The China Gold Congress is currently in full flight in Beijing. The three day Congress is China’s biggest gold industry event of the year, drawing in participants from across the Chinese and international gold sectors including central banks, mining companies, bullion banks and refiners.
The event, co-sponsored by the World Gold Council (WGC) and the China Gold Association, showcases China’s gold industry and acts as a focus point for what is now the world’s largest gold market in terms of demand and product innovation.
Discussions and forums during the event cover everything from reserve asset management for the official or central banking sector, through to investment products and mining supply. One of the key themes this year is the internationalisation of the gold market.
China’s gold market accounts for one third of global demand, and according to the WGC, is expected to grow another 20% cumulatively from now until the end of 2017.
In what is still a very centrally planned economy despite many market related reforms, nearly all reported gold activities in China flow through the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) in one form or another.
Both the China Gold Association and the Shanghai Gold Exchange were established with government backing and their growth and success reflect a very deliberate pro-gold strategy on the part of the Chinese Government.
Even though the China Gold Association is a non-for-profit member association, it still primarily acts as a conduit and coordination group between the government and the gold producers.
The Shanghai Gold Exchange is the government’s second central hub in China’s gold market.
SGE approved refiners take in production from China’s fragmented gold mining industry and in imports from Hong Kong and other countries.
The gold then flows through the Exchange after which SGE deliveries flow out to the banking sector, the official government sector, and additionally to the jewellery and technology industries.
The development of the Shanghai Futures Exchange also provides an additional venue for hedging and gold price discovery.
In China gold is money and is accepted as such by the general population.
There really does not seem to be a debate about this in Chinese government circles, and another part of the government’s strategy has been to advocate the increased innovative usage of gold by the Chinese banking sector.
This is quite a simple strategy for the government to implement since the four big Chinese commercial banks and many other Chinese banks are state-controlled.
Gold is now used widely in the banking sector in structured products, as gold collateral, and in gold leasing. The presence of the Chinese bullion banks in the market via the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) provides the necessary liquidity that is turning the Exchange into a world player on the global gold market.
For example, the large Chinese banks such as Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Bank of China and Agricultural bank of China all offer gold accumulation plans to the investing public and the WGC estimates that these products currently represent between 100 and 200 tonnes of gold. The large banks are also active in gold trading on a proprietary basis via the SGE.
Earlier this year, ICBC via its purchase of some of Standard Bank of South Africa’s assets had been rumoured to be interested in buying a seat on the London gold fixing panel when Deutsche Bank left the panel, but a buyer of this seat never materialised.
ICBC is not yet a market making member of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), which would be a prerequisite to becoming part of the gold fixing panel, but given that the Chinese gold market is beginning to overtake that of London in terms of physical flows and probably price formation, there may not be a need for ICBC to bother being such an active participant in the London market as gold business continues to migrate to the East.
The Chinese government is also responsible for granting gold import licenses to international bullion banks and has supported the establishment of the Shanghai free trade zone where a gold trading platform has been set up for international banks and trading houses.
In fact, in an announcement that coincides with the China Gold Congress today, the Shanghai Gold Exchange just announced that it is launching an internationally tradable yuan denominated physical gold contracts to be traded in the free trade zone for the popular retail 1kg gold bar, the Good Delivery 12.5kg (400 oz) bar popular with central banks, and a smaller 100 gram bar contract.
The US based CME Group that runs the Comex gold futures exchange also appears to have used this week’s China Gold Congress to announce the launch of their competitor product in the form of a 1kg gold contract to be traded in Hong Kong.
With increased regulatory scrutiny on the London gold and silver fixings and what looks like a defensive attempt by the LBMA in London to protect their proprietary gold and silver price discovery auctions via the recently introduced CME/Thomson platform for silver and probably soon to be introduced similar CME platform for gold, it will be interesting to see how the Chinese government’s pro-gold strategy pans out.
We may soon see global gold hub wars between London and New York on the one hand and the increasingly powerful eastern hubs of Singapore, Shanghai and Beijing on the other.