China scoops up more gold for reserves as global risks mount


China is adding to its gold reserves again, boosting holdings for a second month and reinforcing an outlook from bulls including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that central-bank buying will likely remain strong this year.

The People’s Bank of China raised holdings to 59.94 million ounces, or about 1,864 metric tons, by the end of January from 59.56 million ounces a month earlier, according to data on the bank’s website. In tonnage terms, it added about 11.8 tons last month after taking in just under 10 tons in December, which was the first time the PBOC had boosted its hoard since October 2016.

Goldman says central-bank purchases may total about 650 tonnes in 2019, about the same as last year, underpinned by elevated geopolitical tensions and less pressure on emerging-market currencies.

China, the top gold producer and consumer, is beefing up holdings amid signs of slowing growth and uncertainty about whether the trade fight with the U.S. will get resolved. Central banks worldwide added the second-highest annual total on record in 2018 as heightened geopolitical and economic uncertainty drove them to diversify reserves, according to the World Gold Council.

“We are not surprised that the gold purchases resumed,” Carsten Fritsch, senior commodity analyst at Commerzbank AG, said in an email. “We were rather surprised that the hiatus took so long. China possesses only a relatively small amount of gold in its foreign exchange reserves. Hence, there is still a need to buy.”

While China’s holdings are the sixth largest by country, they account for only 2.4 percent of reserves, compared with more than 70 percent in Germany and the U.S., WGC data show.

The increases come against a backdrop of rising prices. Gold rose for a fourth month in January, topping $1,300 an ounce, as the Federal Reserve signaled it was done raising interest rates for a while, pivoting away from its bias toward tighter policy. Bullion for immediate delivery was at $1,313.11 on Tuesday.

Individual investors and funds have also been adding to holdings in exchange-traded funds, lifting the worldwide total to the highest since 2013 amid volatility in equity markets and concerns that the U.S. may face a recession. Last month, ETF holdings increased 70.6 tons, the most since February 2017.

Goldman’s view

Goldman says central-bank purchases may total about 650 tons in 2019, about the same as last year, underpinned by elevated geopolitical tensions and less pressure on emerging-market currencies, according to a Feb. 7 note. Buyers in recent months have included Turkey and Kazakhstan, IMF figures show.

China has previously gone long periods without revealing increases in its gold holdings. When the central bank announced a 57 percent jump in reserves to 53.3 million ounces in mid-2015, it was the first update in six years and signaled the start of a continued increase through October 2016.

(By Ranjeetha Pakiam)

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