LAWRIE WILLIAMS: GFMS ups gold price forecast but fundamentals could be seen as gloomy
The latest GFMS Gold Survey Update taking Q2 figures into account doesn’t all make for particularly positive reading for the gold investor in terms of fundamentals, but nevertheless the consultancy has upped its average gold price forecast for the year from what looks to have been a rather low estimate of $1,184/ounce to what might seem a still relatively conservative $1,279/ounce. It should be recognised, however, that this is an average price forecast for the full year, and despite the headline spot price currently sitting above the $1,320 level, the actual average for H1 is still some way below this level at around $1,219 based on LBMA figures, so this still suggests a second half average of close to $1,340/ounce to achieve this kind of level for the whole of the year. Perhaps not quite so conservative after all!
So why do we say that the fundamentals do not look quite so positive as the relatively upbeat survey title might suggest? That is because of a remarkable downturn in gold’s principal demand sector – jewellery manufacture, particularly in gold’s two largest markets, China and India. GFMS does come in for some criticism on its Chinese consumption statistics in particular, largely because of its definition of what actually comprises demand which comes in way below known Chinese gold imports and even further below withdrawals from the Shanghai Gold Exchange which the Chinese Central Bank defines as Chinese demand in its Gold Yearbook. The discrepancy is in part because GFMS consumption statistics ignore some very substantial gold flows into the banking and institutional sector, purportedly for use in financial transactions, but we have surmised they may also provide a back-door, and unreported, addition to China’s gold reserves given the country’s commercial banks are all state-controlled. Certainly gold flows into China in total are way in excess of GFMS-estimated Chinese demand figures.
For China so far this year, GFMS reckons Chinese jewellery demand is seen as down by 31% year on year – the worst Q2 performance since 2009. Investment demand is also seen as falling by 12% quarter on quarter for Q2. Overall GFMS describes Chinese demand, as it calculates it, as being in freefall, although it is anticipating a pick-up in Q3.
While Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) gold withdrawal figures will also be substantially higher than the GFMS definition of Chinese gold consumption – they too are down sharply year to date as well by around 17% – which certainly confirms the trend noted by GFMS, if not the numbers. Up until the end of June some 973.1 tonnes of gold had been withdrawn from the SGE. Analytical consultancies like GFMS believe SGE figures include a significant degree of double counting, although some other analysts who follow these figures disagree saying SGE rules prevent this.
Chinese demand may also indeed be beginning to pick up, despite media headlines which look to suggest the opposite. Hong Kong remains the conduit for perhaps around 60% of gold imports into the Chinese mainland and the May figure was the best for five months at 101 tonnes. June did see a fall back to 68.7 tonnes but the Bloomberg report headlined China’s Gold Imports Slide in June as Rising Prices Deter Buyers which reported this rather glossed over the fact that even so the June figure was still more than three times higher than the figure for June 2015 – a very strong year for Chinese gold demand.!
GFMS sees Indian jewellery demand as being even worse in terms of declining gold demand with jewellery consumption down 56% - and even globally it sees overall jewellery consumption down 27.3%. It also puts global industrial demand as down by 7%, net official sector purchases down 48.5% (due primarily to reduced purchases by Russia and China in H1 coupled with sales by Venezuela) and global retail investment demand off by 2.6% overall. To make things worse, despite seeing a 2% fall in new mine supply, overall supply is estimated as growing by around 6% due to an increase in scrap sales brought on by higher prices, and an increase in gold hedging activity.
The one bright spark in the supply/demand fundamentals balance was a huge gold inflow into gold ETFs, totalling an estimated 568 tonnes in the first half of the year, so while GFMS sees gold in a supply surplus over the period, it has not been nearly such a severe one as the other supply/demand statistics might suggest. But what if the ETF inflows start to reverse as they have been over the past week or two? The likelihood could be a summer slump in the gold price, unless some global black swan event intervenes to regenerate more safe haven demand. Or can sentiment alone hold the gold price at around current levels? Eyes will be on clues forthcoming from the currently ongoing U.S. Fed’s FOMC meeting as to if and when the Fed may re-implement raising interest rates.
What positives for gold does GFMS see? It is now reckoning that new mined gold supply is definitely on the downward path. There are relatively few new projects and expansions expected to begin producing this year to replace old mines closing down or those seeing lower grades, and those new operations in the near-term pipeline are generally fairly modest in scale, hence an opinion that global mine supply is now set to begin a multi-year downtrend this year. But even if mine supply were to fall by 10% next year, which is probably an excessive guess, this would only take 300 tonnes or so out of the global picture and unless Asian demand picks up again we could be heading for quite a major surplus.
But, even so, GFMS has raised its price projections as noted above, which means perhaps its analytical team is a little more positive than its figures might suggest. It puts this down to political uncertainties ahead including the ongoing impact of the Brexit vote in the UK, reduced expectations of a rate rise from the Fed, a wobbly Italian banking sector and the U.S. Presidential race.
The full GFMS Q2 Gold Survey update is available for download to corporate email addresses at https://forms.thomsonreuters.com/gfms/