Published — Sunday 3 November 2013
Last update 28 December 2013 3:27 pm
A recent visit to the gold market at Al-Batha souk in downtown old Riyadh convinced me that the female appetite for the ultimate yellow metal remains extraordinarily high.
Shops were packed with lustrous gold Bedouin jewelry, necklaces, sparkling rings, and bracelets in different designs, offering an impossible choice between the 22K and 21K jewelry and the 24K (99.99 percent purest gold) ingots.
Let’s face it: women have always loved to wear gold jewelry for its natural beauty and the glow it gives to a woman’s face and the glamor it adds to her appearance.
But it isn’t just women who crave gold — from ancient time gold has been of central importance to mankind.
Its allure lies in its uniqueness; only gold combines beauty and rarity with the properties of durability (gold does not rust, tarnish or corrode) and workability (an ounce of gold can be stretched into a wire 80 km long).
Gold also has a multitude of uses in industry. For example, its excellent conductivity makes it useful in circuit boards.
Considered beneficial for health for centuries, gold has many uses in medicine today. It is even incorporated in luxury face creams. And gold has great symbolic value, not only as a symbol of status and power but also as a symbol of excellence.
The shiny yellow metal has always been central to the lives of women (and men) not only in Arabia but in the whole Middle East and Asia, in particular India and China, where it is highly treasured as a safe haven for investment and a means of asset protection and payment rather than as just a luxury.
More than three billion people in those areas prefer to accumulate wealth in gold jewelry or ingots rather than in bank deposits.
Gold jewelry also holds traditional and cultural connotations for those regions playing an essential role in weddings, dowries and gift-giving.
For centuries gold was the basis for monetary exchange value. In the 20th century, the gold standard was replaced by fiat currency (money backed by government decree only).
Current gold prices continue to fluctuate as a result of global inflation, interest rates and currencies, consumer spending, market risks, short-term investment flows and supply-related drivers.
The US monetary stimulus pushed gold to a record $1,920.30/troy ounce in September 2011, but the price has been falling since and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicts a fall to an average of $1,483 for 2013, and a further decline to $1,403 in 2014.
They estimate that by mid-2015, the gold price will be under $1,350.
As most economies are recovering, many investors now prefer to invest in riskier assets like stocks.
Other projections, however, suggest that gold will increase in price because of factors such as the possibility of a gold mining crisis, the Chinese government’s persistence in amassing gold over the last few years, India’s excessive demand for gold to manufacture jewelry and the demand for gold as a store of value against inflation especially as the Federal Bank, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank continue buying more debt and printing more money.
Demand is still high for the precious metal in emerging markets.
EIU data explains that while global gold consumption declined in 2013 by 8.9 percent to 3,487 tons, it foresees a rebound in demand to 3,965 tons in 2014.
The latest dive in gold prices of around 10 percent on April 15, 2013, has stimulated greater gold jewelry consumption.
EIU data indicates an increase of global gold jewelry consumption from 1,895 tons in 2012 to 2,108 tons in 2013 and projected to reach 2,183 tons in 2014.
India and China lead the market as the biggest consumers of gold, clinging to it as the safest long-term investment.
They also account for almost 60 percent of demand for gold jewelry in 2013. India is expected to show demand of 651 tons in 2013 and a growth in gold jewelry consumption of 15 percent, with consumption of gold reaching almost 700 tons in 2014.
However, a slowing to 7 percent growth is expected in 2014 as result of the Indian government suppressing gold imports and imposing a tax of 10 percent import duty as a way to stop the rupee falling against the dollar.
As for China, its gold consumption was 609 tons during 2013 and will reach 646 tons in 2014.
According to the World Gold Council (WGC), the Middle East recorded an increase in total consumer demand from 49 tons during Q2 of 2012 to 67.4 tons in Q2 of 2013, worth $3.065 billion.
The demand for gold jewelry increased from 42 tons in Q2 2012 to 55.7 tons in Q2 2013, worth $2.535 billion.
Turkey is one of the biggest gold consumers in the Middle East, with demand increasing from 70 tons in 2012 to 73 tons in 2013 and due to reach 75 tons in 2014 (EIU data).
Saudi Arabia also has one of largest gold markets (EIU data): 43 tons in 2012, 48 tons in 2013 and an anticipated 50 tons in 2014.
The demand for gold jewelry also increased from 15.3 tons in Q2 2012 to 18.8 tons in Q2 2013, valued at $855million (WGC data).
The UAE is another important market in the Middle East where gold consumption rose from 42 tons in 2012, to 45 tons in 2013 and will be hitting 47 tons in 2014 (EIU).
Gold jewelry consumption increased from 14.2 tons in Q2 2012 to18.8tons in Q2 2013 worth also a value of $855million (WGC).
The Kaloti Jewelry Group, one of the largest gold and precious metals refiners and trading houses will complete building a refinery in Dubai by late 2014 that will have the capacity to produce 1,400 tons of gold and 600 tons of silver.
In Europe, gold consumption has greatly decreased because of austerity measures adopted in reply to the debt and currency crisis as Europeans experience high unemployment, increasing poverty gap and social unrest. Demand, which is mainly for bars and coins rather than jewelry, is now much lower than in Asia and the Middle East.
Although private consumers in Asia and the Middle East have a huge appetite for gold, their central banks hold only small quantities in relation to their total currency reserves as most currencies are pegged to the dollar and they prefer to diversify their reserve holdings.
While the highest government gold holdings are in the US (8,133.5 tons — 70 percent of reserve), Germany (3,390.6 tons – 66 percent), Italy (2,451.8 tons — 65 percent) and France (2,435.4 tons — 65 percent), China with 1,054.1 tons has only 1 percent in gold reserve, India with 557.7 tons has only 7 percent. In the Middle East, Turkey with 441.5 tons has 14 percent; Saudi Arabia (322.9 tons — 2 percent); Lebanon (286.8 tons — 22 percent); Kuwait (79.0 tons — 9 percent); Qatar (12.4 tons — 1.4 percent); and Bahrain (4.7 tons — 3.7 percent) (WGC June 2013).
Increasing demand for gold jewelry in Asian countries should continue as a result of their positive economic development, but perhaps women who love gold everywhere should welcome recent news that Australian scientists have discovered that gold particles found in eucalyptus leaves could help miners identify where deeply buried deposits might be, saving time, money and resources hunting for the precious yellow metal.
— Mona AlMunajjed is an author and adviser on socio-economic issues. ([email protected])