Oil, metals fall on inflation, fear; gold up

LONDON - Oil, most industrial metals and grains fell on Wednesday as worries over a deepening recession and high inflation sent investors rushing to the safe haven of gold which rose to a seven-month high.

By (Reuters)

Published: Wed 18 Feb 2009, 10:13 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 3:55 AM

U.S. oil prices slid towards $34 a barrel, extending Tuesday’s nearly 7 percent losses, on slumping demand and bloated inventories. [O/R

U.S. crude for March delivery fell 17 cents to $34.76 a barrel at 1233 GMT, while London Brent crude for April delivery rose 48 cents to $41.51 a barrel.

Spot gold hit a high of $973.50, its strongest since July 22, and was quoted at $964.60/966.20 an ounce at 1227 GMT down from $968.35 in New York on Tuesday. Analysts said gold was gathering steam to head higher.

“We believe this is purely a flight to safety, with people desperate to put their money somewhere they can get liquidity and get their money back,” Standard Chartered analyst Daniel Smith said.

The ratio of gold to oil, an indicator of how bad a recession is and whether the outlook is deteriorating or improving, widened on Wednesday to 28 for the first time since 1988, according to Reuters data. The ratio has doubled in the past two months.

Gold is often viewed as a hedge against inflation and economic turmoil. During the early 1980s, the price of bullion also surged because of intense inflation fuelled by an oil supply crisis in the Middle East.

Diversification into gold out of traditional asset classes such as stocks, bonds and currencies by many non-gold investment funds has driven holdings of the popular bullion-backed, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to record highs.

A World Gold Council report released on Wednesday showed physical gold demand rose sharply in the second half of 2008. Identifiable investment demand for gold, which includes ETFs, bars and coins, was up 64 percent in 2008 over the year before.


“People are worried about their assets, worried about their savings, and scared about the banking system, and they are looking for protection,” the council’s investment research manager Rozanna Wozniakshe told Reuters.

“Further out, there is still the prospect of inflation, particularly given that many governments are having to fund very large fiscal deficits.”

The U.S. government will need to borrow more than $2 trillion to finance a bank rescue plan and to enact an aggressive package to stimulate the world’s biggest economy and help reverse a global slowdown.

The slowdown has devastated demand for most commodities, and physical stocks are piling up in warehouses and pushing down prices.

The U.S Energy Information Administration will release its weekly inventory data report on Thursday, but a Reuters poll of analysts on Tuesday showed an average forecast for an increase of 2.6 million barrels, nearing an 11-year high.

Aluminium prices fell after inventories jumped to a record high. Aluminium, used in the auto and construction industries, has lost more than half of its value since July 2008, putting pressure on major producers.

Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro’s fourth-quarter earnings plunged, and it sees demand in its main markets remaining depressed for the rest of the year.

But copper, used in construction and power, rose after stocks of the metal recorded their first big fall since October.

Copper for delivery in three months on the London Metal Exchange firmed to $3,219.50 a tonne from $3,185 a tonne on Tuesday, when it fell to its lowest since early February.

Prices of most commodities have slumped since the third quarter of last year, with copper losing about 60 percent since a record-high $8,940 a tonne in July.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, which tracks commodity futures across 19 markets, fell 4.6 percent to its lowest level since June 2002 on Tuesday.

But investors seeing the bottom of the collapse in commodity prices drawing near, should hang fire and remain focused on equities, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a research note.

The investment bank said rising forward price curves for commodities, also known as contango markets, meant speculating in the asset class was still risky and investors would be better placed putting their money in mining and energy equities.

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