By Kishori Krishnan Golden

Its a revamped third five-year pact to limit sales of European central bank gold, complete with a lowered ceiling for planned disposals, but it is seen boosting the investment case for bullion and extending its multi-year rally. The European Central Bank surprised markets last week with the announcement of a third Central Bank Gold Sales Agreement restricting official sales of the precious metal to 400 tonnes per year.

While markets had widely expected a new pact to replace an existing agreement, which expires in September, the banks’ decision to cut their sales quota by 100 tonnes per annum was received by gold bulls as a potentially positive surprise.

There are sellers and buyers. The most likely sellers in the market today are the smaller central banks, and, in the case of a major appreciation of the Euro gold price, the European Central Bank, which may have to make sales to keep its gold holdings at or around 15 per cent of its total reserves.

The main seller, of course, would be the IMF: but the fund’s 403 tonnes of sales will still leave scope for a major shortfall beneath the pact’s 2,000-tonne sales ceiling over the five-year duration of the agreement. Official sector attitudes towards gold have changed to such an extent that central banks in Asia are said to be considering gold purchases, rather than sales.

China’s central bank said, in April, that it had built up its gold reserves by 454 tonnes since 2003 to 1,054 tonnes, making it the world’s sixth largest holder of the precious metal. While European central banks are unlikely to consider increasing the gold weightings of their reserves, analysts said, sales are also unlikely to gain fresh momentum.

“Gold weakened as a mixed batch of indicators shook investor confidence about the economic recovery,” said Charles Lee, a trader with Eugene Investment & Futures Co in Seoul. “A correction in stocks helped bolster sentiment for the dollar.”

Gold for immediate delivery fell 0.7 per cent in Singapore to $942.28 an ounce. The metal has gained 6.9 per cent this year. Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest exchange- traded fund backed by bullion, were unchanged at 1,065.49 metric tons as of August 14.

Among other precious metals for immediate delivery, silver dropped 1.4 per cent to $14.52 an ounce, platinum shed 0.6 per cent to $1,251 an ounce and palladium rose 0.5 per cent to $277.25 an ounce.

Company news

Uranium miner Cameco Corp (NYSE: CCJ) posted higher profits Wednesday, as revenue gains offset increasing costs. The Saskatchewan-based company earned $247 million, or 63 cents a share, in the second quarter, $97 million higher than the $150 million, or 42 cents a share, it earned during the same period last year. The gold division was hurt by lower production and higher operating costs, the company said.

There was no news on the sale of gold stake though. Earlier this week, reports suggested Cameco was looking to sell its 49 per cent stake in Centerra Gold. Cameco spun off the smaller miner in 2004. The company provided no guidance on its intentions for Centerra in releasing profit figures Wednesday. On Monday, the company neither confirmed nor denied its intention of exiting the gold business, but said any decision on the matter would be announced in a release.

“We plan to sell our shares in Centerra when the opportunity is right for us,” spokesman Lyle Krahn said. Revenue increased from $620 million to $774 million during the quarter.

At Indago Resources Limited, a drilling update has been provided for the Nyanzaga Gold Project. Tusker and Kilimani Indago Resources have said its project in the Lake Victoria Gold Fields of Tanzania has a total of 33 RC holes and 7 diamond holes and have been drilled into the two prospects with assay results received from the first 24 RC holes and from the first 3 diamond holes. Assay results for the first 16 RC holes have previously been reported to the ASX on 10 and 29 July 2009.

Chalice Gold Mines Limited (ASX: CHN) will open a fresh chapter in its history as an African-focused gold exploration and development company this week, following receipt of final Court approval of its merger with fellow Perth-based junior, Sub Sahara Resources (ASX:SBS). The merger will now be implemented by the issue of Chalice shares to Sub-Sahara shareholders and is scheduled to be fully completed by September 2, 2009 following the de-listing of Sub-Sahara shares from ASX on August 14, 2009.

The completion of the merger will result in Chalice having 80 per cent ownership of the high-grade Zara Gold Project in Eritrea, East Africa, laying the foundations for a long-term gold exploration and development strategy in the Arabian-Nubian Shield. In addition to the Zara Project in Eritrea, this emerging gold and base metal province hosts the Sukari Gold Project in Egypt, the 2 million ounce Ariab/Hassai gold and base metal deposit in Sudan and, within Eritrea itself, the 1Moz Bisha gold and base metal deposit - which recently secured financing to proceed with a world-class mining development.

Kinross, which has mines spread through the United States, South America, and Russia, has cut its expected 2009 gold production to 2.3 million to 2.4 million from as much as 2.5 million, due to a slower than expected ramp-up at Paracatu. The company’s key development projects are the Cerro Casale project in Chile — a joint venture with Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) — and the Fruta Del Norte deposit in Ecuador. Kinross also owns the Lobo Marte property in Chile, and said an initial scoping study indicates the deposit could eventually produce about 350,000 ounces a year and cost about $500 million to build. The company also has a stake in diamond miner and retailer Harry Winston (HW.TO), and the Diavik diamond mine in Canada’s Arctic.

Aurizon Mines Inc, owner of the Casa Berardi gold producer near La Sarre, in Quebec’s Abitibi region, said Friday that second-quarter earnings more than doubled because of higher realized bullion prices, lower operating costs and a $9.7 million gain on derivatives trading. June quarter earnings were $13.6 million or 8 cents a share, up from $5.6 million or 4 cents a share a year earlier. Excluding the special gain, earnings were $3.9 million or 2 cents a share in the latest quarter. The company had cash reserves of almost $119 million at June 30.

Revenue from the Casa Berardi mine was $44.2 million, up 22 per cent from a year earlier. Gold sales rose to 42,042 ounces from 41,217 ounces. Realized gold prices averaged $897 U.S. an ounce.

Unusual change

Some companies have been cited by analysts as being set to have an unusual price change in the South African market.

AngloGold Ashanti Ltd (ANG SJ), Africa’s largest gold producer, added 1.63 rand, or 0.5 per cent, to 305.89 rand.

BHP Billiton Ltd (BIL SJ): China will ask BHP, Vale SA and Rio Tinto Group for a 35 per cent cut in iron ore prices, scaling back demands for a larger reduction after seven months of stalled talks with the world’s biggest producers. BHP fell 6.77 rand, or 3.2 per cent, to 207.23 rand.

Harmony Gold Mining Co (HAR SJ): Africa’s third-largest producer of the precious metal said it will pay its first dividend in five years. The company also said fourth quarter net income declined to 238 million-rand ($29 million) from 972 million rand the previous quarter. Harmony’s stock fell 1.50 rand, or 2 per cent, to 75 rand.