Gold, the only yellow metal, has the chemical symbol gold, which is derived from the Latin word for gold — aurum. Gold has twice the density of lead and is also a good conductor of heat and electricity. It is extremely malleable and can be rolled thin enough to allow light to pass through it. It is resistant to most acid attacks and does not oxidise.
Gold has been the ultimate symbol of wealth from earliest civilisations to the present, spanning some 8000 years. It has been sought after and fought over more than any other human possession. It has historically been used for jewellery and as a base for global monetary reserves. However, gold’s role as a monetary reserve has been changing over the past few years, with several banks selling their reserves. This is seen as a move to dissociate gold’s relation with currencies. Large stocks of gold in the form of bullion, coinage and jewellery are still held by banks, individual investors, hoarders and speculators world-wide. Gold has a wide range of uses from being used as a catalyst in industrial processes to medical machinery and dental uses as well as decorative uses.
Gold usually only occurs in its metallic state. It is commonly associated with sulphide minerals such as pyrite, but it does not form a separate sulphide mineral. Gold is found in a variety of environments globally, but generally requires grades in excess of 1 gram / tonne (1 part per million) to be considered economic. Economic gold can be found in primary ore deposits as fine disseminations throughout the host rock or as concentrations caused by favourable chemical and structural environments. Weathering of these primary ores can produce secondary gold concentrations, often as alluvial gold occurrences (often called “placer” gold). South Africa, Australia, Canada and the USA are the world’s primary gold producers.
The decision by several European banks to sell gold stockpiles drove the gold price to its lowest level in twenty years in 1999. However, gold still remains the basis of the Europe’s new currency, the Euro, which is underpinned by gold by as much as 30%. The general trend in all four of the big producers were encouraging with a reduction in operating costs of some 17%.
Mining and production
Most countries hold gold in their external, official reserves. Official holdings of gold by central banks and international organisations account for an estimated 32,000 tonnes. This represents about 11% of total official reserves and about 23% of the total of above-ground stocks of gold in the world. In recent years, the official sector has been gradually reducing its gold stocks, though some central banks have been increasing their holdings. The GFMS Annual Gold Survey, 2003 stated that net disposals by central banks accounted for 13% of annual supply of gold to the market on average in the five years ending in December 2002.Available estimates suggest that the total volume of gold ever mined up to the end of 2002 was approximately 147,000 tonnes, of which almost 60% has been mined since 1950.
Higher costs were reported across all the major producing regions in 2003 due to higher global energy charges, and higher royalties and production taxes (which are linked to the gold price). Total gold supply in 2003 according to the GMFS was 3,822 tonnes compared to a demand of 3,321 toones. Demand was mainly led by the jewellery sector around the world which accounted for 78.8% of total demand. Total mine production for 2003 amounted to 2,601 tonnes.
The top ten gold producers in 2003 (in million ounces) were: Newmont Mining (7.38), AngloGold (5.63), Barrick Gold (5.51), Gold Fields (4.20), Placer Dome (3.86), Harmony (3.33), Rio Tinto (2.73), Freeport (2.46), Kinross Gold (1.65) and Buenaventura (1.53).