Big anomalies in September’s Swiss gold exports

Here follows a lightly edited and updated version of an article first published yesterday on the Sharps Pixley website looking at some unusual export data for gold from Switzerland in September.  Switzerland is a key conduit for the transfer of gold bullion from West to East as being the location for a number of refineries which specialise in taking Western gold bars and dore bullion from mines and re-refining this to the smaller sized ultra high quality gold bars and wafers in demand in Asia and the Middle East:

Switzerland has announced its gold imports and exports for September and while imports are from the usual suspects there are some important anomalies from the normal pattern in the country’s September gold export figures.

Imports totalling around 177.8 tonnes largely came from the UK (91.8 tonnes – or a little over half the total) and the USA (33.1 tonnes) neither being abnormal numbers, with the UK being the centre of the global gold trade and the USA being the world’s fourth largest gold producer. The balance came from relatively small amounts mostly from other gold producing nations.

The real surprises came in the gold export recipients. Mainland China topped the list comfortably with 37.5 tonnes out of total gold exports for the month of 119.4 tonnes but the HUGE surprise in the figures was that during September Switzerland, apparently, according to the figures we were presented with initially, exported zero gold to both India and Hong Kong,  We were however fed incorrect data and now we have updated figures which corrects the anomalies.  The initial figures were indeed  erroneous.  In fact exports to India were down very substantially to 16.6 tonnes but Hong Kong still took a respectable 28.9 tonnes.  A graphic of the real figures is shown below:

However, some other Swiss gold recipients in September are indeed really anomalous as they also usually fall outside the country’s normal gold export listings; notably Hungary which imported 28.9 tonnes as it increased its central bank holdings tenfold (see: Central Bank gold buying – New kids on the block), although Hungary reported this as occurring in the first two weeks of October, but it apparently entered the Swiss export figures in the earlier month. Other big unusual importers were Indonesia (with 16.6 tonnes), the African nations of Ghana (5.2 tonnes), Gabon (4.8 tonnes) and Senegal (2.6 tonnes), while among the normal Swiss gold recipients Thailand (7.7 tonnes), Saudi Arabia (2.6 tonnes) and Taiwan (2.5 tonnes) absorbed larger amounts than normal.

It remains to be seen whether some, or all, of these were adding, like Hungary, to their official gold reserves. If they are this should become apparent when the IMF publishes its next table of changes in world gold reserves which is always available in the data section of the World Gold Council’s website (http://www.gold.org).

Interestingly the gold price soared yesterday reaching $1,240.80 at one time up from $1,221.70 when the U.S. market closed a day earlier. This may also have been prompted by a big plunge in general equity markets with Asian, European and North American markets all losing substantial ground.  They do seem to be picking up a little today, albeit nervously (the Hang Seng continued to fall and Germany’s DAX is down a little as I write)  but it remains to be seen if the apparent rise is just a temporary bounce and if there is further carnage to come.

The dollar index has also picked up a little today which could mitigate further rises in the gold price – at least temporarily

Is the oft-predicted plunge in equity prices beginning – and if so are we seeing a move into gold as a safe haven? The dollar index also appears to be slipping a little and we again saw inflows into the big gold and silver ETFs. Perhaps precious metals are coming back into favour again?

Advertisements

More anomalous gold data in latest Swiss import/export figures

The latest gold import and export data from Switzerland, one of the few countries to report these flows in detail, as usual open up some interesting insights into global supply and demand.  Overall Swiss gold exports rose by around 20% month on month to 177.3 tonnes making the country a net exporter in May.  Generally Swiss gold imports and exports are pretty much in balance given that it mostly imports gold for re-refining and re-export.

While gold exports from Switzerland to China and Hong Kong both picked up in May, its principal country of imports was again the United Arab Emirates normally a recipient of Swiss gold, not a provider.  Indeed in another reversal of normal gold flows, the U.K. was again the biggest importer of Swiss gold in May, necessary, we feel, to meet the big demand in London from the principal gold ETFs which vault their gold there.  Exports to the U.S. were also unusually high.  Again any gold flows to and from the U.S are normally in the eastward direction.  We have surmised before that available supplies of physical gold in London are currently tight and this only serves to add weight to that premise and could also suggest that a similar position is arriving in the U.S. too given recent strong investor demand for bullion.

Re China and Hong Kong, exports to the Chinese mainland were 19 tonnes, up from 13.8 tonnes in April, while exports to Hong Kong were up by a very large 14.5 tonnes to 24 tonnes making the percentage of gold shipped to the Chinese mainland against that shipped directly to Hong Kong (which will also subsequently nearly all find its way to mainland China) at around 44%.  This again confirms our oft-repeated mantra that Hong Kong gold imports and exports can no longer be taken as a proxy for the Chinese figures with so much gold now going to the Chinese mainland directly.  This is a major change from three years ago when the Hong Kong:China ratio was far higher, but still some media outlets ignore this fact.

Prior to the current year, The U.K. was always a significant supplier of gold to the Swiss refineries which have specialised in melting down and re-refining 400 kg good delivery gold bars into the smaller sizes most in demand in the Asian markets.  Thus, as we pointed out a month ago when the previous set of Swiss stats were released – See: Swiss gold data raises new doubts on London’s gold stocks these reversals of gold flows, if they continue, could be an indicator of some serious tightness in supply of physical gold to the markets from traditional sources as noted above.

While exports to China and Hong Kong were substantially higher in May, they remained very weak to that other traditional gold market, India, where gold seems to have fallen out of favour in recent months.  In May the figure was only 18.5 tonnes, down 16% from an already low April figure.  Taken together with reports of substantial discounts in the local gold price, it appears that Indian buyers are nervous of the substantial gold price rise so far this year and may be holding off purchases in expectation of a price fall.

The other big anomaly in the figures was that the two biggest exporters of gold to Switzerland in May were the United Arab Emirates again with 42.1 tonnes and Hong Kong with 11.6 tonnes although the latter was a net importer in May – not the case in April.  Neither of these countries/regions are normally exporters of gold to Switzerland in any significant quantities, but are major trading centres, suggesting that the lower demand from what are probably their biggest normal export markets, India and China respectively has led to inventories running higher than traders are happy with, and with the higher prices prevailing there has been perhaps an incentive to return gold to the Swiss refiners and take profits.

We will thus be following this Swiss import/export data to see if these supply/demand anomalies continue in future months.