COMMODITIES-Gold hits new record, Brent oil above $122
* Gold hits record on inflation concern, Europe debt concern
* Silver hits 31-year high
* Strong commodity prices fuel inflation
* Corn dips but more gains seen, US supplies tightest since 1930s
* Brent above $122; Middle East, N.Africa turmoil supports
By Simon Webb
SINGAPORE, April 6 (Reuters) - Gold hit a record high on Wednesday while oil and corn were just off peaks struck this week as commodity prices fuel rising inflation that governments worldwide are struggling to contain.
Spot gold rose to a record $1,458.50 an ounce as investors bought the precious metal to hedge against inflation and as a save haven as sovereign debt problems flared again in Europe after Portugal's credit rating was downgraded.
Euro zone debt woes and continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have added to gold's attraction for investors.
"You tend to get movements like this into gold and silver on the type of risks we're seeing in the MENA region, and now the flare up in Europe's sovereign debt issues," said Joel Crane, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in Melbourne. "It's investors doing what investors do."
Spot silver hit a 31-year high at $39.48 an ounce on Wednesday, supported by gold's rally.
Economic growth in Asia and upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East are stoking commodity prices, driving up the cost of raw materials and energy to business and consumers. Inflation is a threat to the growth of Asia's emerging economies, the Asian Development Bank said in a report on Wednesday. [ID:nL3E7F519W]
"High and volatile oil and food prices will, in particular, reverberate through the world economy, and they are likely to stay that way in 2011-2012," the ADB said. "They will thus be a significant source of global inflation, especially in developing countries where recovery is firmly under way."
The ADB's comments contrasted with the dovish tone of U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said this week that U.S. inflation was being driven by rising commodity prices globally, and was unlikely to last long. [ID:nN04294041]
Benchmark U.S. corn futures Cc1 slipped 0.59 percent to $7.62-1/4 a bushel at 0800 GMT. The contract hit an all-time peak of $7.70-3/4 on Tuesday, after rallying 15 percent in four days on a U.S. government report showing unexpectedly low inventories.
Supplies in the U.S. are at their tightest since the 1930s, and many in the market see more gains ahead unless livestock farmers or ethanol makers cut back on purchases. With inventories so thin, any sign of inclement weather impacting crops or buying from China could trigger further rises.
"The top pick for us and a position we've had in our portfolio for a long time is corn," said Colin O'Shea, head of commodities at Hermes, which has $35 billion under management, and around $2 billion in commodities and energy, speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Singapore. [ID:nL3E7F612U]
Rising consumption in China brought it into the corn market last year for the first time in four years, contributing to corn's rise. The U.S. Grains Council said on Tuesday China could import an additional 2 million to 3 million tonnes by September. [ID:nN05129097]
Corn, like most other commodity markets, quickly shrugged off China's interest rate hike on Tuesday, despite the threat that tightening monetary policy could slow imports by the world's biggest consumer of raw materials.
China has raised rates four times since October as it battles to contain inflation and prevent its fast-growing economy from overheating.
LME aluminium hit its highest since September on Wednesday at $2,663 a tonne, helped by a weaker dollar versus the euro.
Unrest in the world's top oil exporting region has roiled oil markets this year and outweighed any concern of a slowdown in the world's second largest oil consumer China.
Brent crude LCOc1 fell 9 cents to $122.13, after breaking above $120 on Monday. The contract is within a dollar of Tuesday's $122.89 peak --the highest since August 2008.
U.S. crude rose 14 cents to $108.48 a barrel, just 30 cents below its highest since September 2008 of $108.78 hit on Monday.
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has stepped in to plug the supply gap left by Libya, after civil war there interrupted exports. The kingdom is the only producer with significant spare capacity to compensate for unexpected supply losses.
The worst-case scenario for oil markets would be if unrest constrained Saudi Arabia's output and spare capacity -- threatening not only the 10 percent of global oil supply the kingdom provides, but also leaving producers with insufficient spare capacity to meet any supply outage.
Oil prices could rocket to $200 per barrel to $300 per barrel if Saudi Arabia is hit by serious political unrest, former Saudi oil minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani told Reuters on Tuesday. [ID:nLDE7340MU]
The 19-commodity Reuters-Jefferies CRB index , a global benchmark for the asset class, rose 0.26 percent on Tuesday, and is less than a percent off a 2.5-year high hit last month. (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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