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Gold hits 2-week high as rate cut seen spurring Chinese buying

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Gold rose to its highest level in nearly two weeks on Monday, backed by firm Chinese demand after a weekend interest rate cut in China aimed at shoring up the economy, which some analysts said could also benefit bullion.

"The prospects of better growth and stronger income should boost gold-buying in China," said Howie Lee, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

Spot gold was up 0.8 percent at $1,221.81 an ounce by 0234 GMT, just off a session high of $1,223.20, its loftiest since Feb. 17. It fell 5.5 percent in February, its biggest monthly loss since September.

Gold bounced back from a seven-week low last week following the return of Chinese buyers from the Feb. 18-24 Lunar New Year break.

The price has since found support above $1,200. Premiums for physical gold at the Shanghai Gold Exchange stayed firm at around $4-$5 an ounce over the global spot benchmark on Monday.

U.S. gold for April delivery gained 0.7 percent to $1,221.90 an ounce.

China's central bank said the 25 basis point cut in the benchmark lending and deposit rates "does not represent a change in the direction of monetary policy".

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"We do not rule out another 25 bps rate cut alongside further RRR (reserve requirement ratio) easing in the next 3-6 months if oil prices stabilize and food inflation remains under wraps," Mizuho Bank said in a note.

Lee expects China's gold imports to improve this year after falling to 813.13 tons last year from a record 1,158.16 tonnes in 2013.

"2014 was a disastrous year, given the excessive buying in 2013. This year there should be a normalization of buying in China," he said.

Gold may struggle to keep gains if Friday's U.S. non-farm payrolls data "proves to be exceptional again", added Lee. Expectations of a U.S. interest rate rise amid an improving economy led by gains in its labor market have weighed on gold prices.

On Friday, fourth-quarter U.S. economic growth was revised down to a 2.2 percent annual pace from 2.6 percent.

Elsewhere, India will introduce gold deposit accounts to utilize the 20,000 tons available within the country and launch a sovereign gold bond, but it kept the import duty at a record 10 percent in a setback for jewelers.