Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Shanghai Stock Market Crash and China Gold Demand





What Does it mean for the future of the gold market?

At present, up to 12 trillion yuan stays in domestic residents' saving accounts. The launch of individual gold investment, therefore, will allow residents to change currency assets into gold assets. At the macro level, it will expand channels for changing savings into investment, thus adjusting the money supply; in the micro aspect, allowing citizens to trade and keep gold can improve social welfare, benefiting both the country and the population.


Moreover, with the dual attributes of common commodity and currency commodity, gold is a desirable instrument for hedging. Therefore, developing gold trade for individuals is practical." – Zhou Xiaochuan, Governor, the People's Bank of China.

Shanghai stocks have fallen over 30% since mid-June. The equivalent in U.S. terms would be for the DJIA to fall 6000 points to the 11,000 level – a crash by any definition. Most of the commentary on this important subject has centered around the potential contagion effect for stock markets in the rest of Asia and beyond. There is another aspect to the crash worth considering though, and that has to do with the effect it will have on Chinese gold demand.

The Chinese people, it is well known, already have a cultural affinity to gold. That attachment just received a shot of adrenaline. Prior to June, trading volumes on the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) were already running 20% higher than the previous year. Now, with crash psychology affecting thinking up and down the spectrum of investors, SGE is reporting volumes off the charts. In early July, Want China Times reported that "SGE posted a record trading volume of 48.33 million grams in a single day in late June." (48.3 metric tonnes, a big number.)



Typically stock market crashes inspire gold demand. In the case of China, where the government and central bank encourage citizen gold ownership as a matter of public policy, that lesson could become enshrined in the national psyche. The important consideration for investors elsewhere around the globe is what effect even stronger gold demand from China will have on the gold price both now and in the future.

Flow of physical metal between buyers and sellers will govern prices in China not paper trades

Ever since 2011 when China's demand began to ratchet up, clients have asked how the price of gold could be stagnant to down under the circumstances. The short answer to that question is that price discovery for gold does not occur in the physical market, but in the multi-trillion dollar leveraged paper trade in London and New York – a volume that dwarfs the physical delivery market. Now China is about to challenge that price discovery mechanism through significant infrastructure changes slated to take effect by the end of the year.



This new construct has as its base China's fundamental understanding and goals with respect to gold as summarized by Peoples Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan in our masthead quote above; its affinity for delivered physical ownership, as opposed to paper-based metal; and, the official measures it has undertaken to make inroads into the international gold market's price discovery mechanism.

To gain a better understanding of how China is likely to affect price discovery in the gold market, let's start with something of interest that surfaced as a result of the recent Shanghai crash. Financial Times reported rumors floating the markets that Goldman Sachs was responsible for manipulating stocks downward. Officials denied those rumors and a spokesman for the exchange stated that "foreign investors with access to the futures market via theQualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program were only permitted to use futures for hedging operations and are not allowed to make directional bets. 

All recent trades by QFIIs complied with regulations." Of course if any manipulation of stocks were to occur, it would be executed in the leveraged futures market where bets can be placed at pennies on the dollar.

Up until I read that quote I was unaware of the strict procedures governing foreign trading on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE), China's only futures trading venue. A further investigation, helped along with some links from Koos Jansen, the Netherlands based expert on China's burgeoning gold market, revealed stringent rules governing trade on the SHFE for domestic participants as well, though not quite as stringent as the rules for foreigners. 

At the heart of those rules, SHFE imposes strict position limitations and margin requirements on traders in order to keep price speculation (or directional bets to use its term) to a minimum. Futures trading in China, clearly is meant to serve as an adjunct to the physical market instead of the other way around as it is in western gold trading centers. 

Hedging is maximized. Speculation is minimized. Leverage is controlled within reasonable parameters.

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