Gold rises amid Syria fears, September jitters
Gold broke the key $1400 level and could continue to push higher amid concerns about military action in Syria and ahead of a number of September events that could make markets volatile.
Shimmering for two months now, gold has been helped by investors realigning their portfolios in advance of such things as the Fed's mid-September meeting; budget debates in Congress, and the German election Sept. 22.
Gold made a late day move higher Monday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. believes Syria used chemical weapons on its citizens and that President Obama believes anyone using chemical weapons should be held accountable. Kerry said the U.S. was reviewing what he called a "moral obscenity" with its partners.
"What I call a small fear premium suddenly appeared," said George Gero, analyst at RBC, of the move higher on the Syria news.
The December gold futures contract rose above $1400 in late trading, after closing at $1393.60 per ounce Monday. The metal broke $1400 for the first time in 11 weeks earlier in the trading day and reached an intra-day high of $1406.90.
There are a number of factors affecting the price, and gold is moving as a safe-haven asset and on other fundamental reasons, like the perception China's economy may be improving.
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Weaker economic reports, like Friday's new-home sales and Monday's durable goods, gave gold a boost on speculation the Fed may now refrain from deciding at its Sept. 18 meeting to cut back on its bond buying. That would keep yields lower and stall out the dollar's rise, a positive for gold.Besides concerns about military intervention in Syria, uncertainty about Egypt is providing support. Gold also is being helped by strong physical demand from China, as buyers in India, the world's biggest gold buyer, are sidelined by a weak rupee and higher taxes on gold imports.
"We are kind of on cruise control this week, and then when we come back next week from the U.S. Labor Day holiday, you have Congress coming back in the middle of the month. You have the jobs report. There's some heavy issues here upcoming that's going to impact the marketplace," said Jim Wyckoff, senior analyst at Kitco.
The market is also watching a series of events in September that could give investors pause. For one, Congress will be addressing the budget and will have to vote on a resolution to keep the government funded. While analysts expect a showdown over the debt ceiling later in the year, the discussions could be contentious.
"The investor looks around and says: 'Gee, everything looks a bit dodgy and gold is holding up,'" said Gero. He said gold's selloff Monday was prompted by maneuvering around the expiration of options Tuesday.
Wyckoff is "tepidly bullish" on gold. "We'll probably drift sideways to higher until the jobs report next Friday, and that's the pivot point. It's all going to depend on the strength of the jobs report," he said. "If we see a marked weakening in jobs growth, that's going to throw a scare into those who are expecting the Fed to taper."
Gero said gold has momentum on its side. Gold historically outperforms in September. Since 1990, September has been the best month of the year for gold, rising an average 2.7 percent. The psychological $1,400 area could also be a magnet for investors.
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The next target for gold, once it rises above $1,400, is $1,426, its June high. "If we get above $1,426, you're going to have pretty much smooth sailing to the $1,490 area," Wyckoff said. The May high was $1,490, and if it moves above that, the next target would be $1,517, the 200-day moving average.
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Silver, meanwhile, was up 1.2 percent Monday to just above $24.00 an ounce, and platinum was up $2.50 to $1,544 an ounce.
"Silver is outperforming gold. Silver has more going for it," said Gero. He said silver benefits from its role as both a precious metal and industrial material. "Silver is up, platinum is up because people are looking for better automobile sales coming out of China and traders are reaching for news, and that's all that's going on."
Silver ETF holdings reached a new all-time high last week, according to ETF Securities research.
—By CNBC's Patti Domm. Follow here on Twitter @pattidomm.