Picture: ISTOCK
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Picture: AFP

LONDON — Gold edged back towards the previous session’s two-week highs on Friday and stayed on track for its biggest weekly gain in nearly two months, after the Federal Reserve sounded a cautious note on the pace of interest rate hikes.

The Fed signalled an increasingly careful approach to future rate hikes after a policy meeting on Wednesday, reassuring investors who had feared the US central bank could move more quickly to tighten monetary policy. Gold is highly sensitive to rising US interest rates, as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced.

Spot gold was up 0.2% at $1,338.36 an ounce at 1400 GMT, and was more than 2% higher on the week, its best weekly performance since late July. The metal has been boosted by the Fed moving in a more dovish direction, ABN Amro analyst Georgette Boele said. "But in the end everyone realises that (a December hike) will likely happen, so it is too dangerous to push gold prices above the previous peak for now," she added. A steadier tone to the dollar after hefty losses earlier this week pulled gold back from the previous session’s peak of $1,343.64. The dollar stabilised against a basket of currencies.

Stock markets, despite some weakness on Friday, were also on course for their biggest weekly gain in two months after a week of central bank meetings that left investors still unconvinced of US policymakers’ intent to put an end to an era of ultra-low interest rates. ING analyst Hamza Khan said the Fed had been following a pattern of talking up a rate cut ahead of its policy meetings, but failing to deliver. "That’s the sort of environment where gold will flourish, because it creates uncertainty, and it keeps rates low," he said. "The rest of the world has also been quite healthy (for gold) — we’ve had dovish signals from the Bank of Japan, and we’ve seen ETF holdings beginning to recover."

Holdings of the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, New York-listed SPDR Gold Shares, rose another 6.5 tonnes on Thursday, data from the fund showed. US gold futures for December delivery were down $2.10 an ounce at $1,342.60. Silver was 0.2% lower at $19.78, but was the biggest riser this week among the main precious metals, climbing more than 5%, the most since the week ending July 1. Palladium was up 0.5% at $696.50, after rising 1.5% on Thursday. Platinum was 0.1% higher at $1,052.60 an ounce. On a weekly basis, it was up 3.6%, snapping seven straight weeks of losses.