Metal mania

Metal mania

No warnings. No signs. No indications at all.

It just hit by surprise.

That was how Mr Parthiban Murugaiyan, 43, described the situation when the price of gold suddenly plunged to a two-year low three weeks ago.

According to goldpricenetwork.com, 21k gold dropped from $59 a gram on April 14 to $53.80 the next day. It climbed and dropped the next few weeks, settling at $51 a gram on Sunday night.

It cost an average of about $65 per gram before the plunge, he says.

The volatility of the cost of gold is largely why Mr Parthiban is reluctant to hazard a guess on its future price trend.

"Nobody ever expected the prices to plunge this much," he says. "Usually, there is some kind of sign - but this wave simply took everyone by surprise."

"It was just like a gold tsunami," Mr Parthiban, managing director of Indian Jewellers at Serangoon Road, says of the customers who came rushing in for their piece of the precious metal.

Mr Parthiban, 43, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I don't think gold has ever been in such high demand. At least not in the 27 years of our shop's operation."

The prices have since creeped up a little - Mr Parthiban attributes it to the correction of gold - but that doesn't seem to have affected the appetite for gold. And his customers are certainly not backing down as they still throng his and other shops in Little India.

"Compared to the normal price, the prices are still low as it is now sold at about $57.50 per gram," says Mr Parthiban, who has another gold shop, Luvenus Jewellery at Changi Airport.

In fact, the gold tsunami, as Mr Parthiban described, was still very much in force last week when The New Paper on Sunday visited shops in Chinatown and Little India.

At Indian Jewellers, despite it being a weekday evening, there was a constant stream of customers coming in to the large and spacious store.

As soon as they spotted a sales staff who was free, the first question asked would be: "How much is the gold today?"

And when they hear an answer that is less than $60 per gram, they would be hunched over glass display cases, poring over the glistening gold jewellery laid out in front of them. Some come back multiple times during the day after checking out the rate at neighbouring stores.

Even people who are not cash-rich want to be part of the gold rush. Some Indian and Bangladeshi workers come in and ask: "Where is the jewellery that is just 2g?" Within a few minutes, they would be paying $150 in cash for a thin chain for about $150 in cash.

But many of the customers were often couples - women accompanied by the men who would whip out their credit cards. and pay the bills.

Ms Latha Kannan, a yoga therapist, was accompanied by her husband, Mr Kumar, as they browsed the store.

Mr Kumar, a teacher, says as he pats his shirt pocket containing his credit card: "You know, as Indian men, our duty is to buy gold for our wives."

His wife simply agrees with a laugh: "Of course!"

Ms Ramabraba Murugaiyan, 42, who oversees sales at Indian Jewellers, points to the plain gold chains and says: "It is the rope chains that run out the fastest.

"They are considered an investment that can be worn every day."

She says that in the days following the sharp decline in prices, the store ran out of stock for the chains.

"We had to look to other suppliers for gold jewellery, but they were out as well," she says, almost in disbelief.

"We had been ordering more stock in time for Akshaya Tritiya on May 12 and 13, which are the auspicious days to buy gold for Indians, because that is when we usually run out.

"And then all of a sudden, there was a gold rush that we didn't expect."

Mr Vincent Lee, a gold supplier from Aik Hong Goldsmith, comes to Indian Jewellers at about 7pm. Ms Ramabraba looks at him expectantly as he rolls out a velvet bag with gold chains in it.

Ms Ramabraba tells this reporter: "You see, usually, this bag will be filled with shiny gold.

"Now you see so many gaps in between. We don't have much to choose from."

Mr Lee says: "We have had such a high demand from shops that we supply to, and now we have run out of gold to make the jewellery in the first place."

"We have never experienced this kind of problem before," says Ms Ramabraba.

Mr Parthiban, her brother, echoes her sentiment.

"While it is certainly a happy problem, all the gold sellers are confused and are left scrambling," he says.

Mr Parthiban says that advance bookings for gold for the Akshaya Tritiya festival this year have easily doubled compared to last year - and bookings are still rolling in.

One of the branch managers at Arthesdam Jewellery on Serangoon Road, Ms Alice Chew, says she is seeing at least 20 to 30 per cent more sales in gold.

Mr Ivan Ho, who runs Hengseng Pawnshop in Toa Payoh, says: "Previously, we had certain peak periods during the day, but now people are coming in all the time."

Mr Ho, who is also the chairman of the Singapore Pawnbrokers Association, adds: "Even passers-by who don't intend to buy gold but know of the decrease in gold price will step in and eventually buy something."

The manager of Kim Heng Jewellers & Goldsmiths at People's Park Complex, Mr Henry Ho, tells us that he is a little thankful that prices have gone up a little - because there have been less people compared to three weeks ago.

"There was at least a 60 per cent increase in sales of gold bars and gold jewellery, especially necklaces and bracelets," says the 43-year-old.

"Now, it's not as much but it's still very crowded. We are running out of stock and our suppliers cannot replenish on time.

"They can only give us new stock in a month because of the demand."

He says, resigned: "No choice, lor. Just have to wait."

Retailers like SK Jewellery also reported a spike in customers, so much so that their showrooms have also run low on gold.

A spokesman for SK Jewellery says: "With the enticing lower gold price point, we see many more returning customers and new customers buying in larger weights and bigger pieces."

She said the popular pieces include bridal gold weighing over 90g, and 100g or heavier gold bars.

Some customers are even preparing for the future, says Mr Ho.

"We even had some customers buy jewellery for their daughters' dowry when they are just maybe 17 or 18 years old," he says.

Madam Kasturi Samyvelu is one of them. The 48-year-old was at Kamala Jewellers on Labour Day, shopping for intricately designed gold necklaces and traditional Indian earrings. They cost her about $3,000.

"My 20-year-old daughter is probably going to get married soon, and I thought it would be best to buy first."

She added: "I don't know if the prices are going to be this low again in about three years."

Madam Kasturi is the type of customer Mr Parthiban would classify as a "buy first" customer, the other type being those who take the "wait and see" approach.

Mr V. Balu, 46, a director of sales and marketing, and his wife, Madam K. Seetha, 45, a nurse, says they are in the "wait and see" camp.

But that doesn't stop them from buying two pairs of earrings for their mothers for Mothers' Day next week, costing $1,100 in total. Mr Balu says: "We will have to wait before we decide to buy more jewellery for ourselves."

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