Safe havens shine as spreading virus spurs rush to buy gold

Gold ETF vaults are swelling.

Gold jumped as the spread of the coronavirus globally spurred demand for haven assets.

Prices rose as much as 1.1% as risk-off sentiment swept markets, with equities and crude oil tumbling. In the latest attempt at containment, China extended the week-long Lunar New Year holiday and banned all outgoing overseas group tours to avoid having travelers contribute to its spread.

President Xi Jinping’s government is under pressure to combat the outbreak that shows little sign of slowing down, with more than a dozen countries and territories reporting the illness within their borders. While the return of risk aversion is supportive of haven assets like bullion, investors are also assessing the extent to which the virus may keep consumers away from shops, damping the usual pick up in gold purchases during the holiday period.

As concerns about the impact of coronavirus mount, investors have boosted holdings in exchange-traded funds backed by gold to the highest since November

“News flow on the virus is pushing safe haven buying,” Gnanasekar Thiagarajan, director at Commtrendz Risk Management Services, said by phone from Mumbai. “In this kind of a environment, stock markets could tank and that fear is further adding to the risk-averse sentiment. The outlook is bullish for gold, targeting $1,610 in the near term.”

European futures retreated over 1% and S&P 500 contracts posted slightly more modest losses, while futures on Chinese shares fell more than 5%. Ten-year Treasury yields and West Texas crude both hit their lowest levels since October, and the yen climbed.

“Markets are focused on news around the deadly coronavirus,” Bank of New Zealand said in a report. “There will clearly be a significant economic impact, centered in China. A key question is the time it will take for the virus to be contained and one can only speculate at this stage.”

As concerns about the impact of coronavirus mount, investors have boosted holdings in exchange-traded funds backed by gold to the highest since November, with the assets now less than 25 tons shy of a record. Adding to the momentum, the Federal Reserve is gearing up for its first rate-setting meeting this year, where it’s expected to maintain easy monetary policy, and the World Gold Council will offer its assessment of global demand trends.

Spot gold traded 0.5% higher at $1,578.54 an ounce at 3:26 p.m. in Hong Kong. Silver rose 0.5% and platinum fell.

Palladium dropped 1.6%, extending its pullback from an all-time high. Even before virus fears weighed on markets, some analysts said prices were set for a pullback as technical gauges showed the rally was stretched.

(By Phoebe Sedgman and Swansy Afonso)

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