China’s First Gold-Dispensing ATM (Briefly) Hits Beijing

Gold Demand In China Rose 21 Percent in 2010 To 571.5 Metric Tons

Gongmei Gold Trading's gold ATM went online, and rapidly offline, this past weekend in Beijing

Gongmei Gold Trading’s gold ATM went online, and rapidly offline, this past weekend in Beijing

The current “gold rush” in China, which has only intensified as more inflation-spooked, investment-starved Chinese consumers have diversified away from cash holdings, has now entered its “fast food” phase, with China’s first gold-dispensing ATM debuting this past weekend in Beijing. Located in the city’s Wangfujing shopping area, the ATM — which sells both gold bars and coins — made a splash on its first day, attracting a great deal of local media attention before being switched off due to technical problems. The company in charge of the machine, Gongmei Gold Trading, said it would be back up and running in a day or two, though company reps couldn’t be more specific.

Despite Gongmei’s embarrassment at its ATM’s debut, company rep Li Weizhou told People’s Daily that the company plans to install 2,000 similar ATMs throughout China over the course of the next two years, placing most of them in “private clubs at banks and at landmark buildings in large cities.” As Gongmei president Zheng Ruixiang told the newspaper, the popularity of gold ATMs in regions like the Middle East, and China’s appetite for the yellow metal, has his hopes up. Said Zheng, “[P]eople in Asia have a unique taste for gold, especially in China and India, and the channels of investment in China are way too narrow right now…[T]o put residents’ cash deposits into gold deposits can reduce cash flow and reduce pressure on commodity prices.”

With China now the world’s top producer and second-largest consumer of gold — demand rose 21 percent in 2010 to 571.5 metric tons, according to the China Gold Association, and the World Gold Council expects the country’s annual gold consumption to double in the next decade — it’s not surprising that gold retailers are resorting to gimmicks and publicity stunts to capture more market share. But naturally, not everyone is convinced that buying gold in public is such a good idea. As one reporter from the Beijing Morning Post asked Gongmei’s Zheng at the unveiling of the ATM this weekend, “What if someone smashed up the machine or tries to tow it away?” Zheng replied by saying that each machine will be equipped with “professional security personnel.”

Demand for gold will certainly continue its steady rise, particularly as the aforementioned inflation makes consumers increasingly wary of holding onto cash. The gold market in China, much like the art, diamond and wine markets, is essentially fueled by inflation fears. As such, expect new gadgets like gold ATMs to get a foothold in China, but — considering their public nature — also expect these machines (much like Italian sports cars and high-priced handbags), to attract the derision of Chinese microbloggers who are quick to single out these “toys” as destinations for ill-gotten cash.

 

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