(Bloomberg) -- The global stash of gold held in exchange-traded funds has hit the highest level in seven years as the spread of the novel coronavirus spurs investors to beef up holdings of haven assets, and the addition of just a few more tons would lift the total to a record.

The latest influx follows four straight years of inflows into bullion-backed ETFs, and comes as prices trade near the highest since 2013. The number of confirmed virus cases in China has soared to overtake the official number of infections during the SARS epidemic, and at least 132 people have died.

Gold has risen this year as the outbreak of the deadly virus threatens to hurt the world economy, prompting volatile equity trading amid swings in investing sentiment. The traditional haven has also been in favor as the Federal Reserve has signaled that interest rates are likely to remain low for some time. Real U.S. rates are negative, which cuts the opportunity cost of holding bullion.

Worldwide gold holdings in ETFs rose to 2,561.2 tons as of Tuesday, the highest level since January 2013, according to data complied by Bloomberg. They peaked at 2,572.8 tons in December 2012.

Spot prices were little changed at $1,567.22 an ounce on Wednesday, up 3.3% in January, after an 18% jump last year, the biggest annual gain since 2010.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ranjeetha Pakiam in Singapore at rpakiam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Phoebe Sedgman at psedgman2@bloomberg.net, Jake Lloyd-Smith, Alpana Sarma

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