Gold fell from record highs on Tuesday, after Switzerland's decision to peg its currency to the euro shook financial markets and battered the franc, putting the price of bullion in Swiss francs on track for its largest daily gain in three years.
The Swiss National Bank said on Tuesday it would set a minimum exchange rate target of 1.20 francs to the euro and would enforce it by buying foreign currency in unlimited quantities.
The Swiss franc tumbled by more than 7 percent against the dollar and by more than 8.5 percent against the euro. Gold priced in the Swiss currency rose by more than 7 percent, and was set for its biggest daily gain since mid-September 2008, when the global credit crunch intensified, prompting the U.S. Federal Reserve to halve rates to 1.0 percent.
Spot gold was last quoted down 0.6 percent at $1,891.60 an ounce 6:44 a.m. EDT, having risen earlier to a record $1,920.30 an ounce.
"Particularly for investors with proportional assets in Swiss francs, this will strengthen the appeal of gold relative to the Swiss currency. It has to be seen as bullish certainly from the private bank side of the gold market," said Credit Suisse analyst Tom Kendall.
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"We've seen U.S. Treasuries have their reputation as 'risk-free assets' damaged. Now we've got the Swiss franc subject to substantial and ongoing intervention by the SNB and so yes, it does strengthen gold's claim as a safe-haven."
Gold's 34-percent rally so far this year, fueled largely by the impact on the currency markets from investor concern over the damage to the U.S. and euro zone economies from their vast debt burdens, is the largest yearly gain since 1979.
Market players are increasingly unconvinced of European leaders' ability to tackle the regional debt crisis and prevent it spreading, while the resilience of the U.S. economy is coming into greater doubt after last week's employment report showed zero growth in the number of jobs created in August.
In the money markets, some indicators of funding stress are back at levels last seen in 2008, when the global credit crunch unfolded, pushing up interbank lending rates to the point where credit markets were frozen and central banks pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system.
FLIGHT TO SAFETY
Traditional safe-havens such as government bonds, gold and the Swiss franc itself usually benefit in times of financial or economic uncertainty.
After the downgrade to the triple-A credit rating of U.S. debt and the SNB's decision to peg the franc, gold could well be the last remaining true safe-haven, but investors have not been flocking to it in droves in recent weeks.
The latest data on flows into exchange-traded funds shows global holdings of gold have fallen by nearly 2.5 million ounces over the last month to their lowest in six weeks at 67.4 million ounces.
"It's the fact that we are seeing one of the central banks making a move and taking a decision. We've been left in limbo for days in Europe," said Saxo Bank senior manager Ole Hansen. "If we see the Swiss franc pegged, where else can you go if the uncertainties continue other than into gold?"
Adding to the longer-term case for holding gold, workers in Italy began a strike on Tuesday as the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi scrambled to secure parliamentary backing for a package of austerity measures.
In Spain, a union leader told the state television that in mid-August the Prime Minister told unions the country was close to needing a bailout, at a time when markets had driven yields on Spanish bonds dangerously close to the levels that forced Greece and others to seek emergency funding.
In other precious metals, silver fell by 1.6 percent to $42.22 an ounce, along with platinum, which fell 0.9 percent to $1,865.99 an ounce. Palladium was trading up 0.6 percent at $765.