Gold hits record highs, oil drops amid inflation fears

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Gold prices hit record highs close to $1,500 this week while oil and base metals fell on expectations that rising global inflation risks will lead to higher interest rates and slower growth.

PRECIOUS METALS: Gold reached record highs at the start of the week and continued higher from there to finish with an all-time peak of $1,486.07 an ounce.

Investors piled into the safe-haven precious metal amid spikes to global inflation and fresh eurozone debt worries.

"Gold hit yet another record high ... and silver charged to another 31-year high as inflation concerns and some fresh safe-haven investment demand pushed the precious metals still higher," said Ian O'Sullivan, analyst at Spread Co trading group.

"The ongoing simmering European sovereign debt concerns and inflationary price pressures coming from ... China and the US continue to drive investors to buy the precious metals as an inflation hedge."

Record-breaking gold will likely soar past $1,600 per for the first time later this year, driven by fears over high inflation, consultancy GFMS forecast Wednesday.

Gold is a traditional safe-haven store of value in troubled times.

The metal hit its latest highs after China said inflation jumped to a 32-month high, suggesting Beijing's efforts to rein in soaring costs are still falling short.

China's consumer price index rose 5.4 percent year-on-year in March -- the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above the government's 2011 target of four percent -- and 5.0 percent in the first quarter.

The US consumer price index rose by 0.5 percent in March, while India's inflation rate unexpectedly accelerated while eurozone price rises ran at 2.7 percent last month, way above a 2.0 percent target.

Elsewhere on Friday, Moody's cut its credit ratings on Ireland by two notches to just above junk status, citing an "expected decline" in government finances that is set to hamper recovery of the indebted eurozone nation.

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, gold rose to $1,476.75 an ounce from $1,469.50 a week earlier.

Silver climbed to $42.61 an ounce from $40.22.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum fell to $1,787 an ounce from $1,803.

Palladium dropped to $772 an ounce from $798.

OIL: Prices slipped of 30-month highs, weighed down by a sharp inflation rise in China, the world's largest consumer of energy, and predictions of weaker demand.

The market also waited on weekend presidential vote in oil exporter Nigeria.

"The news from China ... is having a dampening effect on oil prices because the market is expecting the Chinese government to raise (interest) rates" following the inflation data, said Thina Saltvedt, analyst at Nordea Bank Norge.

Oil prices slumped Tuesday after the International Energy Agency warned that recent high prices had started to hurt global demand for energy.

"Investor focus has finally shifted from the supply side to concerns over potential damage to demand, as highlighted by the IEA monthly report," VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov told AFP.

The Paris-based IEA warned that "there are real risks that a sustained $100 dollars a barrel-plus price environment will prove incompatible with the currently expected pace of economic recovery."

Traders are particularly concerned that rocketing prices could undermine the delicate recovery in the United States, the world's biggest economy and the largest oil consuming nation.

Soaring oil prices have sparked fears of a return to the record levels above $147 seen in 2008.

The International Monetary Fund meanwhile warned this week that high oil prices were a key risk to solid global economic recovery.

Crude futures enjoyed a brief mid-week rebound as data showed stockpiles of motor fuel slumped ten times more than expected in the United States.

The US Department of Energy said that inventories of gasoline, or petrol, tumbled 7.0 million barrels last week. Analysts had forecast a much smaller drop of 700,000 barrels.

The oil market was also looking ahead to weekend elections in Nigeria, a key exporter of crude but which is regularly hit by supply disruptions owing to unrest between rebels and the African nation's government.

"Any political unrest created from the polls in Nigeria could further increase the geopolitical risk and may retrace recent losses in the price of oil," said Nick Campbell, an analyst at energy consultants Inenco.

The oil-producing Niger Delta region, hit by years of violence, has seen relative calm following a 2009 amnesty deal but the situation remains fragile and many have warned of a likely eventual return to unrest.

By late Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in June stood at $122.57 a barrel, compared with $125.33 for the May contract one week earlier.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for May dropped to $108.42 from $111.58.

BASE METALS: Tin prices struck another record high at $33,600 a tonne thanks to strong demand but later retreated along with most other base metals on fears that rate tightening by China would cut demand for raw materials.

"Even some of the perennial bulls in the investment banking world are now getting wary about the current run-up in commodities, with the likes of Goldman Sachs telling clients ... there was a strong chance of a short-term commodity pullback and that some profit-taking was in order," said Ed Meir, analyst at MF Global brokers.

By late Friday on the London Metal Exchange (LME), copper for delivery in three months dropped to $9,390 a tonne from $9,896 a week earlier.

Three-month aluminium fell to $2,677 a tonne from $2,712.

Three-month lead decreased to $2,640 a tonne from $2,852.

Three-month tin slipped to $32,950 a tonne from $33,100.

Three-month zinc gained to $2,640 a tonne from $2,526.

Three-month nickel declined to $26,081 a tonne from $27,530.

COCOA: Prices rallied as investors worried that Ivory Coast's political climate would remain unstable, even after the world's top cocoa producer resumed exports of the commodity after the ousting of Laurent Gbagbo.

Cocoa futures rose "as traders were still uncertain as to whether or not new Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara would see a peaceful transfer into power," said commodities review The Public Ledger.

Around 400,000 tonnes of cocoa have accumulated on the dockside in Abidjan and the southwestern port of San Pedro during the crisis pitting Ouattara against Gbagbo, who refused to admit defeat in a November election.

Forces belonging to Ouattara, backed by French and UN troops, captured Gbagbo in Abidjan on Monday at the climax of the deadly crisis.

The unrest halted the African nation's cocoa exports, causing the price to hit the highest level since 1979 on New York markets.

Cocoa futures struck $3,775 a tonne at the start of March before falling back 10 percent earlier this month as traders anticipated Gbagbo's capture.

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in July had jumped to £1,962 a tonne from £1,886 a week earlier.

In New York on the NYBOT-ICE, cocoa for July gained to $3,130 a tonne from $2,969 for the May contract a week earlier.

GRAINS AND SOYA: Prices retreated.

By Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade, maize for delivery in May fell to $7.43 a bushel from $7.68.

May-dated soyabean meal -- used in animal feed -- dropped to $13.30 a bushel from $13.92 a week earlier.

Wheat for May declined to $7.41 from $7.97.

COFFEE: Coffee prices were mixed.

By Friday on LIFFE, Robusta for delivery in July dipped to $2,445 a tonne from $2,463 a week earlier.

On NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for May advanced to 287.75 US cents a pound from 275.60 cents.

SUGAR: Sugar prices weakened.

By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for delivery in July stood at 23.10 US cents a pound compared with 26.07 cents for the May contract a week earlier.

On LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for August traded at £627.70 compared with £703.30 for the May contract.

RUBBER: Malaysian rubber prices slipped amid a lack of buyers and following the downtrend on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 dropped to 515.10 US cents a kilo from 520.45 cents the previous week.

© 2011 AFP

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