Gold plunges to 10-month low as Cyprus sale shocks bourses

Written by Agencies | New York/London/New Delhi | Updated: Apr 12 2013, 17:33pm hrs
But analysts say strong bullion buying by central banks should support metal

Gold prices fell to an over 10-month low by losing R505 to R29,470 per 10 gram in New Delhi on Thursday on frantic selling by stockists amid restricted buying, driven by a steep fall in overseas markets.

The fall drove down prices to a level last seen on May 30 last year as the metal tumbled in New York by $25.70 to $1559.30 an ounce on fears the US Federal Reserve might scale back stimulus. The trading sentiment turned extremely bearish due to drying up of seasonal demand and selling by stockists, triggered by a steep fall in the precious metals prices in global markets.

Traders said shifting of funds by investors from melting bullion to rising equity markets was another dampening factor.

Gold suffered the second biggest fall this month after April 3. On the domestic front, gold of 99.9% and 99.5% purity tumbled by R505 each to R29,470 and R29,270 per 10 grams, respectively.

The kicker to golds downward spiral was in global developments with the metal posting its biggest one-day drop in nearly two months after Cyprus was forced to sell most of its gold reserves, but analysts said strong bullion buying by other central banks should underpin the price of the metal.

Investor fears over more gold sales by other debt-stricken euro zone members such as Portugal and Greece sent spot bullion prices down 1.7% on Wednesday. Renewed gold interest by emerging economies and gold sales limitations stipulated by Europe's Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) are positive factors that should put a floor under the market, analysts said.

"The bigger concern for the bullion market may be the potential for other distressed euro zone nations to liquidate a portion of their gold reserves," said James Steel, chief precious metals analyst at HSBC.

"We do not believe this will be the case, however, and we expect the official sector to remain standout buyers of bullion," Steel said.

Cyprus, one of euro zone's smallest economies, has to sell excess gold reserves to raise around 400 million euros ($523 million) to help finance its part of its bailout, an assessment of Cypriot financing needs prepared by the European Commission showed. It was the first major gold disposal by a euro area central bank since France sold 17.4 tonne in the first half of 2009.

At current prices, 400 million euros' worth of gold amounts to 10.36 tonne of the metal, representing just a small fraction of gold liquidated by gold exchange-traded funds since the beginning of the year, analysts said.

Cyprus' total bullion reserves stood at 13.9 tonne at end-February, according to data from the World Gold Council.

Macquarie metals analyst Matthew Turner said that it would be very bearish for the gold market if other countries like Spain and Italy with large gold reserves became sellers, but that there are good reasons to believe Cyprus is a special case.

Portugal holds 382.5 tonne of gold, worth some 14.76 billion euros at current prices, in its reserves, while Spain's holdings stand at 281.6 tonnes, worth 10.8 billion. Italy is the world's fourth largest gold holder, with 2,451.8 tonne of gold in its reserves, worth 94.6 billion euros.

The third Central Bank Gold Agreement inked in 2009 states that gold sales by signatories will not exceed a collective ceiling of 400 tonne per year over a five-year period.

The agreement covers gold sales by the European Central Bank and around 20 European countries that have adopted the euro including Portugal, Greece and Spain.

Despite the Cypriot gold sales, emerging economic powers will remain strong buyers of gold and that should underpin prices in the long term, said Michael Cuggino, portfolio manager of the $16 billion Permanent Portfolio Funds.

Russia, Turkey, South Korea and other smaller but fast-growing economies have been adding gold to their reserves, data by the International Monetary Fund has shown.

Central banks have been keen buyers of gold since the advent of the financial crisis, acquiring a net 532 tonne of gold last year, a 48-year high, according to metals consultancy GFMS. As a group, central banks had turned into buyers in 2010 as the 2008 economic crisis highlighted the importance of gold as a hedge against currency and credit risk.

Tracking the general weakening trend, silver in New Delhi dropped by R875 to R52,275 per kg on restricted buying by industrial units and coin-makers. However, sovereign held steady at R25,100 per piece of 8 grams in restricted buying.

In a similar fashion, silver dropped by R875 to R52,275 per kg and weekly-based delivery by R885 to R51,375 per kg. Silver coins also nosedived by R2,000 to R79,000 for buying and R80,000 for selling of 100 pieces.