NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gold surged nearly 3 percent on Friday, hitting its highest level since last week's record, as investors sought refuge in safe haven assets following a bleak U.S. employment report.
Some investors viewed the lack of jobs growth in August as a sign the world's largest economy may be heading back into recession, heightening demand for gold. It was the first time in nearly a year the economy had failed to create new jobs.
Some said the report increased the odds of more stimulus from the Federal Reserve when it meets on September 20-21, also a positive for bullion. Gold's sojourn to all-time highs was largely carved out on added liquidity from stimulus measures along with a gloomy economic outlook.
"I think there was a great deal of disappointment with the employment numbers and that kicked off speculation of further quantitative easing or some sort of monetary response," said HSBC metals analyst and senior vice president James Steel.
By 3:23 p.m. EDT (1923 GMT), spot gold was up $57.25, or 3.1 percent, at $1,881.69 per ounce. It earlier rose to a high of $1,879.30, its highest level since reaching its record at $1,911.46 on August 23.
Benchmark U.S. gold December futures on the COMEX exchange finished 2.6 percent, or $47.8 higher, at $1,876.90 an ounce. It rose as high as $1,887.40, also its highest since its August 23 record at $1,917.90.
Gold had notched up a sizable portion of the day's gain prior to the data, with traders having braced for yet another downbeat report ahead of the long Labor Day holiday. Trading volume picked up slightly from a week of subdued activity.
"The (gold) market was pretty much all on one-side, largely buying interest after the jobs report," Steel said.
U.S. employment growth ground to a halt in August, as sagging confidence discouraged already skittish businesses from hiring. Jobs creation in July and June were trimmed by a total of 58,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent.
The metal rose 12 percent in August, its strongest monthly gain since November 2009 and has hit record highs several times in recent weeks following a run of soft economic data from the United States.
Along with gold, the rush to hold safe assets set off a rally in U.S. Treasury securities and the U.S. dollar dropped against the Swiss franc and yen.
Gold had already risen about 2 percent in overnight trade in anticipation of the U.S. labor market readings and on growing worries about Greece's ability to meet its deficit targets.
In the latest twist in Greece's sovereign debt saga, talks between Athens and international inspectors on whether it has met conditions for a new aid tranche were put on hold. Disagreements over why and by how much its deficit cuts program has fallen behind schedule stalled discussions.
"We're seeing a new round of flight into so-called safe haven assets. The debt problems in the euro zone are still a worry and it offers an opportunity for market speculators to buy gold," said Peter Fertig, a consultant at Quantitative Commodity Research.
Spot silver tracked gold to jump 4.65 percent to $43.34 an ounce by late afternoon, following a 3.2 percent drop in the previous week.
Bolivia, the world's sixth-largest silver producing country by output in 2010, plans to raise mining royalties to take advantage of high prices and bolster the state's role in the industry.
Elsewhere, spot platinum rose to $1,879.49 an ounce from $1,843.85 in late Thursday business, while spot palladium slipped to $773 an ounce from $779.35 previously.
Prices at 3:21 p.m. EDT (1921 GMT).
(Additional reporting by Harpreet Bhal in London; Editing by Marguerita Choy)