Gold barrels into 2019 as growth concerns spur demand for haven

Gold closed out 2018 on a strong note, its haven demand reinvigorated by volatile trading in global equities, rising concern about the economic outlook and a drawn-out government shutdown in the U.S.

Bullion futures held near a six-month high after topping $1,280 an ounce, and the metal posted its best monthly gain in almost two years. December’s rally has pared an annual decline, the first full-year loss since 2015. The precious metal gained ground this quarter as world equities plunged and doubts stacked up about the pace of economic growth in 2019

The precious metal gained ground this quarter as world equities plunged and doubts stacked up about the pace of economic growth in 2019. A weakening dollar in December aided the rally amid expectations the Federal Reserve will dial back the pace of rate increases next year. That’s also helped to boost holdings in gold-backed exchange-traded funds.

“For gold prices, I think there is upside to be seen in 2019,” Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG Asia Pte., told Bloomberg TV on Monday, citing prospects for fewer tightening moves from the U.S. central bank. “It does look like one where we will see a slackening of expectations in Fed hikes.”

Gold futures for February delivery hit $1,286.50 an ounce on the Comex on Monday, the highest price for a most-active contract since June. It settled little changed at $1,281.30 an ounce at 1:30 p.m. in New York, ending the month 4.5 percent higher.

U.S.-China Wrangling

Prices held their ground even after U.S. President Donald Trump struck an upbeat tone on his trade dispute with China, one of the lingering threats to growth going into next year. Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke at length by phone Saturday, with each expressing satisfaction.

A bullish breakout will take prices toward $1,309 in the current term, according to Benjamin Lu, an analyst at Phillip Futures Pte. Haven demand will “remain vigorous” in the first quarter on economic and geopolitical concerns, he said.

Adding to the bulls’ case, data showed manufacturing in Asia’s top economy shrank. China’s Purchasing Managers Index fell to 49.4 in December, lower than expected and below the level of 50 that signals contraction.

Among other precious metals, silver futures for March delivery rose 0.7 percent to $15.54 an ounce, after reaching the highest level for a most-active contract since August. A rally of more than 9 percent this month has eroded an annual drop. Platinum posted a full-year decline, while palladium had its third consecutive annual increase and traded on Monday just below a record hit earlier this month.

(By Jake Lloyd-Smith and Krystal Chia)