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Asia Gold: Soaring prices dim activity but safe-haven buying trickles in

By Arpan Varghese and Rajendra Jadhav
A sales person shows a gold ring to customers at a jewellery showroom during Dhanteras, a Hindu festival associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, in Ahmedabad

By Arpan Varghese and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) - Activity in physical gold markets in major Asian centres was quiet this week as surging prices kept consumers away, with political turmoil further squeezing demand in Hong Kong.

However, rising global political and economic uncertainties prompted some investors to buy bullion as a safe haven.

Global benchmark spot gold breached the $1,500 an ounce ceiling for the first time in more than six years this week, driven by the U.S.-China trade tensions and fears of a slowing economy.

"While jewellery demand remained weak, investment demand has increased in the last few days. But people are more interested in betting on silver than on gold," said Samson Li, a Hong Kong-based precious metals analyst with Refinitiv GFMS.

In top gold consumer China, bullion was sold at a $6-$10 per ounce premium over the benchmark versus last week's $10-$12 range.

"Demand is quiet, with interest coming mostly from the investment side, especially with prices having risen so much," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, premiums were little changed at $0.50-$1.20.

"In China, some people are buying gold as a safe haven. Especially with the renminbi under pressure, customers are buying in small amounts," said Peter Fung, head of dealing at Wing Fung Precious Metals.

Anti-government protests have hurt the Hong Kong economy.

Demand was sluggish in India as well, with gold futures trading near an all-time peak of 38,488 rupees.

"The price rise was very big and too quick. Retail consumers are not buying," said Prithviraj Kothari, president of India Bullion & Jewellers Association.

Demand in India could soften in the September quarter, the World Gold Council said.

Local dealers offered discounts of up to $37 an ounce over official domestic prices, the highest since August 2016, versus $35 discounts last week. The domestic price includes a 12.5% import tax and 3% sales levy.

"Jewellers have slashed buying since the last week of June. We need a big correction to bring back normal buying," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bullion importing bank.

India's imports in July plunged 55% from a year ago, a government source said on Monday.

In Japan, gold was sold at an about $0.25 discount this week as a rising yen hit demand, a trader in Tokyo said.

A strong yen, another safe haven, threatened to complicate the country's economic outlook.

Singapore markets were closed for a public holiday on Friday.

(Graphic: India's gold market

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru, Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Alexander Smith)