* Industry lobby believes China bought gold in late 2011-FT
* Cenbank gold buy explains gap between imports, estimates
Feb 16 (Reuters) - China’s central bank made significant gold purchases in the final months of 2011, leading to a surge in the country’s imports of the metal, the Financial Times quoted a senior official at the World Gold Council as saying on Thursday.
Marcus Grubb, managing director for investment at the WGC, a gold mining industry lobby, said the buying by the People’s Bank of China could explain a large gap between Chinese gold imports and the WGC’s estimates of consumer demand for the metal.
“There is absolutely a discrepancy in the import figures,” Grubb was quoted as saying. “The obvious inference is that the central bank is buying.”
Last week, official data from Hong Kong showed its shipments of gold to mainland China in 2011 grew more than three times from a year earlier, confirming China’s rapidly growing appetite for bullion, despite a sharp drop in December.
“In the medium term we do know the Chinese central bank and other Asian central banks with large foreign reserves have been increasing their holdings of gold. This is consistent with that,” Grubb told the FT.
China is the world’s sixth-largest official-sector holder of gold, according to the WGC.
Gold market watchers believe China has been surreptitiously stockpiling gold as a means to diversify its reserves.
The Chinese government last revealed its gold reserves in 2009, when it said its bullion holdings had increased by three-quarters to 1,054 tonnes since 2003.
Earlier on Thursday, the WGC said China may eclipse India as the world’s biggest gold consumer on an annual basis.