Gold is Defying Traditional Relationships as Demand Grows

The response from some market participants has fueled increased transactions of physical gold like bars and coins. Central bank buying remains strong and demand from China continues unabated. Meanwhile, investors in the U.S. are increasing their physical purchases, sometimes at popular retail chains. 

Terry Hanlon, president of Dillion Gage, a metals trading firm, wholesaler and refiner, says he’s seeing busy activity from both buyers and sellers with prices elevated. Buyers are citing geopolitical worries, stubborn inflation and the other usual reasons that attract people to gold. Strong gold prices themselves attract some buyers, while sellers are offloading product they bought when values were much lower.

“High prices always attract people; people always buy it on the run up more than they do on the run down,” Hanlon says.

Buyers also turned to an unusual place for gold, Costco Wholesale. The retailer started carrying gold bars on occasion, mostly available through its website, and usually limited purchases to two bars. The retailer said in its quarterly earnings that the bars would often sell out quickly after listing online. Wells Fargo estimates that Costco likely sells between $100 million to $200 million in gold monthly. 

The World Gold Council’s recently released data on gold demand trends shows healthy over-the-counter gold buying, enough to offset outflows from exchange-traded funds. In 2024’s first quarter, the gold industry group said demand rose 3% year-over-year to 1,238 metric tons, the strongest first quarter since 2016.

Central bank buying rose 1% to 289.7 tons in the first quarter, while technology and electronics demand increased 10% to 78.6 tons and 13% to 64.4 tons, respectively. The WGC cites the boom in artificial intelligence boosted demand in the electronics sector. But the surge in over-the-counter demand stood out in the early 2024, with OTC buying up 220% to 136.4 tons.

“OTC buying by investors, while opaque, is reflected in the pace and scale of the price rise. CME net managed money positions, which can be used as a proxy, rose by 91 tons in Q1,” the group said in its report.

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