Gold smuggling has gained a new life with higher import duties on gold to curb rising demand, according to Indian financial intelligence agencies | Graphic source & courtesy – economictimes.com
ourteen months ago, in December 2011, as the Western world took a break for Christmas, India and China took simultaneous actions to restrict demand gold in their respective markets.
Chindia in Tandem
China, till December 2011, was installing gold-ATMs to ramp up gold buying by its citizens.
Government of India (GoI) was tweaking policy (gold loans attracted zero-risk weightage in bank capital provisioning norms) to aid multi-billion corporations like Muthoot Finance to expand the gold-loans market.
And then the tune changed.
In India, the Prime Minster’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) took a strident anti-gold stand. In the last 13 months, India has increased import tax by nearly 850% on gold – from a flat Rs.200/10 gm to 6% (roughly Rs.1700/10 gm at current prices & exchange rates).
In China, the Government cracked down on gold importers.
Three months before these concerted actions by India-China, in September-December 2011, as gold prices dropped from US$ 1900 to US$1600, global banking was seized by an acute dollar-scarcity.
Banks in Europe were raising money by using gold as collateral. India, the world’s largest importer of gold was particularly affected. The Indian rupee became Asia’s worst performing currency. India rushed to sign a US$15 billion of credit line from Japan.
China assured credit lines to some of its favored trading partners. Six months later, Africa got from China US$20 billion. Some US$10 billion of Chinese credit went to nations in Central and Eastern Europe and another US$10 billion to various Latin American countries came from China. Even before this, Chinese telecom firms made breakthroughs in Latin-America with credit.
A dollar-drought while the US was busy flooding the world with dollars?
A dollar shortage while Ben Bernanke is pumping trillions of dollars in the world economy?
As the difference increased in Indian and international gold prices, smuggling of gold too is making a comeback.
Gold Tail That Wags the US dollar?
In the last 18 months, any drop in gold prices favored the dollar in the dollar:rupee trade.
Any drop in dollar-price of gold has been coupled with an increase in dollar price against the rupee. As a result, Indians had to spend more rupees to buy gold that was worth fewer dollars.
Now, this is strange!
On a long-term basis, gold has no positive, negative, inverse, divergent, convergent correlation with any other commodity, or exchange-traded stock. So why this short-term coupling of rupee:dollar:gold.
Is there a central bank consensus, including(?) Reserve Bank Of India (RBI), that the Indian consumer should not benefit from price-drops in gold?
Trade Deficit … Anyone?
India’s current account deficit i.e., exports + inward remittances less imports = current account deficit (CAD), is running at less than 6% – up from less than 3% at the start of the Great Recession.
Exports to a world in the grip of the Great Recession have grown slowly while imports-increase into a growing Indian economy is faster. While the Indian CAD situation needs addressal, it is by no means alarming.
It is well-known and widely-accepted that vast sectors of the Indian economy are not measured or monitored by official statistics. Hence, Indian GDP is understated. It is not surprising that Indian GDP measured on a nominal basis (US$1.85 trillion) is less than 42% of the figure obtained when measured on the basis of purchasing power (US$4.46 trillion).
Indian Gold Imports
Keeping these factors in mind, a CAD that is higher by 2% of India’s nominal GDP means a gap of about US$35 billion – no large sum for the Indian economy. Anyway, since a large part of Indian imports is gold, it further reduces the cause and need for alarm.
Ostensibly, India’s CAD situation is due to gold, India’s second largest import, according to GoI. The Indian Government has targeted gold for its policy-intervention attention. Prima facie, US$60 billion gold imports cannot be the issue for a US$2 trillion economy. There are good reasons to believe that this policy intervention by the GoI is happening under US pressure – because Indian gold imports account for one-third of total mine production of gold in a year.
In the past …
The Indian Government’s “management” of the rupee-dollar till the 1970’s meant the rupee at a higher value. Over the 1980s and early nineties in a series of devaluations, Indian rupee’s over-valuation was corrected. Before that, there was a massive arbitrage opportunity between official exchange-rates and a thriving black market.
A blogger who has been travelling to this part of the world writes
“…in 1969 a dollar fetched 13 rupees, although you could buy 28 rupees for a dollar in Switzerland and 40 rupees for a dollar in Kabul. The official exchange rate is now 38.50 rupees for a dollar, a nice deal”
This high rupee-value gave rise to an active black market in foreign exchange, supported by gold smuggling into India; drug transshipment out of India from the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle. This drug+gold trade spawned a huge crime wave of global proportions.
Artificial valuation of the rupee made exports uncompetitive; imports cheap – for which there was no foreign exchange. India regularly had meetings with AID India Consortium and elaborate cases for borrowings were made. The trade deficit remained.
Will things be different this time? I am sure that a few people in the Central Bank consensus group who think that this time, it will be different.
How serious is the smuggling problem?
Gold imports through Thailand have increased as India has a free trade agreement with Thailand that allows gold imports at !1% instead of 6% | Image source & courtesy – economictimes.indiatimes.com…
Why is the RBI Wrong?
RBI’s anti-gold policy is definitely misplaced.
Indian gold imports at 800+ tons are a cause of disequilibrium, with global production at some 2500 tons.
So be it.
India is at the receiving end of a bad deal in agricultural subsidies, foreign exchange reserves, technology imports, UN, IMF, World Bank – not to forget a bad deal in oil.
It is not like India controls global gold mines or production. Or is India in any position to stop other buyers from purchasing gold? Unfair apart, why must GoI + RBI take unilateral steps to restrict gold imports into India?
Currency Printing: Like every other central bank in the world, the RBI also has been printing too many rupees. Unlike the rest of the world, Indian consumers have been sterilizing excessive printing of the Indian rupee by buying gold. This way, the market automatically sterilizes excess rupee liquidity.
More taxes is more profits for smugglers: The higher the difference between international prices and official prices, higher the profit margin for illegal imports.
In fact, raising of duty has only enhanced the profit margin of smugglers,” said a senior DRI official who did not want to be identified. (via Gold smuggling on the rise as imports turn costlier – Livemint).
“As of now, gold smuggling is limited to air passengers and carriers, which has limitations in terms of volume and cost. The bulk smuggling channels (by sea and land) have not revived, but the recent increase in customs duty will provide the profit differential to revive it,” said a senior customs official who too did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. This person added that it would be impossible for enforcement agencies to contain smuggling through these routes. (via Gold smuggling on the rise as imports turn costlier – Livemint).
Trade Deficit: Is this increase in Customs likely to reduce India’s trade deficit? Unlikely. It will increase capital-flight to offshore financial centres – from where foreign-exchange earnings will get higher returns than in India. Higher customs or other barriers will mean more (and more) policy interventions that will increase compliance overload and reduce policy-impact.
If the proposed duties do indeed lead to more smuggling, though it would not appear in India’s balance sheet, it could continue to pressure the Indian rupee, which has been losing value against the U.S. dollar in recent months. (via Gold Smuggling Redux in India? – India Real Time – WSJ).
Questioning the anti-gold logic of the Govt apart, increasing customs duties from 2% to 6% will not change a 2000-yr of gold tradition | Graphic source & courtesy – economictimes.com
End of Bretton Woods: No fiat currency system has lasted for more than 75 years.
The Bretton-Woods system, pinned to the US dollar has morphed from a gold-based to an oil-based currency. In the last ten years, the petro-dollar surplus has decreased – and US debt has ballooned to US$17 trillion – 125% of US GDP. Add US consumer debt and corporate debt, and we are talking US debt at about 300% of US GDP.
Euro-Yuan Challenge: Euro-currency has not broken down. Not quite what Anglo-Saxon Media (ASM) has pushed us to believe. – in line with 2ndlook estimate of 2 years now. ASM also pushed the case of a Chinese hard-landing very hard. But the Chinese hard-landing is nowhere in sight. So, the Euro and Yuan are likely to increase their share in global trade. From nearly 90% of global trade, the US dollar share of trade has reduced to about 67%. As it gets close to 50%, (probably) in the next 7-10 years, we may see a greater role for gold as an objective cross-currency index. Gold trade will only increase in importance.
Rise Of The Underworld: Will we want to give the Indian narcotics-gold underworld a greater hold over the Indian economy – like it was 25 years ago. Like the narcotics-gold underworld dominates Pakistan or Afghanistan now.
Safety Net: In the face of global or local dislocations (due to drought, floods, earthquakes, war, epidemics) private gold reserves can help families to restart lives. Even without State support.
Much of the reason for Indian economic equilibrium over the last 65 years, has been the India’s private reserves of gold.
Let’s See Action
Covering a gap of US$35 billion means looking at three big targets of US$12 trillion each.
1. Increase oil refinery exports (set up two more Jamnagar type refineries), increase domestic crude output (split ONGC into four parts?) and shrink oil imports.
2. Fund 10,000 SMEs with credit for expansion and growth to add about US$12-US$15 trillion of output. Privatize city bus services and privatize train operations.
3. Sign a Third-World rupee-trade FTA, which will boost exports to the Third World by US$12 billion and replace dollar imports with rupee imports.
It is these measures which will yield answers to the Indian CAD problem – instead of curbs, taxes and barriers to gold imports.
But then …
What was on the Plate?
In October last year, the US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner and the Chief of the US Federal Reserve were on a two-day India visit – en-route to Tokyo to attend some IMF and World Bank meetings.
Any bets on Geither and Bernanke’s main item on the India-visit agenda was gold?
The depth of the global gold market with a large Indian diaspora makes it easy to avoid excessive taxation – a short step from criminal smuggling. | Graphic source & courtesy – economictimes.com
Aww … another conspiracy theory?
John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA hosts since WWII the Warfare Analysis Laboratory – a part of its Applied Physics Lab. Used frequently by the Pentagon, in 2009, a unique war simulation was conducted here.
Not a nuclear or a conventional war, not even a biological or chemical war – but an economic and financial war. Simulating how an Economic Hit Man from other countries would operate, its effect on the US and the US response.
Two years after this simulation, one of the participants, James Rickards has published a book outlining some of the presumably basic models used in the exercize.
All these actions point towards a declining US using more desperate means to stay on top.
For how long?
Rising Chorus … Within and Without
All these points are well-known and understood within sections of GoI. By the Indian and global press.
Some extracts below.
Gold smuggling has acquired a new lustre with imposition of higher import duties on the yellow metal to curb rising demand, financial intelligence agencies have said, warning of a sudden resurgence of underworld activity.
Import duty on gold has risen from nil to 6% in the last 12 months. Incidents of smuggling have seen an upswing recently.
Officials in the finance ministry fear that return of gold smuggling will revive Mumbai’s underworld, which thrived on the practice until the economic liberalisation of the early 1990s.
They say a rise in the illegal gold imports will undermine the government’s strategy to curb gold imports to check a runaway rise in current account deficit, which touched a record high of 5.4% of GDP in the first half of 2012-13.
Some officials said the recent confiscations point to a growing trend of organised networks engaging “carriers”, who are paid between 10,000 and 25,000 for each trip. They said illegal transfer of gold has become more lucrative for these carriers since the hike in import duties, adding that many of them are now resorting to rectal smuggling.
Agencies also fear that smugglers may take to the sea route once again.The authorities say they have seized Rs165 crore worth of gold between April and December 2012, an 11-fold increase over the seizures in the year-ago period.
India, the world’s biggest consumer of gold, imported $56.4 billion worth of the metal in 2011-12, accounting for nearly half of its current account deficit.
The country has already imported gold worth $38 billion this fiscal, prompting the government to raise import duties again by 200 basis points to 6%. Current account deficit widened to a record 5.4% of GDP in the first half of 2012-13, with higher gold and crude oil imports increasing the country’s dependence on foreign capital inflows
via Financial intelligence agencies sound alert on gold smuggling – The Times of India.
Gold smugglers have stepped out of 1970s’ Bollywood potboilers into present day reality with the government raising taxes to curb the import of the yellow metal.
According to data from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), an agency that monitors economic offences, the incidence of gold smuggling in the current fiscal year has zoomed at least eight times compared with the corresponding period the previous year.
As the government struggles to rein in a raging current account deficit that is likely to cross 4% of the national economic output this fiscal, it has increased the import duty on the precious metal thrice since last year.
India’s gold imports, (are) next only to oil imports in terms of value.
The increase in import duty on gold has clearly led to a price differential between Indian and international gold, and that, in turn, has led to an increase in smuggling. Spot gold prices here are as much as 5.7% higher than in Dubai, compared with a difference of 0.1% in 2008. Typically, gold is smuggled into India from Dubai.
In the first 10 months of 2012-13, till January, DRI has seized gold worth Rs.60.17 crore (200kg at the current price of gold) and cracked 36 cases of smuggling. In the corresponding period in 2011-12, it had seized gold worth Rs.7.42 crore and cracked 15 cases.
To be sure, the number is almost insignificant when compared with the value of India’s gold imports—$38 billion (around Rs.2.03 trillion today) till December.
And it refers only to seizures and the gold smuggled into India could be much more; DRI officials admit that they detect about one in every 10 cases.
“The duty rate hike in phases, from Rs.100 per 10g to 6% (about Rs.1,800 at the current price) now, has not really dampened the demand. In fact, raising of duty has only enhanced the profit margin of smugglers,” said a senior DRI official who did not want to be identified.
While the government’s actions are intended at discouraging import of physical gold, DRI and customs officials say the recent 2 percentage point increase in the import duty on the precious metal will make it difficult for enforcement agencies to contain bulk gold smuggling in India.
On 22 January, India raised the import duty on gold to 6% from 4%.
After restrictions were lifted on gold imports and a few commercial banks were allowed to import gold and sell the yellow metal to jewellers and exporters in 1997, the spread between international and local market prices shrank dramatically, but with the rise in import duty, it is now widening.
Explaining the modus operandi of gold smugglers, the DRI official said most of the smuggled gold is brought into India through air mostly from Dubai and Thailand, concealed in either cabin baggage or different parts of the body. People carrying this gold are called carriers, or mules, and they work in pairs. Going by the data collected by DRI, on average, each mule carries at least 5kg of gold per trip.
According to the DRI official, the return on investment for a smuggler in a year amounts to as much as 200% for such trips.
Here’s how the math works: At the current price, it costs Rs.1.44 crore to buy 5kg of gold in Dubai. The cost of an air ticket, hotel expenses and the commission of the mule plus hawala fees to send the money to Dubai after the gold is sold in India comes to another Rs.2 lakh. The same gold can be sold in Mumbai for Rs.1.51 crore, netting the smuggler Rs.5 lakh for a single trip.
Such an operation typically takes four days. Theoretically, this means a smuggler can churn his initial investment seven times a month. Over a year, that means a profit of Rs.4.2 crore on the original Rs.1.5 crore investment.
“As of now, gold smuggling is limited to air passengers and carriers, which has limitations in terms of volume and cost. The bulk smuggling channels (by sea and land) have not revived, but the recent increase in customs duty will provide the profit differential to revive it,” said a senior customs official who too did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. This person added that it would be impossible for enforcement agencies to contain smuggling through these routes.
Customs officials also claim their job has been made tougher by a 2011 Supreme Court ruling under which individuals arrested for violating the Customs Act can be released on bail. The apex court’s decision, both officials mentioned above said, has taken away the powers of the customs department to deter smuggling.
via Gold smuggling on the rise as imports turn costlier – Livemint
For some, it’s almost Haji Mastan time again.
There has been a 10-fold increase in the number of gold smuggling cases in recent months. Between April and June this year, authorities impounded gold worth 940 crore in some 200 cases of smuggling, up 272% over the same period last year, finance ministry data shows.
Smugglers make money if they can successfully avoid paying duties – 4% customs duty and other taxes, which add 5%-plus to the landed cost of gold.
via Weak rupee makes gold smuggling, bets attractive – Economic Times.
An increase in the import duty on gold, the third in less than a year, is expected to lead to a rise in smuggling of the precious metal into the country. On Monday, the government hiked the import duty on gold from 4% to 6%.
Air customs officials speculate that more gold will be smuggled from abroad through airports as import duty is now at its steepest.
There has been an increase in smuggling of gold through Chennai from Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries over the past three years.
This is the third time the government has raised import duty on gold. In March 2012, the government doubled import duty on standard gold from 2% to 4%. In January 2012, it increased duty from 1% to 2%. Of the 800 tonnes of gold that India imports every year, one-fourth is accounted for by Tamil Nadu.
While customs officials are apprehensive that they will have to be on their toes, bullion traders are unhappy that high duty will push up attempts to smuggle in gold by evading taxes and will lead to loss of jobs for local goldsmiths.
Jewellers say smugglers, couriers and middleman can make as much as Rs 1,800 for every 10g of gold imported (6% of Rs 30,000).
“With imports of 50kg, the margins can be as high as Rs 1 crore,” said a jeweller who did not want to be named. Jewellers say the government has seized close to 900kg of unaccounted gold in the last year.
via Import duty hike to up gold smuggling – Times Of India.
Gold smuggling is not new to India; in fact, many villains of Bollywood movies in the late 1970s were often smugglers. One of the most memorable Bollywood smugglers was Lion (pronounced Loyan) played by actor Ajit in movies like Kalicharan and Yaadon Ki Baraat. Even superstar Ambitabh Bachchan was a smuggler in his blockbuster movie in 1975 Deewar.
“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the price of gold in India was 65% higher than in other countries,” wrote Douglas Farah, a national security consultant in the U.S., in a paper in 2004.
Citing a report by Interpol from the mid-1990s, Mr. Farah said that gold worth $4.2 billion was smuggled into India in 1991.
In the early 1990s, as part of India’s economic liberalization, the Indian government removed the restrictions on importing gold.
This eventually helped lower the price gap between prices in India and abroad.
If the proposed duties do indeed lead to more smuggling, though it would not appear in India’s balance sheet, it could continue to pressure the Indian rupee, which has been losing value against the U.S. dollar in recent months.
via Gold Smuggling Redux in India? – India Real Time – WSJ.
The government has raised customs duty on gold in bid to curb imports that are largely responsible for the high current account deficit and weakening currency, but a spurt in smuggling threatens to undermine its efforts.
“The operation is currently on…there was intelligence on a sudden jump in gold jewellery imports from Thailand,” said an official with the organisation privy to the development.
India has a free trade agreement with Thailand that allows gold jewellery imports at a concessional customs duty of 1 per cent.
The duty rates for imports through normal channels are much higher after a steep increase in this year’s budget and goes up to 10 per cent on standard gold bars, gold coins and non-standard gold stand, making Thailand an attractive place for purchases.
Though, stringent rules of origin norms are in place in the FTA to ensure that any goods taking advantage of the concessional duty regime undergoes a substantial value addition in Thailand, DRI is alleging large-scale misuse of these norms by importers.
According to DRI sources, the rules of origin under the FTA envisage a value addition of up to 20 per cent but since gold rates in Thailand are at the same levels at India and value addition can only push up the cost of goods and render gold jewellery imports uncompetitive.
Customs authorities had impounded gold worth 942 crore in some 200 cases of smuggling bettween April and June this year, up 272 per cent on 243 crore corresponding period last fiscal that involved 20 cases.
via DRI cracks down on gold smuggling from Thailand – Economic Times.