SINGAPORE Gold retailers struggled to cope this week as parents buying dowries, casual shoppers and tourists snapped up bars, coins, nuggets and jewellery as a slump in the price of the yellow metal released years of pent-up retail demand.
The price decline in the past week, the steepest in 30 years, has tarnished gold's appeal for the portfolio investors whose money had fuelled a 12-year bull run. As investors rush out, consumers that were priced out of the market for years have rushed in.
"It's just like the sales after Christmas," said Nigel Moffatt, treasurer at Perth Mint, which refines between 300 and 400 tonnes of precious metals each year at what it says is the largest facility in the southern hemisphere.
"Anything you could buy $200 cheaper today than you could last week becomes fairly tempting. It is surprising how such enormous liquidation brings such enormous interest at the other end from small investors. What we keep in terms of retail stocks, yes, they are being depleted fairly quickly. As usual, it appears that China is leading the charge."
India is the world's top gold consumer, accounting for 20 percent of global demand. The fall in prices is well-timed for consumers there, coming during the wedding season and ahead of the festival of Akshaya Tritiya, which falls next month and during which gold buying is traditional.
Gold demand in China link.reuters.com/bat34t
Inflation adjusted gold price timeline (since 1970) - link.reuters.com/jem47t
"My sales are 50 percent more than last year ... and we expect good business to continue as weddings will last till July," said Kumar Jain at his shop in Zaveri Bazaar, India's biggest gold market, in Mumbai.
Jewellery is traditionally part of dowries in India, where parents give gold to their daughters at weddings.
"We got to know from a news channel that prices are down, so we came to buy a gift for our nephew, who is getting married... I even think this is once in a lifetime opportunity," said 41-year old Rajesh Mehta, who bought 22 grams of gold in two chains worth more than 50,000 Indian rupees.
Banks have hiked premiums for gold bars in India to $1.75 to $2.25 an ounce above spot London prices, up from $1.25 to $1.50 last month. One wholesaler said demand was so strong that the wait for gold bar deliveries was 10 days instead of one or two.
Gold bar premiums reflect the strength of retail demand and have rallied to multi-month highs across Asia this week as sellers in the region and their suppliers in Europe strained to keep up.
In Hong Kong, the source of much of the gold imported by the world's second-largest consuming country China, premiums jumped to a 15-month high at $2 an ounce over the spot London prices.
Suppliers are struggling to cope with demand.
"We are completely sold out for the next few weeks and if you want to buy now the earliest delivery would be in two weeks' time," said Bernard Sin, senior vice president at MKS Capital, a Swiss-based precious metals company which runs one of the biggest gold refineries in Switzerland and supplies Asia.
"Demand is incredibly high in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore."
Retail demand in Europe and the United States has also picked up. Britain's Royal Mint has boosted output for gold coins.
"Since the dip in the price of gold we have seen increased demand for our gold bullion coins from the major coin markets," said Shane Bissett, the Royal Mint's director of bullion and commemorative coins. "The Royal Mint ... is increasing production to accommodate the higher demand."
In the United States, sales of American Eagle gold for two days this week topped the volumes for the whole of March.
At the Sydney showroom of ABC Gold Bullion, Australia's largest independent bullion trader, the queue was around 30 deep early on Friday.
The company has had to hire temporary staff to help deal with the flood of interest, phone and walk-in sales, said Jordan Eliseo, chief economist at ABC Bullion.
"When they see the gold price drop this low, they don't see 'collapse', they see 'bargain' and move in to buy heavily," Eliseo said.
(With reporting by Siddesh Mayenkar in MUMBAI, Jane Chung in SEOUL, Rebekah Kebede in PERTH, Clara Denina in LONDON, Thuy Ong and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Simon Webb)