China eases restrictions on gold imports - sources
* China issued import quotas last week
* Quotas are for smaller amounts than usual
* Imports down 300-500 tonnes since May
* Yuan at 11-year lows as economy slows
By Peter Hobson and Yawen Chen
LONDON/BEIJING, Aug 22 (Reuters) - China has partially
lifted restrictions on imports of gold, bullion industry
sources said, loosening curbs that had stopped an estimated
300-500 tonnes of the metal worth $15-25 billion at current
prices from entering the country since May.
China's central bank had for several months curtailed or not
granted import quotas to commercial banks responsible for most
of the gold that enters the country, Reuters reported last week.
Sources said those measures had possibly been designed to
reduce capital outflows and bolster the yuan, which has slumped
to 11-year lows against the dollar as a trade dispute with the
United States batters China's economy.
The central bank began to issue quotas again last week, but
for lower amounts of gold than considered normal, three people
with direct knowledge of the matter in London and Asia said -
without specifying exact amounts.
"Some (quotas) have been given," said one of the sources,
adding that these were "less than usual."
It's a "partial lift" of the restrictions, another source
The Chinese central bank did not respond to a request for
China is the world's biggest importer of gold, with around
1,500 tonnes of metal worth some $60 billion - equivalent to
one-third of the world's total supply - entering the country
last year, according to its customs data.
Chinese demand for gold jewellery, investment bars and coins
has trebled in the last two decades as the country has rapidly
become wealthier. China's official gold reserves meanwhile rose
fivefold to nearly 2,000 tonnes, according to official data.
Beijing has previously taken steps to curb capital outflows
when its currency weakened. These steps included some
restrictions on gold imports in 2016, sources have said.
No clear data for capital outflows exist but a measure from
China's balance of payments called errors and omissions points
to $88 billion leaving in the first three months of this year,
the most on record.
Chinese customs figures show the country imported 228 tonnes
less gold in May and June - the last month for which data is
available - than in the same two months of 2018.
By mid-August, up to 500 tonnes less gold had entered China
since May than over the same period last year, people in the
bullion industry said.
(Reporting by Peter Hobson in London, Editing by Veronica Brown
and Mark Potter)
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