Gold fell from record highs on Thursday but remained in demand by investors seeking safety from market volatility triggered by fears Europe's debt crisis could spread to France, and oil fell.

Copper bucked the trend, rising on growth prospects in China, the world's largest consumer of the metal.

Spot gold touched an all-time peak of $1,813.79, before easing to $1,778 at 1052 GMT, but was supported by investor anxiety that major economies are in deep trouble.

All commodities remained under pressure, with investors unwilling to take long-term bets in markets that have whip-sawed for weeks on escalating debt crises and concerns about global growth in the United States and Europe.

Rumours, later quashed, of a possible sovereign rating downgrade of France and doubts about the health of one of its banks moved rapidly through markets, set off the latest panic.
"It's very alarming what is going on in the market, and a sign of that is what is happening with gold prices," Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg said.

"The one thing all commodities have in common at the moment is volatility. There is insecurity, low visibility, weak economies going forward. The market is extremely undecided and for good reasons."

Gold is seen as a safe store of value in times of crisis and a counter-cyclical asset that usually rises in the medium term when other assets fall.

Despite gold's dip from its record high on Thursday, it remains on track for its biggest one-week gain since Sept. 2008, helped by hefty losses in stock markets.

Jittery investors drove stocks lower after an early bounce and moved back into safe-haven assets as euro zone banking concerns and signs of funding stress resurfaced.

The MSCI world equity index was down 0.2 percent. It has fallen in 11 of the past 13 sessions.

SLIVER OF HOPE?

The latest U.S. data provided some relief. Initial jobless claims edged lower in the latest week and were better than forecast.
Brent crude LCOc1 briefly pared losses after the U.S. jobless data, but quickly turned negative and was below $106 per barrel.

"It all appears to be about confidence," said Jonathan Barratt, managing director at Commodity Broking Services in Sydney. "Each bit of negative news erodes confidence and that erodes demand."

On the currency markets, the dollar index rose 0.3 percent, and the euro fell, remaining vulnerable to worries about the euro zone.

But copper rose, and analysts attributed that partly to an appreciation of China's currency that suggested it was confident about its growth prospects.

"This suggests to me that Beijing is sufficiently relaxed about allowing the domestic economy to drive growth and being less dependent on the export sector," said David Thurtell, analyst at Citi. "It shows they are confident that the Chinese economy has sufficient momentum."

China is the world's largest consumer of industrial metals.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange was around $8,840 a tonne from $8,595 at Wednesday's close. The metal used in power and construction touched $8,446.25 a tonne on Tuesday, its lowest since Dec. 1.

Weinberg said robust growth in China, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of global copper consumption, was not a given.

"They have huge troubles themselves, high dependence on their exports, they have a strong currency, which makes exports unattractive, they have high inflation," he said.

"There are many troubles ahead, and if anyone is saying everything is going to be alright either they have a crystal ball or they haven't a clue." (Reporting by Susan Thomas; editing by William Hardy)