Gold as an investment
Over all the precious metals, gold is the most popular as an investment. Investors generally buy gold as a hedge or harbor against economic, political, or social fiat currency crises (including investment market declines, burgeoning national debt, currency failure, inflation, war and social unrest). The gold market is subject to speculation as are other markets, especially through the use of futures contracts and derivatives. The history of the gold standard, the role of gold reserves in central banking, gold's low correlation with other commodity prices, and its pricing in relation to fiat currencies during the Late-2000s financial crisis, suggest that gold behaves more like a currency than a commodity.
Factors influencing the gold price
Today, like most commodities, the price of gold is driven by supply and demand as well as speculation. However unlike most other commodities, saving and disposal plays a larger role in affecting its price than its consumption. Most of the gold ever mined still exists in accessible form, such as bullion and mass-produced jewelry, with little value over its fine weight — and is thus potentially able to come back onto the gold market for the right price. At the end of 2006, it was estimated that all the gold ever mined totalled 158,000 tonnes (156,000 long tons; 174,000 short tons). This can be represented by a cube with an edge length of 20.2 metres (66 ft).
Given the huge quantity of gold stored above-ground compared to the annual production, the price of gold is mainly affected by changes in sentiment (demand), rather than changes in annual production (supply). According to the World Gold Council, annual mine production of gold over the last few years has been close to 2,500 tonnes. About 2,000 tonnes goes into jewellery or industrial/dental production, and around 500 tonnes goes to retail investors and exchange traded gold funds.
Central banks and the International Monetary Fund play an important role in the gold price. At the end of 2004 central banks and official organizations held 19 percent of all above-ground gold as official gold reserves. The ten year Washington Agreement on Gold (WAG), which dates from September 1999, limits gold sales by its members (Europe, United States, Japan, Australia, Bank for International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund) to less than 500 tonnes a year. European central banks, such as the Bank of England and Swiss National Bank, were key sellers of gold over this period. In 2009, this agreement was extended for a further five years, but with a smaller annual sales limit of 400 tonnes.
Although central banks do not generally announce gold purchases in advance, some, such as Russia, have expressed interest in growing their gold reserves again as of late 2005. In early 2006, China, which only holds 1.3% of its reserves in gold, announced that it was looking for ways to improve the returns on its official reserves. Some bulls hope that this signals that China might reposition more of its holdings into gold in line with other Central Banks. India has recently purchased over 200 tons of gold which has led to a surge in prices.
It is generally accepted that interest rates are closely related to the price of gold. As interest rates rise the general tendency is for the gold price, which earns no interest, to fall, and as rates dip, for gold price to rise. As a result, gold price can be closely correlated to central banks via the monetary policy decisions made by them related to interest rates. For example if market signals indicate the possibility of prolonged inflation, central banks may decide to enact policies such as a hike in interest rates that could affect the price of gold in order to quell the inflation. An opposite reaction to this general principle can be seen after the European Central bank raised its interest rate on April 7, 2011 for the first time since 2008. The price of gold responded with a muted response and then drove higher to hit new highs one day later. A similar situation happened in India: In August 2011 when the interest rate were at their highest in two years, the gold prices peaked as well.