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Global Gold Production Plateaued in 2017; Chinese Production Hit Record Low

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Gold supply plateaued last year. Global mine output rose just a paltry 5.7 tons in 2017, according to data compiled by the World Gold Council. That represented the smallest increase since 2008.

The 2008 dip in gold production was something of an anomaly. The 2% decline in production that year was primarily a result of the financial crisis. Last year’s drop in production in the midst of  what has been touted as a strengthening global economic recovery and rising gold prices raises eyebrows.

Mine production in 2016 was also roughly equal to 2015. In other words, we’re seeing a trend of plateauing production levels.

More significantly, Chinese mine production dropped by a record 9% in 2017. The only other time output has fallen in China was 1980. The country accounts for 15% of the world’s total gold production.

Much of China’s gold stays in the country to feed the world’s largest gold market. Even as production dropped off, gold consumption in China grew 9.41% in 2017, according to information released by the China Gold Association. As a result, Chinese gold companies are seeking out overseas acquisitions. For example, according to the Financial Times, Shandong Gold agreed to buy 50% of Barrick Gold’s Veladero mine in Argentina for $960 million last year.

According to the FT, tighter government regulation led to the closure of many smaller mines in China. The government has also upped resources taxes, further squeezing production.

But the production drop in China is part of a broader worldwide trend. As we reported last month, South Africa could run out of gold within four decades. Analysts say that at current production levels, South Africa has only 39 years of accessible gold reserves remaining. This could be another sign the world is approaching, or has reached, “peak gold.”

Peak gold is the point where the amount of gold mined out of the earth will begin to shrink every year, rather than increase, as it has done pretty consistently since the 1970s. During the Denver Gold Forum last September, the World Gold Council chairman said he thinks the world may have already reached that point.

Randall Oliphant anticipated last year’s dropoff in production, saying last fall that in the near-term, production is likely to plateau at best, before slowly declining as demand rises, especially given global political risks and robust purchases by consumers in India and China

We’re not going to fall off a cliff in the near term, but in the same time it’s really hard to see how we’re going to produce enough gold to meet all this demand.”

In 2016, Mining.com analyzed the data and concluded there are no more easy gold discoveries. In fact, the number of major gold discoveries is shrinking.

Others have talked about Peak Gold over the last several years. In September 2014, Chuck Jeannes announced that he believed the world will reach “peak gold” either in 2015 or 2016. Last April, Goldman Sachs analysts predicted gold production would peak in 2015, saying there are “only 20 years of known mineable reserves of gold and diamonds.”

Of course, technology advances and new discoveries make predicting peak gold an imprecise science, but plateauing production numbers do lend some credibility to those predicting declining output in the future.

When we look at the future of gold, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest geopolitical turmoil or the most recent policy pronouncement by the Federal Reserve. Of course, these events in the news cycle are important. But investors should never lose sight of the most basic fundamentals – supply and demand. The gold industry may well be entering a long-term — and possibly irreversible — period of less available gold. As mining companies find it more difficult to pull gold out of the earth, it will mean less gold for refiners to produce for the consumer market. Remember, gold gets its value from its scarcity.

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