Indian Gold Imports Above 10-Year Monthly Average in April
Despite a spike in COVID cases and rising prices that dampened retail demand for gold in India, imports in April came in above the 10-year monthly average indicating a continued recovery in the Indian gold market.
India imported 110 tons of gold in April. That’s 71% above the 10-year monthly average and compares with just .o5 ton in April 2020.
According to the World Gold Council, the high import level was driven primarily by purchases ahead of the Akshaya Tritiya festival and anticipated strong wedding demand. Rising coronavirus infections and government lockdowns dampened that demand.
Retail demand for gold in India was robust in Q1, as evidenced by increasing premiums. With a significant pick-up in retail demand, the monthly average premium in March jumped to $4.20 per ounce compared to an average of $3.30 an ounce in February. Premiums dropped significantly in April.
The WGC projects imports will likely be subdued in May, but infection rates appear to be coming down. Retail demand in March was strong and it will likely rebound quickly when the government lifts restrictions.
If this downward trend [in COVID-19 cases} continues, lockdowns will likely ease and non-essential businesses re-open, bolstering retail demand.”
While the pandemic muted retail gold demand, investment demand remained strong in April. Inflows in Indian gold ETFs increased by 1.3 tons, taking total holdings to 33.1 tons.
India ranks as the second-largest gold-consuming country in the world, second only behind China, but demand has languished for the last couple of years. The pandemic crushed demand, particularly for gold jewelry, but record-high gold prices in rupee terms and government policy put a drag on the gold market even before COVID-19. There were signs of a turnaround late last year and it continued through the first two months of 2021.
As we reported recently, policy shifts announced by the Indian government in its Union Budget earlier this year will likely have a positive impact on the country’s gold market. These include a reduction in the gold import duty, some regulatory changes, and income-boosting welfare schemes for rural Indians.
Gold has helped Indians weather the economic storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The government response to COVID-19 ravaged the Indian economy. As a result, many banks were reluctant to extend credit due to fear of defaults. In this tight lending environment, many Indians used their stashes of gold to secure loans.
For many Indians, gold is a lifesaver, providing liquidity that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Indians traditionally buy and hold gold. Collectively, Indian households own an estimated 25,000 tons of gold and that number may be higher given the large black market in the country. The yellow metal is interwoven into the country’s marriage ceremonies and cultural rites. Indians also value gold as a store of wealth, especially in poor rural regions. Two-thirds of India’s gold demand comes from these areas, where the vast majority of people live outside the official tax system.
Gold is not just a luxury in India. Even poor people buy gold in the Asian nation. According to an ICE 360 survey in 2018, one in every two households in India purchased gold within the last five years. Overall, 87% of households in the country own some amount of the yellow metal. Even households at the lowest income levels in India own some gold. According to the survey, more than 75% of families in the bottom 10% had managed to buy gold.
A further recovery in the Indian gold market would further boost global demand and would be supportive of gold prices.