Tag Archives: SGE

The Great Physical Gold Supply & Demand Illusion

Gold supply and demand data published by all primary consultancy firms is incomplete and misleading. The data falsely presents gold to be more of a commodity than a currency, having caused deep misconceptions with respect to the metal’s trading characteristics and price formation.

Numerous consultancy firms around the world, for example Thomson Reuters GFMS, Metals Focus, the World Gold Council and CPM Group, provide physical gold supply and demand statistics, accompanied by an analysis of these statistics in relation to the price of gold. As part of their analysis the firms present supply and demand balances that show how much gold is sold and bought globally, subdivided in several categories. It’s widely assumed these balances cover total physical supply and demand, which is incorrect as the most important category is excluded. The firms though, prefer not to share the subtle truth or their business models would be severely damaged.

The supply and demand balances by the firms portray gold to be more of a commodity than a currency, as the gist of the balances reflect how much metal is produced versus consumed – put differently, the firms mainly focus on how much gold is mined versus how much is sold in newly fabricated products. However, in reality gold is everlasting and cannot be consumed (used up), all that has ever been mined is still above ground carefully preserved in the form of bars, coins, jewelry, artifacts and industrial products. Partly because of this property the free market has chosen gold to be money thousands of years ago, and as money the majority of gold trade is conducted in above ground reserves. Indisputably, total gold supply and demand is far in excess of mine production and retail demand.

As most individual investors, fund managers, journalists, academics and precious metals analysts consider the balances by the firms to be complete, the global misconception regarding gold supply and demand is one of epic proportions. Physical gold is a profound anchor in our global financial system and thus it’s of utmost importance we understand the fine details of its trading characteristics. 

Supply & Demand Metrics By The Firms

The firms can argue that the difference between what they present as supply and demand (S&D), as opposed to what I deem to be a more unadulterated approach of S&D is due to contrasting metrics. Accordingly, we’ll discuss their metrics to reveal their infirmity. In a nutshell, the firms only count the physical gold S&D flows that are easy to measure, while leaving out the most important part: institutional supply and demand. 

Although the firms all have slightly different methodologies to measure S&D, from comparisons the numbers appear to be quite similar. For our further investigation we’ll spotlight the metrics and models by GFMS. The reason being, GFMS has been the only firm that was willing to share a full description of their methodology for publication – to be viewed here. Metals Focus (MF) provided a partial methodology, the World Gold Council and CPM Group declined to comment.

Let’s have a look at GFMS its S&D categories. On the supply side is included:

  • Mine supply (newly mined gold)
  • Scrap supply (gold sourced from old fabricated products)

On the demand side is include:

  • Jewelry demand (gold content used in newly manufactured jewelry products bought locally at retail level, adjusted by jewelry exported and imported).
  • Industrial demand (the volume of gold used in industrial applications, for example bonding wire, products used in semiconductors/electronics and dental alloys).
  • Retail bar investment (the net volume of bars that are purchased by individual investors through retail channels).
  • Coin investment (a combination of published data from mints and also a proprietary survey conducted by GFMS detailing where coins are sold).

The above four demand categories summed up are often referred to as “consumer demand” by the firms.

Furthermore GFMS includes:

  • Net hedging (change in physical market impact of mining companies’ gold loans, forwards, and options positions)
  • Net official sector (total central bank selling or buying)
  • ETF inventory build (change in ETF inventory)
  • Exchange inventory build (change in exchange inventory)

The last four categories can be either supply or demand. In example, when central banks (the official sector) in total are net sellers this will be listed as a negative demand figure, as is shown in the S&D balance by GFMS below from 2006 until 2009, when central banks in total are net buyers this will be listed as a positive demand figure, as is shown in the balance from 2010 until 2015. For a clear overview of the GFMS S&D balance please have a look at all line items below.

Exhibit 1. Courtesy GFMS. Global gold S&D balance as disclosed in the Gold Survey 2016.

According to GFMS Supply consists of Mine production, Scrap and Net Hedging. In turn, Demand consists of Jewelry, Industrial Fabrication, Retail Investment, and Net Official Sector. After balancing Supply and Demand this results in a Physical Surplus/Deficit. Then, ETF Inventory Build and Exchange Inventory Build are added/subtracted from the Physical Surplus/Deficit to come to a Net Balance.

GFMS likes to pretend their balance is complete and occasionally articulates any surplus or deficit arising from it is positively correlated to the price of gold, which is anything but true, as I will demonstrate step by step.  

The Firms Exclude Majority Gold Supply & Demand

Most important what’s excluded from the balance is what we’ll refer to as institutional supply and demand, which can be defined as trade in bullion among high net worth individuals and institutions. Usually the bullion in question comes in 400-ounce (12.5 Kg) London Good Delivery (GD) bars having a fineness of no less than 995, or smaller 1 Kg bars having a fineness of no less than 9999. In addition, bullion bars can weigh 100-ounce or 3 Kg, among other less popular sizes, generally having a fineness of no less than 995. Bullion can be traded without changing in weight or fineness, but it can be refined and/or recast for transactions as well, in example from GD bars into 1 Kg bars. In some cases institutional supply and demand involves cross-border trade, when bullion is sold in country A to a buyer in country B, in other cases the bullion changes ownership without moving across borders.

Provided are two exemplifications of institutional S&D:

  • An (institutional) investor orders 400 Kg of gold in its allocated account at a bullion bank in Switzerland – which would be purchased in the Swiss wholesale market most likely in GD bars. This type of S&D will not be recorded by GFMS.
  • A Chinese (institutional) investor buys 100 Kg of gold directly at the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), the Chinese wholesale market, in 1 Kg 9999 bars and withdraws the metal from the vaults. Neither this transaction will be registered by GFMS – or any other firm.

These examples show the S&D balances by GFMS are incomplete.

For illustrational purposes, below is a chart based on all S&D numbers by GFMS from 2013, supplemented by my conservative estimate of institutional S&D. Including institutional transactions total S&D in 2013 must have reached well over 6,600 tonnes.

Exhibit 2. Global gold S&D 2013 by GFMS, including conservative estimate institutional S&D.

GFMS Covers The Tracks With Help From The LBMA

Although GFMS intermittently admits their number are incomplete (they have to), at the same time they’ve been battling for years to eclipse apparent institutional S&D for its audience. Dauntless tactics were needed when in 2013 institutional demand in China reached roughly 1,000 tonnes and over 500 tonnes in Hong Kong. Institutional demand in the East was predominantly sourced through GD bars from the London Bullion Market, which were refined into 1 Kg 9999 bars that are more popular in Asia. For the cover up GFMS went to great lengths to refute the volumes of gold withdrawn from SGE vaults, and accordingly have the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) adjust statistics on total refined gold by its member refineries. Remarkably, the LBMA cooperated. Allow me to share my analysis in detail.

In 2013 something unusual happened in the global gold market as Chinese institutional demand exploded for the first time in history. Hundreds of tonnes of institutional supply from London in the form of GD bars were mainly shipped to Switzerland to be refined in 1 Kg 9999 bars, subsequently to be exported via Hong Kong to meet institutional demand in China. From customs data by the UK, Switzerland and Hong Kong the institutional S&D trail was clearly visible. From 2013 until 2015 there was even a strong correlation between the UK’s net gold export and SGE withdrawals. Demonstrated in the chart below.

Exhibit 3. Correlation between UK net gold export and SGE withdrawals.

Because of the mechanics of the gold market in China, Chinese institutional demand roughly equals the difference between the amount of gold withdrawn from SGE designated vaults (exhibit 4, red bars) and Chinese consumer demand (exhibit 4, purple bars). In the exhibit 4 below you can see this difference that brought GFMS in a quandary, especially since 2013. For more information on the workings of the Chinese gold market and the size of Chinese institutional demand please refer to my post Spectacular Chinese Gold Demand Fully Denied By GFMS And Mainstream Media.

Exhibit 4. Chinese wholesale demand (SGE withdrawals), versus GFMS consumer demand versus apparent supply.

Stunningly, since 2013 GFMS has tried to convince its readers through numerous arguments why SGE withdrawals crossed 2,000 tonnes for three years in a row, while Chinese consumer demand reached roughly half of this. Yet the arguments have failed miserably to explain the difference – they rationalize only a fraction, read this post for more information.

And GFMS did more to eclipse apparent institutional S&D. They colluded with the LBMA.

To be clear, I cannot exactly measure global institutional S&D. However, let me make an estimate of apparent institutional demand for 2013. Notable, in 2013 a flood of gold crossed the globe from West to East. Chinese institutional demand accounted for 914 tonnes and Hong Kong net imported 579 tonnes – the latter we’ll use as a proxy for additional Asian institutional demand, as Hong Kong is the predominant gold trading hub in the region. 

In total apparent institutional demand in 2013 accounted for (914 + 579) 1,493 tonnes. If we add all other demand categories by GFMS shown in exhibit 1, total demand in 2013 was at least 6,619 tonnes. Be aware, this excludes non-apparent institutional demand.

Exhibit 5. Global gold demand 2013 by GFMS, including apparent institutional demand.

Because nearly all wholesale gold demand in Hong Kong and China is for 1 Kg 9999 bars, the global refining industry was working overtime in 2013, mainly to refine institutional and ETF supply in GD bars coming from London. In December 2013 I interviewed Alex Stanczyk of the Physical Gold Fund who just before had spoken to the head of a Swiss refinery. At the time Stanczyk told me [brackets added by me]:

They put on three shifts, they’re working 24 hours a day and originally he [the head of the refinery] thought that would wind down at some point. Well, they’ve been doing it all year [2013]. Every time he thinks it’s going to slow down, he gets more orders, more orders, more orders. They have expanded the plant to where it almost doubles their capacity. 70 % of their kilobar fabrication is going to China, at apace of 10 tonnes a week. That’s from one refinery, now remember there are 4 of these big ones [refineries] in Switzerland.

As a consequence, statistics on “total refined gold production” in 2013 by “LBMA accredited gold refiners who are on the Good Delivery List”, which the four large refineries in Switzerland are part off, capture the immense flows of institutional S&D – next to annual mine output and scrap refining. On May 1, 2015, the LBMA disclosed total refined gold production by its members at 6,601 tonnes for 2013 in a document titled A guide to The London Bullion Market Association. It’s no coincidence this number is very close to my estimate on total demand (6,619 tonnes), as apparent institutional demand in Asia was all refined from GD into 1 Kg bars.

Here’s exhibit 2 from another angle.

Exhibit 6. Global gold S&D by GFMS, including apparent institutional S&D, versus total refined gold production 2013.

In the table below we can see the LBMA refining statistics for 2013 at 6,601 tonnes.

Exhibit 7. Courtesy LBMA. Screenshot from A guide to The London Bullion Market Association captured by Ronan Manly in May 2015.

After this publication GFMS was trapped; these refining statistics revealed a significant share of the institutional S&D flows they had been trying to conceal. What happened next – I assume – was that GFMS kindly asked the LBMA to adjust downward their refining statistics. First and painstakingly exposed by my colleague Ronan Manly in multiple in-depth posts, the LBMA kneeled and altered its refining statistics to keep the charade in the gold market going.

On August 5, 2015, the LBMA had edited the aforementioned document, now showing 4,600 tonnes in total refined gold production. (Click here to view the original LBMA document from the BullionStar server, and here to view the altered version from the BullionStar server.) Have a look.

Exhibit 8. Courtesy LBMA. Altered document on refining statistics by the LBMA August 2015.

In the altered version it says:

Total refined gold production by the refiners on the List was estimated to be 4,600 tonnes in 2013, owing to recycling of scrap material, above world mine production of 3,061 tonnes (source Thomson Reuters GFMS).

A few important notes:

  • In the altered version the LBMA mentions “an estimate” for “total refined gold production”, while it doesn’t need to make an estimate as all LBMA accredited gold refiners who are on the Good Delivery List are required to provide exact data to its parent body. The exact data was disclosed in the first version of A guide to The London Bullion Market Association, and it stated, “total refined gold production by the refiners on the List was 6,601 tonnes”.
  • In the altered version the LBMA states the refining statistics were sourced from Thomson Reuters GFMS, but the LBMA doesn’t need GFMS for these statistics. The fact they mention GFMS, though, suggests a coordinated cover up of institutional S&D. Not only the firms, also the LBMA publishes incomplete and misleading data.
  • The altered version stated refining production totaled 4,600 tonnes, which is a round number and obviously quickly made up. A few weeks after the numbers were adjusted, the LBMA adjusted the numbers again, this time into 4,579 tonnes (click here to view from the BullionStar server). Clearly, on several occasions there has been consultation with the LBMA to get the statistics in line with GFMS.
  • In the original document the LBMA states, “Total refined gold production by the refiners on the List was 6,601 tonnes in 2013, more than double world mine production of 3,061 tonnes”, while in the altered version they state, “Total refined gold production by the refiners on the List was estimated to be 4,600 tonnes in 2013, owing to recycling of scrap material, above world mine production of 3,061 tonnes”. Notable, GFMS prefers to have total supply focused around mine and scrap production, instead of including institutional supply.
  • The original refining statistics (6,601 tonnes) are still disclosed in the LBMA magazine The Alchemist (#78 on page 24), to be viewed from the LBMA server here.
  • The fine details about how often and when the LBMA changed its refining statistics can be read in Ronan Manly’s outstanding post Moving the goalposts….The LBMA’s shifting stance on gold refinery production statistics.

And so nothing is spared in trying to uphold the illusion of the GFMS S&D balance to be complete. In another example GFMS excluded gold purchases by the central bank of China from its S&D balance. In June 2015 the People’s Bank Of China (PBOC) increased its official gold reserves by 604 tonnes, from 1,054 tonnes to 1,658 tonnes. During that quarter (Q2 2015) all other central banks worldwide were net buyers at 45 tonnes. Thus, in total the Official Sector was a net buyer at 649 tonnes. Now, let’s have a look at GFMS’ S&D balance for Q2 2015:

Exhibit 9. Courtesy GFMS. Global gold S&D balance as disclosed in the Gold Survey 2015 Q2. 

Net Official Sector purchases are disclosed ay 45 tonnes. GFMS decided not to include the 604 tonnes increment by the PBOC simply because it didn’t fit their balance model. A 604 tonnes increment in would have set the “net balance” at -480 tonnes. Readers would have questioned the balance from this outlier, and so GFMS decided not to include the tonnage.

According to my sources PBOC purchases were sourced from institutional supply (from abroad and not through the SGE), which is a supply category not disclosed by GFMS and therefore the tonnage was a problem. (Note, GFMS disclosed the PBOC increment in text, but not in their balance.) For more information read my post PBOC Gold Purchases: Separating Facts from Speculation.

Gold Is More A Currency Than A Commodity

The biggest flaw of the balance model by GFMS is that it depicts gold to be more of a commodity than a currency. It’s focused on mine output and gold recovered from old fabricated products on the supply side, versus retail sales of newly fabricated products on the demand side. In parlance of the firms, how much is produced (supply) versus consumed (demand). Official sector, ETF and exchange inventory changes are then added to the balance. This commodity S&D balance approach by GFMS has caused deeply rooted misconceptions about the essence of gold and its price formation.

The price of a perishable commodity is mainly determined by how much is annually produced versus how much is consumed (used up). However, gold is everlasting, it cannot be used up and its exchange value is mainly based on its monetary applications, from being a currency, or money if you will. Logically the best part of its trading is conducted in above ground reserves. From my perspective the impact of global mine supply, which increases above ground stocks by roughly 1.5 % annually, and retail sales have less to do with gold’s price formation than is widely assumed.

Back to GFMS. Have a look at the picture below that shows their S&D flows for 2015. 

Exhibit 10. Courtesy GFMS. The global S&D flows for 2015.

GFMS pretends total supply is mine production plus some scrap, which is then met by jewelry demand in addition to retail investment, industrial fabrication and official sector purchases. The way they present it is misleading. These S&D flows are incomplete; they suggest gold is traded like any other commodity. But what about institutional S&D in above ground bullion? Trades that define gold as an international currency.

Let’s do another comparison; this time between what GFMS calls Identifiable Investment demand, consisting of…

  • Retail bar & coin
  • ETF demand

…versus my what I deem to be a more unadulterated approach of investment demand, consisting of…

  • Retail bar & coin
  • ETF demand
  • Institutional demand

According to my estimates, in 2015 apparent Chinese institutional demand accounted for roughly 1,400 tonnes (exhibit 4). In the Gold Survey 2016 GFMS states on page 15 [brackets added by me]:

Total [global] Identifiable Investment, … posted a modest 5 % increase in 2015, to reach 990 tonnes.

That’s quite a tonnage between global Identifiable Investment by GFMS at 990 tonnes and apparent Chinese institutional demand at 1,400 tonnes. We should also take into account non-apparent institutional demand, gold that changes hands in trading hubs like Switzerland. Unfortunately we can’t always measure institutional S&D, but that doesn’t justify denying its subsistence.

Have a look at the chart below that shows the large discrepancy. In the next chapter we’ll specifically discuss the significance of investment demand in relation to the price of gold.

Exhibit 11. Global Gold Investment Demand 2015.

My point being: what many gold market participants and observers think is total supply and demand is just the tip of the iceberg. This truly is a staggering misconception created by the firms.

The global gold market. H/t Dan Popescu.

When observing the GFMS balance in exhibit 1 its incompleteness is self-evident. At the bottom we can see the line item “net balance”, which reflects the difference between total supply and total demand. According to GFMS, if the “net balance” is a positive figure there was a surplus in the global gold market, and if “net balance” is a negative figure the market has been in deficit. In the real world this figure is irrelevant. Gold supply and demand are by definition always equal. One cannot sell gold without a buyer, and one cannot buy gold without a seller. Furthermore the gold market is deep and liquid. So how come there is a difference between total supply and total demand in the GFMS balance? As I’ve demonstrated before, because GFMS doesn’t include institutional S&D that in reality makes up for the difference and far beyond. In all its simplicity the “net balance” item reveals their data is incomplete.

Let’s have another stab at this. How can “net balance” exist in the real world, for example in 2009? According to GFMS the gold market had a 394 tonnes surplus in 2009. But how? Were miners left with 394 tonnes they couldn’t sell? Or some supranational entity decided to soak up the surplus to balance the market? Naturally, this is not what happens. Total supply and total demand are always equal, but GFMS doesn’t record all trades.

Moreover, in my opinion the words “surplus” and “deficit” do not apply to gold. There can be no deficit in gold; there will always be supply. At the right price that is. Sometimes Keynesian economists claim there is not enough gold in the world for it to serve as the global reserve currency. Austrian economists then respond by saying that there will always be enough gold at the right price. I agree with the Austrians and their argument also validates why there can be no deficit in gold.  

There is more proof the “net balance” item presented by GFMS is meaningless. Although according to GFMS the market had a 394 tonnes “surplus” in 2009 the price went up by 25 % during that year. This makes no economic sense. A surplus suggests a declining price, not the other way around. Tellingly, S&D forces presented in GFMS balances are often negatively correlated to the gold price, as was the case in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2014 (exhibit 1). In conclusion, GFMS S&D balances are not only incomplete, the resulting “net balance” items are misleading with respect to the price. Below are a few charts that demonstrate this conclusion.

If we plot “net balance” versus the end of year price of gold we can see the correlation is often negative. Have a look below. Green “net balance” chart bars show a positive correlation to the gold price, red chart bars show a negative correlation (note, the left axis is inverted for a more clear overview between any “deficit/surplus” and the price of gold). As you can see nearly half of the “net balance” chart bars are negatively correlated to the price of gold.

Exhibit 12. GFMS’ gold market “net balance” versus the gold price. We can quarrel if the “net balance” in 2014 was positively or negatively correlated to the price. I say the correlation was negative as the gold price in 2014 remained flat in US dollars but was up in all other major currencies, in contrast to the “surplus” presented by GFMS.

Mind you, although the “net balance” item is often negatively correlated to the gold price, in the Gold Survey 2016 GFMS states on page 9:

In terms of the Net Balance, 2015 marked the third year in which the gold market remained in surplus, and therefore it is not surprising that the bear market continued.     

And on page 14:

The forecast reduction in global mine output and a gradual recovery in demand will see the physical surplus narrow in 2016, providing support to the gold price and laying the foundation for better prospects.  

GFMS likes to pretend any “surplus” or “deficit” arising from their balance is correlated to the price, but the facts reveal this is not true.

Let us plot the “physical surplus/deficit” line item by GFMS (exhibit 1) versus the gold price. This results in even more negative correlations.

Exhibit 13. GFMS gold market “physical surplus/deficit” versus gold price.

This exercise reveals that a positive correlation between either a “surplus” or “deficit” arising from a GFMS balance and the price of gold is just a coincidence. No surprise when one is aware their S&D data is incomplete.

Remarkably, the last chart was also published in the Gold Survey 2016, but GFMS chose not to invert the left axis and doesn’t disclose what we see is a surplus or deficit. As a result the largest surpluses (2006, 2007, 2009, 2010) seem to correlate with a rising price, though in reality they did the opposite. Compare the chart below with the one above.

Exhibit 14. Courtesy GFMS.

GFMS also publishes S&D balances for silver (a monetary metal that is comparable to gold). For silver the presented correlations by GFMS between a “surplus” or “deficit” in relation to the price are even weaker.

Exhibit 15. GFMS silver market “net balance” versus silver price, as disclosed in the Silver Survey 2016.
Exhibit 16. GFMS silver market “physical surplus/deficit” versus silver price, as disclosed in the Silver Survey 2016.

According to GFMS the silver market is always in deficit, but the price goes up and down. Obviously GFMS neglects to measure institutional S&D for silver. 


In my opinion, when Gold Fields Mineral Services (GFMS) was erected many decades ago they made a mistake to adopt a commodity S&D balance approach. Surely with the best intentions they gather intelligence and retrieve data from the market. But we must be aware this is not the full picture. The most significant data is not disclosed by GFMS.

When it comes to what drives the price of gold GFMS and I agree it’s determined by gold’s role as a currency in the global economy. When reading the chapter PRICE AND MARKET OUTLOOK in the Gold Survey 2016, GFMS shares its insights with respect to the gold price. Factors mentioned are:

  • Turmoil in global stock markets
  • A Chinese hard landing
  • Geopolitical tensions in the Middle-East
  • Central bank stimulus (QE)
  • Global economic weakness
  • Interest rates policy by central banks
  • Low risk asset / safe haven demand

So if these factors drive the gold price, in what S&D category would this materialize? Would (large) investors buy and sell jewelry? Or bullion bars? I think the latter. According to my analysis the price of gold is largely determined by institutional demand, and to a lesser extent ETF and retail bar & coin demand.

Let’s do an exercise to see what physical gold S&D trends correlate to the price. The majority of supply on the GFMS balance consists of mine output and the majority of demand on the GFMS balance consists of jewelry consumption. But if we plot these volumes versus the price of gold in a chart, there is no push and pull correlation. For example, when the gold price surged from 2002 until 2011 jewelry consumption was not rising. Neither was it outpacing mine supply. The opposite happened, to be seen in the graph below. This is because jewelry demand is price sensitive – when the price goes up jewelry demand goes down, and vice versa. Jewelry demand is not driving the price of gold.

Exhibit 17. GFMS retail demand, versus mine and scrap supply versus the gold price.

I also added retail bar & coin demand. Interesting to see is that retail bar & coin demand is on one hand a price driver, moving up and down in sync with the gold price, on the other hand it can be price sensitive having brief spikes when the price of gold declines.

The best correlation between physical S&D in relation to the gold price can be seen in institutional and ETF S&D. One of the largest gold trading hubs in the West is the UK, home of the London Bullion Market that also vaults the largest ETF named GLD. The UK has no domestic mine production, no refineries and national gold demand is neglectable in the greater scheme of things. Therefore, by measuring the net flow of the UK (import minus export) we can get a sense of Western institutional and ETF demand and supply. For example, if the UK is a net importer – import demand being greater than export supply – that signals a net pull on above ground stocks. Approximately one third of the UK’s net flow corresponds to ETF inventory changes, the other two thirds reflect pure institutional S&D.

Exhibit 18. UK net flow versus the gold price.
Exhibit 19. UK net flow, GLD inventory change, gross import and gross export versus the gold price.

In the charts above we can observe a remarkable solid correlation between the UK’s net flow and the gold price. The UK is a net importer on a rising price and net exporters on declining price. The shown correlation can’t be a coincidence, though there’s no guarantee it will prevail in the future.

The two charts above show the gold price is mostly determined by institutional supply and demand in above ground reserves. Effectively, GFMS is hiding the most important part of global physical gold flows.

When I asked an analyst at one of the leading firms why his company doesn’t measure institutional S&D he told me candidly, “because it’s extremely difficult to accurately estimate it”. And it is. As I wrote previously, I can’t exactly measure global institutional S&D either. However, very often publicly available information gives us a valuable peek at it, and it shows to be more relevant to the gold price than what the firms keep staring at. Not knowing exactly what institutional S&D accounts for doesn’t mean GFMS shouldn’t pay attention to it.

But the firms keep trying to uphold the illusion the data they’ve been selling for decades is complete. For if they would plainly confess it was incomplete, future business could be severely damaged.

What I blame these firms is that they’ve created a meme that the gold market is as large as annual mine supply. This has caused all sorts of misconceptions. Often I read analyses based on a comparison between quantitative demand and mine output. Such analyses are likely to jump erroneous conclusions.

H/t Ronan Manly, Bron Suchecki, Nick Laird from Goldchartsrus.com


Simplified overview gold flows 2015:


China’s Rising Gold ETF Market: A Hybrid

In 2013 we’ve witnessed the inception of the Chinese gold ETF market. At first demand for the gold ETFs was neglectable, as investors mostly preferred to buy the physical gold directly at the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) or buy jewelry or investment bars through retail channels. This year, however, there has been a major shift in gold ETF demand in China.

The physical holdings of Chinese gold ETFs have surged five-fold from 7 tonnes at the end of January, to 35 tonnes at end of August. The Huaán Yifu Gold ETF, which was holding 23 tonnes in August, entered the global top 15 list.    

Exhibit 1. All physical holdings of Chinese gold ETFs are stored within SGE designated vaults.

The interest in China’s nascent gold ETF market was even mentioned by the World Gold Council in a recent Gold Demand Trends report. In this post, we’ll add some texture to China’s gold ETF market; how are the gold ETFs constructed and how can they be compared to the largest Western gold ETF, the SPDR Gold Trust. At this moment the market share of Chinese gold ETFs is still small – within China as well as globally, but knowledge about the workings of these ETFs will be valuable when they acquire significant market share in the future.

Kindly note, all mechanics and examples presented in this post are simplified.

What Is A Gold ETF?

ETF is short for Exchange Traded Fund. ETFs trade like stocks and its price usually tracks an underlying asset or index. Like stocks, ETFs have a primary market and a secondary market. The secondary market is the stock exchange where most ETF investors trade. What makes ETFs special is the primary market where ETF shares are created and redeemed. Let us use the SPDR Gold Trust (symbol: GLD) to illustrate how the primary market works. Mainly through the creation and redemption process of shares, the GLD share price tracks the gold price.

Primary GLD market participants include (from the prospectus):

  • The Sponsor (World Gold Trust Services, LLC, which oversees the performance of the Trustee and the Custodian)
  • The Trustee (BNY Mellon Asset Servicing, which is responsible for the day-to-day administration of GLD)
  • The Custodian (HSBC Bank plc, which holds the gold bars in custody, there can be sub custodians)
  • The Authorised Participants (the institutions which are authorised to create and redeem GLD shares, at this moment the Authorised Participants are Barclays Capital, Inc., Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC, Goldman Sachs & Co., Goldman Sachs Execution & Clearing, L.P., HSBC Securities (USA) Inc., P. Morgan Securities Inc., Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corp., Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Scotia Capital (USA) Inc., UBS Securities LLC and Virtu Financial BD LLC).

GLD is traded on the New York Stock Exchange Arca (NYSE Arca)

Exhibit 2. The (simplified) process of creation and redemption of GLD shares by an Authorised Participant through the Trustee.

If an Authorised Participant (AP) wants to create GLD shares, it needs to deposit gold into the account of the Trust and subsequently the Trustee will provide the AP with GLD shares. The creation application must be made in multiples of 100,000 shares (a block of 100,000 shares is called a basket). Since every GLD share represents approximately 0.1 ounce of gold, in order to create 100,000 GLD shares the AP needs to deposit 10,000 ounces of gold into the account of the Trust. (In reality, 1 GLD share actually represents a little less than 0.1 ounce of gold, the reason for this will be explained later on in this post.)

The redemption process works the other way round. If an AP wants to redeem GLD shares, it deposits 100,000 GLD shares at the Trust and subsequently the AP receives 10,000 ounces of gold.

The purpose of APs creating and redeeming GLD shares is usually arbitrage. As previously mentioned the gold equivalent of 1 GLD share is roughly 0.1 ounce, nevertheless GLD shares and actual gold are traded in two different markets. As a consequence, the price of 1 GLD share can differ from the price of 0.1 ounce of gold. If the price of GLD and the price of gold diverge, this is where arbitrage comes into play for the APs. Accordingly, the arbitrage by APs through creation and redemption of shares contributes to GLD’s price tracking the gold price.

Suppose (simplified), the price of 1 GLD share is $110 – caused by supply and demand for GLD shares at the NYSE Arca – while the price of 0.1 ounce of gold is $100 in the gold market. An AP can grasp this opportunity by buying (or first leasing) 10,000 ounces of gold to deposit in the GLD Trust account after which the Trustee will create 100,000 GLD shares for the AP. The new shares created are then sold by the AP on the stock market, which will cause the price of GLD to go down. The arbitrage opportunity will be used by APs until it’s closed.

If the price of GLD shares is lower than the price of gold, the arbitrage opportunity works the other way around, APs can buy shares, redeem them for gold at the Trustee and sell the gold.

In the aforementioned example trade when the AP (via the Trustee) created 100,000 GLD shares his investment was $10,000,000 (10,000 ounces at $100 per 0.1 ounce). The AP’s revenue was $11,000,000 (100,000 GLD shares worth $110 a piece). The AP’s profit in this exercise was $1,000,000.

($110-$100)*100,000 = $1,000,000

As readers can see from the example, the holdings of GLD were increased by 10,000 ounces of gold. Almost every day the holdings of GLD vary and the change is often caused by arbitrage of APs.

One theory is, when demand for GLD shares is strong (usually by Western investors) and the share price is trending higher than the price of the gold equivalent, the APs jump the arbitrage, create shares and GLD inventory swells. Then, if growth in GLD inventory correlates to a surging gold price (which can be observed in exhibit 3 below) we can speculate the gold bull market in part has been caused by Western investment demand in GLD.

Exhibit 3.

Now we have established the workings of the largest Western gold ETF, we will have a look at how the Chinese gold ETFs are constructed, and compare them to GLD.

China’s Gold ETF Market

Below are the 4 Chinese gold ETFs currently in existence that we’ll discuss.

  1. - Bosera Gold Exchange Open-Ended Securities Investment Fund
  2. - Guotai Gold Exchange Open-Ended Securities Investment Fund
  3. - Huaán Yifu Gold Exchange Open-Ended Securities Investment Fund
  4. - Efund Gold Exchange Open-Ended Securities Investment Fund

In China every gold ETF share represents approximately 0.01 gram of gold. By creating or redeeming gold ETF shares (Chinese) APs receive or deliver a basket of 300,000 shares, which equals to 3Kg of gold. This threshold is much lower than that of GLD, of which a basket equals to 310Kg of gold. The gold acceptable for Chinese ETFs are the spot (physical and spot deferred) gold contracts listed on theSGE – for example Au99.99. Therefore, all the physical holdings of China’s gold ETFs are stored within SGE designated vaults.

Moreover, there is a range of features that make China’s gold ETFs quite different from GLD.

1. Chinese Gold ETF Shares Can Also Be Created Or Redeemed Through Cash

Unlike GLD, which only allows the use of gold to create shares, and only allows the use of shares to redeem gold, China’s gold ETFs also allow shares to be created and redeemed through cash in the primary market. An AP can present cash to the Fund Manager who handles the creation and redemption process for a Chinese gold ETF. The Fund Manager is comparable to the Trustee of GLD. Thereby, through an AP individual investors can create or redeem gold ETF shares with cash as well.

Suppose, a Chinese investor wants to arbitrage the difference between the price of a gold ETF and the price of gold. In this example the price of the gold ETF is higher than the price of gold, so the investor want use cash to create shares to sell on the stock market. The investor can present cash to an AP who in turn will create shares via the Fund Manager. The amount of cash used in this transaction to create shares is equal to the cash value of the spot gold contracts that are needed to create the shares without the use of cash.

Vice versa, in case an investor wants to arbitrage the price of a gold ETF when it’s lower than the price of gold, the investor can present shares to an AP to redeem for cash.

Exhibit 4. Creation and redemption process of Chinese gold ETF shares through cash.

In China the APs can be securities firms and commercial banks. The securities firms are often not SGE members. Therefor, the number of APs that support gold ETF shares creation and redemption through cash is often larger than the number of those that support shares creation and redemption through spot gold contracts. For example, in the case of Efund Gold ETF, the fund has authorised 13 securities firms (APs) to process creation and redemption through cash, but only 2 banks (APs) to process creation and redemption through spot gold contracts (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Bank of Communications).

2. The Flexibility Of The Fund Manager

The Trustee of GLD doesn’t have much flexibility in managing the assets. Its duty is mainly processing the creation and redemption orders of GLD shares. Therefore, the gold holdings of GLD are mainly allocated gold and according to the prospectus [brackets added by me]:

Gold held in the Trust [GLD]’s allocated account is the property of the Trust and is not traded, leased or loaned under any circumstances.

In China, the Fund Managers of the gold ETFs have more flexibility. The gold contracts that China’s gold ETFs hold include not only spot physical contracts like Au99.99 and Au99.95, but can also be spot deferred contracts like Au (T+D), and notable all these “spot contracts” may be leased (sometimes swapped) within the SGE system. Additionally, every Chinese gold ETF can invest 10% of its fund assets (5 % of net fund assets in case of Efund Gold ETF) in “other financial instruments” allowed by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC).

For example, the excerpt below is from the Efund Gold ETF’s prospectus [brackets added by me]:

The investment scope of the Fund [Efund Gold ETF] is liquid financial instruments, including gold physical contracts (including spot physical contracts, spot deferred contracts, etc), bonds, asset-backed securities, bond repos, bank deposits, money market instruments, and other financial instruments which laws, regulations or the CSRC allow the Fund to invest in the future (but these have to satisfy the relevant rules of the CSRC).

If laws, regulations or regulatory institutions allow the Fund to invest in other instruments (including but not restricted to gold derivatives like forwards, futures, options and swaps), after necessary procedures, the Fund Manager will include them into the investment scope.

The portfolio percentage: The fund asset invested in gold spot contracts is not lower than 95% of the net asset value of the Fund.

All the 4 gold ETFs in China can participate in gold leasing. Some can participate in gold swaps and some can pledge the gold to borrow money.

The excerpt below is from the Huaán Yifu Gold ETF Prospectus:

The Fund can do gold lease and pledge gold to borrow money.

Effectively the Fund Manager of the Huaán Yifu Gold ETF can make money by, for example, leasing the fund’s assets.

The excerpt below is From the Guotai Gold ETF Prospectus:

The Fund can do gold lease, gold swap and invest in gold spot deferred contracts, etc, in order to lower the operating expenses and lower tracking error. The Fund does margin trade only for the purpose of risk management and enhancement of the efficiency of the asset allocation.

As a result, the Fund Managers of Chinese gold ETFs have significant flexibility in handling the fund assets. Please remember that all gold leasing, swapping, etc. has to be done within the SGE system and the gold cannot leave the SGE designated vaults.

From the CSRC’s website [brackets added by me]:

Article 4. Gold ETFs may not deposit physical gold into the [SGE] vault or withdraw physical gold from the [SGE] vault. Margin trade is only for the purpose of risk management and enhancement of the efficiency of the asset allocation. 

Exhibit 5. The bottom row shows the minimum percentages the Gold ETFs must invest in “spot contracts”, though some of this gold can be involved in leasing.

3. NAV Per Share Recalculation

Since the inception of GLD in 2004 its share gold equivalent is steadily declining lower than 0.1 ounce of gold. That’s because the Sponsor, Trustee and Custodian don’t provide services for free. They need to earn money and their earnings must come from the Net Asset Value (NAV) of the ETF. In other words, the gold in the Trust is gradually sold to pay for operational expenses. From the GLD prospectus:

The amount of gold represented by the Shares will continue to be reduced during the life of the Trust due to the sales of gold necessary to pay the Trust’s expenses irrespective of whether the trading price of the Shares rises or falls in response to changes in the price of gold.

Each outstanding Share represents a fractional, undivided interest in the gold held by the Trust. The Trust does not generate any income and regularly sells gold to pay for its ongoing expenses. Therefore, the amount of gold represented by each Share has gradually declined over time. This is also true with respect to Shares that are issued in exchange for additional deposits of gold into the Trust, as the amount of gold required to create Shares proportionately reflects the amount of gold represented by the Shares outstanding at the time of creation. Assuming a constant gold price, the trading price of the Shares is expected to gradually decline relative to the price of gold as the amount of gold represented by the Shares gradually declines.

On November 18, 2004, 1 GLD share exactly equaled 0.1 ounces of gold, but by now (September 2016) 1 GLD share equals 0.09542 ounces of gold, a decline of almost 5 % over the course of 12 years. This explains why currently the amount of ounces needed by an AP to create a basket of shares has become less than 10,000 ounces, and continues to decline.

In China’s gold ETF market, although the gold represented by the ETF instruments also decline as with GLD, the share values are periodically re-adjusted to ensure the NAV per share remains (roughly) 0.01 gram of gold.

For example, from the Bosera Gold ETF prospectus:

Fund share re-calculation means the fund manager based on the necessity of the operation of the fund, under the premise that the total NAV is unchanged, adjusts the total fund shares outstanding and NAV per share. 

There is nothing complicated about the re-calculation. There are simply periodic adjustments when the Fund Manager sets the value of the shares (in yuan) higher because the gold content equivalent is elevated, from below 0.01 gram to 0.01 gram, whereby the Fund Manger “adjusts the total fund shares outstanding” downward.

4. Linked Funds

In China, every gold ETF is accompanied by a Linked Fund. The Linked Fund mainly invests in the Target Gold ETF as can be seen in the list below. The Linked Fund is usually a common open-ended mutual fund. While 90 % of the assets under management of the Linked Fund must be invested in its Target Gold ETF, the Fund Manager still has some room for managing the remaining 10%.

Exhibit 6.

For example, from the Bosera Gold ETF-linked Fund’s prospectus:

The Fund mainly invests in Bosera Gold Exchange Open-Ended Securities Investment Fund, gold contracts listed on the Shanghai Gold Exchange, gold futures contracts listed on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, bonds and other financial instruments which the CSRC allows the fund to invest, like securities lending and borrowing, gold lease, etc.

For more clarity I’ve drawn a graph to illustrate the ratios of investment allocation by the Guotai Gold ETF and the Guotai Gold ETF-linked Fund.

Exhibit 7.

Although, at this stage it’s not completely clear to me what would be the benefit for investors to invest in the Linked Fund, as opposed to the Target Gold ETF.

 5. Voting Rights

GLD holders only have limited voting rights. The excerpt below is from the GLD prospectus,

Under the Trust Indenture, Shareholders have no voting rights, except in the following limited circumstances: (i) shareholders holding at least 66.66% of the Shares outstanding may vote to remove the Trustee; (ii) the Trustee may terminate the Trust upon the agreement of Shareholders owning at least 66.66% of the outstanding Shares; and (iii) certain amendments to the Trust Indenture require 51% or unanimous consent of the Shareholders.

In China’s gold ETFs shareholders have more voting rights and can vote to decide on a lot of important issues. The excerpt below is from the prospectus of Bosera Gold ETF:

In one of the following circumstances, based on the consent of the fund manager, the fund custodian or the fund shareholders who hold 10% (including 10%) of the fund shares outstanding, it is mandatory to hold fund shareholders’ meeting:

1. Termination of the fund contract;

2. Change of the operation of the fund;

3. Increase of the remuneration of the fund manager or the fund custodian, but excluding the circumstances in which the increase of the remuneration is mandatory by the requirements of laws or regulations;

4. Replacement of the fund manager or fund custodian;

5. Amendment of the fund category;

6. Amendment of the fund investment target, scope or strategy (excluding the circumstances in which laws, regulations or the CSRC have other relevant requirements);

7. Amendment of fund share holders’ meeting proceedings, voting methods and voting procedures;

8. Termination of listing but excluding circumstances in which the fund no longer satisfies listing requirements and the listing is terminated by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange;

9. Merger of the fund with other fund(s);

10. Other items that have material influence on the rights and responsibilities of the parties to the fund contract and necessitate the fund share holders’ meeting to amend the fund contract;

11. Other items that are required by laws, regulations, the fund contract or the requirements of the CSRC to hold the fund share holders’ meeting.

Even the Linked Fund shareholders of China’s Gold ETFs can participate in voting:

The fund shareholders of the linked fund of this fund can attend or send representatives to attend the fund shareholders’ meeting and participate in voting, based on the share holding of the linked fund. The equivalent number of fund shares with voting rights and correspondent votes are: the product of the total shares of this fund held by the linked fund multiplied by the linked fund shares held by the respective link fund share holder as a percentage of the total linked fund shares outstanding. The result of the calculation is rounded to the nearest whole number.

Ironically, to me there seems to be more democracy and openness in China’s gold ETFs than in GLD. On the other hand, Chinese gold ETFs have a fundamentally different foundation, a hybrid design I would say.

China’s gold ETF market was erected in 2013 and is still evolving. In the future, there may be more complex gold ETF related financial structures that have a big impact on China’s overall gold market. I shall follow it closely.


In exhibit 5 we can see which Chinese commercial bank is the custodians of which Chinese gold ETF. Without a doubt the physical holdings in each Chinese gold ETF (exhibit 1), stored within SGE designated vaults, will appear on the bank balance sheet of the custodian bank. This (important) information will be added to my previous post What Are These Huge Tonnages In “Precious Metals” On Chinese Commercial Bank Balance Sheets? as a new chapter.

The main sources used for this article are the prospectuses from the Bosera Gold ETF, Guotai Gold ETF, Huaán Yifu Gold ETF and Efund Gold ETF, and the prospectuses of the Linked Funds of these Gold ETFs, Bosera Gold ETF-linked fund, Guotai Gold ETF-linked fund, Huaán Yifu Gold ETF-linked fund and Efund Gold ETF-linked fund)

Spectacular Chinese Gold Demand 2015 Fully Denied By GFMS And Mainstream Media

Debunking the Thomson Reuters GFMS Gold Survey 2016 report. New information provides a more detailed perspective on the Chinese domestic gold market. 

In the Gold Survey 2016 report by GFMS that covers the global gold market for calendar year 2015 Chinese gold consumption was assessed at 867 tonnes. As Chinese wholesale demand, measured by withdrawals from Shanghai Gold Exchange designated vaults, accounted for 2,596 tonnes in 2015 the difference reached an extraordinary peak for the year. In an attempt to explain the 1,729 tonne gap GFMS presents three brand new (misleading) arguments in the Gold Survey 2016 and reused one old argument, while it abandoned five arguments previously put forward in Gold Survey reports and by GFMS employees at forums. Very few of all these arguments have ever proven to be valid, illustrated by the fact that GFMS perpetually keeps making up new ones, and thus gold investors around the world continue to be fooled about Chinese gold demand. For some reason GFMS is restrained in disclosing that any individual or institution in China can directly buy and withdraw gold at the Shanghai Gold Exchange, which is the most significant reason for the discrepancy in question.

According to my estimates true Chinese gold demand in 2015 must have been north of 2,250 tonnes.

The reason I keep writing about this subject (the discrepancy in question) is that it eventually will enable me to show that global physical gold supply and demand as presented by GFMS is just the tip of the iceberg. And, as stated in my previous post true physical supply and demand is far more relevant to the gold price than the numbers by GFMS.

New Information has enabled me to shine a fresh light on the Chinese domestic gold market, so we’ll zoom in once again to get the best assessment of the mechanics of this market. This post is part two of an overview of the Chinese gold market for 2015. In the first part we focused on the (paper) volumes traded on the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) and Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI). In this post we’ll focus on the size and mechanics of the Chinese physical gold market, while at the same time addressing the fallacious information in the Gold Survey 2016 (GS2016).

The Gold Surplus In China According to GFMS

First, let’s have a look at an overview of the key supply and demand data points for 2013, 2014 and 2015, as disclosed in Gold Survey reports by GFMS.

GFMS SD 2013-14-15
Exhibit 1.

Without GFMS mentioning the volume of SGE withdrawals for 2015 (2,596 tonnes) in the GS2016 they disclose apparent supply in the Chinese domestic gold market at 2,293 tonnes. Mine output accounted for 458 tonnes (page 22), scrap supply for 225 tonnes (page 36) and net import was 1,610 tonnes (page 54). The latter is incorrect because GFMS has double counted 63 tonnes Australia exported to China, as demonstrated in my post Australia Customs Department Confirms BullionStar’s Analysis On Gold Export To China, but the let’s not nitpick.

On other pages in the GS2016 we read total (consumer) demand for 2015 was 867 tonnes (page 52), consisting of retail bar demand at 199 tonnes (page 52) and gold fabrication at 668 tonnes (page 41). According to their own data there was a surplus of 1,426 tonnes (2,293 – 867) in the Chinese gold market. Whilst, in 2013 the surplus accounted for 826 tonnes and in 2014 for 917 tonnes, according to data disclosed in previous Gold Survey reports. Meaning, in the past three years GFMS has observed 3,169 tonnes (826 + 917 + 1,426) that were supplied to China not to meet demand, but for reasons that are constantly changing - wait till we get to the plea.

Remarkably, in the GS2016 report GFMS writes:

Hong Kong remained the primary conduit of Chinese gold imports, though its share has been contracting since 2013 … Gold import from this conduit was traditionally regarded as a simple proxy to estimate Chinese consumption … The declining dominance of Hong Kong and the increasing proportion directly routed into Beijing and Shanghai therefore points to the necessity of changes on methodology to calculate Chinese gold demand.

Exhibit 2.

GFMS states that when all Chinese imports came in through Hong Kong this inflow was “regarded as a simple proxy to estimate Chinese consumption”, but now gold is also being imported directly from countries like Australia, the UK and Switzerland, such inflow “points to the necessity of changes on methodology to calculate Chinese gold demand”. How can it be that a couple of years ago Chinese gold import from Hong Kong reflected demand, but a few years later direct massive additional import from the UK and Australia does not reflect demand?

As you probably know (otherwise you can read it here) most of the gold supply in China flows through the SGE. Consequently wholesale demand can be measured by the amount of gold withdrawn from SGE designated vaults. Comparable to the difference between apparent supply and consumer demand shown in exhibit 1, is the difference between SGE withdrawals and consumer demand – the latter being even wider.

Chinese domestic gold market S&D 2015
Exhibit 3.

In the GS2016 GFMS has written a chapter fully dedicated to the humongous difference between SGE withdrawals and their assessment of demand. The chapter is titled “A Review And Explanation Of How China’s SGE’s Withdraw Numbers Are Impacted By Other Trading Activities”. In this post we’ll only briefly discuss whether the arguments are valid, as one of them has to do with China’s highly complex VAT system and I like to expand on this subject in detail in a separated post. However, we’ll expose more of the mechanics of the Chinese domestic gold market in this post, which conveniently demonstrates why nearly all the arguments by GFMS that will be discussed later on are bogus.

This might surprise you, but I actually had fruitful correspondence in the past months with a Senior Precious Metals Analyst at GFMS and a Senior Analyst at Metals Focus (MF). Both gentlemen have been very helpful in sharing their methodology for computing (Chinese) physical supply and demand data. I have to say both of them have answered all my questions. This service is seldom provided by the the World Gold Council, the Bank Of England or the London Bullion Market Association. Based on the information shared by GFMS and MF I’ve refined my view on our on-going disagreement with respect to the Chinese gold demand.

The Mechanics Of The Chinese Domestic Gold Market And Estimating True Chinese gold demand.

Let us refresh our memory regarding the structure of this market. In the Chinese domestic gold market nearly all physical gold supply and demand flows through the SGE because all bullion import1 into the domestic market is required to be sold first through the SGE and there are rules and tax incentives that funnel nearly all domestic mine output and scrap supply through the central bourse. As gold in the Chinese domestic market is not allowed to be exported1, the amount of gold withdrawn from SGE designated vaults therefore serves as a decent indicator for wholesale demand.

However, there are a few possibilities through which SGE withdrawals can be distorted for measuring demand.

  • If metal is in some manner recycled2 through the central bourse. When gold is bought and withdrawn from the SGE vaults and promptly sold and deposited into SGE vaults (for example though process scrap), these flows would inflate SGE withdrawals while not having a net effect on the price of gold, hence the related supply and demand volumes would be deceiving. Although article 23 from the Detailed Rules for Physical Delivery Of the Shanghai Gold Exchange states that bars withdrawn from SGE designated vaults are not allowed to re-enter these vaults, this rule does not fully prevent gold from being recycled through the exchange. If bars withdrawn are re-melted and assayed by an SGE approved refinery they are allowed back into the vaults. And thus, some recycled gold can inflate SGE withdrawals as a measure for true demand.
  • Another example that could distort SGE withdrawals is when international members would withdraw gold from vaults of the SGEI in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone2 (SFTZ), these withdrawals are included in the total SGE withdrawal figure, to store elsewhere in the SFTZ or export abroad1.

For ease of reference we’ll label the amount of gold recycled through the SGE that has no net effect on the price, and gold withdrawn from SGEI vaults that is not imported into the Chinese domestic market as distortion2.

Therefor, in order for us to make the best estimate of true Chinese gold demand we should subtract the amount of distortion from SGE withdrawals. The crux of true Chinese gold demand is establishing the amount of distortion, that’s it.

Previously I assumed the scrap numbers by GFMS mainly reflected gold that was making it’s way back to the SGE and these flows included disinvestment. Both assumptions appeared to be false.

  1. Scrap numbers from GFMS and MF, although they’re certainly not equal, are collected from refiners that are not all SGE members. Implying not all refineries scrap is making its way to the SGE, but is sold through other channels.
  2. Scrap numbers from GFMS and MF include jewelry and industrial products sold back from consumers, they do not include disinvestment that flows directly through refineries to the SGE. GFMS does measure disinvestment at retail level, for example, when people sell bars back to banks these will get netted out to compute net retail bar demand. But if an affluent investor or institution wants to sell (disinvest) 500 Kg they’re likely to approach a refinery directly.

In my nomenclature “distortion2” is the part that inflates SGE withdrawals as a measure for demand, “scrap” is supply from sold fabricated products like old jewelry, and “disinvestment” is supply coming from investment bars sold directly to refineries making its way to the SGE.

As a consequence, these new insights regarding scrap and disinvestment supply have changed my perspective on the Chinese supply and demand balance.

To reach a more clear understanding of what was just described, I’ve conceived an exemplar graph to visually interpret the Chinese physical gold supply and demand balance. Have a look.

Example Chinese domestic gold market S&D
Exhibit 4.

As you can see in the graph above total supply and total demand are exactly equal, this is because one cannot sell gold without a buyer or buy gold without a seller. Consequently we can gauge demand by measuring supply. Please note, in the supply and demand balance shown above, and in our further investigation, two elements are left out. On the supply side I left out stock carry over in SGE vaults from previous years, as this information is not publicly available. On the demand side I left out gold bought at the SGE that was not withdrawn from the vaults, as this information is also unknown.

In all its simplicity the example chart shows that the difference between consumer demand and true Chinese gold demand is caused by direct purchases from individual and institutional clients at the SGE. While GFMS merely counts demand at retail level, by jewelry and bar sales at shops and banks, the real action is at wholesale level, at the SGE.

GFMS fully neglects direct purchases at the SGE (demand) and any corresponding disinvestment to the SGE (supply). Hence our disagreement.

Estimate of SGE withdrawals distribution
Exhibit 5. According to my analysis the PBOC does not buy its gold through the SGE. For more information read my post PBOC Gold Purchases: Separating Facts from Speculation.

At the moment the SGE has almost 10,000 institutional and over 8.3 million individual clients that are able to buy gold directly at the SGE. There is even an SGE smartphone application called “Yijintong” that allows anyone with an internet connection to open an SGE account and trade directly on the SGE wholesale platform enjoying the lowest spreads in China. Furthermore, the SGE counts 183 domestic members and 63 international members.

Exhibit 6. Screenshot Yijintong.

From the SGE (December 2015):

Yijintong is the first professional mobile terminal of state-level gold market jointly researched and developed by the Gold Exchange and all its members …

Yijintong has comprehensive functions and advanced systems, which are compatible with various Android and iOS operating systems. Right now, it possesses market, transaction, search and information functions, so investors can conduct transactions via mobile phones … In early 2016, Yijintong will support mobile phone online account opening. After that, new users will be able to establish Shanghai Gold Exchange’s “Gold Account” business on their mobile phones directly, and avoid the step of visiting stores. It has brought convenience for personal investors to participate in gold and silver transactions.

Investors can log into Yijintong through mobile phones to conduct daily and nightly market transactions and search, utilizing all-day mobile phone services for gold and silver transactions, allowing Yijintong to become a mobile phone gold and silver investment edge tool that integrates functions and practicability, which also helps investors to do well in both work and financial management.

Exhibit 7.

SGE app qr code

Exhibit 8. Download methods: iOS and Android mobile phone users can scan the QR code and open it in the browser to download and install directly.

The China Gold Association (CGA) makes yearly estimates of direct purchases at the SGE. In their Gold Yearbook 2013 direct purchases (net investment) were assessed at 1,022 tonnes, computed as SGE withdrawals minus consumer demand. The CGA neglects any distortion flowing through the SGE hence I stopped using their methodology. Have a look at the screenshot below.

CGA Gold Yearbook 2013 demand
Exhibit 9. CGA Yearbook 2013: framed in black is total demand 2013 in tonnes (Red = jewelry manufacturing, blue = small bar production (sold at ie banks) , purple = industrial material, turquoise = coin manufacturing, yellow = other, green = net investment)

Unfortunately me personally can’t exactly compute true Chinese gold demand, as I don’t have business relationships with all Chinese refineries to gauge disinvestment supply flowing to the SGE. In any case, these are the formulas:

True Chinese demand = net import into the Chinese domestic market1 + scrap + disinvestment + domestic mine output

Although a tad complex, the exact formula including SGE withdrawals is:

SGE withdrawals = net import into the Chinese domestic market1 + (domestic mine output – domestic mine output that not flows to the SGE) + (scrap – scrap that not flows to the SGE) + disinvestment + distortion + (an amount equal to “domestic mine output that not flows to the SGE + scrap that not flows to the SGE” being disinvestment or distortion)

Although not all scrap as disclosed by GFMS ends up at the SGE, it’s definitely all genuine supply and therefore useful in the first formula above. Same goes for domestic mine output.

The part of scrap and domestic mine output that doesn’t travel to the SGE (although being genuine supply) must be replaced by either disinvestment or distortion at the SGE (exhibit 4). Note, in the knowledge direct purchases from the SGE are immense in China (exhibit 9) we can safely assume that disinvestment flows to the SGE are sizable as well.

My new insights unfortunately do not imply that we can make a more precise estimate of true Chinese gold demand. However, I think the best approach is to set the lower bound of true Chinese gold demand at net import1 + mine output + scrap. While I think true demand is likely higher because disinvestment to the SGE can be significant.

Sadly because disinvestment is unknown, distortion is also unknown (exhibit 4)

Let’s return to our discussion with GFMS. The big question is of course, how can total Chinese gold demand by GFMS be 867 tonnes, in a market where mining output accounted for 450 tonnes (source), net imports by my calculations accounted for 1,575 tonnes1, and there is also scrap and disinvestment supply, but export is prohibited and the premium on gold in China was positive throughout the whole year?! This cannot be.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE gold premium 2015
Exhibit 10.

I would like to show a real life example to illustrate what’s going on the Chinese gold market: In 2015 the Chinese stock market (the Shanghai Composite Index) declined by 40 % from June till August. Seeking for a safe haven the Chinese bought physical gold en masse directly at the SGE; some weekly withdrawals in July, August and September transcended 70 tonnes. The gold was of course sourced by imports (look at the premium in exhibit 10), yet GFMS doesn’t consider this to be demand.

SCI vs SGE withdrawals
Exhibit 11. 

The Arguments

Although true Chinese demand cannot be less than SGE withdrawals minus distortion, GFMS pretends their arguments can explain the gigantic gap between SGE withdrawals and consumer demand. Illustrated in the chart below.

Chinese domestic gold market S&D 2013 - 2015
Exhibit 12.

All arguments presented can only explain the size of distortion (exhibit 4), not the difference between SGE withdrawals and consumer demand! Actually, I should stop writing here, but I won’t. Let’s briefly go through these arguments to see if they make any sense.

The chapter in question, “A Review And Explanation Of How China’s SGE’s Withdraw Numbers Are Impacted By Other Trading Activities” (Gold Survey 2016), surprisingly lists three new arguments…

  • Tax avoidance (page 56).
  • Financial statement window dressing (page 58).
  • Retailers selling unsold inventories directly to refiners (page 58)

…and one old argument:

  • Gold leasing activities and arbitrage opportunities (in China gold is money at lower cost) (Gold Survey 2016, page 57, Gold Survey 2015, page 78)

Given the fact GFMS has gone all out in this chapter one would assume it to be complete. But strangely, arguments presented in prior Gold Survey reports and at forums have been abandoned. The following arguments were presented by GFMS in recent years:

  • Wholesale stock inventory growth (Augustus 2013) (Gold Survey 2014, page 88)
  • Arbitrage refining (Gold Survey 2014, page 88) (Reuters Global Gold Forum 2015)
  • Round tripping (Gold Survey 2014, page 88) (Gold Survey 2015, page 78, 82)
  • Chinese commercial bank assets to back investment products. “The higher levels of imports, and withdrawals, are boosted by a number of factors, but notably by gold’s use as an asset class and the requirement for commercial banks to hold physical gold to support investment products.” (Gold Survey 2015, page 78).
  • Defaulting gold enterprises sent inventory directly to refiners and SGE (Gold Survey 2015 Q2, page 7)

What happened to arbitrage refining as described by GFMS Senior Precious Metals Analyst Samson Li at the Reuters Gold Forum in 2015? Has this arbitrage opportunity ever existed or did the market change and now the opportunity is closed? I never thought this argument was very compelling. Maybe GFMS changed its mind on arbitrage refining.

What happened to the round tripping of gold between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, put forward in the Gold Survey 2014 and 2015 as a reason that inflated SGE withdrawals? Did criminals stop using this scheme, or did GFMS find out it never inflated withdrawals because gold flows through Free Trade Zones are separated from the Chinese domestic gold market and the SGE system1? In several posts I’ve extensively shown round tripping does not inflate SGE withdrawals, for more information click here.

What happened to the argument Chinese commercial banks buy and withdraw gold at the SGE to back investment products they offer to customers, a practice which boosts import and withdrawals but was not considered demand by GFMS? Or is it demand now, as GFMS dropped this argument from the list? Ok, gotcha.

Now briefly about the new arguments listed by GFMS in the GS2016:

  • Tax avoidance.

The definition of tax avoidance is that it’s a legal way to pay as little tax as possible. However, the scheme GFMS describes in the GS2016 report is tax evasion, which is highly illegal, and worst case the perpetrator can suffer life imprisonment. This is not some legal loophole as GFMS purports (page 56).

We initially became aware of the scheme in 2013 when it first emerged, but based on information gathered from our contacts, the number of industry participants mushroomed in 2014 and 2015 as other traders became aware of the potential loophole.

By writing the scheme is a way of tax avoidance and a loophole GFSM is misleading their readers. In addition, this illegal scheme did not emerge in 2013. The tax rules are now the same as when the SGE was erected in 2002. In fact, if you click here, you can read an article about the same crimes in 2009. But as mentioned before, we’ll save the details for a forthcoming post, when we’ll also address “financial statement window dressing” and “retailers selling unsold inventories directly to refiners”.

About gold leasing that would inflate SGE withdrawals, I’ve written numerous blog posts about this in the past. Best you can read my post Chinese Commodity Financing Deals Explained. In all the posts I’ve written over the years on the subject I’ve stated that the gold leased is not likely to leave the SGE vaults except when the gold will be used for jewelry manufacturing (which is genuine demand). Effectively, all the gold leasing by enterprises, investors and speculators to acquire cheap funding happens within the SGE system and do not inflate withdrawals. Ironically, in the latest World Gold Council (WGC) report it’s written [brackets added by me]:

Over recent years we have observed a rising number of commercial banks participating in the gold leasing market. … It’s estimated that around 10% of the leased gold leaves the SGE’s vaults. The majority is for financing purposes and is sold at the SGE [and stays within the SGE vaults] for cash settlement.

So, I hope to have clarified why according to my estimates true Chinese gold demand in 2015 must have been north of 2,250 tonnes (import 1,575 tonnes, mine output 450 tonnes, scrap supply 225 tonnes). More details in the next post when we will discuss the tax scheme.


1. Estimating China’s net gold import is difficult. For one, because China’s customs department doesn’t publicly disclose its cross-border trade statistics for gold so we depend on bullion export data (HS code 7108) from the rest of the world. Data from Hong Kong, the UK, Switzerland, the US, Canada and Australia is publicly available, but for example data from South Africa is not. Therefor provisional data on China’s net import is not always fully accurate. Only when the CGA publishes the import amount in their Gold Yearbook can we know for sure. My estimate is 1,575 tonnes for 2015.

Net bullion exports to China in 2015: Hong Kong 861 tonnes, Switzerland 292 tonnes, the UK 285 tonnes, the US 6 tonnes, Japan 5 tonnes, Australia 124 tonnes, Canada 3 tonnes.

In China gold is not allowed to be exported from the domestic market (SGE Main Board). However, gold is allowed to be imported into / exported from China through processing trade, usually done in Free Trade Zones. This is the only way gold can be exported from China. Note, processing trade flows are completely separated from the Chinese domestic gold market. For detailed information read my post Chinese Cross-Border Gold Trade Rules.

In order to track how much gold China is net importing, it’s necessary to net out bullion export to China by foreign countries, with import from China by foreign countries (HS code 7108). Although, it’s also possible that bullion is imported into China through processing trade and exported as jewelry (China has a vast jewelry manufacturing industry), which falls under a separated trade category (HS code 7113). Suppose, a jewelry manufacturer in Shenzhen import 2 tonnes of gold from Hong Kong under HS code 7108 through processing trade, processes the gold into jewelry to subsequently export the finished products back to Hong Kong under HS code 7113. This would blur our view on net bullion import by China, however I neglect this phenomenon in my calculations.

The fine gold content in jewelry exported from China (HS code 7113) is very difficult to measure as the total value of the products shipped also contain other precious metals, gems and includes the fabrication costs. Hence, the value and weight of jewelry exported from China does not reveal the fine gold content. The reason why I do not adjust net bullion inflows into China by jewelry outflow is because the gold content in jewelry exported from China is roughly offset by imports of gold doré or gold as a by product in ores and concentrates.

For example, the most recent CGA Yearbook in my possession, covering calendar year 2014 (exhibit 13), states “Chinese domestic and overseas gold mining output” was 512.775 tonnes. In the same report it’s mentioned “domestic mining output” accounted for 451.799 tonnes, implying overseas mine supply accounted for 60.976 tonnes. And thus, I net out overseas mining imported into China (60.976 tonnes) against jewelry exported from China. If I find more information on Chinese cross-border gold trade flows I will adjust my methodology accordingly.

Exhibit 13. Screenshot taken from my hard copy of the CGA Yearbook 2014. We can see framed in blue is “domestic and overseas mine supply”, framed in red is “gold import” and framed in green is “total supply”. Total supply, as disclosed by the CGA, equals SGE withdrawals for 2014, likewise it did for the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. 

Last but not least, gold can be imported through processing trade into the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (SFTZ) where the Shanghai International God Exchange (SGEI) vaults are located. Potentially, this gold in SGEI vaults, once sold to foreigners is withdrawn and exported abroad (inflating SGE withdrawals). However, a source at ICBC has indicated to me that regarding physical flows the SGEI is mainly used by Chinese domestic banks to import gold into the Chinese domestic market, at least this was the case until December 2015. So I don’t see a possibility there were exorbitant large volumes of gold in SGEI vaults in 2015, or have been withdrawn and exported.

The only noteworthy imports from China (the SGEI) I have observed are by India, which has taken in 370 Kg during 2015 (source Zauba), and by Thailand that presumably bought 7 tonnes (source COMTRADE).

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.20.26 am Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.21.56 am Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.22.20 am Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 12.11.32 pmExhibit 14.

iAu9999 & iAu9999 OTC SGE
Exhibit 15. Weekly trading volume of the most popular SGEI contract iAu99.99, traded on-exchange and in the OTC market.

For more information on the SGEI read my posts, Workings Of The Shanghai International Gold Exchange and What Happened To The Shanghai International Gold Exchange?

2. For the sake of simplicity I have categorized under “distortion” everything that is not true demand, namely: process scrap, stock inventory change, arbitrage refining (if it exists), the VAT scheme, smuggling and SGEI withdrawals.

Chinese Gold Demand 973t In H1 2016, Nomura SGE Withdrawals Chart False

Chinese wholesale gold demand, as measured by withdrawals from the vaults of the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), reached a sizable 973 metric tonnes in the first half of 2016, down 7 % compared to last year.

Although Chinese gold demand year to date at 973 tonnes is slightly down from its record year in 2015 – when China in total net imported over 1,550 tonnes and an astonishing 2,596 tonnes were withdrawn from SGE designated vaults – appetite from the mainland is still the greatest of all single nations worldwide. At the same time the mainstream consultancy firms (World Gold Council, GFMS, Metals Focus) continue portraying Chinese gold demand to be roughly half of SGE withdrawals, as these firms measure “gold demand” merely at retail level which excludes any direct purchases at the SGE by institutional and individual investors. But to reassure you, Chinese wholesale gold demand still equals SGE withdrawals. 

In the month of June (2016) SGE withdrawals accounted for a robust 139 tonnes, although this was down 29 % from June last year. The reason being for “somewhat subdued” Chinese gold demand in recent months is that the price of gold has risen strongly over this time horizon and the Chinese tend to buy gold when its price goes down, in contrast to Western investors that buy gold when the price goes up. From 1 June until 30 June 2016 the price of gold in US dollars jumped by 9 % from $1,214.70 to $1,325.76. Over the first six months of 2016 the price of gold exploded by 25 % (from $1,061.5 on 1 January 2016). So, since January this year when the price of gold started to rise, the Chinese actually stepped down their gold purchases while Western demand, which can be roughly measured by the net flow in/out of the UK, went up impressively.

Let us have a look at a few charts to come to grips with what’s going on in the Chinese (and international) gold market. Below, we can see a chart showing monthly SGE withdrawals plotted against the end of month price of gold in yuan per gram. In recent years, whenever the price of gold goes down the Chinese step up their purchases (buying the physical supply coming from the West) and whenever the price of gold goes up the Chinese slow their purchases. 

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE withdrawals June 2016
Since January 2016 when the gold price started rising, SGE withdrawals started declining. Note, for spotting trends, gold bought at the SGE does not have to be withdrawn immediately.

By looking at a weekly SGE withdrawals chart (from before January 2016) we can see the trend just described – “the Chinese tend to buy more gold when the price goes down” – in a more granular fashion. Have a look below.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE weekly withdrawals
The SGE published weekly withdrawal data until January 2016.

In contrast to Chinese gold buying behaviour, let us have a look at gold demand from the West. Our proxy for Western demand is the net flow in/out of the UK where the London Bullion Market (LBMA) and the world’s largest ETF’s such as GLD store physical gold. At the beginning of 2016 (when the price of gold started to rise) the direction of the flow has reversed sharply, from the UK being a net exporter to being a net importer.

UK Gold Trade 2012 - June 2016

From being a large net gold exporter in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the UK is now one of the largest net importers. In April 2016 the UK net imported 195 tonnes of gold – while export to China was nil.

If we look at a chart that reflects the net flow of gold into the UK versus the gold price, we can clearly see the correlation. A declining gold price (blue line) coincides with the UK net exporting gold (black line) and vice versa. 

UK Gold Trade 2012 - June 2016 vs goldprice

The impressive gold rally year to date, and the accompanied massive growth in GLD inventory in London, predicts sustaining net gold imports by the UK in May and June. In a forthcoming post we’ll discuss more thoroughly how above ground gold stock is moving between which nations and how this correlates to the price of gold.

International merchandise trade statistics always lag a few months, so I don’t know exactly the total amount of gold China has net imported in H1 2016. That I know of, China has net imported 368 tonnes year to date, according to trade data from Hong Kong covering January-April, the UK covering January-April and Switzerland covering January- May. Australia’s export data is not clear yet. If we project the pace of imports to to six months, China has “at least” imported 512 tonnes of gold in H1 2016.

Supply to the SGE can only come from import, domestic mine output or scrap/disinvestment. As, import accounted for 512 tonnes and domestic mine supply for 225 tonnes, consequently scrap/disinvestment through the SGE must have been approximately 236 tonnes in H1 2016.

Import + mine output + scrap/disinvestment = SGE withdrawals

SGE withdrawals – import – mine output = scrap/disinvestment

973 – 512 – 225 = 236

By using our preliminary estimate of 512 tonnes for China’s net import in H1 2016 and mine output at 225 tonnes, there are currently an estimated 18,444 tonnes of gold within China. Assuming the PBOC has accumulated about 4,000 tonnes by now which has not been supplied through the SGE, that is. For a detailed explanation how I conceived this estimate please read my post “PBOC Gold Purchases: Separating Facts from Speculation”.

Total Chinese gold reserves june 2016

If my speculative estimate of PBOC holdings would be incorrect, and China’s central bank holds what is officially disclosed at roughly 1,800 tonnes, there are currently an estimated 16,244 tonnes of gold within China.

Nomura’s SGE Withdrawal Data Is False

Since I’ve been publishing SGE withdrawals and its relation to Chinese gold demand many others have jumped the bandwagon, though some more successful than others. A few days ago I stumbled upon a “SGE withdrawals chart” from Nomura research with false data.

Courtesy Nomura.

In Nomura’s chart it’s shown that withdrawals from the vaults of the SGE in the first five months of 2016 accounted for 4,425 tonnes. Which of course is false. If that would be true, China should have imported about 3,800 tonnes in five months. No, that did not happen.

What Nomura did is grab the “cumulative delivery amount” from the Chinese Market Data Monthly Reports, instead of the “cumulative load-out volume”. The latter is how the SGE refers to “withdrawals” in English. As I’ve written previously the “delivery amount” is not the same as “load out volume”. The “delivery amount” reflects the volume of gold that changes ownership inside the vaults, computed as the sum of the trading volumes in physical products and the contract delivery volumes of deferred products, whereas “load out volume” tells to the amount of gold that is withdrawn from the vaults.

Let’s have a look at the Chinese Market Data Monthly Report from May, which Nomura used for its withdrawal data for January-May 2016 (“5M16” in their chart).

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 1.57.34 pm
Courtesy SGE. Red numbers added by Koos Jansen.

We can see that at number 4 the “cumulative delivery amount” notes 4,425,035.28 Kg, which is exactly what Nomura shows in its chart as “withdrawn”.

By and by, the “cumulative delivery amount” is counted bilaterally. Effectively, half of this amount (2,212,517.64 Kg) is how much physical gold changed ownership inside SGE designated vaults from January until May 2016.

At number 8, we see the actual amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults over this period (counted unilaterally). In the first five months of 2016 SGE withdrawals accounted for 835 tonnes.

Below is the full explanation of the Chinese trade table.

1Delivery amount this month, the sum of the trading volumes in physical products and the contract delivery volumes of deferred products for the reported month, counted bilaterally in Kg.

2) Trading volume this month, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products for the reported month, counted bilaterally in Kg.

3Delivery ratio this month, the proportion of the delivery amount to the total trading volume of both physical and deferred products for the reported month (1 divided by 2).

4Cumulative delivery amount, the sum of all monthly delivery amounts from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.

5Cumulative trading volume, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.

6Cumulative delivery ratio, the proportion of the cumulative delivery amount to the cumulative trading volume of both physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point (4 divided by 5).

7Load-out volume this month, the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults for the reported month, counted unilaterally in Kg.

8Cumulative load-out volume, the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted unilaterally in Kg.

SGE Gold Trading Volume 2015 Up 84 % Y/Y Due To International Board

In two parts I will present an overview of the Chinese gold market for calendar year 2015. In this part we’ll focus on Shanghai Gold Exchange trading volumes. In the next post we’ll focus on physical supply and demand flows in Chinese gold market in 2015.

First, let us quickly assess the core volume data of the largest precious metals exchanges in China and the US. Physical and derivative gold trading at the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) in 2015 reached 17,033 tonnes, up by 84 % from 9,243 tonnes in 2014. Gold futures trading at the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE) in 2015 accounted for 25,421 tonnes, up 7 % from 23,750 tonnes in 2014. Consequently, total wholesale trading volume in China (SGE + SHFE) was 42,454 in 2015, up 29 % year on year. In New York at the COMEX total gold futures volume reached 128,844 tonnes for the year 2015, up 3 % from a year earlier. COMEX trading volume was three times as large as the total volume in China.

COMEX vs SGE & SHFE gold volume 2015 pie chart

It’s unknown how much gold is traded in the Over-The-Counter London Bullion Market. However, a survey conducted by the LBMA in 2011 pointed out approximately 680,783 tonnes of gold per year change hands through the London based market.

All tonnages mentioned in this post are counted single-sided.

The Shanghai Gold Exchange

There are a few more interesting data points to be found in SGE trading for 2015 when examining the developments of the specific contracts.

At the SGE two types of gold products (/contracts) can be traded: physical products and deferred products. The physical contracts traded on the Main Board (SGE / domestic market) are:

  • Au50g (50 gram gold bar, 9999 fine)
  • Au100g (100 gram gold bar, 9999 fine)
  • Au99.99 (1 Kg gold ingot, 9999 fine)
  • Au99.95 (3 Kg gold ingot, 9995 fine)
  • Au99.5 (12.5 Kg gold ingot, 995 fine)

The physical contracts traded on the International Board (SGEI / international market) are:

  • iAu100g (100 gram gold bar, 9999 fine)
  • iAu99.99 (1 Kg gold ingot, 9999 fine)
  • iAu99.5 (12.5 Kg gold ingot, 995 fine)

The contracts above cannot be traded on margin and are settled (/delivered inside SGE(I) designated vaults) immediately (T+0), therefor they embody pure physical trading.

The deferred contracts (only traded on the Main Board) are:

  • Au(T+D) (1 Kg per lot, delivery in 3 Kg or 1 Kg ingots)
  • Au(T+N1) (100 gram per lot, delivery in 1 Kg ingots)
  • Au(T+N2) (100 gram per lot, delivery in 1 Kg ingots)
  • mAu(T+D) (100 gram per lot, delivery in 1 Kg ingots)

Because the deferred contracts are traded on margin and there is no fixed delivery date, these derivative products embody paper trading.

All SGE contracts can be traded competitively over the Exchange, but the physical contracts can also be negotiated bilaterally in the Over-The-Counter (OTC) market and then settled through the SGE system. The SGE publishes the volume of these OTC trades.

The most traded contract on the Exchange in 2015 was the deferred product Au(T+D). In total Au(T+D) volume accounted for 5,648 tonnes, up 30 % from the previous year. The second most traded contract was the physical product Au99.99, of which 3,465 tonnes changed hands, up 65 % from 2014 - although, if we include OTC trading total Au99.99 volume for 2015 reached 6,998 tonnes, which would make it the number one contract.

Shanghai Gold Exchange Trading Volume 2015
The contracts Au99.5 and iA99.5 are not included in the chart, as the products have not been traded. This underlines the PBOC, that would prefer to buy 12.5 Kg bars, is not buying gold through the SGE.

Shanghai Gold Exchange Yearly Trading Volume 2002 - 2015

Physical trading (including OTC activity) at the SGE in 2015 accounted for 9,745 tonnes (57%), versus 7,288 tonnes in paper trading (43 %).

The growth in total gold trading at the SGE in 2015 was the strongest since the financial crisis erupted in 2008. According to my analysis one reason for this has been the opening of the Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI) in September 2014.

The SGE system services gold trading for the domestic Chinese gold market. This gold traded over the SGE system is prohibited from being exported. The SGEI is a subsidiary of the SGE located in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, where international members of the Exchange can import, trade and export gold. In terms of physical gold flows the SGE and SGEI are separated venues. For more information please read my previous post, “Workings Of The Shanghai International Gold Exchange”.

On the surface it looks as if the SGEI has been a failure. The most traded contract at the International Board is iAu99.99. At the start of 2015 iAu99.99 trading was weak and after a short peak in April, volume came down to practically nil throughout the middle and the end of the year. Hence, most analysts stated the SGEI was dead. There are two important points that undermine this statement.

The first point is that iAu99.99 can be traded in the OTC market. When it appeared that trading of iAu99.99 was dying out at the Exchange, in the OTC market activity continued. There is no constant trading in iAu99.99 in the OTC market, but the volumes are significantly higher than iAu99.99 trading over the Exchange (see the chart below).

iAu99.99 SGEI volume

Tellingly, the iAu99.99 trades in the OTC market are all performed in giant batches of 100 or 1000 Kg. Have a look at the data labels in the chart below. We can see that all weekly OTC iAu99.99 volumes are in sizes one hundred (blue bars) or one thousand (red bars) 1 Kg bars. For example, look at the week that ended 3 July 2015, when exactly 73,000 Kg’s were traded. In theory 20,855 Kg’s were traded on Monday and 52,145 Kg’s on Thursday, aggregating to 73,000 Kg’s in total for the week. Though, this coincidence cannot have occurred each and every week. More likely the iAu99.99 traders in the OTC market always buy and sell per 100 or 1000 Kg’s. No other SGE or SGEI contract shows this bulky trading pattern.

Weekly iAu9999 OTC Trading Volume

The second point is that international members of the Exchange are not only allowed to trade the contracts on the International Board, they’re also allowed to trade the domestic contracts, they’re just not allowed to withdraw the metal from domestic vaults. The international members that focus on arbitraging any price differentials between the US and China will prefer the most liquid contracts on the Exchange. So, for this purpose the international members would trade Au99.99 and Au(T+D). Sources at the SGE confirmed to me that indeed international members are trading Main Board contracts.

If we look at the next chart, we can see that since the inception of the SGEI in September 2014 total SGE volume (including domestic, international, physical and deferred contracts) increased significantly. My conclusion is that the gateway of the SGEI has increased liquidity at the Exchange in Shanghai and enhanced the connection between the Chinese and Western gold markets.

Total Weekly SGE Trading Volume

I realize the system of the SGE and SGEI, how trading and physical gold flows are divided, is not easy to understand. The best I can do to clarify this is to present the diagram furnished by the SGE showing how trading in all contracts by all customers is organized (see below). In the next post we’ll examine the physical gold flows going through China and the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 5.31.17 pm
Courtesy SGE.

Note, domestic members/customers are allowed to use onshore renminbi to trade all products on the Main Board, but are also allowed to use onshore renminbi to trade all products on the International Board (although load-in and load-out metal from the vaults is prohibited). In turn, international members are allowed to use offshore renminbi to trade all contracts on the International Board, but are also allowed to use offshore renminbi to trade most contracts on the Main Board (although load-in and load-out metal from the vaults is prohibited).

Kazakhstan & China Join Forces In Gold Market

Silk Road Gold Trading Kicks Off

The other day I bumped into a small but potentially important news item on the website of the Shanghai Gold Exchange. The article was published in Mandarin, of course, as the Chinese (authorities) hardly ever publish valuable information in English – most articles published in English have been intentionally written to communicate what the State Council wants the West to hear. In the article it’s described a financial delegation from Kazakhstan visited the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) to discuss cooperation in gold trading along One Belt One Road (OBOR), also referred to as the new Silk Road, that reaches over the whole Eurasian continent. From the SGE (exclusively translated by BullionStar):

A group led by Kairat Kelimbetov, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kazakhstan International Financial Center, visited the Exchange

At noon on 26 February 2016 a group led by Kairat Kelimbetov, President of the Astana International Financial Center and former President of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, visited the Shanghai Gold Exchange and held talks with President Jiao Jinpu. Both parties reached consensus on strengthening cooperation and seeking development in the gold market under the “One Belt One Road” project. Zuo Qihan, Kazakhstan consulate general in Shanghai, Shen Gang, Vice General Manager of the Exchange and Zhuang Xiao, CTO, attended the meeting.

Although the article lacks any detail, we can discover its potential impact if we study the financial and political backdrop.

Kelimbetov has an impressive track record. Previously he served as the Minister of the National Economy, Deputy Prime Minister and Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan. Currently, he’s the head of the brand new Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) that was officially launched in January 2016, aimed to become one of the top 10 financial centers in Asia and one of the top 30 financial centers in the world by 2020. The government of Kazakhstan contributes full support to the AIFC .

Kairat Kelimbetov and Jiao Jinpu at the SGE
26 February 2016, on the left SGE President Jiao Jinpu, in the middle AIFC President Kairat Kelimbetov. Courtesy SGE.

The main language spoken at the AIFC is English and the center includes an independent court for financial and investment disputes using English law. Kenneth Rogoff, Professor at Harvard University and former chief economist at the IMF, has said with English law at the basis the AIFC will be a game changer.

The AIFC decree signed in May 2015 at the Astana Economic Forum (AEF) by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, commands the National Bank of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange to relocate from the city of Almaty to Astana. The AIFC will be installed on the premises of the EXPO 2017 starting from 1 January 2018.

At the AEF Nazarbayev stated the financial crisis that broke out in 2008 is systemic and will only end when the key cause is eliminated: the profound accumulated imbalances in the currency markets. He added that these hidden, latent roots of the crisis have spawned currency wars and economic wars in the form of sanctions hurting many countries. Nazarbayev said, “This is what generates an increase in confrontation between East and West, the U.S. and NATO against Russia and China, … deep reforms are needed for sustained economic growth.”

Nazarbayev may 2015 AEF
Nazarbayev speaking at the AEF 22 May 2015.

Nazarbayev has always been a vocal critic of US supremacy and an advocate of gold. Under his guidance, in 2011 the National Bank of Kazakhstan has taken the pre-emptive right to buy all domestic gold mine output to strengthen its international reserves and develop the local gold industry. In 2012 a (third) large gold refinery, Tau-Ken Altyn, was erected as one of the key projects of the Astana Industrial Park, to ensure all domestic mine output can be refined in Kazakhstan.

President Nazarbayev paid a visit to the Tau-Ken Altyn refinery in December 2013, as can be seen in the video below starting at 1:13. Tau-Ken Altyn can produce 12.5 Kg investment bars for the central bank, as well as 100 gram and 1 Kg bars for personal investment.

Although official documentation is lacking, from the news item at the SGE website I assume the AIFC has included the Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI) for servicing gold trading in renminbi – supporting the internationalization of the renminbi.

It’s unclear if the AIFC has exclusively attracted the SGEI platform for gold trading. On 11 March 2016 Kelimbetov visited London where he held a meeting with the heads of UK government institutions, large investment banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS) and international financial organizations to discuss the AIFC’s progress. Though, Kazakhstan is likely to prefer cooperating with its Chinese partner in gold business, as both nations share a common interests of making a fist against US dollar domination.

The central banks of Kazakhstan and China are among the most aggressive gold buyers in the world. Since 2010 the official gold reserves of Kazakhstan have grown from 67 metric to 222 tonnes. In turn, over the same time horizon China has increased its official gold reserves from 1,054 tonnes to 1,762 tonnes, according to official statistics – it’s thought China’s central bank has significantly more gold than it publicly discloses.

Kazakhstan & China Gold Reserves 2011 2015

The central banks of numerous other countries in (central) Asia are buying gold as well, in example Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, sharing an objective to diversify foreign exchange reserves and unwind the US dollar hegemony.

But increasing their official gold reserves is not all these countries do, it’s part of something bigger. In recent years a vast movement of economic collaborations between countries in Eurasia has unfolded. One of these collaborations is the Silk Road economic project (/OBOR) that was launched in 2013. Partially funded by China’s foreign exchange reserves the project focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. Aside from its independent activities OBOR also provides the structure to connect other collaborations, of which the most relevant ones are:

  • The Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO). The SCO is a political, economic and military alliance, comprising the member states Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, that was launched in 1996.
  • The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Launched in 2014 the EEU members Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan now form a space that is modeled on the European Economic Community.
  • The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is an international financial institution, erected to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, launched in 2015 counting 57 prospective founding members. Most Asian (except Japan) and European countries participate in the AIIB.

If we look closely we can observe that China is slowly pushing for more integration of the clubs mentioned above with OBOR. For example, in May 2015 Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin signed a decree on cooperation in tying the development of the EEU with OBOR and in December 2015 the first discussions were held to integrate the SCO with OBOR. (Chinese state press agency Xinhua has a dedicated Silk Road web page that covers developments regarding OBOR and the SCO, EEU and AIIB.)

Kazakhstan recently opened a logistics terminal in Lianyungang, China, and completed the construction of its Zhezkazgan-Beineu railway to create a better connection for China through Kazakhstan to the Caspian seaports. “All these projects are aimed at increasing the transit potential of both our country and the whole of the Eurasian Economic Union,” said Nazarbayev at the AEF on 22 May 2015. “This is the new Silk Road. Forty countries have showed an interest in free trade with the Eurasian Economic Union. But we must not stop there. I propose to create a new … Eurasian transcontinental corridor.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.23.11 pm
Kazakhstan has a strategic position in Eurasia.

Coincidentally, also on 22 May 2015 the Silk Road Gold Fund was launched at a conference in Xi’an, China, with the subject of “Serve the New Strategy of the Silk Road, Lead the New Development of Gold”. From iFeng we can read (exclusively translated by BullionStar):

Representatives from gold and financial institutions talked freely about bringing gold’s superiority into full play, seizing the historic and strategic opportunity of One Belt One Road [OBOR], strengthening bank-enterprise cooperation and financial-industrial combination, and leading the transformation and upgrading of the gold industry under the economic background of the new normal.

Time will tell to what extent the cooperation between the SGEI and the AIFC will execute what this quote describes. Namely, increasing gold business in the economies along the Silk Road.

A few days later in May 2015 China unveiled the Silk Road Gold Fund to the English-speaking world. From Xinhua:

The fund, led by Shanghai Gold Exchange, is expected to raise an estimated 100 billion yuan in three phases.

…Among the 65 countries along the routes of the Silk Road economic belt … there are numerous Asian countries identified as important reserve bases and consumers of gold.

…About 60 countries have invested in the fund, which will in turn facilitate gold purchase for the central banks of member states to increase their holdings of the precious metal, …

I’m not sure if the National Bank of Kazakhstan will buy its gold through the SGEI anytime soon, more likely some of Kazakhstan’s gold production will be sold through the Chinese exchange.

From all information presented above the intensions of China and numerous Asian countries with respect to gold and the Silk Road are clear. Through OBOR China will not only use its foreign exchange reserves for infrastructure in Eurasia to boost growth and strengthen economic ties and in the region, additionally, gold business is developed and gold is promoted as a key reserve currency.

SGE Confirms To Continue Publish Withdraw Data!

I’ve received written confirmation by the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) delivery department that the Chinese Market Data Monthly Reports disclose the volume of physical gold withdrawn from SGE designated vaults. I’m thrilled to resume reporting these numbers and everything related to the Chinese gold market! 

It’s advised to have read The Chinese Gold Market Essentials Guide before you continue.

Because of the structure of the Chinese gold market the volume of physical gold withdrawn from the vaults of the SGE provides us a unique measure of Chinese wholesale gold demand – which in recent years has been more than twice as much as Chinese consumer gold demand reported by the World Gold Council. However, it appeared the SGE ceased publishing SGE withdraw numbers after a press release from 11 January 2016 that stated the bourse “adjusted some terms in the Delivery Reports”. After the announcement SGE withdrawals were not disclosed in the Chinese Market Data Weekly Reports and over the phone I was informed withdraw numbers would not be disclosed any longer by the SGE.

Perhaps I spoke to the wrong people at the SGE or perhaps the SGE has changed its mind. In any case, in the first Chinese Market Data Monthly Report of this year (January) the format was different from the Chinese Market Data Weekly Reports. In the Chinese monthly report it showed a number that looked to be the volume of gold withdrawn from the vaults. Though we couldn’t be too sure as the SGE changed its nomenclature since the press release from 11 January.

Once again I contacted the SGE and finally came in touch with an employee at the delivery department. The person in question told me over the phone that indeed the January monthly report disclosed withdraw data, but because confirmations over the phone can be easily violated, I also asked for written confirmation. Then, a few days later the SGE delivery department confirmed over email that the Market Data Monthly Reports include the volume of gold withdrawn from SGE designated vaults!

So, here we go again. The SGE monthly report from February shows withdrawals from the vaults of the SGE accounted for a modest 107.6 tonnes, down 52 % from January and down 31 % from February 2015.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE withdrawals February 2016

Year to date SGE withdrawals have reached 333 tonnes, down 19 % year on year.

Subdued SGE withdrawals – indicating suppressed Chinese physical gold demand – in February is very remarkable as in this month the price of gold (in US dollars) increased by over 10 %.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.58.45 pm
Graph conceived with BullionStar charts.

This suggests that the Chinese do not buy physical gold when the price goes up but mainly buy when the price goes down. In addition, because there has been strong buying from Western parties in February, for example GLD inventory in London increased by 15 % over this period, we can conclude the West is the price setter and China up until now has predominantly been a “price taker”. Put differently, China is merely taken advantage of bargain prices.

Courtesy Bloomberg.

The same correlation between the price of gold and Western physical buying behaviour can be observed when we compare the gold price to cross-border gold trade from the UK, where many Western investors store their gold.

UK net gold flow vs gold price

So for this comparison we use UK cross-border gold trade as a proxy for Western physical gold buying. Although this is not exact science, in the chart above we can see whenever the West is buying physical gold (UK net import increases, see 2012) the price goes up and whenever the West is selling physical gold (UK becomes net exporter, see 2013) the price goes down.

Given the fact the price of gold has increased significantly year to date we may expect the UK was not a net exporter in January and February, more likely the UK was a net importer over this time horizon.


Because there has been so much confusion about the terms used in the new Chinese Market Data Monthly Reports and the Market Data Weekly Reports I included screenshots of both reports below provided with translations as suggested by the SGE press release from 11 January 2016. In the Market Data Weekly Report for week 7 (22 – 26 February) 2016 we can see the following Delivery Report.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 10.24.27 am

  1. Delivery amount this week, the sum of the trading volumes in physical products and the contract delivery volumes of deferred products for the reported week, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Trading volume this week, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products for the reported week, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Delivery ratio this week, the proportion of the delivery amount to the total trading volume of both physical and deferred products for the reported week (1 divided by 2).
  1. Cumulative delivery amount, the sum of all weekly delivery amounts from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Cumulative trading volume, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Cumulative delivery ratio, the proportion of the cumulative delivery amount to the cumulative trading volume of both physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point (4 divided by 5).

In the Market Data Monthly Report for February 2016 we can see this Delivery Report:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 10.01.56 am

  1. Delivery amount this month, the sum of the trading volumes in physical products and the contract delivery volumes of deferred products for the reported month, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Trading volume this month, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products for the reported month, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Delivery ratio this month, the proportion of the delivery amount to the total trading volume of both physical and deferred products for the reported month (1 divided by 2).
  1. Cumulative delivery amount, the sum of all monthly delivery amounts from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Cumulative trading volume, the sum of all trading volumes in physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted bilaterally in Kg.
  1. Cumulative delivery ratio, the proportion of the cumulative delivery amount to the cumulative trading volume of both physical and deferred products from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point (4 divided by 5).
  1. Load-out volume this month, the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults, counted unilaterally in Kg.
  1. Cumulative load-out volume, the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point, counted unilaterally in Kg.

Final notes: “delivery” is not the same as “load out volume” or “withdrawals”. “Delivery” refers to the amount of gold that changes ownership inside the vaults, “load out volume” and “withdrawals” both refer to the amount of gold that leaves the vaults.

The load-out volume for silver does not reflect Chinese wholesale silver demand, as the structure of the Chinese silver market is different from the Chinese gold market.

According to my manual cross calculations the “delivery amount” in the weekly report for week 7 does not match “the sum of the trading volumes in physical products and the contract delivery volumes of deferred products for the reported week”. I’ve send out an inquiry to the SGE to verify the data.

UPDATE 10 March 2016: The SGE replied how they calculated “delivery amount”, it was based on the delivery of Au(T+N1) and Au(T+N2) in 100 gram per lot. It appeared I had an SGE sheet with false specifications of Au(T+N1) and Au(T+N2) – 1 Kg per lot. My manual cross calculations and the SGE numbers match now. 

SGE Continues To Publish Withdrawals Figures?

It seems the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) is continuing to publish the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults on a monthly basis. For the month of January “SGE withdrawals” accounted for 225 tonnes, down 1 % from December. After the first weekly SGE reports in 2016 did not disclose SGE withdrawal data and phone calls to the bourse in Shanghai answered these numbers would not be published anymore we can wonder why the Chinese have changed their stance.

It’s advised to have read The Chinese Gold Market Essentials Guide before you continue.

The SGE releases reports with trading data in several intervals in either English or Chinese. Until the last week of 2015 SGE withdrawals, a measure for Chinese wholesale gold demand, were published in the Chinese weekly and monthly reports. Then, an announcement published on the English website of the SGE on 11 January 2016 stated the “the Exchange has adjusted some terms in the Delivery Reports”.

This is where the confusion started because the SGE announced in English to adjust its nomenclature in the Chinese “Market Data Weekly Reports and Market Data Monthly Reports” – I cannot find the same announcement in Chinese. Their intensions were positive though, as there often has been disorientation regarding terms the SGE used inconsistently in the past. In example, the term “delivery”.

The announcement stated the SGE would adjust “distributing market data … effective as of Jan. 1st 2016 and are clarified as follows”:

1.The term “delivery amount” refers to the sum of the trading volume of physical products and the contract delivery volume of deferred products. The term “delivery ratio” refers to the proportion of delivery amount to the total trading volume of both physical and deferred contracts.

2.The term “load-out volume” refers to the total volume of standard physical bullions withdrawn from SGE-certified vaults by members and customers.

3.The terms “accumulative delivery amount”, “accumulative trading volume” and “accumulative load-out volume” respectively refer to the sum of delivery amount, trading volume and load-out volume from the beginning of the year to the statistical time point. The term “accumulative delivery ratio” refers to the proportion of accumulative delivery amount to the accumulative trading volume.

4.Delivery-related data of silver products are added into the reports.

What I found early January was that the first Market Data Weekly Report did not honor the new guidelines from the announcement. In the first weekly report the delivery amount did not match its description, and there was no “load-out volume” (/withdraw volume) to be found. After several phone calls to the SGE to ask if the “load-out volume” data would ever be published we were told no. In the second weekly report the delivery amount did match its description, but there was still no “load-out volume” to be found.

However, this morning Nick Laird from Sharelynx pointed out to me the first Market Data Monthly Report has been released and this report has a different format than the Market Data Weekly Reports. In the Monthly report we can read at the very bottom:

本月出库量  225,081.30

累计出库量  225,081.30

I will spare you my analysis of Chinese characters, but according to a friend in Singapore and Google Translate the top line means “current month volume out of the warehouse” and the bottom line means “cumulative volume out of the warehouse”. I did not reach out to a professional translator, however, I called the SGE again and finally ended up talking to someone at the “delivery department”. This person confirmed to me (over the phone in English) that indeed the “load-out volume” was disclosed at the bottom of the monthly report.

I like to be very cautious in stating the SGE will henceforth publish withdrawal data in the monthly reports. Having seen changes in the first two weekly reports and inconsistent formats in the weekly and monthly reports makes me wonder if we can rest assured the SGE will publish the “load-out volume” in the future.

Hopefully, the SGE decides to continue publishing withdrawal data and the writers of the new weekly and monthly reports were just finding their way to adjust to the new guidelines. Why they would publish withdrawal data only in the monthly reports and not in the weekly reports beats me. Let us be patient and see what the coming reports have to offer. I’ve also send an email to the person I spoke to at the SGE delivery department to ask for written confirmation regarding the “load-out volume” disclosed in the monthly report, which perhaps will be replied with an elucidating statement.

SGE withdrawals at 225 tonnes in January 2016 are 12 % down from January 2015 and 1 % down from the previous month.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE withdrawals 2009 - 2016 January

Presentation Koos Jansen At Scotiabank

I was invited by Scotiabank to speak about Chinese gold demand at their commodities outlook conference on 12 January 2016 in Toronto. Of course I was thrilled to come over and share what I’ve been studying for the past years – thanks again Scotiabank for inviting me!

In my 20-minute presentation I could clearly explain why I think Chinese gold demand is not what mainstream consultancy firms (GFMS, WGC, Metals Focus, CPM Group) would like you to believe. While I was there I also took the opportunity to talk to Jeffrey Christian, who was speaking right before me on conference day. Mr Christian is a Managing Partner of CPM Group, which is one of the consultancy firms whose Chinese gold demand statistics I’ve fiercely disputed over the years.

Previously, in 2014, me and Mr Christian have debated the subject of Chinese gold demand on these very pages. After I wrote CPM Group an open letter in response to their Market Alert, now sadly offline, Mr Christian took the time to debate me in the comment section of my blog. In my opinion this is how it should be, open debate between the mainstream firms and us the independent gold researchers. Mr Christian showed to be a good sport by discussing our differences.

In Toronto we could briefly resume talking about our differences offstage. We didn’t agree, naturally, but it was valuable to hear some of his arguments – that’s what fuels debate and incentivizes me to investigate certain segment of the gold market more thoroughly. On stage I was pleased to able to present my view on Chinese gold demand right after his.

Scotiabank koos jansen gold china sge

In a nutshell Mr Christian stated Chinese gold demand was roughly 933 tonnes (30 million ounces) in 2015, while I stated it was more like 2,000 tonnes, as China has imported roughly 1,400 tonnes, mined 450 tonnes and scrap was likely more than 150 tonnes for the year (the details about all data from 2015 will be published shorty).

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 12.56.16 pm
Courtesy Jeffrey Christian CPM Group.

Unfortunately the recording of my presentation is not allowed by Scotiabank to be republished on YouTube. So what I did is re-record the presentation. Below you can find the video, my voice in combination with the slides, which turned out to be a concise analysis of the Chinese gold market. The first part is about Chinese private gold demand and the structure of the Chinese domestic gold market. In the second part I speculate about purchases from China’s central bank that have to be added to Chinese private gold demand, according to my analysis.

Click here to download the slides in PDF format, or watch the video below.

In China Everyone Can Buy Gold At The SGE

The Shanghai Gold Exchange launched a smartphone app for customers to trade gold.

It’s advised to have read The Chinese Gold Market Essentials Guide before you continue.

The main reason there is such a large discrepancy between Chinese gold demand as disclosed by the World Gold Council (WGC) and the amount of gold withdrawn from the vaults of the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), the latter being a measure for Chinese wholesale gold demand, is because of direct purchases by individual and institutional clients at the SGE. Whilst the WGC, and many other consultancy firms, measure Chinese gold demand strictly by how much gold is sold through retail channels, the reality is that in China every citizen can open an SGE account and buy gold directly in the wholesale market (the SGE). Such direct purchases at the SGE are not captured in retail demand.

As we all know many wealthy Chinese invest in gold. In the knowledge these people all have direct access to the wholesale market, we can ask ourselves, why would any of them buy gold at retail level? Naturally, Chinese women prefer to buy gold in the form of jewelry because that’s an investment they can flaunt with. But if gold is not bought to flaunt with rational investors would always prefer to pay the lowest price for the gold content. That is, at the SGE.

A Chinese investor that wants to invest, for example, 100,000 RMB in gold will likely open an SGE account through which he can exchange his fiat money for physical metal. At the SGE the investor is granted to pay the lowest price. His purchase at the SGE , however, would then not be counted in retail demand.

My estimate is that half of the gold withdrawn from the vaults of the SGE is bought by wholesale customers that process the metal into gold products, like jewelry, that are eventually sold to the private sector. The other half of the gold withdrawn from the vaults is purchased directly by the private sector (individual and institutional clients). Have a look at the next chart:

SGE distribution

Currently the SGE has almost 10,000 institutional and over 8.3 million individual clients. If those 8.3 million clients all buy 100 grams of gold a year that would be 830 tonnes of gold. Of course we don’t know how much all the individual and institutional clients buy every year, though, the total number of institutional and individual clients can easily explain the huge volumes of gold withdrawn from the vaults on a yearly basis. In 2015 no less than 2,596 tonnes of gold were withdrawn from the SGE vaults – in comparison 2,860 tonnes were globally mined.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE withdrawals yearly 2007 2015

Previously I’ve written how easy it is for Chinese citizens to open an SGE account and start trading. As of December last year people with an SGE account can also trade gold on their smartphone (Android or iOS) through the Yijintong app that provides access to the SGE trading system. Within a couple of weeks from now “SGE Gold Accounts” can also be opened through this application. Below I’ve displayed a couple of screenshots from Yijintong:

The announcement by the SGE regarding the launch of the new mobile trading software was published on 10 December 2015. BullionStar decided to translate the article as it once again exposes what the Chinese gold market is all about. For an orderly, healthy and strong development of the Chinese gold market all enterprises and citizens have direct access to the central SGE trading system overseen by the PBOC. Accordingly, everyone in China can buy gold directly at the SGE and thus Chinese gold demand measured at retail level is anything but complete.

Next is the translation of the article, at the end you can find the QR code for downloading the software yourself.

State-level Gold Market Transaction Terminal “Yijintong” Was Formally Released

December 10, 2015

With the increasing growth of residents’ wealth in recent years, gold and silver investment has become a trend. However, numerous precious metals transaction platforms and software of varying quality have brought many risks to vast investors on the way to wealth. In order to guarantee investors’ legal rights and guide the healthy development of gold market, “Yijintong”, an authoritative and professional transaction terminal integrating market, transaction and online account opening has emerged.

“Yijintong” breaks a cocoon after painstaking efforts for half a year

In December 2015, the Shanghai Gold Exchange “Yijintong” app was formally released and has entered into the trial operation stage. It is the first professional mobile terminal of state-level gold market jointly researched and developed by the Gold Exchange and all its members after half a year. The first batch of online members include China Bank, Industrial Bank, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, China Everbright Bank, Ping An Bank, Postal Savings Bank, Ningbo Bank and Haitong Securities. Members who agent personal business in exchanges such as the Agricultural Bank of China, China Securities, China Construction Bank, Bank of Communications, China Minsheng Banking Corp will join the system in succession.

“Yijintong” has comprehensive functions and advanced systems, which are compatible with various Android and iOS operating systems. Right now, it possesses market, transaction, search and information functions, so investors can conduct transactions via mobile phones after opening an account online. In early 2016, Yijintong will also be supporting mobile phone online account opening function. After that, new users will be able to establish Shanghai Gold Exchange’s “Gold Account” business on their mobile phones directly, and avoid the step of visiting stores. It has brought convenience for personal investors to participate in gold and silver transactions.

Authoritative, convenient and comprehensive “Gold Splendor”

Shanghai Gold Exchange has always been dedicated to the healthy and orderly development of the Chinese gold market under the guidance of the Central Bank [the PBOC] leaders for years. It strives to serve entity industry and members in order to offer an open, fair and transparent transaction platform for investors. Now, it has gradually formed to an abundant market system of domestic and overseas markets integrating bidding (spot and derivatives), asking, leasing and financing. Up until November 2015 the Gold Exchange counted 246 members globally, 183 domestic members and 63 international members, next  to almost 10,000 institutional and over 8.3 million individual clients.

As the first domestic professional mobile terminal released by the state-level gold market, “Yijintong” has attracted the market attention after it was released owing to its identity of “being jointly released by the Shanghai Gold Exchange and members”. The gold market and investors have welcomed its authoritative information and fair and transparent transaction functions.

While taking functional practicability and user experience into consideration, Yijintong has taken the lead in realizing rapid declaration via mobile phones, real-time account search and internal reference of professional investment, helped investors sell or buy gold, open or close transactions, as well as utilized professional data and information to better grasp the investment opportunities on the precious gold market. One thing to point out is that the Gold Exchange and members jointly released the system. Investors can access to transactions through “Yijintong” without changing the existing business structure, agency relations and risk responsibility system of the Gold Exchange, members and investors.

Investors can log into Yijintong through mobile phones to conduct daily and nightly market transactions and search, utilizing all-day mobile phone services for gold and silver transactions, allowing Yijintong to become a mobile phone gold and silver investment edge tool that integrates functions and practicability, which also helps investors to do well in both work and financial management.

Download methods: iOS and Android mobile phone users can scan the QR code and open it in the browser to download and install directly.

SGE app qr code


The Chinese Gold Market Essentials Guide

Everything there is to know about the Chinese gold market and the true size of Chinese private and official gold demand. Start here.

This post will guide you through all relevant articles that have been published on BullionStar Blogs over the years that elucidate the mechanics of the Chinese (domestic) gold market and genuine Chinese gold demand. If you are new to the Chinese gold market or like to refresh your memory, this post provides a staring point from where to navigate through all segments of the Chinese gold market you like to study. For example, Chinese gold demand metrics, the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) system, Chinese cross-border gold trade rules, the Chinese gold lease market and official gold reserves held by China’s central bank the People’s Bank Of China (PBOC).

The BullionStar blog posts that collectively clarify all facets of the Chinese gold market are titled Chinese Gold Market Essentials. Whenever the mechanics of the Chinese gold market develop all Chinese Gold Market Essentials will be updated or new ones will be published, as to remain a comprehensive knowledge base on the largest physical gold market in the world at all times. All Chinese Gold Market Essentials have been recently rewritten and the post on PBOC gold purchases contains many very important new insights. 

Topical data such as monthly Chinese gold import numbers will not be updated in the Chinese Gold Market Essentials, however, this data will be published in new blog posts appearing on my BullionStar Blogs homepage, accompanied with a link to this webpage to be complete.

If there is anything unclear, if you have additional information or if you have a suggestion to improve the Chinese Gold Market Essentials, please send me an email at koos.jansen@bullionstar.com.

Understanding The Chinese Gold Market Step By Step

The unique structure of the Chinese domestic gold market, the SGE system, and why the amount of physical gold withdrawn from the vaults of the SGE (published on a weekly basis) can be used as a measure for Chinese wholesale gold demand is explained in part one: The Mechanics Of The Chinese Domestic Gold Market. It also provides a basic understanding of contrasting metrics applied to measure Chinese gold demand, and the difference between SGE withdrawals and Chinese consumer gold demand as disclosed by the World Gold Council, which has aggregated to at least 2,500 tonnes from 2007 until 2015. For whatever reason, the World Gold Council and its affiliates continuously present feeble arguments that should explain the difference. The Chinese Gold Market Essentials debunk these arguments where necessary, back up by facts, and reveal genuine Chinese gold demand.

More detailed rules regarding cross-border gold trade in and out of the Chinese domestic gold market and Free Trade Zones in China are discussed in part two: Chinese Cross-Border Gold Trade Rules.

When fully comprehending the mechanics of the Chinese domestic gold market and Chinese cross-border gold trade rules you can continue reading Workings Of The Shanghai International Gold Exchange about the international subsidiary exchange of the SGE set up to become the major gold trading hub in Asia. Related is SGE Withdrawals In Perspective that discusses how trading activity on the Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI) can potentially blur our view on Chinese wholesale gold demand when measured by SGE withdrawals.

Congratz! At this point you have a thorough understanding of the Chinese gold market. To Study more about the difference please continue with Chinese Commodity Financing Deals Explained, which is mainly about the Chinese gold lease market. The post also includes many links to additional posts about the Chinese gold lease market, among others, a paper written by the PBOC in 2011 exclusively translated by BullionStar. For a detailed study on the difference, and thus genuine Chinese gold demand, please read Why SGE Withdrawals Equal Chinese Gold Demand And Why Not (The Argument List).

Finally, please read PBOC Gold Purchases: Separating Facts from Speculation for studying the amount of gold accumulated by China’s central bank in recent years in addition to private reserves. At the end of the post you can find an overview of the estimated amounts of above ground gold in China (privately owned gold and official holdings). This post has collected many new contributions in recent months, a must read!

Interview Koos Jansen By Lars Schall, November 2015

I was interviewed by Lars Schall on behalf of Matterhorn Asset Management, 4 November 2015. Please listen to the podcast below, or you can read the transcript provided with links for further reference. Wa talked about PBOC gold purchases, the London Bullion Market, The Shanghai Gold Exchange, the Silk Road Economic Project and much more!

China is playing the gold game very carefully

Lars:  My first question would be, during this year, the Chinese Central Bank announced its new gold position.  How much does China possess now and do you think those numbers are accurate?

KJ:  Well, they state they have about 1,700 tons right now.  I do not think those numbers are accurate.  I think the numbers they disclose now every month since June, they are increasing their reserves a little bit, just like Russia does, and I think this is a strategy maybe communicated between Russia and China even to slowly push for a new monetary system, international monetary system.  So, if they would’ve disclosed they have 3,000 tons or 4,000, whatever they have or see fit to disclose, they would really rock the boat in the international sphere.  So, they are very careful in playing this game and they also want to be included into the SDR to internationalize the Renminbi.  That is of great importance for them, so they are finding ways to internationalize and the Renminbi being included into the SDR is one of them, to be a reserve currency, and so they don’t want to make too many enemies.  So, they’re playing it really careful.  They stated in, I believe it was June or July, they increased official gold reserves by 600 tons from 1,054 to about 1,700 and they’re increasing reserves now by, you know, 15 tons a month more or less.  I think it’s a strategy to slowly push for a new international monetary system in which the Renminbi will have a much greater role.  So, I don’t believe the 1,700 number.  I think they have a little bit more, between 2,000 or 4,000 tons.  I did a study once about this but it’s kind of difficult because it’s really one of the best kept secrets on earth, but my study indicated that they do buy about 500 tons a year.  There was a small segment in the paper from Deutsche Bank that said the PBOC is buying 500 tons a year.  I stumbled upon a study from a guy from the China Gold Association who had written a report in 2011 and he advised the People’s Bank of China to increase its official gold reserves by 500 tons a year, so that would be about 3,500, 4,000 tons right now.  Of course, this gentleman from the China Gold Association is not a policymaker but I collected a lot of hints from various places that the People’s Bank of China is buying about 500 tons a year.  Now, we can’t prove it but it sure suggests they have more than 1,700 tons and then indirectly it suggests that the 1,700 tons they state they have is just strategy.

Lars:  Yeah, but the Chinese can buy gold covertly?  I mean, your company, for example, has done a study that a huge amount of gold went off the radar in London.  How can that be?

KJ:  Yes, that’s correct.  That started with an investigation from Ronan Manly from BullionStar and Nick Laird from Sharelynx, and Bron Sucheki and I also helped a little bit.  In the first instance, it was a study about the London bullion market and how much gold was left in London.  Now, they found that in 2011, there were 9,000 tons in London in the LBMA system, let’s say, within the London Ring way so that includes LBMA vaults, it includes the vault of the Bank of England, foreign central bank it’s called, and then in 2015, that number dropped from 9,000 to 6,250.  So, it means that 2,750 tons were removed or had left London since 2011.  Now, official foreign trade statistics indicate that the UK over this period only net exported about 1,000 tons, so that means that 1,750 tons is missing from London, let’s say.  So, that can be possible because what we see in international merchandise trade statistics, I should say that’s the official name for goods and services crossing the border, only non-monetary gold is disclosed.  So, what I do and a few colleagues of mine is we track all merchandise trade statistics from the UK, Switzerland, Hong Kong, all the gold trading hubs, also some mining nations such as Russia or nations in Africa.  But all of those numbers only include non-monetary gold because the rules are that non-monetary gold must be disclosed in these reports but monetary gold is exempt from being disclosed in foreign trade statistics.  So, in this way, for example, the People’s Bank of China can buy gold in London, non-monetary gold from whatever seller and they can monetize it in London and then covertly ship it home without it having to be declared at the customs department.  They can do this all around the world.  They can do it in Africa, they can do it in Switzerland, and they can do it in Hong Kong.  Just to illustrate, Hong Kong net imported 600 tons of gold in 2013.  That’s a lot of gold but I think it’s possible that the People’s Bank of China bought a part of that gold in Hong Kong once it was imported as non-monetary gold in Hong Kong.  Probably a part of it was monetized in Hong Kong and then shipped to the mainland for the official gold reserves of the People’s Bank of China.

Lars:  Yes, but when it comes to gold buying as a covert operation, so to say, does the PBOC buy gold directly or is this buying through proxies?

KJ:  I think they buy through proxies because what they buy is kind of a good kept secret, and they are very secretive about it.  So, to avoid any risk of leaking, I think they buy through proxies.  In any case, they buy through SAFE and maybe through CIC which are sovereign wealth funds, but even maybe through Chinese commercial banks, I don’t know, but I assume they buy through other proxies.

Lars:  And does this buying take place via the Shanghai Gold Exchange?

KJ:  No.  This is the whole thing.  This is what I like to talk about because a lot of analysts look at China and they count how much China is mining every year and they count how much non-monetary gold imports into China is every year.  China doesn’t disclose how much they import in non-monetary gold but from looking at other nations, for example, Hong Kong and Switzerland and the UK, we know how much they export to China so we can more or less figure out what they import.  But that is all non-monetary gold and all the non-monetary gold which is imported into China is required to be sold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  So, the question then is, does the People’s Bank of China buy gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  Now, I don’t think they do.  There are a number of reasons.  One reason, for example, is that I think the People’s Bank of China likes to buy London Good Delivery Bars, which are 400 ounce or 12.5kg in the metric system, because the gold in those bars is cheaper.  If you buy a ton of gold in coins, it’s more expensive than in London Good Delivery Bars.  So, I think they buy London Good Delivery Bars but these bars are not being sold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  They can be sold but if I look at all the trade data from the Shanghai Gold Exchange, only I think, if I recall correctly, three tons have been sold in London Good Delivery Bars in 12.5kg bars through the Shanghai Gold Exchange in recent years.  So, that will mean that either the People’s Bank of China is not buying London Good Delivery Bars or they are not buying through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  For example, all gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange is denominated in Renminbi and I think the People’s Bank of China wants to diversify its foreign exchange reserves, which are predominantly in US dollars for gold.  So, they want to sell their US dollars and buy gold.  That is not done through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  So, I made a whole list, I wrote an article about this once, about all the reasons why the People’s Bank of China may or may not buy gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange and it’s kind of obvious they would not buy gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange, also because it would be done in clear sight.  If they buy a few tons every week in the Shanghai Gold Exchange, everybody would see it, you know, and again, they would then buy all these 1kg bars.  So, I think given the fact they are so secretive about it and all the reasons I think they will never buy gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  I do think they are able to intervene in the Chinese domestic gold market but as a main hypothesis, I’d say the People’s Bank of China would not buy gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange and from there, I try to analyze.

Lars:  Okay, but where do the Chinese try to sell their dollars and get gold in return?

KJ:  Well, London is an example.  Most gold across the world is paid for in US dollars so they can buy it anywhere.  Also, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, maybe they have some deals with mining companies in Africa or Australia that they covertly ship some to China mainland but it’s not difficult of course to sell your dollars and buy gold in the international market.

Lars:  Yeah, and talking about gold mining projects, well the ‘One road, One belt’ project in Eurasia driven by the Chinese is connected already to gold.  Can you talk a little bit about how this is connected to gold?

KJ:  On the Eurasian continent, there are a lot of clubs cooperating at the moment and that is kind of interesting.  Maybe the biggest club is the ‘Silk Road Economic Project’ also called the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project initiated by the Chinese President – I believe it was in 2012 but in the last year, it gathered steam.  There are about 60 countries along this Silk Road and his intention is to have more cooperation on the political and economic fields now.  The Silk Road is a big project and there’s also a Silk Road fund but underneath this Silk Road project, we have the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which has 57 founding members among which a lot of western countries, a lot of European countries.  There is also the Eurasian Economic Union which consists of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.  That is not officially a part of the Silk Road project yet but these are clubs that are all gaining ground on the Eurasian continent.  You then have the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and all these clubs are also starting to cooperate a little bit.  There’s also President Putin who said already that his Eurasian Economic Union will cooperate with the Silk Road Economic Project so that is one.  And now this year, the Chinese have disclosed that there also will be a Silk Road Gold Fund which is led by the SGE and is meant for more cooperation on the Eurasian continent obviously in mining exploration, gold trading, and things like that.  So, that is a really significant development and the SGE also said that it will facilitate gold buying for foreign central banks.  So, I can imagine countries like Kazakhstan, for example, buying gold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange, Shanghai International Gold Exchange, I should say, in the future.  So, this is the intention of the Silk Road Gold Fund.  We also saw some little signs of cooperation earlier this year.  Russia’s biggest mining company, Polyus Group, started a cooperation with China’s biggest mining company, China National Gold Group.  I just wrote an article about this, Polyus sells most of its gold so it outputs through VTB Bank which is a Russian bank and VTB Bank also became a member of the Shanghai Gold Exchange last week.  So, likely more gold from Polyus will be sold through VTB Bank on the Shanghai Gold Exchange.  The volume of the Shanghai International Gold Exchange is still very low and the Shanghai International Gold Exchange is really meant for the world to sell its gold in Renminbi to other countries.  The volume is very low at the moment so we can say it has failed up until now but who knows what the future will hold.

Lars:  Isn’t it interesting, you’ve mentioned the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which was launched in the summer of 2001 that many of the members are buying gold actively, that many of the countries that are intended to be members of the SCO one day that they are also buying gold, for example, Turkey, and that many of those countries, they have the majority of all the gold that is in the ground, in the soil still to produce?

KJ:  Well, first I’d like to say that Turkey is not buying gold.  Turkey has a special system in which commercial banks offer Turkish citizens to deposit their gold.  The Indian system, which has been launched now is kind of based on the Turkish system.  So, in Turkey, people can go to a bank and they can deposit their gold and get an interest on their gold.  Of course, they risk losing their gold, but this gold is being collected by commercial banks can be used by commercial banks as reserve requirements at the central bank.  So, they use this gold from the citizens as a reserve requirement at the central bank.  The central bank counts this gold as their official gold reserves, so the Turkish Central Bank is not buying any gold.  They just double count the gold from the citizens.

Lars:  Thank you for underlining this.

KJ:  Yes, I should write a new article about this because I think the system is exactly the same now or being launched now in India.  The Indian Central Bank also has said that the Indian commercial banks can use the gold in deposit from the citizens as a reserve requirement.  So, I don’t know if they’re going to count that gold also as official gold reserves but it’s very worth watching.  So, the next question was about the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, yeah.  Of course, those nations are buying gold and I see a lot of gold in the wider Silk Road region.  If we look at Asia and Europe, for example, a lot of countries in Asia are buying gold and then we have, for example, in India, the people are buying a lot of gold, about 900-1,000 tons a year.  In other Asian countries, the central banks are buying gold which is very significant because that is like, you know, we are diversifying away from the US dollar.  I don’t need to tell our listeners this; a lot of buying is happening on the Asian continent.  On the European continent, these central banks already have a lot of gold but what they’re doing is they’re repatriating their gold from the UK, from the Bank of England, and from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the US.  So, I think both continents, Europe and Asia are focused on gold and slowly moving away from the US dollar, albeit that the Europeans are not yet buying.  They’re repatriating because they have already significant amounts of gold.  The Asians are buying.

Lars:  Recently, Peter Mooslechner, an official of the Central Bank of Austria said that the Asians are more active in the gold market now and that they use their gold to influence the price or actually he said to intervene in the market.  Do you have something to say on those statements that he made?

KJ:  Yeah.  Well, actually I found his interview very interesting.  I don’t really know what he meant by intervening because he also said that, you know, we gold analysts immediately think about gold price manipulation.  I don’t know if all those countries he mentioned are manipulating gold price because he also mentioned the euro system and the ECB are intervening into the gold markets, just like the Asian countries.  I’m not sure what he meant by that.

Lars:  Yes, but you know that I’ve asked him some specific questions.

KJ:  Yes, I know.

Lars:  It’s their policy not to provide answers to any questions that relate to their strategy with gold or other central banks strategy with gold.

KJ:  Yes, of course, if you ask a central banker about gold, he will never answer you.  I’ve found that all across the world which is a signal in itself we can think, but I didn’t really focus on the comments of Mooslechner on the intervening parts which he said.  I found more interesting what he said about repatriating gold and about Europe maybe even buying gold if the Chinese economy is going down.  The world is entering a recession again. I found that very interesting and also because at one point he said that European countries, more and more European countries are repatriating because of economic nationalism which is a contradiction to what he said a minute before and that was that the Austrian Central Bank was repatriating because of a concentration risk at the Bank of England.  So, clearly this contradiction indicates that he is not repatriating because of a concentration risk at the Bank of England but because of other reasons.  Now, also this year, the General Court of Auditors in Austria, they released a report in which they disclosed that the Austrian auditors were not allowed to audit their gold in England in the past years in between 2009 and 2013.  That is of course one of the real reasons why Austria is repatriating is because the gold is not safe at the Bank of England or, you know, for other countries like the Netherlands.  The gold is not safe in New York.  That’s why they are repatriating and so that was my takeaway from the interview with Mooslechner.

Lars:  Yes, and is it your perception related to the German case that the Bundesbank is following a policy of economic nationalism.  Don’t you think that it is very reluctant and that it does what it does only because there was public pressure?

KJ:  That’s a good question.  Of course, it also has to do with public pressure but I don’t think the Bundesbank is only repatriating because of public pressure.  I think they do it because of their own interests, bearing in mind, I believe it was in 2001, the Bundesbank repatriated about 1,000 tons from the Bank of England in secret.  Nobody knew about it so there was no public pressure at the time and they repatriated the gold even still from the Bank of England.  The same goes for the Netherlands.  They repatriated.  The Dutch Central Bank repatriated not really because of public pressure.  I mean, there was some, you know, I submitted a freedom of information act (FOIA) request once and there were some talks in politics.  Of course, that happened after the economic crisis, you know, chatter about gold was started but I don’t think it was public pressure in the Netherlands or in Germany that led them to repatriate the gold.  I think it’s their own interest.  The second question of course is, so why do they take so long and why don’t they repatriate all the gold.  Now, just like I said previously about Asia, I think they do this so slowly because it’s such a sensitive subject.  Maybe the gold indeed is not all there anymore so that’s why they have to do it very gently.  We can also imagine that if, for example, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany were to repatriate all their gold all at once then it would of course lead to instant shock in financial systems.  So, I think it’s on purpose that they do it slowly but it’s speculation.

Lars:  However, the Germans intend to leave roughly half of their gold position in New York and London, and they are saying, this is now the official position of the Bundesbank that they want to leave it there so they are able to react to a currency crisis if it appears or a curse.  Do you have to have the gold in London and in New York for such a purpose?

KJ:  I would say no.  I mean, if there would be a currency crisis, people would rush to gold and your gold would become more valuable and you would like to have it at home, not in England or New York.  Only if there was a crisis and you want to sell gold, you would like to have gold in London, but how I look at it, I think it’s better with economic turmoil up ahead to have your gold at home than in England.

Lars:  Yes, and the IMF says that gold, monetary gold, physical bullion gold is the only financial asset with no counterpart risk.

KJ:  Yes, with no counterparty risk.  This was stated in the balance payments manual number six.  Yeah, yeah.  I think those things are really significant and, you know.

Lars:  Yes, but in order to be such a financial asset, you really have it in your own possession, on your own soil, right?

KJ:  Right, right.  Oh, sorry, you were referring to the previous question. – You’re absolutely right.  If you talk about gold and gold is the only asset with no counterparty risk, you’d need it at home and of course it does have a counterparty risk if it’s in London or in New York.  It’s as simple as that.  Yeah, you’re right.

Lars:  Now, another question would be that China is a big producer of gold but the production doesn’t leave the country.  Where does it go to?

KJ:  I think to the private sector in China.  Before 2002 when the Shanghai Gold Exchange was launched, the People’s Bank of China had the monopoly in the Chinese domestic gold market.  So, all the domestic mining output was sold to the People’s Bank of China and then it was distributed to a few designated jewelry shops or to maybe the coffers of the PBOC.  So, before 2002, all the gold that was mined in China flowed through the People’s Bank of China but since the Shanghai Gold Exchange was launched in 2002, most of the gold, I would say 99% of the gold mined in China is being sold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange, and then what I just spoke about in one of my previous answers is that I think the private sector are the buyers on the Shanghai Gold Exchange in China.  So, it does not really go to the People’s Bank of China, maybe still a little bit is going to the People’s Bank of China because maybe they still have some covert mines operating in China but actually most of the conventional output is being sold through the Shanghai Gold Exchange.

Lars:  Koos, thank you very much for this interesting conversation.

KJ:  Okay, thank you very much, Lars.

Interview Willem Middelkoop About The Big Reset

The very reason I became interested in gold after the financial crisis in 2008 was because of Dutch gold guru, author, journalist, entrepreneur, and fund manager Willem Middelkoop. When I started reading his books I was immediately obsessed with economics and the gold market – along with thousands of others across the world.  Who would have thought that I would become a precious metals analyst a few years later?

It was an honor to have contributed to Willem’s latest book The Big Reset with translations from Chinese policy makers that stimulate their citizenry to accumulate physical gold and my initial research into the Shanghai Gold Exchange that revealed Chinese gold demand was approximately twice a large as what was previously thought in the English-speaking world.

When The Big Reset was first released in January 2014 I’ve conducted an interview with its author about the inevitable reset of the international monetary system (the interview was published in two parts on this blog – onetwo). Since then a lot has happened in the global realm of economics and at the same time The Big Reset became an international best seller. As we speak The Big Reset has been translated in Dutch, German and Chinese and is expected to appear in Portuguese, Arabic, Polish and Vietnamese.

To keep up with the most recent developments Willem has added 70 pages in the revised edition of The Big Reset. For me a reason to have another chat with him about what he saw has happened in the past two years:

The Big Reset

J: Is it a coincidence that after the financial crisis more tensions between the West and East emerged and is there a financial war played by the US?

WM: Economic warfare aims to capture or otherwise control the supply of critical economic resources or destroying a country’s currency.  The US understands better than anybody else that a country can sometimes be hurt more by doing this than by bombing its infrastructure. A recent example of financial economic warfare was the sudden crash of the price of oil and value of the ruble soon after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, in the second part of 2014. In less than six months the price of oil halved. This large drop could not be explained by fundamentals like supply and demand. Some market commentators said it reminded them of the Cold War era when the US and the former USSR competed not only in a military way, but also tried ‘to play the economy’. Because the USSR was increasingly more dependent on food imports, especially grain, the export of oil had to bring in enough dollars. The US decided to use its influence on Saudi Arabia (OPEC) and persuaded them to expand the supply of oil, making the oil price plunge in the 1980s. It would soon prove to be a fatal attack for Russia and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The fact that Saudi Arabia in 2014 again increased its oil production fuelled rumours of a new economic war against Russia. The collapse of the oil price led to collapse of the Russian ruble. The Russian Sberbank, confirmed that it had come under a financial economic attack in December 2014. Herman Gref, CEO of Sberbank, disclosed a foreign-based attempt to provoke a bank run during the December ruble crisis. In an interview he said that about $6 billion had been withdrawn from the Sberbank in a single day after a massive information attack, with people receiving text messages saying Sberbank was facing problems paying out deposits. Thousands of SMS-messages were sent, including a large number of mailings done from foreign websites.

Willem Middelkoop the big reset
Willem Middelkoop

J: What more do you see around the world in terms of financial warfare?

WM: In May 2015, the US had a number of high-ranking FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland in connection to a bribery case. Most observers did not understand that the US action was designed to pressure FIFA, ‘urging it to consider removing Russia as host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup because of its role in the Ukraine crisis and occupation of Crimea.’ China and Russia were also shocked to learn how the SWIFT international payment system was used as a means to attack Russia. In 2014, the United Kingdom pressed the EU to block Russia from the SWIFT network as a sanction for the Russian aggression in Ukraine. China responded quickly and launched its own alternative, the China International Payment System (CIPS). In addition, by 2012 SWIFT disconnected all Iranian banks from its international network. Alastair Crooke, a former MI6 official is one of the few individuals who has been very open about the purpose of this kind of financial and economic warfare.

J: Is this all meant to defend the US dollar hegemony?

WM: In a book, ‘Treasury’s War,’ the tool of exclusion from the dollar-denominated global financial system is described as a ‘neutron bomb.’ When a country must be isolated, a ‘scarlet letter’ is issued by the US Treasury that asserts that such-and-such bank is somehow suspected of being linked to a terrorist movement – or of being involved in money laundering. The author of ‘Treasury’s War’ Juan Zarate, chief architect of modern financial warfare and a former senior Treasury and White House official, writes this scarlet letter constitutes a more potent bomb than any military weapon. With Ukraine we have a substantial, geostrategic conflict taking place, being part of a geo-financial war between the US and Russia.

J: What’s China’s roll in this?

WM: It has brought about a close alliance between Russia and China. China understands that Russia constitutes the first domino; if Russia is to fall, China will be next. These two states are together moving to create a parallel financial system, disentangled from the Western financial system. That’s why both are accumulating so much physical gold. It includes replicating SWIFT and creating entities such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. One of the principal tools in the hands of Washington to control the global system was always the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nations have to go to the IMF to ask for financial help, when in difficulties, but recently it was China – and not the IMF – which bailed out Venezuela, Argentina and Russia as their currencies crashed. China became concerned when the ruble crashed late 2014, and intervened to halt a run on the currency. The IMF and the World Bank are no longer at the center of the global financial order.

J: Why is this dollar hegemony so important for the US?

WM: ‘Great nations have great currencies and great currencies can give countries great power so they can even grow into empires’, political scientist Jonathan Kirshner once said. In order to maintain its monetary hegemony, the United States must weaken any potential competitors who will possibly challenge the US monetary hegemony. Wars in the Middle East are fought to strengthen the dollar’s position and fight regimes that have been supporting Russia. General Wesley Clark, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the 1999 War on Yugoslavia, confirmed in an interview that the US had decided to work toward regime changes in seven countries, in order to secure US interest in the region before any new world power might arise.

J: Through the dollar the US has unlimited powers?

WM: Any country, like the US, that issues the dominant world reserve currency has almost limitless power to finance other countries. It gives the monetary hegemony ‘exorbitant privilege,’ as the French remarked in the 1960s. Because it can print the world currency the US can buy anything it wishes without having to worry about its liabilities. While the Soviet Union collapsed because they had to import food with hard-earned dollars from their oil exports, in the 70s and 80s, the US could start the Korean War and the Vietnam War with freshly printed greenbacks. By ‘obliging’ foreign central banks to keep their monetary reserves in Treasury bonds, the US in fact forced them to finance US military spending abroad, as Michael Hudson explains in his book ‘Super Imperialism’. In this new form of imperialism, the US is able to rule not through its position as world creditor, but as world debtor. America’s weakness as a debtor country has indeed become the foundation of the world’s monetary and financial system. A Chinese market commentator once remarked: ‘World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that dollars can buy … a dollar hegemony that forces the world to export not only goods but also dollar earnings from trade to the US … Everyone accepts dollars because dollars can buy oil.’ Only when dollar-holding nations decide to buy natural resources instead of US treasuries, is the dollar’s reserve currency status in danger. This is exactly the exit strategy China and Russia seems to be playing right now. In recent years, the Russians have sold most of their dollar holdings, while they tripled their gold position. The Chinese have stopped buying extra US Treasuries since 2010 while they have imported and invested in huge amounts of gold. These developments signal the first stages of the US dollar’s decay.

Renminbi Internationalization And China’s Gold Strategy

Here we go!

A seminar about gold supporting the internationalization of the renminbi and China’s financial strength was held in Beijing on 18 September 2015. One of the keynote speakers was Song Xin, President of the China Gold Association (CGA), Chairman of the Board of China International Resources Corporation, President of China National Gold Group Corporation and Party Secretary, who believes China’s economic power must be serviced by appropriate gold reserves to support the renminbi. An article written by Song published on Sina Finance in 2014 stated (translation by BullionStar):

For China the strategic mission of gold lies in the support of renminbi internationalization. Gold … forms the base for a currency moving up in the international arena.

If the renminbi wants to achieve international status, it must have popular acceptance and a stable value. To this end… it is very important to have enough gold as the foundation and raising the ‘gold content’ of the renminbi. Therefore, to China, the meaning and mission of gold is to support the renminbi to become an internationally accepted currency and make China an economic powerhouse.

That’s why, in order for gold to fulfill its destined mission, we must raise our gold holdings a great deal, and do so with a solid plan. Step one should take us to the 4,000 tonnes mark, more than Germany and become number two in the world, next, we should increase step by step towards 8,500 tonnes, more than the US.

President of the CGA before Song was Sun Zhaoxue, who shared many of the viewpoints of his successor. In 2012 a famous article from Sun was published in Qiushi magazine, the main academic journal of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, wherein he plead for stimulating the Chinese citizenry to buy gold next to increasing China’s official gold reserves (translation by BullionStar):

Currently, there are more and more people recognizing that the ‘gold is useless’ story contains too many lies. Gold now suffers from a ‘smokescreen’ designed by the US, which stores 74% of global official gold reserves, to put down other currencies and maintain the US Dollar hegemony. Effectively, the rise of the US dollar … and later the euro currency, from a single country currency to a global or regional currency was supported by their huge gold reserves.  

Individual investment demand is an important component of China’s gold reserve system, we should encourage individual investment demand for gold. Practice shows that gold possession by citizens is an effective supplement to national reserves and is very important to national financial security.

Regular readers of this blog will know what Sun wrote in 2012 regarding ‘individual gold investment’ is exactly what has unfolded; through the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) we could see thousands of tonnes of gold moving into the mainland in recent years. According to my estimates Chinese privates gold holdings have reached 12,000 tonnes – next to the People’s Bank Of China’s (PBOC) gold buying program.

Since my last extensive blog post (20 May 2015) on PBOC gold purchases I’ve been able to collect more clues related to the amount of gold China’s central bank has harvested in exchange for its lopsided US dollar holdings. Last week I spoke to an insider with connections at Western bullion banks. This gentleman confirmed proxies of the PBOC purchase gold directly in the London OTC gold market that is shipped to Beijing. Implying much of the 1,750 tonnes that have mysteriously vanished from the London Bullion Market (left London without being disclosed in UK customs statistics) in between 2011 and early 2015 went to China. This supports the analysis the PBOC is buying at a pace of 500 tonnes a year in the international OTC market (not through the SGE) and owns approximately 4,000 tonnes by now.

Furthermore, it seems the writings from Song and Sun correspond with China’s real undertakings in the gold market, which influences our valuation of their words. There are no transcripts from the seminar in September, but I found an article (in Chinese) that summarizes what Song and others have said. Please read the gripping translation below.


Note, Song is the President of China National Gold Group Corporation, which started an alliance with Russian gold miner Polyus Gold to deepen ties in gold exploration. China and Russia aim to trade (newly mined) gold over the Shanghai International Gold Exchange in renminbi for international institutions and central banks as part of the Silk Road Gold Fund to attract the center of the international gold market towards the East.

Renminbi Internationalization and China’s Gold Strategy Seminar

Date: September 22, 2015. Source 

On 18 September 2015 the “Renminbi Internationalization and China’s Gold Strategy Seminar” was smoothly held in Beijing. The seminar was guided by the China Gold Association and jointly held by the Chinese Gold Research Center of Capital University of Economics and Business and Beijing Gold Economic Development Research Center. It was supported by Zhao Jin Futures, Shandong Zhaojin Investment Co., Ltd., Shenzhen Jinmingzhu Jewelry Co., Ltd. and Chifeng Jilong Mining Industry Co., Ltd.

Over 130 representatives from the governments, banks, gold mining industry, gold investment organizations, jewelry companies and educational institutions attended the seminar. Wang Wenju, Vice President of Capital University of Economics and Business announced to rename the Chinese Gold Market Research Center of Capital University of Economics and Business on the seminar site.

Wang Jiaqiong, President of Capital University of Economics and Business, Song Xin, President of Chinese Gold Association & General Manager and Secretary of the Party Committee of China National Gold Group Corporation, Wang Xiaomei, Deputy Party Secretary of China National Gold Group Corporation, Wei Benhua, Former Director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange and Former General Representative of Chinese International Monetary Fund, and other leaders and representatives attended the seminar. 13 experts from China Gold Association, Shanghai Gold Exchange, Renmin University of China, Chinese Social Science, Capital University of Economics and Business, China Center for International Economic Exchanges, China Forex Investment Research Institute, Gold Economic Research Center, ICBC, China Construction Bank, Shandong Gold Group and Shandong Zhao Jin Group delivered splendid speeches.

Wang Jia Qiong
Wang Jiaqiong

President Wang Jiaqiong delivered a speech. In his speech, Wang Jiaqiong pointed out, RMB internationalization is a struggling process in need of strategic research. In the seminar, many experts, scholars and entrepreneurs were discussing renminbi internationalization and Chinese gold strategies. They would propose wise ideas and good policy suggestions after brainstorming, playing as a think tank in the development of China. The research team led by Professor Zhu Heliang from our university spent years studying Chinese gold strategy problems and some research results obtained the central affirmation and recognition. All of your arrival can better support our in-depth research on relevant topics and construction of related disciplines.

In the opening ceremony, Wang Wenju announced the renaming of the Chinese Gold Market Research Center of Capital University of Economics and Business, which focuses on the current gold market, to Chinese Gold Research Center of Capital University of Economics and Business with the purposes of better studying gold problems comprehensively, displaying the function of gold in national economy and society, boosting renminbi internationalization and keeping pace with the times. The school would offer vigorous support and hope that the new research center can strengthen team building and display think tank functions.

Song Xin rmb au
Song Xin

In his speech, Song Xin mentioned that the Chinese gold industry has achieved a great-leap-forward development since the new century. In 2014, Chinese gold yield had turned China into the biggest gold producing country in the world for eight consecutive years and the biggest gold consumption country again. Whether in the past, present or future, gold plays a crucial role in the development of human society. Renminbi internationalization has boosted China’s march towards an economic power from an economic giant. The new age has endowed gold with more important missions. Gold has shouldered a heavy responsibility of “increasing credit” for renminbi internationalization and increased the “gold content” for renminbi internationalization. 

Recently, the Central Bank announced to increase gold reserves to the public many times in succession. In fact, it’s the strategic layout and major move for laying the renminbi’s international credit foundation. We always suggest formulating and boosting national gold strategies in pace with national financial strategies positively, further improving the quantity and proportion of gold in national foreign exchange reserves, developing occupancy volume of gold production and increased gold resources. We further suggest perfecting the gold market, promoting foreign currency in individuals, boosting Chinese and western wealth flowing, improving our control power of global gold wealth flowing, accelerating renminbi internationalization, helping the renminbi enter special drawing rights currency basket, rebuilding international currency system, balancing American hegemony process, and positively displaying the due function of gold and the gold industry. Leaders from Capital University of Economics and Business have supported the research on gold problems for a long time. The team led by Professor Zhu Heliang has persistently pursued basic research on gold with outstanding viewpoints. They have obtained relevant departments’ high attention for long. I hope that Capital University of Economics and Business can further display its gathering advantages of majors and talents, and strengthen the cooperation with Chinese Gold Research Center, China National Gold Group Corporation and its subordinate companies.

In the seminar, experts thoroughly analyzed the essence and inherent laws of renminbi internationalization, new positioning and functions of gold in the non-gold standard currency system. They discussed the strategic significance of gold in renminbi internationalization from historical and actual perspectives and Chinese gold strategies in the new age. Experts unanimously regarded gold as playing an irreplaceable role in currency internationalization progress. The important element of gold shouldn’t be ignored during renminbi internationalization. The country should attach great importance to the development of the gold industry and market and increase gold reserve from a strategic height.

The seminar is the “prelude” of the first renminbi internationalization and Chinese Gold Strategy Research Project jointly carried out by Chinese Gold Research Center of Capital University of Economics and Business and Beijing Gold Economic Development Research Center. After the seminar, key viewpoints were to be collected and submitted to related departments. Chinese Gold News will set up a special column and publish solicited articles about “renminbi Internationalization and Chinese Gold Strategies”. Meanwhile, two organizations will organize special research teams, focus on the topic research of “renminbi internationalization and Chinese Gold Strategies”, and open the research results for publication. With national major strategy research as their own duty, the two organizations have formed a strategic alliance in terms of promoting renminbi internationalization and adjusted research directions of Chinese gold strategies in order to make effort and contribution to the prosperous cause of China.

What Happened To The Shanghai International Gold Exchange?

Withdrawals from the vaults of the largest physical gold bourse globally, the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), accounted for 54 tonnes (in week 45 / 16 until 20 November), up 10 % from last week. Year to date SGE withdrawals have reached 2,313 tonnes, which is an all time record.

Shanghai Gold Exchange SGE withdrawals delivery 2015 week 45

Please make sure you’ve read The Mechanics Of The Chinese Domestic Gold MarketChinese Gold Trade Rules And Financing Deals Explained, Workings Of The Shanghai International Gold Exchange, and SGE Withdrawals In Perspective.

Given elevated SGE withdrawals and continued weakness in the gold price it looks like the Chinese population is buying the dips. The Chinese central bank (PBOC) is likely doing the same, but not through the SGE. The PBOC does its monetary gold purchases in the international OTC gold market – for example, in London or Hong Kong.

According to Reuters China has imported 72 tonnes of (non-monetary) gold from Hong Kong in October – this gold is required to be sold first through the SGE, it’s not directed to the PBOC. Data from the Hong Kong Census & Statistics Department has not been released, but Reuters has a contract with the Department in order to obtain data a few days before the public release.

Known gold exports to China year to date: From January until October Hong Kong has exported 653 tonnes to China mainland, which is 784 tonnes annualized. Switzerland has exported 217 tonnes to China from January until October, annualized 260 tonnes. The UK shipped 210 tonnes to China in the first nine months of this year, annualized 280 tonnes. Australia net exported 49 tonnes in seven months, which is 84 tonnes annualized. So, without counting shipments from exporters such as South Africa and Singapore, China has imported 1,129 tonnes of gold year to date and is on track to import 1,408 tonnes of (non-monetary) gold in total this year. In addition, Chinese domestic mining output is set to reach 476 tonnes. Chinese apparent gold supply – without counting scrap – in 2015 will be 1,884 tonnes.


Using SGE withdrawals as a measure for Chinese gold demand can be slightly deceiving for a number of reasons. For example, Chinese citizens can buy gold on the SGE but prefer not to withdraw this metal from the vault, or chose to withdraw next month/year. This way, wholesale demand would actually be higher than the amount of gold being withdrawn. On the other hand, since the inception of the Shanghai International Gold Exchange (SGEI) gold can be withdrawn from SGEI (IB) Certified Vaults in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (SFTZ) and exported abroad. According to the accounting rules from the SGE, any SGEI withdrawal is included in SGE withdrawals. An export from the SFTZ would be included in SGE withdrawals. I’m always occupied with the details regarding SGE withdrawals, why we can use it as a measure for Chinese wholesale gold demand and why not. I think SGEI withdrawals can have been a cause for inflated SGE withdrawals this year. 

Late 2014 and early 2015 I’ve written SGE withdrawals could have been distorted by withdrawals from the SGEI. For a while I corrected SGE withdrawals by SGEI trading volume to be conservative about Chinese wholesale gold demand. We simply didn’t know what happened to the SGEI gold that was traded – was it withdrawn from the vaults or not withdrawn. Then, in February 2015 SGE chairman Xu Luode published some figures in an article for Bullion Bulletin that pointed out most of the SGEI trades that were withdrawn from the vault was imported into the Chinese domestic mainland. Meaning, SGEI trading volume could only have slightly distorted our measure of Chinese wholesale gold demand (SGE withdrawals).

After a run up in SGEI trading volume this year, from January until March, it appeared trading of iAu9999 (the most commonly traded SGEI contract – 1 Kg 9999) severely declined in recent months and I stopped subtracting SGEI trading volume from SGE withdrawals to measure Chinese wholesale gold demand. But, the other day I studied the Chinese SGE weekly reports. What I failed to see in recent months was that iAu9999 has been trading in the Chinese OTC market. Mea culpa. In the Chinese OTC market SGE contracts can be negotiated off-SGE, while settlement is done on-SGE.

In the Chinese weekly SGE reports we can see OTC trades on the first page. Below is a screen shot of the report, the OTC settlements are framed in red. Framed in blue is ‘this weeks’ trading, which was in week 45 (framed in green).

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 1.46.15 pm
Courtesy SGE.

Some analysts, including myself, thought the SGEI was dead. But it isn’t.

SGEI contracts bullionstar
In June OTC iAu9999 volume transcended a whopping 170 tonnes a week.

First of all, the iAu9999 contract is traded increasingly in the OTC market. In the chart above the black line resembles OTC iAu9999 trading volume. In the OTC market volume has declined from a peak in May, but I wouldn’t say trading has ceased.

It certainly is possible the gold of these OTC iAu9999 trades can have been withdrawn from the vaults in the SFTZ and exported abroad and thus inflated SGE withdrawals. When a contract (iAu9999) at the SGEI is exchanged, four things can happen (in the context of this investigation):

  1. The gold stays in the vault.
  2. The gold is withdrawn and stored elsewhere in the SFTZ.
  3. The gold is withdrawn and imported into the Chinese domestic gold market.
  4. The gold is withdrawn and exported to, for example, India.

Option 2 and 4 would increase SGE withdrawals without increasing Chinese wholesale gold demand.

When looking at the numbers from the OTC iAu9999 trading we can see an interesting pattern.

iAu9999 OTC

Have a look at the data labels in the chart above. We can see that all weekly OTC iAu9999 volumes end on two zeros (blue bars) or three zeros (red bars). These volumes are the sum of all trades executed during the week. It’s safe to conclude these volumes are exchanged by large traders, as iAu9999 is changing hands in batches of one hundred (blue bars) or in some weeks one thousand (red bars) 1 Kg 9999 bars. For example, in the week that ended 3 July 2015 exactly 73,000 Kg’s were traded. In theory, 20,855 Kg’s were traded on Monday and 52,145 Kg’s on Thursday, aggregating at 73,000 Kg’s in total for the week. Though, this coincidence cannot have occurred each and every week. More likely the OTC iAu9999 traders buy and sell per 100 or 1000 Kg’s. No other SGE or SGEI contracts show this bulky trading pattern.

Did any foreign nations buy gold through the SGEI OTC market and export it from the SFTZ? Hard to say. The most obvious gold trading partner for China is India. Early this year the SGE chairman wrote about the SGEI [brackets added by me]:

… Using the International Board [SGEI] as a launch pad, China’s gold market will embrace greater openness and foster stronger ties with its neighbours and, together, elevate the trading and pricing influence of Asia in the world’s gold market.

As a perennial major consumer of gold and a close neighbor of China, India will undoubtedly become one of SGE’s most important partners in the coming years. SGE looks forward to forming close partnerships with the Indian market.

Imaginably, the iAu9999 purchases were withdrawn from the SGEI vaults in the SFTZ and exported to India. Though, India’s trade statistics can be tracked very precisely and only a small amount of gold has been exported from China to India since the SGEI was erected in September 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 12.22.52 am
Courtesy Zauba.

In the table above we can see India imported 1.205 tonnes from China Since September last year. These imports into India can be processing trade from any Free Trade Zone in China (no SGEI involvement required), but can also be from purchases at the SGEI in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. In the latter scenario these exports would have been captured in SGE withdrawals (the metal is bought at the SGEI, withdrawn from the IB Certified Vault and exported).

In any case India imported very little gold from China in the past year. The only other gold importer from China I could find was Thailand at 1.488 tonnes, which makes me think foreigners have not yet been very active on the SGEI. More likely, at this stage, is that SGEI withdrawals are imported into the Chinese domestic gold market. Another option, given the large round number volumes, is that OTC iAu9999 is trading in China’s foreign exchange market.

I should add, the customs departments from Switzerland and Hong Kong confirmed that when gold is exported from local soil to the Shanghai Free Trade Zone it’s disclosed in their data as an ‘export to China’. It is irrelevant if that gold is ever imported into the Chinese domestic gold market. No matter what happens to the gold in the SFTZ  it is initially disclosed as an export to China.

In short, trading at the SGEI can have blurred SGE withdrawals this year. More research should point to what extent.