Asia Gold: Coronavirus lockdowns stall action at top hubs, choke supply

By Arpan Varghese and Rajendra Jadhav
FILE PHOTO: A salesman arranges gold bangles inside a jewellery showroom in Mumbai

By Arpan Varghese and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Major physical bullion hubs saw activity dwindle this week due to coronavirus-led restrictions, with strained supply chains cut off from soaring safe-haven demand in some regions.

Market activity was stalled in top gold consumer China, which was trying to prevent a second wave of infections, even as restrictions were eased in the central city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged.

"China borders are still closed... I don't think people will spend more money, they would use it to buy hygiene materials or supermarket products, but not luxury items," said Dick Poon, general manager at Heraeus Metals Hong Kong Ltd.

Gold was sold at a hefty $15 to $20 an ounce discounts in China versus benchmark spot prices for a second straight week.

Premiums in Hong Kong were quoted around $0.50-$1.70.

There's high demand for gold kilo bars in both Hong Kong and Singapore, especially amid the "extremely tight supply", said Joshua Rotbart, managing partner, J. Rotbart & Co in Hong Kong.

Singapore's bullion market is "in hibernation until early May" due to coronavirus-related restrictions, but the city-state's Metalor refinery will remain open, Singapore Bullion Market Association CEO Albert Cheng said on Wednesday.

"We're still able to order gold from suppliers, but it's increasingly challenging to order silver... It's also half as dense as gold, making orders from dealers potentially very heavy in weight and therefore a greater logistical challenge given the travel restrictions now," said Vincent Tie, sales manager at Silver Bullion, which has shut its retail office for a month.

Premiums of $1.50-$2 an ounce were charged in Singapore, but traders noted customers were charged very high premiums on retail gold.

"Retailers are still carrying stock but are putting up prices that are outrageous and the retail buyers should not be buying in for sure," said Spencer Campbell, director at Precious Metals Consultants SE Asia Consulting in Singapore.

In India, trading remained suspended amidst a three-week lockdown.

"The lockdown has brought business to a standstill. Jewellers are not placing orders even for May delivery due to the uncertainty over its extension," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion importing bank.

Indian gold futures were trading 45,300 rupees per 10 grams on Friday, near a record high of 45,800 rupees hit earlier this month.

India's gold imports plunged more than 73% year-on-year in March as record prices and the lockdown squeezed retail demand.

Japan saw a small premium of $0.50 an ounce, a Tokyo-based retailer said, adding an emergency declaration in the country had hampered activity.


(Reporting by Asha Sistla and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; editing by Nick Macfie)