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China Gold Update

Two key facts about China's fast-growing influence on Gold Bullion prices...

recently sold off and fell as much as 8% below its record high level of $1260 an ounce, investors had to be more than a little concerned, writes Martin Hutchinson at Money Morning.

With the huge debt loads which top world economies have taken on to rebound from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, investors have grabbed onto Gold Bullion as the best way to hedge against the inflation and other financial calamities they felt were certain to come.

So far, those calamities haven't materialized. But those investors shouldn't be worried. There's another catalyst on the horizon. It's headed directly for us. And, at least as far as Gold Prices are concerned, it figures to be an almost ideal catalyst.

Even if it doesn't spawn the near-term price spikes some gold bugs predict, it's a near-certainty to send the yellow metal skyward in the long run.

I'm talking, of course, about China.

When it comes to Gold Prices, two news items relating to China can only warm investor hearts. First, China has again moved to liberalize further its domestic citizens' ability to Buy Gold. Chinese citizens are among the world's most avid savers, meaning they'll have plenty of money to invest in gold – just as Beijing is telling them to do. And just this month, in fact, headlines declared that China was making the move to leapfrog Japan and become the world's second-largest economy.

With those two catalysts, and China's economy continuing to grow at 10% per annum, Gold Investors can happily anticipate an early price breakthrough to new highs.

And that's not all.

The People's Bank of China, China's central bank, has traditionally held about 10% of its reserves in gold – making it a global heavyweight in the precious-metals sector. But as that country's overall reserves zoomed past the $2 trillion mark in recent years, the percentage of those reserves held in Gold Bullion declined sharply. At the end of March, for instance, despite an increase in gold holdings to 1,054 metric tons, the yellow metal still only represented 1.5% of China's reserves.

China's central bank, which has expressed ongoing concerns about the performance of the US Dollar, suggested that "the need to perfect foreign-exchange policies in the gold market is clear." Granted, that statement could be construed to mean just about anything. But the odds are very good that Beijing will push for the purchase of more gold in the months to come.
While China will attempt to add to its gold holdings without disrupting the global metals market, even a cursory look at the mathematics of the world market for the yellow metal underscores that Beijing faces a real challenge.

First, understand that the annual output of all the world's gold mines is only about $110 billion. Second, the value of all the gold ever mined is only about $6 trillion. The upshot: A major reserves holder like China can very easily disrupt the market, causing prices to "spike"un-controllably.

That doesn't include the possible market impact of a nation with 1.3 billion potential investors – a potential market impact that isn't difficult to picture.

While the gold policies of China's central bankers may be some-
what inscrutable, the growing interest the Chinese people have in gold and other precious metals is out in the open.

In 2009, Chinese investors bought 73 metric tonnes of bullion, with a value of about $2.6 billion at today's prices. That total – 73 metric tonnes – is not, in itself, a huge amount of gold; Indian investors bought 147 metric tons, or twice that amount – in this year's first quarter alone.

However, there's an increasing acceptance of gold as an investment that's washing across China, and that cannot be discounted. For example, the 73 metric tonnes of bullion bought by Chinese investors last year was more than four times the 18 metric tonnes that same group bought just two years before.

The increasing acceptance of gold-based investment by the huge Chinese pool of retail investment capital cannot fail to put upward pressure on prices. And Beijing seems to be making certain that this pressure is brought to bear.

China opened the door on Gold Investments to retail investors last year; by the third quarter, Beijing was actively encouraging retail investors to make investments in gold and silver.

In the past, Chinese authorities have encouraged Chinese citizens to invest in gold as an alternative to the very speculative Chinese stock markets and the over-leveraged real estate market. But gold is becoming a much-more-mainstream investment option. China's leaders have increased the number of banks allowed to deal in bullion and increased the ability to purchase gold-linked investment products by using Yuan, instead of US Dollars or some other foreign currency.

If Chinese investors become serious buyers of gold, their purchases are likely to be contra-cyclical to China's stock market – and, thus, to global stock markets as a whole. When, as in 2006 and 2009, the Shanghai and Shenzen stock markets are soaring, domestic speculation pushes prices to extreme levels. Those money flows are likely to switch to gold if Chinese stock markets continue to lose ground.

Moreover, the large pay increases awarded to many Chinese workers in foreign-owned plants – such as the 30% award to the 300,000 workers in the Foxconn International Holdings plant – must inevitably push up both Chinese purchasing power and Chinese inflation.

The "official" inflation rate was only 2.9% according to government figures released in June, but China's official inflation figures traditionally understate the reality. While silver – and not gold – has been the historical inflation hedge in China, an uptick in inflation will no doubt fuel an upsurge in Gold Investing. That's especially likely given that it is technically illegal for Chinese citizens to purchase foreign currencies. Besides, Chinese investors have learned to distrust both the US Dollar and the European Euro.

For the rest of us, this has to translate into a bullish outlook for gold. And that means the recent decline that saw the yellow metal sell off and fall as much as 8% from its all-time high (it's now down about 3%) must be regarded as no more than a temporary hiccup.

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Now a contributing editor to both the Money Map Report and Money Morning, the much-respected free daily advisory service, Martin Hutchinson is an investment banker with more than 25 years’ experience. A graduate of Cambridge and Harvard universities, he moved from working on Wall Street and in the City, as well as in Spain and South Korea, to helping the governments of Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia establish their Treasury bond markets in the late '90s. Business and Economics Editor at United Press International from 2000-4, and a BreakingViews editor since 2006, Hutchinson is also author of the closely-followed Bear's Lair column at the Prudent Bear website.

See full archive of Martin Hutchinson.

Please Note: All articles published here are to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it. Please review our Terms & Conditions for accessing Gold News.

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