NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold prices stayed near three-week highs late into Friday's session, as worries about Greece's debt crisis encouraged buying by investors looking for relative safety and a softer dollar underpinned sentiment.
"Today is a continuation of the mild risk-on tone that the market went into mid-week, with some caution. But there's clearly been a move up in the last two sessions," said Rick Bensignor, a chief strategist at Dahlman Rose in New York.
Spot gold hit $1,538.10 a troy ounce, its highest since May 4. It remained close to that peak at $1,535.60 as of 3:26 p.m. EDT (2026 GMT). Thursday's late New York bid was $1,518.10.
Benchmark COMEX June gold futures settled up $13.50 per ounce at $1,536.30, near their highest levels since May 4.
Gold's appeal has been boosted in recent weeks by worries about debt contagion spreading from Greece to Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
London and New York commodity and financial markets will be shut on Monday for holidays, and many players regarded Friday as the last trading day of the month.
The day's strong close bodes well for the yellow metal.
Based on Friday's action, Bensignor said, technical patterns suggest gold will set a new peak as long as the metal starts higher on Tuesday and the open is not the session high.
"I have a short-term breakout targeting $1,597, which would be the new all-time high. But it might take a little time to get there," the strategist said.
The dollar helped lift gold, falling to session lows against the euro after European Central Bank Governing Council member George Provopoulos said Greece can handle its debt if the country sticks to its aid program.
"The chances of debt default by Greece are rising," a trader said, adding higher oil prices were also helping gold.
Gold is used by investors as a hedge against inflation, which is often triggered by rising oil prices.
Meanwhile, a steep decline in pending sales of existing U.S. homes provided gold with added safe-haven appeal. April home sales dropped far more than expected to a seven-month low, dealing a blow to hopes of a recovery in the housing market.
But U.S. consumer sentiment improved in May as job gains offset high gasoline prices.
Holdings of the largest silver-backed ETF, New York's iShares Silver Trust (SLV), and the largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund (ETF), New York's SPDR Gold Trust, were unchanged on Thursday from Wednesday.
Interest in gold ETFs remains unabated. That is not the case with silver ETFs, whose holdings have fallen nearly 9 million ounces this week, bringing year-to-date outflows to 42.79 million ounces or 8.4 percent.
Part of the reason for silver's losses is producer hedging, an indication prices may be peaking.
Focus in the silver market was on Mexican miner Penoles (PENOLES.MX), which this week said it had hedged 13.4 million ounces of silver through 2013.
Spot silver firmed to $37.90 an ounce from $37.24 late on Thursday. Platinum at $1,796.24 was well above $1,764.85 previously, and palladium rose to $757.72 from $751.45 late on Thursday.
"We believe the cash cost of the marginal producer is still the relevant benchmark to judge whether platinum and palladium provide value," Standard Bank said in a note.
"The market could trade lower, growing value in platinum and palladium on approach of $1,700 and $700 respectively."
Editing by Dale Hudson