* Net imports hit 1,158 T in 2013, double the 2012 level
* December imports up 24 pct from previous month
(Adds details, analyst comment)
By A. Ananthalakshmi
SINGAPORE, Jan 27 China's 2013 gold imports from
Hong Kong more than doubled from the previous year to reach a
record of more than 1,000 tonnes as a sharp fall in prices led
to unprecedented demand.
China imported about 1,158.162 tonnes from Hong Kong,
compared with 557.478 tonnes in 2012, overtaking India to become
the world's biggest gold buyer.
Demand for gold jewellery, bars and coins jumped as prices
fell 28 percent last year, the first annual decline after
a 12-year bull run.
Robust Chinese demand has helped provide a floor to prices,
which have been dropping as a shift in U.S. Federal Reserve
policy towards curbing monetary stimulus has reduced the appeal
of gold as a safe haven and as gold-backed exchange-traded funds
have been hit by big outflows.
China's rising demand has helped counter a drop in demand in
India, where a high current account deficit has forced the
government to impose curbs on gold imports.
Net gold flows into China climbed to 94.847 tonnes in
December from 76.393 tonnes in November, according to data
e-mailed to Reuters by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics
Total imports from Hong Kong - including purchases later
re-sold to Hong Kong - were 126.644 tonnes, up from 107.357
tonnes in November.
"There are strong numbers to finish off the year, and we
expect we could see an even higher figure for January," Victor
Thianpiriya, an analyst at ANZ, said.
Imports rose as banks stocked up to meet peak demand for the
Chinese New Year in late January, traders said.
Thianpiriya and other analysts do not expect China to
continue buying at the same pace in 2014, however, largely
because they consider the huge drop in prices to be a one-off
and because retailers and dealers are now well stocked.
ANZ expects 900 tonnes of imports into China from Hong Kong
in 2014, which would still be the second-highest level on
China does not publish gold trade data. The numbers from
Hong Kong, a main conduit for gold into China, give the best
picture of Chinese trade in the precious metal.
China has also been importing directly into the mainland,
global trade data has shown, as banks have imported bullion to
meet strong demand.
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Muralikumar
Anantharaman and Jane Baird)