China has been trying to diversify her foreign exchange reserves for some time. We are all familiar with the figures released by the likes of the World Gold Council about Chinese gold investment demand, as well as statistics showing official gold imports through Hong Kong into the Chinese mainland. Chinese reserves contain only 2% gold, compared to nearly 10% for India and Russia, and figures in the 70th percentile for developed nations such as the USA and Germany.
China is getting out of paper and into gold as fast as she can, because she simply doesn’t have enough of old yella’. Any effort to internationalise the RMB will not work until it is a trusted enough currency. One of the key ways to achieve trust is larger gold reserves.
It is not just the PBOC that is on the gold rush, since opening up the domestic gold market individuals are also allowed to invest in gold. The Chinese still have a limited range of savings and investment options open to them (one of the reasons why so much money flowed into their property bubble), and gold continues to shine when other investment options (especially the Chinese stock market) are being questioned.
Gold above ground
However the physical gold market is not a deep and liquid market like the U.S. Treasury market. Therefore China is not able to rebalance her portfolio out of sovereign debt quickly without causing the gold price to “gap up” whilst sending ripples through the gold market.
The Chinese authorities have even urged caution about taking up the IMF’s remaining gold. In early 2010 a senior official from the China Gold Association was quoted by Reuters: “It is not feasible for China to buy the IMF bullion, as any purchase or even intent to do so would trigger market speculation and volatility.”
China knows that she must tread carefully in the physical gold market, for fear of her bidding power sending the price upwards before she has been able to accumulate enough gold in the PBOC’s coffers. China does not want to be chasing the gold price.
For this reason she is very happy to watch current weakness whilst apparently keeping bids in the market at the $1,500, $1,550, and $1,600 level.
Nonetheless China is accumulating physical gold, often via her Sovereign Wealth Funds, and other proxies, so that her bids are not open for all to see. Large above ground inventories of physical bullion are difficult to find outside of central bank vaults (even when they do keep it inside their own borders), or even at a smaller scale the ETFs, and COMEX inventories.
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