Gold rises, set for best week in over a month as virus rapidly spreads

Gold prices hit their highest in seven years on Friday and were set to post their best week in one-and-a-half months, as demand for the safe-heaven asset was boosted by a surge in new coronavirus cases in South Korea.

South Korea reported 52 new cases of the virus, taking the national total to 156, while Japan reported the first fatalities from aboard a cruise ship that accounts for the biggest cluster of infections outside China.

Spot gold rose 0.4 per cent to $ 1,625.05 per ounce by 0409 GMT, after hitting its highest since Feb. 2013 at $ 1,626.27 earlier in the session. For the week, prices have risen 2.5 per cent so far and were set to post their biggest weekly percentage gain since Jan. 3.

US gold futures were up 0.4 per cent at $ 1,627.40.

“Main focus for gold seems to be the virus uncertainty … and it’s spread across the world,” said John Sharma, an economist at National Australia Bank, adding the epidemic’s impact on tourism, travel and growth was fuelling demand for gold.

Asian shares fell as news of increased infections in Beijing and abroad sent funds fleeing to the sheltered shores of US assets, lofting the dollar to three-year highs.

“Suddenly with the Korea situation, the Japanese ship and Singapore airlines cutting a lot of their services, this is spreading some fear … not very encouraging in terms of growth, investment, consumer and business confidence,” Sharma said.

Further spread of the epidemic could derail a “highly fragile” projected recovery in the global economy in 2020, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday.

China cut the benchmark lending rate on Thursday to soften the virus’ impact on its economy and is likely to roll out more measures.

Holdings of the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Trust , rose 0.25 per cent to 933.94 tonnes on Thursday, its highest since November 2016.

Spot gold may rise into a range of $ 1,639-$ 1,667 per ounce, said Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.

Among other precious metals, palladium was flat at $ 2,689.06 an ounce, but was up nearly 11 per cent for the week so far, set for its strongest week in over a month.

The autocatalyst metal had risen to an all-time high of $ 2,841.54 earlier in the week on supply concerns.

Silver was up 0.5 per cent at $ 18.44 and was set to register its best week since week ended Aug. 30, while platinum rose 0.2 per cent to $ 980.