Five months ago, when we previewed the asset classes that we thought would benefit the most ahead of (and during) China's ongoing currency devaluation, and its accelerating capital controls, we laid out two things we are focused on: bitcoin and gold. This is what we said:
China's propensity for gold is well-known. We would not be surprised to see a surge of gold imports into China... However, while gold has historically been the best store of value in history and has outlasted every currency known to man, it is problematic when it comes to transferring funds in and out of a nation - it tends to show up quite distinctly on X-rays.
Which is why we would not be surprised to see another push higher in the value of bitcoin ... if a few hundred million Chinese decide that the time has come to use bitcoin as the capital controls bypassing currency of choice, and decide to invest even a tiny fraction of the $22 trillion in Chinese deposits in bitcoin (whose total market cap at last check was just over $3 billion), sit back and watch as we witness the second coming of the bitcoin bubble, one which could make the previous all time highs in the digital currency, seems like a low print.
Back then bitcoin was $225, and after doubling in the susbequent five months, was last seen trading just around $400.
But what about gold: would China focus exclusively on bitcoin as a capital controls evasion mechanism to the detriment of the yellow metal? Earlier today we got the answer and it was a resounding now, because according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, in December Chinese gold imports via the main conduit Hong Kong surged to the highest in more than two years, as - in Reuters words - "investors lost faith in collapsing stock markets and a weakening currency and snapped up bullion."
While there was some discrepancy in the actual data, we will use Bloomberg's according to which net purchases rose to 111.3 metric tons from 66.8 tons a month earlier and 58.8 tons a year ago. Net buying increased to 774.1 tons in 2015 from 750.8 tons a year earlier and compared with a record 1,108.8 tons in 2013, the data show. Mainland China doesn’t publish the data.
That was the highest monthly number since October 2013 when imports stood at 130 tonnes.
According to Bloomberg, "Investors took advantage of the lowest global prices in almost six years to stock up on bullion amid share market gyrations and concerns the central bank would let the currency depreciate to boost slowing growth in the world’s second-biggest economy. Consumers were also buying in the run-up to Chinese New Year in February, the peak demand season."
As China's equities slumped and its yuan currency finished 2015 with a record yearly loss, "people looked at other investment alternatives that's why there was huge demand for gold," said Brian Lan, managing director at gold dealer GoldSilver Central in Singapore.
“The stock market was very volatile last year while the yuan started depreciating so investors may have found some comfort in gold,” Wang Shunyang, an analyst at SMM Information & Technology Co., said by phone before the data were released.
It wasn't just suddenly soaring demand for phiscal gold: a jump in physical deliveries from the Shanghai Gold Exchange was also a sign of demand, Wang said. Withdrawals climbed to 2,596.4 tons in 2015 surpassing the previous record of 2,197 tons two years earlier.
Also, Hong Kong wasn't the only source: Swiss exports of gold to China jumped to 59 tons in December from 16.5 tons a month earlier, according to the website of Swiss Federal Customs Administration.
In other words, after a two year hiatus in which the Chinese population gingerly rotated from the burst housing bubble to the now burst equity bubble, the legacy battleground has been once again restored, with Chinese equities and currency, a proxy for China's central bank preserving control over an increasingly more chaotic system on one side, and with "alternative" assets such as gold and bitcoin on the other.
We almost wonder who will end up winning.