Gold price hits 3.5 month high on U.S. growth fears

Gold is up 10 percent this year after a 28 percent drop in 2013, while silver has gained 12 percent

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Gold hit a 3.5 month peak on Monday as fears over U.S. economic growth and a weaker dollar added to the metal’s safe-haven appeal, extending its gains after rising the most in six months last week

Market sentiment towards gold has been positive since the beginning of the year as weak U.S. and China economic data, and emerging market jitters have taken a toll on global equities, spurring demand for bullion - often seen at times of uncertainty as a safe haven.

Gold is up 10 percent this year after a 28 percent drop in 2013, while silver has gained 12 percent.

Investor positioning in gold and technicals seem to suggest the upside could continue.

“We think near-term drivers for gold price would be (weak) U.S. macro data and increasing portfolio allocation to gold for diversification,” said Helen Lau, senior analyst at UOB-Kay Securities in Hong Kong.

Spot gold rose 0.6 percent to $1,326.40 an ounce by 0340 GMT, after hitting $1,329.55 earlier in the session - its highest since Oct. 31. The metal jumped 4 percent last week, its biggest weekly gain since August.

U.S. gold futures rose for a ninth session - their longest winning streak since July 2011. Silver was trading up 1.6 percent near its highest since early November.

“We are bullish gold, targeting a full retracement back to the $1,433 high from August 2013,” said analysts at ScotiaMocatta, adding that there are encouraging signs that silver has formed a bottom.

U.S. manufacturing data on Friday joined weak retail sales and employment data in suggesting that cold weather had spurred a step-back in economic growth early in the first quarter after a strong performance in the second half of 2013.

In a sign that gold prices are expected to climb further, speculators raised their bets in gold futures and options to a three-month high, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Regulatory filings also showed hedge fund Paulson & Co maintained its stake in the world’s biggest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Trust, in the fourth quarter.

Though SPDR Gold Trust's holdings fell 5.10 tons to 801.25 tons on Friday - the first drop in three weeks - they have remained relatively stable compared with last year's 500-tonne outflow.

Gold premiums in India, the world’s second-biggest consumer of the metal after China, fell 17 percent on Friday to their lowest in four months as buyers postponed purchases on speculation over a possible cut in import duty soon.

The Indian government is set to present an interim budget on Monday, in which many expect it to announce a relaxation in gold import curbs.

Expectations over a duty cut have increased since the leader of India’s ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, asked the government to review tough import restrictions on gold that have crimped gold supply.

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