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Gold demand shrinks in 2020 on virus fallout: industry

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FILE PHOTO: Gold bars at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant in Vienna, Austria, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Gold demand shrank 14 percent last year as the coronavirus pandemic sparked record falls in jewellery purchases and as strong investor interest sent prices to all-time highs, industry data showed Thursday.

Overall demand for the precious metal hit the lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2009, at 3,759.6 tonnes, the World Gold Council (WGC) said in its annual report.

At the same time, gold prices hit record highs above $2,000 an ounce, with the commodity benefitting from its status as a haven investment in times of economic uncertainty.

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“Jewellery demand in 2020 dropped to its lowest annual level on record, decimated by the combination of the global pandemic — with its resultant market lockdowns — and record-high gold prices at a time of economic slowdown,” the WGC said.

Demand for gold jewellery slumped 34 percent to a record-low 1,411.6 tonnes from 2019.

“In a tumultuous year for the gold market, investment was one of the notable positives,” the report added.

Total annual gold investment hit a record 1,773.2 tonnes, 40 percent higher than in 2019, thanks to the popularity of exchange-traded funds, which allow investment outside of futures market.

“Record inflows into gold ETFs clearly showed the strength of investor demand for gold worldwide at a time of heightened risk and uncertainty, ultra-low interest rates, fiscal expansion and economic slowdown,” the Council said.

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By contrast, demand by central banks slumped 60 percent to 272.9 tonnes.

That contrasted with a multi-decade high of 668 tonnes in 2019.

“The first half of…. (2020) saw a continuation of the longstanding trend of net buying” by central banks, the report said.

Demand slowed however in the second half, which coincided with a pick-up in sales as some central banks sought greater liquidity to help tackle economic fallout from the pandemic, it added.

“Gold’s performance during the year boosted reserve portfolios, providing central banks with additional firepower when it was needed,” the WGC said.

“And some banks saw this as an opportune time to obtain liquidity to support their struggling economies.”

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