Gold near six-month high amid Ukraine crisis

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Gold was trading near its highest level in over six months on Monday on weaker equities and as Crimea voted to join Russia, heightening tensions between Moscow and the West.

Bullion has gained 15 percent this year as mounting geopolitical tensions and fears over slowing economic growth spurred demand for the metal seen as a safe-haven asset.

Spot gold was trading flat at $1,381.34 an ounce by 0319 GMT, after earlier hitting $1,391.76 - its highest since September 9. Asian shares were near one-month lows.

"The political environment regarding Ukraine is very supportive of (gold) prices and it will continue for a while. I think it is easy for prices to go all the way to $1,500 in the next few weeks," said Dick Poon, general manager of refiner and dealer Heraeus Metals in Hong Kong.

Crimea's Moscow-backed leaders declared a 96-percent vote in favour of quitting Ukraine and annexation by Russia in a referendum that Western powers said was illegal and will bring immediate sanctions.

Barack Obama spoke to Vladimir Putin, telling the Russian president that he and his European allies were ready to impose "additional costs" on Moscow for violating Ukraine's territory.

New money has been flowing into gold-backed exchange-traded funds as investors seek safety from riskier assets such as equities.

Holdings in SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, rose 3.29 tonnes to 816.59 tonnes on Friday.

Hedge funds and money managers raised their bullish bets in gold futures and options for a fifth consecutive week to the most bullish stance since mid-December 2012, according to Friday data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Consumer interest in gold has been waning with the climb towards $1,400 as physical buyers expect prices to fall in the next few months.

Prices in China are at a $5 an ounce discount to spot prices, indicating a sharp drop-off in demand compared with the beginning of the year when prices were at a premium of $20.

"Things have been pretty quiet since the Chinese New Year holiday," said one Hong Kong-based dealer. "People don't want to buy now since they think prices could fall again."

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