Italians sell their gold as COVID-19 crunches economy – by Angelo Amante and Cristiano Corvino (Reuters U.K. – May 20, 2020)

ROME (Reuters) – Massimiliano Barrotta is seeing a surge in customers coming to sell their gold in his Rome store as Italians feel the economic pain of their government’s lockdown, imposed to curb one of the world’s worst COVID-19 epidemics.

The eight-week shutdown has been gradually eased since May 4, but it has left an economy on its knees, with businesses laden with debt and tens of thousands of new unemployed. The European Commission expects Italy’s economy to shrink by nearly 10% this year.

“We have seen an increase of about 50% in our purchases of gold from private customers this year, particularly in the last two weeks,” Barrotta, the manager of three “Compro Oro” (I buy gold) shops, told Reuters.

Gold stores, which number around 6,000 nationwide, according to sector watchdog OAS, sprang up during Italy’s last deep recession in 2012, as people struggling to survive sold everything from wedding rings to gold teeth.

However, they are not the only option for hard-pressed Italians. Pawn shops, where people sell their trinkets or use them as collateral for loans, are much less widespread, but they are also now doing a brisk trade.

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