Bullion on the go

Updated: 2011-11-04 08:53

By Yan Yiqi (China Daily)

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 Bullion on the go

The gold ATM in Beijing's Wangfujing saw crowds swarming to use it during the National Day holiday. Wang Jing / China Daily

One month after its official debut in the heart of Beijing's popular Wangfujing shopping area, China's first automated teller machine (ATM) dispensing gold bars and coins has become a major attraction for some of the country's rising rich.

The machine was first activated on Sept 25 but was shut down because it was not producing receipts.

But Li Weizhou, the operations manager of Gongmei Gold Trading which installed the gold ATM, says that the new machine soon saw lines forming to buy its products during the weeklong National Day vacation that started on Oct 1.

"By 2 pm on Oct 1, all gold bars of 2 grams and 5 grams as well as coins of 0.05 ounces were sold out," Li says.

Most of the buyers were young and middle-aged people, he says.

The touch-screen ATM dispenses gold bars and coins of various weights based on the market price, which is updated every minute. Each gold bar or coin from the ATM features a two-dimensional barcode that can be recognized by a scanner attached to the machine.

The machine is also able to detect the specific type of gold product and determine the price. Gongmei launched the service after getting approval from the People's Bank of China, China's central bank, and bank card group China UnionPay. Safety and security features for the machine include video monitoring and security personnel.

Similar vending machines are already used in places such as Germany, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

Gongmei's president Zheng Ruixiang earlier expressed confidence in Asian consumers' "taste for gold, especially in China and India", with the "channels of investment in China way too narrow right now". Converting cash deposits into gold deposits can reduce cash flow and lower pressure on commodity prices, he said.

Since the new gold ATM takes up only 0.7 square meters of space, the rental costs of selling gold products have been largely decreased, Li Weizhou says. His company plans to install more gold ATMs this month and will cover major cities and tourist destinations such as Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Sanya. The company expects to have 2,000 similar ATMs in locations such as prominent buildings and private bank clubs within the next two years.

Some banks including the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China have also expressed interest to install such ATMs in their locations, he says.

The first machine in Wangfujing can only complete withdrawals but Gongmei says buy-back services will be available soon.

But not all investors are putting their money in the precious metal just yet, regardless of how convenient it is getting to buy it.

Tang Xuili, a Beijing-based property agent, says the new machine might be a convenient way for the capital's well-heeled to "spend some spare change", but real estate is probably still the way to go for major investment decisions.

"Gold is a great and safe bet in these times of uncertainty, but many investors with deep pockets are still looking at property, especially commercial space following the recent restrictions on residential purchases, to make more substantial gains."