INTERNATIONAL. China is set to overtake India as the world's largest gold buyer this year as demand for the metal for jewellery and as a safe-haven investment surges, the World Gold Council said Thursday.
Global demand hit 4,067.1 tonnes in 2011 -- edging up 0.4 percent year-on-year -- worth an estimated US$205.5 billion, the first time demand has surpassed $200 billion, the WGC said in its latest annual report.
Gold prices rose to a record over US$1,920 an ounce in September on frenzied buying by individuals, investment funds and central banks in the aftermath of a US credit rating downgrade and plunging global equity markets.
Prices have slipped since but still hover around US$1,700 per ounce.
India, the largest gold consumer and importer, saw a 7.0% decline in demand year-on-year to 933.4 tonnes last year, while demand from China jumped 20.0 percent to 769.8 tonnes in the same period.
"There was a major boost to the overall demand from China, a trend we see continuing in the new year," said Marcus Grubb, WGC's investment managing director.
"It is likely that China will emerge as the largest gold market in the world for the first time in 2012."
India and China, which have been battled high inflation, combined account for more than half of the world's gold demand.
India, where gold is widely purchased for religious and ceremonial occasions, consumed less of the yellow metal in 2011 largely because of a weak rupee, which made imports of gold -- priced in dollars -- more expensive.
"The domestic currency fell precipitously in the second half of 2011, on foreign capital outflows. The rapid rise and fall in the rupee and resulting local gold price swings impacted gold buying," the report said.
India's gold demand was down 27.0% year-on-year in the second half of 2011.
The WGC said it expects global demand for gold to remain strong in 2012.
Despite the recent softening in demand, India is likely to record steady demand for gold this year, in-line with 2011 trends, analysts and the WGC said.
"The sentiment is likely to remain upbeat this year as inflation is moderating and various tax incentives are likely to support purchases," WGC's Middle East and India managing director Ajay Mitra told reporters.
Analyst Hareesh V. of research firm Geojit Comtrade expects India's gold demand to rise marginally by 2%-3% this year.
"India could consume close to 965 tonnes in 2012, with the rupee rising against the dollar and inflationary pressures easing, which would boost the import of gold," Hareesh said.