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Gold, Oil Soar to Fresh Highs As Inflation Fears Mount

Gold hit record highs a second straight day Wednesday and oil soared to fresh 2-1/2 year highs, sparking fears of inflation that could hurt some of the world's most dependable economies.

Price pressures were rising in Asia's emerging economies — which had been the catalyst for the world's recovery from the financial crisis — and were unlikely to subside soon, the Asian Development Bank cautioned.

"High and volatile oil and food prices will, in particular, reverberate through the world economy, and they are likely to stay that way in 2011-2012,'' the ADB said. "They will thus be a significant source of global inflation, especially in developing countries where recovery is firmly under way,'' the Manila-based agency said in a report.

The Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a global benchmark for commodities, hit a one-month high, responding to the broad rally in the 19 markets it tracks, including oil and gold.

Gold has become more of a currency than a commodity these days, acting as a hedge against a weaker dollar and political troubles that weigh on currency values.

The spot price of gold , which reflects trading in bullion, rose to an all-time high of $1,461.91 an ounce, up more than $5 from Tuesday's peak. In futures trading, U.S. gold for June delivery rose half a percent to a record high of $1,467.00 an ounce.

Silver, the poorer investor's alternative to gold, hit 31-year highs of $39.75 an ounce in spot trading.

The rally in precious metals came as the dollar fell to a 14-month low against the euro ahead of a widely anticipated interest rate hike by the European Central Bank on Thursday.

The ECB is expected to press ahead with the rate hike despite Portugal's unmanageable sovereign debt — another factor that had been underpinning gold.

Analysts said gold could go higher if the ECB hike is emulated by other central banks, weighing further on the dollar. "It looks more like a series of interest rate hikes'' that is coming, said John Doyle, strategist at Tempus Consulting in Washington.

In industrial metals, U.S. copper futures for Mayrose 2 percent to a one-week high of $4.37 a lb.

Oil rose to fresh 2-1/2 year peaks, supported by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and dollar weakness.

London's Brent crude oil rose above $123 a barrel — a peak since August 2008. In New York, U.S. crude climbed more than half percent to below $109 — its highest price since September 2008.

Brent oil prices are up 30 percent since the start of this year, rising first on the political upheaval in Egypt before rocketing on the civil war in Libya, which shut down all of the country's exports.

Prices could rocket to $200 per barrel and even $300 if Saudi Arabia — which has stepped in to plug the supply gap left by Libya — is also hit by serious political unrest, former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani told Reuters on Tuesday.

A Reuters poll of bank analysts and hedge fund managers published on Wednesday showed that Brent's four-day rally to above $120 a barrel will soon fizzle out, but could roar back to above $130 in the second half of this year if there is no end to the Middle East crisis.

U.S. corn futures fell half a percent, not too far from record highs reached on Tuesday, as worries over low U.S. stockpiles continued to support the grain's price.

Corn for May delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade corn traded at above $7.61 a bushel. The contract hit an all-time high of $7.70-3/4 on Tuesday.

Corn prices have jumped more than 15 percent since a U.S. Department of Agriculture last week showed unexpectedly low stockpiles as of March 1.

Corn is primarily used in food and as feedstock for animals but increasingly large amounts of the grain are going into producing the renewable fuel ethanol. Demand for ethanol, as oil and fuel prices rise, have led some analysts to predict corn prices as high as $9 a bushel this year.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters.

| 06 Apr 2011 | 11:44 AM ET