Gold demand fell for a third year on a slump in purchases from China, costing the country its place as the world’s biggest buyer.
Global demand slid 4 percent to a five-year low of 3,923.7 metric tons in 2014, the World Gold Council said in a report Thursday. In China, purchases of bars and coins for investment dropped by 50 percent and jewelry buying retreated from a record, according to the London-based group.
The strengthening dollar and prospects for higher U.S. interest rates have curbed gold’s appeal as a protection of wealth, leading to two years of falling prices. While the metal has rebounded over the past three months, it’s still within 10 percent of a four-year low.
“2014 was a year of stabilization,” Alistair Hewitt, head of market intelligence at the council, said in a phone interview from London on Wednesday. “We saw bar and coin demand decline substantially both in India and China.” Gold rose 3.2 percent to $1,221.82 an ounce in London this year.
India took China’s spot as biggest buyer of the metal, reclaiming the position it last held in 2012, after jewelry demand jumped to the highest level since at least 1995. India’s total demand in 2014 was 842.7 tons, 14 percent lower on year, while China’s sank 38 percent to 813.6 tons, the report showed.
Purchases of necklaces, bracelets and earrings by Indian shoppers rose 8 percent even amid import restrictions, while Chinese consumers bought 33 percent less. Combined bar and coin investment was down 50 percent in both countries.
It’s too close to call which country will be the biggest buyer this year, with annual demand in both countries forecast at 900 to 1,000 tons, Hewitt said. For the fourth quarter, global demand totaled 987.5 tons, up about 6 percent from a year earlier.
P.R. Somasundaram, the council’s managing director for India, said on Feb. 11 that the country may remain the top consumer in 2015 because of economic expansion.
“Economic growth is good,” he said from Mumbai. “As more and more people come to the savings fold and out of the poverty line, gold will continue to mean something to them.”
Investors in exchange-traded products backed by gold continued to reduce their holdings. Sales totaled 164.4 tons in 2014 as ETF assets approached a five-year low, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The drop in holdings was 869.1 tons in 2013.
Central banks added the metal to reserves for a fifth straight year, buying 477.2 tons, 17 percent more than in 2013 and the second-highest amount in the past 50 years. Demand from the technology industry fell almost 5 percent to 389 tons last year, the lowest level since 2003.
Recycling contracted 11 percent to a seven-year low of 1,121.7 tons, according to the gold council. Mine production rose 2 percent to a record 3,114.4 tons.
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