* 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 (Reuters) - 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 Department.
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 record.
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)