(Adds analyst comment, details)
By Sethuraman N R
Jan 25 (Reuters) - China’s net gold imports via main conduit Hong Kong fell 18.5 percent year-on-year in 2017 and were down 12.2 percent in December from the previous month, data showed on Thursday.
Total net imports by the world’s top consumer of the metal via Hong Kong fell to 628.204 tonnes in 2017 from 770.759 tonnes in 2016.
“The major reason for lower Chinese gold imports last year is the complete absence of the Chinese central bank regarding gold purchases,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch, adding that private gold demand was steady.
“The fact that the People’s Bank of China did not buy any gold last year left all domestically mined gold available to private households. As a result, the need to import gold dropped.”
Net imports by China through Hong Kong fell to 31.221 tonnes in December from 35.554 tonnes in November, according to data emailed to Reuters by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department.
“Prices shot up in December, curbing demand, and normally people would like to have low inventories during the year-end,” said Dick Poon, general manager at Heraeus Precious Metals in Hong Kong.
Total gold imports via Hong Kong also dropped to 34.326 tonnes in December from 37.121 tonnes in November.
Gold prices rose more than 2 percent in December, recovering from nearly five-month lows hit during the middle of the month. Prices hit 1-1/2-year highs on Thursday.
China does not provide trade data on gold and the Hong Kong figures serve as proxy for flows to the mainland.
The Hong Kong data might not provide a full picture of China’s purchases as gold is also imported via Shanghai and Beijing. (Reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in BENGALURU; Editing by Tom Hogue and Mark Potter)