The Chinese wedding industry is booming. The total number of couples tying the knot per year in China has grown by 60% over the last decade and now around 36,000 Chinese couples marry every day, great news for the gold industry.
Gold is often given to the bride and groom at Chinese weddings as a gift that will be passed on for generations. Usually the gift is a three-piece set, what jewelry stores call jiehun san jin, literally "marriage, three gold."
But it's not just China that follows this tradition. Giving gold as a wedding gift is a strong Indian tradition and during the wedding and festival season, jewelers can demand a premium of $170 per ounce of gold over London prices as demand surges.
As India and China are the two most populous countries on the planet, physical gold demand is only set to rise as these traditions get passed on.
So it would seem that despite the naysayers, physical gold is a great investment, but how do you play this trend?
One of the lowest risk ways to play the gold market is via a streaming company such as Royal Gold (NASDAQ:RGLD).
Streamers provide an upfront cash payment to miners in exchange for the right to purchase a percentage of its future production at a set price. The deal is good for both parties; the miner gets the cash to fund development costs, and the streamer, Royal Gold in this case, gets to buy precious metals at a discount.
Royal Gold isn't likely to increase its production this year, mainly because its gold producers are expected to mine lower-grade metals.
Unfortunately, a lower grade of gold pushed Royal's production down 31% during the fourth quarter of last year. Additionally, Royal has invested in Barrick Gold's (NYSE:ABX) Pascua-Lama project, which was suspended last year to save costs.
Still, with conditions within the gold mining industry unclear, streamers like Royal are likely to find that many miners are seeking their services as an alternative method of financing and set-price takeoff agreements. Royal Gold also has significant resources to grow its business with $659 million of cash and just $307 million of debt.
However, Royal is not just a streamer. The company also owns an interest in the Peñasquito mine, a collaboration with Goldcorp (NYSE:GG), and production at this mine is expected to jump this year.
Set for growth
Peñasquito's output has remained nearly unchanged in the past couple of years, at around 400,000 ounces, although Goldcorp is targeting an additional output of 110,000 tons per day during 2014. As a result, Peñasquito's overall gold production is estimated to rise to 545,000 ounces for full-year 2014 -- a near 38% increase year over year.
Still, despite this growth Royal has a problem, in particular, Royal owns streaming rights for royalties on 77 of Barrick Gold's properties, including eight producing royalties, 20 development and evaluation stage properties, and 49 exploration projects.
Now, this is an issue because Royal has already paid for these rights, and as Barrick is cutting development projects to save costs, Royal could lose streaming rights.
Working hard but progress is slow
Barrick has been working hard to restructure its operations during the past year. For example, the company has reduced capital spending and operating costs by about $2 billion and announced agreements to divest six high-cost, non-core mines and other assets for a total consideration of almost $1 billion.
The most recent move by Barrick to streamline and reduce costs was the divestment of the company's 33.3% interest in the high-cost Marigold mine, which is jointly owned with Goldcorp.
With all these cuts taking place, Barrick's gold production is expected to fall to 6.5 million ounces at the high end for 2014, 10% below 2013 production of 7.2 million ounces.
As of yet it's not clear how this fall in output will affect Royal with its heavy exposure to Barrick, although it is likely that management will update shareholders further as the year progresses.
All in all, as the demand for physical gold grows, driven mainly by the desire for physical gifts in Asia, the price of gold should push higher. The best way to play this trend appears to be via a low-risk streaming company such as Royal Gold which has little exposure to volatile mining costs and can buy mined gold at a discount to market prices.
Rupert Hargreaves has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.