Mints coin it as consumers scramble for gold

Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:10am EDT
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By Sarah Marsh and Jan Harvey

VIENNA/LONDON (Reuters) - In the heart of Vienna in a Biedermeier building commissioned by Emperor Franz I, a man wearing a khaki uniform and beret exchanges a wad of euro notes across the counter for a few sparkling gold coins.

Guenther Fuchssteiner, 59, is a military doctor who for over 20 years has been coming to the Austrian Mint and exchanging whatever spare money he has for gold, following a habit established by his parents.

"I have always tried to put a little bit of gold aside, as an investment, and I have been doing so more since the crisis," said Fuchssteiner.

A few years ago his visits to the Mint, which was founded more than 800 years ago, might have seemed eccentric.

No longer. From the Georgy Pobedonosets to the American Eagle, gold coin production is being cranked up in mints around the world to satisfy customers believing the assets may be immune to the global financial crisis.

Russia's state-controlled Sberbank says it has never seen such strong demand for investment coins, while the U.S. Mint says sales of its one-ounce American Eagle gold bullion coins rocketed over 400 percent to 710,000 ounces in 2008.

"The demand for gold and silver has been unprecedented," said Carla Coolman, a spokeswoman at the United States Mint.

Austria's Philharmonic, named after the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, was the world's best-selling gold coin in the last quarter and sales soared 544 percent in the first two months of 2009.   Continued...

<p>Austrian gold Vienna Philharmonic Bullion planchets are seen in the company's headquarters in Vienna March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger</p>