Saturday, March 1, 2008

Thai gold hits record high as oil keeps rising and dollar falls

CHAROEN KITTIKANYA

Gold roared to an all-time record yesterday above 15,000 baht per baht-weight (15.16 grammes) as global prices continued to surge.

World gold prices reached $973 an ounce after crude oil set an all-time high of $103 a barrel and the US dollar dropped against other currencies.

Spot gold rose as high as $973.10, up from $968.90 late in New York on Thursday. Gold has gained 16% this year. On Jan 2 it broke the key $850 mark for the first time since January 1980.''Speculation is all around that the gold price would test $1,000 an ounce, but I personally believe that barrier could not be broken, as we expect that speculators are unlikely to tolerate the rising prices to take a profit in the near future,'' said Jitti Tangsithpakdi, the president of the Gold Traders Association.

Local retail prices for gold ornaments rose yesterday to 15,050 baht before easing back to close at 14,300. Gold bar prices rose to 14,650 baht from 14,450.

Mr Jitti said today's market belonged only to sellers because of the rising prices, leaving the gold business in the doldrums. ''The gold business in Thailand nowadays is very sluggish. It will get worse if the global gold price climbs to $1,000 an ounce as expected. This business will be in trouble and goldsmiths will be the most affected,'' he said.

A price rally due to both the poor economy and concerns about political stability has pushed as many as 200,000 goldsmiths out of the industry. About 100,000 goldsmiths are currently employed.

''Some goldsmiths became farmers, abandoning their craft,'' said Mr Jitti. ''If the gold price remains this high, I am worried that job cuts will continue.''

Jewellery accounted for just 30% of the Thai gold industry's sales last year, down from 80% five years ago as housewives shunned purchases, Mr Jitti said. More gold bullion, which is bought by wealthy people for investment, was sold instead, he said.

Thailand imports between 70 billion and 80 billion baht worth of gold a year. The Gold Traders Association said gold imports last year plunged 73.7% to 21 billion baht, while volume fell 55.55%. Exports fell 59% to 15 billion baht. Local demand for gold was off 82.8% to six billion baht. About 4.6 billion baht went to bars and the rest for ornaments.

''The strong baht has fortunately helped tame domestic prices,'' said Mr Jitti. ''Domestic gold prices would have reached more than 16,000 baht if the baht stood at 35 baht on average against the US dollar.''

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