Trade deficit at seven-month high as gold imports surge

Trade deficit at seven-month high as gold imports surge

India's trade deficit widened to a seven-month high in May as gold imports surged, provisional data showed on Monday, but economists expect newly announced measures to dampen demand for the precious metal in coming months and narrow the shortfall.

A nearly 90 percent annual jump in gold and silver imports saw the trade deficit rise to $20.14 billion last month from $17.8 billion in April.

The rise in gold import growth was slower than an annual 138 percent surge in April.

A combination of sliding global prices and regional festivals in India that traditionally increase demand for gold as gifts prompted frenzied buying in April and May. A similar pattern was seen in the world's other major bullion buyer, China.

This robust retail demand has become a major headache for Indian policymakers who have announced a slew of measures to try to narrow the current account deficit, which hit an all-time high of 6.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the December quarter.

India, the world's biggest buyer of the metal, hiked the import duty on gold to 8 percent earlier in the month from 6 percent. The central bank has also sought to curb gold imports by banks and non-banks.

"We expect gold demand and, hence, imports to be significantly lower in June, and possibly remain low in coming months," Barclays Capital said in a note after Monday's data.

"The widening in May might mark a near-term high for the trade deficit, and we think it could narrow significantly in June."

India has been struggling to control its current account deficit, which has exacerbated the fall of the rupee against the dollar in the recent global sell-off in emerging currencies.

The sharp depreciation in the rupee has also not helped Indian exports of value-added goods such as jewellery and pharmaceutical drugs.

Merchandise exports fell 1.1 percent from a year earlier to $24.51 billion, the first annual fall in five months, Monday's trade ministry data showed.

The sector makes up about 15 percent of the India's economy, which grew at its weakest pace in a decade in the fiscal year that ended in March.

Annual imports, meanwhile, rose about 7 percent in May to $44.65 billion, the trade ministry said.

The Reserve Bank of India left interest rates steady on Monday, warning of upside risks to inflation due to the weaker rupee and stressing the need to reduce the country's bloated current account gap to a sustainable level.

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