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LAWRIE WILLIAMS: China’s ‘official’ gold reserves unchanged for 7th straight month

Latest reports from the People’s Bank of China for May indicate that the World’s No. 2 economic power has kept its official gold reserve unchanged – at 59.24 million ounces (1,842.6 tonnes) – for the seventh successive month.  Indeed China’s officially reported gold reserves have remained unaltered since the Chinese renminbi (or yuan) was confirmed as an integral part of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR) back in October last year.  Currently the Chinese currency accounts for 10.92% of the basket of currencies which make up the SDR – the others are the US dollar 41.73%, the Euro 30.93%, the Japanese yen 8.33% and the pound sterling at 8.09%. 

The IMF notes on its website that the SDR was created  in 1969 as a supplementary international reserve asset, in the context of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system. A country participating in this system needed official reserves—government or central bank holdings of gold and widely accepted foreign currencies—that could be used to purchase its domestic currency in foreign exchange markets, as required to maintain its exchange rate. But the international supply of two key reserve assets—gold and the US dollar—proved inadequate for supporting the expansion of world trade and financial flows that was taking place. Therefore it was decided to create a new international reserve asset under the auspices of the IMF.

Although the idea was to create a new reserve currency as defined by the SDR basket, the composition of which is reviewed every five years, the inclusion of a currency in the basket does lend a degree of acceptance as a potential reserve currency in its own right, which is presumably why China was so keen for the renminbi to become part of the SDR basket.  To help achieve this the Chinese central bank began to announce monthly additions to its gold reserves in the interests of transparency.  Prior to that it had only announced its gold reserve increases at five or six year intervals saying that this additional gold, which it then moved into its official reserve, had been held in accounts which were outside the purview of its gold reserve reporting to the IMF.

However, ever since the reminbi became part of the SDR, the Chinese have once again seemingly stopped reporting any monthly increases in its gold reserves.  The cynics among us, of which the writer is a card-carrying member, suspect that the Asian giant is still building its gold reserves surreptitiously – in other words reverting to its previous pattern – and will only report them when specific targets have been reached.  The ultimate target is probably the reported level of the USA’s official gold reserve of 8,133.5 tonnes as China is understood to believe that having a gold reserve of this size will give it pole position in any future global economic and trading realignment.

Regarding the possible source of the gold which may, or may not, be flowing into Chinese central bank reserves it should be bone in mind that once gold goes in to mainland china it does not go out again.  China is the world’s largest gold producer at around 450 tonnes a year and there is a continuing substantial discrepancy between what the major analytical consultancies see as Chinese gold demand and the level of known gold imports into the country of perhaps around 500 tonnes annually.  Some of this may be going into the financial sector, which the consultancies don’t seem to count, but some could also be finding its way into the central banks  The total difference between reported consumption by the consultancies and what we see as the total amount of gold available to the Chinese market annually (imports, plus domestic production, plus scrap recycling) could be as much as 1,000 tonnes or more.  This gold has to be going somewhere!  Go figure.

08 Jun 2017

About the author

Lawrence Williams

Lawrence (Lawrie) Williams is a well known London-based writer and commentator on financial and political subjects, but specialising in precious metals news and commentary. He is a qualified and experienced mining engineer having graduated in mining engineering from The Royal School of Mines, a constituent college of Imperial College, London – recently described as the World’s No. 2 University (after MIT).

e: lawrie.williams@sharpspixley.com

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