Gold futures rose above $1,000 an ounce on Friday as jittery investors turned to the yellow metal to preserve wealth amid a tumbling stock market.
Long-term inflation worries fanned by the massive U.S. economic stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama this week has driven investors into gold, which is perceived as the most likely asset to hold its value if the dollar starts weakening.
I think there's a little bit of panic out there. Equities are setting new lows and gold is the place to run to. I don't think there's much more than that, said Robert MacIntosh, chief economist at Eaton Vance in Boston.
U.S. gold reached its highest level of the past seven months.
Gold futures for April delivery on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange rose $17.70 to $994.20 an ounce at 10:32 a.m. EST. They rose to a session high of $1,000.30, their highest level since July 16.
Spot gold jumped to $998.50, its strongest level since March 18. It was at $991.95 an ounce, up 1.9 percent against $973.75 in New York late on Thursday.
The metal is poised to rise further, possibly targeting last March's all-time high of $1,030.80 an ounce, analysts said.
The rally we've seen in the last few days has been very much led by investment demand, Barclays Capital analyst Suki Cooper said.
Investors aren't looking at the normal drivers -- they are sidelining the dollar strength, sidelining deflationary concerns and lower oil prices. They are very much buying gold as a safe-haven asset, Cooper said. There is potential for us to breach the $1,000 level.
Saxo Bank senior manager Ole Hansen said the deteriorating macroeconomic picture and inflows into exchange-traded funds were currently the main influences on the gold price, now that the metal's usual relationship with the dollar had broken down.
More investment flowed into precious metals-backed ETFs on Thursday, with figures released showing both the largest gold ETF and the biggest silver-backed fund climbing to record levels.
New York's SPDR Gold Trust said its holdings rose nearly five tonnes to a record 1,028.98 tonnes on Thursday, while the iShares Silver Trust's silver holdings climbed 18.4 tonnes to an all-time high of 7,892 tonnes.
Equity markets tumbled on Friday, with world stocks dropping to their weakest levels since November. The U.S. Dow index hit a six-year low on Thursday. Falling stocks boost the appeal of safe-haven assets like gold.
The precious metal's usual external drivers, oil and the dollar, exerted little influence. Gold traditionally moves in the opposite direction to the U.S. currency, as it can be used as a hedge against dollar weakness, and in line with oil.
Grim euro zone data further pressured the euro versus the dollar. Key gauges of euro zone services and manufacturing activity released on Friday unexpectedly crashed to new lows in February.
Oil prices, which often pull gold in their wake, weakened as fears over the faltering global economy depressed the demand outlook.
Among other precious metals, spot silver climbed to $14.47 an ounce, up 3.2 percent from its last finish of $13.01.
Spot platinum edged up to $1,083.50 an ounce from its late Thursday quote of $1,066.50, while spot palladium was largely unchanged at $213.50.
(Reporting by Frank Tang and Jan Harvey)