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Gold prices rise in strong start to 2024, early rate cuts in focus

Published 01/02/2024, 01:10 PM
Updated 01/02/2024, 01:10 PM
© Reuters. Gold prices rose on Tuesday after seeing strong gains in the last few trading days of 2023, as traders cheered the prospect of early interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve in 2024. 

Spot prices of the yellow metal were trading about $70 an ounce below a record high hit at the beginning of December, as markets welcomed dovish signals from the Fed and ramped up bets that the bank could begin trimming rates by as soon as March 2024. 

But further gains in gold were held back by anticipation of more U.S. economic readings for December, particularly key nonfarm payrolls data, which is due later this week. 

Spot gold rose 0.3% to $2,069.89 an ounce, while gold futures expiring in February rose 0.3% to $2,078.90 an ounce by 23:36 ET (04:36 GMT). 

Nonfarm payrolls awaited for more cues on Fed rate cuts 

Markets were now focused squarely on key nonfarm payrolls data for December, which is due this Friday. The reading is expected to show further cooling in the labor market- a trend that is likely to put more pressure on the Fed to consider cutting rates early. 

The CME’s Fedwatch tool shows traders pricing in an over 70% chance that the Fed will cut rates by 25 basis points in March. But before the March reading, the central bank still has to contend with a slew of economic readings, particularly on inflation and the labor market. 

While both inflation and the labor market cooled substantially through 2023, price pressures still remained well above the Fed’s 2% annual target. The labor space was also running relatively hot. 

Fed officials warned in December that the central bank will need to see more cooling in the two trends to consider trimming interest rates early. Officials also warned that bets on early rate cuts by the Fed were overly optimistic.

But the Fed is still widely expected to trim interest rates eventually in 2024, a scenario that bodes well for gold, given that higher yields push up the opportunity cost of investing in the yellow metal. This trade had battered gold through most of 2023, before a strong recovery in December. 

Copper prices steady, but weak China data sullies outlook 

Among industrial metals, copper prices rose slightly on Tuesday as markets remained upbeat over stronger demand and tighter copper markets in 2024. But this notion was offset by data from China showing sustained economic weakness in the world’s biggest copper importer.

Copper futures expiring March rose 0.2% to $3.8973 a pound, after rising some 2.1% in 2023. 

Official purchasing managers index data from China showed that manufacturing activity shrank more than expected in December, while non-manufacturing activity remained close to contraction. 

While a private survey showed some resilience in the manufacturing sector, growth still remained muted. Employment and inflation also failed to pick up in December.

The readings indicated that business activity in the world’s top copper importer remained weak, a trend that could dent copper demand in 2024.

But prices of the red metal are still expected to benefit from increased demand for electric vehicles and green energy, while supplies are expected to tighten amid major mine closures in Peru and Panama.

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