* Activity muted in China, premiums little changed at $4-$4.50/oz
* Protests continue to weigh on Hong Kong market
* Drop in benchmark gold rates underpin Singapore demand
* Japanese prices flip to premium for the first time in 5 months
By Karthika Suresh Namboothiri and Rajendra Jadhav
BENGALURU/MUMBAI, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Physical gold demand climbed in India this week, with sellers charging premiums for the first time in five-and-a-half months as jewellers took advantage of a price dip and lower imports squeezed supply.
Dealers charged a premium of up to $1.50 an ounce over official domestic prices this week, compared with discounts of up to $2 an ounce last week. The domestic price includes a 12.5% import tax and 3% sales tax.
Gold futures were trading around 37,978 rupees per 10 grams on Friday, down from a record 39,885 rupees touched in September.
India’s gold imports in October fell a third from a year earlier, dropping a fourth straight month.
“Anticipating a correction in prices, jewellers were not buying for the last few months. Now they have to buy (to restock) after Diwali sales,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion-importing bank.
Earlier this month, Indians celebrated the Dhanteras and Diwali festivals, when demand peaks.
In top consumer China, premiums of $4-$4.50 an ounce were quoted, little changed from last week’s $4-$5 mark-up.
“Demand in Shanghai is getting pressured because the economy is not doing well. People do not have enough money to buy the expensive metal,” said Samson Li, a Hong Kong-based precious metals analyst at Refinitiv GFMS.
Hong Kong and Singapore demand steadied after a dip in global benchmark prices, which have fallen over 7% from a six-year high of $1,557 an ounce hit in early September.
In Hong Kong, gold was sold at a premium of $0.30-$0.50 an ounce versus $0.40-$0.50 last week. Violent protests in the financial hub have deterred buyers recently.
“Demand in Hong Kong is steady as spot prices fell, but that is being offset by the protests as people are not shopping - not only jewellery, but anything for that matter,” said Peter Fung, head of dealing at Wing Fung Precious Metals.
Sellers in Singapore charged premiums of $0.50-$0.60 an ounce over the benchmark, versus $0.50-$0.80 last week.
“While physical gold demand is not at the high levels we saw between July and September, we’re still seeing a good volume purchased by clients who see the current price dip as a buying opportunity,” Silver Bullion sales manager Vincent Tie said.
Japanese sellers saw demand improve after prices fell below $1,450 an ounce, a Tokyo-based trader said, with a premium, of about $0.50 an ounce, being charged for the first time since early June. (Reporting by Diptendu Lahiri in Bengaluru and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Arpan Varghese and Jan Harvey)