Gold Imports by India May Surge as Festival Lures Shoppers

Gold imports by India, the world’s biggest consumer, may soar this quarter as a plunge in prices spurs demand for jewelry, coins and bars during the country’s biggest bullion festival, a jewelers’ group said.

Inbound shipments may jump 47 percent to 225 metric tons in the three months through June from 153 tons a year earlier, said Haresh Soni, chairman of the All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation. Sales during Akshaya Tritiya, the auspicious gold-buying festival today, are estimated to be 20 percent more than a year earlier, he said.

Shoppers crowded jewelry stores and bank outlets across India to buy ornaments and coins, potentially helping gold extend a rally from a two-year low even as holdings in exchange-traded funds backed by the precious metal tumble. Bullion plummeted 14 percent in two sessions through April 15 in the worst slide since 1983, boosting demand from India to China and Australia and causing a shortage of supplies.

“Gold is God’s currency for people so the faith is much more,” Prithviraj Kothari, managing director of Riddisiddhi Bullions Ltd., and a former president of the Bombay Bullion Association, said by phone from Mumbai. “People buy gold on Akshaya Tritiya as the belief is that anything bought on the day will only multiply.”

Auspicious Day

Akshaya Tritiya is considered by the country’s more than 900 million Hindus as the traditional day to buy precious metals. Bullion is bought during festivals and marriages as part of the bridal trousseau or gifted in the form of jewelry by relatives. Gold sales may jump 50 percent to 30 tons during this year’s festival, Kothari said.

“We are on a holiday but since this is the most auspicious day of the year we came to buy gold,” Narendra Holkar, a 50-year-old businessman from Bangalore, said while scanning a set of intricately designed jewelry at a shop in Mumbai’s Zaveri Bazaar. Holkar plans to buy a necklace and pendant for his 19-year-old daughter.

Bullion entered a bear market in London in April as investors sold the metal in favor of riskier assets on speculation that the global economy was recovering. The precious metal is off to its worst start to the year since 1982, losing 15 percent.

‘Dramatic Increase’

Gold for immediate delivery fell 1.1 percent to $1,432.78 an ounce at 6:49 p.m. in Mumbai. While bullion has rebounded from a two-year low of $1,321.95 on April 16, it is 25 percent below the record $1,921.15 reached in 2011.

“The dramatic increase in demand this time due to the slump in prices has led to shoppers advancing purchases,” Soni said in a phone interview from New Delhi. “If the positive sentiment continues, then demand in May will also be good. All jewelers are optimistic about demand during Akshaya Tritiya and advance bookings this year have been very good.”

Jewelers in India have announced a slew of offers from discounts on ornament-making charges to gift vouchers to lure buyers on Akshaya Tritiya. A bullion manufacturer, Valuemart Gold and Jewels Ltd., roped in cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar to promote its gold coins. The World Gold Council and India Post are offering a 7 percent discount on coins, while Bullion India is promising free home-delivery for online purchases.

“There are more people buying gold jewelry this year rather than coins as prices have slumped,” Yashovardhan Zaveri, managing director of Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri Delhi Pvt., said from his jewelry store in New Delhi. “Normally, coins are preferred on auspicious days.”

Until Midnight

Most stores will be open for business until midnight today as the summer heat may keep shoppers indoors during the day, said Soni from the trade federation.

“Supply is a major problem for Indian jewelers as they are getting only about 20 percent of their requirements,” he said. “Because of the huge demand right now in India and China, banks are quoting a higher premium.”

Banks in India are charging a premium of $10 an ounce compared with $2 before prices slumped, he said. Premiums may ease to $4 by mid-June when demand typically eases because of the monsoon, he said.

The Reserve Bank of India today said it would immediately restrict imports on a consignment basis by banks only to those required to meet the “genuine” needs of jewelry exporters. The move is part of its plan to contain a record current-account deficit and was first announced on May 3. The decision may drive up premiums further, said Kumar Jain, vice president of the Mumbai Jewellers Association.

The trade deficit widened in April to $17.8 billion from $10.31 billion in March as gold and silver imports more than doubled to $7.5 billion in April from a year ago, Anup Pujari, director general of foreign trade, said in New Delhi today.

India’s gold imports dropped 11 percent last year to 860 tons from a record 969 tons in 2011, the council estimates. Demand for jewelry and investment fell to 864.2 tons in 2012, the second straight year of declines, it said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.