Central Banks Moving Into Gold

August 7, 2012

Punctuated by a sharp increase in gold holdings by South Korea’s central bank, world central banks are moving into gold, expanding their gold holdings in a major way.

What do these ultimate insiders know that the average investor doesn’t know? Central bankers have access to information and statistics that we are kept in the dark about. This makes their move into gold an important signal for the rest of us.

Do not dismiss South Korea as a minor player in the world economy and financial markets, they’re not. South Korea is an Asian economic juggernaut, with one of the fastest growing economies over the past quarter century.

More from Reuters:

South Korea buys gold; central bank purchases set to rise

South Korea boosted its gold holdings by nearly a third in July, buying 16 tonnes as
part of the central bank's efforts to diversify its massive foreign exchange reserves.

South Korea is Asia's fourth largest economy and its central bank said on Thursday that it now holds 70.4 tonnes of gold,
after paying $810 million last month for the purchase.
    
The increase barely lifted gold prices but supported expectations that central banks will remain gold's key buyer as
increased volatility in global markets and waning confidence in the U.S. dollar fuel a global drive to vary foreign reserves
away from the U.S. currency and government debt securities.
CENTRAL BANKS TO BUY MORE GOLD
    
The latest purchase was the third by the Korean central bank since June last year, when it started increasing its reserves
after leaving them unchanged for more than a decade. 

In the last 13 months, South Korea's gold reserves have grown five-fold but remain only a fraction of China's over 1,000
tonnes and Japan 765 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council (WGC).

Central banks bought 80.8 tonnes of gold in the first quarter, adding to 2011 purchase of more than 450 tonnes, the
WGC said. In recent months, a number of countries including Russia and Kazakhstan also increased their gold reserves, data
from the International Monetary Fund showed. 
"We have been of the view that we would increasingly see more diversification of reserves and investments into gold,"
said Chirag Mehta, gold fund manager at Quantum Mutual Fund in Mumbai, India. "This trend is likely to continue".
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Forbes: Why Are the Chinese Buying Record Quantities of Gold?

February 1, 2012
Gordon G. Chang, Contributor
I write primarily on China, Asia, and nuclear proliferation.
1/29/2012 @ 4:46PM |142,725 views

This month, the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department reported that China imported 102,779 kilograms of gold from Hong Kong in November, an increase from October’s 86,299 kilograms.  Beijing does not release gold trade figures, so for this and other reasons the Hong Kong numbers are considered the best indication of China’s gold imports.

Analysts believe China bought as much as 490 tons of gold in 2011, double the estimated 245 tons in 2010.  “The thing that’s caught people’s minds is the massive increase in Chinese buying,” remarked Ross Norman of Sharps Pixley, a London gold brokerage, this month.

So who in China is buying all this gold?

The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, has been hinting that it is purchasing.  “No asset is safe now,” said the PBOC’s Zhang Jianhua at the end of last month.  “The only choice to hedge risks is to hold hard currency—gold.”  He also said it was smart strategy to buy on market dips.  Analysts naturally jumped on his comment as proof that China, the world’s fifth-largest holder of the metal, is in the market for more.

There are a few problems with this conclusion.  First, the Chinese government rarely benefits others—and hurts itself—by telegraphing its short-term investment strategies.

Second, the central bank has less purchasing power these days.  China’s foreign reserves declined in Q4 2011, falling $20.6 billion from Q3.  The first quarterly outflow since 1998 was not large, but the trend was troubling.  The reserves declined a stunning $92.7 billion in November and December.

Third, the purchase of gold would be especially risky for the central bank, which is already insolvent from a balance sheet point of view.  The PBOC needs income-producing assets in order to meet its obligations on the debt incurred to buy foreign exchange, so the holding of gold only complicates its funding operations.  This is not to say the bank never buys gold—it obviously does—but there are real constraints on its ability to purchase assets that do not provide current income.

Apart from China’s central bank, there is not much demand from the country’s institutional investors for gold.  There are industrial users, of course, but their demand is filled from domestic production—China is the world’s largest gold producer.  Most of China’s gold demand from foreign sources, therefore, is from individuals.

So why are individuals now buying gold?  The easy answer is that the demand is only seasonal, as Jeff Wright of Global Hunter Securities believes.  The Chinese traditionally buy gold presents in the run-up to the Lunar New Year, which started a week ago.  Yet gift-giving does not begin to explain the surge in gold purchases that started as far back as July.  November was the fifth-consecutive month of China’s record gold purchases from Hong Kong.

A better explanation for the gold-buying binge of Chinese citizens is that they are using the shiny commodity as an inflation hedge, as the Financial Times recently suggested.  Yet the buying of gold has increased while inflation has eased.  And that means there must be another explanation.  The best explanation is that individuals in China are using gold as a substitute for capital flight.

Continued on pg.2


Forbes: Somebody Has Been Buying A Bunch Of Gold

January 31, 2012
Great Speculations Buys, holds, and hopes
Investing | 1/30/2012 @ 5:43PM |2,051 views
Adrian Ash, Contributor

After the Fed’s latest zero-rate promise pushed gold back to the financial front pages, it’s worth asking who’s buying in bulk, and why?

There’s plenty of noise, for instance, about Chinese households buying gold during last week’s New Year holidays.

Away from the massed decisions of private investors and savers, gold holdings amongst the world’s central banks have quietly risen to a six-year high, according to data compiled by the International Monetary Fund.

“There’s a perception perhaps that gold is no longer a crucial part of the financial system in the way that it was under the gold standard before 1970, 1971,” as Marcus Grubb of the World Gold Council put it in an interview last week. “But in fact that’s not really true because even with the ending of the gold standard, gold remains as an asset held by the world’s central banks.”

A good chunk of this weaving is due to official reserves. As our chart shows, central banks control a shrinking proportion of what’s been mined from the ground. A far greater tonnage of gold again is finding its way into private ownership, and it’s having a greater still impact on how money and finance work.

First, private individuals have led the rediscovery of gold bullion as a financial asset, rather than the decorative store-of-value it had become by the close of the 20th century. Institutional finance has caught up, however, and gold is now in front of the Basel Committee on global banking, proposed as a “core asset” for banks to hold and count as a Tier 1 holding for their liquidity requirements.

Turkey’s regulators already acknowledged physical gold as a Tier 1 asset for its commercial banks starting in November, with the cap of 10% worth some 5.5 billion lira ($2.9bn) according to Dow Jones. Also, a growing number of investment exchanges, meantime, as well as prime brokers, now accept gold as collateral, posted as downpayment by institutions against their commodity and other leveraged positions. Just on Friday, London market-maker Deutsche Bank was added to the CME’s list of approved gold custodians.

Gold pays no interest of course. But in our zero-yielding world, that only puts it ahead of where the capital markets are being herded by central-bank policy anyway. Nor does gold have much industrial use (some 11% of global demand in the 5 years to 2011), a fact which highlights its unique “store of value” attributes. Being physical property, gold is no one else’s debt to repay or default.

Being globally traded, it’s deeply liquid and instantly priced. Turnover in London’s bullion market, center of the world’s gold trade, is greater at $240 billlion per day than all but the four most heavily traded currency pairs worldwide.

And being both rare and indestructible, it couldn’t be any less like “money” today.

Scarcely a lifetime ago, gold underpinned the globe’s entire monetary system. Outside China, which tried sticking with silver, the compromised and then bastardized gold standard which followed first World War I and then World War II still saw the value of central-bank gold reserves vastly outweigh the paper obligations which those banks gave to each other.

Even three decades ago, 10 years after the collapse of what passed for a gold standard post-war, central-bank gold holdings still totaled some three times central-bank money reserves by value. Look at the decade just gone – the 10 years in which gold investment beat every other store of value hands down. Pretty much every currency you can name lost 85% of its value in gold. Yet the sheer quantity of new money pouring into central-bank vaults saw their gold holdings only just hold their ground.

Gold’s rise, in short, has been buried under wood-pulp. To recover its share of central-bank holdings as recently as 1995 would now require a further doubling in value. To get back to the 1980s average would require a 15-fold increase. Or, alternatively, a 93% drop in the value of foreign currency reserves relative to central-bank bullion holdings.

Such a trend is not yet in train, neither on the charts nor the fundamentals. The US Dollar remains the biggest reserve currency, weighing in at 62% of stated reserves according to IMF data, down from its peak above 71% in 2001 but more than equal to its share in the mid-1990s. Even so, as former FT columnist and current ButtonWood at The Economist Philip Coggan writes in his latest book, Paper Promises:

“If Britain set the terms of the gold standard, and America set the terms of Bretton Woods [in 1944], then the terms of the next financial system are likely to be set by the world’s biggest creditor, China. And that system may look a lot different to the one we have become used to over the last 30 years.”

Coggan rightly notes that China isn’t the only large creditor, and nor does it hold anything like the dominance which the U.S. held at the end of World War II. Whether this switch starts today or only starts to show 10 years from now, the risk of such a change of direction can hardly be discounted to zero.

Repudiation of government debt, the form which most foreign currency reserves take, will only begin with the Greek bond agreement, perhaps leading first to a rise in U.S. dollar holdings but also highlighting the ultimate risk of holding paper promises. And that fear, of having to write off money thanks to default or devaluation, is clearly driving the rise in gold demand from central banks already.