Global central banks propped up gold demand in 2015: Report

Central banks helped prop up demand for bullion, but Russian retail customers abandoned the market as the ruble collapsed, the World Gold Council's 2015 trends report revealed.

Meanwhile, skittish investors pushed investment demand for gold up 15 percent on-year in the fourth quarter to 169.3 tons, as net outflows from exchange-traded gold funds slowed.

The council reported nearly flat total demand on-year at 4,212 tons, after a weak first half and a rebound in the second half on low prices and increasing global political tensions and financial turbulence.

Purchases by central banks ticked up from 584 tons in 2014 to 588 tons, which the council attributed to a need for greater diversification into gold for the banks' assets as the oil price tumbled and global economic confidence plunged.

Russia's central bank was a big buyer, purchasing about 200 tons over the year, about 141 tons of which were bought in the second half. Russia was also 2014's biggest buyer.

"The annual total [purchased by central banks] was significantly higher than our initial expected range of 400-500 tons, and comfortably towards the top end of our revised expectation of 500-600 tons," the council wrote in its report.

"This shows that the pivotal change in 2010 – from net sellers to net purchases – has staying power."

But consumer demand dropped 2 percent to 3,427 tons, despite the taste for gold holding up in China - where retail buyers faced an economic slowdown and currency weakness - and traditional gold heavyweight India, where demand for gold perked up in the second half as consumers snapped up cheap gold ahead of Deepavali (also known as Diwali).

Roland Wang, managing director of the World Gold Council in China, said that consumers were particularly interested in gold bars and coins, adding that he expected demand to remain healthy in 2016 as a falling yuan likely boosted "wealth protection purchases."

Meanwhile, demand from Russian consumers slumped to a 14-year low of 41.1 tons, 39 percent lower on-year, in the wake of a free-falling currency and new hits from the plunge in oil prices.

Net outflows from ETFs fell to 133.4 tons in 2015, compared to 185.1 tons in 2014.

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