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India Raises Taxes on Gold for the First Time in Six Years

BLOOMBERG - By Swansy Afonso and Shruti Srivastava


India, the world’s biggest consumer of gold after China, increased the import tax on the precious metal for the first time since 2013, spurring domestic prices to a record. Shares of jewelers slumped.

The import tax on gold and other precious metals will be raised to 12.5% from 10%, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while presenting the federal budget for the year through March 31, 2020. India, which imports almost all of its gold, raised the tax thrice in 2013 to control a record current-account deficit.

India’s consumption of gold has been affected by the government’s efforts to curb its trade deficit and measures to discourage investors who used the metal to evade taxes. The high duties have spurred a spate of smuggling, including attempts to bring in bullion via planes and trains. Domestic prices have tracked a surge in overseas spot gold and further increases would imperil demand during the festival and peak wedding season running from August to December.

Benchmark gold futures in Mumbai rose as much as 2.6% Friday to 35,100 rupees per 10 grams ($512), while overseas gold was little changed. Shares of Titan Co., India’s largest maker of branded jewelry by market value, slumped as much as 3.2%, while Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri Ltd. slid as much as 6.6%.

The tax increase may discourage buyers and demand in the physical market may slide by 10% this year from 760 tons in 2018, according to the All India Gems & Jewellery Domestic Council. The association will request the government to roll back the duty, Chairman Anantha Padmanaban said.

“This is very unfortunate and disappointing,” Padmanaban said by phone. “We were expecting a cut in customs duty and this came as a surprise and a shock. This is going to encourage a lot of smuggling.”

Here’s a roundup of views from jewelers and industry groups on the tax increase:

P.R. Somasundaram, managing director for India at the World Gold Council.

The move will impede efforts to make gold an asset class, particularly when prices are already rising globallyThe grey market will thrive, which will dilute efforts to reduce cash transactions

Chirag Sheth, a senior consultant at London-based Metals Focus Ltd.

While it could hit demand in the immediate term, the import duty has had limited impact in the longer-termThe government has over the years increased the duty from a negligible level to 10% and now 12.5% and in that period jewelry demand has been fairly resilientThe current seasonal lull in demand could help limit a sharp drop in purchases. Once the festival season begins in August and September, people would be used to higher prices

Ahammed MP, chairman of Kerala-based jeweler Malabar Gold and Diamonds 

The increase is a double whammy for the industry. It will lead to a substantial increase in input costs, which will send retail prices higher and hurt sales, and provide a stimulus for illegal shipments of goldThe government should reconsider this move as gold industry plays a critical role in supporting economic growth, job creation and exportsThe import duty should be lowered to 5% to make illegal trade in gold unattractive

Chirag Mehta, senior fund manager at Quantum Mutual Fund

The increase in customs duty will only distort markets further as the current differential between Indian and international gold prices will widen by 2.5% to 15.5%Such interventionist policy-making ensures that India will never be at the center of the global gold markets despite being a big consumer and will continue to remain a price taker(Updates with comments from the industry after the sixth paragraph.)

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