Gold hits record as investors seek alternate asset

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold rallied on Friday to an all-time record above $1,260 an ounce, as investors looked to precious metals for an alternative to equity or debt investments given renewed uncertainty about the economic recovery.

A Jordanian goldsmith holds gold bracelets at his shop in Amman June 9, 2010. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Several surprisingly weak U.S. economic readings released a day earlier renewed investors worries, driving them to seek the safety of a tangible asset like gold.

Spot gold hit an all-time high of $1,261.90 an ounce, but was bid at $1,256.65 an ounce at 3:20 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT), against $1,243.40 late on Thursday. U.S. gold futures for August delivery also climbed to a record at $1,263.70, and settled up $9.60 at $1,258.30, its highest ever close.

“I think it is a case of gold’s ability to compete with both credit and equity markets for investments. Competing with credit markets has been in play for a long time, because of low interest rates and low opportunity cost of holding gold,” said Tom Pawlicki, precious metals analyst at MF GLOBAL in Chicago.

“The data yesterday from initial claims and Philadelphia Fed was another thing indicating to investors that the economic recovery will be subpar compared with other recession recoveries. That makes gold more attractive,” he added.

The precious metal has risen nearly 15 percent since the end of 2009, fueled by sovereign risk in the euro zone, historically low interest rates, and concern over the stability of paper currencies.

“Sovereign debt worries, central banks raising their holdings and record low interest rates keep attracting new buyers to gold,” said Saxo Bank senior manager Ole Hansen.

“The Goldilocks scenario continues. Risk-off helps gold through safe haven (buying), risk-on helps it as well through a weaker dollar.”

The euro, along with gold, was strengthened as well by the U.S. Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s plummeting June factory index and a rise in first-time filings by unemployed U.S. workers last week, which pushed U.S. Treasury yields to their lowest in a week.

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The dollar’s decline to three-week lows against the euro, headed for its best weekly gain in over a year as European leaders said they would publish details about the health of European banks.

Lingering fears over European sovereign debt levels are also burnishing the metal’s safe-haven appeal.

“We expect gold to continue to perform well given continued fiscal/debt challenges in Europe and the potential for this to spread to other regions,” Deutsche Bank said in a note.

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Holdings of the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, New York’s SPDR Gold Trust, hit record highs at 1,307.963 tonnes on Thursday as investors continued to turn to physical bullion as a haven from risk.

Silver tracked gold higher to a four-week peak of $19.24 an ounce. Late in the session it pulled off the highs to trade around $19.16 an ounce against $18.67 late Thursday, slightly outperforming the yellow metal.

Some investors said silver had lately underperformed gold’s gains and was due for a greater percentage rise.

The gold:silver ratio fell to its lowest since late May on a day-to-day basis, with one ounce of gold now buying 66 ounces of silver. The silver market, smaller and less liquid than gold, tends generally to outperform when prices are rising.

“If both gold and silver continue to improve, we expect silver to outperform, thus moving the gold-silver ratio lower,” said ScotiaMocatta in a note.

Platinum advanced to $1,588 an ounce from $1,574, and palladium was higher at $487 than $479.50 late Thursday. Both hit a one-month highs during the session.

The world's biggest palladium producer, Norilsk Nickel GMKN.MM, said it had received an offer for some of its Australian assets, and that it planned to proceed with plans to divest them.

Additional reporting by Jan Harvey;Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid