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Section: Daily Dispatches

Chinese Investors Take a Shine to Gold

By Lucy Hornby
China Post, Taipei
Monday, December 20, 2004

SHANGHAI -- It took the Caishikou department store just hours last
month to run out of gold bars stamped with a Year of the Rooster
motif, so Beijing's top gold retailer asked customers to register by
phone for a second round.

Nearly 3,000 did, salesmen said.

In China, gold is back in vogue. The country's growing urban middle
class is lining up to cash in on a spectacular 30 percent rally in
the precious metal's value over the last two years to a 16-year peak
on Dec. 2.

The rise is partly because the U.S. dollar, long China's hard
currency of choice, has dived nearly 30 percent over the same

Chinese investors have about 225 million yuan (US$27.2 million)
saved in gold, state media say. That's a drop in the ocean compared
with total savings of US$1.3 trillion, but a sea change from when
gold hoarding was forbidden after the Communists took power in 1949.

Exporting gold is still banned, but a thriving home-grown market now
allows the metal to trade relatively freely.

In line with late leader Deng Xiaoping's recognition that "to get
rich is glorious," the Shanghai Gold Exchange opened for business in
2002, reviving memories of the city's status as a gold trading hub
in the 1930s.

Some 235.35 tons of gold changed hands on the exchange in 2003, and
170.04 tons in the first half of this year alone.

The Bank of China -- the nation's premier foreign exchange lender --
jumped into the fray a year ago, offering "paper gold" certificates
to Shanghainese. Account holders use the certificates to buy and
sell gold held by the bank.

On Friday, the bank -- which has handled about 2.3 million grams of
paper gold transactions so far -- announced it would expand the
program to the rest of China.

"Shanghai is relatively rich so we launched here," said a paper gold
specialist with the Beijing-based bank.

"When it first started, we got a lot of interest from people in
Shanghai and other cities, calling to see how they could buy," she
said. "The city's investors are fairly savvy. They see very quickly
how they can make money with this."

Analysts see China's consumption of gold growing at most 6 percent
annually in the next year or so, but growth would be in double
digits by the end of the decade.

Consumption is still about a tenth that of the United States. Per-
capita gold consumption is 0.16 grams in China, against 2.70 grams
in Hong Kong and 1.42 grams in the United States, said Jon
Bergtheil, global metal strategist for JP Morgan.

But as incomes rise alongside red-hot economic growth rates in
excess of 8 percent, China could tighten the global supply-demand

"We consider gold to be a delayed market in China on two counts:
one, the late liberalization of the market; and two, if you look at
any economy, it is only with surplus cash that the average consumer
consumes jewelry," Bergtheil told Reuters.

Steadily rising demand, coupled with flat production and stable
patterns of central bank sales, could support global gold prices in
upcoming years, analysts said.

JP Morgan's projections showed mine production had peaked, with the
only area of potential growth -- South Africa -- held back by the
strong rand, Bergtheil said.

Assuming individual investment absorbs 400 tons a year of gold,
Bergtheil forecast that prices would average US$435 an ounce in
2005, rising to US$450 in 2006 and 2007.

His model assumes central banks will not dump gold reserves, but
that they will sell some if prices reach US$550 an ounce.

Spot gold traded at around US$438 an ounce Friday morning, off a
Dec. 2 high of US$456.75. At the beginning of 2003, it was quoted at
around US$350 an ounce.

But for China to make its mark on global gold markets, more of its
1.3 billion people need to acquire a taste for the metal.

Most Chinese consumers still buy gold primarily for jewelry, not

Rural women and low wage city workers often buy gold earrings and
bracelets, favoring a high level of purity to ensure easy re-sale.
But wealthy urbanites prefer platinum, in part because of its higher
price and greater status value.

"If high net-worth individuals decide to spread the risk in their
currency portfolio, say to even 5 percent in gold, that's a lot of
money entering a small market," JP Morgan's Bergtheil said.

Gung-ho investors in gold also dream of the rewards should China's
central bank raise the percentage of gold in its reserves to the
same ratio as the European Central Bank.

That would mean China could buy more than 4,500 tons, to add to the
600 tons now held, Bergtheil said.

"If you want to be a super-bull on gold, you assume that China
decides gold is a viable alternative to the dollars it's storing up
and which are increasingly being devalued," he said.

"Nobody wants to go along that argument route at the moment because
the numbers are simply too staggering."


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