LONDON (Reuters) - Mints around the world say demand for gold coins has risen sharply as interest in the precious metal soars on the back of financial instability and concerns over the inflation outlook.
The Royal Canadian Mint, which produces Maple Leaf bullion coins, said it quadrupled its production capacity late last year as demand for gold and silver bullion products leapt.
Gold was one of the few commodities to rise last year as turmoil in the financial sector sharpened investors' appetite for assets seen as a safe store of value, such as bullion.
Spot gold rallied to an 11-month high of $1,005.40 on February 20 as a slide in equity markets increased interest in the precious metal. Demand for physical gold products such as coins and bars has been particularly strong, traders say.
The United States Mint said sales of its one-ounce American Eagle gold bullion coins rocketed to 710,000 ounces in 2008, from 140,000 ounces a year before.
"The demand for gold and silver has been unprecedented," a spokesman for the Mint told Reuters.
The chairman of the French Mint, Christophe Beaux, said sales roughly doubled last year in value terms and are expected to rise by another 50 percent this year.
The 2009 catalog the mint had produced was almost entirely pre-sold, he said. The French Mint produces 100 euro gold coins, and plans to mint 10-ounce and 1-kilo coins this year.
In South Africa -- the world's second-largest gold producer -- Natanya van Niekerk, deputy general manager for numismatics at the South African Mint Company, said she had seen a big increase in demand for gold.
"I think we will see this same trend in this and the next quarter," she said. "Gold surely has been resilient in these times."
Michael O'Kane, head bullion trader at the New Zealand Mint, said many overseas buyers had come into the New Zealand market. "We're seen as a safe-haven market," he said.
He said buying had been strong since the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in September, as investors moved money from banks into hard assets like gold.
The mint was averaging "a month's transactions in a day," he said, adding he saw demand continuing to rise.
Reporting by Jan Harvey, Frank Tang, James Macharia, Cameron French, Adrian Bathgate, Gus Trompiz; Editing by Sue Thomas