Gold Buying in China Jumps as Inflation Flares, Boosting Demand, UBS Says

Gold purchases in China, the world’s largest producer, climbed to 200 metric tons in the first two months of 2011 as faster inflation boosted consumer demand, according to UBS AG, which said the price may gain to $1,500.

“China is the big buyer,” Peter Hickson, global commodities strategist at Switzerland’s largest bank, said by phone yesterday, without giving a comparable figure for 2010. The estimate for the two-month period compares with full-year consumer demand from China of 579.5 tons for last year, according to the World Gold Council, a producer-funded group.

Bullion, which rallied 30 percent last year, surged to a record yesterday as uprisings in the Middle East, quickening inflation and currency debasement boosted global demand. China’s consumer prices rose 4.9 percent in January from a year earlier, exceeding policy makers’ 4 percent ceiling for a fourth month.

“Chinese interest is huge,” said Peter Tse, Hong Kong- based head of precious metals at Bank of Nova Scotia. “Demand for physical gold and imports has increased substantially” due to the Lunar New Year holiday, Tse said today, referring to the week-long break that began Feb. 2.

Immediate-delivery gold was at $1,429.05 an ounce at 5:08 p.m. in Singapore compared with yesterday’s peak of $1,434.93. Yuan-denominated bullion rose 0.5 percent to 303.58 yuan ($46.19) a gram in Shanghai, approaching the record 314 yuan, set Nov. 9.

‘Gold Is Attractive’

“Gold is attractive,” Hickson said. “The more the market becomes concerned about inflation or concerns about unrest in Africa, more and more people will look to gold.” The price may rise to $1,500 an ounce in the next six months, said Hong Kong- based Hickson, who’s worked for UBS since 1996.

Blackstone Group LP’s Byron Wien said in January that gold may rise to more than $1,600 this year “as investors across the world place more of their assets in something they consider ‘real’.” The price may reach $1,600 this year, Wayne Atwell, a managing director at Casimir Capital LP said the same month.

Protests partly linked to record food prices have erupted across North Africa and the Middle East this year, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and boosting oil prices. Libyan rebels braced for renewed clashes today with forces loyal to leader Muammar Qaddafi. Iranian protesters have clashed with security forces in Tehran, Al Arabiya reported.

Gold investment in China, the largest buyer of the precious metal after India, may gain 40 percent to 50 percent this year amid a lack of alternatives, Wang Lixin, China representative for the World Gold Council, said last month. He called that forecast a “conservative estimate.”

Bars and Coins

China’s investment demand in 2010 jumped 70 percent to 179.9 tons, surpassing Germany and the U.S., as buyers sought out bars and coins, the London-based industry group said. Consumption by the jewelry sector rose to a record 399.7 tons, it said. China imported more than 300 tons last year, People’s Bank of China Vice Governor Yi Gang said on Feb. 26 in Beijing.

China may be the “next big buyer” of gold, driven by institutional and retail demand, Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Tom Kendall said in Cape Town on Feb. 7. “If you’re sitting there in China with money in a deposit account, you’re losing between 1-2 percent a year through inflation,” Kendall said.

The boom in gold demand in China is driven by concern about inflation pressure and the poor performance of alternative investments, the producer-funded council has said. Premier Wen Jiabao pledged on Feb. 27 to boost food supplies to hold down costs, and to tackle surging property prices.

Spooked by Inflation

Jewelers at shopping malls across Beijing are witnessing a gold rush as residents spooked by inflation look to protect their money, the China Daily reported on Feb. 28.

Statistics from Beijing Caibai, the city’s largest jewelry store, show sales of gold and other jewelry have totaled about 4 billion yuan so far this year, a 70 percent increase from a year ago, the report said.

China displaced South Africa as the world’s biggest gold producer in 2007. Imports through last October rose almost fivefold to 209 tons from the total shipped in the previous year, according to the Shanghai Gold Exchange. Mine output reached a record 340 tons last year, the China Gold Association has said.

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by market value, started physical-gold linked savings accounts in December with the World Gold Council. Account openings have surpassed 1 million, with more than 12 tons of gold stored on behalf of investors, it has said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyoungwha Kim in Singapore at kkim19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at jpoole4@bloomberg.net

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