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Asian jewelers on buying spree as price sinks

Jewelers across Asia rushed to buy gold on Thursday after prices tumbled more than $100 an ounce since spiking to a record above $1,000 an ounce this week.

Gold fell more than 2% to hit a 1-month low of $920.30 an ounce as funds sold bullion after pushing up the price to a lifetime high of $1,030.80 on Monday.

Dealers also noted buying from investors as surging oil prices elevated gold's appeal as a hedge against inflation. India, the world's largest consumer, was buying on dips as the busy wedding season progressed.

“I see very good investment offtake in China, Vietnam and Japan,” said Albert Cheng, managing director for Far East of the World Gold Council.

“I guess in Vietnam there's a lack of investment tools and the stock market is very jittery. So people would better put money in gold. It's almost the end of the first quarter. The physical demand is very good.”

Gold bars were offered at a premium of 10 US cents an ounce to the spot London price for the first time since last August in Singapore, a centre for bullion trading in Southeast Asia. Gold bars were on par with London prices last week.

Vietnam, one of Southeast Asia's main consumers, saw demand for investment falling more than 19% to 56.1 tons in 2007, when gold neared a record high. But dealers said the Vietnamese were the most active buyers in recent weeks.

“Vietnam is buying gold even when it's trading at record highs this month. For them it's more for a hedge because inflation was more than 12% last year,” said a dealer in Singapore.

“Nobody wants to keep dollars because it's depreciating,” said the dealer, who also noted demand from jewelers in India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Gold's drop attracted buying from jewelers in Hong Kong, a key bullion trading house in East Asia, pushing up premiums to as high as 20 US cents an ounce. Gold bars were offered at a discount of 20 cents last week.

“Physical buyers and bargain hunters are buying back at the low. Everybody is rushing to buy,” said a dealer in Hong Kong.

“But I guess long-term sentiment is still bullish because the Fed may cut rates again in their next meeting in April,” he said.

Gold has gained more than 23% in 2008, driven by demand from investors and speculators on hopes of more US rate cuts, record high oil above $100 a barrel and a struggling dollar.

The dollar rose to $1.5566 from $1.5608 in New York but dealers said that turmoil in credit markets, concerns about a U.S. recession and fears of further insolvency among financial institutions were still a heavy load on the currency.

“I think the factors which have brought up prices to these levels have not reversed. Market fundamentals are still very positive,” said Cheng of the World Gold Council.

The US Federal Reserve cut key interest rates by 0.75 percentage point to 2.25% on Tuesday, against market expectations for a 1 percentage point cut. Since September, it has cut rates by a total of 3.0 percentage points. (Reuters)