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Gold Bulls Take a Breather

April-dated futures contracts are down $1 on the Comex.

Updated from 2:51 p.m. EST

Gold, coming off a big rally in the previous session, edged lower Thursday as recent volatility kept anxious investors waiting in the wings.

April-dated bullion contracts slipped $1 to $683 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The bullion exchange-traded funds,

streetTracks Gold Shares

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iShares Comex Gold Trust

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, were down 0.2%.

"The higher volatility certainly made some nervous money stay on the sidelines," says Jon Nadler, an analyst at Montreal bullion dealer Kitco. "The small investors are dazed."

Prices fell Tuesday, but rebounded Wednesday to settle $23 up at $684. Many market watchers expect significant gyrations to continue.

New economic data showing higher-than-expected unemployment claims failed to undermine the greenback, with one dollar recently buying 121.58 yen, up from 120.88 yen late Wednesday. The euro was recently trading at $1.312 down from $1.314.

The real gold market action was focused on the miners, where a slew of earnings reports were dominating the news.

Industry stalwart

Newmont Mining

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reported a fourth-quarter profit of 50 cents a share, beating consensus forecasts of 40 cents, and up from 12 cents the year before. However, the company cautioned that 2007 sales would likely decline and costs would rise.

Even so, the shares rose 1.6%.

Barrick Gold


reported earnings of 48 cents a share, in line with expectations, but up from 32 cents a year earlier.

The company said it reduced its fixed-price sales position, or hedge book, by 1 million ounces during the quarter, bringing the total reduction of such contracts for the year to more than 9 million ounces. The news will be greeted warmly by the bulls, with Barrick earnings benefiting more from bullion price rallies. Still, shares of Barrick slipped 2%.

Agnico-Eagle Mines

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reported diluted fourth-quarter earnings of 34 cents a share, besting analyst estimates of 32 cents and up from 13 cents a year earlier.

Pan-American Silver

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reported fully diluted fourth-quarter earnings of 38 cents a share, reversing losses of 44 cents a year earlier. Consensus estimates were for 26 cents. The stock was barely changed.

Turning to base metals, copper prices were lifting again on the Comex, closing up 12 cents at $2.78 a pound.

"We think that the

copper market is rebalancing in February and will be in deficit from March-June, partly for seasonal reasons," states London-based specialty firm Bloomsbury Minerals Economics in a new report.