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Gold rush grips Asia despite near-record prices

FILE PHOTO: A salesman displays gold necklaces and earrings inside a jewellery showroom on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, a major gold buying festival, in Mumbai

By Ashitha Shivaprasad and Brijesh Patel

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Demand for gold in Asia is surging despite prices hovering near the record highs it hit in May, industry officials say, as buyers snap up the metal to hedge against geopolitical and economic uncertainty.

Spot gold is trading a little over $2,300 per ounce, up about 12% year-to-date and only about 6% shy of the record high it hit last month.

Lower confidence in other investment options, such as real estate and equities, is also a factor behind the demand for gold, analysts say.

"When the macro-economic backdrop returns to normal, when real estate and equities are more interesting, I think that price sensitivity will return," Ruth Crowell, chief executive of the London Bullion Market Association, told Reuters.

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In Japan, there are more gold bulls than bears despite record high prices, according to Bruce Ikemizu, chief director of the Japan Bullion Market Association.

Chinese investors grappling with currency devaluation, a protracted real estate downturn and trade tensions are also finding value in gold, experts said. China's purchases of gold coins and bars surged 27% in the first quarter of this year.

"The trend in the market has been that if the consumer wants to buy gold, they will. The price doesn't matter," Albert Cheng, CEO of the Singapore Bullion Market Association, told Reuters on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Precious Metals Conference.

Elsewhere in Asia, retail investors have been pouring money into the safe-haven asset, with the metal finding increased acceptance among younger buyers.

In Thailand, there were queues outside gold stores as soon as there were headlines on higher prices, said Nuttapong Hirunyasiri, the CEO of MTS Gold Group.

Vietnam is seeing investors flocking to stock up, despite domestic prices trading at stubbornly high premiums to global prices.

On the other hand, India and Australia remain sensitive to high prices.

Indian gold prices have traded at a discount to international prices for five straight weeks, reflecting tepid demand in the second largest bullion consumer, while the Perth Mint's gold product sales in May fell 30% on a monthly basis. [GOL/AS]

India's gold imports in 2024 are expected to fall by nearly a fifth, as record high prices have pushed retail consumers to exchange old jewellery for new items instead of buying afresh.

(Reporting by Ashitha Shivaprasad and Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter)