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Gold hits 10th annual gain; silver surges in 2010

Gold bars

SEBASTIAN DERUNGS/AFP/Getty Images

Gold rose to within $10 of a record high on Friday, closing out an unprecedented tenth annual gain as the combination of a weaker dollar and global economic uncertainty seemed to pave the way higher next year.

The entire precious metals complex had a stellar run in 2010, led by palladium's 97 per cent rise, in a broad commodities rally that pushed the 19-commodity Reuters-Jefferies CRB index up 15 per cent.

Spot silver, too, swept higher for an 83 per cent gain on the year, as investors sought the white metal as an alternative to gold. It was the best-performing assets in the CRB, hitting a 30-year peak of $30.92 on Friday.

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Spot gold moved up to $1,418.85 an ounce by 2:22 EST (1905 GMT), up 1.06 per cent from the previous close at $1,403.99, and a 29.4 per cent advance over 2009. Bullion prices were on track for their fifth straight month of gains, the longest stretch of monthly increases since late 2001.

U.S. February gold futures settled 2010 at $1,421.40 an ounce, up $15.50, or 1.1 per cent, and marked a 29.7 per cent gain over 2009's settlement when the active gold contract ended at $1,096.2 on the COMEX division of the NYMEX.

Friday's gains were spurred by the dollar's broad decline against a basket of currencies, as investors closed their books on 2010. But the U.S. currency still managed to end a volatile year a bit firmer.

"The gold price remains well supported by a weaker dollar and solid investment demand," said Anne-Laure Tremblay, precious metals strategist at BNP Paribas.

"We expect the gold price rally to continue into 2011 on the back of strong fundamentals, including inflationary pressures (notably in China), ample liquidity and concerns about the value of the dollar," she added.

Traders and analysts expect gold to break above $1,500 in 2011, particularly if the dollar extends its decline, the U.S. economy remains unable to generate enough jobs to lower unemployment and Europe's debt crisis is not diffused.

"As for next year, I'm thinking gold could trade firmly over the next quarter or two. And then have the potential to see some weakness in the second half of the year," said Tom Pawlicki, precious metals analyst at MF Global in Chicago.

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He said he thinks gold investors will remain focused on sovereign debt issues, and Chinese and central bank buying of gold, along with quantitative easing enhancing gold's luster.

But eventually those issues will get played out, he added and an increase in the negative real yields that have been benefited gold in 2010 could work against precious metals plays in 2011 as economic growth begins to pick up.

"If short-term yields start rising because the economy gets better or because monetary policy gets normalized that may take away that negative yield argument for holding gold and add pressure later in the year," said Pawlicki. Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, fell to 1,280.722 tonnes by Dec 30, its lowest since early June.

Spot palladium surged to a nine-year high at $799.47 an ounce, and platinum , at $1,766.24, was up 20 per cent on the year.

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