Have We Hit Peak Gold?
After 50 years of constant increases production has now plateaued
Gold mine output has flatlined over the last several years and that trend appears to be continuing in 2019. Gold production rose fractionally in 2018 by about 1% totaling 3,346.9 tons. That compared with 3,318.92 tons mined in 2017 — a modest 28-ton increase year-on-year.
According to the World Gold Council’s Gold Demand Trends Q3 report, on a year-to-date basis, mine production ended the third quarter at 2,583 tons. That’s virtually identical to production levels at this point in 2018.
Looking at general the trend, we see signs of plateauing mine output over the last four years. According to the WGC, production was up 77.72 tons between 2015 and 2016, 33.92 tons between 2016 and 2017, and 28 tons between 2017 and 2018 and we’re on pace for little to no increase in 2019.
Gold production has generally increased every year since the 1970s. There was a drop in production in 2008, but that was something of an anomaly, as it occurred at the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. The recent slowdown in mine production is more concerning. In fact, many people speculate we may be at or near “peak gold.”
Peak gold is the point where the amount of gold mined out of the earth will begin to shrink every year. Some prominent players in the mining industry think we’re close to that point.
Over the last couple of years, several gold-mining executives have warned we have found most of the world’s minable gold. For instance, last year, Goldcorp chairman Ian Telfer said, “We’re right at peak gold here.” And during the Denver Gold Forum in September 2017, World Gold Council chairman Randall Oliphant said he thought the world may have already reached that point. Franco-Nevada chairman Pierre Lassonde has also indicated he expects a significant dip in gold production in the coming years. And last spring, a report in Deutsche Welle made the case that we’re approaching peak gold.
Case in point – South Africa was once the world’s leading gold producer. It’s now dropped to number nine globally. Last year, a study came out saying South Africa could run out of gold within four decades. Analysts say that at current production levels, the country has only 39 years of accessible gold reserves remaining.
So, which countries produce the most gold? Here are the rankings based on 2018 mine output according to the World Gold Council.
1. China – 404.1 tons.
China was the largest producer in the world in 2018 and accounted for around 12 percent of total global production. China has held the number one spot for the last several years. Production in China fell by 5% in 2018.
2. Australia – 314.9 tons
While production fell in many gold-producing countries, Australia was a trend buster. Output increased by 6.4% last year. The country accounts for about 9% of global production. Analysts say long-term output projections don’t look good. MinEx Consulting released a report detailing an expected drop in gold output between 2017 and 2057 unless the amount spent on exploration is doubled.
3. Russia – 297.3 tons
Production was also up in Russia last year, with output increasing by about 27 tons. More than 80% of Europe’s gold comes from Russia. The Russian government is the biggest buyer of Russian gold. Much of the additional output last year was gobbled up by the Central Bank of Russia.
4. The United States – 221.7 tons
US mine production fell by 3.6% last year, snapping a four-year trend increasing gold output. The state of Nevada accounts for 78% of US gold output.
5. Canada – 189.0 tons
Canada was another country that saw a slight increase in gold production last year. The discovery of a significant goldfield in northern British Columbia in 2017 bumped Canada higher up the list of gold producers and could account for increased output in the coming years.
6. Peru – 158.4 tons
Peruvian mine output dropped by four tons in 2018. It was the third straight year of declining gold production for Peru.
7. Indonesia – 136.9 tons
Indonesian gold production plummeted by 17.4%. That follows on the heels of an 11.7% decline in mine output in 2017.
8. Ghana – 130.5
Ghana moved up two spots in the rankings, leap-frogging both Mexico and South Africa. The country produced nearly 30 more tons of gold in 2018 than it did in 2017. Ghana now ranks as Africa’s largest gold producer. Small mining companies account for the largest share of the total. Loosening government regulation and lower taxes have helped boost the countries mining sector.
9. South Africa – 129.8 tons
Output dropped again 2018, falling by another 10 tons. Once the largest gold producer in the world, today it isn’t even the largest in Africa.
10. Mexico – 115.4
Mexico has also seen a steep dropoff in gold production, with mine output falling 11.5% last year.
Source: Schiff Gold