China ups gold reserves at last – gold bulls disappointed

China has announced a long awaited update to its gold reserves but its figures will disappoint.  In the event, after reporting the same 1,054 tonnes for the past six years, the People’s Bank of China has now announced a paltry 604 tonne rise to 1,658 tonnes.  While this official figure enables China to leapfrog Russia to again become the world’s 5th largest gold holder according to IMF figures, the size of the uprating of the reserve, although by what might seem a significant 57%, will have come as a huge disappointment to gold bulls who had been predicting a very much larger figure.

Top 10 National Gold Reserves updated

Rank Country Gold Reserve (t)
1. USA 8,133.5
2. Germany 3,383.4
3. Italy 2,451.8
4. France 2,435.4
5. China 1,658.4
6. Russia 1,250.9
7. Switzerland 1,040.0
8. Japan     765.2
9. Netherlands     612.5
10. India     557.7

Source: World Gold council, IMF, lawrieongold

Indeed even the more conservative China followers, almost unanimous recently in the view that China had again surreptitiously been increasing its gold holdings, had been looking for a figure of virtually double that of the Chinese Central Bank’s latest announcement, while the ardent gold bulls had been looking for a figure of perhaps 5,000 tonnes or more.  But to an extent the new increase does at least demonstrate that China continues to manipulate its own gold holdings figure without reporting the actual levels to the IMF until it chooses a specific moment to do so. And even then is this really a true reflection of China’s actual gold holdings.   Thus speculation will continue that the country’s true gold reserves will still be far higher than those stated and the latest announcement will not really have changed anything, apart perhaps from sentiment.

China’s own gold production over the past six years has totalled somewhere around 2,500 tonnes and many will have seen this as being the absolute minimum level of accumulation by the nation’s Central Bank – which would tie in pretty well with the more conservative analysts’ predictions.

There had been recent additional speculation that the Chinese desire to have the Yuan as part of the make-up of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right would indeed lead to an official uprating of the nation’s gold reserves, perhaps bringing them more in line with top gold holders like the U.S. and Germany, but the latest increase falls far short of the levels necessary to accomplish this.

It looked as though initial gold price reaction to the PBoC announcement was muted, the market treating it as something of a non-event – which in reality it is.  However expectations of a much higher Chinese gold reserve level could be seen as being dashed by the announcement and this could have an adverse impact on gold holders who had been banking on something more.  As the details sunk in gold was being marked down.

 

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Yuan/Dollar unpegging to SDR to PBOC’s Gold – the relationships are becoming interesting

In a move to further internationalise the use of its currency in global trade, China appears to be seeking to have the yuan included in the basket of currencies that make up the IMF’s Special Drawing Right.  Currently the US Dollar, the Euro, The British Pound Sterling and the Japanese yen in varying percentages form the current SDR basket, but this is due for review this year with initial meetings to be held next month and a final decision on any changes to the basket should be made by October.

Why is all this suddenly seen as so significant?  China has already had some considerable success in internationalising the use of the yuan through bilateral deals but the general consensus is that it would like it to be recognised as A global reserve currency.  Perhaps not THE global reserve currency – yet – but to rank alongside the dollar in particular given it sees that the U.S. has gained huge advantages over the years from its position as being the de facto global reserve unit of trade.  Thus China sees its inclusion in the SDR currency basket as being a key factor en route to this ultimate goal.

But – and it would seem to be a big but – currently the yuan is directly pegged to the U.S. dollar in the global exchange rate system.  Given the SDR make-up is designed to balance out upwards and downwards movements in the currencies which make it up, to have two significant currencies in its composition which are effectively tied directly to one another would seem to defeat the balance objective.  While there is little doubt that China, as the world’s second biggest economy by GDP – or the largest based on purchasing power parity (PPP) – should be included, can this decision be reached while it is still dollar pegged?  We feel that this would be seen as an insuperable objection.

This brings us down to the question as to how important inclusion in the SDR is to China.  Is it sufficiently so for the Chinese to drop the dollar peg and probably allow the yuan to rise  accordingly (much as the Swiss Franc did against the Euro when it dropped its peg to the pan European unit)?  Remember the shock the Swiss decision had on the gold market, albeit a relatively shortlived one.  But the dropping of the Yuan peg to the US Dollar could have far greater ramifications in global financial markets.

This could be further exacerbated by a possible revisiting of the Chinese gold reserve figure.  there has been enormous speculation in the West that Chinese gold reserves are in fact far greater than the 1,054 tonnes it has reported to the IMF for the past six years and that it would further enhance the yuan’s standing if these were shown to be far greater than they appeat to be officially now.  Even the more conservative estimates suggest China may announce that its gold reserves are in fact some 2,500 tonnes greater than the currently reported level would suggest, moving it up to second place in global gold holding rankings.  Others suggest the level could even be far higher.  Thus a twin announcement of the unpegging of the yuan to the dollar and a substantial uprating of Chinese gold reserves could give the gold price an enormous fillip – and one which those who appear to have been playing the futures market to keep the gold price under control could not counter – unless of course it is China itself which has been keeping the gold price subdued so it can continue to purchase the yellow metal at low prices!  These theories would seem to have no end!

If indeed its true gold reserves have reached a level with which China feels comfortable, it would have the power to drive the price higher, which it might consider  doing for internal market reasons, given the amount of gold believed to be held by its citizenry, while its own incentive for perhaps keeping the price down while it was in purchasing mode, would have fallen away.  More speculative theory!

But theory or no, the feeling is that all this is driving towards the key inflection point and it is the Chinese desire to have the yuan a part of the SDR which is the vital element.  And if this is so these decisions and changes could all occur within the next few months.  If any of these should happen then gold would almost certainly benefit positively – and if all three take place over a short period of time then the sky could be the limit as far as gold price is concerned.  This would tie in nicely with the Elliott Wave forecasting suggesting a massive precious metals price surge is due (See: Elliott Wave analysis: Gold and silver now in major long term uptrend).

It is all very well theorising in this manner, but with gold’s downside seen by virtually all as extremely limited at current levels, then perhaps some credence in the possibility of these events occurring might colour one’s investment policies with little risk involved.

Does China have 30,000 tonnes of gold stashed away?

A highly respected analyst quotes research suggesting that China built up a huge stash of gold between 1979 and 2003, and has been adding to it recently – and all without declaring this to the IMF.

Lawrence Williams

A note from very well respected analyst and China watcher, Simon Hunt*, has come up with the intriguing suggestion that China may actually have as much as 30,000 tonnes of gold hidden away in various accounts rather than the 1,054.6 tonnes it declares to the IMF.  It is widely believed that China has indeed been accumulating additional gold for its reserves secretly over the last few years, but Hunt’s note also cites research by Alasdair Macleod of Gold Money published last year that China has accumulated some 25,000 tonnes of gold when the gold price was very low between 1983 and 2002.  Hunt rates Macleod’s research very highly, referring to him as the world’s top gold analyst.

Hunt goes on to state that China is planning to link its currency to gold within the next three years, but first will have to make some swingeing internal financial reforms which will have a strong impact on global financial markets – and not a positive impact!

He also comments that his dealings with the Chinese suggest that the country does not wish the yuan to become THE or A global reserve currency, but just wishes to be able to trade directly in yuan rather than via a dollar route – a process which is already under way as it has set up bilateral trade deals in yuan  with around 28 countries already and has established a trading hub in Zurich.

I’ve gone into this in a bit more detail in an article published on Mineweb.com – See: Could China actually have 30,000 tonnes of gold in reserves?.

This suggestion may seem a bit far fetched, but China has a penchant for ultra long term planning as a centrally planned economy, and certainly had the wherewithal, and perhaps the incentive, to achieve this given its huge trade surpluses and a desire to be less reliant on what it has seen as a vulnerable  U.S. dollar in its foreign currency reserves.

As an added note though, well known gold analyst Martin Murenbeeld reckons these huge stock figures should perhaps just be classified as wild estimates.  He says the question that needs to be asked is where the supply might have come from?  “Did GFMS, CPM, etc all miss the supply side – assuming the 30,000 tonne demand stockpile is correct?” he says.  “In short, the data tabulators didn’t just miss the demand side of the market, they also missed the supply side. How likely is that?”

*Simon Hunt has been in the commodity analysis business for many years.  He was one of the two founders of hugely respected metals commodities consultancy Brook Hunt which nowadays has been absorbed into Wood Mackenzie and nowadays runs his own commodities advisory service in Simon Hunt Strategic Services – www.shss.com