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Gold shines in bleak year for commodities
December 31, 2008 / 9:23 PM / in 9 years

Gold shines in bleak year for commodities

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Gold rose in 2008 while the prices of commodities from oil to copper to grains fell drastically, but massive state spending to revive economies has sparked hopes for a recovery next year.

It was the year of the credit crunch, born out of the home mortgage crisis in the United States, spreading across the globe to curtail economic growth, decimate demand and spawn the biggest financial meltdown in some 80 years.

Gold, sought as a safe haven during times of risk, a hedge against inflation and for use in jewelry, rose on Wednesday and was one of the few commodities to finish higher year-on-year.

“Gold is the only (metal) that has been up this year,” said Nick Moore, commodity strategist at RBS Global Banking & Markets. “It has been a fantastic performance for gold.”

Bullion rose on Wednesday despite the strong dollar, which marked its first yearly gain against the euro since 2005. A firm dollar dulls gold’s appeal as an alternative investment.

The greenback ended the year higher against most major currencies as a financial meltdown prompted investors to seek refuge in the dollar. <USD/>

Spot gold was trading at $878.90/$881.85 an ounce, up from New York’s notional close Tuesday of $868.40/$871.50.

Oil rallied more than 11 percent in a late surge tied to gains in gasoline and heating oil futures.

Crude also was supported by gains in the stock market, the failure to win a truce in the five-day battle between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as Russia threatened to switch off gas supplies to its neighbor Ukraine on New Year’s day.

European states depend on Russia for a quarter of their gas and most of it is shipped in pipelines that run across Ukraine’s territory.

Weekly U.S. inventory data on Wednesday showed a decline in refinery activity and a rise of 500,000 barrels in crude stocks, compared with forecasts for a 1.5 million barrel drop.

“There’s a sign that the industry might be cutting back on production rates to try to boost margins. As heating oil and gasoline prices are rallying, crude is tagging along,” said Gene McGillian of Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

U.S. crude settled $5.57, 14 percent, higher at $44.60 per barrel.

Oil, however, has tumbled from a record high above $147 set in July to below $40 as a global recession reduced demand. Oil was down 54 percent year-on-year.

Analysts in the latest Reuters poll forecast an average of $49 a barrel for U.S. crude in the first quarter, and an average $58.48 in 2009, pointing to a $10 recovery. <O/POLL>

While the latest round of grim U.S. economic data pointed toward more demand destruction for raw materials, some analysts said the worst was already over for many markets which saw years of gains wiped out in months.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index .CRB, which tracks prices of futures across 19 mostly U.S. traded commodity markets, lost nearly 40 percent this year, its biggest ever annual decline.

“In the new year, President-elect Obama will be taking on his new position and many people will be expecting a number of changes to stimulate the U.S. economy,” said Adrian Koh, analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

Industrial metal copper rose 6 percent on Wednesday in year-end buying, and as China raised the value-added tax on a range of imported ores and concentrates from January 1 to stabilize domestic metal prices.

China is one of the world’s top consumers of copper.

“Prices are expected to stay weak in the first half next year and are likely to recover a bit in the second half, as copper supply is always relatively tighter than other base metals,” said analyst Judy Zhu of Standard Chartered Bank.

Copper for March delivery settled 7.80 cents, 6.7 percent, higher at $1.3950 a lb. The metal, however, is down 54 percent for the year.

The red metal rose to a record high of $8,940 a tonne in July before global financial woes cut demand.

U.S. soybeans rose 3 percent amid concerns over supply amid dry weather in major exporter Argentina, but futures were down about 20 percent for the year. Corn was down 11 percent for the year, and wheat down over 30 percent in 2008.

On Wednesday, Chicago Board of Trade March corn settled 10-3/4 cents, 2.7 percent, higher at $4.07 per bushel. January soybeans up 26-1/2, 2.8 percent, at $9.72-1/4 and March wheat up 6 cents at $6.10-3/4.

Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral and Lewa Pardomuan in Singapore; Editing by David Gregorio

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