Gold bars are seen in this file photograph. Spot gold touched its highest since December 2012 at $1,702.56 on Monday. Picture: REUTERS
Gold bars are seen in this file photograph. Spot gold touched its highest since December 2012 at $1,702.56 on Monday. Picture: REUTERS

Bengaluru — Gold prices rose above the $1,700 per ounce level on Monday for the first time in more than seven years, after a stock market rout due to concerns over a widening coronavirus outbreak and its economic impact drove investors towards safe-haven assets.

Spot gold rose 0.7% to $1,686.22 per ounce by 5.25am, having touched its highest since December 2012 at $1,702.56 earlier in the session. US gold futures gained 0.9% to $1,687.80 per ounce.

“It is a massive flight to safety as the Chinese trade data was really bad, much worse than expected, Italy quarantined a quarter of their population [due to the coronavirus] and stock markets are down,” said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at Oanda.

China’s exports contracted sharply in the first two months of the year while imports declined, data showed on Saturday, as the virus caused huge disruptions to business operations, global supply chains and economic activity.

Global equities tumbled, while US stock futures plunged 5% as investors sought refuge in safe havens to hedge the economic shock of the epidemic. The yen jumped to its highest in more than three years against the dollar, while US 10-year Treasury yields fell to a record low.

Meanwhile, Italy ordered a virtual lockdown across much of its wealthy north on Sunday, in an attempt to contain the outbreak, which will affect about 16-million people and stay in force until April 3.

A Reuters poll showed that the virus, which has now infected more than 100,000 people worldwide, likely halved China’s economic growth in the current quarter compared with the previous three months.

“Gold is further supported by concerns that the slowdown of the global economy from the coronavirus would continue and central banks would keep rates low,” Phillip Futures analysts said in a note.

Markets are expecting another rate cut from the US Federal Reserve at its policy meeting on March 18, after last week’s emergency easing.

However, a slump in crude oil prices sent deflationary shocks in the market and restricted bullion’s upside, Oanda’s Halley said, adding that investment flows are concentrated towards gold as silver is less liquid, and in turn, less attractive in comparison.

Oil fell about 25% on Monday, and gold is often seen as a hedge against oil-led inflation.

Silver slipped 0.9% to $17.15 per ounce. Palladium fell 2.7% to $2,498.37 per ounce, while platinum was down 1.1% to $890.51.