Spurred by a sudden drop in prices, Asians in the last two weeks have gone on a gold-buying binge. The Indians, the world’s largest net importers of the yellow metal, have been snapping it up of course, and so have the Japanese, now concerned about a falling yen and rising inflation. Hong Kong residents descended on the stores, but none have been so enthusiastic in stocking up on the commodity as Chinese from the Mainland.
Mainland Chinese purchasers have been ferocious. First, they emptied stores in their own country. Caibai, Beijing’s largest gold merchant, had a queue 30 feet out the door on the morning of the 19th. “So many people in line,” remarked a customer in Nanjing, where one person splashed out 2.9 million yuan on ten gold bars each weighing a kilogram. Retailers ran out of stock in Guangzhou. The China Gold Association reported that on the 15th and 16th retail sales of gold tripled across China. Daily sales soared to five times the usual level at one retail chain.
Volume on the Shanghai Gold Exchange, considered a proxy for the metal’s demand in China, surged, setting consecutive records of 30.4 metric tons on the 19th and 43.3 tons on the 22nd. The previous record was 22.0 tons on February 18 of this year.
As Chinese emptied the shelves in their own country, they also went south and swarmed shops in Hong Kong, sometimes in groups. Chow Tai Fook, the world’s largest jeweler by market capitalization, said some stores popular with Mainland Chinese ran out of gold bars and that demand had not been as strong since the late 1980s.
Demand for “9999” bullion – 99.99% pure gold – was five times normal according to Haywood Cheung Tak-hay, president of the Chinese Gold & Silver Exchange Society. His organization effectively ran out of holdings as members tried to meet supply shortfalls. “In terms of volume, I haven’t seen this gold rush for over 20 years,” Cheung told the Financial Times. “Older members who have been in the business for 50 years haven’t seen such a thing.”
What’s behind the unprecedented surge in buying? Obviously, the Chinese took advantage of a dip in prices – the deepest since 1983 – but they kept on buying as the commodity clawed back some of its losses.