Don't Believe In Gold? That Is Ok, Just Leave It To The Chinese!
Don't Believe In Gold? That's Ok, Just Leave It To The Chinese
Chinese demand for gold is coming from every angle - AFP/Getty Images via @daylife Many investors have reverted to questioning gold again after the yellow metal’s two massive 2011 corrections and relative underperformance toward the end of the year. Despite the skepticism, Chinese demand is red hot, hitting a record in November according to the latest data and possibly helping put a floor under prices and fueling a further bull run.
Gold has had a strong start to 2012, breaking out to the top past its 200-day moving average and closing Wednesday’s session at a four-week high of $1,644 an ounce.
Move up Move down China's Central Bank Clamps Down On Gold, The Only Safe-Haven Left Agustino Fontevecchia Forbes Staff Is GLD Really As Good As Gold? Agustino Fontevecchia Forbes Staff China Waking Up? Central Bank Now Selling Forex Reserves To Support Yuan Agustino Fontevecchia Forbes Staff Will The U.S. Dollar Reign Supreme In 2012? Agustino Fontevecchia Forbes Staff Among the major factors fueling the recent rally is Chinese demand for physical metal, according to UBS’ Edel Tully. Hong Kong trade statistics revealed record gold exports to mainland China in November, with deliveries hitting 102.2 tons.
This represents a 20% sequential increase from the already elevated 85 tons shipped in October. According to Tully, mainland China imported 287 tons from January to November 2011, 49% of which were shipped in October and November. Gold imports to mainland China jumped 483% over November 2010.
“Signs that China is importing a lot of gold are bullish for the market,” explained Tully, “primarily because this metal can’t leave the country – it is not permissible to export gold.” Volumes have increased dramatically as well: while in the first half of 2011 imports averaged 10 tons a month, mainland China received 57 tons in September, 85 in October, and 102.2 in November. Truly impressive numbers.
This forces us to ask the question “who is doing all the buying?” Tully, notes “it is worth highlighting here the lack of full transparency in this market, which makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the distribution channels and ascertain who is behind the buying at this stage.”
Still, she speculates that a portion of that buying is definitely “anticipated demand in preparation for the Lunar New Year,” but history proves that can’t account for these massive volumes. In 2010, Hong Kong exported an average 9 monthly tons to mainland China from January to October, with that number jumping to 17.5 tons in November. “Certainly the growth rate then marked a sizeable increase, but the actual volumes back then are small change relative to the most recent shipments from HK to China,” she wrote.
Discarding retail demand leaves only one suspect standing: the government.
Chinese authorities have been looking to diversify their massive foreign exchange to minimize U.S. dollar risk. Senior PBoC officials have been vocal in suggesting gold as a valid alternative. Last December, Zhang Jianhua, head of the PBoC’s research bureau, asked his peers to “further optimize [the PBoC’s] foreign-exchange portfolio and purchase gold assets when the gold price shows a favorable fluctuation.” Zhang went even further, saying “no asset is safe now, the only choice to hedge risks is to hold hard currency – gold.”
The Chinese government currently holds 1,054 tons of gold, or about 1.8% of its foreign reserves, which experts at the World Gold Council consider a very low number. Chinese gold consumption has doubled over the last decade to about 20% of total yearly production.
Whatever one thinks of gold, the reality is that if China is intent on continuing to increase its gold holdings at the current pace, then prices are bound to continue their decade-long rally.
Investors looking to capitalize on gold’s assent, if indeed it keeps on going up, can do so by tapping into the physically backed SPDR Gold Shares (GLD). Another option is gold equities. Despite underperforming in 2011, gold equities remain at record low multiples and could provide good alternatives. Names like Kinross Gold and Barrick Gold have outperformed bullion so far in 2012, while 2011 rock stars like Goldcorp and Newmont have lagged, but still hold potential.
Gold was one of 2011’s best performing assets. Questions remain for 2012, but if China is still buying gold, then it seems hard that prices could fall.