An employee looks at gold earrings displayed inside a Kalyan Jewellers store during the festival of Dhanteras in Noida, in November 2020 | Bloomberg
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Mumbai: A fledgling recovery in India’s gold demand in the first three months of the year may be snuffed out by an explosive increase in coronavirus infections that keeps people at home, damping sales during the key wedding season.

Purchases in the world’s second-biggest consumer jumped 37% in the January to March period to 140 tons after slumping to the lowest in more than two decades last year, according to the World Gold Council. A combination of softening gold prices, a sharp pick-up in economic activity and the return of social activities such as weddings supported higher consumption, it said.

After a record-breaking rally last year, gold has lost momentum amid optimism over economies reopening and vaccine rollouts, with the advancing dollar and rising bond yields denting demand for bullion. In India, prices are down more than 15% from a record high in August.

Still, demand is likely to take a hit in the second quarter as the total number of cases top 18 million, making India the second-worst affected country in the world. Many states have imposed restrictions on the movement of people and shuttered non-essential businesses as infections soar. These curbs may keep demand muted for weddings and the auspicious Hindu gold buying day of Akshaya Tritiya next month, said P.R. Somasundaram, managing director for India at the council.

“As lockdowns are re-imposed in various regions of the country in response to rising Covid-19 cases, consumer confidence has dipped,” Somasundaram said. “People had just started spending and now that’s all stopped. People are more aware that it is spreading fast and that they need to be careful, so that will affect all the festivities.”

Better than 2020

Digital and retail strategies formed in the past year may cushion the drop this quarter, unlike the year-earlier period, “but the current crisis is beyond just economics and logistics, therefore, sentiment may be affected till large-scale vaccination is achieved,” Somasundaram said.

Full-year consumption will be better than 2020 as vaccinations pick up pace and the economy recovers, he said. More money will flow into gold but that is more likely to happen only by the last quarter of the year, Somasundaram said, declining to give an estimate for 2021.

Globally, gold demand fell 23% during the first quarter to 815.7 tons from the year-earlier period as a recovery from the pandemic drove outflows from exchange-traded funds in western markets. The decline was mitigated by strengthening demand in China and India, the world’s biggest consumers. — Bloomberg


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