The opening of China's gold market is likely to double domestic consumption, but this is not expected to affect the world price, experts said yesterday. Beijing's new policy would have a limited impact, they said, because the government would restrict trading to the domestic market. Starting on Wednesday, the People's Bank now allows individuals to buy gold pieces and bars for the first time since 1949. The four stores in Beijing allowed to sell them reported brisk business yesterday, similar to that on the first day when they sold more than 200 kg worth 18 million yuan (HK$16.9 billion). A spokeswoman for the Gong Mei (Industry and Arts) store in Wangfujing, the main shopping street in the capital, said that it sold 70 kg on Wednesday, with the biggest individual purchase of 200,000 yuan. 'Our price today remains 92 yuan per gram. The main buyers are middle-aged and elderly people. We cannot meet demand. It will take a few days for the next shipment to reach Beijing,' she said. Chen Xiongwei, deputy manager of the marketing department of the China Gold Group, said gold had become the next important investment tool, after shares, bonds, futures and property. 'The stock market is down and retail sales are weak, so now is a good moment,' he said. 'In the 1930s and 1940s, people used to buy hand-crafted gold. The gold being sold now is natural and of better quality. For the public, it is stable and can retain its value. 'But it has a downside and the public must keep a cool head. 'It is very hard to predict the return on gold. The price is heavily dependent on the global economic and political situation.' One risk is that gold prices are at their highest level in five years, pushed up by fears of a US-led attack on Iraq and downward pressure on the US dollar. Another is that buyers of gold have no easy way to dispose of it, as individuals are not allowed to be members of the Shanghai Gold Market that opened officially for trading on October 30. The market is limited to members involved in the metals business who have been approved by the People's Bank. The Gong Mei spokeswoman said there were no clear guidelines on buying back gold. 'The policy has not yet been issued. It should be decided next year by the China Gold Association.' Liu Shanen, a specialist with the Beijing Gold Economic Research Centre, predicted that because of the opening of the market, gold demand in China would double from last year's 213.2 tonnes. Most of this went to the jewellery industry. But Mr Chen said this stronger demand would not influence the world price, because sales were restricted to the domestic market and sales abroad needed the approval of the People's Bank. For the first 50 years of its rule, the communist government maintained a state monopoly over gold, but this did not prevent an active black market. People could only legally buy gold in the form of jewellery. In September this year, the government agreed to abolish the 17 per cent sales tax on gold trading and on October 30 full trading began on the Shanghai exchange. Lu Wenyuan, secretary-general of the association, said the government might permit individual trading of gold from next year. 'We are still in the first stage of opening the gold market. In the second stage, when the market mechanisms are fully prepared, we will allow individuals to own gold and trade it,' Mr Lu said. 'In the third stage, we will link our market to the global trading system and become a part of the international gold market.'