South Korea joined Russia and Kazakhstan in boosting gold holdings, even as the metal had its worst start to a year since 1991 and billionaire investor George Soros cut his stake in the biggest bullion exchange-traded fund.
The Bank of Korea added 20 metric tons in February, raising its gold reserves by 24 percent to 104.4 tons, it said in a statement today. Holdings rose about $1.03 billion by value to $4.79 billion at the end of last month, equivalent to 1.5 percent of total foreign exchange holdings, according to the statement. Prices advanced.
Russia and Kazakhstan expanded bullion reserves for a fourth straight month in January and the World Gold Council expects central banks to remain strong buyers this year after increasing purchases in 2012 by the most in almost five decades. Banks from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to Credit Suisse Group AG predict the metal’s 12-year bull market may be unwinding after five straight monthly losses.
“They are buying gold for a long-term commodity that they can put into their portfolios,” said David Lennox, a resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney. “The timing of their entry into the market can sometimes be quite contrary to what’s happening price-wise.”
Gold for immediate delivery has fallen 5.9 percent this year, making it the worst-performing precious metal. It touched $1,555.55 on Feb. 21, lowest level since July, and traded 0.1 percent higher at $1,577.32 at 4:55 p.m. in Seoul.
Central banks increased gold buying 17 percent to 534.6 tons last year, according to London-based World Gold Council. Russia boosted holdings by 12.2 tons to 970 tons in January after gaining 8.5 percent over 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data. Kazakhstan’s hoard rose 1.5 tons to 116.8 tons, following last year’s 41 percent expansion.
The Seoul-based central bank’s latest purchases are its fifth round of buying since June 2011. Bullion reserves rose by 30 tons in 2012 and 40 tons in 2011.
“The Bank of Korea’s gold buying is part of the long-term diversification of currencies and assets in foreign-exchange reserves,” it said in the statement. “It is of no great importance to try to gauge if it’s profitable or not based on short-term price swings.”
The Asian nation’s foreign-exchange reserves, the world’s seventh-biggest at the end of January, dropped by $1.51 billion to $327.4 billion in February due to the weakness of the euro and the pound against the dollar, the bank said today. That was the first decline since May, Bloomberg data show.
Soros cut his stake in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest gold ETP, by 55 percent in the fourth quarter, government filings showed last month. John Paulson, the largest investor in the product, kept his holding unchanged.
Bullion holdings in ETPs dropped to 2,491.5 tons as of March 5, the lowest level since September, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The holdings reached an all-time high of 2,632.5 tons on Dec. 20, the data show.
The cycle for gold prices has probably turned as the recovery in the U.S. economy gathers momentum and investment holdings collapse, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said on Feb. 25. Credit Suisse Group AG said in a Feb. 21 report that an “inevitable unwind” appears to be under way.
“Central banks really don’t worry too much about the gold price,” said Lennox. “What they are more concerned about is making sure that they get a good balance in their reserve portfolios.”