Faced with large current account deficits and heavy demand for foreign currency to pay for petroleum and other imports over the past several years, the Indian government has taken steps to try to discourage gold demand and imports into India.
For a couple of years the Indian government imposed higher duties and fees on gold imports and restricted metal imports. These policies were of limited success. Meanwhile oil prices fell, the Indian economy recovered smartly from recessionary conditions, and the balance of payments improved. The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, installed in 2014, has taken a different approach.
Two separate programs designed to disincentivize investment in gold moved forward last Thursday, 10 September, when they were approached by the Modi cabinet. One program provides for the creation of Sovereign Gold Bonds to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India on behalf of the Indian government, indexed to gold prices but not backed by gold. The other program is a Gold Monetization Scheme that would seek to attract gold held by temples and individuals in exchange for interest payments, as a way to mobilize gold held by these private sector entities and make it available as an alternative to new imports of gold from abroad.
Both programs need to be approved by the Parliament before they may be implemented. Most important, the proposals for both programs have many key details yet to be determined.
The potential success of each of these programs is a subject of great debate within the Indian gold market and within the government. The debate is made even more speculative given the extent to which the details of the Gold Monetization Scheme are nebulous at this time. When the mobilization program was first proposed, in 2013 in reaction to the imposition of the import restrictions, the proposal was that the government would pay interest rates on these gold loans of something between 1.5% and 9%. Today the details of the programs is hardly less certain, with the proposal approved by the cabinet stating that the interest to be paid for gold deposits would be a minimum of 1.5%.
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