Gold hits three-month high, shares up ahead of Yellen

Reuters
A dealer reacts on the trading floor of IG Index in the City of London
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A dealer reacts on the trading floor of IG Index in the City of London August 11, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

By Francesco Canepa

LONDON (Reuters) - Gold hit a three-month high and global shares rose on Tuesday as investors wagered that the new head of the U.S. Federal Reserve would renew the bank's pledge to keep policy ultra-easy at her first testimony to Congress.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen is likely to face questions on the state of the labour market and the future pace of tapering when she appears before the House Financial Services Committee at 1500 GMT. Her testimony will be released at 1330 GMT.

Dealers said the latest betting was that while the tone was likely to be upbeat on the economy, Yellen would emphasise that interest rates were set to remain near zero for some time.

"The Fed will want to hold the market's hand as much as possible over this period so they will be extremely keen to try and comfort the market in any way they can," said Stewart Richardson, partner at macro hedge fund RMG Wealth Management.

"At the moment this is taking the form of 'don't worry interest rates will remain low for an extended period'."

Just that hope was enough to lift gold 0.7 percent to 1,283.70, just off its highest level since mid-November, hit earlier in the session. U.S. gold futures gained for a fifth day in a row, their longest winning streak since August 2012.

The dollar fell to its lowest level in almost two weeks against the euro and a basket of major currencies.

"(Yellen)'s known as a dove, but it's the first time the question (arises) of whether she wants totally to continue this line from her predecessors or shake things up," said Simon Smith, FxPro's head of research. "I don't think she will (shake things up), but it's a bit of a risk event for the dollar."

The FTSEurofirst 300 index of European shares (.FTEU3) rose 0.8 percent, with strong updates from car maker BMW (BMWG.DE) and measurement technology group Hexagon (HEXAb.ST) adding to the positive sentiment. (.EU)

The broader MSCI All-Country World Index was up 0.4 percent and U.S. stock futures were also trading firmer with the S&P 500 e-mini contract up 0.5 percent.

Oil prices also rose, with Brent crude edging above $109 a barrel.

FED THEATRE

Analysts have generally assumed Yellen will stick with the script and reiterate that the Fed will continue to scale back its asset buying as long as the economy improves as expected.

"The market is more ready to be relieved than to cheer on Yellen's comments, which are expected to clarify uncertainties about the Fed's tapering pace and interest rate hike plans," said Mirae Asset Securities analyst Chung Seung-jae in Seoul.

"In the absence of a Fed meeting in February, her testimonies are seen as the biggest risk event for the month."

One argument for staying the course on tapering is that bond investors have learned to live with the idea after fears that interest rates would rise led to bouts of selling last year.

Yields on U.S. 10-year Treasury paper have settled back at 2.67 percent, well below recent highs of 3.04 percent and less of a threat to the housing market.

Investors, too, have accepted that tapering is not the same as tightening and have pushed out the timing of the first actual hike in the Fed funds rate. A move is not fully priced in until late 2015, a view Yellen is likely to endorse.

(Additional reporting by Wayne Cole in Sydney and Laurence Fletcher in London; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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