The topic of China’s below the radar accumulation of gold is nothing new: first revealed here in September 2011 as part of a Wikileaks intercept, watchers of Chinese gold imports have been stunned by the ravenous pace with which Chinese customers have been gobbling up both domestic and foreign gold production month after month. One needs merely to glance at the net imports of gold just through Hong Kong to get a sense of just how much gold has flowed into the country which has now surpassed India as the largest buyer of gold.
But the biggest question mark since 2009, when China gave its last official gold holdings update, has been how much gold has the People’s Bank of China accumulated. One thing is certain: it is well more than the official number of just ovef 1000 tons.
Recall the confidential memo revealed through Wikileaks:
According to China’s National Foreign Exchanges Administration China ‘s gold reserves have recently increased. Currently, the majority of its gold reserves have been located in the U.S. and European countries. The U.S. and Europe have always suppressed the rising price of gold. They intend to weaken gold’s function as an international reserve currency. They don’t want to see other countries turning to gold reserves instead of the U.S. dollar or Euro. Therefore, suppressing the price of gold is very beneficial for the U.S. in maintaining the U.S. dollar’s role as the international reserve currency. China’s increased gold reserves will thus act as a model and lead other countries towards reserving more gold. Large gold reserves are also beneficial in promoting the internationalization of the RMB.
In other words, between 2009 and 2011, China’s gold reserves had increased according to internal data. One can assume they have increased substantially since then, however the PBOC, judiciously, has refused to provide an updated amount of its gold holdings for five years in a row: after all why buy at higher prices (if the world knows that the PBOC is buying at any price), when it can buy cheaply?
However, the period of stealth – and cheap – accumulation may be ending. At least according to the largest English-language portal in East China: Shanghai Daily.
The website, which cites an analysis by Jeffrey Nichols of American Precious Metals Advisors, reports that the Chinese central bank is about to announce its gold holdings have nearly tripled from 1054 tons to 2710 tons.
From Shanghai Daily:
China may soon announce an increase in its official gold reserve from 1,054 tons to 2,710 tons, Jeffrey Nichols, managing director of American Precious Metals Advisors, said.
The People’s Bank of China has not reported any increase in official gold holdings since 2009, when the central bank said the official reserve was at 1,054 tons, which accounted for only about 1 percent of its multi-trillion foreign exchange reserves.
The PBOC has been “surreptitiously” adding to its official gold reserves. It has bought a total of 654 tons in 2009 through 2011, another 388 tons in 2012, and more than 622 tons last year, mostly from domestic mine production and secondary supplies, Nichols said in a commentary posted on NicholsOnGold.com yesterday.
Central bank purchases comprise the smallest fraction of global gold demand — less than 10 percent.
“If China announces an increase in gold reserves, there would be an immediate drag-up force in the gold market,” Albert Cheng, managing director of the industrial association World Gold Council for the Far East, told Shanghai Daily.
China is the biggest gold consumer and producer in the world.
Combined demand in China in the first three quarters amounted to 821 tons and the demand for the whole last year is expected to exceed 1,000 tons, according to the council’s earlier statements.
Oh well: the period of quiet accumulation was fun while it lasted.
That said, we for one would be happy if Nichols is wrong, and if the PBOC were not to announce any time soon it has become the fourth (or third, or second) largest official holder of gold in the world. Because unlike clueless, momentum-chasing traders everywhere, it is always better to buy lower than higher: a concept which the entire Western “developed” markets and the HFT algos and sophisticated “hedge fund” investors that trade them, have either forgotten or never grasped to begin with.