Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Can China Beat US in Gold Reserves in 10 Years?

By David Lew
Commodity Online
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

China has set the most ambitious task on gold reserves and gold mining: take the country’s gold holdings from the current 1054 tonnes to a massive 10,000 tonnes in the next 10 years.

Is this grand task a realistic plan or a golden dream? Chinese officials say the dragon country wants to overtake the United States in gold reserves. America is the world leader in gold reserves. America owns 8133 tonnes of gold reserves that accounts for 76.5% of its foreign exchange reserves. Naturally, the Chinese plan is to ensure that bulk of its foreign exchange reserves--currently held in the forms of US dollar and bonds--is turned into gold reserves.

Unlike the United States, China has been acting slow all these years in building up its gold reserves. In 1981, China had 395 tonnes of gold holdings; it increased to 500.8 tonnes in 2001, and 600 tonnes in 2002. In April 2009, China officially announced that it has increased its gold holdings to 1054 tonnes. Since then, Chinese officials and People’s Bank of China have been meticulously chalking out plans to build up gold reserves in the next one decade.

China’s move to step up gold reserves got a moral boost when last month India—a large consumer of gold in the world—bought 200 tonnes of gold from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a big amount that Chinese would have never thought of purchasing. According to Zhang of the China Gold Association (CGA), India’s decision to buy IMF gold has been the real boost for China’s recent spirited moves to step up gold reserves.

“In view of the declining US dollar value, it is paramount that China steps up gold reserves. How to do this is the only question that China is debating these days. The possible steps include opening up new gold mines, aggressively going for gold mining, buying gold from the open market etc. All said and done, it is imperative that China needs to buy more gold,” Zhang points out.

China has emerged as the largest consumer and producer of gold in the world. It is, thus, natural that the Chinese mop up gold reserves to keep up its status as the No 1 gold consuming and producing nation in the globe, bullion analysts argue. In 2007, China overtook South Africa to become the world’s largest producer. The World Gold Council and global consultancy GFMS have already predicted that China will overtake India as the world's largest consumer as well.

China raised its national gold holdings in April by buying domestically mined gold. Bullion commentators like Mark Robinson are surprised as to why China has not yet shown any interest in buying gold from international markets. As a result of this, shares of Chinese gold mining companies have been rocketing all these months in the last one year. Shanghai and Hong Kong-listed shares of companies like Zijin, Shandong Gold and others are up 3x-4x this year alone. But the main factor at play is fear of a U.S. dollar devaluation.

Erik Bethel of points out the following major thrusts to explain how the Chinese appetite for gold reserves is simply rising and rising:

People in China are seriously starting to take notice of the fragility of the U.S. dollar and are loading up on commodities.

Chinese retail investors are also starting to take notice. As an example, there are "gold retail stores" popping up throughout major cities where individuals can buy mini gold bullion. There's even a China Gold Store located in Beijing Airport's new Terminal 3.

Another example is that while it was illegal to buy gold two years ago, Chinese citizens can now go to the bank and purchase "paper gold" certificates. Paper gold is basically the Chinese equivalent of an ETF and is supposedly backed by bullion held at the banks.

Chinese gold mining stocks are red hot and up 2-4x since last year.

China has US$2 trillion and is going to start deploying it in overseas mining assets.
Following are also some of the major points you wish to read on China’s gold mining spree:

China’s domestic gold production has risen by 15% annually compared to the 3% decline in global production in 2006. This tremendous increase has been due to rapid capital expansion and low costs of labor. Chinese gold producers have gained enormously from the record high gold prices as investors worldwide are seeking stability due to the decline in the value of the dollar.

Domestic producers still suffer from a lack of scale. In 2000, there were about 2,000 gold producers - most of them relatively small and unsophisticated by international standards. Few are able to operate on a global platform, though the number of producers had shrunk to about 800 in 2007 after mergers and acquisitions and restructuring and consolidation. Most of these firms' technological standards and management are weak and inefficient.

China’s oldest and largest gold producer is the China National Gold Group Corporation (CNGGC), which accounts for 20% of total gold production in China and controls more than 30% of domestic reserves. CNGGC also controls Zhongji Gold, the first publicly listed gold mining company in China.

China's gold reserves are relatively small (about 7% of the world total). Production has usually been concentrated in the eastern provinces of Shandong, Henan, Fujian and Liaoning. Recently, western provinces such as Guizhou and Yunnan have seen a sharp increase, but from a relatively small base.

Zhaoyuan, a Shandong provincial city of a population of 580,000, has more than 60 gold mines operating in the hills around the city. They annuall produce about 15% of China's total gold - the most in the country.

In the last five years (2002-2007), China's Geological Survey Bureau found that five new gold deposits with reserves of 600 tons were found.

Top foreign investment has come from Canada and Australia. Though foreign investment still constitutes a very important part gold mining expansion, since 1995 it has no longer been actively encouraged by the Chinese government.

Vancouver-based Jinshan Gold Mines Inc. started production in July at its Chang Shan Hao gold mine in China's northern province of Inner Mongolia, reaching 19,000 ounces of gold by December 18. The mine is designed to produce about 120,000 ounces of gold per year, making it one of the country's largest producers.

Gold Fields and Australia's Sino Gold Mining Ltd., have set up a joint venture focused on discovering large gold deposits in China with the potential to produce about 500,000 ounces a year. Sino Gold has been buying stakes in Chinese gold deposits and explorers. In May it started production at its Jinfeng mine in southern China, with planned gold production of 180,000 ounces per year.

For further reading:
"China Set To Drive Up Global Demand For Gold", Adrian Ash, December 18, 2009

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