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 NEW YORK: Gold rose and silver surged to 31-year highs on Monday, as fresh gains that pushed oil and grain prices to their highest since 2008 stoke inflation worries.

While silver streaked ahead, rising to its strongest relative to gold since 1983 after the Hunt Brothers cornered the silver market, bullion prices have struggled for the past month to sustain new highs.

Activity in the US futures market on Monday was less than half the average, set to be one of the weakest this year, as the metal struggled to extend its record high $1,447.40 an ounce set on March 24.

"There is no question that the inflation factor is supporting gold," said Bruce Dunn, vice president of precious metals dealer Auramet Trading. "Both gold and silver are benefiting from speculative buying and good demand from physical bars and coins."

Spot gold rose 0.3 percent to $1,432.24 an ounce by 2:06 p.m. EDT (1806 GMT), off an earlier high of $1,438.55 an ounce.

US gold futures for June delivery settled up 0.3 percent to $1,433.

Rising oil and grain prices boosted gold's inflation hedge appeal. US oil rose to a 2-1/2-year highs on geopolitical risks to supply from the Middle East, while corn futures rallied to the highest level since the 2008 global food crisis due to very tight supplies.

Silver climbed to its highest in 31 years at $38.58 an ounce, sending the gold-to-silver ratio to its lowest level in 18 years. It was later up 2 percent at $38.48.

Silver prices are fast closing in on $40 an ounce, lifted by interest in the metal as a cheaper proxy for gold and expectations that industrial demand is set to improve. But analysts remain wary of silver's extreme volatility, which has led to some heart-stopping reversals in recent years.

ECB RATE HIKE, DOLLAR STRENGTH EYED

Bullion rose as the the euro hovered near a five-month peak against the dollar, with the ECB expected to raise rates by 25 basis points from a record low in reaction to rising inflationary pressures in the euro zone, with two more 25 basis point hikes factored in by year-end.

Bullion investors chose to side with expectations of a weakening dollar after the ECB meeting this week, as rising interest rates are generally negative for gold, as they raise the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding assets.

Gold is also benefiting from concerns some smaller euro zone economies such as Portugal and Ireland will continue to struggle with sovereign debt, and from unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

For platinum group metals, platinum rose 0.9 percent to $1,781.49 an ounce, while palladium gained 1.3 percent to $780.22.

Copyright Reuters, 2011

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