Gold Hits 5-Week High

Gold hit five-week highs in Europe on Friday and silver its strongest since 1980 as growing unrest in the Middle East lifted interest in precious metals, though another reserve requirement hike from China curbed gains.

Gold's bounce-back after it fell more than 6% in January has wrong-footed some investors who were waiting for lower price levels to buy into the market, analysts said.

Spot gold <XAU= was at $1,384.55 at 1224 GMT against $1,383.30 late in New York on Wednesday, while U.S. gold futures for April delivery rose 30 cents to $1,385.40.

Silver was at $31.85 against $31.74 after hitting a high of $31.95, a 31-year peak.

Gold earlier hit a five-week peak at $1,388.15 an ounce. It briefly pared gains after China said it was raising lenders' reserve requirements by 50 basis points, but remains firmly underpinned by investment interest in precious metals.

"(There has been) a remarkable move in silver, which has helped gold back towards $1,400," said Saxo Bank senior manager Ole Hansen.

"Middle East/North African unrest was undoubtedly the trigger, but it looks like investors have been waiting for the opportunity to buy at lower levels, and once that opportunity disappeared they returned for fear of missing the move."

Concerns over the political stability of the region has flared this week, with unrest spreading after protests in Tunisia and Egypt unseated leaders there.

Government crackdowns on protesters claimed lives this week in both Libya and Bahrain.

"Support (for gold) will continue to come from tensions in the Middle East, where protesters in Bahrain were dispersed yesterday by the military," said MF Global in a note.

"Similar conditions were seen in Libya and Iran, and discontent is expected to continue to fester in these countries as well as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Iraq."


On the wider markets, the dollar firmed a touch versus the euro. Usually a stronger dollar would weigh on gold, but the usual inverse link between the two has recently weakened.

Financial markets are awaiting this weekend's Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers will discuss imbalances in the global economy.

Silver remains the chief focus of the precious metals complex, however.

"The investor spotlight is firmly focused on silver following recent headlines about producer hedging, in light of bullish industrial demand prospects, and due to the general tightness in the market, which last month flipped silver forwards into backwardation," said Swiss bank UBS in a note.

"All these factors have conspired to tweak investor interest," it added.

The gold:silver ratio -- the number of ounces of silver needed to buy an ounce of gold -- dropped to its lowest in 13 years at 43.48 on Friday, slightly below its 2006 low, Reuters data showed, as silver prices outperformed.

Investment demand for silver-backed exchange-traded funds has shown some signs of stabilising after hefty outflows last month. Holdings in the largest, the iShares Silver Trust, edged up to 10,438.56 tonnes on Thursday from 10,411.23 tonnes.

"We expect silver to continue outperforming gold, and our bullish view for silver is encouraged by the break above the $31.26 high," said Barclays Capital in a note.

"We now look to push higher to our initial target near $33.00 and then the $37.00 area."

Among other precious metals, platinum was at $1,834 an ounce against $1,842.74, while palladium was at $843.97 against $840.97.