New York/London: Gold rose almost 2 percent on Friday, hitting its highest price in more than two months near USD 1,400 an ounce, as a big drop in US new home sales renewed hopes that the Federal Reserve will maintain its bond-buying economic stimulus.
For the week, gold gained 1.6 percent for its third consecutive weekly rise. It has climbed in six out of the past seven weeks since gold fell to a three-year low at USD 1,180 an ounce on June 28.
Silver outperformed gold to rally nearly 4 percent to a 3-1/2-month high as the dollar fell and US Treasury bond yields dropped. It also rose above the USD 24 mark for the first time since May 9.
Sales of new single-family homes in the United States fell more than 13 percent in July to their lowest level in nine months. The Commerce Department data was much weaker than expected, even during a month when Fed stimulus remained in place.
"The new home sales number is terrible, so the fear is clearly that higher interest rate (are) going to topple this housing recovery, which means the Fed has to ease and not tighten," said Axel Merk, portfolio manager of Merk Funds which has around USD 500 million in currency mutual-fund assets.
Bullion also drew support when three Fed officials expressed divergent views on when to reduce the central bank's USD 85 billion monthly bond buying. Investors have been trying to predict what will happen at a Fed policy meeting next month.
Spot gold rose 1.6 percent to USD 1,396.56 an ounce by 2:15 p.m. EDT, having hit USD 1,398.20, the highest price since June 7.
US Comex gold futures for December delivery settled up USD 25 at USD 1,395.80 an ounce, with Comex trading volume about 20 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.
In electronic trade, the most-active contract hit USD 1,400 per ounce level.
Some analysts said that gold's recent rallies in thin trading suggest gains could fizzle easily, especially with the Fed's planned stimulus cut and overall improvement in global economic conditions.
Silver rose 4 percent to USD 24.04 an ounce, having hit a high of USD 24.08, which marked the highest since May 9.
ASIAN DEMAND SUBDUED
In mining news, South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is consulting its membership on a strike in the gold industry, which could start next week, halting production for the country's main mineral export.
Demand in top buyers India and China has been subdued ahead of the traditional major gold-buying events in Asia, driven by India's Hindu festivals and peak wedding season, and as jewelers start to stockpile ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Premiums in Hong Kong, the key supplier of gold to China, have fallen to about USD 4 an ounce over London spot prices as of Friday, dealers said, from USD 5 last week.