© Reuters.  Gold prices rise to 3-week highs© Reuters. Gold prices rise to 3-week highs

Investing.com – Gold prices started the week on an upbeat note on Monday, supported by safe-haven demand as conflict between Iraqi and Kurdish forces broke out near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The fighting follows a referendum in which the Kurds, who run their own semiautonomous region in northern Iraq, voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence, defying Baghdad, regional powers and the U.S.

Comex gold futures inched up $3.50, or around 0.3%, to $1,308.08 a troy ounce by 3:30AM ET (0730GMT), its strongest level since Sept. 26.

The yellow metal scored a weekly gain of around 2.1% last week, after a reading on U.S. inflation came in cooler than expected, raising uncertainty about the pace of U.S. interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

Despite the weaker than expected number, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen appeared positive on the inflation outlook in the months ahead in a Sunday speech, reiterating her stance for continued gradual increases in interest rates.

A handful of Fed speeches will get market attention in the week ahead, as traders watch for further clues on interest rates.

Influential New York Fed President William Dudley will top the agenda, while comments from Philadelphia Fed chief Patrick Harker, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan, Kansas City Fed’s Esther George and Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester will also be in focus.

Interest rate futures are pricing in around an 80% chance of a December Fed rate hike according to Investing.com’s Fed Rate Monitor Tool. The U.S. central bank has already raised rates twice this year.

Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates, which increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion.

Elsewhere on the Comex, silver futures tacked on 3.0 cents, or about 0.2%, to $17.44 a troy ounce. Among other precious metals, platinum gained 0.1% to $948.70, while palladium rose 1.5% to $1,000.67 an ounce.

Meanwhile, copper futures rallied 7.0 cents, or 2.3%, to their best level since Aug. 2014 at $3.205 a pound, boosted by robust economic data from China, the world’s top user of the red metal.

China’s producer price index rose 6.9% in September from a year ago, well above the 6.3% forecast, in a sign manufacturing activity is regaining momentum along with other sectors of the economy as domestic demand picks up.

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