UPDATE 1-Japan turns net importer of gold in Dec, 1st time since July 2010

Thu Jan 30, 2014 4:33am EST

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* Net imports of gold in Dec at 1,885 kg

* Only 10th time since end-2005 that Japan is net monthly gold importer

* Dec net imports probably related to futures contract delivery -trader (Adds trader's comments on likely reason for change)

TOKYO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Japan imported more gold than it shipped overseas in December, the first time the country has been a net importer on a monthly basis since July 2010, customs data showed on Thursday.

Imports totaled 3,429 kilograms (kg) in December, while the country exported 1,544 kg, leaving it with net purchases of 1,885 kg, according to the customs data released by the Ministry of Finance.

It was only the tenth time that Japan has been a net monthly buyer of gold since the end of 2005, the last year the country was a net importer on an annual basis.

It is likely to be a one-off event and was probably related to a Tokyo Commodity Exchange futures contract delivery, said a trader at a bank.

It was unlikely the turn to net imports was because of increased buying before a sales tax increase that's due at the end of March, the trader added.

Japanese holders of gold have been selling jewellery and bars to pay for other purchases and spending, including on children's education, amid the stagnant economic growth and deflation that the country is now emerging from.

Japan remains a net exporter on an annual basis and shipped more than 50 metric tonnes of gold overseas last year, according to the customs data.

Spot gold fell about 0.4 percent on Thursday to $1262.56 an ounce as buyers from China, the world's biggest importer, stayed away from the market in advance of the Lunar New Holiday

Gold dropped 28 percent last year on an improving global economy, and in anticipation of a cut in U.S. monetary stimulus. (Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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