Asia gold demand slumps as coronavirus grips top consumer
By Arpan Varghese
BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Physical gold markets in major Asian hubs saw activity dwindle this week as the coronavirus epidemic took a toll on demand, especially with top consumer China remaining out of action.
Several countries tightened travel curbs because of the coronavirus in China, a day after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
"The (gold) market is quiet. Nobody wants to go out and spend money. People are spending money on masks and alcohol. China is still closed," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer, Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.
Several Chinese municipalities and provinces have asked companies to extend the Lunar New Year holiday by a week, to Feb. 10.
"Demand in China has hit record low levels during the Chinese New Year in 2020 due to the coronavirus," said Samson Li, a Hong Kong-based precious metals analyst at Refinitiv GFMS.
Hong Kong also saw little activity, with gold being sold at anywhere from on par with the benchmark to a premium of about $0.40.
Global benchmark spot gold prices remained elevated, at around $1,562.70-$1,586.43 an ounce.
"The next two to three weeks will be crucial. The number of cases and how intense the outbreak gets will affect the market," said Dick Poon, general manager at Heraeus Metals Hong Kong Ltd.
In Singapore, premiums were little changed from last week at $0.40-$0.50 an ounce.
"We've yet to see a decline in demand from local demand due to the outbreak, probably due to the lack of evidence of any community spread in Singapore," Silver Bullion sales manager Vincent Tie said.
India too saw tepid demand, thanks to high domestic prices and in anticipation of the federal budget to be presented on Feb. 1. India had raised import tax on gold in the last budget.
"Demand is dull. Buyers wanted to know provisions for the bullion industry in the budget before making purchases," said Ashok Jain, proprietor of Mumbai-based gold wholesaler Chenaji Narsinghji.
Dealers offered discounts of up to $13 an ounce over official domestic prices, up from $11 last week. The domestic price includes a 12.5% import tax and 3% sales tax.
Gold futures held near a record high of 41,293 rupees hit earlier this month.
"At this level, jewellers don't want to build stocks," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion importing bank.
Indian demand could rebound in 2020, the World Gold Council said.
In Japan, gold was sold at a $0.50 an ounce premium to a $0.50 discount.
(Reporting by K. Sathya Narayanan and Sumita Layek in Bengaluru, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Louise Heavens)