(Bloomberg) -- China’s bullion imports slowed last month as demand in the world’s biggest consumer begins to buckle in the face of record prices.

Overseas purchases of physical gold fell to 136 tons in April, a 30% decline from the previous month and the lowest total for the year, according to the latest customs data.  

While prices are heavily influenced by US interest rates, bullion’s recent strength has in large part stemmed from robust consumption in China, where investment options are more limited than in other countries. As households and investors contend with a protracted crisis in the property sector, volatile stock markets and a weakening yuan, money has flowed to assets that are perceived to be safer, juicing gold’s rally to all-time highs.

China’s central bank has also shown consistent appetite for gold, topping up its holdings for an 18th straight month as it diversifies its reserves and hedges against currency depreciation, although the pace of those purchases slowed in April as well.

Any moderation in imports is likely to give gold bulls pause for thought. Demand from China will remain strong in 2024, but the huge volume of imports seen over the most recent quarter is likely to level off, said Soni Kumari, commodity strategist at ANZ Group Holdings Ltd.

The precious metal’s allure has been further dimmed by warnings from China’s authorities over excessive speculation. In the latest move to temper risk-taking in the market, the Shanghai Gold Exchange again raised margin requirements on some contracts from Tuesday.

On the Wire

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This Week’s Diary

(All times Beijing unless noted.)

Tuesday, May 21:

  • China April output data for base metals and oil products
  • IGU Gas Industry Development Forum in Beijing, 09:30

Wednesday, May 22:

  • CCTD’s weekly online briefing on Chinese coal, 15:00

Thursday, May 23:

  • Huadian Power online earnings briefing, 10:00

Friday, May 24:

  • China weekly iron ore port stockpiles
  • Shanghai exchange weekly commodities inventory, ~15:30
  • Chalco online earnings briefing, 16:00

--With assistance from Sybilla Gross.

(Updates with fuller analyst’s comment in fifth paragraph)

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