LONDON- A collapse in shipments to China and India, whose vast jewellery markets were partially shut by the coronavirus, drove Swiss exports of gold in 2020 to the lowest since at least 2012, customs data showed on Thursday.
India's demand for gold recovered strongly as the year ended, but China, once the biggest buyer, recieved no gold at all from Switzerland for the third straight month in December.
Switzerland is the world's biggest gold refining centre and a transit hub, and its trade data shows how the pandemic transformed the bullion market.
Consumption plunged in Asia, where most gold is sold as jewellery, and metal moved west to satisfy an explosion in demand from investors who are the main buyers in Europe and North America.
This dynamic is now beginning to reverse but left its mark on the 2020 figures.
Switzerland shipped 148 tonnes of gold to India in 2020, compared to 232 tonnes in 2019 and 253 tonnes in 2018.
It exported just 30.5 tonnes to China, down from 181 tonnes in 2019 and 432 tonnes in 2018, and 26.7 tonnes to Hong Kong, down from 73 tonnes in 2019 and 222 tonnes in 2018.
Hong Kong, a regional trade hub, shipped 178 tonnes of gold to Switzerland in 2020, dwarfing the amount it received.
By far the biggest destination of Swiss gold last year was the United States, which received a staggering 508 tonnes in 2020, up from 17.8 tonnes in 2019 and 8.1 tonnes in 2018.
The pace of these shipments -- most of which have been deposited in vaults in New York, where they underpin trading of futures contracts -- has slowed sharply in recent months.
In total, Switzerland exported 1,180 tonnes of gold last year, down from 1,189 tonnes in 2019 and the lowest since the country began publishing data in 2012.
December's exports of 76.4 tonnes were the lowest since February.
(Reporting by Peter Hobson;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle) ((Peter.Hobson@thomsonreuters.com; +44 207 542 0083;))