With staying-at-home becoming the new normal and most Indian jewellery stores shut due to a nationwide lockdown, Mamta Vinay Gokarn is facing a dilemma: how to get a hold of gold on the second-most auspicious day in the Hindu calendar to buy the metal.
Purchases of valuables including bullion on Akshaya Tritiya, which falls on April 26 this year, is considered to bring luck and prosperity. Gokarn, who lives in Pune, has for the past decade bought gold bars on key auspicious days mainly from her local jeweller.
"This Sunday I am wondering how to buy gold," she said by phone. "Buying online is not an option for me as it is too risky to trust and I don't know how the delivery will work out. From past experience, I have also seen that the cost of buying gold from bigger brands or banks are higher than what I would pay at a local store."
Demand in the second-biggest gold buyer had already been slammed by record high prices and slowing growth, with sales on course for the worst year in at least a quarter of a century in 2020. More bad news is in the offing as the country's economy may be heading for its first full-year contraction in more than four decades after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the world's biggest lockdown to May 3 to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Ratings agency ICRA Ltd. estimates typical demand during Akshaya Tritiya to range from 20 tons to 25 tons, representing about 4% of the country's total annual consumption. That may not happen this year as sales may be considerably impacted, Vice President K. Srikumar said.
The lockdown ahead of the critical Akshaya Tritiya season will be credit negative for gold retailers in the short term as apart from store closures, there have been supply chain disruptions with restrictions on the movement of non-essential goods, Srikumar said.
Weak Rural Demand
While jewellers are focusing on online sales as stores remain shuttered, challenges abound. A majority of Indian gold buyers live in rural areas that may lack reliable internet connectivity and banking facilities and the more technology-savvy still prefer to see gold in person before making their purchase.
"Indian gold demand was already low due to higher price. Now we face an additional challenge of slower economic growth," said Madhavi Mehta, senior analyst at Kotak Securities Ltd. "While online platforms are developing, major gold buying in India is concentrated in the rural sector and there may not be much appetite there for these products."
Rural India, where about two-thirds of the nation's 1.3 billion people live and which accounts for 45% of gross domestic product, has been in distress for many years -- following back-to-back droughts and a surprise cash ban in 2016. It's now facing further challenges due to the lockdown.
Still, many jewellers are banking on some consumers shopping online from their homes to fulfill the tradition. India's biggest jeweller Titan Co. has said more than half its regular buyers on Akshaya Tritiya have expressed interest in buying gold that day, while the Warburg Pincus LLC-backed Kalyan Jewellers said it has been "flooded with queries about purchasing gold on the auspicious day."
Though the delivery of non-essential goods is not allowed by the government currently, jewellers are offering consumers the option of locking in their products on the day and taking them home on a later date.
As for Gokarn, who makes an average purchase of five grams during Akshaya Tritiya every year, the options are looking bleak and she may not be able to keep the tradition alive this time. As a last attempt, "I am planning to ask my brother back in my hometown in Goa to buy on Khayyam Tritiya for me, if the stores open there as some of the restrictions have been relaxed in the state."