Gold hits three-week high as virus fears spur flight to safety

A mark of 999.9 fine sits on hallmarked one kilogram gold bullion bars at the Valcambi SA precious metal refinery in Lugano, Switzerland, on April 24, 2018.
Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Gold climbed to a near three-week high on Monday as mounting concerns over the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak sent investors scurrying for safe havens.

Spot gold was up 0.4% at $1,577.31 per ounce. Prices rose to $1,586.43, the highest level since Jan. 8, earlier in the session. U.S. gold futures settled 0.3% higher at $1,577.4 per ounce.

"Safe-haven buying has been triggered by this virus in China and we're seeing a big sell-off in equity markets ... It's mostly panic, the markets are looking at the prospect of the Chinese economy slowing down," said Edward Meir, analyst at ED&F Man Capital Markets. "We could hit the recent highs above $1,600s if this thing deteriorates."

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 81 in China, with 2,800 confirmed cases, and the virus has spread to more than 10 countries, including the United States and France.

U.S. stocks opened more than 1% lower, while U.S. 10-year Treasury yields fell to their lowest level in more than three months.

"The main trend (in gold) remains bullish, with the short-term correction seen in the last few weeks seemingly over, increasing the chance of the price achieving a new 7-year-high in the next few weeks," ActivTrades Chief analyst Carlo Alberto De Casa said in a note.

Gold scaled a near 7-year high of $1,610.90 per ounce earlier in the month after an Iranian general was killed in an U.S. airstrike, but the rally was short-lived.

Investors will be watching the U.S. Federal Reserve's first policy meeting of this year on Jan. 28-29, where it is widely expected to keep rates unchanged.

In other metals, deficit-hit palladium dropped 5.8% to $2,287.46 per ounce. Platinum fell 1.8% to $983.76 per ounce.

"Palladium had seen a big run until now, it can't go up forever. Somewhere some correction has to happen," ED&F Man Capital Markets' Meir said.

Silver fell 0.2% to $18.05 per ounce, having earlier touched its highest level since Jan. 8 at $18.33.