UPDATE 1-China's July net gold imports via Hong Kong at 9-month high

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Aug 25 (Reuters) - China’s net gold imports via Hong Kong jumped to a nine month high in July, data showed on Thursday, with banks snapping up bullion as Beijing works to revive an economy hit by a resurgence of COVID cases.

Net imports stood at 48.773 tonnes in July, compared with 40.563 tonnes in June, the data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department showed. Total gold imports via Hong Kong were up nearly 23.7% to 53.91 tonnes.

“The hefty re-export figures suggest that material had been shipped into Hong Kong from other countries previously, and was waiting for import quotas to be allocated so that it could move onshore,” said StoneX analyst Rhona O’Connell.

Re-exported gold stood at 48.82 tonnes in July, versus 37.70 tonnes in the previous month.

China is the world’s top gold consumer. It usually imports most of its bullion from Australia, South Africa and Switzerland. The People’s Bank of China controls how much gold enters China through a system of quotas given to commercial banks.

“China imports from Switzerland is note-worthy ... Grass roots buying is relatively thin at the moment so there may be some institutional interest involved,” Connell added.

Swiss exports of gold to China in July rose to their highest since December 2016, Swiss customs data showed.

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

“The export numbers suggest that loosening of COVID restrictions is still boosting gold purchases, even as the broader economy is showing signs of cooling,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

“However, a further deterioration in the economy and new COVID restrictions are downside risks to imports.”

Meanwhile, China’s economy contracted sharply in the second quarter, while annual growth also slowed significantly, highlighting the colossal toll on activity from widespread COVID lockdowns, which jolted industrial production and consumer spending.

Through July, Chinese dealers sold gold at anywhere between a premium of $3 to $9 an ounce to global benchmark spot prices .

Reporting by Bharat Govind Gautam, Arundhati Sarkar and Ashitha Shivaprasad in Bengaluru; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Potter