Investors in Asia are poised to drive up the price of gold and related investments, most likely via exchange-traded funds, should the early period of the new US administration not go as planned, say market observers.
Chinese investors are already buying up gold both directly and via ETFs, with the largest mainland ETF provider, HuaAn Fund Management, seeing a 40% rise in assets under management in the past six months, according to industry data (see charts below).
Robin Tsui, Hong Kong-based gold specialist at State Street Global Advisors, which runs SPDR, the world’s largest gold ETF, expects more ETF gold products to be launched on Asian exchanges in 2017. But given the competitive landscape in Asia, with low margins and low volumes compared to the US and Europe, fund houses will need to come up with innovative ideas to compete, he said.
Gold investment overtook the 2015 total last year (4,375 tonnes compared to 4,361 in 2015), according to equity brokerage CLSA, but it was ETF demand that grew by far the strongest. This followed three years of falling demand for such funds.
That said, trading volume for all gold ETFs listed in Hong Kong actually fell in December, after unusually high fund flows in November following the US presidential election. Dollar strength and continued bullishness on US equities kept gold in check in the first weeks of 2017, with investors waiting on the sidelines for opportunities.
In 2016, the gold price peaked at $1,366 an ounce in July but subsequently fell to end the year at $1,150. This week it is trading at around $1,200, after sinking around 10% to as low as $1,129 on December 21 from $1,261 on November 9 after Donald Trump's US presidential election victory .
Tobias Bland, chief executive of Hong Kong fund manager EIP, which last month launched its Xie Shares Gold Miners ETF, said China was the big driver of demand for the metal. “China has already bought $3 billion worth of physical gold in the last couple of months, just in retail," he noted. "For the Chinese investor, it’s an RMB hedge because you’re owning a dollar asset, and there are not many ways you can do that in China.”
William Chow, Value Partners’ Hong Kong-based managing director for ETF business, confirmed the trend: “We see increasing participation from local and mainland retail investors in the secondary market after the Christmas break, where the gold price is gradually gaining some upward momentum."
|Net flows for physical gold ETFs in major Asian markets|
|China||HuaAn Yifu Gold ETF||-131||-21||87||856|
|China||E Fund Gold ETF||-55||-25||16||294|
|China||Bosera Gold ETF||N/A||-1||89||-27|
|China||Guotai Gold ETF||-170||0||0||125|
|Hong Kong||Value Gold ETF||2||5||-14||-14|
|Japan||Japan Physical Gold ETF||52||35||73||66|
|Australia||ETFS Metal Securities||-81||-37||-37||10|
|Australia||BetaShares Gold Bullion||-30||-5||1||22|
Source: World Gold Council, SSGA; Note: Figures are in $ million and only include physically backed gold ETFs
Central banks represent another major source of gold demand and one that looks set to grow in importance. The metal accounts for about 13% of central bank reserves globally, said Andrew Driscoll, CLSA’s Hong Kong-based head of resources research.
This figure had remained stable over several years ahead of the US election, but a year-end survey by the World Gold Council of 19 central banks showed that 17 of them planned to increase their gold reserve levels over the next three years.
Risks for gold
However, a move to positive interest rates represents a key risk for gold, as it would push up the cost of holding the metal. However, CLSA suggested that downside protection should be provided by a focus on the prospects for higher inflation.
Strength in the dollar is also considered a headwind for gold, given its inverse correlation, but this doesn’t always hold true, with periods where both the gold price and greenback trend together.
CLSA’s global equity strategist, Chris Wood, said the most potent trigger for a new bull phase for gold would be renewed easing by the Federal Reserve and the resulting realisation that the Fed would not be able to normalise monetary policy.
Wood believes that G7 central banks, particularly the Fed, will not be able to exit quantitative easing in a benign manner. He said that posed a threat to the stability and integrity of the current fiat-paper-money system.
“Gold will be the natural beneficiary of this process, since it is the only form of ‘money’ that is not part of the credit system," added Woods. "Gold stocks remain the best geared way of investing in this outcome.”
|Fund flows in November 2016 and January to November 2016|
|Name||Total assets, Nov 2016||Net flows, Nov 2016||Net flows, YTD 2016||Exchange|
|SPDR Gold Trust||33,465.9||-2,261.9||9,628.2||Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore|
|ETFS Physical Gold||5,583.6||-150.4||1,890.4||Japan Exchange Group|
|HuaAn Yifu Gold ETF||987.3||-65.6||867.4||Shanghai Stock Exchange|
|E Fund Gold||292.1||-2.7||30.9||Shenzhen Stock Exchange|
|Guotai Gold ETF||119.6||17.6||117.4||Shanghai Stock Exchange|
|Bosera Gold ETF||101.9||-36.4||9.6||Shenzhen Stock Exchange|
|Value Gold ETF||85.8||7.2||-6.7||Hong Kong Stock Exchange|
|HDFC Gold ETF||75.9||-0.5||-20.9||National Stock Exchange (India)|
|UTI Gold ETF||70.6||-4.2||-16.5||National Stock Exchange (India)|
|Yuanta S&P Gold ER Futures||51.6||22.7||27.7||Taiwan Stock Exchange|
|BetaShares Gold Bullion ETF||43||5.7||31.2||Australian Stock Exchange|
|Samsung Kodex Gold Futures||41.6||6.3||-11.4||Korea Stock Exchange|
|ANZ ETFS Physical Gold ETF||8.9||2.5||9||Australian Stock Exchange|