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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 12:42 GMT
Iran fears stir commodity prices
Gold bullion
For many investors, gold offers safety in times of great uncertainty
World commodity prices have been boosted by concerns over Iran's nuclear programme, with gold and other precious metals surging to new highs.

Also underpinning the search for "investment havens" are worries about the state of the US economy and dollar.

The price of gold surged as far as $564.30 an ounce, its highest since 1981, before trimming gains.

Platinum had earlier hit a record of $1,049 and silver also gained. Crude oil prices climbed amid supply worries.

Analysts are now predicting that more gains may be on the cards, although the short term could bring a price correction and pause for breath.

"The background noise of geopolitical tensions, rising oil prices and investor diversification will continue to provide good support in coming sessions," said James Moore of TheBullionDesk.com.

'Fireball asset'

The problem facing many investors is deciding just how concerned they should be.

Iran, the world's fourth-biggest producer of crude and the second-largest producer in the Opec cartel, is under fire over plans to re-start its nuclear programme, with the threat of sanctions lurking in the background.

Any drop in Iranian production would have a significant effect on crude prices, pushing them up quickly and to levels that investors say are difficult to predict.

While this worst-case scenario is some way off, many investors are already looking to protect themselves at a time when short-term trading aimed at tapping into the gold surge also is helping to buoy prices.

The metal is up almost 8% this year, after adding more than 17% in 2005.

"Gold is seen as a fireball asset and the funds are switching money into it," said Peter Hillyard of ANZ Investment Bank.

Pricing levels

However, the rapid gains made some profit-taking inevitable, traders said on Tuesday.

Spot gold for immediate delivery fell in London after hitting the high, and was trading at close to $560 an ounce.

Platinum also dipped back, trading at $1,042.50. Silver climbed to a 19-year high, while copper and aluminium hovered near records.

New York light crude oil, the US benchmark, cost $64.95 a barrel, near a three-month high. London's main contract, Brent crude, rose 0.7% to $63.60.

In a report on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency said that demand for crude oil was likely to increase by 2.2% this year, driven by China and a rebound in the US.

The comments signal that the slide in demand that many analysts have highlighted, and which has been evident in recent months, may be about to end.

Some Opec members have been advocating a cut in output after the group had to boost supplies last year to meet surging demand.

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