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Gold rises above $1,900/oz on euro zone debt worries

LONDON (Reuters) - Gold rose on Monday, breaking back above $1,900 an ounce, as speculation grew that the United States may implement a further round of monetary easing after Friday’s weak payrolls data, and concerns over the euro zone debt crisis resurfaced.

An employee empties a cup of gold granules at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Stock markets fell, with European bank shares sliding to a 29-month low, while the euro shed nearly 1 percent versus the dollar and oil prices slipped as investors sold assets seen as higher risk in favour of havens like gold and Bunds.

Spot gold was up 0.9 percent at $1,900.10 an ounce at 1540 GMT, having earlier touched a high of $1,902.70. It is one of this year’s best-performing commodities, up by around a third in 2011 to date.

European shares fell on fears of recession and yet more evidence of political disunity that could hamper efforts to solve the region’s debt crisis. German Bund futures hit record highs in early trade.

“Clearly the debt issue is back in the spotlight,” said Societe Generale analyst David Wilson. “Added to that you had the fairly (weak) U.S. non-farm payrolls data. There are a number of reasons you can see why gold is supported.”

Gold had a choppy month in August, peaking at a record $1,911.46 an ounce and trading within its biggest range in absolute terms since January 1980, when it hit a record $835 an ounce, or above $2,000 in inflation-adjusted terms.

It is being lifted by expectations that the failure of the U.S. economic recovery to gain traction will force the Federal Reserve to embark on a third round of quantitative easing, which essentially translates into printing money.

Europe faces a string of political and legal tests this week that could hurt efforts to resolve its sovereign debt crisis and increase pressure for governments to try more radical solutions.

Standard Bank analyst Walter de Wet said a court ruling due Wednesday that may reduce the freedom of the German government to finance rescues of crisis-hit countries like Greece was supporting interest in safe-haven gold, while a European Central Bank meeting on Thursday will be closely watched.

“There is a growing expectation in the market that we will have to get some policy response from the ECB at some stage,” he said. “Whatever that will be, it is more likely to be positive for gold than not. Either they will have to cut rates, or they will have to be more accommodating.”


Managed money in gold futures and options reduced their net length for a fourth straight week to August 30, the latest data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed late on Friday.

“Current positioning is in line with the year-to-date weekly average, and considering the uptick in both U.S. and European risks this week, we certainly don’t consider current spec positioning as been excessive,” UBS said in a note.

Sales of gold and silver American Eagle coins were at their highest since January in August, data from the U.S. Mint showed. The Mint sold 112,000 ounces of gold coins and 3.68 million ounces of silver coins last month.

Gold prices quickly shrugged off news that the Shanghai Gold Exchange had temporarily raised trade margins -- which cover the risk of default -- for its gold and silver forward contracts.

A margin requirement hike on COMEX gold contracts was instrumental in pulling gold from record highs last week.

“It’s not going to have a major effect,” said Standard Bank’s de Wet. “A lot of demand we see out of Asia is physical rather than speculative.”

Among other precious metals, silver was down 0.6 percent at $42.94 an ounce. Holdings of the world’s largest silver-backed exchange-traded fund, the iShares Silver Trust , rose 35 tonnes on Friday, the trust said.

Spot platinum was up 0.2 percent at $1,881.50 an ounce, while palladium was down 2.8 percent at $764 an ounce. Gold regained its premium over platinum, with the autocatalyst metal struggling for traction as demand fears grew.

Editing by James Jukwey