Chinese households turn to jewelry and gold in flight to safety

By Reuters   April 19, 2023 | 01:55 am PT
Chinese households turn to jewelry and gold in flight to safety
A salesperson poses with Heritage Gold jewellery at jeweller Chow Tai Fook’s retail store in Shanghai, China August 18, 2021. Picture taken August 18, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Aly Song
Violet Zhu, a Shanghai-based electronic components exporter, has been attending jewelry auctions and chatting on social media forums on the subject this year, looking to invest in rubies and diamonds.

"I don't have the brain for stock investments, and I am waiting to redeem mutual fund products once they break even. But in the meantime, I have been continuously buying gems," says Zhu.

Zhu says she is searching for oddly-shaped rubies of higher grades, hoping the value of those little gems will surge with time. She is not alone.

Jewelry and precious metals consumption in China soared 37.4% in March from a year earlier underpinning a 13.6% jump for the quarter and topping the list of items that stoked a surge in first-quarter retail sales, official data showed on Tuesday.

China's economy grew at a faster-than-expected pace in the first quarter, with retail sales rising 10.6%, beating forecasts for a 7.4% increase by a large margin.

The interest in precious metals is a worrying indicator that China's efforts to revive its economy via domestic spending, after years of strict Covid curbs, may not be working.

"High-end consumption gives us a bit of a surprise but overall the weak recovery story remains intact," said Marco Sun, chief financial analyst at MUFG Bank (China).

The appeal of jewelry and gold has risen after the biggest global banking crisis in more than a decade, as the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and the forced sale of lender Credit Suisse rocked investor confidence.

"Consumer interest in precious metals (comes) as a potential safe haven and inflation hedge, as many consumers do not expect low inflation in China to continue," said Ben Cavender, managing director at China Market Research Group.

Shying from risk, Chinese families are saving more. Households savings grew by 9.9 trillion yuan in the January-March period, after rising a record 17.8 trillion yuan in 2022. In 2021, they grew by 9.9 trillion yuan.

"Economic fundamentals, risk aversion and the recovery of domestic consumption all drive the investment demand for jewellery and precious metals," said Pang Xichun, research director at Nanjing RiskHunt Investment Management Co.

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