India’s gold market feels the squeeze

A saleswoman selects gold necklaces in a jewellery showroom in India

Mumbai (Bloomberg): Jewellers in India, the top consumer after China, are facing a bleak outlook as record high prices and fading demand threaten to drag annual gold sales to the lowest in three years.

With demand growing 9 per cent during the January-June period, jewellers were expecting consumption to increase after a subdued couple of years. Those hopes are evaporating after a combination of high taxes, record prices, slowing economic growth and floods country are poised to erode demand in the peak festival season that begins later this month.

“Everything is hitting us at the same time,” N. Anantha Padmanaban, chairman of the All India Gem & Jewellery Domestic Council, said. Full-year demand is expected to be at par with 2016, when consumption slumped to a seven-year low of 666 tonnes, as buyers restrict themselves to wedding-related purchases.

Government plays spoilsport

India’s consumption of gold has been affected by the government’s efforts to curb its trade deficit and measures to discourage investors who used the metal to evade taxes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration increased the import tax on the precious metal in July, which pushed domestic prices to an all-time high of Rs38,666 ($541) per 10 grams last week.

“A 5 per cent or 7 per cent jump itself was very difficult for us to convince the customers,” Padmanaban said. “But with a 20 per cent hike in just 30-40 days, it is going to be hell for the next one or two months.”

The higher prices coincide with a slowdown in the Indian economy. Imports, which comprise almost all the gold that India consumes, slumped to the lowest monthly inflow in July since at least March 2016. Inbound shipments from Switzerland dropped 38 per cent last month from June.

“Everybody is asking the organisation to do something to promote sales. But prices have to settle down,” Padmanaban said. “Even if we do a festival, at these prices customers won’t react immediately.”

Second-half gains might prove elusive

Often consumer demand in the second-half of the year is more than 400 tonnes but it will be closer to 300 tonnes this year, Georgette Boele, senior FX and precious metals strategist at ABN Amro Bank NV, said. India’s purchases during January to June totalled 372.2 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council, the highest for the period since 2013.

With recession fears shaking the global market as the trade war drags amid a turmoil in the equity and bond markets, gold will continue to climb further with many analysts forecasting a run up to $1,600 an ounce level.

“Buying in the first-half year was heavy, not just due to a high number of auspicious days in the period but because some buyers bought early in anticipation of higher prices and clearly they were right to do so,” according to Rhona O’Connell, head of market analysis for EMEA and Asia regions at brokerage INTL FCStone Inc.

Gold demand weighed down by floods

The erratic Indian monsoon, which waters more than half of the country’s farmland, has been adding to concerns about demand as scant rains and floods affect crops and rural income. Farm incomes in India drive bullion purchases.

“It is easily foreseeable that this market will be under stress for the rest of this year,” Rhona O’Connell of INTL FCStone Inc. said. “There will come a point when the market adjusts to higher prices but that may be some way off yet.”

The monsoon rains were initially delayed and later gave way to heavy showers that caused floods in at least four states including the biggest gold-buying southern Indian states of Kerala and Karnataka. As of Monday, the death toll rose to about 189 in Kerala and Karnataka, with the two states evacuating almost a million people to safer places.

Jewellers usually start stocking up during this period for India’s festival season, which starts from late August and runs till October, and is followed by the wedding season. “Our advise to all the jewellers is that at least for the next 40 days they have to lie low, not to invest much in jewellery, start selling whatever you have and then replace it,” said N. Anantha Padmanaban of All India Gem & Jewellery Domestic Council. “Imports will be weak.”

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