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Toilet paper, rice and pasta aren’t the only commodities in high demand these days.

Sales of gold bars and coins have been soaring since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and dealers are struggling to keep up with demand. While orders pour in, the supply has tightened considerably because of government lockdowns, grounded airlines and decisions by several bar and coin producers to close down for safety reasons.

“I’ve been in this business for 45 years and I’ve never seen this demand,” said Moniruz Zaman, chief executive of Toronto-based Asia Pacific Group Ltd., which operates Bullion Mart, an online retailer of gold and silver coins and bars. “Most people are buying because of the panic over the economic situation.”

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In addition to regular clients, Mr. Zaman said he’s been getting calls from homemakers, farmers and students. He added that premiums charged by some suppliers have more than tripled lately.

Investors have been clamouring for precious metals as stock markets roil around the world. The price of gold jumped above US$1,630 an ounce this week in New York and saw its biggest one-day gain in more than a decade on Tuesday. Silver has been trading at near US$14.40 an ounce and also shot up nearly 7 per cent on Tuesday.

Several mints have either run out of bars and coins for sale or stopped production for safety reasons.

The U.S. Mint recently sold out of its popular Silver Eagle coin after sales soared by nearly 300 per cent in March. The Perth Mint in Australia, the country’s official supplier of coins and bars, said demand was so strong it no longer had any gold bars in stock and only a limited supply of gold and silver coins.

Last Friday, the Royal Canadian Mint suspended production of its coins and other products for at least two weeks because of the virus. In a statement, CEO Marie Lemay cautioned that while officials had a plan to resume “modified production” next month, they anticipated “a longer suspension of production and shipping for our numismatic collectable coins as we prioritise the support of trade and commerce.”

The bullion shortage has been compounded by an announcement on Monday that three of the world’s biggest refiners of gold bars – Switzerland’s Pamp, Valcambi and Argor-Heraeus – had closed their operations for at least a week after local officials ordered non-essential industries to shut down to help stop the spread of the virus.

The rush and the shutdowns have left gold and silver dealers scrambling, and many have put restrictions on orders and warned customers to expect long delays in delivery.

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“Demand has risen significantly in the past three to four weeks,” said Liam Sheasby of Britain’s BullionByPost, a Birmingham-based website that specialises in gold and silver products. “That has been a positive for our business as you can imagine, however we have had negatives such as delays with regards to postage, both within the U.K and to mainland Europe.”

The company has reduced trading times and suspended all deliveries “until we are able to resume our regular shipping service,” Mr. Sheasby said.

Apmex, a major U.S. dealer based in Oklahoma City, has implemented a minimum US$299 order policy and warned customers that it will take three days to process purchases. “Product has become increasingly difficult to source as the market becomes more volatile day by day. With demand as high as it is, our costs have risen substantially,” CEO Ken Lewis said in a statement.

Dallas-based JM Bullion said it had sold out of “almost all bullion products across all metals,” but planned to restock in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, the company said all new orders would take at least 15 days to process.

“Everyone is buying, or trying to buy, physical gold,” said Alessandro Soldati, CEO of Swiss-based retailer Gold Avenue SA. “In three weeks, we exceeded the number of sales made in the last quarter of 2019, and the demand doesn’t stop.”

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