By: Shirley Christie & Dion Bisara
At the Toko Mas Mulia jewelry store along Jalan Cikini in Central Jakarta, customers glance at owner Kurniawan’s collection of rare 22- and 24-carat gold coins, but their eyes settle on his gold bars.
And to keep up with the fluctuation in international rates he has had to change his prices twice each day - in the morning and in the afternoon.
“This week we have had record sales,” he said on Saturday afternoon. “Gold’s price is likely to continue to rise, and the bigger the chance that it will increase in the near future, the more people will want to buy.”
Gold closed at a record $1,852.20 an ounce in New York on Friday, bringing its gain this year to 30 percent.
Consumers in Indonesia have been stocking up on the precious metal during Idul Fitri, the busiest season of the year as people traditionally show off their wealth as they head toward their hometowns.
But the increase has nothing to do with the holiday season, said Kurniawan, who is in his 60s and has been operating his store for 23 years.
Rather, it has do with international investors flocking to such stable investments as gold and the Swiss franc, as turmoil wreaks havoc upon global financial markets.
Disappointing data have indicated that the economy in the United States, the largest in the world, will slip back to recession. Europe’s debt crisis threatens to spread to some of the bigger economies in the European Union, such as France and Italy. Global equity markets dropped last week, with Indonesia’s benchmark, the Jakarta Composite Index, down 1.2 percent.
Colin Fenton, the global head of commodities strategy at JPMorgan Chase, predicts that gold will reach $2,500 or more by the end of the year as investors seize on the precious metal amid concerns of a financial crisis starting anew. The previous target of $1,800 was “too conservative,” the bank said in a note two weeks ago.
Several gold shops located in Cikini, Blok M and Glodok were selling 24-carat gold bars on Saturday with 99.99 percent purity produced by Aneka Tambang’s Logam Mulia.
Bullion was fetching up to Rp 560,000 ($65.54) per gram, compared to last month’s price of around Rp 450,000. At the end of last year, it was selling at Rp 414,000.
Antam, the nation’s largest listed gold miner that is also state-controlled, has been busy trying to keep up with demand, and the queue at the counter of its smelter in Jakarta has been getting longer recently, said Herman Djazi, its vice president of precious metals processing and purification.
In the past three weeks, Antam has been selling 25 kilograms of gold daily, compared with 20 kilograms on average before, he said.
“People think that with more economic chaos in developed countries, no assets of any kind are secure, except gold,” Herman said. “Buyers also think that gold prices will continue to rise, so if they do not buy now they fear that it can’t be bought in the future. I think the increase in gold demand is mainly due to panic buying.”
Gold demand is indeed likely to rise in the second half this year, according to the World Gold Council, with buying mainly coming from China and India. Central banks, which purchased 69.4 metric tons during the second quarter, are likely to remain net purchasers of gold, it said in a Aug. 18 report. Demand for gold bars and coins totaled 307.7 tons during the second quarter, up 9 percent from the same period in 2010.
Nations such as Thailand and Russia have recently been buying gold to diversify their international reserves.
South Korea recently purchased the precious metal for the first time in more than 10 years. Gold a decade ago was trading at around $250 an ounce.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela called for $11 billion in gold to be repatriated from vaults at several central banks around the world.
Bank Indonesia governor Darmin Nasution told Reuters on Friday that the central bank’s gold reserves were “sufficient” relative to other nations.
In Indonesia, analysts have been advising clients to include bullion in their portfolio.
“Investors are shifting their investments to gold,” said Praska Putrantyo, an analyst at Infovesta Utama.
Gold has increased about 12 percent since the United States’ credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s on Aug. 5, he said. In the same period, the JCI has fallen 2.1 percent.
“Gold becomes a safer choice than stocks, especially for a long-term investment,” Praska said.