Yes, China is Hoarding Gold: Is That Positive for Prices?
In mid-2015, China ended years of speculation over its gold reserves by announcing that it had 1,658 tons of gold. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) had increased its official gold holdings by 60% since its last disclosure in 2009. China had 1,054 tons of gold in its reserves as of April 2009. By 2015, the price of bullion had dipped to its lowest since the 2011 gold bull run that pushed the metal to highs of $1,900 per ounce. The East Asian economic giant had been accumulating gold as the USD strengthened, pushing the prices of bullion to some of the lowest levels of the decade. China is an export powerhouse and is not only the world’s largest exporter but also the largest holder of foreign exchange (forex) reserves. The country has over $3.11 trillion worth of foreign exchange holdings, to shield it during economic emergencies. These vast forex reserves also buoy its native currency and give it much-needed clout in international affairs. These immense reserves increase the footprint of the US dollar in international trade. Its dollar reserves have also been a significant contributor to the current global savings glut. The Chinese manufacturing sector holds a lot of US government bonds, and these savings — plus those made by other Asian countries — have directed mass capital flows to US households. Beijing has, however, clarified that it is diversifying its reserves away from the dollar. Beijing is highly exposed to American currency. Its overdependence on the dollar has been behind its silent gold-buying spree that raised its reserves from 1,658 tons in 2015 to 1,848.31 tons by the fourth quarter of 2019. Economists note that China’s bid to decouple from the dollar heightened with the China-US trade war. The US threatened not only Chinese stocks listed in the US with delisting, but slapped massive tariffs on their exports. China, on the other hand, used its dollar-pegged currency, the Yuan, to fight back against the US’s punitive measures.
China Diversifying its Forex Reserves
In August, the PBOC allowed the Yuan’s value to fall against the dollar to cheapen its exports. The move increased the prices of American goods, a move that not only caused a massive shockwave in the market but also angered the US president so much that he called China an outright currency manipulator. Besides diversifying to other currencies, China has also accumulated “shadow reserves.” Diversification away from the USD will also give the Yuan a more significant role in global finance. It is this Chinese desire to counteract a highly US dollar-centric system that has seen the country buy up massive amounts of gold as part of its alternative investments. One factor that has gone almost unnoticed is the massive accumulation of gold by Chinese citizens. They have collectively imported over 12,000 tons of gold into the country since 2009. Switzerland is the world’s largest importer of gold, buying about 22% of all global gold imports as per 2018 data. It is closely followed by China, which raked in close to 16% of all gold imports in the same year. Hong Kong, India, and the United Kingdom are also part of the world’s biggest gold-buyer markets. Switzerland might be a global leader in gold imports, but it is also the largest exporter of the premier precious metal. The central European country is a gold refinery hub, and it is home to four of the world’s largest gold refineries. The mountainous country is home to Newmont Mining’s Valcambi SA, which refines close to 1,400 metric tonnes of the precious metal every year. Switzerland is such an exporter of gold that of the 3,100 tons of the yellow metal produced in the country in 2016, 2,716 tons went to exports.
China Keeps Most of its Gold
China is the world’s second-largest importer of gold, but unlike Switzerland, most of the gold China imports remain in China. As an illustration, China imported $64 billion worth of gold in 2016, and only exported a paltry $1.2 billion worth of it. In essence, China was $62.7 billion richer by the end of that year. The East Asian nation not only stores its imports but also buys a large share from Hong Kong, the fifth most prolific importer of the precious metal. The Pearl of the Orient bought 842 tons or 8.7% of the world’s gold imports in 2016. In that year, Hong Kong sold 1,337 tons to China, dipping its hands into its reserves in its bid to meet the insatiable Chinese demand for gold. The Chinese have not always had it easy with gold. Mao Zedong banned the individual purchase of gold, and the ban was enforced for decades afterward. The Chinese bank was the only buyer of gold in the country, and it only allocated its gold reserves to a small number of state-owned jewelers. In the early 2000s, the ban on individual gold purchases was lifted, and the Chinese gold rush began in earnest. The world’s busiest physical gold exchange was launched and opened to the public, flourishing as the government put measures in place that encouraged the gold trade. This excitement and clamor for gold moved a lot of gold from western vaults to the east as the most massive movement of gold recorded in recent history took place. Since then, the Chinese demand for gold takes 14% of the world’s supply, yet the country has been the largest producer of the yellow metal since 2007. The nation consumes over two times more gold than it mines with a large percentage of its citizens spending massive amounts of cash on gold adornments. Many Chinese millennials spend thousands of Yuan on fashionable jewelry. Their parents, on the other hand, buy 24-carat clunky gold jewelry, the perfect investment vehicle for that generation. The jewelry — evocative of gold ingots — is easy to sell and the money recouped when the need arises. They also buy matt ranges of gold jewelry, shunning tacky pure gold adornments for creative and lower carat gold designs.
Gold is a Safer Investment in a Debt-Ridden Global Economy
China has been a net importer of gold since the 1990s, but its significant purchases have increased since the global economic recession. The Chinese central bank — the supervisors of the Shanghai Gold Exchange — has encouraged the gold trade in the country by enabling the commerce of fine gold at its lowest spreads. Sun Zhaoxue, the China Gold Association president, has, in the past, said: “Individual investment demand is an essential component of China’s gold reserve system, and we should encourage individual investment demand for gold. Practice shows that gold possession by citizens is a useful supplement to national reserves and is very important to national financial security …. We should advocate to ‘store gold among the people’ [“People’s Gold”] and guide a healthy, positive development in this segment … This is the aim of our gold strategy.” She goes on to ask for a strategic national gold strategy to make China resilient against multiple economic occurrences. To this end, the Shanghai Gold Exchange has made tremendous steps in making the gold trade as easy as possible, even launching an app to aid it. China’s centuries-old infatuation with gold has led them to accumulate over 20,000 tons of gold because the People’s Bank of China does not buy gold from the domestic market. Consequently, all the gold that is purchased by the Chinese stays in the local market. Pundits also believe that the Chinese central bank holds more gold than its official reserve numbers portray. The economic giant underreports its gold holdings to enable it to accumulate more of the precious metal at lower prices. As China slowly delinks from a USD that has already lost its value due to prevailing high debt to GDP ratios globally, it stands out as one nation prepping for an oncoming economic catastrophe that could inevitably lift prices. The World Bank has already issued a warning that the current wave of debt is untenable. Global debt percentages now exceed 322% of GDP. Central banks have pushed the global economy to the brink due to easing policies meant to stimulate economic activity. Unfortunately, they find themselves intertwined in a broadening circle of money printing activities, which will eventually lead to extreme inflation. The management of inflation means that real rates will keep falling, and gold values will keep rising. In debt-ridden financial systems, he who holds the gold makes the rules. And China is ready to step up.
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Looking for suggestions to secure my family’s financial future. (~$100K to allocate, earning ~$50K/yr after taxes)
Edit: TL;DR - wall of text explaining my current finances, also asking if it’s the right time to enter the housing market (and how I might protect myself if I do so). I’m very cash-heavy and looking for ideas to diversify and grow into retirement, while ensuring my wife and kid are taken care of as well. I realize there are many different options for how to save and plan for retirement. I think I’ll be just fine, but I also recognize that I have a lot of room for improvement. More than my own personal security, I want to provide as much as possible for my wife and child, both of whom I expect to outlive me by many years. Now, I would never share this kind of detail with someone who knows who I am irl, hence the throwaway. As far as non-immediate family and acquaintances know, I’m living paycheck to paycheck, and I’d like to keep it that way. Some background information about me: I’m 35 years old, serving on active duty in the US military, and I’ve been in for a little over 12 years. I’ll be eligible to retire in about 8 years, and a rough conservative estimate is that I’ll receive about $2,000/month retirement pay starting in my early-mid 40s. The plan is to continue working after I separate until, well... until I’m ready to stop. Who knows when I’ll feel too old to work? 55? 65? 85??? The idea is to have the financial freedom to “officially” retire when I’m ready to so, no sooner and no later. I’m married and I have one kiddo. The wife makes a pretty decent paycheck atm, but she’ll soon be looking for work when we relocate to our next assignment. She has about $15K saved up right now. I transferred my Post-911 GI bill to the kid to help offset the cost of college, and because Uncle Sam already so generously paid for my own education while I’ve been on active duty. It would be a waste to use the Bill for myself. Still, I’d like to set aside at least enough to match it or fill the gap up to a Doctorate (just in case the kid wants to pursue that level of education- no pressure lol). The GI Bill should cover a substantial part of the first 3 years, beginning sometime around the year 2030, but I could potentially be paying as much as half of the cost of a 4-year degree, and likely most of any education beyond that. Student loans aren’t all bad, but if I can put my kid through college without having to take out a loan, that would be fantastic. So here’s where my finances sit right now: I’ve calculated my compensations for the next year, and a conservative post-taxes estimate is that I’ll bring home about $50K. I don’t expect that figure to change whole lot over the next 4 years at least. I’m sure my wife will find gainful employment again after we move, but I don’t have enough information to forecast what her earnings will be, so I’ll simply leave it out for now. I’ve done a lot of research into the cost of living at our next assignment, and I keep pretty solid records of spending. Based on our current expenses, and a conservative adjustment accounting fo the location change. I expect to reliably save an average of $1,800 per month out of my paycheck. That’s about a 40% decrease in annual savings compared to the last 2 years, during which time I received some special pay and a bonus. My family budget plan for 2018 allows for about $29K in expenses total, which sounds tight for 2 adults and a child (and it is tight), but I also know it’s easily doable. I’ll adjust that target as we settle into the new place over the next several months, and go from there. Whatever the wife is able to earn after we move, can go straight to the bottom line. I hesitate to forecast my capital gains from investments based on past performance, because it really has been an exceptional few years. Besides, I have yet to ever withdraw from my brokerage account. All dividends and gains from closing positions has gone right back into the pot. Investments: I have $46K in my brokerage account. Roughly 50/50 cash and stocks (individual stocks and ETFs/ETNs etc). Here’s my current portfolio if anyone cares: MO, AAPL, WFC, AMD, BND, IAU, WMT, ARNC, SPY, XIV- roughly equal parts for all of those. They’re a mixture of speculative short-term and div-yielding long-term holds. The half I have sitting in cash is so I can quickly sell calls/average-down/BTFD whenever the next market correction/crash/recession comes. I’m adding about $1K/month to this account via automatic deposit, which I typically split between cost-price-averaging into my longs, and into my cash reserve. I balance my holdings mostly by adding to underperforming positions when I expect a rebound, and not by selling stock unless I’ve held the shares for more than a year. I also try to keep my cash balance roughly equal to the market value of my stocks for the reasons mentioned above (and so I can act if I see an opportunity for a nice swing trade). I have a little over $20K in an interest-earning checking/debit account. This is where the majority of my paycheck lands, and it’s where the majority of my bills come out. I have $15K in USD hard cash. That’s more than I need, to be sure. It’s mostly leftovers from when I sold one car and bought another. I’ll eventually deposit it into a bank I suppose lol. I also have $11K in another checking account which I feed through a credit card, paying the balance off monthly. I’ve been using the credit card to buy gas and pay for other travel expenses. I don’t need a cc to do that, but it’s an easy way to build up my credit score and it helps whenever I need to rent a car or something. Then there’s the $6K sitting in a credit union Roth IRA I opened and sort of forgot about. It barely earns interest at all and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to use it. I own exactly 1 BTC I bought on a whim this summer. It’s hard for me to watch, because it moves around so much in value. Worth about $4.5K today. Other assets I can think of off the top of my head: ~ $4K in physical gold/silver. I guess it’s my hedge against society collapse or whatever lol. I have one of those 50g combi-bars that can be broken into smaller ingots and then a bunch of 1oz silver coins. ~ $2K in various foreign currencies, mostly Sterling. This was left over from when I spent some time in the UK pre-brexit vote. I’m sort of bag-holding it until I can exchange it back to USD for less of a loss. On top of that, I have exactly zero debt. If I were forced to liquidate all of my assets not mentioned above, I’m confident I could come up with another ~ $40K (That’s if you figure a >50% emergency sale depreciation... I have 4 cars, 3 of which would be considered collector’s items and about another $15K in Snap-on tools + all the other random shit I own) I realize my money allocations don’t make a lot of sense right now, but I’m an aggressive saver and the cash tends to pile up quickly. That’s a nice problem to have I guess. One concern I have, is seeing my un-invested money take a big hit from inflation. I’m also a little worried about my bullish stock portfolio, but my plan is to build/hold it for another 15 years or so, and then slowly increase my exposure to bonds as I get into my 40s and 50s. Assuming I can stick to my long-term investing strategy, I’m hoping to be able to ride out any major correction or recession. A major goal of mine is to buy a house. Thanks to the military lifestyle living overseas and frequent relocations though, I haven’t really been in a position to do so. Soon I’ll be moving to a stateside base, but looking at the housing market there, I’m frankly scared to buy right now. Houses in the local area have nearly doubled in just a few years, and I’d rather not spend the next 2 decades upside down in a mortgage if things suddenly take a turn for the worse. The valuations just don’t make sense to me compared with the rental market, and I suspect many of the land owners are deeply indebted in a market that feels pretty hot imo. So there you have it. My personal finances in a nutshell. Not that I’m in financial trouble or anything, but I would love to hear any suggestions or pointers you smarties might have to offer. I suppose some specific questions might include:
How would you rate my stock portfolio and strategy? Are there any big glaring red flags? Am I being too aggressive by having nearly 20% of my net worth invested in those symbols? Am I not being aggressive enough?
Am I being overly paranoid about entering today’s housing market? If not, what are some ways I can hedge against a market value decline without literally shorting the market and getting slammed with fees and commissions. Aside from a potential drawdown in property values, should I be more concerned with rising interest rates? How much might one type of loss cancel the other out? Should I buy now to get a better interest rate, or wait for a “dip” that might not come for a very long time?
To recap my holdings:
brokerage $24K invested $22K dry powder
personal property $40K
home equity $0
annual net income $50K
projected monthly savings $1.8K
approximate family net worth $160K
Any/all ideas and criticisms are welcome. Thanks for reading!
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