Gold imports by India are poised to decline for the first time in three years as rising prices deter jewelry buyers and investors, potentially allowing China to overtake the country as the world’s largest consumer.
Purchases may drop 7 percent to 900 metric tons this year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of eight analysts, brokers and jewelers including Rajesh Exports Ltd., the biggest gold-jewelry exporter. India bought a record 969 tons in 2011, according to the World Gold Council.
Bullion is climbing for the 12th year as investors seek a store of wealth amid volatility in stock markets, depreciating currencies and the threat of inflation. China’s consumption may surpass India this year after surging 20 percent to 769.8 tons in 2011, the council says. Use in India fell 7 percent to 933.4 tons last year as the currency slumped to a record low, cooling purchases for festivals and marriages.
“With the prices of gold going up, nothing fits into the budget of the customer,” Ramesh Pahlajani, partner at Mumbai-based Bherumal Shamandas Jewellers, said in an interview. “Demand for gold has been quite subdued.”
Imports plunged 44 percent in the fourth quarter to 157 tons as jewelry and investment demand declined, the council said on Feb. 16. Bullion futures in India rallied 32 percent last year, exceeding the 10 percent advance in global prices.
In India, gold is traditionally bought during the festival season and for weddings as part of the bridal trousseau. The number of days this year considered to be auspicious for marriages will be the fewest since 2004, potentially trimming demand, Ajay Mitra, managing director, Middle East and India at the council, said on Feb. 16.
“The amount of gold I buy has been reduced and we have to budget our expenses,” said Khushboo Jain, 24, while shopping in Zaveri Bazaar, Mumbai’s main jewelry market, ahead of her April wedding. “I am buying for my marriage and in the future it will be an investment for me in times of financial crisis.”
Gold for immediate delivery climbed 0.4 percent to $1,742.02 an ounce at 2:46 p.m. in Mumbai today. The metal reached a record $1,921.15 an ounce in September.
“Gold is still something that every household believes in owning,” said S. Subramaniam, chief financial officer at Titan Industries Ltd., India’s biggest retailer of gold jewelry. “Gold is not just about an ornament or adornment, it’s about investment as well.”
Gold holdings in exchange-traded products were 2,388.683 tons on Feb. 17, near the record 2,392.976 tons reached Dec. 13, according to data tracked by Bloomberg. In India, investors held a record 96.14 billion rupees in funds backed by gold as of Jan. 31, according to the Association of Mutual Funds in India data.
“Demand in India has been slow as expenses have been rising because of inflation,” Rakesh Jain, owner of Mohanlal Otarmal Jewellers in Mumbai, said in an interview at his store in Zaveri Bazaar. “People do not have much savings to spend on gold. The buying capacity of people has gone down.”