For Gold And Bitcoin, The Cost Of Mining Follows The Price

The amount of gold mined in a year is only about 1.5% of the total existing stock of gold, which is why changes in gold production have almost no effect on the gold price. It is also why changes in the cost of mining gold do not affect the gold price. In fact, cause and effect works the other way around — the change in the market price of gold determines, with a lag, the average cost of mining gold. To put it another way, the cost of mining gold follows the price of gold.

What happens is that as the gold price rises, mineral deposits or parts of deposits that were previously uneconomic become economic and start being mined. The mining of this lower-grade/higher-cost gold pushes up the average cost of production. And as the gold price falls, lower-grade/higher-cost gold is left in the ground and the average cost of production moves downward. Of course, there are substantial time-lags involved, because it takes years to bring a new mine into production and because mine plans won’t be changed in response to a price trend until the trend has been in progress for long enough to appear sustainable.

Adding to the tendency for the mining cost to follow the price is that after the price has been trending upward for a long period there will be less focus on cost control and more focus on growth, with the opposite being the case after the price has been trending downward for a long period.

Perhaps not surprisingly given that the Bitcoin system was designed to mimic gold in some respects, the relationship between the bitcoin mining cost and the bitcoin price is the same as the relationship between the cost of mining gold and the gold price. That is, the average cost of mining a bitcoin moves up and down with the price. That’s why, several years ago, it was profitable to mine bitcoins when the price was less than $1 and why the average cost of mining a bitcoin has since risen to around US$5,000.

One difference between gold and bitcoin is that the bitcoin mining industry can respond very quickly to changes in price. Whereas it probably will take at least a strong 3-year trend in the gold price to bring about a substantial change in the average cost of mining an ounce of gold, it takes almost no time to put a new bitcoin mining rig into operation and even less time to turn it off.

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