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Gold Kilobar Premiums in Asia Trend Upwards

By Koh Guan Ho & Lee Liang Le, Analysts, Kallanish Index Services

Since 2022, central banks have embarked on a path of incrementally raising interest rates in response to stubbornly high inflation, a trend that persisted into 2023 amid ongoing economic challenges. Despite gold prices being less directly influenced by demand and supply dynamics, heightened geopolitical tensions prompted both central banks and investors to seek refuge in safe-haven assets such as gold. Demand from central banks reached 1,037 tonnes in the preceding year, marking the second-highest record. This influx of demand played a pivotal role in maintaining elevated gold prices in the face of high interest rates.

In 2023, KIS daily gold kilobar premiums over spot averaged US$0.64/oz for Singapore, $1.16/oz for Hong Kong and $0.65/oz for Bangkok.* Notably, Hong Kong kilobar premiums consistently maintained a higher level than those in Singapore and Bangkok, which remained largely comparable.

Consumer demand (encompassing bar and coin investment as well as jewellery) traditionally has had an important influence on gold prices. This exhibited varied patterns across these three markets in 2023:

  • Singapore witnessed a decline in consumer demand, with gold purchases amounting to 12.5 tonnes, marking a decrease of 16% from 2022.
  • Hong Kong experienced a substantial surge in consumer demand, reaching 38.6 tonnes, reflecting a remarkable increase of 57% from 2022.
  • Thailand’s consumer demand grew to 42.1 tonnes, representing a notable uptick of 9% from 2022.

Average KIS Asia Gold Premiums over Spot (US$/oz) and Consumer Demand

SBMA KIS - Gold Premiums and Demand for Crucible

Singapore’s comparatively lower consumer demand can be attributed to factors such as its smaller population size and unique consumer preferences. Despite declining consumer demand during the last nine months of 2023, gold premiums for loco Singapore have shown a consistent upward trajectory, mirroring those observed in Thailand’s market. This trend can be explained by increased central bank buying, with Singapore’s central bank emerging as the third-largest buyer of gold, having acquired 75 tonnes as of the third quarter of 2023. Data from the Bank of Thailand also suggests that since 2019, the Thai central bank had doubled the value of its reserves.

Hong Kong Gold Premiums and China’s Influence

In January 2024, KIS gold price premiums peaked across all three regions, with Singapore recording $1.01/oz, Hong Kong $3.27/oz, and Bangkok at $1.03/oz. The substantial increase in Hong Kong premiums, exceeding $2.00/oz, outpaced its counterparts in Singapore and Bangkok. This trend can be partly explained by the consistent and strategic efforts of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to fortify its gold reserves since November 2022, leveraging Hong Kong as a primary conduit for gold imports into China. By the end of 2023, the central bank had augmented its gold holdings by 225 tonnes, elevating its total reserves to 2,235 tonnes.

There was a notable upsurge in gold imports into China in December 2023, particularly via Hong Kong, with a remarkable increase of 36.8 tonnes from the preceding month. This surge in demand was primarily ascribed to the imminent Chinese New Year festivities, which commenced on February 10, where gold assumes profound cultural significance.

In terms of consumer demand, China imported a record high of 1,447 tonnes in 2023, valued at approximately US$90 billion. This heightened demand was largely fuelled by a weak yuan against the US dollar, the property market crisis and fears of a stock market sell-off. Given constraints on purchasing US dollars or US dollar-denominated products to hedge against the depreciating yuan, gold emerged as a strategic diversification option for many citizens.

Shanghai Gold Premium

Over the past year, the Shanghai gold price premium peaked at $122/oz in September 2023, marking an historic high. It averaged $29.12/oz for the year, however, representing approximately a 1.5% premium over London’s gold price. In January 2024, this premium had surged to an average of $47.59/oz, reflecting heightened demand.

Shanghai Gold Premium over Spot (US$/oz)

SBMA KIS - Shanghai Gold Premium chart for Crucible - Feb 24

However, as the yuan displays signs of stabilisation and with local governments introducing market-friendly policies, forecasts suggest China’s demand for gold may slow down, growing at a more moderate pace this year.

* KIS daily gold price premiums reflect the mid-point of the average bid and ask premiums reported by market participants for each region. Access KIS daily gold prices for Asia at www.kallindex.com.

SBMA KIS - LEE LIANG LE photo

LEE LIANG LE is an analyst at Kallanish Index Services, where she specialises in covering the gold market and compiling daily gold kilobar price premiums for Asia. Her background is in finance, with experience in various roles, including brokerage, electronic FX trading and macroeconomic research.

SBMA KIS - Koh Guan Ho Photo

KOH GUAN HO is an analyst at Kallanish Index Services, heading up its Asian operations. His main responsibilities include market engagement, research and compilation of the KIS daily gold kilobar price premiums for Asia. His background is in business management.