Australia's gold output rises as its currency shrinks

SYDNEY - Australian miners are digging deeper for more gold as a weaker currency drives bullion prices higher, a survey released on Sunday showed.

Gold output in Australia - the world's second-biggest producing country after China - climbed to 285 tonnes in 2015, almost two tonnes more than in 2014 and the highest annual total since 2003, according to Surbiton Associates, a private consultancy to the sector.

Production in the fourth quarter of 2015 totaled 73 tonnes, slightly above that produced in the previous quarter, it said.

"For 2015, Australia's gold production of 285 tonnes was worth over A$14 billion (S$14.04) at the average gold price," said Sandra Close a Surbiton director. "The local gold sector has benefited from weaker US dollar exchange rates."

Gold denominated in Australian dollars averaged around A$1,540 per ounce in 2015, but since January has galloped to more than A$1,700 per ounce.

"The Australian dollar has fallen from near 95 cents in mid-2014, to around 82 cents at the start of 2015, to around 72 cents by end-2015," said Close.

"Such a significant devaluation has provided quite a boost to the Australian gold sector." So far this year, gold shares are the top performers in Australia, with the Australian Securities Exchange gold miners index up 36 per cent compared with an 8 per cent decline in the broader market.

US dollar-denominated gold is up about 15.3 per cent since Jan. 1 and Australian dollar gold is up by 18 per cent.

Close said that lower oil prices were reducing the cost of energy for mining and processing gold. "If you factor higher prices and tighter cost containment into the overall equation, margins have increased," Close noted.

Australia's gold output remained a distant second to the roughly 450 tonnes dug out of mines in China in 2015, according to industry data.

A decade ago, South Africa was the top gold producer followed by the United States, Australia and then China.