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Gold Futures Creep Ahead

Contracts for April delivery of bullion add $4.70 to close at $659 an ounce.

Ambiguous news on the housing market and official statements out of China regarding its foreign reserves gave gold a minor boost Tuesday.

Contracts for April delivery of bullion added $4.70 to close at $659 an ounce on the Comex division of the Nymex. The bullion exchange-traded funds that hold inventories of the metal,

streetTracks Gold Shares

(GLD) - Get SPDR Gold Shares Report

and

iShares Comex Gold Trust

(IAU) - Get iShares Gold Trust Report

, were up 0.8% and 0.5% recently.

The Commerce Department reported a bigger-than-forecast jump in housing starts for February, following particularly poor figures in January. At the same time, the number of new permits issued fell more than expected and perhaps augur further weakness ahead.

Bullion traders bid up bullion prices on the news in anticipation of renewed investor interest, which tends to rise on the prospect of economic turmoil.

"People have very serious jitters about the housing market," says Axel Merk, manager of the

(MERKX) - Get Merk Hard Currency Inv Report

Merk Hard Currency Fund. "But they have put off any big reaction until the

Federal Reserve

releases its policy statement Wednesday."

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Also giving a boost to the gold bulls was widely reported news that China would stop accumulating foreign reserves such as U.S. dollars, according to the governor of the country's central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan. The country's official hoard of foreign cash now tops $1 trillion.

"The bank's reserves rise sharply each month because they hold interest-yielding securities, so I'm not sure how it will arrange for its reserves not to go up," says Meg Browne, a currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, noting that sometimes official comments aren't always translated effectively.

Browne also highlights that China was planning to invest a portion of its reserves in a diversified portfolio of assets and it's possible that some smaller sum might be used to buy gold.

The greenback traded down on the news. One dollar was recently buying 117.155 yen, down from 117.4 yen late Monday. The euro was worth $1.3311 vs. $1.3298 previously. The value of the U.S. currency and that of gold tend to move inversely with each other.

Elsewhere, in the official sector, the European Central bank says it sold 256 million euros of gold and receivables last week, or a little more than 16 tons.

In the precious-metals patch, one chart watcher sees some potential upside for shares of Peruvian precious metals miner

Compania de Minas Buenaventura

(BVN) - Get Compañía de Minas Buenaventura SAA Report

.

The stock "has been building a big base since late 2003, is working toward the top of a range in force," writes John Roque, a technical analyst at Natexis Bleichroeder in New York. He suggests a technical price target is $44 and cites improving momentum indicators, as well as the fact that the stock is trading above its 50- and 200-day moving averages.

Shares of Buenaventura were recently dipping 0.5% at about $30.

As for base metals, Comex copper contracts tacked on a penny to close at $3.03 a pound.

Elsewhere in metals, Banc of America Securities pinned a buy rating on

Titanium Metals

(TIE)

with a price target of $41 a share. Traders were bidding up the stock 2.6% at about $35 in recent action.