Kazakhstan and the Emerging Market Gold Rush – by Paolo Sorbello (The Diplomat- February 4, 2015)


Kazakhstan produces around 22 tons of gold each year, a figure comparable to neighboring Kyrgyzstan (18 tons), but only a quarter of Uzbekistan’s production (92 tons). Gold is not a major feature of Kazakhstan’s mining industry, which is dominated by chromium, copper, zinc, and uranium, but it is becoming a key asset for the country’s central bank.

All of the gold produced in Kazakhstan for the last two years has been bought out by the central bank, both under the supervision of former chairman Grigori Marchenko and through the orders of his successor, Kairat Kelimbetov. Albert Rau, Kazakhstan’s minister for investments, said that “given the turbulent global economy condition, the National [Central] Bank has been buying out all the fine gold produced.” The reason for this gold rush can be explained by a spiral of financial decisions by central banks across the world.

Gold prices suffered a hit as the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) was rumored to increase rates this year for the first time in nearly a decade. Apart from short-term fluctuations, however, the precious metal is still priced at just below $1,300 per ounce. The eurozone instability and the Swiss franc’s decoupling from a single-currency peg have turned gold into a more palatable commodity for investors.

Contextually, China, Russia, Belarus, Malaysia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan have hoarded gold to diversify their portfolios and avoid excessive competition for the dollar that would only strengthen the greenback against their own currencies. Only countries that are financially stable – or that are trying to recover from shocks, like Russia and other oil-exporters – are in the market for gold. Financially weaker countries, such as Mozambique, Ukraine, and Tajikistan, had to reduce gold reserves to fuel their national economies.

Conversely, with a strong rupee, India seems the only country in the ever-emerging Asian continent to have limited desire for gold. The country’s reserves remained unchanged last year and are poised to slowly diminish in the years ahead.

China has become the world’s largest producer of gold, with around 14 percent of all nuggets mined worldwide. A strategy of retaining all domestically produced gold within its borders is a conservative policy that keeps large volumes of the precious metal away from the markets, therefore avoiding an inflated supply, which would inevitably lower the price per ounce.

In addition, Chinese companies maintain strong interests in mining ventures abroad. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, wholesale demand for gold in China has been at record highs in the past two years, with gold withdrawn from the Shanghai Gold Exchange surpassing global production last December.

Meanwhile, Russia was the largest buyer of gold last December. This measure to support the ailing ruble seems to have done little to mitigate the Russian currency’s nosedive. Kazakhstan, whose economy is closely tied to Russia’s, wishes to avoid the fate of its largest neighbor by following a policy of de-dollarization of the economy.

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