Gold prices near bottom in 2014, nurses biggest loss in 32 years

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Prices set to stagnate well into 2015 after 28 pct price plunge. Reuters Prices set to stagnate well into 2015 after 28 pct price plunge. Reuters
SummaryGold buying in India will remain constrained as long as the govt maintains the policies on imports.

Gold in 2014 will not push much lower from current levels around $1,250, although investors hoping last year's 28 percent battering will bring a bounce back face disappointment, consensus estimates in a Reuters poll show.

Gold last year hit its lowest since August 2010 at $1,180.71 an ounce. That blew away expectations of analysts polled this time last year, who had forecast a modest 6 percent rise from 2012's average.

A Reuters poll of 37 analysts conducted in the last month returned an average gold price forecast of $1,235 an ounce for this year, while in 2015 prices are seen rising only marginally, to $1,260 an ounce.

While that suggests heavy selling of the metal may have ended, it offers little comfort to investors looking for gains after last year's crash, its biggest annual loss in 32 years.

Opinion is split on gold's next direction, but with the spread of forecasts only half its usual size, analysts appear to have reached consensus on at least one point -- the metal will not repeat the big gains or losses of the last five years.

David Hemming, commodities portfolio manager for Hermes, summed up the difficulty of looking at gold.

"One day it's a safe haven, the next it's a currency, the next it's a physical commodity."

An improving macro economic backdrop accompanied by surging equity markets and forecasts for a strong dollar were seen as bearish influences.

"We have come down a lot, almost 30 percent in one year, so I think the consensus is that we're in the process of bottoming out," Societe Generale analyst Robin Bhar said. "We may try to work a bit higher as lower prices attract both jewellery demand and renewed investment demand.

"But macro influences are going to become much more negative for gold -- a strengthening global economy, rising bond yields, and the dollar also will provide headwinds -- and there is ongoing investor disillusionment."

Expectations that the Federal Reserve was set to taper its quantitative easing programme -- a key driver of higher prices over the last five years -- largely drove 2013's losses, while rallying stock markets diverted investment from gold.

Ultra-loose monetary policy had been a major factor driving gold prices to record highs in 2011, as it kept up pressure on interest rates, cutting the opportunity cost of holding gold, while burnishing its appeal as an inflation hedge.

CHINESE DEMAND 'UNLIKELY TO BE STRONGER'

Investors sold heavily out of gold-backed exchange-traded funds last

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