In what must be an inexplicable move to momentum-chasers everywhere, as gold continued to decline in price in March, and long before its targeted smash in April, China was not backing off its gold purchases of the yellow product. Quite the contrary: as export data released by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department overnight showed, Chinese gold imports in March exploded to an all time record high of 223.5 tons. This follows 97.1 tons in February, and brings the total imports for the first quarter of 2013, or 372 tons, on par with what China imported in the entire first half. It also means that since January 2012, China has imported an absolutely stunning 1,206 tons of gold. Putting this number in context, this is 20% more than the entire reporter official gold holdings of 1054 tons, and represents roughly half of the total 2500 tons of gold mined every year (a number which is set to decline as gold miners find current prices unsustainable and are forced to shut down production).
Comparison of Chinese gold imports: 2012 vs 2013:
And sequential change in Chinese gold imports since January 2012 or when the gold fever in China was truly unleashed:
The latest official Chinese holdings:
And if March was a record month for China, we can't wait for April when prices plunged and when physical buyers, who unlike paper momentum chasers buy more then lower the price falls will see the recent take down as a buying opportunity (if they can find physical of course). From Reuters:
Chinese gold imports are likely to swell further after more than doubling to an all time high in March as retail consumers pounced when prices plunged to a two-year low last month.
"Physical demand picked up significantly over the last couple of weeks. Consumers and industrial users tend to see price drops as buying opportunities," Zhang Bingnan, secretary-general of the China Gold Association, told Reuters.
"Investment demand should continue to stay strong through the rest of the year because of limited investment alternatives," said Zhang, adding that gold sales and processing volumes both spiked in April.
"April imports will be stronger than March," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong. "The world was buying gold and China was no different at all."
And therein lies the rub: because if China fails to mask the ongoing soaring hot money inflows as reported earlier, and which amounted to over $180 billion in q1 as reported earlier, just watch as Chinese demand for physical goes truly off the charts.
The rest of the story is well known but here it is from Reuters:
In March, Shanghai gold futures fetched premiums of more than $30 to global prices, making it cheaper to buy the metal overseas.
April could see imports swell further after the drop in international prices spurred frenzied buying in Asia, leading to a shortage of gold bars and coins in Singapore as well as Hong Kong, which is China's main source for gold imports.
The drop in prices has prompted a gold rush in China, with Chinese shoppers flocking to retailers to buy jewellery and bars.
A spokesman for Hong Kong jewellery chain Chow Tai Fook, the world's largest jewellery retailer by market value, told Reuters that traffic at its China stores jumped by 50 percent during the May Day holidays.
The surge in Chinese travellers during the three-day May Day holiday also drove gold sales in Hong Kong to rise by an estimated 50 percent, with total gold sales from April 29-May 2 reaching some 40 tonnes, local media quoted Haywood Cheung, president of the Hong Kong Gold and Silver Exchange, as saying.
The jump in Chinese physical demand also prompted some banks to ship in more supplies from London and Swiss vaults, traders said.
What about New York vaults? And specifically the biggest gold vault in the world, located 90 feet below 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza?
Or is there maybe a correlation between the record drawdown in JPM's commercial holdings and the record break out of Chinese gold fever? We hope to find out soon.
As for the increasingly irrelevant spot price of gold paper derivatives, we can only hope "experts" like Paulson et al can continue their liquidation of gold ETF "holdings" for as long as possible: after all one can buy far more gold more when the price is lower, not higher.