Gold futures soar to record on weak dollar

The rally in precious metals has been aided by the sharp rise in crude prices.

SHARES TEL AVIV The Tel Aviv-25 Index fell from a one-month high, losing 2.64 or 0.2 percent, to 1,120.09 as 14 members declined and 11 gained. Investors traded about NIS 2 billion in shares and convertible securities. Blue Square-Israel Ltd. retreated for a sixth day, dropping 2.2%. The country's second-biggest food retailer said it was being sued over claims it limits the shelf space devoted to regulated eggs in favor of higher-priced dairy products. Delek Group Ltd. fell to the lowest since December 2005, retreating 0.8%. The holding company with interests in real estate, financial services and energy, said "market rumors" that it is experiencing financial difficulties are "completely baseless." WALL STREET Stocks advanced Wednesday after regulators lifted the caps on the investment portfolios for government-sponsored mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a move expected to increase liquidity in the mortgage industry. Wall Street also got a boost from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who indicated the central bank remains open to further rate cuts to stimulate the economy. The announcement by the government regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac pleased investors because it offered a chance for an easing of the extremely tight mortgage market that has been battered by the subprime loan crisis. In midday trading, the Dow Jones industrials rose 46.65, or 0.37%, to 12,731.57. Broader stock indexes also rose. The Standard & Poor's 500 index advanced 3.62, or 0.26%, to 1,384.91, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 12.52, or 0.53%, to 2,357.51. EUROPE European shares finished in the red but well off earlier lows Wednesday, as declines from poorly received earnings from companies, including lender HBOS, were limited by good news on interest rates and mortgages from across the Atlantic. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index lost just 0.2% to 329.39, up from earlier, deeper losses. Earlier in the day, European indexes had posted losses of around 1.5% following poorly received earnings from lender HBOS, some downbeat US economic data and as the euro traded above $1.50 for the first time ever. Of national indexes, the UK's FTSE 100 index closed down 0.2% to 6,076.50, the French CAC-40 index lost just 0.1% to 4,968.82, while Germany's blue-chip DAX 30 added 0.2% to 6,997.85. ASIA Asian markets rose strongly Wednesday, tracking gains on Wall Street, led by financial stocks amid some easing concerns about the global credit crisis. Japan's benchmark stock index rose to a seven-week high while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index jumped 3.24%. Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 Index rose 206.58 points, or 1.49%, to close at 14,031.30, its highest since January 11. CURRENCIES The shekel gained as much as 1% against the dollar, to 3.5858 from 3.6233 on Tuesday. The currency, which rose to a 10-year high of 3.5325 on February 12, has risen about 7% since December 1, making it the second-best performer after the Czech koruna among 11 emerging-market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The euro soared Wednesday to the highest level in its nine-year history, climbing above $1.51 after markets took comments from Bernanke as a sign that yet more US rate cuts are on the way. The euro surged to $1.5143 after Bernanke's testimony - well above the $1.4967 it bought in New York late Tuesday. It later settled back to $1.5124. COMMODITIES Gold futures surged to their highest level ever Wednesday after the dollar plunged to a record low and crude oil spiked above $102 - inflationary signs that fed buying of precious metals as alternative investments. Gold for April delivery jumped to a new all-time record of $967.70 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange, before pulling back slightly to $961.40, still up $12.30. The rally in precious metals has been aided by the sharp rise in crude prices, which broke above $102 on Tuesday. Prices later retreated after the government said stockpiles of crude oil and gasoline rose far more than expected last week. Light, sweet crude for April delivery fell 16 cents to $100.72 on the Nymex after surging as high as $102.08 a barrel in electronic trading earlier. The contract on Tuesday jumped $1.65 to settle at $100.88 a barrel, a record close.