While people in the United States and Europe are selling gold in panic, apparently it’s a very different story in the east.
As the price of gold bullion tumbled another US$125 per ounce on Monday in its biggest-ever daily loss, some retail investors in Hong Kong and mainland China considered this a rare opportunity for them to boost their personal gold reserves. Chinese media in Hong Kong and Shanghai reported that more people than usual rushed to local jewelry shops to buy gold bars causing some shops to run out of stock within just one or two days.
In percentage terms, Monday’s 9 per cent loss is the biggest since 1983 and was almost double the loss on Friday. Some investment banks, for example CLSA, estimated the price of gold could fall to as low as US$1,200 per ounce, but retail investors in Hong Kong and mainland China ignored such warnings when they saw gold shops packed with consumers buying all kinds of gold products.
In Shanghai, some commercial banks have asked their wealth management product teams to call their clients to promote and sell gold-linked investment products this week, according to two individuals who received such promotional calls from their banks respectively.
“The salesperson just tells me on the phone that he thinks the gold price has been low enough so I should go to the bank and buy some gold products. He describes now as a very rare opportunity to buy gold,” said a retired local man in Shanghai who only wanted to be identified by his surname, Shao.
Historically speaking, Chinese people do love gold. It is traditional for the older generation in China to buy gold products for the younger generation as gifts for various occasions, for example, when their children get married and have babies.
From that historical point of view, it’s no surprise that Chinese consumers will buy gold when they see prices fall. Some analysts even joked that this time the war on gold prices may be a war between those big Western institutional investors like leading asset manager George Soros and Chinese retail investors, including many local housewives. It’s all about how much Chinese investors can take and how much gold will hit the market for sale.
Many old Chinese of my grandparents’ age may trust gold more than the Chinese currency yuan. During the time of the Cultural Revolution political movement on the mainland, many local families tried their best to hide gold at home or somewhere, which may even have saved their lives as gold was a popular gift of bribery in the country.
On Sina Weibo, the mainland’s most popular online social network, some netizens were discussing on Tuesday morning whether they should organize a group trip to Hong Kong to buy gold as the price of all kinds of gold products kept falling.
“If the price (in Hong Kong) falls a bit more, I will go and buy a ring for my wife,” commented one netizen. Mainlanders prefer buying gold products in Hong Kong mainly because they trust Hong Kong shops more than mainland stores in terms of the gold quality and purity.
That certainly brings a ray of light to some Hong Kong shops in terms of their sales prospects. On Tuesday, U.S. investment bank Jefferies gave Luk Fook, a major jewelry chain store operator in Hong Kong a buy rating on its Hong Kong-listed share price.
“Hong Kong and mainland consumers’ demand for gold increased when gold prices dropped sharply in mid-April, which positively improved SSSG (same store sales growth) and revenue,” said the bank in the report.
George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Like the column? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong