunk of this
increase is due to China, and upon excluding its output, you can see how it
alters the global picture.
What's important about China's production is that
unlike most other countries, it doesn't reach the world market, since China
doesn't export gold.
Further, while some point to the growth in
production since 2008, output is still 12.8% below the year 2000 level. And
there are reasons to believe the gap between global mine production vs. mine
production excluding China could widen. MarketWatch
reports that China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has said
that China wants domestic gold
production to reach 14.5 million ounces by 2015, an increase of approximately 25% over last year's
levels. Given that what's produced in the country stays in the country (where
there is escalating domestic consumption), a "widening of the
fundamental market shortage," as per the MarketWatch
article, seems almost certain.
Since global production is lower without China's
production included, we decided to examine total supply (mine production plus
scrap), backing out Chinese production and adjusting for Chinese gold
imports. How much gold is left for the rest of the world after the Chinese
take what they want? The contrast
surprised even us.
Total gold supply has been growing since 2006, reaching
a record of 120 million ounces in 2011. However, as you likely know, China's
consumption is second only to India's – and could soon reach number
one. China's gold imports from Hong Kong have soared, hitting a record 13.5
million ounces last year, with 16.5 million ounces imported through August of
this year. Upon adjusting for China's imports, gold supply for countries
outside China has actually been falling since 2009!
Another trend to take in to account is China's
growing interest in natural resources – basic materials, energy, and
others. What gets underreported, however, is that the Chinese are also
purchasing gold mines. Here is a list of Chinese gold-mining acquisitions
over the last year:
- November 2011: Baiyin Nonferrous
Group completes a takeover of Gold One International, a gold operator in
- December 2011: China Gold International Resources
Corporation buys a gold mine in Central Asia, and is reported to be
looking at Canada and Mongolia for its next targets. (It bought Canadian
gold miner Jinshan a few years ago.)
- December 2011: The Chinese take control of A1 Minerals, a
gold exploration and production company, and rename it Stone Resources
- December 2011: Shanghai investors buy a controlling stake in
the Australian-owned Zara gold project in Eritrea.
- April 2012: Sovereign Gold partners, along with Jiangsu
Geology & Engineering, pay $4 million for a 30% interest in two gold
tenements (an area of land in Australia where the holder may conduct
exploration or mining activities). In November 2012 the firm increased
its funding to fast-track exploration and development of the projects.
- August 2012: A subsidiary of Zijin
Mining Group (China's top gold producer by output) buys more than 50% of
Norton Gold Fields, acquiring a large, operating gold miner.
- August 2012: China National Gold Corporation announces a
$3.9 billion bid to acquire African Barrick
Gold, Tanzania's largest gold miner. If the deal is approved, China
National Gold's production capacity will double.
- September-December 2012: China's Shandong Gold Group
announces its intention to purchase 51% of Australian gold miner Focus
Minerals, which has four active mines in Western Australia. The deal is
expected to be completed early this month.
- November 2012: China-based Western Mining Group, through its
subsidiary, buys all the outstanding shares of Inter-Citic
Minerals, a Canadian-based gold exploration and development company,
which coincidentally was a big win for International Speculator subscribers.
The facts can't be denied: China is on the hunt for
gold deposits and mines. These gold-focused deals will add more ounces to the
country's pool of gold assets. Just the three most recent acquisitions (Focus
Minerals, Norton Gold Fields, and Inter-Citic
Minerals) contain 12.5 million ounces of gold resources.
As the Chinese have publicly stated before,
acquiring large amounts of gold on the open market would almost certainly
drive prices higher, as well as trigger greater volatility. One way to get
around that is to purchase deposits that either are or will be producing the
precious metal, allowing them to accumulate the gold before it hits the
international market – and at cheaper prices than spot. In spite of the
gargantuan quantity flowing through Hong Kong, it's entirely possible that we
are underestimating China's demand.
In light of all this, it seems clear that concerns
about future supply are real.
There are some clear implications for us investors:
Supply will get tighter. It's not because there's a lack of metal in the
ground. It's increasingly critical to ask whether any given deposit is
economically viable, politically feasible, and ecologically agreeable.
Despite increased budgets on exploration (last year the gold industry spent a
record $8 billion) and despite a 570%+ increase in the gold price since 2001,
discovery rates are still decreasing. It's clear that the gold industry is
unable to grow supply to a significant degree in spite of increased spending
and increasing margins.
Chinese production won't show up at your local
country is keeping it all. When you read about growing global supply, you
have to subtract what China produces and imports to determine what's really
available. As Chinese appetite continues to grow, this could become a
China will likely cause an even bigger imbalance. As our research shows, China's share of supply is
increasing, while the rest of the world's is
decreasing. Meanwhile, there is every reason to believe it will continue to
acquire gold-mining assets. We think positioning yourself in likely takeover
targets is a wise speculation (whether China is the buyer or not). That's
exactly what Doug Casey, Louis James, and many of us at Casey Research are
A public rush for metal will empty the shelves. There's no rush like a gold rush, and if we enter a
mania period, bullion will be hard to come by at retail outlets. Why wait for
that? A mania is when you want to sell.
Our advice is simple: make sure your personal gold
reserves are in place before a gold supply crunch becomes reality. And for leverage
on the likely resulting mania, build a portfolio of the best of the best gold