The former Prime Minister John Howard declared “how good is the gold price!” at last year’s biggest gathering of gold miners in Kalgoorlie in August.
- Gold is tipped to surpass its 2019 highs of $2,297 in 2020
- Digital technology has made buying gold much more accessible
- Gold production in Australia has slowed, but is expected to be boosted as new mines open
That exclamation went on to set the tone for the rest of 2019 — and most likely this year too.
As the industry met for the annual Diggers and Dealers mining forum, the price of gold had never been higher in Australia.
Gold peaked at $US1,550.30 an ounce in early August and while that’s not the highest price gold has ever been sold for — in 2011 it recorded its all-time high of $US1,917.90 — the exchange rate meant it was a record high price in Australian dollars.
Buying gold in Australian dollars at that time cost investors as much as $2,297.09 an ounce.
With record low interest rates, global trade wars and continued political uncertainty all set to remain in 2020, coupled with falling gold supply, the first year of the new decade is shaping up to be another big one for the precious yellow metal.
Gold mines shifting back into Australian hands
As 2019 was drawing to a close, one of the world’s biggest open cut gold mines, the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines (KGCM), colloquially known as ‘the Super Pit’, changed hands, heralding a new era for the 30-year-old mine.
An investment you can hold in your hand
Investors are searching for safety in a Sydney basement, with a resurgence in keeping physical gold as bad geopolitical and economic news is good news for the gold price.
Australian gold miner Saracen Minerals bought Canadian miner Barrick Gold’s 50 per cent stake for $1.1 billion and exactly four weeks later, Newmont agreed to sell its 50 per cent share to Northern Star for $1.17 billion.
The two transactions mean the Super Pit is now wholly back in Australian hands.
It also means local companies now control 60 per cent of the Australian gold mining industry, after falling to as low as 30 per cent in 2002.
A leisurely 600-kilometre drive north-east of the Super Pit, Australia’s biggest new gold mine, Gruyere, a joint venture between Gold Road and Gold Fields, officially opened last month.
“I have been privileged to be associated with delivering many new mining projects around the world, but none has been as exciting or as impressive than this giant mining complex in this remote location,” Gold Road chairman Tim Netscher said at the opening ceremony.
“This is one of the largest gold mines built and commissioned worldwide over the past decade and you don’t get much more remote than this.”
The mine is expected to produce 300,000 ounces annually over its 12-year life.
A week earlier, a smaller operation still in its infancy, the Beacon Minerals-owned Jaurdi Gold Mine west of Kalgoorlie, was also opened by WA resources minister Bill Johnston.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s a modern-day gold boom going on in Western Australia,” Mr Johnston told ABC News.
“We’re seeing all these new gold mines opening up and there’s more exploration going into the ground as well.”
It comes at a time when Australia’s gold production slowed in the September quarter to 78 tonnes — a 5 per cent fall from the quarter before, according to data collated by gold mining consultants Surbiton Associates.
Australia’s gold production reached an all time high of 321 tonnes in the 2018/19 financial year.
“The local gold industry, with its costs predominantly in Australian dollars, is benefitting from the changes in the exchange rate as the Australian dollar continues to weaken against the US dollar,” said Surbiton Associates director Sandra Close.
Outlook for the yellow metal in 2020
Making money out of money isn’t easy these days — with the RBA cash rate at 0.75 per cent, term deposits aren’t delivering the returns investors once relied on.
Profits were sought in equity markets in 2019, with the ASX rising more than 20 per cent over the course of the year.
However, JP Morgan global market strategist Kerry Craig said that’s unlikely to continue.
“The outlook for earnings growth is quite muted, that does translate into quite weak equity returns, not negative, but much lower than we’ve experienced in 2019,” he told ABC News.
While gold is down about 5 per cent from its mid-year high, the political turmoil of the US-China trade negotiations, Brexit and Hong Kong saw prices rise about 18 per cent overall in 2019.
Always a winner in times of economic uncertainty, gold looks set to continue its forward march in 2020.
“Low/negative rates make a case for holding gold as a risk diversifier given slowing growth and trade risks,” UBS analysts wrote in a 2020 outlook note.
The Commonwealth Bank expects to see further upside, with gold prices going as high as US$1,600 an ounce — at current exchange rates that’s more than $2,300.
CBA’s director of mining and energy commodities research Vivek Dhar said the main driver for gold prices over the long term is US yields.
“We are currently forecasting the US Federal Reserve to cut US interest rates by 50 basis points next year,” he said.
“That should push long-term US real yields lower, therefore supporting higher gold prices.”
An ancient commodity goes digital
Buying gold became a whole lot easier last year when it became available digitally.
Gone are the days of lugging around heavy gold bars — although that is, of course, still an option.
Brisbane-based gold dealer Ainslie Bullion launched Australia’s first gold and silver-backed cryptocurrency in September, just as gold reached its record Australian dollar price.
Buyers can invest in gold tokens with a few taps on their smartphone, making gold much more accessible.
“Ainslie Bullion’s product Gold and Silver Standard saw 5,000 trades worth over $2.1 million in the first two months and nearly double that ‘over the counter’ through Ainslie,” said Ainslie Bullion director Paul Engeman.
He argues gold is a worthwhile asset class to invest in above many others.
“While some argue gold has no place in a portfolio because it doesn’t yield [return an income stream], they miss that when compared to Australian shares, property and term deposits — with each including dividends, rent and interest respectively — gold and silver have easily outperformed all three over the last 15 years in capital appreciation and preservation alone.”
The Perth Mint launched its own digital gold in 2019.
“Our aim is to make gold accessible to as many people in as many places as we possibly can,” The Perth Mint’s chief executive Richard Hayes told ABC News.
The Reserve Bank is widely tipped to cut interest rates again in early February, which is likely to see the gold price push higher again.
“Low interest rates reduce the appeal of interest-bearing securities,” explained Mr Dhar.
“These securities compete for capital with gold. Therefore, in times of falling interest rates, gold looks more attractive and is generally worth investing in.”
Buying gold could be a popular item on new year’s resolution lists, as global interest rates continue to fall and uncertainty continues.