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Gold steadies ahead of Fed meeting

Key Points
  • Money managers cut net gold, silver long positions
  • Investors look to monetary policy as the Federal Reserve gets set to meet for a two-day meeting starting Tuesday

Gold steadied below $1,250 an ounce on Monday after its biggest weekly drop in more than six months, with moves muted ahead of an expected interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve this week.

Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,244.77 per ounce. U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled down $1.50, or 0.1 percent, at $1,246.90 per ounce.

Spot prices fell 2.5 percent last week, their biggest weekly drop since May. The Fed is widely tipped to lift rates at its two-day policy meeting ending Wednesday, but its accompanying statement will be closely watched for any surprises. The bank is expected to increase rates another two or three times in 2018, but still-sluggish inflation and wage growth has raised question marks over that view.

"The FOMC's policy statement, Fed Chair Yellen's final press conference in charge, and the update to the summary of economic projections will be closely parsed for signs the Fed's longer-term intentions," Mitsubishi analyst Jonathan Butler said.

"Though we expect few major changes to Fed policy until new Fed Chair Powell takes office, dovish language or any caution on the future pace of interest rate hikes ... would give some support to gold by weakening the dollar and lowering Treasury yields."

Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates, as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced. In the wider markets, world stocks rose and equity volatility neared a record low ahead of a raft of central bank rate decisions, while newly launched bitcoin futures shot above $18,000.

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Hedge funds and money managers sharply reduced their net long positions in COMEX gold and silver contracts in the week to Dec. 5, U.S. data showed on Friday.

Net positions in silver fell by the largest amount on record, by 34,915 contracts, Societe Generale said in a report.

"Financial investors were downright fleeing from silver," Commerzbank said in a note. "The silver price has suffered disproportionate losses since mid-November, as is also reflected in the gold/silver ratio, which climbed last week to over 79."

Silver was down 0.5 percent at $15.76 an ounce. Palladium was up 0.2 percent at $1,008.70 an ounce, while platinum was up 0.3 percent at $889.80 an ounce

"Supplies are high, and demand is low," said Phillip Streible, senior market strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago. "Other metals have done better, like palladium." The platinum discount to palladium widened to around $120 on Thursday, the steepest since April 2001.