MUMBAI - Indian gold demand in 2018 is expected to fall from the previous year as a rally in local prices to five-year highs is likely to dent purchases during key festivals in the December quarter, the World Gold Council (WGC) said on Thursday.
A fall in demand from the world's second-biggest bullion buyer could weigh on global prices XAU= that are already down 6.5 percent so far this year. But lower imports could also help the South Asian country reduce its trade deficit and support a weak rupee INR=IN , which hit a record low last month.
"Demand is expected to be muted due to a steep rise in prices. It is likely to be at the lower end of the 700 to 800 tonnes range," Somasundaram PR, managing director of the gold council's Indian operations, told Reuters.
India's gold demand in 2017 was 771.2 tonnes.
Gold demand in India usually spikes towards the end of the year, when buying the precious metal for weddings and major festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra is considered auspicious.
This year's seasonal increase could be moderate, though, due to a liquidity crunch, rising local prices and impending elections in some key states that could impact trade logistics, Somasundaram said.
Gold prices in India are holding near 33,000 rupees ($446.25) per 10 grams, the highest since September 2013. The Indian currency has lost more than 13 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar so far in 2018, making purchases of commodities denominated in the greenback more expensive.
Monsoon rainfall was deficient in some pockets of the country and that could hurt demand as well, Somasundaram said.
India received below-normal monsoon rains this year, squeezing farmers earnings. Two-thirds of India's gold demand comes from rural areas, where jewellery is a traditional store of wealth.
In the July-September quarter, Indian gold demand rose 10 percent from a year earlier to 183.2 tonnes, as prices fell to their lowest in 2018, encouraging bargain buying, the WGC said in a report published on Thursday.
Demand for gold coins and bars, also known as investment demand, rose 11 percent in the quarter to 34.4 tonnes as the volatility in the stock market and lower prices lured investors, the report said.
But investment demand could moderate again in the December quarter due to higher prices, Somasundaram said.
"Normally stock market volatility helps gold demand but now higher prices are working as an entry barrier," he said.
($1 = 73.9500 rupees)
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Tom Hogue) ((email@example.com; +91-22-6180-7153 ; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))