New financial products linked to gold, but which do not require physical gold import, must be introduced and popularised to curb the demand for the yellow metal in the country and, thereby, reduce imports, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) deputy governor Subir Gokarn has said.
At the end of the day, the concern is on the balance of payments, said Gokarn, during a speech at the banking conference, BANCON 2012, hosted by Bank of Maharashtra.
Essentially, the role of innovation is not denying people (a chance) to invest in gold, but find ways to give them instruments with gold-like qualities, he added.
Gokarn said some products that banks could introduce were modified gold deposits, gold accumulation plans, gold pension plans and gold-linked bank accounts. The key factor in these products is to reduce the need to hold bullion in its physical form and ensuring that the payout at maturity is in currency.
In the past, public sector banks had introduced gold-linked deposits, which failed to enthuse customers.
Of late, gold exchange-traded funds have become popular, but are still not widely used by the public to invest in gold. Gokarn said ETFs require the seller to keep physical gold that is equal to 100% of the ETF value and, therefore, do not serve the purpose of drawing people away from physical gold.
Indias gold imports have risen sharply over the last one year, putting immense pressure on the countrys current account deficit and Balance of Payments.
Gold imports grew nearly 40% during 2011-2012, which resulted in a record current account deficit of 4.2% of the gross domestic product.
The rise in gold demand has happened despite the sharp rise in prices of gold, Gokarn said. The World Gold Council predicts that gold imports may touch 800 tonne during the current year. The sharp rise in gold imports and the strong demand for gold in the country led the government to impose a duty on gold imports. The RBI has clamped down on banks gold loans to avoid speculative activity related to bullion. The RBI also formed a committee to study and suggest measures to curb it. The committee will come out with a report soon.
Bankers pointed out that current regulations restrict banks from dealing with such products.
State Bank of India chairman Pratip Chaudhuri said the RBI does not allow banks to buy back their own physical gold, which reduces liquidity. Gokarn said that the central bank can examine the current regulations as well before coming up with guidelines to promote gold-linked products.
Lets treat this as a work in progress, said Gokarn said.