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Gold's 'cold blooded' gain shows virus-induced rush into havens

Investors are rushing to the safety of gold amid a selloff in US stocks on mounting concerns the coronavirus outbreak will derail global growth.

[NEW YORK] Investors are rushing to the safety of gold amid a selloff in US stocks on mounting concerns the coronavirus outbreak will derail global growth.

Gold jumped as much as 2 per cent, extending its climb to a seven-year high, as the S&P 500 Index headed for its first weekly loss since January. In a sign that the virus is starting to dent the world's largest economy, business activity in the US shrank in February for the first time since 2013, with the pandemic disrupting supply chains.

"The persistent, cold-blooded and measured shift in gold higher, despite the US dollar, is telling," Nicky Shiels, a metals strategist at Bank of Nova Scotia, said in emailed message. "The breakout is warranted and has legs."

Gold futures for April delivery rose 1.7 per cent to settle at US$1,648.80 an ounce at 1.30pm on the Comex in New York, the highest closing price for a most-active contract since mid-February 2013. The metal notched a 3.9 per cent gain this week, the biggest increase since June. The rush to haven assets also sent Treasury yields tumbling.

"Gold is in the midst of its perfect storm," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S.

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Prices of bullion in euros and Australian and Canadian dollars climbed to records. Holdings in gold-backed exchange traded funds climbed for 22 straight sessions through Thursday, the longest ever run, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. And the amount of call options traded in a single day spiked to the highest ever in records dating to 1996, according to preliminary data.

This stretch of inflows "certainly gives an indication about concerns around the global economy," Andrew Jamieson, global head of ETF product at Citigroup Inc in London, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

The outbreak has worsened outside of China, with cases in South Korea climbing past 200, while tallies for Singapore and Japan topped 85. A jump in coronavirus cases in Iran is also raising concern. Chinese authorities adjusted the number of cases for the third time this month, raising more questions over the reliability of the data.

In more than half of the world's 20 biggest economies, analysts now expect looser budgets this year — in other words, bigger deficits or smaller surpluses — than they did six months ago, according to a Bloomberg survey of economist forecasts.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia expects the Federal Reserve to ease twice in the second half of the year as the virus threatens the global economy.

Still, lower US yields and weaker equities could push gold prices further toward US$1,750 an ounce even if the coronavirus is contained during the first quarter, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

If the outbreak stretches beyond that, "we see substantially more upside from here - toward US$1,850 an ounce, depending on the magnitude of the global monetary policy response," the bank said in a note Friday.

Silver futures also climbed on the Comex. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, palladium futures rose while platinum futures declined.


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