Gold demand slumped to its weakest first quarter since the global financial crisis, the World Gold Council said Thursday, as the prospect of rising interest rates led investors to pursue greater returns elsewhere.
Worldwide demand for gold totaled 973.5 tons in the first quarter of the year, according to the Council's latest report, down 7 percent year-on-year. The slump in demand for the precious metal also coincided with prices holding within their narrowest range of any quarter in more than a decade.
The trade group that represents the commodity blamed the fall on a 15 percent dip in investment in gold bars to 254.9 tons, as investors in the U.S., China and Germany held off from buying the yellow metal.
"Relatively solid global economic growth, coupled with the return of volatility in the capital markets in February, created a stable environment for gold in (the first quarter)," Alistair Hewitt, head of market intelligence at the World Gold Council, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, just 32.4 tons of gold flowed into gold-backed exchange-traded funds over the first three months of the year. That was down two-thirds when compared to the same quarter last year.
Jewelry consumption also slipped at the start of 2018, edging down 1 percent. India — the second-largest gold jewelry consumer after China — reported its weakest quarter since 2008, falling 12 percent year on year to 87.7 tons.
Traditionally viewed as a safe-haven asset in times of economic stress, gold demand had surged in the first three months of 2017 amid elevated geopolitical uncertainty. However, more recently the precious metal has traded in a narrow range of $1,300 to $1,350 an ounce as investors have appeared to lack a clear signal.
Spot gold rose 0.3 percent to $1,308.54 per ounce on Thursday morning, ahead of much-anticipated talks between the world's two largest economies.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is poised to meet Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Thursday, amid a tense trade standoff between Washington and Beijing.