Asia Gold-Firm demand in top hubs ahead of Lunar New Year

* India’s gold consumption expected to rise further in 2022 - WGC

* Customers on last leg of Lunar New Year preparations - dealer

* Hong Kong, Singapore premiums steady

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Top Asian hubs saw firm demand for physical gold this week in the run up to the Lunar New Year holiday, while buyers in India held off making purchases before the government announces its annual budget.

India’s budget for the next fiscal year will be presented on Feb. 1. New Delhi cut the import tax on gold in its 2021/2022 budget.

“People are speculating that the government might change the duty structure like last year,” said Ashok Jain, proprietor of Mumbai-based gold wholesaler Chenaji Narsinghji.

Volatile domestic gold rates were also prompting potential buyers to postpone purchases, said a Mumbai-based bullion dealer with a bullion importing bank.

Dealers offered discounts of up to $3 an ounce over official domestic prices — inclusive of 10.75% import and 3% sales levies — up from last week’s $2.5 discounts.

India’s gold consumption is expected to rise further in 2022 after jumping 79% last year as pent-up demand and an improvement in consumer confidence are seen boosting retail jewellery sales, the World Gold Council (WGC) said on Friday.

In top consumer China, premiums widened to $4-$7 an ounce over benchmark spot gold rates. Hong Kong saw premiums stable at $0.50-$2.00.

Inflation worries could help demand even after Lunar New Year festivities, Peter Fung, head of dealing at Wing Fung Precious Metals said.

China’s net gold imports via Hong Kong surged in 2021 as consumers stocked up on bullion to shield against economic risks.

The country’s gold jewellery demand is expected to be supported by stable gold prices in 2022, an official of the WGC said on Friday, despite fears of slowing economic growth.

Singapore dealers charged $1.50-$1.80 per ounce premiums over the global rates, unchanged from last week.

Customers are making final preparations for next week’s celebrations, said Brian Lan, managing director at dealer GoldSilver Central, adding clients were looking to buy small bars as gifts for immediate relatives.

In Japan, dealers charged premiums of $0.25. (Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai, Asha Sistla and Bharat Govind Gautam in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)