Asia Gold-India buyers cash in on dips; Lunar New Year boosts China demand
* Indian discounts shrink; dealers eye import duty announcement
* China premiums at $9.50-$11.50 an ounce
* Festival buying picks up in Singapore as well
Demand for physical gold in India improved slightly this week as local prices eased from their highest level in over five years, while buying gathered steam in China ahead of the Lunar New Year festival.
Dealers in India were offering a discount of up to $5 an ounce over official domestic prices, down from last week's discount of $7. The domestic price includes a 10 percent import tax.
Demand has been slowly improving from retail buyers but still, higher prices are deterring many consumers, said Harshad Ajmera, the proprietor of JJ Gold House, a wholesaler in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.
Gold dealers are now awaiting a budget presentation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Feb. 1.
"Some jewellers are postponing purchases expecting a duty cut in the next week's budget," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.
The bullion industry has been urging a tax reduction to combat smuggling, which has increased since India raised the import duty to 10 percent in August 2013 to narrow its current account deficit.
India's gold imports in December fell 24.3 percent from a year ago to $2.57 billion, trade ministry data showed.
Also seeing strong buying was top consumer China, with premiums ranging from $9.50 to $11.50 an ounce versus last week's $6-$9 range.
Prices in Hong Kong were between flat and about a $1.20 premium over the benchmark.
International benchmark spot gold prices traded in a tight range, between $1,276.31 and $1,286.54 an ounce, but were on course for a small weekly gain, buoyed by concerns surrounding global growth and a prolonged U.S. government shutdown.
"January is a typically strong month as seasonal demand picks up," said Samson Li, a Hong Kong-based precious metals analyst at Refinitiv GFMS, adding the market is busy anticipating the Lunar New Year.
Demand tends to gather pace going into the Lunar New Year, which falls during the first week of February, since gold is considered a popular gift during this period.
The festive season also helped lift buying in Singapore, where premiums charged ranged from 60 cents to 70 cents, versus 80 cents to $1.50 in the previous week.
"There is some demand, but generally, most (buyers) are looking to get it lower before good demand kicks in," said a trader based in Singapore.
Japanese gold demand was stable, finding support from uncertainties in trade talks between the United States and China, a Tokyo-based trader said, adding prices were on par with the benchmark.
(By Rajendra Jadhav and Karthika Suresh Namboothiri)