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UPDATE 1-India Nov gold imports half of 2008 level-trade body

* Nov imports about half of last year - BBA

* Jan to Oct imports at 156.9 tonnes, down 59 pct - BBA * Imports down but high scrap sales increase supply

* Dealers see some buying as gold hits records (Updates with more comments, details)

MUMBAI, Nov 26 (Reuters) - India's gold imports so far in November are 15-18 tonnes, around half of the 34 tonnes in November 2008 as record prices hurt demand in the world's biggest market for the metal, the head of a leading trade body said. On Thursday, gold futures on the Multi Commodity Exchange of India Ltd (MCX) MAUc1 were at 17,815 rupees ($383) per 10 grams, up 38 percent from a year ago, and in global markets gold XAU= hit a record high of $1,194.90 an ounce.

“Imports are very low. Scrap sales have increased in the last few days because of high prices,” Suresh Hundia, president of the Bombay Bullion Association, said on Thursday.

For the first 10 months of 2009, imports are 156.9 tonnes, down 59 percent from 383 tonnes in the same period in 2008, BBA data showed.

Record prices have encouraged people to sell gold holdings, including small pieces, which have improved supplies in the market and lowered the need for imports.

Dealers said there was some demand from people who thought prices would keep rising or who expected the central bank to buy more gold.

In early November, the IMF said it had sold 200 tonnes of gold to the Reserve Bank of India.

“Demand is good and can be attributed to panic buying,” said a dealer in a private bank in Mumbai.

Bangalore trader D.P. Naresh said the record high prices had drawn people’s attention to the commodity’s investment value.

“People are buying not (just) in fear but also as they want to be in an asset class which will outperform other asset classes,” Naresh said.

“Also it is (seen as) the safest investment,” he added. ($1=46.5 rupees) (Reporting by Ruchira Singh; Editing by John Mair) ((ruchira.singh@thomsonreuters.com; +91-22-6636 9287; Reuters Messaging: ruchira.singh.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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