UPDATE 1-China's April net gold imports via Hong Kong near 3-year peak

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May 27 (Reuters) - China’s net gold imports via Hong Kong jumped in April from the previous month to the highest since June 2018, as demand from the world’s top bullion consumer staged a strong rebound from last year’s pandemic slump.

Net imports stood at 52.821 tonnes in April, compared with 16.545 tonnes in March, data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department data showed.

This was also in stark contrast to the same period last year, when imports via Hong Kong fell short of exports for the first time since at least 2011 as pandemic-led restrictions stifled the market.

Total gold imports via Hong Kong rose to 55.699 tonnes from 21.766.

“Demand has been robust since the Chinese New Year, and so an increase in supply through Hong Kong is not a surprise, especially as the PBoC (People’s Bank of China) has released import quotas,” StoneX analyst Rhona O’Connell said.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand in the country following the COVID issues last year, along with concerns over domestic inflation, so continued strong flows are feasible.”

Meanwhile, Swiss exports of gold to mainland China also surged in April to their highest since December 2019.

China has given domestic and international banks permission to import large amounts of gold into the country, Reuters reported last month.

Bernard Sin, regional director, Greater China at MKS, said the actual import volumes were within expectations, with banks utilizing their import quotas in April.

“Banks will continue to steadily import gold in May, as PBOC wants to manage the pace of RMB appreciation.”

The resurgent demand has also pushed Chinese gold prices to a consistent premium over global spot rates.

The Hong Kong data does not provide a complete picture of Chinese purchasing as gold is also imported via Shanghai and Beijing.

Reporting by Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet and Emelia Sithole-Matarise