Gold jumps as possible global trade war shakes markets

Key Points
  • Gold prices gained as much as 1 percent on Friday.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump took a step towards long-promised anti-China tariffs.
  • China has targeted $3 billion of U.S. imports in retaliation.
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Gold prices surged to a one-month high on Friday as the threat of a global trade war sent investors scrambling for safe assets.

Spot gold was up 1.38 percent at $1,346.90 an ounce by 4:15 p.m. EST, having hit its highest since Feb. 20 at $1,343.06. U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled up $22.50, or 1.7 percent, at $1,349.90 per ounce.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed a memorandum on Thursday that could impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of imports from China, prompting Beijing to urge the United States to "pull back from the brink."

The tariffs have a 30-day consultation period, leaving room for compromise, but investors fear a trade war between the world's two largest economies could develop with potentially dire consequences for global growth.

Global markets were further rattled by Trump's appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor. Bolton has previously advocated using military force against North Korea and Iran.

World stock markets, the U.S. dollar and U.S. bond yields all fell. "Risk aversion is currently the name of the game in financial markets," said Peter Fertig, analyst at Quantitative Commodity Research. "Markets are looking for safe havens."

Markets selling off on fears of trade war
Markets selling off on fears of trade war

Gold is traditionally seen as a safe place to park assets in times of uncertainty. Dollar-denominated bullion is also helped by a weaker U.S. currency and by lower bond yields, which make non-yielding gold more attractive.

Gold prices had risen strongly this week after the U.S. Federal Reserve gave guidance on the pace of interest rate rises that was less aggressive than some investors had expected.

Higher interest rates push up bond yields and tend to strengthen the dollar, so a slower pace of increases to interest rates is good for gold prices.

Gold was up 2.1 percent on the week, the biggest weekly gain in five weeks, and not far from a 1-1/2-year high of $1,366.07 touched in January.

In other precious metals, silver was up 1.56 percent at $16.615 an ounce, up 1.3 percent this week. Platinum gained 1.3 percent to $951.74 an ounce and was set for a weekly gain of 1 percent.

Platinum's discount to gold on Friday hit its highest since Reuters data began in 1985. Platinum was $387 an ounce cheaper than gold, having traded at an average premium of $151 an ounce over the past 30 years.

Palladium firmed by 0.56 percent to $985.50 an ounce.