A major report published today by the World Gold Council “China’s gold market: progress and prospects” suggests that private sector demand for gold in China is set to increase from the current level of 1,132 tonnes(t) per year to at least 1,350t by 2017. Following the record level of Chinese demand in 2013, which saw the country become the world’s largest gold market, the report suggests that while 2014 is likely to see consolidation, the succeeding years are likely to see sustained growth.
The report examines the factors that have driven China’s rise to become the number one producer and consumer of gold since the market began liberalising in the late 1990s. It also highlights why despite this steep growth in demand, the market will continue to expand, irrespective of short term blips in the economy.
The next six years will see China’s middle class grow by over 60%, or 200m people, to a total of 500 million. Comparing this to the total population of the US, which stands at 319m, puts the size of this new market of affluent consumers, with the propensity to buy gold, in perspective.
In addition to these newly emerging middle classes, rising real incomes, a deepening pool of private savings and rapid urbanisation across China suggest that the outlook for gold jewellery and investment demand in the next four years will remain strong.
Albert Cheng, Managing Director of the Far East at the World Gold Council said:
“Since liberalisation of the gold market began in the late 1990s and the subsequent offering of gold bullion products by local commercial banks from 2004, we have witnessed astonishing increases in demand for gold from consumers across the country. The cultural affinity for gold runs deep in China and when this is combined with an increasingly affluent population and a supportive government, there is significant room for the market to grow even further. The country is now at the centre of the global gold eco-system.”
“Whilst China faces important challenges as it seeks to sustain economic growth and liberalise its financial system, growth in personal incomes and the public’s pool of savings should support a medium term increase in the demand for gold, in both jewellery and investment.”
The key findings from the research include the following:
· China’s continuing urbanisation means that it now has 170 cities with more than one million inhabitants– within these cities, the middle classes currently number 300million and are set to grow to 500million by 2020. Demand for gold amongst those with a greater disposable income and limited investment opportunities will continue to grow.
· Chinese savings levels remain high – there is an estimated US$7.5 trillion in Chinese bank accounts and household allocations to gold remain small, around $300bn. Gold is seen as a stable, accessible investment by consumers, particularly in the light of rising house prices and a lack of alternative savings options. Chinese investors have a preference for physical gold over paper, with investment focused on small bars, gift bars or Gold Accumulation Plans (GAPs). New gold investment products mean that medium term demand for bars and coins could reach close to 500t by 2017 – a rise of nearly 25% above its record level last year.
· China has become the world’s number one jewellery market, nearly trebling in size over the past decade – at 669t in 2013, it accounts for 30% of global jewellery demand. Estimates suggest that demand will continue to grow and reach 780t by 2017. There are now over 100,000 retail outlets selling 24k gold and thousands of manufacturers nationwide.
· Consumer sentiment toward gold is unwavering – although 40% of jewellery consumption relates to weddings, the appetite for gold in China goes beyond occasions and gift giving. 80% of consumers surveyed for this report planned to maintain or increase their spending on 24-carat gold jewellery over the next 12 months believing that gold will hold its long-term value and because they expect to have a higher level of disposable income.
· Chinese electronics demand for gold will see small gains in the next four years – industrial demand has grown with electronics being the key driver (climbing from 16t in 2003 to 66t in 2013). China is also the leading market for gold related patents such as the use of nanogold in healthcare.
· Official gold holdings in China totalled 1,054t at the end of 2013 making the country the world’s sixth largest holder of bullion– based on this declared stock, gold represents 1% of China’s total official reserves (down from a peak of almost 2% in 2012) due to the rapid growth of the country’s foreign exchange holdings which reached around US$3.8 trillion at the end of 2013. Speculation continues as to whether the Chinese government has increased its gold holdings.
· China has gone from being a minor producer to the world’s largest source of mined gold – in the past ten years production has doubled from 217t to 437t.