TOKYO (Nikkei) - Central banks are snapping up gold this year, but it is uncertain which ones are behind most of that shopping spree, fueling speculation that China is a big player.
Seeing how Russia has been hit by monetary sanctions by the West, China and some other countries must be hurrying to reduce dependence on the dollar, analysts reckon.
Central banks bought a net 399.3 tonnes of gold in the July-September period, more than quadrupling on the year, according to the November report by industry group the World Gold Council. The latest amount marks a steep jump from 186 tonnes in the preceding quarter and 87.7 tonnes in the first quarter, while the year-to-date total alone surpasses any full year since 1967.
Buyers such as the central banks of Turkey, Uzbekistan and India reported purchases of 31.2 tonnes, 26.1 tonnes and 17.5 tonnes, respectively. The problem is that such specified buying adds up only to roughly 90 tonnes -- meaning it is unclear who bought the remaining roughly 300 tonnes net.
Some unidentified purchases are to be expected, but an unspecified slice of “this magnitude is unheard of,” said Koichiro Kamei, a financial and precious-metals analyst.
Speculation is swirling over the unidentified buyers.”China likely bought a substantial amount of gold from Russia,” said market analyst Itsuo Toshima.
China has made similar moves in the past. After staying mum since 2009, Beijing stunned the market in 2015, disclosing it had boosted gold holdings by about 600 tonnes. It has not reported any activity since September 2019.
The People’s Bank of China likely bought a portion of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation’s gold holdings of over 2,000 tonnes, Toshima said.
Central banks and government institutions have been accumulating gold reserves over the past 10 years or so, after the 2008 financial crisis eroded confidence in U.S. Treasury bonds and other dollar-denominated assets, sending them scrambling to diversify their portfolios. Emerging countries with low creditworthiness are also seeking to strengthen their reserves of gold, which has high liquidity and no sovereign risks.
China has been unloading U.S. bonds. It sold $121.2 billion in U.S. debt, the equivalent of roughly 2,200 tonnes of gold, between the end of February -- immediately after Russia’s first attack on Ukraine -- and the end of September, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Chinese imports of gold from Russia surged in July, soaring more than eightfold on the month and roughly 50 times the year-earlier level, according to China’s customs authorities.
Central banks generally do not unload their gold holdings in the market, meaning the more they buy the precious metal, the stronger support this will give its price.