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Gold's weakness - start of a slow decline, or short-term blip?

Gold has suffered its second quarterly loss in a row in the three months just ended, marking its worst performance since 2001. Debate continues over whether this will be a short-tem blip or if the buoyancy that drove the gold price to record highs has gone for good.

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Gold has suffered its second quarterly loss in a row in the three months just ended, marking its worst performance since 2001.

Debate continues over whether this will be a short-tem blip or if the buoyancy that drove the gold price to record highs has gone for good.

From an all-time high of US$1,912 seen in September 2011, the price has now drifted back to US$1,600. 

Fears that the global economy was in freefall helped fuel the rise, but increasing signs that the US in particular is recovering has reduced gold’s appeal as a safe haven.

Steady selling by holders of gold in exchange traded funds (ETFs) has contributed to a fall in the price this year of more than 4% as investors have looked to other assets.

Just this week respected US precious metals research group CPM suggested worse may be to come.

It predicts gold may average $1,565 an ounce in 2013, a decline of 6% from its spot average of $1,669 in 2012.

If the prediction pans out it would also be the first annual fall in the gold price since 2001.

Investors perceive that “the global economy is likely to muddle along”, CPM said, adding that this mood had “reduced the urgency” to add gold to portfolios.

CPM believes investors are also likely to buy gold only after a sharp price drop.

The limited gain for gold after Cyprus's collapse points to many of the bullish factors that had lifted gold in the past several years are already being priced in, CPM added.

While others have also cut forecasts for the gold price this year, fans of the metal are remain sanguine.

After the Cyprus crisis, HSBC said: “[The] rising risks of confiscation has bullish ramifications for gold in the longer term as investors may find the hard-asset qualities of bullion more attractive than riskier bank accounts.”

The key argument for the gold bulls is that the policy currently being pursued by the US government and others of pumping money into the economy will eventually lead a devaluation of paper money and inflation.

The good numbers coming out of the US have prompted some to question how long the policy will remain, but the US Federal Reserve still regularly repeats its commitment to the loose monetary policy. 

Another factor on the side of the bulls, especially over the longer term, is that the amount of gold being discovered continues to decline.

Research from resources market researcher IntierraRMG showed that new gold discoveries have dropped by 45% over the past ten years and the decline had gathered speed over the last four.

From 390mln of new grade ounces discovered in 2007 and 2008, the amount of gold discovered fell to 225 mln ounces in 2011 and 2012.

The grades found have also declined, to 1.17g/t from 2.65g/t, over the same period.

Africa has yielded most of the new discoveries over the past then according to IntierraRMG at 479 mln ounces, followed by North America at 290 mln tonnes and Europe at 240mln ounces, though grades in these places were lower than Africa.

Glen Jones, at IntierraRMG, said with global drilling activity waning, the trend is likely to continue with fewer new gold discoveries.

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Price: 3145 GBX

LSE:CLDN
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Market Cap: £1.73 billion
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