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Monday, July 13, 2009

Commodities move higher as risk appetite grows

Investors moved money back into commodities Thursday, sending prices for gold, copper and soybeans higher as they stepped up their willingness to take on risk.

Better-than-expected results from aluminum maker Alcoa Inc. late Wednesday are stirring hopes that the economy is indeed healing and that other companies might also report improved earnings in the coming weeks. That made beaten-down commodities, which are closely tied to the economy's health, more appealing.

Optimism about an impending recovery has waned in recent weeks as economic data, including record unemployment and a drop in consumer confidence, suggests a rebound could take longer than hoped. As a result, prices for commodities have faltered since mid-June.

A weaker dollar and modest gains in stocks — other signs of increased appetite for risk — also helped push commodity prices higher Thursday. Commodities tend to benefit when the dollar falls against other currencies because it makes them cheaper for foreign buyers.

"Today things were a little bit stable, and that drew out some of the buyers," said Edward Meir, senior commodities analyst at MF Global in New York. But, he added: "People are not as impressed with this recovery as they were several weeks ago."

There is still an abundance of evidence showing that the economy continues to struggle. Weak sales reports from retailers out Thursday and another record high in the number of people receiving jobless benefits curbed gains in stocks and energy futures.

September copper futures jumped 3.6 percent on the New York Mercantile Exchange, gaining 7.85 cents to $2.2375 a pound. Aluminum prices gained 2.1 percent.

Among precious metals, gold for August delivery added $6.90 to $916.20 an ounce, while September silver rose 8.3 cents to $12.9350 an ounce. July platinum rose $8.70 to $1,104 an ounce.

Even oil managed to eke out a small gain, reversing six straight days of losses. Investors have been sending crude prices sharply lower on fears that a delay in the economic recovery will keep demand for energy low.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery rose 27 cents to settle at $60.41 a barrel after hovering around $60 for much of the day. Oil has been steadily losing ground since early last week, when it hit an eight-month high of $73.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil fell less than a penny to settle at $1.5344 a gallon, while gasoline for August delivery rose 3.05 cents to $1.6638 a gallon.

Natural gas for August delivery rose 5.5 cents to $3.408 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Grain prices moved higher on the Chicago Board of Trade.

September wheat futures rose 5 cents to $5.2225 a bushel, while corn for September delivery gained 4.25 cents to $3.2950 a bushel.

August soybeans soared 32.5 cents to $10.4750 a bushel.

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