(Bloomberg) -- To understand how fearful investors are of all the wild cards in Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election, just take a look at the gold market.
Hedge funds are piling into the perceived safety of bullion, increasing their wagers that the metal will rally for a second straight week, U.S. government data showed Friday. That marked the first consecutive gain since July as money managers pushed their holdings to a one-month high.
Anxiety has gripped the financial markets with opinion polls signaling a tightening race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, who showed signs of strength with early votes cast in Iowa and Ohio. Wary investors pushed the S&P 500 Index of equities to its longest slump since 1980, fleeing to assets such as gold that are deemed less risky. Bullion futures in New York have risen for four straight weeks.
"Investors are squaring their books going into elections to make sure they’re hedging their risk," said Chad Morganlander, a Florham Park, New Jersey-based money manager at Stifel, Nicolaus, which oversees about $172 billion. "When you have more volatility within the financial system, then investors gravitate towards safe haven asset classes."
The gold net-long position jumped 14% to 172,532 futures and options contracts in the week ended Nov. 1, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released three days later. It was the biggest gain since Sept. 27. On the Comex in New York, gold futures climbed 2.2% to $1,304.50 an ounce last week. Prices fell 1% on Monday after the FBI decided to stick by its finding that Hillary Clinton didn’t commit a crime in her handling of e-mails as secretary of state.
A Trump victory represents "significant policy uncertainty," Citigroup analysts including Edward Morse and Nell Agate said in a Nov. 3 report. That could push gold to $1,400 in a "knee-jerk reaction," the bank said. While a Clinton win could send prices down to $1,250 in the short term, her administration, coupled with a Democratic sweep in the House and the Senate, would allow for "sharp fiscal expansion, boosting U.S. inflation prospects," and helping support bullion in the medium term, the analysts said.
A victory for either side could spell turmoil. Both campaigns have amassed lawyers and could challenge a defeat, while supporters from the losing camp could stage political protests.
The increasing risk of tumult has driven investors to ETFs backed by bullion. SPDR Gold Shares, the biggest such fund, attracted $309.1 million of inflows in the week through Thursday. Holdings in global ETFs climbed to within 0.7% of a three-year high reached in October, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Retail investors are also adding to holdings. Gold-coin sales gained for a third month in October, the longest streak in almost six years, data from the U.S. Mint show.
The election fears overshadowed comments last week from the Federal Reserve that signaled policy makers could start raising U.S. interest rates soon. The odds of a rate increase in December rose to 76% Friday from 69% a week earlier, futures trading showed. Higher rates curb the appeal of non-interest bearing gold.
Gains for the U.S. labor market could also cap gold’s rally as the economy picks up steam. The monthly jobs report published Friday showed payrolls rose at a steady pace and the broadest rate of unemployment fell to an eight-year low.
"We don’t think this most recent rally in gold will last," said Sameer Samana, a St. Louis-based global quantitative strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, which oversees $1.9 trillion. If the election ends "without a clear winner and uncertainty extends for days or weeks, that could feed into additional demand for gold," he said. "To the extent that things will work out in a somewhat orderly way, it should be something that starts to take away the demand for gold."
Still, traders should brace for the unexpected, Morganlander of Stifel said. The CBOE Volatility Index, the measure of market turbulence known as the VIX, climbed for a ninth day Friday, the longest streak since the data starts in 1990. The CBOE Gold ETF Volatility Index, which measures swings for bullion, reached the highest since July.
"Investors should put their seat belts on because there will be a tremendous amount of volatility, regardless of who gets elected," Morganlander said.