While calming down considerably from the torrid pace of previous years, the movement of physical gold and silver from West to East continues unabated.
The process playing itself out goes roughly like this:
ETF investors in the US and other developed markets offload their gold holdings allocated to them and held in the UK, where most of the world’s gold vaults are to be found.
From the UK the bullion is exported to Switzerland. A staggering 70% of global gold is processed by just four big Swiss refineries: Valcambi, Argor Heraeus, Pamp and Metalor. Raw gold, often of low purity, is refined, melted down and recast into smaller bars in the country.
Then the bullion is shipped to China and India and other growing gold consuming nations in Asia led by Vietnam and Indonesia.
Evidence of the dramatic slowdown in these flows come from new export statistics from Swiss customs officials which show the European nation’s gold exports falling 37% in last year compared to 2013, according to Goldreporter.de.
According to Swiss trade statistics published this week, Switzerland exported 1,746 tonnes of gold worth $65 billion Francs (just over $70 billion). The decline is also due to the fact that 2013 was a banner year for Swiss refiners – exports topped 2,777 tonnes, worth a whopping $132 billion.
The decline in the average price of the metal in 2014 and the strong franc, meant that the Swiss also received less for their bars – with the average price per kilogram pegged at $40,334 versus last year’s $47,459.
Roughly a third of Switzerland’s imports came from the UK, followed by the US with 211.5 tonnes. As expected India was the top importer with 471.2 tonnes, followed by Hong Kong and China which combined topped the subcontinent with 590 tonnes. Singapore was third with 134 tonnes.
The flows of Russian gold raises questions (if not eyebrows): Russia exported 58.3 tonnes to Switzerland, but only 2.6 tonnes made its way back into the country.
The 55 tonnes of Russian gold that stayed behind is worth some $2.3 billion. Goldreporter asks the question: “Are they stored in the high security vaults in the Swiss Massif Central?”
Russia is the world’s second largest producer of gold behind China, with an estimated 272 tonnes mined last year – an increase of 9% from the year before.
Switzerland produces no gold itself. In 2012 an Alpine village turned down a $1.2 billion project which would’ve been the country’s first and only gold mine.
Image of one of Stalin’s 16 goddesses representing Russia in the park of VDNH in Moscow by Boris SV.