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Gold climbs, stocks mixed as markets swing toward safety

NEW YORK — Gold touched its highest price in nearly seven years Monday as investors headed for safety on worries that rising tensions between the United States and Iran could lead to war.

Stocks in Asia and Europe slumped as dollars flowed out of riskier investments, but the U.S. market shook off its early-morning losses, and U.S. indexes were mixed by the afternoon. Gains for oil producers and big internet companies made up for drops by industrial companies and banks. The S&P 500 was up modestly even though more stocks fell in the index than rose.

Caution has seeped through markets since a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday. Both the United States and Iran have since talked up the threat of violence, which has pushed up the price of gold as money flows into investments seen as safer. Gold neared $1,591 per ounce during morning trading and reached its highest level since April 2013.

Oil prices have also climbed in recent days because any potential violence in the Middle East could disrupt oilfields in the region. Monday’s gain for both benchmark U.S. crude and Brent oil, though, was more modest than Friday’s leap.

The recent reticence in the market is a turnaround from its stellar 2019, when the S&P 500 soared to its second-best showing in 22 years. Much of the year’s gains were due to big moves by central banks around the world to shore up the global economy. The S&P 500 still remains within 1% of its record set on Thursday.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 was up 0.2%, as of 3 p.m. Eastern time after rallying back from a 0.6% loss in the early morning.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 6 points, or less than 0.1%, at 28,629 after paring a loss that had been as big as 216 points. The Nasdaq composite was up 0. 3 %.

GLITTERING: Gold has a reputation for being one of the safest possible investments, and investors want that given the threat of war with Iran.

Gold rose $17 to settle at $1,566.20 per ounce. It had been as high as $1,590.90 earlier in the day, and it’s up more than $40 since before Soleimani’s killing.

Gold has historically performed well around past military conflicts, such as the two Persian Gulf wars and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, even after taking into account interest rates and the dollar’s movements, according to Goldman Sachs commodities analysts.

“The escalation in the Middle East was both unexpected and unwelcome,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at trading platform OANDA Europe. “Investors are now fully in defensive mode, hoping for the best but fearing the worst.”

SPURTING: Oil prices added a bit more to their big gains from Friday. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 22 cents to settle at $63.27 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 31 cents to $68.91 a barrel.

That helped send energy stocks in the S&P 500 up 1.2%, the largest gain among the 11 sectors that make up the index. EOG Resources jumped 4.6 %, and Occidental Petroleum rose 3.8 %.

A ROUGH START: Overseas stock markets slumped, though the losses moderated as trading headed west with the sun.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 1.9%, South Korea’s Kospi dropped 1% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.8%.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX lost 0.7% and France’s CAC 40 dropped 0.5%. The FTSE 100 in London fell 0.6%.

SPLATTERED YOLK: Egg producer Cal-Maine Foods fell 9.6% after reporting a surprising loss and weak revenue for its fiscal second quarter.

BIG SMILE: Dental products maker SmileDirectClub jumped 23.3 % after making a deal to sell a new line of products exclusively at Walmart. The company, known for its clear teeth aligners, said it will offer electric toothbrushes, teeth whitening systems and other dental items at the nation’s largest retailer.

YIELDS: Treasury yields rose and recovered some of their sharp drops from Friday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury climbed to 1.81% from 1.78% late Friday. It had been at 1.88% late Thursday, before Soleimani’s killing.

The two-year yield rose to 1.54% from 1.51%, and the 30-year yield inched up to 2.28 % from 2.25%

WEEK AHEAD: The first full week of the new year could help give investors a clearer picture of the economy at the close of 2019. On Tuesday, the Institute for Supply Management will release its December report on the U.S. service sector, which makes up the bulk of the economy.

The most closely watched economic report this week will likely be Friday’s government jobs report for December. Solid employment figures were a key factor in driving economic growth last year.

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AP Business Writer Pan Pylas contributed.

Stan Choe And Damian J. Troise, The Associated Press