By Swati Verma
(Reuters) - Palladium led a free fall in precious metals on Friday, slumping nearly 13% at one point earlier in the session, while gold slid as much as 4.6% en route to its biggest daily drop in almost seven years, as coronavirus drove panic-stricken investors to liquidate assets across the board.
The rout hammered other precious metals as well, with platinum declining as much as 6.1% and silver sliding 7.4%.
"A lot of investors and traders are having to meet margin calls for other products, so they are selling what they can. That's why it is hitting gold and the gold mining stocks," said Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors.
"People are trying to sell whatever they can. It's an overall sell-off."
Spot gold <XAU=> plunged 4.5% to $1,568.96 per ounce as of 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT), leading to the biggest one-day percentage decline since mid-2013. U.S. gold futures <GCcv1> settled down 4.6% at $1,566.70.
The precious metal saw sharp price swings this week, having hit a seven-year high of $1,688.66 on Monday. The metal is now on track to post its steepest weekly decline since November, 2016.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus raised fears of a pandemic, with six countries reporting their first cases and the World Health Organization warning it could spread worldwide.
The virus panic sent world share markets on course for their worst weekly fall since 2008, with almost $6 trillion wiped from their market value so far this week. [MKTS/GLOB]
"As sentiment has deteriorated, investors have closed some of their open positions in currencies, but most likely also in gold. Therefore, gold prices have failed to make new highs now that equity markets have aggressively sold off," ABN Amro analyst Georgette Boele wrote in a note.
"If risk aversion were to result in a market panic, investors will find cash and very liquid assets attractive. They will probably liquidate gold investment positions."
In other precious metals, palladium <XPD=> was down 10.8% to $2,538.21 per ounce, its worst one-day performance since the 2008 financial crisis, after slumping 12.7% earlier in the day. The metal has shed about $390 from a record high of $2,875.50 hit on Thursday.
"With palladium it is a similar phenomenon, where people need to sell to cover up their losses elsewhere," said Ryan Giannotto, head of research at GraniteShares.
The auto catalyst metal was still on track to gain for the seventh consecutive month due to a sustained supply shortfall.
Platinum <XPT=> shed 5.5% to $849.63, facing its worst weekly fall since 2008.
Silver <XAG=> plunged 7.2% to $16.43 an ounce, on track for its worst week since 2011
(Reporting by Swati Verma and Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)