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Wednesday, Apr 08, 2020

Customers return to Hong Kong’s protest-hit jewellery shops to sell their gold as coronavirus pushes prices sky high

Customers return to Hong Kong’s protest-hit jewellery shops to sell their gold as coronavirus pushes prices sky high

Owners are taking advantage of the gold price, which has climbed almost 10 per cent this year to reach a seven-year high early last week. The rapid spread of the coronavirus has dampened stock markets globally, and investors have been rushing to buy the yellow metal, long known as a safe haven

Hong Kong’s jewellers, who took a big hit from months of anti-government protests, have found their shops busy again this year.

But the new wave of customers are not shopping for bracelets, wedding rings or earrings. They are there to sell their gold jewellery.

Sellers are taking advantage of the gold price, which has climbed almost 10 per cent this year to reach a seven-year high early last week. The rapid spread of coronavirus has dampened stock markets globally, and investors have been rushing to buy the yellow metal, long known as a safe haven.

Hong Kong’s jewellers, who took a big hit from months of anti-government protests, have found their shops busy again this year.

But the new wave of customers are not shopping for bracelets, wedding rings or earrings. They are there to sell their gold jewellery.

Sellers are taking advantage of the gold price, which has climbed almost 10 per cent this year to reach a seven-year high early last week. The rapid spread of coronavirus has dampened stock markets globally, and investors have been rushing to buy the yellow metal, long known as a safe haven.

The local gold price had risen 9.8 per cent as of March 9 to HK$15,540 (US$1,998) per tael, or 37.9 grams, before falling back to HK$14,670 by last Friday’s close. International gold also rose, jumping 1.5 per cent to US$1,703 per ounce on March 9, when global stock markets slumped amid fears about the outbreak and an oil-price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“I am thinking of taking my gold jewellery to sell as the gold price has reached such a high level,” said a potential seller who only wanted to be identified as Sandy. “I bought my gold jewellery some years ago when the price was almost 30 per cent lower than current levels.

“I can take the profit now and buy them back when the price goes down. I am worried about the [coronavirus] outbreak, but then I think wearing a mask to go to the shop will [protect me].”



Such a “sell high, buy low” mindset is very common in Hong Kong, where most jewellery shops will pay cash for customers’ gold jewellery or allow them to exchange it for other products.

Fook Tai Jewellery Group, which has seven shops in Hong Kong, is one of many that have seen people rushing to sell their gold. In January and February, it saw a 50 per cent year-on-year increase in customers coming to sell their gold jewellery, bars or coins, according to Anita Lee, product manager at the company.

“Whenever the gold prices rise to a high level, customers tend to come here to sell their gold jewellery. They are very price-sensitive,” she said.

The sellers include newlywed couples who received gold jewellery from their relatives as wedding gifts – a traditional Chinese custom.

“Some may not like to wear gold jewellery every day so they sell it for cash. Some exchange the gold for something else like a diamond ring or earrings,” Lee said.

This year’s 10 per cent gain followed a 15 per cent increase last year, beating the Hang Seng Index, which lost 6 per cent during the same period.

Customers may need to pay a fee, though, unless they are selling back to the same shop from which they bought the jewellery, according to one jewellery shop manager.

Lee said buying back items can have benefits for the jeweller.

“Accepting customers that sell their gold jewellery can help establish long-term customer relationships. When we serve them well, they are happy, and they will come back to us to buy products in future,” Lee said.

Henry Wu, a director at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers, a long-established gold trading firm in Sheung Wan, has also seen more customers selling gold since the beginning of the year.

“Gold jewellery shops welcome [this] because they see it as a source of gold to make their products, other than buying from other gold traders,” he said.

When customers bring their gold jewellery to sell, the shop uses fire to test if it is genuine. They then weigh it and price it based on the local gold price set by the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society, a 110-year-old exchange with 170 members.

“It is not just Hong Kong; other jewellery shops in Southeast Asian countries are allowing customers to sell gold. It is because gold has an international standard. It is rather more difficult for customers to sell diamonds at shops as that depends on more factor such as colour and quality,” Wu said.

Wu expects the trend to continue this year as the gold rally is likely to carry on.

“Gold remains a good hedge against market risk,” said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AXI Trader. He predicts the gold price will stay at around US$1,650 to US$1,700 per ounce by the end of this year.

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