China May Overtake India in Gold Demand, Council Says

July 24th, 2009

By Sophie Leung, Bloomberg

China may overtake India to become the world’s top gold consumer this year, the World Gold Council said, as the nation became the first of the major economies to rebound from the global recession.

Jewelry demand in China expanded in the first quarter while dropping in India, Marcus Grubb, a managing director at the London-based council, said today at a conference in Hong Kong. Chinese gold demand will keep rising, he said.

China’s economy grew 7.9 percent in the second quarter after a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package spurred record lending and consumption. India’s gold purchases slumped 54 percent in the six months ended June after a decline in the rupee pushed up the cost of owning bullion, cooling demand from housewives and jewelers, the Bombay Bullion Association said.

“There is a possibility that China might overtake India as the world’s largest gold consumer this year,” Hou Huimin, deputy head of the China Gold Association, said by phone from Beijing today. “India’s gold consumption is reportedly dropping this year due to the financial crisis.”

Total demand from India in the first quarter fell 83 percent to 17.7 metric tons, from 107.2 tons a year earlier, according to figures from the World Gold Council. Purchases in China rose 1.8 percent to 105.2 tons from 103.3 tons. Total Chinese demand for gold was six times that of India in the first quarter, the council said in May.

‘Consumption Growing’

“China’s consumption is growing and this year’s will surely be more than last year’s,” Hou said.

China consumed nearly 400 metric tons of gold last year, while demand in India was more than 650 tons, according to council data, which cited statistics from GFMS Ltd. Global demand rose 3.8 percent to 3,658.6 tons, or $101.8 billion, the council said Feb. 18.

Bullion prices have gained 7.6 percent this year as the global recession spurred demand for safe haven assets. Gold for immediate delivery was little changed at $949.65 an ounce at 5:39 p.m. in Hong Kong.

China, the world’s biggest gold producer, has increased reserves by 76 percent to 1,054 tons since 2003 and has the world’s fifth-biggest holdings by country, Hu Xiaolian, head of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said in April.

Growing demand in China won’t necessarily boost imports of the metal as rising production may be able to satisfy additional consumption, said the World Gold Council’s Grubb. China’s production of gold has risen at rate of 7 percent to 8 percent annually over the past five to six years, he said.

Imports

“It depends if the demand is rising faster than production,” Grubb said in an interview. “At the moment, they are roughly in balance.” China will seek to boost gold output to 290 tons this year from 282 tons in 2008, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on March 20.

Gold imports by India in the six months ended June 30 plunged to 63.8 tons from 139 tons a year earlier, the Bombay Bullion Association said July 13. Imports may fall further after the government doubled the import duty this month, it said.

“India’s gold demand as reflected in imports have fallen drastically in the first six months,” Harmesh Arora, vice president of the Indian association said today in a phone interview from Mumbai. “There are still no signs of demand picking up as global prices are moving higher,” said Arora, who also believes China could overtake India in gold consumption.

Still, India meets most of its demand from imports, some of which are brought in through unofficial channels and are not represented in official data, said Mukul Sonawale, partner of Mumbai-based Narrondass Manordass Co. and a past president of the Bombay Bullion Association.

“China can emerge as the world’s biggest consumer only on paper,” he said. “The official figures of imports will be quite deceiving as they don’t capture all the imports. With India doubling the import duty on gold, the unofficial channel is bound to increase.”

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