China's Insatiable Demand for Gold

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

By Frank Holmes

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The World Gold Council released its quarterly "Gold Demand Trends" report last week and, as always, it was filled with fascinating data on the strength of the global gold market.

Gold demand grew 11 percent to 981.3 tons during the first quarter of 2011, worth $43.7 billion at quarter-end's price levels.

The increase was driven by a significant rise in demand for gold as an investment, up 26 percent from a year ago, as emerging markets look to protect their assets from rising inflation. Demand for gold bars and coins was up 62 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

A slight pullback in prices during the middle of the quarter and "persistent high inflation levels" pushed China into the position as the world's largest market for gold investment. Chinese citizens devoured nearly 91 tons of gold bars and coins, more than double the amount of a year ago.

This isn't exactly a new phenomenon in China. From 2007 to 2010, investment demand grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 68 percent, according to the CPM Group. The firm forecasted Chinese investment demand to increase 34.7 percent during 2011 but based on this new data, it may need to adjust its forecast.

Song Qing, director of Shanghai-based Lion Fund Management, told Bloomberg news that, "Gold has taken on a new role in China amid concern about inflation...Just imagine the total wealth in China and even a small percentage of that choosing to buy gold. This demand is going to be enormous."

The "Love Trade" was also in full swing during the first quarter. Led by India and China, jewelry demand rose 7 percent on a year-over-year basis. Combined, the countries accounted for roughly 67 percent of world total jewelry demand.

For the first time, the demand for gold in China was so strong during the first quarter it outpaced the combined total of the developed West. If you lump together the gold demand of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, the U.K. and other European countries, the sum of these countries is still outpaced by China. That's despite triple-digit increases in demand from France, Germany and Switzerland.