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Did gold ever lose its safe haven status?

GP Kidd | Cultura | Getty Images

Gold has rallied around 14 percent year to date, and while some analysts are saying the metal's safe-haven status has been firmly restored, others argue it was never lost in the first place.

Tension between Russia and Ukraine, combined with China's first bond default in recent history, have prompted a surge of investor appetite for safe-haven assets like gold and the Japanese yen this year.

Gold, up over 2 percent this week and trading near a six-month high earlier on Thursday, is now one of the best performing asset classes in 2014, a stark contrast from the pounding it took last year.

(Read more: What could heat up gold prices this week)

"The continued recovery in the price of gold confirms that it has retained its safe-haven status despite the slump in the first half of 2013," said Capital Economics in a note.

"The collapse in the gold price in 2013 prompted some (not us) to conclude that it had lost its safe-haven status. Safe-haven status is confirmed in bad times, not good, and gold has again passed that test," it added.

Gold's performance over the past 12 months.

2013 was a dire year for gold investors, its worst since 1981, as the precious metal plunged 34 percent from April to June. The sell-off was driven by heavy selling of exchange traded funds as investors saw the onset of tapering by the Federal Reserve dampening inflation expectations.

Many industry commentators have argued gold had lost its safe haven status in recent years, a call that came into focus again last year when it fell along with other risk assets.

Dominic Schnider, head of non-traditional asset classes at UBS, agreed with Capital Economics and said he believed the yellow metal had never lost its safe-haven status.

"We can't so bluntly say that gold has regained its safe haven status, because it never lost its tail risk insurance characteristics," Schnider told CNBC.

(Read more: Bullish bets on bullion at highest since 2012)

"Gold has always been a hedge against sharply higher inflation (negative real interest rates), ballooning of central bank balance sheets and broad dollar weakness. All those three factors are still very influential drivers that move the price of gold," he added.

Schnider pointed out that gold's rally this year underscored its safe haven characteristics again this year.

He said uncertainty in equity market and technical factors contributed to gold's rally this year.

"A helping hand for the futures market to push prices up came from Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) investors, which stopped selling gold and started to build up some allocation towards the end of February and early March," he added.

(Read more: Now that gold touched $1,300, here's what's next)

However, the UBS analyst doesn't expect the bullish run to last long.

He told CNBC that ETF selling will resume as investors price in U.S. interest rate hikes in 12 months' time, while Chinese buying, which has also helped prop up prices, will decline. Furthermore an improvement in pro-risk sentiment will reduce gold's appeal as a form of insurance.

"Eventually I think gold will hit marginal production cost (cash cost level) of between $1,000 to $1,200 an ounce," he said.

But Capital Economics analysts said they expected gold to continue its rally to reach $1,450 an ounce this year.

The analysts acknowledged that the recent spurt of safe haven buying could be fleeting, but even in its absence the easing of restrictions in India will help boost demand, they said.

By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie

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