Drought pushing Indian gold demand to 8-year low

Gold demand in India usually picks up in advance and during the festival and wedding season that runs October to December and accounts for a third of annual demand in the country, but 2015 is turning into a particularly poor year.

December quarter demand could fall to 150 to 175 tonnes, Bachhraj Bamalwa, a director with the All India Gems & Jewellery Trade Federation told Reuters. That would be the lowest in eights year and compares to a 5-year average for the quarter of 231 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council.

The lack of demand is being blamed on a severe drought now in its second year that has hurt incomes for the country's more than 50 million small scale farmers and depressed buying in rural areas which account for the bulk of India's gold demand. This year, 302 of the 640 districts in India experienced at least a 20% shortfall compared to normal rainfall and conditions seems to worsening.

A weaker currency agains the US dollar – reducing the impact of the weaker dollar price of gold – and a fall off in investment demand are other factors affecting the market.

After the Indian government raised taxes and duties and introduced various measures to curb imports in 2012–2013, premiums for gold inside the country shot up as high as $130 an ounce over the London price during Dhanteras and Diwali, the two festivals closely associated with bullion buying. Gold purchases can typically constitute 50% of the costs of a wedding.

Most of those restriction are still in place, but there appears to be no shortage of metal available on the subcontinent.

This year buying has been remarkably subdued with  traders in Mumbai and Ahmedabad even forced to sell gold at double digit discounts to the international price at the start of the month.

Gold is India's biggest import item after crude oil and the country's jewellery industry is the world's number one importer ahead of China. In the first nine months of the year the country imported 689 tonnes of gold with the total for the year expected in the region of 900 tonnes. That's down from a record 1,079 tonnes in 2011, but up sharply from 779 tonnes in 2014.

In an attempt to put the estimated 20,000 tonnes of gold households and Hindu temples are hoarding to more productive use and alleviate pressure on its current account, the Indian cabinet  launched two new gold monetization schemes. The public's response has been a spectacular failure so far.

On Thursday, in light holiday volumes in afternoon dealings on the Comex market in New York, gold futures with February delivery dates gained some ground but continued trading not far off five-year lows. Gold was last trading up $1.40 or 0.1% at $1,071.10.