According to data on the website of the Swiss Federal Customs Information, gold exports to China from major producer Switzerland skyrocketed in December of 2016, with more exports than any other month since January 2014. Given that China is consistently one of the world’s top gold consumers, this may not seem entirely unusual. However, it might have been preparation for the recent Chinese New Year, which brought in the Year of the Rooster, that was responsible for the spike in gold purchases.
The beginning of the Year of the Rooster, which began on January 28th, is commonly associated with gifting gold, which, along with lower prices at the tail end of 2016, led to the increased demand for the precious metal. The rooster is one of the 12 rotating animals on the Chinese zodiac.
The massive spike in gold exports to China is based upon consumers’ interpretation of the zodiac. However, the Chinese New Year brings plenty of other major rifts in Chinese consumer activity.
Travel, especially in groups or with families, rises significantly in China during the holiday season. According to ForwardKeys, a firm that predicts future travel patterns and analyzes over 16 million booking transactions a day, there was an 18% rise in bookings made by families of up to four members for travel during this holiday season compared to last year (as of December 30, 2016). While most Chinese travelers prefer Asian destinations, Europe is becoming a more popular hub for Chinese tourism in the holiday season; bookings for travel to Europe were up by 56% over the New Year.
The spike in tourism during the Chinese New Year carries a hefty price tag; According to research by the China National Tourism Administration and Ctrip (a Chinese travel company) spending projections are about 100 billion yuan (US$14.5 billion) this New Year fpr around six million Chinese traveling outside the country. Last year’s holiday period saw an economic impact of 90 billion yuan from overseas travel by 5.2 million Chinese,
The new year also carries weight for factory workers, as Chinese factories shut down for the holiday, with hundreds of millions of migrant workers heading to their hometowns. In the lead up to the holiday, factories run flat out to fill orders before shutting, but workers start setting off as much as two weeks earlier on packed trains and buses. After the holiday they may take the same amount of time to return, or not. The holiday is a prime occasion to switch jobs.
This can be unnerving for retailers and importers overseas who rely on China. Shipping companies warn customers that China’s transport networks are at capacity during the holiday and that shipments need to be ready well before the nation-wide shutdown begins.
Between the arbitrary influence of the zodiac and the actions of consumers in preparation for the holiday, the Chinese New Year has a far-reaching effect on both the Chinese and world economy.