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TheStreet Open House

China Puts Gold Where Its Money Is

Here both the mainstream media and even many commentators within the precious metals sector have done a terrible job in explaining the rules that relate to the reporting of gold reserves. It must be understood that legally/technically there are two entirely separate ways in which nations can add to their gold reserves.

Nations can purchase gold internationally/on the open market or they can acquire gold from domestic sources. If a nation accumulates gold in the former manner, it is required to report/disclose every ounce of reserves added (or sold) in essentially a real-time manner. However, if/when a nation accumulates gold from domestic sources, it has no obligation to report any gold acquired in that manner - ever.

This explains the writer of the above article making careful use of the word "updated" when referring to the increase in China's gold reserves, reported in 2008. This was a voluntary disclosure; in other words, it reflected gold reserves that China had added from domestic sources and which it had chosen to disclose.

At this point, those readers not already aware of this fact need to know that China is the world's No. 1 gold producer, and by a large margin. This is no accident.

Rather, it marks what can only be termed a "fanatic" drive to increase China's gold production as much as possible as fast as possible.

In 2002, China was the world's fourth-largest gold-producer, producing a (relatively) paltry 175 metric tons per year. By 2006, China had amazingly more than doubled that output to 360 tons/year -- at which point gold production flattened out, until a sudden/surprising surge in reported production by more than 12% in 2012, taking annual mine production to just over 400 tons per year.

This has occurred as gold-production has been eroding in most of the the world's other, leading gold-producing nations, most notably South Africa -- the former (longtime) No. 1 gold-producing nation.

This decline has occurred primarily through declining grades, rather than declining tonnages being mined, and by 2011 anecdotal reports were already coming out of China of a similar trend in its own gold production. One suspects that last year's sudden surge will not/cannot be repeated and that "Peak Gold" has now arrived in China as well. Of equally important note: none of this mined gold ever leaves China. Indeed, it is doubtful if any reaches its own domestic market. To service the private demand of its own citizens, China imports vast quantities of gold, now rivaling the near-legendary appetite for gold of India.

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