CHINESE gold demand nearly tripled in the last 10 years, helping fuel gold's record-breaking bull run.

Gold futures set a fresh five-week high today, with the most actively traded April-delivery contract settling up 0.7 per cent, or $US10, at $US1,384.70 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Prices for the yellow metal reached an all-time record of $US1432.50 a troy ounce in December on strong purchases from investment and jewellery sectors.

The precious metal has rallied 400 per cent over the past decade, gaining around 27 per cent in 2010 alone, as instability in global financial markets and a more streamlined system for investing in physical gold boosted prices.

Chinese investors, who bought 579.5 tonnes of the metal last year according to the World Gold Council, were a key factor behind the soaring prices.

Around 400 tonnes of gold were consumed in the form of gold jewellery, with the remainder coming from the bar and coin sector. They are considered investment purchases due to the high gold-carat content of jewellery sold in the region.

China is the world's largest gold producer, making a record 340.9 tonnes in 2010, up 8.6 per cent on the year, according to the China Gold Association.

But local demand for gold outstripped supply, as investors worried about protecting their wealth from escalating inflation that hit a two-year high of 5.1 per cent in November 2010. Investors consider gold as a store of value and a hedge against inflation.

China's demand growth for gold investment could be 40-50 per cent in 2011, with a corresponding rise for gold jewellery of 8-10 per cent, Wang Lixin, the council's China managing director, told reporters.

At the same time, Chinese authorities continue to loosen policies affecting how people invest in gold. November saw Shenzhen-based Lion Fund Management Co win regulatory approval to invest in gold exchange-traded funds outside the country, opening the door for mainland investors to purchase physical gold on the world market.

Earlier in 2010, the WGC partnered with China's largest bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, to jointly develop investment products and programs for the mainland market.

Investment demand for gold has skyrocketed in recent years, in large part boosted by the rise of physical gold exchange-traded funds.

For a small fee, these funds remove the trouble of purchasing, transporting and storing gold, while allowing investors to buy and sell their stakes on a stock exchange.

Gold ETFs have fanned investment demand for the metal, which is estimated to reach 876 tonnes in the first half of 2011, up from 785 tonnes in the same period of 2010, according to metals consultancy GFMS.

Physical gold held by SPDR Gold Trust, the oldest gold ETF, currently holds the largest private store of gold at 1224.1 tonnes.

Gold producers, meanwhile, remain upbeat about their price outlook for 2010.

Despite gold's recent price records, the world's largest gold producer Barrick Gold sees more upside on the horizon.

"We're not inclined to view the gold price as being anywhere near the top," said Barrick chief financial officer Jamie Sokalsky.

Meanwhile, South Africa's largest gold miner AngloGold Ashanti noted rising political and financial concerns as a likely factor to push gold prices higher.

"It could easily break above $US1500/oz given issues across the globe," said chief executive Mark Cutifani.


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