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India gold discounts at 5-month high; buying picks up in China, Singapore

A saleswoman displays a gold necklace inside a jewellery showroom on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, a major gold buying festival, in Kolkata

By Rajendra Jadhav and Arijit Bose

MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) - Physical gold discounts in India widened to their biggest in five months this week as an upsurge in local prices dampened purchases, while China and Singapore saw demand rise from investors looking to hedge against a global slowdown.

Dealers in India, which is also the world's second biggest bullion consumer, were offering a discount of $7 an ounce over official domestic prices, the highest since mid-Jan.

This compares to a discount of 50 cents offered last week. The domestic price includes a 10% import tax and 3% sales tax.

"Multiple factors are hitting demand. Prices are rising. Urban consumers are busy in the admission of their kids. Farmers are focusing on sowing of summer crops. Gold buying is not a priority," said Daman Prakash Rathod, a director at MNC Bullion, a wholesaler in Chennai.

Gold futures in the region rose to 33,344 rupees per 10 grams on Friday, the highest level since Feb. 28.

The price rise surprised jewellers, who are likely to wait for few weeks before resuming purchases, while retail demand was weak, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion importing bank.

Premiums in top gold consumer China, still engaged in an exacerbated trade war with the United States, rose to $10-$12.50 an ounce over the global benchmark from $7-$10 in the previous week.

"You can see some demand from Shanghai, because some people are buying gold as a safe-haven in the backdrop of trade-war uncertainties," said Peter Fung, head of dealing at Wing Fung Precious Metals.

However, sustained weakness of the yuan against the dollar extended a ceiling on demand, Fung added. The yuan is now on track for its third straight weekly loss.

Markets in Singapore also saw premiums rise to 60 cents to 80 cents from 20 cents to 50 cents last week.

"As a safe haven metal, physical gold demand is continuing to be supported by unresolved global uncertainties such as the U.S. trade disputes and the protests in Hong Kong," See Hong Kang, Customer Service Manager at BullionStar Singapore said.

As trade and economic turmoil perked up spot gold prices to a fresh 14-month high this week, demand in other major gold hubs suffered as a result.

"Japanese people want to sell gold when spot prices are so high," a Tokyo-based trader said adding that gold in Japan was being sold at par with the global benchmark prices, marking a slight retracement from a premium of about 50 cents last week.

In Hong Kong too, a robust spot market has put increasing pressure on demand and kept premiums nearly unmoved between 50 cents to $1.20.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai and Arijit Bose in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Swati Verma; editing by David Evans)