Every transaction in a market involves an increase in demand for the traded item on the part of the buyer and an exactly offsetting decrease in the demand for the traded item on the part of the seller, which means that neither a purchase nor a sale implies a market-wide change in demand or price. This is obvious, so why does so much gold-market analysis focus on the quantities of gold shifting from one geographical area to another or from one part of the market to another?
I don’t know the answer to the above question, but I do know that focusing on the changes in gold location is pointless if your goal is to find clues regarding gold’s prospects. For example, while there could be a reason for wanting to know the amount of gold being transferred to China (I can’t think of a reason, but maybe there is one), the information will tell you nothing about the past or the likely future performance of the gold price. For another example, the amount of gold shifting into or out of ETF inventories could be of interest, but the shift in location from an ETF inventory to somewhere else or from somewhere else to an ETF inventory is not a driver of the gold price (as I explained in a previous blog post, changes in ETF inventory are effects, not causes, of the price trend).
Over recent years many gold bulls have cited the net-buying of gold by the geographical region known as China as a reason to expect higher prices. Prior to that it was often the net buying of gold by India that was cited as a reason to be bullish. The point that is being missed in such arguments is that regardless of whether gold’s price trend is bullish or bearish, some parts of the world will always be net buyers and other parts of the world will always be net sellers of gold, with the two exactly offsetting each other. At some future time it is possible that China will become a net seller and the US will become a net buyer. If so, will the same pundits that have wrongly cited the buying of China as a reason to be bullish then start wrongly citing the buying of the US as a reason to be bullish? Unfortunately, they probably will.
What determines gold’s price trend isn’t the amount of gold bought, since the amount bought will always equal the amount sold. Instead, the price trend is determined by the general urgency to sell relative to the general urgency to buy (with the relative urgency to buy/sell being strongly influenced by confidence in the two senior central banks). To put it another way, if the average buyer is more motivated than the average seller, the price will rise, and if the average seller is more motivated than the average buyer, the price will fall. So, how do we know whether the buyers or the sellers are the more motivated group?
The only reliable indication is the price itself. If the price is rising we know, with 100% certainty, that buyers are generally more motivated than sellers. In other words, we know that demand is trying to increase relative to supply. And if the price is falling we know, with 100% certainty, that sellers are generally more motivated than buyers. In other words, we know that demand is trying to decrease relative to supply.
That’s why statements along the lines of “demand is rising even though the price is falling” are just plain silly.