April 24, 2020 / 3:16 PM / a month ago

Lockdowns keep retail buyers away in top gold hubs

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Retail demand for physical gold suffered this week in top Asian hubs as jewellery shops remained shut due to coronavirus restrictions, but some regions saw steady buying from investors hunting for a safe haven.

FILE PHOTO: A salesman arranges gold bangles inside a jewellery showroom on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, a major gold buying festival, in Mumbai, India, May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo

Dealers in the world’s biggest gold consumer China continued to sell bullion at hefty $50 an ounce discounts versus benchmark spot prices this week. This compares with last week’s $50-$70 discounts, the biggest on record according to data going back to 2014.

“Some shops have opened, but people are in no mood to buy gold on the retail side, it’s still a high-end purchase,” Ronald Leung, chief dealer, Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.

Global spot prices are now well above $1,700 an ounce.

In India, physical trading remained suspended due to the coronavirus, and jewellery showrooms will stay shut ahead of the country’s biggest gold buying festival of Akshaya Tritiya on April 26.

“Usually ahead of Akshaya Tritiya, jewellers make purchases, but this year no one’s buying,” said Harshad Ajmera, proprietor of JJ Gold House, a wholesaler in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.

Many jewellers have announced plans to sell gold online on the festival and deliver it after the lockdown is lifted, “but retail buyers are not interested in online purchases due to the higher price and uncertainty about delivery”, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bullion importing bank.

Indian gold futures held near a record high of 47,327 rupees ($620.5).

Investment demand was steady in Hong Kong and Singapore but retail buying was poor.

“Dealers like us are taking pre-orders to be fulfilled on a later date, and clients are settling for higher premiums and for whatever inventories that are available,” said Joshua Rotbart, managing partner, J. Rotbart & Co in Hong Kong.

Premiums of $0.40-$2.00 an ounce were charged on average in Hong Kong, versus last week’s $0.50-$1.00, although some dealers quoted premiums as high as $4.00.

In Singapore, gold was sold at average premiums of about $1.50 to $5 an ounce for gold bars.

“No jewellery shops/businesses are open until June 1,” said Spencer Campbell, director at Precious Metals Consultants SE Asia Consulting, adding premiums on retail gold were still high with new stock “based on promises right now”.

“Exemptions are not being granted for this industry as they do not see refining and minting as essential businesses.”

Japan saw premiums of $0.50-$1 an ounce amid muted activity with top gold retailer Tanaka Kikinzoku shutting all its stores.

($1 = 76.30 Indian rupees)

Reporting by K. Sathya Narayanan and Asha Sistla in Bengaluru and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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