South Africa’s gold output down 11.3 pct y/y in Jan

March 15, 2012 at 13:48

truthing

South Africa, only a couple of decades ago the world’s largest producer of gold by a huge margin, but recently overtaken by China, Australia and the U.S., and in danger of being overtaken by Russia, has seen the decline continuing according to Statistics SA.

The state statistical body’s report on South Africa’s mine production in January this year sees an overall decline year on year for all metals and minerals of 2.5%, but in the gold sector the decline was a massive 11.3%, more than even that in December when gold output fell by 8.2%.

For the country’s economy, higher metal prices have mitigated the production fall-off to a major extent, but the continuing output decline as many of the country’s biggest gold mining operations have reached the ends of their lives and have closed down, and/or are having to work much lower ore grades, sees no end to the continuing downturn. The country’s gold output is nowadays less than a quarter of what it was at its peak in the early 1970s and the fall-off has been the major contributor to at best flat global gold production over the past few years.

There is little prospect too of any serious reversal in the trend. The old mines that are still operating are mostly getting deeper and deeper with safety concerns a limiting factor, while new operations coming on stream tend to be either small by comparison, low grade, or both.

In terms of South Africa’s overall mine production fall, gold is by far the most significant contributor, with coal and iron ore in particular bringing some resilience to the country’s overall output picture. Even the beleaguered platinum sector saw a small output increase over the past three months compared with the similar preceding period.