|Meanwhile, an update on the physical market..|
"........Given the incredible scale of western central bank intervention over the past six months, the BRICS' increasing frustration with their printing efforts should be a given by now. The real question is what they're doing about it, and what assets they're accumulating to protect themselves from the inevitable, which brings us to gold. Although the paper gold price has been range-bound over the past month, the physical gold market has been undergoing staggering change. Earlier this month it was revealed that Hong Kong gold imports into China totaled nearly 40 tonnes in the month of February, representing a 13-fold increase over the same month last year (see Figure 2).22 40 tonnes annualized equates to 480 tonnes per year - a massive number in a market that only produced 2,810 tonnes of mine supply in 2011.23
FIGURE 2: CHINA'S GOLD IMPORTS FROM HONG KONG
Source: Hong Kong Census and Statistic Dept, Reuters
Reuters graphic/Catherine Trevethan, Rujun Shen 11/04/12
If there's one thing we now know for certain, it's the fact that the market has completely missed the importance of the demand-side changes currently taking place in the physical gold market. China has now imported 436 tonnes of gold through Hong Kong over the past eight months.24 This compares to imports of a mere 57 tonnes over the same eight month-period a year earlier (July 2010 - February 2011). The net new demand implied by this increase is 379 tonnes, which when annualized equates to 568 tonnes of new demand in a market that supplies 2,810 tonnes per year in mine production. These are astounding numbers. Recent IMF data also shows that at least 12 countries increased their physical gold reserves by 58 tonnes in the month of March, with Mexico, Turkey, Russia and Kazakhstan making sizeable purchases.25 58 tonnes annualized equates to 696 tonnes of demand per year. We know that central banks bought 439.7 tonnes of gold in 2011, and if the pace of recent central bank purchases continues, it will equate to another 256 tonnes of net new change in the physical gold market.
The significance of this demand shift is striking. If we combine China's implied net change of 568 tonnes with the central banks' net change of 256 tonnes, we're left with a demand shift of over 824 tonnes vs. an annual mine supply of 2,810 tonnes. That represents close to a 30% net change in the physical gold market in 2012. If we remove the portion of global gold production produced by China and the other non-G6 central bank gold buyers (like Russia and Mexico - because we know they're not sellers), we're now dealing with over 824 tonnes of demand change hitting an annual global mine supply of a mere 2,170 tonnes - representing a 38% shift.26 Although we have been continually reminded that 'fundamentals don't matter' in today's marketplace, there isn't a physical market on earth that can withstand that type of demand increase without higher prices over the long-run, and the gold market is no different. There are no sellers of physical gold that we know of who can satiate that scale of new demand, and global gold mine supply has been virtually flat for over the last ten years. Even if we incorporate the estimated 1,600 tonnes of "recycled gold" that the World Gold Council insists on including in its annual gold supply estimates, the numbers above still suggest a net change of 19%.27 Who is going to give up their gold purchases to make room for this scale of new demand? Where is the gold going to come from? We ask because we don't actually know.
We have written at length about the disconnect between the paper gold price and the physical gold market. If the demand changes stated above applied to any other market, the investing public would lose their minds. Could you imagine, for example, if the demand shifts described above were applied to the global oil market? What would happen if a single country came in from nowhere and increased its oil purchases by a factor equivalent to 30% of the world's annual oil supply? We are students first and foremost of the physical market, and the numbers stated above speak for themselves. We remain confident about gold for the simple reason that the demand we are now seeing for physical is completely unsustainable without higher prices, and we do not see that demand abating in the coming months. The US recovery is not happening. Europe is poised for yet another full-fledged economic crisis, and the BRICS countries continue to aggressively convert to hard assets like gold in order to protect themselves from currency debasement. The paper market for gold can continue its charade, but demand in the physical market will soon overpower it through sheer momentum - there's only so much physical to go around, and it appears that there are some very large buyers that are eager to take it."