Asia Gold-Lockdowns cripple Indian market as discounts hit 8-month high

* India prices at highest in nearly 4 months

* China premiums at $7-$10/oz amid stable demand

* Higher prices weigh on buying in Singapore

May 21 (Reuters) - Widespread lockdowns coupled with a jump in domestic prices stifled the physical gold market in India, as it grappled with a fierce COVID-19 wave, forcing dealers to offer the steepest discounts in eight months.

“There’s hardly any movement in bullion market as jewellery stores are closed across the country,” said Harshad Ajmera, the proprietor of JJ Gold House, a wholesaler in Kolkata.

If lockdown restrictions are eased from June 1, demand could start improving, Ajmera added

Most Indian states have imposed curbs, with coronavirus infections crossing 26 million on Thursday.

Dealers offered discounts of up to $10 an ounce, the highest since mid-September 2020, over official domestic prices — inclusive of the 10.75% import and 3% sales levies — versus the $5 discount last week.

Banks and dealers are offering gold imported in April at a discount as global prices were then lower, said a Mumbai-based bullion dealer with a gold importing bank.

Local gold futures jumped to 48,875 rupees earlier this week, a peak since Feb. 1.

Top consumer China saw stable demand, with premiums little changed at $7-$10 an ounce over benchmark spot gold prices.

“Demand is healthy although we aren’t going to see traders paying up high premiums,” said Bernard Sin, regional director of Greater China at MKS.

“We believe China is waiting for lower premiums to import more and for borders to open,” Sin added.

In Hong Kong, premiums of $1-$2 an ounce were charged, versus $1.8-$2 last week.

Singapore premiums were little changed at $1.4-$1.8.

“This week Singapore just started their ‘Phase 2 Heightened Alert’, which is similar to a semi-lockdown (and that) coupled with higher prices this week, demand has dipped a little,” said Brian Lan, managing director at dealer GoldSilver Central.

“However we noticed an increase in sell back from retail and wholesalers, probably to capitalise on higher prices.”

Japanese dealers sold gold at a $0.50 premium.

Reporting by Brijesh Patel and Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel