Japan’s gold exports have doubled this year, largely due to individual investors seeking to lock in profits after gold prices soared earlier in the year.

In the eleven months to November, Japan’s exports of unwrought solid gold, gold bars and sheet totalled 393.9 tonnes, Ministry of Finance data showed on Friday.

Spot gold prices hit a record high of $1,030.80 an ounce in March, prompting investors to sell.

In 2007, Japan exported 174.9 tonnes, which was up 8 percent from a year earlier. Imports totalled 28.0 tonnes last year, compared with 32.6 tonnes in 2006.

The data also showed Japan exported 47 tonnes of gold in November, rising more than five-fold from October, while imports more than halved to 4.1 tonnes from the previous month.

In October, Japan turned a net importer of gold for the first time this year.

A Tokyo-based trader said the rise in exports last month may have been related to spot gold prices rebounding above $800 an ounce after falling to near $680 in late October.

“There were still many people who hadn’t sold,” the trader said, adding that such selling pressure may offset emerging retail investor appetite for gold for the time being.

Demand for gold by Japanese individual investors has risen markedly in the past few months, with a wider array of people attracted to the metal, seeking safer investments amid global financial market turmoil, industry sources said.

Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, Japan’s biggest bullion retailer, said a record number of new customers signed up for its online gold savings plan in November, which allows customers to purchase a minimum of 1,000 yen worth of gold each month.

Tanaka does not report actual volumes or value, but it said its sales of gold exceeded its purchases for the fourth month in a row in November. (Reporting by Chikako Mogi; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved