HYDERABAD, India/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold imports are set to fall further this year as global bullion prices are driven higher by surplus cash in the market and by a weaker dollar, delegates at a major conference on the metal said on Friday.
As it is the biggest consumer of bullion, India’s demand has traditionally been a key determinant of gold prices, although it has been overtaken in recent years by the weight of Western investors seeking sanctuary from the global financial crisis.
Speculative and investment demand has led prices to more than double since 2008, curbing purchases from price-sensitive Indian buyers. India’s gold imports in the second quarter plunged more than 56 percent on the year to 131 tonnes, according to industry body the World Gold Council.
“For the gold price (rally) to continue, someone else would have to step in to replace India,” said one London-based bullion banker attending the International Gold Convention in Hyderabad.
“Investors in America or in Europe might step in and make up the difference, but it (India’s falling consumption) is something that will have a negative impact on the gold price.”
Gold prices, currently near $1,670 an ounce, are set to end Friday with their biggest weekly rise since early June, up 3 percent, after minutes of a Federal Reserve meeting showed the U.S. central bank is set to deliver another round of monetary stimulus “fairly soon” unless the country’s economy improves considerably.
“Gold is very sensitive to statements from the central banks, largely from the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank,” said Sunil Kashyap, managing director and head of Asia Pacific and Middle East at ScotiaMocatta.
Kashyap pointed to a perception that gold is a hedge against the inflation that could result from looser monetary policy.
“The logic is, if there is more money in the system, there is potential for inflation in future.”
Philip Klapwijk, global head of analytics of the London-based consultancy GFMS, said gold prices could peak at $1,800-$1,850 an ounce by the end of 2012 as demand in China, the second largest consumer, continued to increase.
“We expect prices to continue to rise in the next few months,” he said. “If you have China further cutting interest rates to stimulate the economy, then Chinese investors may buy more gold bars.”
Kashyap said prices of the yellow metal were likely to consolidate in the range of $1,640-$1,700 an ounce until October, with an upside bias. He said the gold market will also look at demand from Diwali, India’s peak festival season.
Graphic of India, China gold demand: r.reuters.com/xem66s
Government increased import duty for gold earlier in the year, from 1 percent to 2 percent, and then to 4 percent. One bullion banker said delegates at the conference were speculating that this may be raised further to at least 7 percent.
“They want to encourage more people to spend money on Indian goods and consume things in India that will help the economy, rather than have all this money tied up in gold bars and gold jewellery,” he said. “The government sees gold as a dead asset.”
Local dealers reported an increase in the amount of gold flowing into India unofficially, and scrap sales are on the rise as high rupee prices and a slowing economy result in a mass selling of jewellery in India, he said.
These factors may result in a repeat of the strike action carried out by jewellers in March, the banker added, particularly if the government further increases duties.
Silver prices could be at $35 an ounce by the end of the year, up 15 percent from the current levels, Klapwijk said, while prices of platinum, which has been a “star performer,” are likely to touch $1,700 an ounce compared with about $1,550 now.
Reporting by Siddesh Mayenkar and Charlotte East; Editing by Jo Winterbottom, Jan Harvey, Anthony Barker