Gold imports by India will decline for the first time in three years in 2012 as rising prices deter jewellery buyers and investors, potentially allowing China to overtake the South Asian nation as the world's largest consumer.
Imports may drop 7.1 per cent to 900 metric tonnes this year, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of eight analysts, brokers and jewellers including Rajesh Exports, the biggest gold-jewellery exporter. India bought a record 969 tonnes in 2011, according to the World Gold Council. Falling Indian imports may help to halt a rally in prices that's set for a 12th year. Gold has gained as investors seek to protect their wealth from volatility in stock markets, depreciating currencies and the threat of inflation.
"If we see higher gold prices, it implies lower imports into India," Jeffrey Rhodes, head of precious metals at INTL Commodities, said in a phone interview from Dubai. "The higher the gold price, the same amount of money buys less."
Imports plunged 44 per cent in the fourth quarter to 157 tonnes as jewellery demand slumped 44 per cent to 103 tonnes and investment demand declined 38 per cent to 70 tonnes, the council said on February 16. Annual gold demand fell 7 per cent to 933.4 tonnes in 2011, compared China's 769.8 tonnes, it said.
Bullion futures in India rallied 32 per cent last year, touching an all-time high and exceeding the ten per cent advance in global prices, as the local currency slumped to a record low against the dollar. Higher prices cooled demand among investors and jewellery buyers, said Ramesh Pahlajani, partner at Bherumal Shamandas Jewellers.
"With the prices of gold going up, nothing fits into the budget of the customer," Pahlajani said in an interview. "Demand for gold has been quite subdued."
In India, gold is traditionally bought during festival seasons and for marriages as part of the bridal trousseau. The number of days this year considered to be auspicious for weddings will be the fewest since 2004, potentially trimming gold demand, Ajay Mitra, managing director, Middle East and India at the council, said last week.
"The amount of gold I buy has been reduced and we have to budget our expenses," said Khushboo Jain, 24, while shopping in Zaveri Bazaar, Mumbai's main jewellery market, ahead of her April wedding. "I am buying for my marriage and in the future it will be an investment for me in times of financial crisis."
Gold for immediate delivery rose 0.5 per cent to $1,731.35 (Dh6,359.59) an ounce in Singapore on Monday. The metal reached a record $1,921.15 an ounce in September.