Golden Times at Royal Canadian Mint

By Ian MacLeod, Ottawa Citizen   March 29, 2010
OTTAWA — Gold and silver sales have exploded past the $1-billion mark at the federal mint, with spooked global investors snapping up the precious metals as a hedge in uncertain times.

The astounding 266 per cent increase in bullion and refinery revenues, to $1.04 billion from $283.9 million in 2007, is revealed in the Royal Canadian Mint's 2008 annual report, only recently tabled in Parliament after a yearlong delay caused by an investigation into $15 million in missing gold.

The unprecedented demand for bullion and the resulting, "additional stress on our operations has created significant inventory reconciliation challenges," says the report, linking the record 2008 sales and production demands to last year's embarrassing episode involving 17,500 ounces of unaccounted for gold.

Meanwhile, annual bullion sales and production figures for 2009, to be released next month, are expected to reveal another motherlode for the Crown corporation.

"When the stock market has been nosediving, when real estate has been taking a hit and all these other assets seem to have fluctuated downward, the only thing left in times of trouble and uncertainty is gold and silver bullion," said Alex Reeves, a mint spokesman.

The mint's downtown Ottawa operation sold 896,701 ounces of gold in coins, wafers and kilo bars in 2008, a 222 per cent increase from 278,616 ounces in 2007. Sales of silver coins soared, too, to 8.8 million ounces from 3.5 million the previous year.

"Once again, it's proven to be the asset of choice in times of uncertainty," said Reeves.

Other mints around the world experienced similar surges.

But not all gold bullion is equal. The purest one-ounce gold coin in the world is Canada's Gold Maple Leaf "five nines" coin, which is .99999 per cent fine gold. It also comes in fiv nines. By comparison, two other popular one-ounce gold coins, the American Eagle and South Africa's Krugerand are both .9166 fine gold., while the newer American Buffalo one-ounce coin is four nines.

"I think the No. 1 thing that drives the choice of investors is the purity," said Reeves. "The mentality of the buyer is, 'I want to get as much gold for my money as I can,' so the purity is the No. 1 driver."

Overall, 2008 was the second-consecutive record year for mint profitability, with $55.3 million in income before income tax, compared with $23.8 million in 2007.

The 2007 corporate profit was revised downward by $6.9 million late last year to correct inventory errors discovered in the series of special audits last year to find the unaccounted-for gold.

An additional $3 million worth of mint gold was found to have been sold at a fraction of its value to U.S. slag recyclers. That loss is accounted for in the mint's 2008 corporate profit.

Another $1.3 million was spent on the 14-month study to find the missing fortune.

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