By Peter Hobson
LONDON (Reuters) - Gold looks set for further gains after rising bets on lower interest rates, a weaker dollar and confrontations between the United States and countries including China and Iran catapulted prices to six-year highs.
Gold has leapt 10% in four weeks, breaking above technical resistance which has thwarted every rally for half a decade to rise above $1,400 an ounce for the first time since 2013.
"The stars seem to be aligning for the gold market," said Societe Generale analyst Robin Bhar.
A U.S. Federal Reserve signal that it may cut rates as soon as next month to combat economic risks – the first reduction since 2008 -- has created "a bullish tailwind for bullion", said analysts at Citibank.
Gold could rise as high as $1,500 by the end of the year, they said.
Lower interest rates help gold by pushing down bond yields, reducing the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion. They also tend to weaken the dollar, making dollar-priced gold more affordable for buyers with other currencies.
"The only worry is maybe the Fed doesn't go through with the rate cuts," said Societe Generale's Bhar. "But longer term, rates do seem to be coming down and the dollar seems to have peaked."
The European Central Bank also said last week it would ease policy again if inflation fails to accelerate, echoing other central banks which have said they may cut rates to fend off economic slowdowns.
Investors are also buying gold for its traditional role as a safe investment in times of political or economic uncertainty, analysts said.
Demonstrating the wariness taking hold on markets, gold is now more expensive relative to copper, an industrial metal often seen as a bellwether for the global economic outlook, than at any point since 2016.
Investors fear trade disputes unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump will damage growth, while the shooting down by Iran of an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone last week fanned fears of military conflict.
Meanwhile, global stock markets have hit record highs, leading many to expect a brutal correction.
Gold prices have also been supported by central banks buying the metal at the fastest rate in decades to diversify their reserves.
Against that backdrop, speculative investors have piled in.
Their bets on higher gold prices on the COMEX exchange now outnumber wagers on lower prices by 189,681 contracts, the most in more than a year. That is equivalent to almost 19 million ounces, worth some $26 billion.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) meanwhile have added more than 2 million ounces to their holdings since early May, helping push prices higher.
"A lot of momentum buying kicked in after gold took out the 2014 high," said Saxo Bank analyst Ole Hansen.
If gold remains above previous highs around $1,360-$1,390, this level would become a powerful technical support, he said, adding that resistance was now at the August 2013 high of $1,433 and a Fibonacci retracement level around $1,483.
The increase in speculative positioning, however, leaves gold vulnerable to a correction if investors reverse their positions.
That could be triggered by a positive outcome in trade talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 meeting on June 28-29, or healthy U.S. economic data that would reduce the likelihood of rate cuts, said Standard Chartered analyst Suki Cooper.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we see a little bit of a pull-back before we see the next leg higher," she said.
(Reporting by Peter Hobson; additional reporting by Arpan Varghese; Editing by Jan Harvey)