Gold hit a near six-month high on Wednesday, as fears of more corporate defaults in China and the geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia, Ukraine and the West hurt equity markets, boosting the metal's appeal as an insurance against risk.

Spot gold rose as much as 1.3 percent to its highest since Sept. 20 at $1,366.90 an ounce in earlier trading and was up 1.2 percent at $1,365.36 an ounce by 1256 GMT.

U.S. gold futures rose over 1 percent to a near six-month high of $1,367.30 an ounce, before trading at $1,365.90, up 1.4 percent.

"The increase in Asian physical gold demand over the past 10 years has been largely due to the huge rise in wealth in that region, so you would think anything that disrupts growth would negatively affect gold demand," Macquarie analyst Matthew Turner said.

"However, until we see that an element of Western safe-haven buying because of the knock-on effect it is having on equities and currencies seems to be the dominant driver."

European equities tumbled on worries over global growth, while the dollar fell 0.1 against a basket of main currencies and yields on 10-year U.S. treasuries moved lower at around 2.7 percent.

China's first bond default and weak data on exports have stoked concerns about the health of the world's second-biggest economy, sending London copper prices to their lowest in 44 months. Copper is often put up as collateral for lending.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia are also weighing on appetite for risk globally on a growing chance of western sanctions over Crimea.

The Group of Seven advanced economies will demand that Russia halt efforts to annex Ukraine's Crimea region in a statement to be issued later on Wednesday.

Bullion has gained 13 percent this year following a 28 percent drop in 2013, benefiting from worries about signs of soft economic growth in the United States and China.

The market was now awaiting the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy meeting on March 18-19. The central bank is most likely to announce another $10 billion cut to its bond-buying stimulus after a series of U.S. economic data showing that growth has been hurt by severe cold weather.

"With the Chinese New Year and the U.S. weather we have been in a bit of a data vacuum and events (like Ukraine, China) have become much more important for gold and those have been on the bullish side," Turner said.

"The following month will be crucial to assess if the U.S. economy is really accelerating and to see what the Fed new outlook is and also how Chinese demand is going to hold up."

In a sign of investor confidence in bullion, gold-backed exchange-traded products saw inflows of $500 million in February, a reversal from 13 consecutive months of outflows, according to BlackRock.

PHYSICAL MARKETS

Demand for physical bullion and jewellery has fallen due to the jump in prices.

In China, the world's biggest gold consumer, local prices are at a discount to spot prices of about $3 an ounce. Demand has waned since the Lunar New Year holiday, before which prices were at a premium of $20.

In other precious metals, silver gained 1.2 percent to $21.07 an ounce.

Platinum was up 0.8 percent at $1,468.99 an ounce, while palladium rose 0.3 percent to $760.70 an ounce.