Gold Prices "Under Pressure" as Year-End Looms, Geithner says US "Could Hit Debt Ceiling This Monday"

Gold Prices hovered above $1650 per ounce Thursday morning, around 5% up on the year, as the London market reopened following Christmas. 

Silver meantime hovered either side of $30 an ounce, while stock markets edged higher and the Dollar fell, following news that the US Treasury is to take extraordinary measures to avoid hitting the federal debt ceiling next Monday.

"I am still friendly with the [precious metals] market, but it looks like until the new year starts, it's under pressure," says Yuichi Ikemizu at Standard Bank in Tokyo.

US president Barack Obama has flown back early from Hawaii to resume talks on the so-called fiscal cliff, the $600 million of spending cuts and tax cut expiries due to come into effect from Monday. The House of Representatives remains on vacation.

"The Senate must act first" said a statement issued Wednesday by House speaker John Boehner and senior Republican colleagues.

"The House will then consider whether to accept the bills...or to send them back to the Senate with additional amendments."

Boehner's so-called 'Plan B' for dealing with the federal deficit, which included maintaining tax cuts for anyone earning less than $1 million, failed to reach a House vote last week due to lack of support from members of Boehner's own party.

The US Treasury meantime is to take extraordinary measures to avoid hitting the statutory federal debt limit next Monday, a letter from Treasury secretary Timothy Geinther published yesterday says. 

The measures include a halt to issuing debt for the purposes of assisting state and local governments, and suspending reinvestment of maturing securities into funds for government workers and the Exchange Stabilization Fund, an emergency fund set up for the purpose of exchange rate intervention.

"These extraordinary measures...can create approximately $200 billion in headroom under the debt limit," Geithner's letter says.

"Under normal circumstances, that amount of headroom would last approximately two months. However, given the significant uncertainty that now exists for unresolved tax and spending policies for 2013, it is not possible to predict the effective duration of these measures."

The measures will "postpone the date that the United States would otherwise default on its legal obligations," the letter adds.

The US Treasury has taken similar measures on a number of occasions over the last two decades, including a series of measures starting in May 2011 that ended when the debt ceiling was last extended. 

The 2011 debt ceiling negotiations lasted until August 2 of that year, the date the Treasury had said the US would hit the ceiling. Ratings agency Standard & Poor's stripped the US of its triple-A credit rating a few days later.

"Progress on the fiscal cliff will continue to affect market sentiment," Feng Liang, analyst at GF Futures, part of China's third-biggest listed brokerage, told news agency Bloomberg yesterday.

"Gold's one of the few investments with positive returns this year and it's normal to get some [year-end selling]."

The gold price at Thursday morning's London Fix was $1655.25 an ounce, 5.1% up on the final fixing of 2011.

Over in India, gold demand stayed strong Thursday, newswire Reuters reports.

"Retail demand is still weak, but jewelers are restocking for Pongal festival," says Daman Prakash Rathod, director at Chennai wholesaler MNC Bullion, referring to next month's harvest festival in the state of Tamil Nadu.

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