As we reported yesterday, the world's most clueless prime minister, Japan's Shinzo Abe, has suddenly found himself in a "no way out" situation, with inflation for most items suddenly soaring (courtesy of exported deflation slamming Europe), without a matched increase in wages as reflected in the "surprising" tumble in household spending, which dropped 2.5% on expectations of a 0.1% increase in the month ahead of Japan's infamous sales tax hike. How does one explain this unwillingness by the public to buy worthless trinkets and non-durable goods and services ahead of an imminent price surge? Simple - while the government may have no options now, the same can not be said of its citizens who have lived next to China long enough to know precisely what to do when faced with runaway inflation, and enjoying the added benefit of a collapsing curency courtesy of Kuroda's "wealth effect." That something is to buy gold, of course, lots of it.
According to the FT, "Tanaka Kikinzoku Jewelry, a precious metals specialist, reported that sales of gold ingots across seven of its shops are up more than 500% this month. At the company’s flagship store in Ginza on Thursday, people queued for up to three hours to buy 500g bars worth about Y2.3m ($22,500). March has been the busiest month in Tanaka’s 120-year history."
Of course, while the Japanese consumers know what is the best defense against runaway inflation and purchasing power destruction, the government also knows that just like in India, where massive gold imports to satisfy local demand so skewed the current account deficit that India spent most of 2013 imposing gold capital controls, it simply needs to make gold purchases impossible in order to redirect spending into more Keynes-approved products and services.
However, for now Japan is happy just to crush its population's meager disposable income with soaring energy prices. Which also means the locals can allocate their personal capital in the most efficient way: one which discounts a very unpleasant future.
Investors are being drawn to the metal not just because of higher taxes, said Itsuo Toshima, an adviser to pension funds.“Slowly and steadily, people are preparing for the worst, which is the failure of Abenomics." “To protect the value of wealth, gold comes into play as an inflation hedge, and if the economy goes back to deflationary circumstances then, again, money seeking safe havens would flow into gold.”
Wait, did someone in Japan finally admit the inevitable, i.e., that Abenomics will crash and burn in a pyre of runaway inflation and a crashing economy? Well, good. The problem is that when that moment happens, the response to the government's "all in" bet to led its population into the slaughter will mean that one will need lead far more than gold.
But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, we eagerly look forward to yet another major buyer of gold emerging on the global landscape, alongside China, India, and all other countries not transfixed by the dulcet tunes of central-planning and nominal paper profits.
Japan’s hunger for gold bars is at odds with general sentiment towards the precious metal, the price of which fell 28 per cent last year, bring an end to a 12 year bull run. Yet Yuichi “Bruce” Ikemizu, head of commodities trading at Standard Bank in Tokyo, said retail buyers had been tempted into purchases by lower prices.
The Fruit of Gold ETF managed by Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking, the country’s most popular bullion-backed investment vehicle, saw its assets rise from 5.6 tonnes, when Mr Abe assumed power in December 2012, to 6.9 tonnes now – even as the US dollar price of gold fell by more than a fifth over that period.
Individual investors in the fund numbered 15,243 in mid-January, a sharp increase from 9,849 a year earlier, said general manager Osamu Hoshi.
At Tanaka’s third-floor store in Ginza, one 33-year trader at a foreign-owned brokerage, who did not want to be named, said the tax increase represented a “good opportunity” to buy more gold as he was worried about holding too many yen-denominated assets.
“I plan to hold it for a long time until there is a good time to sell when the yen collapses or something,” he said.
Even a strong rise in Japanese gold purchases is unlikely to affect the global bullion market. Last year consumer demand in Japan was 21.3 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council, compared to 1,066 tonnes in China and 975 tonnes in India.
Unlikely? Really - lets see what happens when 100 million Japanese suddenly decie half a kilo of gold is precisely what the doctor ordered. Then again, this is the FT, the same media outlet that recently, and inexplicably, pulled an article discussing gold manipulation without any explanation.