With price high, Thais with dwindling incomes sell off gold

BANGKOK (AP) — With gold prices rising to a seven-year high, many Thais have been flocking to gold shops to trade in their necklaces, bracelets, rings and gold bars for cash, eager to reap profits during an economic downturn.

In Thailand, where measures against the spread of COVID-19 have been less severe than in other countries, gold shops are de facto financial institutions, and generally remain open.

Long lines formed all week outside major gold shops in Chinatown in the capital Bangkok.
The sell-off has some gold shop owners claiming they are facing a liquidity crunch, leaving them short on cash to continue purchasing.

They are unable to carry out their normal practice of quickly reselling the gold abroad because of the greatly reduced number of flights to ship the gold and a shortage of buyers in other countries, who are restricted by lockdown orders and market closures.

The shops are bound by tradition to buy back the products they sell. Prices are fixed by an industry association.

Thai shopkeepers talk to customers as they sell gold necklace to the gold shop in Bangkok. PHOTO: AP

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, heeding the appeals of the gold shop industry, urged restraint. “I’m asking people to sell gradually, not in large amounts, as shops may face a cash crunch,” he said on Wednesday.

The price of gold has been rising since the COVID-19 crisis began. That’s typical of times of uncertainty as people shift their wealth into what they believe is a hedge against uncertain financial markets. Gold was trading yesterday at USD1,755.60 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest level since late 2012.

Many Asians hold gold as savings and investments. In Bangkok, gold shops are clustered in Chinatown, where long lines stretched even further by social distancing. Some of those waiting said they were selling their gold to get cash to support their families since many have lost their jobs.

Fruit exporter Saranya Prasert said COVID-19 crisis has halted her business and her family is struggling for money. They are selling gold jewellery that they had kept for more than 10 years as savings.

“The reason we are selling our gold today is because we need to increase our cash flow. We still have to pay our employees so need the money now for the expense. The situation has impacted us. We can’t export our goods.”

Many in line had similar stories. Not all of them were selling because the price is high.

Office worker Pleonjit Sukcharoen said that while she is lucky that she still has a job, her sister — a street vendor who is unable to work because of a market shutdown order — now needs help with her hospital bill.

To help her sibling, she decided to sell her stash of gold that she had received as bonuses over the years from her employer.