* Shanghai Pudong Development, China Merchants Bank get
* Standard Chartered is 3rd foreign bank allowed to import
* New licenses come ahead of launch of international
By A. Ananthalakshmi and Fayen Wong
SINGAPORE/SHANGHAI, Aug 19 China has allowed
three more banks, including a foreign lender, to import gold,
sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, as the world's
top gold buyer gears up for its strongest effort yet to gain
pricing power of the metal.
The move, which brings the number of firms allowed to import
gold into China to 15, comes ahead of the launch in September of
a new international bullion exchange in Shanghai with which
China hopes to become a price-discovery centre.
China and other Asian gold trading centres such as Singapore
are calling for more localised pricing of the precious metal as
they seek alternatives to the so-called London fix, the global
benchmark for spot gold prices, which is being investigated by
regulators on suspicion that it may have been manipulated.
Standard Chartered, Shanghai Pudong Development
Bank and China Merchants Bank were given
regulatory approval recently to import gold, five sources with
direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
"We were given the license earlier this month. We haven't
started importing yet but we will soon," said a source at one of
the three banks, speaking on condition of anonymity as the news
has not yet been publicly announced.
Standard Chartered, only the third foreign bank to be
allowed to import gold into China, declined to comment. The
other two banks did not immediately reply to requests for
Trading data from the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) - the
platform for all physical trades in China - show Shanghai Pudong
Development Bank was ranked among the top 10 trading members
every month from January to July, while China Merchants was
among the top 10 for five out of seven months.
"We are active traders on the SGE and have been waiting for
the gold import license for more than a year now," said a source
at China Merchants Bank.
Allowing more banks to import is a sign of willingness by
regulators to open up the market, especially to foreign firms,
but the move does not necessarily mean import volumes into China
would increase significantly in the near term given current weak
China has increased the pace of liberalisation of the gold
market over the past year, with the approval last year of the
country's first gold-backed exchange-traded funds, extended
trading hours and the granting of import licenses to foreign
ANZ and HSBC were granted import licenses
late last year.
China approached foreign banks, gold producers and refiners
to participate in SGE's international bourse, sources told
Reuters earlier in the year, to boost its position as a
price-discovery centre for gold. It plans to launch three
physically-backed gold contracts.
The chairman of the exchange said in June that China should
have its own pricing benchmark as it is the biggest consumer and
producer of gold.
"The new import licenses seem to be well-timed. Along with
their upcoming new exchange, they are clearly showing that they
want to make the market more accessible, and easier for foreign
players," said one precious metals trader in Hong Kong.
However, the granting of the new licenses would not mean
China's gold imports would surge as buyers have taken a pause
after record consumption last year. Total gold demand halved in
the second-quarter, according to the World Gold Council.
China imported over 1,000 tonnes of gold last year as gold
prices slumped after a 12-year rally.
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)