China, Gold, and the "Boom of the Century"

"China's foreign exchange reserves have not increased for almost two years...."

The Califia Beach Pundit provides an extraordinarily canny assessment of Chinese monetary policy, its dollar peg, foreign exchange accumulation, and gold's commodity price:

China's decision in early 1994 to peg the yuan to the dollar was a key factor driving China's growth, since it brought Chinese inflation rapidly down to the level of the U.S. The prospect of a stable currency not only reduced inflation and its multiple distortions, it also increased the market's confidence in China, and helped boost investment in the country since it all but eliminated foreign exchange risk. Indeed, since the yuan has only appreciated against the dollar since 1994, foreign investors benefited from strong Chinese growth and yuan gains. China was the boom of the century.

Pandawiki

Image courtesy of Pandawiki.net

 

Massive inflows of foreign capital seeking to benefit from rapid Chinese development essentially forced the BoC to buy over $3 trillion of foreign exchange, with a commensurate increase in the Chinese money supply. Converting capital inflows into yuan is the only way foreign capital could actually enter the economy, because you can't build a factory or hire workers with dollars—the dollars need to be converted to yuan, and it is the proper role of the BoC to buy those dollars and issue new yuan in the process. Yet despite massive forex purchases, which relieved pressure on the yuan to appreciate, the BoC still had to allow the yuan to float irregularly upwards. A stronger yuan helped to keep the inflationary pressures of rapid growth under control.

As I explained in this post, it now appears that this process of forex purchases and yuan appreciation is at an end. This is a big deal. China's foreign exchange reserves have not increased for almost two years, and the yuan has been stable against the dollar for the past two or three months. Capital flows and trade flows appear to have reached some kind of equilibrium, just as Chinese and U.S. inflation have converged.

... China's central bank started buying up capital inflows in earnest in early 2001, right about the time that gold was hitting a multi-year low. This came to an end in early 2011, as net capital inflows approached zero, and shortly thereafter gold peaked. Both forex purchases and the price of gold increased by many orders of magnitude over roughly the same period.

Is there a plausible explanation for the strong correlation between these disparate variables? I think there is, but I can't say so with authority.

...

Don Luskin ... argues that the outstanding stock of gold is relatively fixed—growing only about 3% per year—but that the demand for gold has jumped by orders of magnitude since China, India, and other emerging markets have enjoyed explosive growth and prosperity gains. In other words, the number of potential buyers of gold has risen much faster than the supply of gold, so naturally gold's price has increased. This is not a story about massive money printing and hyper-inflationary consequences, it is a story about a one-time surge in the demand for the limited supply of gold.

There has been considerable speculation by savvy observers -- such as financier and author James Rickards -- that "China this year or next will announce a tripling or quadrupling of its gold reserves after acquiring the metal surreptitiously."  As Evans-Pritchard observes in the UK Telegraph, "It is no secret that China is buying the dips, seeking to raise the gold share of its reserves well above 2pc. Russia has openly targeted a 10pc share. Variants of this are occurring from the Pacific region to the Gulf and Latin America."

The FT observed in late 2011, central banks are net buyers of gold for the first time in 20 years.

Can a classical gold standard be far behind?

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