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[SINGAPORE] India's gold imports could climb to around 100 tonnes for a third straight month in November as dealers buy heavily for fear of curbs on overseas purchases, especially as the wedding season picks up, traders said.
Local premiums have fallen to about US$10 an ounce from US$18 last week due to the speculation over curbs, they said.
Curbs on gold imports figured in a meeting of central bank and finance ministry officials this month as a way to rein in India's trade deficit, swelled by a jump in imports in September and October, to about 100 tonnes each month.
But officials wary of overreacting have not yet made a decision. "The speculation around rules triggered panic buying and imports are going to be over 100 tonnes again this month," said a trader in Mumbai, adding that shipments could outstrip those in October.
October shipments to India, the world's No 2 gold consumer after China, jumped to about 150 tonnes, from less than 25 tonnes a year earlier and 143 tonnes in September.
Curbs imposed last year remain in place, from a record import duty of 10 per cent to a measure tying imports to exports.
Measures being considered would limit imports resumed by private trading firms around the middle of this year, following a block since July 2013, traders said.
November imports will be boosted by private traders, one trader said. "Gold imports in November are going to be more than 100 tonnes, on higher purchases from private trading houses ahead of weddings," said a New Delhi-based trader.
The increase could add pressure for India to act. Tougher rules could fuel premiums, as the wedding season is likely to keep consumer demand strong.
"Gold demand is good, as prices are lower and premiums over the international market have also come down," said Narendra Singh, a dealer in Jaipur. "Gold purchases are likely to remain firm for the next two to three months due to weddings." Gold ornaments form a key part of the dowry daughters traditionally receive from parents at Indian weddings.
Nearly 60 per cent of gold demand comes from rural areas that depend on the monsoon, which was weak this year. However, lower gold prices have kept demand strong, traders say.
Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese buying was steady, with premiums holding up at US$1 to US$2 an ounce. Premiums slid to US$1.10 from US$1.40 in Hong Kong, and in Singapore, they fell to US$1.20 from US$1.50.