Gold exports to China soared in the run-up to the start of the Lunar New Year, with volumes increasing in December from major suppliers Switzerland and Hong Kong.

More gold was sent from Swiss refiners to the world's top consumer than in any month since at least January 2014, according to data on the website of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, while imports from the Asian city-state also increased compared with November.

China is the world's top gold consumer, according to data from researcher Metals Focus, and the start of the Year of the Rooster this week is associated with gifting the precious metal.

Lower prices at the end of last year, brought on by a stronger dollar as the US increased interest rates, supported demand.

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"Things have improved from where they were for much of the third quarter," Nikos Kavalis, an analyst at London-based Metals Focus, said before the data was released. "Much of that is on the back of the dip in prices. Retailers held back while prices were elevated, so there's a bit of pent-up demand."

Hong Kong sold a net 47 metric tons compared with 40.6 tons in November, according to data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department.

December purchases from Switzerland rose to 158 tons from 30.6 tons in November, pushing the full-year total to 442.2 tons, up from 288.1 tons in 2015.

Global bullion prices fell 2.2 per cent in December to cap their worst quarter since 2013 as equities rallied after President Donald Trump's election fuelled expectations of higher spending and lower taxes. The declining yuan may also have spurred gold investment, while demand is traditionally higher before the Lunar New Year.

Things have improved from where they were for much of the third quarter.

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Gold consumption in China fell 6.7 per cent to 975 tons in 2016 from a year earlier, the Gold Association said this week. In terms of trade with Hong Kong last month, the mainland bought 68.5 tons compared with 63.9 tons in November, while exports declined to 21.5 tons from 23.2 tons.

Gold for immediate delivery is up 2.5 per cent this year at $1,186.92 an ounce. Last year was the metal's best year since 2011 as global uncertainty including the election of President Donald Trump and Britain's decision to leave the European Union rattled markets.

"There's been a tail-wind behind gold, and China's just one of the directions from which it is blowing," Ken Hoffman, senior metals and mining analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone from Princeton.