Gold bars in Hong Kong
Gold bars in Hong Kong Bobby Yip/Reuters

Gold and silver assets were plunging dramatically Wednesday, with prices for bullion falling below their 200-day moving average for the first time since 2009 and shares of precious metals miners dropping hard.

In mid-morning trading, Comex gold was last trading at $1,609 -- a level not seen since July 18 -- as traders reduced positions to prepare for the yearend or booked profits on gold's 17 percent rise this year.

The next support level for the yellow metal was seen at $1,533.

Other reasons besides technical factors and bookkeeping were hammering precious metals. One is a consensus that Europe already is in recession; another is concern the Federal Reserve failed Monday to signal an intent to expand its balance sheet to strengthen the weak U.S. recovery.

In mid-morning trading, gold had dropped 3.3 percent, silver was down six percent, platinum was down 3.7 percent and palladium was down 7.4 percent.

Shares of silver miners were taking hits in late morning trading. Fresnillo Plc dropped 8.9 percent, First Majestic Silver Corp. fell 5.8 percent, Silver Wheaton Corp. declined five percent, Hecla Mining Co. was off 5.3 percent, Silvercorp Metals Inc. gave up 7.7 percent, and Alexco Resource Corp. lost six percent.

Shares of gold miners also fell, though not as severely as those of silver miners. Barrick Gold Corp. was down 3.2 percent, Kinross Gold Corp. tumbled 4.4 percent, Eldorado Gold Corp. plunged 6.4 percent and Iamgold Corp. dropped 5.2 percent.