Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Eurozone woes keep everyone guessing over gold

New Zealand Mint chief operating officer Hayden Syers (left) and head of bullion Mike O'Kane with more than $1.2 million of precious metal. Photo / Sarah Ivey
New Zealand Mint chief operating officer Hayden Syers (left) and head of bullion Mike O'Kane with more than $1.2 million of precious metal. Photo / Sarah Ivey

New Zealand Mint has a new owner and has a fresh push into overseas markets under way, but is wrestling with the same question that has confounded traders through the ages - what's going on with the price of gold.

"If we knew where it was going we'd be permanently on holiday - our issue as a market trader is that the information coming out is nonsensical because a lot of what is going on is not logical," said the firm's head bullion trader, Mike O'Kane.

The gold price slid from a near inflation adjusted record of US$1920 an ounce last September to US$1614 early this month, prompting some international analysts to call the three-year bull run over. It's since bounced back by US$40.

Gold usually appreciates during times of uncertainty and O'Kane says while there's plenty of that about, investors - who buy about a third of gold traded - are sitting on their hands.

"It's very much wait and see while the Eurozone is sorting itself out. The Federal Reserve is saying they're still willing to buy a lot of bonds.

"As a result you get that big long queue of people waiting for something to happen, which means in the short term we may see a significant drop in price or we might see a significant rise in price."

During the 1990s decade the gold price fluctuated by about US$30 an ounce but has swung by US$100 in just a few weeks since the global financial crisis hit in 2008.

NZ Mint trades and stores gold and silver, makes silver and gold commemorative coins and produces jewellery.

O'Kane said some clients tended to bail out of gold when prices fall and start buying when they go up.

"We're both lucky and unlucky with our exchange rate. It tends to flatten out a lot of peaks and troughs that we see with US dollar pricing."

The firm has an annual turnover of around $100 million a year. Its new owner, Simon Harding, once worked as the financial controller for the London Commodity Exchange but says he has no more insight into where gold is going than anyone else.

Cashed up after selling a beauty training business to an Australian private equity firm last year, he bought NZ Mint for "some millions" and said he's prepared to invest to expand the business.

"The business has been constrained by working capital. We've got an international outlook. We've got the capacity to be niche supplier to the rest of the world."

NZ Mint sells coins through Sberbank in Russia, outlets in the United States and with New Zealand trade authorities is working on breaking into the Chinese market.

Its coins celebrate anything from the Kalashnikov rifle to Star Wars characters. A Muhammad Ali coin is due out soon.

"We're more agile than state mints can be. They're essentially government organisations."

While the commemorative coin market was big in the United States and Europe, it was not here. Buying gold was more popular overseas than here, partly because the industry had been tarnished by high-profile collapses such as Goldcorp in the 1980s and Bullion Traders this year.

Chief operating officer Hayden Syers said the firm wanted to be taken seriously. It dealt in physical gold which it can store and has insured for $120 million.

"Everyone has to do their research, come in and look us in the eye and talk to us. We're not doing leveraged holdings - we're not on the radio saying 'come and buy gold off us or melt down your grandma's wedding ring'."

GOLDEN HARVEST

* During the past 5000 years, only about 160,000 tonnes of gold have been mined, enough to fill two Olympic-size pools.
* More than half of that has been extracted in the past 50 years.
* Very little gold is lost from the market - some gold bars today could contain metal dating back to ancient Egypt.
* One ounce of gold can be stretched into a thin wire measuring only five microns, or five millionths of a metre thick, that could stretch a distance of 80km.
* Nearly 40 per cent of all gold ever mined was in South Africa.
* A 1kg bar is about two-thirds the size of an iPhone.
Source: National Geographic, US National Mining Association

- NZ Herald

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