With gold supply trending down slightly and most categories of gold demand falling, it is central bank demand that is holding the gold price up

The release of the Q4 World Gold Council review of gold supply and demand features one notable trend - central banks are the biggest buyers.

In 2012, jewellery demand fell by 62 tonnes, coin, bar and investment demand fell by an amazing 260 tonnes, demand needed to back EFTs rose by 94 tonnes, and industrial use fell by 25 tonnes in 2012 compared with 2011.

Central banks have gone from net sellers of gold until 2010, and are now represent the one part of gold demand that is actually growing in volume terms.

As a group, they bought 145 tonnes in Q4 2012, and over the whole year they purchased 534.6 tonnes, the highest level of demand since 1964.

Russia was the biggest central bank buyer, following Vladimir Putin's instructions, and adding 75 tonnes to its inventory at a cost of about US$77.5 million (if they bought it evenly over the year).

Russia now have a central bank gold holding of 957.8 tonnes.

The next biggest buyer was Brazil who bought 34 tonnes, the Philippines bought 33.6 tonnes, South Korea purchased 30 tonnes, and Iraq added 24.1 tonnes to its central bank holdings.

The buying by these five countries totaled 196.7 tonnes in 2012, the largest of the official buyers and 37% of the total of 534.6 tonnes bought by all central banks.

The WGC also noted that Turkey's central bank gold holdings rose from 195.3 tonnes to 359.6 tonnes. But this growth does not actually represent purchases because of the role gold plays more broadly in Turkey and its financial system. It needs to be pledged by their commercial banks as part of their required reserves.

Sales under the Central Bank Gold Agreement in 2012 were only 5.5 tonnes, and this was all accounted for by Germany who minted commemorative gold coins. There was virtually no other CBGA activity.

The supply of gold fell slightly in 2012. Supply from mines was down 19 tonnes and recycled scrap was down 43 tonnes.

You can find detailed, up-to-date pricing for gold coinsbars/bullion, and gold scrap, all in both NZ$ and US$, here »

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Some new rules were apparently drawn up at Basel III requiring that Central Banks must increase their gold holdings. Also the lending rules changed against Gold reserves.

And also in a world of massive money printing and currency wars, central banks fully understand that they may need to one day back their currency with something other than a promise.