Gold gains as new COVID-19 variant lifts safe-haven demand

Spot gold was up 0.5% at $1,797.46 per ounce

  
Gold bars are seen in this picture illustration taken at the Czech National Bank in Prague January 31, 2011. Image used for illustrative purpose

Gold bars are seen in this picture illustration taken at the Czech National Bank in Prague January 31, 2011. Image used for illustrative purpose

REUTERS/Petr Josek

Gold prices gained on Friday, as concerns over the spread of a newly identified coronavirus variant boosted the metal's safe-haven appeal, although bullion was set for a weekly drop on growing bets the U.S. Federal Reserve could turn more hawkish.

Spot gold was up 0.5% at $1,797.46 per ounce, as of 0445 GMT. U.S. gold futures advanced 0.8% to $1,797.70.

The variant, detected by scientists in South Africa, may be able to evade immune responses and has prompted Britain to hurriedly introduce travel restrictions on the African nation. 

Further aiding gold's climb, the dollar index eased 0.2% from a 16-month peak scaled earlier this week, while U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury yields also weakened.

A weaker dollar reduces gold's cost to buyers holding other currencies, while lower yields decrease the non-yielding metal's opportunity cost.

But the metal lost 2.6% so far this week, heading for its worst week since Aug. 6, hammered by increased expectations that the Fed could taper its asset purchases and raise interest rates at a faster pace. 

"A rate hike cycle is generally negative for gold, but we have to keep an eye on this new COVID variant - if it spreads to the United States, that could weaken growth and I can't see the Fed hiking rates in that environment," Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management said.

However, COVID-related growth concerns and the prospect for quicker U.S. rate hikes should weaken riskier currencies and ultimately support the dollar, hurting gold, Innes added.

Goldman expects the Fed to double the pace of tapering its monthly bond purchases from January to $30 billion, and end those purchases by mid-March. 

Spot silver fell 0.1% to $23.56 per ounce. Platinum dropped 1.2% to $983.53, while palladium rose 0.9% to $1,877.11.

(Reporting by Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Sherry Jacob-Phillips) ((nakul.iyer@thomsonreuters.com; Within U.S. +1 646 223 8780, Outside U.S. +91 80 6749 0417; Reuters Messaging: nakul.iyer.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))


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