Zhang Bing Nan of China Gold Association (view his slides here) when asked about the West to East flow gave what I think is a classic Chinese answer: the globe is round so what is East and what is West, which got a laugh. Other comments:
- no matter who you lend your dollars to it is not safe; not the same with gold
- fortunate we have different perspectives on gold (ie you Westerners want to sell while we want to buy)
- gold in people’s hand makes them feel safe
- Asians unlike westerners as don’t have same financial products hence they buy gold
Note also that China's development of its gold market is not just about physical: "China is speeding up the legislative process of the gold market, actively developing the gold derivatives quoted in RMB". Zhang also made a point about the China Gold Association being a 5A class national social organization which "ranks the highest level assessed by China's Ministry of Civil Affairs and ranks the fifth in the 177 participating national social organizations", which shows how importantly the Government views the gold market.
While we are on China, I would recommend reading this post by Ben Hunt:
"A number of readers asked if China’s accumulation of physical gold played a significant role in China’s current and forthcoming challenges to the Western monetary policy status quo. Absolutely! It has exactly the same meaning as the recently announced dollar-free natural gas trade agreement with Russia. It’s a fang. It’s a claw. It’s a tool in the construction of an alternative monetary policy regime structure."
Hector Freitas of UBS said that their wealth management division saw clients selling gold for a couple of months post the April gold price crash but that these were opportunistic investors who were now in equities, rather than being longer term diversification holders. He said UBS was seeing demand to shift physical gold to the East for storage and noted that there was more wealth in the West than the East, so if the West begin to distrust currency or war or other events occurred than the West will dominate gold demand. In that situation I can't see the East selling it so not sure where the West will get it from.
Tony Reynard of Singapore Freeport was interesting, saying that they never intended to build the Freeport for gold storage and that it was planned for art but they were asked by the market if they could store gold. Of the 25,000m2 of vault space only 10% is for gold. He said that gold is not a good return for them as they lease space by the square foot and gold doesn’t take up much space (note that Freeport is just a landlord, they don’t operate the vaults themselves, so the money is made by the storage firms who have a fixed lease cost but change a % of value). Of most interest was the statement that they have been asked to build similar facilities around the world including Luxembourg, China, South Korea, Macau, Japan and that all of these were requiring precious metal vault capability, which he took as a sign that the operators see a market for precious metal storage. Related comment from Guy Bullen of Brinks was that they found it physically challenging to handle the 2013 volume of gold going into China.
Regarding the talk about new Asian price benchmarks in competition with the London Fix, I missed who made this comment but they said that whether a benchmark can compete or become established depends not just on its volume but also whether there a big enough premium/discount due to fundamental difference between the location and existing benchmark locations from a physical point of view. For example, if the cost of moving gold from an existing benchmark location like London and the new one is say only $0.20 per ounce, then the market will just continue to use London as a benchmark due to its liquidity and the new benchmark won't get volume. Liquidity will only move if there is a big enough difference.
On India, Rashesh Shah of Edelweiss said that Indians save approximately $500bn each year of which 10% goes into gold resulting in a $40-50bn flow of money into gold each year. One ongoing debate with pro market analysts is whether gold demand will hold up as China and India develop, the theory being that people are mostly buying gold due to a lack of trusted financial and insurance products and as those products become more widespread gold demand will reduce. Rashesh felt that as India's financial sector become more sophisticated Indians will still buy gold but there will be more willingness to buy gold in financial vehicles, so he thought it would be the same consumption of physical gold and the change would just be in how it was bought. He said that currently India’s interest in gold was due to a view that it was the best bet against inflation, was easy to invest in and was a cheap way of "exporting" capital (getting around capital controls) by getting exposure out of the Rupee.
Finally, Harriet Hunnable of CME Group made the following comment on a panel session which she shared with LME and Tocom (it turned into a bit of a competitive pitch between CME and LME for the silver fix):
"We are not keen on financially settled gold contracts, market wants integrity of a physically settled contract."
Only comment I will make is that there is a big difference in "integrityness" between a market with the option of physical settlement and where only a few percent of contracts physically settle (eg Comex) and one where you have to physically settle and there is a 10% penalty if you don't (eg the new SGX kilobar contract).