By Rajendra Jadhav and Vijaykumar Vedala
MUMBAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) - Demand for physical gold in Asia remained tepid this week as high prices kept buyers on the sidelines despite the start of the wedding season in India.
Gold is considered an essential part of weddings in India, the world's second-biggest consumer of the metal after China, and it is a popular gift for special occasions.
"Wedding season has started, but demand is poor compared to last year," said Ketan Shroff, managing director of Mumbai-based bullion dealer Penta Gold.
"Retail buyers are waiting for a correction. Jewellers need to replenish inventory but, they want to do it at lower levels."
Dealers in India were charging a premium of up to $2 an ounce over official domestic prices this week, down from $3 premium last week.
Local gold rates jumped to a three-week high of 29,687 rupees per 10 grams on Thursday.
India's gold consumption is likely to drop to its lowest in eight years in 2017, hit by government moves to make bullion trading more transparent and by faltering demand in some rural areas, the World Gold Council (WGC) said.
Industry officials said earlier this week that India's gold imports in the last quarter of 2017 could drop by a fourth from a year ago as investors seek better returns from riskier assets such as equities.
Spot gold benchmark prices were on track for its first weekly gain in about a month, having hit a three-week high of $1,288.34 an ounce on Thursday. [GOL/]
"Expectations earlier were that prices will come down, which has not happened. So, overall demand (in Asia) has been pretty weak," said a Singapore-based trader.
In China, gold was being sold at a premium of $5-$7 an ounce over benchmark rates, compared with a $5-$9 level in the previous week.
"With prices going higher, there was not much interest for gold purchases. A fall below $1,270 could lead to some buying," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.
Premiums in Hong Kong, and Singapore remained unchanged from last week in the 60 cents-$1.20 and 70-90 cents levels respectively, traders said.
"In Singapore, we continue to see strong physical demand for gold bars and gold coins, with a steady flow of customers," said Ronan Manly, precious metals analyst at Singapore-based dealer BullionStar.
Meanwhile, there was a slight uptick in activity in Japan but gold continued to be sold flat versus the benchmark, a Tokyo-based trader said.
(Additional reporting by Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)