Gold Prices Continue Their Skid

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Gold prices were plummeting Wednesday ahead of the Federal Reserve's minutes from its January meeting.

Gold for April delivery was falling $20.20 to $1,584 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The gold price traded as high as $1,609.20 and as low as $1,578 an ounce, while the spot price was dropping $21.50, according to Kitco's gold index.

"It's just the downward momentum from earlier in the week; we saw some macro hedge fund selling, but this wasn't offset by physical buying in Asia," said Howard Wen, a precious metals analyst at HSBC Bank USA. "It has picked up recently from China, but it's not enough to offset that pressure from macro funds."

The yellow metal last week sank in four of five trading sessions in thin trade volumes as China was absent from the gold market for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Though Chinese traders re-entered the market this week, gold prices have continued their skid and dipped below the $1,600 an ounce threshold.

Silver prices for March delivery were dropping 77 cents to $28.65 an ounce, while the U.S. dollar index was jumping 0.32% to $80.77.

Wednesday's plunge also comes ahead of the Federal Reserve's policy-making minutes from its January meeting. Many analysts aren't expecting a surprise from central bankers, but they will be paying close attention to the latest language for any hints of an end to the Fed's quantitative easing programs.

"What I'm looking for in the Fed minutes is really just any commentary related to an early departure from the QE programs, any type of commentary that discusses ending these programs earlier than the stated 6.5% unemployment rate and 2.5% inflation target," said Drew Nordlicht, managing director at HighTower San Diego. "Because of the technicals on gold, today's commentary on the Fed's will be relatively pivotal on at least a short-term price movement."

Gold ETFs were charging lower on Wednesday, in line with the drop in futures. SPDR Gold Trust ( GLD) was sliding 1.3%, while iShares Gold Trust ( IAU) was tumbling 1.2%. ETFs Gold Trust ( SGOL) was also shedding 1.3%.

Though the market recently has battered gold prices and ETFs have seen funds reduce their positions, one analyst argued that investors should buy and sell the exchange-traded funds based on their own longer-term forecasts.

"I think it depends on what your outlook is for gold. If you think that the macroeconomic environment has changed in some way for the longer term, then it may be an opportunity to sell gold," Will Rhind, managing director at ETF Securities U.S., said in an interview. "If you still believe that not much has changed -- we're in a currency war, these interest rates will remain at these low levels -- then perhaps it may be even a buying opportunity.

Gold mining stocks were mostly lower on Wednesday. Shares of Newmont Mining ( NEM) were decreasing 4.2%, and shares of AngloGold Ashanti ( AU) were off 3.8%.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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