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Sat 2 Jan 2010 09:41 AM

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Gold prices seal biggest yearly gain in 3 decades

Gold glitters in 2009, as it is favoured as hedge against economic uncertainties.

Gold prices sealed their biggest yearly gain in three decades with a small advance on Thursday, rising for an unprecedented ninth consecutive year as dollar-hedging traders and central banks joined the rally even as safe-haven buying subsided.

At the informal spot-market close of $1,096.20 an ounce, gold gained $218 this year, a sum eclipsed in recent history only by 1979's $286 surge -- gains that proved fleeting as bullion relapsed two years later. On a percentage basis gold rose 24.8 percent, short of 2007's 31 percent rise.

After 2008's roller-coaster, this year was one of fairly consistent gains for bullion, favored as a hedge against economic uncertainties after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Gold hit a record high above $1,220 on Dec. 3 on a combination of renewed central bank interest, worries over paper currencies depreciation and long-term inflation fears due to massive economic stimulus programs.

Central banks played a key role in aiding the rally during a year in which China revealed that it had secretly increased its reserves over the past five years to the world's fifth-largest by buying up domestic production, while India nearly doubled its holdings by buying half of the IMF's stockpile slated for sale.

The tone for the precious metals market in early 2010 will now hinge on whether the U.S. dollar will continue its year-end rally, and if the central banks will keep interest rates at record lows to boost economic growth.

Other precious metals staged equally impressive gains after last year's deep decline, with platinum rising a record 58.7 percent and palladium up 220 percent on improving economic conitions, as well as hope for a boost in physical demand from new U.S. exchange traded funds expected to launch soon. Silver also jumped by a record 49.1 percent. (Reuters)

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