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India's Gold Consumption Continues to Rise - 2003-11-30

In India, the demand for gold continues to grow steadily, despite rising prices.

Gold prices may be at a six-year high, but India's appetite for the metal remains as huge as ever. A busy wedding season has followed the festival season in October resulting in higher-than-ever sales of gold jewelry.

Ornaments crafted from gold are a traditional gift to daughters and daughters-in-law in Indian weddings. In fact, gold is associated with every auspicious occasion, such as the birth of a child or festivals. Families regard it as an investment, women consider it their personal asset.

In rural areas, gold is a status symbol, and people measure wealth in terms of gold holdings.

In fact, many conquerors came to India because it was famous as a "golden bird" because of its vast gold holdings.

Sanjiv Agarwal, managing director of the World Gold Council in India, says Indians have a different view of gold from people in Western cultures.

"In India we treat gold jewelry also as a financial asset, whereas in the context of a U.S. or European market, gold jewelry is purely for adornment, and it is not looked upon as a safety net or a financial asset in times of emergencies," he said.

It is estimated that the country has private hoards of 13,000 tons of gold. India consumes 800 tons of gold annually, or about 20 percent of global consumption. About one-quarter of this is recycled gold, old ornaments, exchanged for new pieces.

Although its per capita consumption of gold is lower than in several other countries, India is the world's highest consumer of gold.

Mr. Agarwal says the demand for gold in India rose by about 16 percent this year even though prices have reached $400 an ounce. Last year, he says, many people just recycled old jewelry because of higher prices.

"This year clearly the consumer feels that the present level of gold prices … are going to stay firm, and with this kind of mindset they have gone back to buying new gold," he said.

Although gold remains popular, it is beginning to face competition from gems, particularly diamonds.

The diamond group, De Beers, says it is having considerable success in marketing gems to India's growing middle class, and it expects demand to grow by about 35 percent.

Sales of diamond jewelry amounted to about $1.5 billion last year. India's total jewelry market is worth approximately $10 billion, with gold dominating sales.