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(LISI NIESNER/REUTERS)
(LISI NIESNER/REUTERS)

Technical selling sends gold below $1,600 Add to ...

Gold prices finished nearly 1.8 per cent lower on Friday, extending a week-long trend when several bearish factors, including a rising dollar ahead of the G20 meeting, conspired to push prices below key chart support levels to lows last seen in August.

Softer investor appetite for the precious metal, a dearth of physical demand from China during its Lunar New Year holiday and gains in the dollar pushed the precious metal down more than 3.7 per cent this week, its biggest weekly decline since May.

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Early selling provoked technically driven selling when several key support levels were ruptured on the way down.

“This is basically technical selling pressure. We’re going into a long weekend and you’ve got people squaring up positions in what is most likely thin holiday trading,” said Sean McGillivray, head of asset allocation for Great Pacific Wealth Management in Oregon.

Spot gold repaired some of its earlier losses, to stabilize around $1,605.75 (U.S.) an ounce, after falling as low as $1,598.04 an ounce, its weakest since Aug. 19. By 1910 GMT, it was off 1.76 per cent after tumbling over 2 per cent earlier.

It was bullion’s biggest one-day drop since November.

U.S. gold futures for April delivery were down $28 an ounce at $1,607.50, a 1.71-per-cent drop. It slid to a low of $1,596.7, a level last seen in mid-August.

“The 1,625 level was a big support and once that was broken, stop-selling orders kicked off, and now we are in a new range of $1,550 to $1,625,” said Adrien Biondi, head of precious metals trading at Commerzbank.

Sell stops are automatic technical selling signals that start after prices break through key support levels, which allow traders to limit losses in a falling market.

Thinner volumes likely accounted for a steeper decline than usual with Chinese players still on holiday and U.S. players heading out for the President’s Day holiday on Monday.

Chinese traders, however, were expected to take advantage of the lower prices to replenish stocks when they return on Monday from their week-long Lunar New Year celebrations.

A firmer dollar against the yen and the euro also weighed on the metal after data showing manufacturing in New York state expanded in February for the first time in seven months.

The yen fell on expectations that the Group of 20 finance leaders this weekend will avoid targeting Japan over policies that have weakened its currency, while oil prices sank on signs of lagging economic activity.

Investment interest in gold has suffered in recent months after the latest monetary easing measures from the Federal Reserve failed to push prices above $1,800 an ounce, and as U.S. economic data took on a firmer tone.

Gold investment has also softened on signs that the United States and Chinese economies are picking up, while investors have already priced in European debt and economic weakness.

Soros cuts stake in SPDR, Paulson holds

Data released on Thursday showed billionaire investor George Soros had cut his holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold exchange-traded fund, by more than half in the fourth quarter, while GLD’s biggest shareholder John Paulson left his holdings unchanged.

A few others also cut exposure to gold, including investment fund PIMCO and Tiger Management’s Julian Robertson, who dissolved his entire stake in Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF.

Noting that the data showed fund activity from a quarter ago, Mr. McGillivray said, it was likely that only small speculators may have take some positions off after seeing the report.

“Guys that are fundamentally long gold are going to stay long until we see a significant rise in interest rates or a strong dollar policy.” he said.

The SPDR’s holdings fell 0.23 per cent on Thursday from Wednesday, while those of the largest silver-backed ETF, New York’s iShares Silver Trust, rose 0.26 per cent during the same period.

Gold investors will be watching for news that major powers will offer a plan to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals with Iran in return for Iranian steps to shut down its Fordow uranium enrichment plant, Western officials said.

In other precious metals, platinum and palladium followed the rest of the complex lower.

Spot platinum declined to a two-week low of $1,666.50 an ounce and was last seen at $1,675 an ounce, down 2 per cent. Palladium was down 1.25 per cent at $753.50, retreating from a new best since September 2011 at $775 hit on Wednesday.

Spot silver fell to a six-week low of $29.65 an ounce, and held around those levels in late trade.

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