China is taking a renewed interest in gold. In six years, its gold reserves increased by 75 percent. Lovers of the yellow metal, rubbing their hands and observing that leaders in Beijing are seeing inflation appear and the dollar disappear, certainly want to fall back on something solid. Yet, we should not expect that China will count on the precious metal.
Of the more than $2 trillion in China’s reserves, $1.4 trillion are in the form of greenbacks, which doesn’t make the authorities happy – especially since the United States is partially financing its widening budget deficits by issuing more money. The governor of the Chinese central bank already has openly expressed his desire to see the dollar replaced by a supranational currency, representing a global monetary standard.
Meanwhile, gold remains the best refuge. Despite of the sustained purchasing policy followed by China in recent times, gold represents only 1.6 percent of the country’s reserves. That is much less than the 10 percent most commonly held [by other countries], according to the World Gold Counsel.
To reach that percent, China would have to attain 5,575 tons of gold, the equivalent of 19 months of world production. Taking into account the relatively stable jewelry industry, that amounts to more than a decade of the production offered on the free market. The 400 tons the International Monetary Fund is expected to sell is only a drop in the bucket. Obviously, the amount of gold China would need, to be in alignment with the 10 percent proportion, would also depend on the trading price of the metal. Likewise, if the country engages in a relatively modest acquisition campaign, a dramatic path, it would thus neutralize the positive impact of diversification of [economic] support.
There is another reason that explains the moderation of Beijing’s authorities, even more Machiavellian than that. The U.S. holds the largest supply of gold in the world: The yellow metal represents 80 percent of its currency reserves. A significant increase in circulation would enrich the U.S. appreciably, at least on paper. Indeed, it would be enough to multiply the price of gold by 10, completely erasing the mounting foreign U.S. debt, which has reached $2.5 trillion 2,500.
Chinese authorities, surely, will make certain to preserve the value of trade surpluses accumulated by the country over the years. But it is not easy to revise long-held mercantilist practices: The idea of doing something that would indirectly profit Uncle Sam seems simply unacceptable.