Gold climbed to a record high above $1,440 an ounce on Monday as the threat of violence spreading in the Middle East and North Africa pushed oil prices to 2-1/2 year highs and burnished the metal's safe-haven appeal.

Spot gold hit a high of $1,442.70 an ounce and was bid at $1,441.55 at 1127 GMT, against $1,431.95 late in New York on Friday. Gold fixed at $1,437 at 1030 GMT.

U.S. gold futures for April delivery rose $12.50 an ounce to $1,441.10, having peaked at $1,443.30.

A downgrade of Greece's credit rating by Moody's also brought euro zone sovereign debt concerns back into the spotlight, undermining confidence in the euro. Worries over euro zone debt pushed gold sharply higher last year.

There is all sorts to support gold -- high oil prices, low real interest rates, and the fact that there are constant reminders that we still have debt problems in Europe, said Standard Bank analyst Walter de Wet.

Violence in Libya, where protests over Muammar Gadaffi's 41-year rule are feared to be degenerating into civil war, and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East have boosted gold's appeal as a haven from risk in recent weeks.

Government troops seeking to dislodge rebels from Libya's coast advanced on oil town Ras Lanuf on Monday amid accelerating humanitarian efforts to prevent worsening civilian suffering and a mass refugee exodus.

Unrest simmered elsewhere in the region. Saudi security forces detained at least 22 minority Shi'ites who protested last week against discrimination, activists said on Sunday, as the kingdom tried to keep the wave of Arab unrest outside its borders.

The news helped lift U.S. crude prices by more than $2 a barrel to a 30-month high above $106. Saudi Arabia is home to most of OPEC's spare oil output capacity.


The energy complex has not only a high weighting in commodity price indices, but also in consumer price indices, said Peter Fertig, a consultant at Quantitative Commodity Research. Therefore, the surge of oil prices will have an impact on CPI inflation.

As gold has the reputation to serve as a hedge against inflation, the fear of rising inflation rates is another factor supporting gold and other precious metals.

Appetite for gold in Asia remained strong, with Indian gold futures hitting record highs and the Japanese retail price for gold hitting a 28-year high above 4,000 yen ($48.60) per gram on Monday.

Gold should push higher from its near-record levels due to its appeal as a safe haven, forecasters told the world's largest mining conference on Sunday.

JPMorgan analyst Michael Jansen told the Prospectors and Developers (PDAC) conference in Toronto that he expects gold prices to average $1,465 an ounce this year.

Among other precious metals, silver was bid at $36.53 an ounce against $35.61. The metal rose to its highest since early 1980 in earlier trade at $36.58 an ounce.

The gold/silver ratio meanwhile fell below 40:1 for the first time since February 1998, demonstrating silver's outperformance of gold.

With the situation in the MENA region still extremely volatile and oil continuing (to) rise, both gold and silver are likely to extend on a mix of safe-haven and anti-inflationary hedging, said analyst James Moore.

Meanwhile platinum was at $1,836.50 an ounce against $1,841, while palladium was at $812.97 against $809.50.