MUMBAI/BENGALURU Physical gold sales eased in Asia this week as steadily higher prices kept buyers on the sidelines and premiums remained mostly unchanged across the continent.
In India, the world's second-largest consumer of the metal, higher prices prompted retail buyers to postpone purchases for wedding season.
"The volatility in prices is confusing buyers. Many buyers are waiting for prices to stabilise," said Harmesh Arora, a Mumbai-based bullion dealer.
In local market gold prices were trading around 28,365 rupees per 10 grams on Friday, after falling to 26,862 rupees last month, the lowest level since Feb. 2 last year.
Dealers in India were charging a premium of up to $1 an ounce this week over official domestic prices, unchanged from the previous week. The domestic price includes a 10 percent import tax.
"Jewellers are not making big purchases as they are expecting (an) import duty cut in the budget," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bank.
The bullion industry has been urging a reduction in the duty to combat smuggling, which has increased since India raised import duty to 10 percent in August 2013 in an effort to narrow a gaping current account deficit. The Indian government will present its budget on Feb. 1 for the 2017/18 financial year starting Apr. 1.
Gold imports in December fell 71 percent from a year ago to 31 tonnes as a cash crunch squeezed demand, said Sudheesh Nambiath, a senior analyst at GFMS, a division of Thomson Reuters.
In China, the world's top gold consumer, gold was sold at a premium of around $17 to the global benchmark, almost unchanged from last week.
"The demand is not too hot as prices touched $1,200 this week and people are just in the wait-and-watch mode," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.
"There is a bit of slowdown in sales in China. It tapers down further in the week to Chinese New Year," Leung added.
Gold fell on Friday after hitting a seven-week peak in the previous session as the dollar edged up and a technical correction set in, but it was still set to end higher for a third straight week.
Among other gold trading centres, bullion was sold at a premium of $1-$1.50 an ounce in Hong Kong and Singapore, nearly unchanged from last week.
Prices in Tokyo, however, were at a discount of $1 per ounce this week.
"Higher gold prices in Japan are leading people to sell gold rather than buy," a Tokyo-based retailer said.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI and Nallur Sethuraman in BENGALURU; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)