February 6, 2012
By Gordon G. Chang
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.
April 2, 2010
China’s central bank said asset bubbles are emerging in parts of the world and in certain industries that may burst unless supported by real economic recovery.
Rapid asset price increases in major markets since 2009 have been pushed by “ultra-loose” monetary policies by governments around the world and “don’t mean real economies have recovered or will recover strongly,” the People’s Bank of China said in a report posted on its Web site today. Such gains “unless they receive sufficient support from macroeconomic fundamentals, may lead to a new round of asset bubbles that may burst,” the Beijing-based bank said.
The comments reflect concerns by policy makers in the world’s third-largest economy about risks facing the global recovery as governments debate when to withdraw stimulus implemented to fight the financial crisis. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao faces the same dilemma as he seeks to restrain inflation and curb property bubbles while maintaining growth.
“Central banks all face the pressing task of containing asset bubbles and inflation while ensuring economic recovery,” the Chinese central bank said in its 2009 report on international financial markets. A surge in liquidity in global financial markets may push up inflation once economies recover, it said.
Governments worldwide have spent more than $2 trillion in fiscal stimulus to spur growth and may face difficulty coordinating exit strategies because of the “unbalanced global recovery,” the central bank said. The withdrawal of support, together with the threat of inflation and the risks surrounding the sovereign debt of some economies complicate the process, the PBOC said.
Asset bubbles are the “real worry” as China emerges from the global financial crisis into a “boom time,” former central bank adviser Fan Gang said Feb. 1. Economists at the government- backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences warned Jan. 11 that the nation’s gross domestic product could expand as much as 16 percent in 2010 unless policy makers withdraw stimulus.
Still, Premier Wen Jiabao on March 5 pledged to maintain a “moderately loose” monetary policy this year to cement China’s recovery, while keeping inflation at around 3 percent. The People’s Bank of China is targeting a drop of 22 percent in new lending this year from last year’s record 9.59 trillion yuan and has told banks twice this year to set aside more cash as reserves to curb excessive liquidity.
Consumer prices rose 2.7 percent in February and property prices in 70 major Chinese cities climbed the most in almost two years, prompting the government to order lenders to tighten loans to the real-estate industry.
The PBOC’s comments today echo those of other international central bank officials. Donald Tsang, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Nov. 13 that he was “scared” that money flowing into Asia because of low interest rates in the U.S. could lead to another crisis in the region. World Bank President Robert Zoellick told Australian Financial Review on Jan. 13 that a liquidity-driven world recovery faces the risk of asset price inflation.
June 26, 2009
China’s central bank has reiterated its call for a new reserve currency to replace the US dollar. The report from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said a “super-sovereign” currency should take its place.
Central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan has loudly led calls for the dollar to be replaced during the financial crisis. The bank report called for more regulation of the countries that issue currencies that underpin the global financial system.
“An international monetary system dominated by a single sovereign currency has intensified the concentration of risk and the spread of the crisis,” the Chinese central bank said.
The dollar fell after the report was released. The US currency dropped 1% against the euro to $1.4088, and declined 0.8% versus the British pound to $1.6848.
Mr Zhou caused a stir earlier this year when he said the dollar could eventually be replaced as the world’s main reserve currency by the Special Drawing Right (SDR), which was created as a unit of account by the IMF in 1969.
The PBOC said in the report that not only should the world adopt the SDR, but that the IMF should be entrusted with managing a portion of its member countries’ foreign currency reserves.
“To avoid intrinsic shortcomings in using a sovereign currency as a reserve currency, we need to create an international reserve currency that is divorced from sovereign states and can maintain a stable value over the long term,” the PBOC report said.
It also issued some veiled criticism of the US policies, saying that one of the major issues was that it was difficult to balance the needs of domestic politics with the requirements of being the world’s reserve currency.
“The economic development model of debt-based consumption is most difficult to sustain,” the PBOC said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently joined Mr Zhou in saying it was time to consider an alternative benchmark currency for international debt.