Gold prices rise as M.east-driven safe haven demand offsets CPI shock By

© Reuters.– Gold prices rose on Friday as an escalation in the Middle East crisis ramped up safe haven demand, which also helped the yellow metal gain despite stronger-than-expected U.S. inflation data.

U.S. and British forces launched a series of strikes against the Iran-aligned, Houthi group in Yemen, in response to the group’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea. The move also marked a widening in the Israel-Hamas war, which was seen as a key motivator of recent Houthi aggression.

The move ramped up safe haven demand for gold, given that increased geopolitical risks usually drive investors towards more traditional havens. It also helped bullion prices firm despite a stronger U.S. inflation reading.

rose 0.3% to $2,034.78 an ounce, while expiring in February shot up nearly 1% to $2,038.80 an ounce by 00:14 ET (05:14 GMT).

US inflation surprises to the upside, but rate-cut bets persist

While gold prices saw some strength on Friday, they were still set to end the week marginally lower, amid uncertainty over the path of U.S. interest rates.

data showed on Thursday that U.S. inflation grew slightly more than expected in December, which, coupled with recent resilience in the labor market, gives the Federal Reserve less impetus to begin cutting interest rates early.

But traders appeared to have largely maintained their bets on early interest rate cuts by the Fed, at least according to the . The tool showed traders pricing in an over 70% chance for a 25 basis point cut in March, up from the 64% chance seen before the CPI data.

ING analysts said the trend “simply looks wrong,” while several Fed officials also reiterated that bets on early rate cuts were overly optimistic. While the central bank is still expected to cut interest rates eventually this year, the timing of the move will be contingent on easing inflation and a cooling labor space.

The dollar found little support after the CPI reading, which helped keep gold prices steady. The yellow metal is also expected to benefit from a lower rate environment, given that high rates increase the opportunity cost of investing in bullion.

Copper prices steady, but China imports weaken

Among industrial metals, copper prices saw some strength on Friday, but were nursing losses for the week amid concerns over top importer China.

expiring March rose 0.2% to $3.7988 a pound, and were down 0.2% this week- their third straight week in red.

Chinese economic data offered somewhat mixed cues to markets. rose slightly while grew more than expected in December, presenting some green shoots in the world’s largest copper importer.

But China’s copper imports declined in December, amid high inventory levels and increased local production of the metal.

Concerns over a slowdown in copper demand, particularly as the Chinese economy weakens, were a key weight on copper prices in recent weeks.

Focus now turns to fourth-quarter Chinese data, due next week.

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