Will New Tax be a Spoiler for Indians’ Love of Gold?

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Indians’ love of gold is a story with which many around the globe are familiar.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Just how deep is this love? A recent research report by one of India’s well-known equities firms said India had consumed — hold your breath — around $300 billion worth of gold in just the last decade.

The analysis by Kotak Institutional Equities said gold prices had gone up by 300% between FY 2008 and FY 2017. But the love story has not been the same in the last five financial years (FY 2013-17), when only half the gold consumption of the past decade was recorded, not to mention virtually flat gold prices.

It’s no wonder that under the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) implemented as of July 1, gold, according to some, has been given special treatment. The tax has been kept at 3%, nowhere near the 18% suggested by some experts.

GST is a uniform tax across India, doing away with almost all other forms of taxes for businesses. So high is this precious metal on an average Indian’s shopping list that even the 3% tax, up from the current 1.2%, has raised the hackles of buyers. Some have even suggested that the “high” GST (in reality, just 1.8% more) would once again lead to the smuggling of gold into the country.

A report by news agency Reuters, for example, quoted named and unnamed gold traders and buyers as saying smaller gold shops could be more inclined to sell without receipts, potentially hitting sales.

Indians have been familiar with the “black” gold economy.

Except for certain periods, gold smuggling has always been a part and parcel of India. In 2013, for example, when the government raised import duties on the metal to 10%, smuggling went up. The World Gold Council (WGC) estimated that smuggling networks had imported up to 120 tons of gold into India last year.

The Kotak Institutional Equities report opined that it was “unhappy” with the special treatment given to gold vis-à-vis GST. India’s policy on inflation management achieved remarkable success, which should reduce gold’s function as a “store of value,” the report said.

Gold Demand on the Rise?

A WGC report in June highlighted the potential impact of the GST on India’s gold demand. It said the new tax could have a negative impact in the short term as the industry went through a period of adjustment, but the net impact in the long term was likely to be positive. The WGC expected India’s demand for gold to be 650–750 tons in 2017 and predicted it will rise to 850–950 tons by 2020.

According to another article in the Mint newspaper, analysis of household survey data seemed to suggest that one reason why regional governments in India may have lobbied for a low tax rate on gold was because gold purchases were not exclusive to the rich.

Even though the rich tend to buy more of it, possession of gold was a universal phenomenon across income classes, according to the Household Survey on India’s Citizen Environment & Consumer Economy (ICE 360° survey) conducted by the independent not-for-profit organization, People Research on India’s Consumer Economy, which was partly financed by the WGC.

The report found that one in every two households in India had purchased gold in the last five years. The survey also revealed of 61,000 households polled in 2016, 87% of households owned some amount of gold in the country.

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