Bloomberg) -- Gold prices may have peaked for now and may fall after rising for 10 straight weeks as the U.S. prepares for a possible attack on Iraq, according to analysts who rely on technical charts to judge price trends.
The relative strength index, a measure of investor sentiment used to forecast trends, suggests an end to the rally that sent gold futures to a six-year high of $379.90 an ounce on Feb. 4, the analysts said. The threat of an attack to force Iraq to disarm extended gold's 25 percent rise in 2002, the biggest in 23 years, as some investors sought protection for their assets.
The 14-day index for New York gold futures has been above 70, a level that suggests prices may be poised to fall, for eight of the past 12 trading sessions. The rally has slowed since the index first topped 70 on Jan. 23. Prices have risen 1.6 percent in the two weeks since then to $370.50 an ounce, compared with weekly gains of more than 2 percent in December.
``If you're not already in gold, this probably isn't the best time to be getting in,'' said John Murphy, chief technical analyst at StockCharts.com in Hackensack, New Jersey. ``Until the Iraq situation resolves itself, we may get a $20 setback.''
Speculators have been leading the charge on gold. They have accumulated their largest position in futures contracts in seven years, a report last week from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed.
Prices at Peak?
Hedge funds and other large speculators as of Feb. 4 -- the day gold reached its high -- had bought 105,154 gold futures on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, more than 2 1/2 times the 38,340 contracts they had sold, the report showed. The difference of 66,814 was the largest ``net-long'' position since January 1996.
The size of speculator holdings in gold reinforces the conclusion that gold prices probably have peaked for the moment, said Peter Palmedo, a fund manager at Sun Valley Gold LLC in Sun Valley, Idaho.
``Basically everybody who's wanted to take a position has been afforded an opportunity to take a position,'' Palmedo said. ``There's a very good possibility that the rally is over for now.''
The likelihood of a pause is also reinforced by trading patterns last week, with prices falling for three straight days after reaching the high, said Ronald Daino, a technical analyst at Salomon Smith Barney Inc. in New York.
``We're concerned that gold closed at the low end of the week's range, which normally says that it's probably ready for a period of consolidation,'' Daino said.
While speculators helped fuel the rally in gold, they can just as easily accelerate a decline as they sell off their positions, Palmedo said.
The ``war premium'' built into the market by the threat of an attack against Iraq may evaporate once the assault occurs, as was the case in 1991, when U.S.-led forces attacked Iraq at the start of the Gulf War, he said.
Gold futures rose to a four-month high of $404.50 an ounce on Jan. 16, 1991, just before the attack, only to plunge 7.4 percent the next day. By mid-February, gold had given up all its gains over the previous year.
Prices may surge on news of a new U.S. attack, followed by another sell-off, Palmedo said.
``The market's already long and is prepared to `buy the rumor and sell the news,''' he said. ``A lot of the longs, once we've gone into Iraq, will want to be out of their positions.''
Even with the passing of the war threat, weakness in the dollar and low stock prices resulting from the sluggish U.S. economy mean that gold probably won't return to prices below $300 an ounce, where the metal had languished prior to the run-up last year, analysts said.
The declines in stocks and the dollar ``were in place long before Iraq was being talked about,'' StockCharts.com's Murphy said. ``When you unwind a 20-year decline in the price of gold, it's not something that will end in six months.''
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