Gold traders bearish for first time in 2012 on Fed

April 5 (Bloomberg) -- Gold traders are bearish for the first time this year after the Federal Reserve signaled it may refrain from more monetary stimulus and jewelers in India, the world’s biggest bullion market, shut to protest a new tax.

Fifteen of 29 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect prices to decline next week and five were neutral, the highest proportion since Dec. 30. Imports by India may have plunged as much as 81% in March and could drop 40% in the second quarter, the Bombay Bullion Association said April 2. Indian jewelers, who sell more gold than Australian and U.S. mines produce in a year, were closed today for a 20th day.

Slumping Indian demand comes as prices already erased more than half of this year’s gains on mounting concern the Fed won’t buy more debt. Gold rose about 70 percent as the central bank bought $2.3 trillion of debt in two rounds of quantitative easing ending in June 2011. Policy makers indicated they won’t increase monetary accommodation unless the economy falters, according to minutes of their March 13 meeting released April 3.

“Reduced prospects for quantitative easing, if you read that as a strengthening U.S. economy, then it’s bad for gold,” said Carole Ferguson, an analyst at Fairfax IS in London. “Gold has lost some of its safe-haven shine this year. The Indian jewelry market is still very important. If strikes are a longer- term thing it’s more of a worry.”

Expanding Payrolls

Gold had risen as much as 14% to $1,792.70 an ounce by Feb. 28 on the Comex in New York. It traded at $1,627 by 8:09 a.m. today, for an annual gain of 3.8%. That compares with a 6.1% jump in the Standard & Poor’s GSCI gauge of 24 raw materials and a 9.5% increase in the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities. Treasuries lost 1.4%, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.

A Labor Department report tomorrow may show employment rose by more than 200,000 workers for a fourth consecutive month, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. U.S. growth will accelerate to 2.2% this quarter and 2.5% in the following three months, compared with 2% in the first quarter, according to the median of 73 economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

While the Fed is sticking to a plan to hold the benchmark interest rate near zero at least through late 2014, federal fund futures on the Chicago Board of Trade show an 11% chance it will raise borrowing costs by the end of this year. The odds for an increase were 4.5% two months ago. Gold generally earns holders returns only through price gains. The metal will trade at $1,550 within a month, Edel Tully, an analyst at UBS AG in London, said in a report yesterday.

Gold Council

Indian consumers bought 567.4 metric tons of gold jewelry last year, according to the London-based World Gold Council. Australia and the U.S. are the world’s biggest gold producers behind China, producing a combined 515 tons, according to CRU, a research company in London. Indian jewelers closed stores to protest a 1% excise duty on non-branded gold ornaments. The nation remained the biggest gold market on an annual basis last year even as China overtook it in the fourth quarter.

Investors in exchange-traded products backed by gold remain bullish, holding 2,398.2 tons valued at about $125.4 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s about 0.5 percent below the record reached March 13. Hedge funds and other speculators increased bets on higher prices in the week ended March 27, raising their net-long position by 15% to 130,472 futures and options, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show.

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