Gold Prices Plummet as Fund Managers Duck Out

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Gold prices fell Friday for the fourth day in the trading week after prominent hedge fund managers revealed their reduced holdings in the yellow metal.

Gold for April delivery sank $26 to settle at $1,609.50 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The gold price traded as high as $1,636 and as low as $1,596.70, while the spot price was plunging $28.20, according to Kitco's gold index.

Gold prices during Friday's session were touching their lowest levels since a close at $1,590.70 an ounce on Aug. 2, when the precious metal continued to flounder from a lack of central bank action on monetary easing.

"It's gold following the pattern of the week and the past couple of weeks, quite frankly, where it's breaking down and being pushed lower, and that's in part as a response to the relatively strong earnings that you're seeing both in the United States as well as Europe," Oliver Pursche, co-portfolio manager at GMG Defensive Beta Fund, said in an interview.

George Soros pared his holdings in Gold ETF SPDR Gold Trust ( GLD) in the fourth quarter to 600,000 shares, from a previous 1.32 million shares, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Prices struggled in the fourth quarter to sustain a boost past $1,750 an ounce after the Federal Reserve announced in early September its unprecedented open-ended mortgage-backed securities purchasing plan.

Julian Robertson of Tiger Management eliminated his position in Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF ( GDX), but held his shares of Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF ( GDXJ).

John Paulson of Paulson & Co. maintained his position in the commodity.

Silver prices for March delivery dipped 50 cents to close at $29.85 an ounce, while the U.S. dollar index was increasing 0.1% to $80.47.

Adding a weight on the gold market were better-than-expected reports on consumer sentiment and New York manufacturing.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index printed at 76.3 for February, which was better than analysts' consensus of 73.5. The New York Empire State manufacturing survey came in at 10 for February, which was higher than the forecast for a flat read on the month.

Gold prices often move contrary to economic data, and the positive reports diminish the appeal of gold as a hedge against economic uncertainty.

Offsetting the positive data was a Federal Reserve survey that showed industrial production fell 0.1% in January. Economists expected a 0.2% increase.

One analyst argued that Friday's economic reports weren't enough to significantly boost or slam markets.

"If you look at it in the beginning of the morning with Empire manufacturing slightly better than expected, then what you also had was industrial production was slightly worse than expected, then the consumer sentiment number kind of came in right on target," said Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist of ChannelCapitalResearch.com. "So at this point, there's no real catalyst to either go up or down based on economic news."

Gold-mining stocks were lower Friday. Shares of Gold Fields ( GFI) were plunging 7.7%, while Eldorado Gold ( EGO) was dropping 5.4%.

Among volume leaders, Barrick Gold ( ABX) was off 2.7%.

SPDR Gold Trust was shedding 1.8% on higher-than-average volume, and iShares Gold Trust ( IAU) also decreased 1.8%.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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