As US weak hands keep piling out of gold whether to make space for the Facebook IPO tomorrow, or just to load up on paper currencies in advance of central banks printing much more, two things have happened: China is now on its way to becoming the biggest source of gold demand, surpassing India, but more importantly as of hours ago, in a truly historic move, "Okayama Metal & Machinery has become the first Japanese pension fund to make public purchases of gold, in a sign of dwindling faith in paper currencies." Not our words: the FT's.
Initially, the fund aims to keep about 1.5 per cent of its total assets of Y40bn ($500m) in bullion-backed exchange traded funds, according to chief investment officer Yoshisuke Kiguchi, who said he was diversifying into gold to “escape sovereign risk”.
The move into a non-yielding asset comes as funds in the world’s second-biggest pension market are under increasing pressure to meet promised payments, as domestic interest rates remain rooted near zero. This year, the first of Japan’s baby boomers turn 65, becoming eligible for payouts.
Mr Kiguchi said the lack of yield was a concern for the fund’s investment committee, but he persuaded them that “from a very long-term point of view, gold may be one of the safe currencies”. He added that he had sold Australian dollars this month to meet his initial target allocation for gold for the fund, which has 20,000 members.
Mizuho Trust & Banking, a unit of Mizuho Financial Group, has begun to offer investment schemes allowing smaller pension funds to invest in gold.
While few fund managers are counting on a crash in core assets such as Japanese government bonds, said Takahiro Morita, head of the Tokyo arm of the World Gold Council, a producers’ association, they were increasingly receptive to the idea that gold could act as a buffer against shocks. “Last year’s tsunami and the eurozone debt crisis shows that it was wise to expect the unexpected,” he said.
The first of many:
Historically, institutions in the $3.4tn Japanese pension market have clung to traditional assets. Bonds accounted for 59 per cent of industry assets in 2011, the highest share in the world, according to Towers Watson, a consultant. Just 6 per cent – the lowest share – was invested in alternatives such as property, private equity and hedge funds.
Nomura, Japan’s biggest wealth manager, added a gold option to its monthly survey of 1,000 randomly selected retail investors in February. Every month since, gold has been ranked the third-most desirable addition to portfolios, well ahead of competing assets such as investment trusts, bonds or foreign securities.
And the absolute punchline:
With institutions warming to gold, too, demand could grow further. “If you look at assets over the past couple of decades, equity has been a loser, while fixed income offers tiny coupons,” said Yoshio Kuno, Japan head of Newedge, the futures broker. “Gold is becoming an acceptable currency substitute.”
So go ahead - dump all of your gold. The buyers are there.
In the meantime, more and more and more funds comprising the $3.4 trillion Japanese pension market will buy. And soon after, all the other pension funds, which just happen to amount to tens of trillions. Assume they allocate 5% of all assets to gold, or the market begins to discount this inevitability, and things start getting interesting.