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d the commodity bloc are growing wary of Western paper money and debt.
China has quietly doubled holdings to 1,054 tonnes and is thought to be adding gradually on price dips, creating a market floor. Gold remains a tiny fraction of its $2.3 trillion in foreign reserves.
Gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) – dubbed the "People's Central Bank" – have accumulated 1,778 tonnes, making them the fifth biggest holder after the US, Germany, France, and Italy.
Ross Norman, director of theBullionDesk.com, said exploration budgets had tripled since the start of the decade with stubbornly disappointing results so far.
Output fell a further 14pc in South Africa last year as companies were forced to dig ever deeper - at greater cost - to replace depleted reserves, not helped by "social uplift" rules and power cuts. Harmony Gold said yesterday that it may close two more mines over coming months due to poor ore grades.
Mr Norman said the "false mine of central banks" had been the only new source of gold supply this decade as they auction off reserves, but they are switching sides to become net buyers.