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LAWRIE WILLIAMS: Chinese gold reserves: Playing the old game

According to its reporting to the IMF, China has now not officially added to its gold reserves for nine months in a row.  Indeed these gold reserves have remained static, as far as official disclosures go, ever since the yuan (renminbi) was admitted as a constituent of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right in October last year.  Prior to that the country had been reporting monthly increases to its gold reserves from July 2015, apparently in the interests of transparency – but before that had only reported increases at five or six year intervals in the meantime keeping up the pretence of not adding to its reserves at all on a month-by-month basis.  It definitely looks as though, now the yuan is a constituent part of the SDR any suggestion of even limited transparency in its gold reserve building process has again fallen by the wayside.  Secrecy reigns.

China achieves this by holding gold in accounts it says it does not need to report to the IMF rather than within its official Forex Reserve figures.  Given the nation’s often-stated affinity to gold’s role in any global financial restructuring which may lie ahead it indeed seems highly unlikely that the country is not again surreptitiously adding to its gold reserves.  Indeed it poses the question as to whether what it has been reporting as its total reserve figure is in reality in any way representative of what it truly holds in gold in terms of its total gold reserve.  Mind you this policy could well apply to other nations too as most national gold holdings are not audited on any kind of consistent basis.  The IMF relies totally on what its constituent nations tell it – it has no means of checking their accuracy.

Many believe that China’s ultimate aim is to hold more gold than the USA does – officially reported at 8,133.6 tonnes.  China’s current reported total gold holding is 1,842.6 tonnes, but few believe that this is the true total with estimates out there of a realistic total of 4,000 tonnes or even higher.  If the 4,000 tonne estimate is correct then that would put China in second place among national holders of gold – more than Germany, currently in second place, which reports some 3,374 tonnes (For the latest reported world gold holdings click on WORLD OFFICIAL GOLD HOLDINGS). 

For example – re. Chinese holdings, a recent note on the country’s www.globaltimes.cn website stated: ‘Although the People's Bank of China (PBC), the country's central bank, has not publicly disclosed plans to increase gold reserves since October 2016, some market analysts, based on calculations on domestic gold output and imports in recent years, estimated that the country's above-ground gold reserves totaled 20,193 tons as of June, according to a report published by domestic industry website cnfol.com over the weekend.  While about 16,193 tons of gold are owned by Chinese citizens, the remaining 4,000 tons are held by the country's central bank, said the report.’

While such figures are only analysts’ estimates, it does indeed seem likely that the nation’s gold reserves are higher than officially stated – almost certainly substantially so, but whether they are double the current figure , or several times this, remains conjecture until China comes clean with an  accurate figure.  There has been the suggestion that China is not announcing its true gold reserve figure, nor any monthly build-up, with a view towards not boosting the gold price, which might rise substantially if it were to do so, in order for it to keep on buying at what it sees as relatively low prices in an ongoing process of reducing its dollar forex holdings.  It also has an interest in not knocking the gold price back due to the reported holdings by Chinese citizens (see above) – it may well thus have an agenda to control the price on their behalf, but without letting it rise uncontrollably for the time being – but also not allowing it to fall back – as it continues to work towards a build-up in domestic demand, rather than continue to rely on exports to keep the wheels of its manufacturing sector turning.  As a fully state-controlled economy, and as the world’s biggest known producer and importer of physical gold it does have the power to control the gold price if it so wishes to.  If it sees a potential domestic benefit in allowing the price to rise and thus boost the wealth and the spending power of its gold-holding citizens it is well capable of doing so.  Yet another possible factor in the gold price manipulation theories that abound.

09 Aug 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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