The metal soared as high as $1,881.40 an ounce. It’s been on a tear this summer, rising more than 15 percent in August alone. In the same three weeks, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index has fallen about 12 percent.
Gold logged its biggest weekly gain since February 2009, according to FactSet data.
As an investment, the metal has climbed because of investors’ concern about the uncertain state of the global economy, diving stock markets and moves by central banks around the world to weaken their currencies.
Central banks in developing countries are also swapping out major currencies for gold in their reserves, driving up demand for the metal.
At this point, analysts say more than fear is driving gold higher. The simple fact that it has kept rising in an otherwise turbulent market is part of the metal’s appeal. The recent surge “lacks a lot of explanation,” said Jon Nadler, an analyst for Kitco Bullion Dealers, and that, to him, signals danger of a deep reversal as it approaches $2,000 an ounce.
But analysts have been predicting a top in the market for months only to see gold’s climb accelerate.
The last time gold was worth less than $1,000 an ounce was October 2009. It gained steadily from there, and then burst higher this summer, crossing $1,600 an ounce for the first time in mid-July; three weeks later it was worth more than $1,700 an ounce, and 10 days later, it passed $1,800 an ounce.
Gold for December delivery, the most actively traded contract, settled up $30.20, or 1.6 percent, at $1,852.20 an ounce.
Still, these record highs remain below gold’s 1980 peak of $850 when adjusted for inflation; that equals about $2,400 in today’s dollars.
That record could be knocked out if investors keep betting that gold will protect them if the U.S. and Europe fall back into recession, which could sink stock prices.
Several major banks and economists have recently sounded warnings on the risk of a new downturn.
Morgan Stanley on Thursday cut its global economic growth forecast for this year and next, saying the U.S. and the 17 countries that use the euro were “hovering dangerously close to a recession.”
JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup followed suit on Friday.
JPMorgan Chase cut its forecast steeply for growth in the U.S., the world’s biggest economy, to a measly 1 percent in the last three months of the year from an already weak 2.5 percent.
“The risks of a recession are clearly elevated,” said JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli.
Citi thinks weak growth will last a long time. It expects the U.S. economy to grow a tepid 2.1 percent next year, not nearly enough to add the jobs needed to reduce unemployment.
So what would $2,000 an ounce gold mean for shoppers? Gold is used in industrial products and mainstream consumer goods. With every fresh high, consumers will have to pay more for everything from engagement rings to crowns for their teeth.
Big U.S. jewelry chains already raised prices this summer, citing the rising costs of gold and diamonds.
The surge in gold is causing “major problems” for jewelry sellers, Kitco’s Nadler said. Stores are asking designers to make different kinds of pieces that use less gold, swapping in steel or palladium.
And the surge in gold is affecting gold-producing countries, even minor exporters.
Police in Guyana said Friday that the surge had triggering killings, robberies and other crimes across the South American country. Venezuela said earlier this week that it was nationalizing its gold industry and bringing home its $11 billion in gold reserves.