Gold climbs on war worries; US stocks shake off early loss


(Photo: AP)

Gold touched its highest price in nearly seven years Monday as investors sought safety amid worries that rising US-Iran tensions could lead to war.

Stocks in Asia and Europe retreated as dollars flowed out of riskier investments, but the US market shook off its morning losses to grind out a modest gain. After dropping 0.6% as soon as trading opened, the S&P 500 pushed steadily higher through the day and ended up recovering half its sharp loss from Friday.

The S&P 500 climbed 11.43 points, or 0.4%, to 3,246.28. The Dow Jones Industrial Average erased an early morning loss of 216 points en route to a gain of 68.50 points, or 0.2%, to 28,703.38, and the Nasdaq composite rose 50.70 points, or 0.6%, to 9,071.46.

Caution has been seeping through markets since early Friday, when a US drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. Both the United States and Iran have since talked up the threat of violence, which pushed up the price of gold as money flowed into investments seen as safer. Gold neared $1,591 per ounce during morning trading and reached its highest level since April 2013.

Gold settled at $1,566.20 per ounce, up $17, and it’s climbed more than $40 since before Soleimani’s killing.

Gold has historically performed well around past military conflicts, such as the two Persian Gulf wars and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, even after taking into account interest rates and the dollar’s movements, according to Goldman Sachs commodities analysts.

“The escalation in the Middle East was both unexpected and unwelcome,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at trading platform OANDA Europe. “Investors are now fully in defensive mode, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.”

US stocks seemed set to fall a second straight day Monday on those same worries, but gains for oil producers and big internet companies made up for drops by industrial companies and banks.

Oil prices have climbed in recent days because any potential violence in the Middle East could disrupt oilfields in the region. Benchmark US crude oil rose 22 cents to settle at $63.27 per barrel, adding to big gains from Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 31 cents to $68.91 per barrel.

That helped drive energy stocks in the S&P 500 to a 0.8% gain, the second-largest among the 11 sectors that make up the index. EOG Resources jumped 4.1%, Occidental Petroleum rose 3.3% and Halliburton gained 2.5%.

Healthy gains for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also helped lift the market.

Besides waiting for the next step in the clash between the United States and Iran, several big economic reports are on the schedule this upcoming week that could move markets. The headliner is Friday’s jobs report from the government.

Solid job growth has helped support the US economy, even as trade wars hurt manufacturing around the world, and economists expect Friday’s report to show that employers added 155,000 jobs last month. The healthy job market is one of the reasons the S&P 500 soared to its second-best showing in 22 years in 2019. Big moves by central banks around the world to shield the economy from the pain of trade wars were also big factors.

Overseas stock markets slumped Monday, though the losses moderated as trading headed west with the sun.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 1.9%, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 1% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.8%.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX lost 0.7% and France’s CAC 40 dropped 0.5%. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.6%.

Treasury yields rose and recovered some of their sharp drops from Friday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury climbed to 1.80% from 1.78% late Friday. It had been at 1.88% late Thursday, before Soleimani’s killing.

In the commodities markets, wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.75 per gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to $2.03 per gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to $2.14 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Silver rose 3 cents to $18.10 an ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.80 per pound.

The dollar rose to 108.46 Japanese yen from 108.01 yen on Friday. The euro strengthened to $1.1192 from $1.1166.