Gold in ‘flux’ until taper timeline gets clearer

Gold headed for gains this week: CNBC poll

Gold prices will remain listless for the remainder of the year as investors await more visibility on when the U.S. Federal Reserve will start cutting bond purchases, analysts say.

Bullion prices largely defied expectations for a sharp drop following forecast-beating U.S. jobs numbers, which some said may signal an earlier withdrawal of stimulus measures by the Federal Reserve.

The metal traded in a wide range on Friday, dropping sharply to five-month lows after strong U.S. jobs data but ending the day higher on short-covering, Reuters reported. Spot gold rose 0.14 percent to $1,229.90 an ounce at 12.20 pm Singapore time.

(Read more: Gold: the not-so precious metal of 2013)

U.S. employers added 203,000 new jobs in November, exceeding expectations, while the jobless rate fell to a five-year low of 7.0 percent, the Labor Department said on Friday.

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Prices may rise modestly in the near-term as gold bulls keep alive the prospect of a later taper since the data has to signal growth that's strong enough to allow the Fed to cut bond purchases.

"Gold is holding its own for now because the jobs report was not good enough to end the tapering timetable guessing game," said Edmund Moy, chief strategist with gold-backed IRA provider Morgan Gold.

(Read more: Gold suffers worst November since 1978)

"Look for gold prices to be in flux until the Fed, perhaps at their December meeting, gives clearer signals about when they start tapering," added Moy, a former director of the U.S. Mint.


CNBC's latest survey of market sentiment showed 53 percent of respondents (9 out of 17) expect prices to gain this week, 35 percent (6 out of 17) say prices will fall while 12 percent (2 out of 17) say prices will trade at around current levels.

The bottom for gold

The short-term positive view for gold is reinforced by data from IG Markets showing 76 percent of clients with open positions expect gold prices to rise.

"I don't expect the Fed to taper in December," said Kelly Teoh, market strategist at IG Markets in Singapore. "Underlying weakness persists in the U.S. economy with Q4 looking difficult. Fed members will always convey the message that they would like to taper but it's a different matter when it comes to pulling the trigger."

(Read more: Goldman predicts steep losses for gold in 2014)

Despite the metal's apparent resilience in the face of an upbeat jobs number, gold bulls are circumspect.

"There are too many unknowns to determine the long-term direction for the market," said Scott Carter, chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Lear Capital, who's adopting a 'neutral' position on gold for the week ahead.

"We may need to clear the holidays, establish (Janet) Yellen as the new Fed chair and see where that takes us," Carter said. "The picture will be clearer in mid-January. I think the trend line is net bullish for gold given debt, QE [quantitative easing] and a weak economy."

By CNBC's Sri Jegarajah. Follow him on Twitter: @cnbcSri